Taking a fresh look at Titanic’s sunken sister

A diver examining a bridge wing on Britannic
A diver examining a bridge wing on Britannic

A new book has been published revealing the wreck of the Britannic in greater detail than ever before – just months ahead of a planned expedition to recover items from the sunken ship.

The tragic Belfast-built vessel was launched 100 years ago next month, but she was called into service as a military hospital ship, and sank after hitting a mine in the Aegean Sea in November 1916, with the loss of 30 lives.

At 18 inches wider than sister ship Titanic (although she was the same length), even today she is the biggest cruise liner on the seabed, according to author Simon Mills.

His new book, Unseen Britannic: The Ship in Rare Illustrations, affords a glimpse at the strikingly well-preserved undersea wreck, and he believes that there has never been such a large compilation of images of it before.

Mr Mills, a camera technician who has worked on films including Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and the James Bond movie Die Another Day, actually owns the rights to the ship itself, which he acquired in 1996.

When she hit the German mine it took her less than an hour to sink, and she now lies 400ft deep (as opposed to about two-and-a-half miles for Titanic).

Mr Mills said: “She was very much a soft landing. The overall condition of the wreck is unbelievable. You’re looking at a virtually complete Olympic-class liner – in fact the only one.

“In Britannic’s case, everything is there, almost as the day she was launched.”

In addition, a large-scale excavation is planned for this summer.

Paul Louden-Brown, a historian who has worked with Titanic Belfast, said the idea will be to lift huge numbers of artefacts from the ship and display them at Titanic Belfast.

Mr Louden-Brown described it as “the most significant thing that has ever taken place, ever”, when it comes to recovering items from a vessel of that size.

Among the things they may lift are propeller blades and a 16-ton anchor, which he suggested could go on the slipways next to the Titanic centre.

However, the details of the expedition are not firm yet, and they await the go-ahead from the Greek authorities before work starts. It is hoped they could begin in June.

Mr Mills added: “People tend to focus a little too much on one ship,” referring to Titanic.

“She was one of three – Titanic, Olympic and Britannic.

“It’s a shame in a way that Belfast shipbuilding is remembered for one ship that didn’t work. Olympic and Britannic are a logical extension of the story.

“Titanic, without wishing to coin a pun, is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Belfast is concerned.

“There’s much more to it than just one ship.”