RMS Britannic:General

Bathroom facilities

By Mark Chirnside

 Olympic's bathroom facilities were undoubtedly a step forward from earlier liners: her special suites on B and C decks had access to private bathrooms, well equipped with showers and sprays (fitted with porcelain enamelled screens), the wash basins fitted in marble slabs, while the other 'public' first class bathrooms had hot and cold water supplies in the baths, not to mention being fitted with special electric lights which were operated automatically by the doors. However, many ordinary first class cabins had access to shared bathrooms; the same was true on the Imperator (1913) and Aquitania (1914). On Britannic, however, practically all of the first class cabins had access to their own private bathrooms - of the same high standard as those on Olympic - which put her in a new class, far above the competition. Even some of the interchangeable first and second class cabins on E-deck had private baths; a real improvement.

By Michail Michailakis

A new sanitation feature on the Britannic was the installation of a sewage sytem, consisting of tanks where waste was collected from the bathroom facilities. When these tanks were full, a float switch activated pumps which discharged the waste under the surface of the sea. This feature, being similar to an urban sewage system, was a major improvement. Until then, waste from the bathrooms was discharged from the ships through the use of a large number of pipes located above the waterline.

[Source: Olympic & Titanic: The thruth behind the conspiracy - Steve Hall & Bruce Beveridge]

Expansion Joints

By Mark Chirnside

 

 Cunard’s 790-foot Mauretania (1907), White Star’s 882-foot Olympic (1911) and HAPAG’s 909-foot Imperator (1913) all had two expansion joints to relieve stresses in their superstructure, but Cunard’s 901-foot Aquitania (1914) and White Star’s 882-foot Britannic (1915) both had three expansion joints amidships (Britannic had a fourth, which will be dealt with later).

 Atlantic liners needed to be very strong, able to take the punishment of the seas for more than 20 years – Mauretania served for 27 years, Olympic for 24 years, Imperator for 25 years and Aquitania for 36 years, although she had been planned for retirement at 26 (before World War II) – but at the same time they needed to flex in hostile seas. In Olympic’s case, the boat deck and A-deck were lighter than her hull and B-deck’s strong construction, the two expansion joints relieving stress and allowing the flexing of the structure; Mauretania and Imperator were essentially similar. Aquitania’s boat deck and A-deck were lightly-constructed as well, but equipped with three expansion joints. The higher number of expansion joints allowed theoretically for additional flexing and stress-relief for the superstructure, in theory a better design feature.

 Likewise, Britannic’s design featured two expansion joints as on Olympic, but with a third additional expansion joint between the second and third funnels. It is likely that the fourth expansion joint near the aft mast was added because of the enclosed after well deck, which was open on Britannic’s sister-ships. Expansion joints were not a perfect solution to reduce stress – Olympic, for example, experienced slight cracking as a result of fatigue on some of her hull plates at B-deck level when she reached old age, which was overcome by welding nine-tenths of the affected areas in 1931 and applying doublers to the remainder; while the German liners Leviathan and Majestic experienced severe cracking in their superstructure during the early 1920s (mainly due to their funnel uptake design) and loose rivets near their troublesome expansion joints, caused by stress.

 

Forward expansion joint (seen as a black line) on Titanic.

 On January 13th 1931, Senior Board of Trade Ship Surveyor F. W. Daniel wrote: ‘Cases bearing on the same point [i.e. excessive fatigue] are the Aquitania and Olympic, both recently reported. In my opinion, the number of expansion joints could at least be doubled with advantage, so as to allow the stresses being more evenly distributed over the uppermost strength deck. [i.e. B-deck for Olympic and Britannic].’ In June 1934, Berengaria (which had been laid up for most of the war and not seen anything near such hard service as Olympic, or even the newer Aquitania) was noted as having corrosion on some of her hull plating which had apparently existed for some time, but it is interesting that it was stated this corrosion had not weakened the plating or worsened fractures experienced, which were suspected as being down to the ‘concentration of stresses amidships immediately under an expansion joint.’ Such cases indicate the superiority of Britannic’s design and it is worth pointing out that as well as relieving stress, expansion joints served a good purpose in helping to eliminate vibration, which would certainly have been appreciated on Mauretania.

 

The Grand Staircase

By Mark Chirnside

 

 Britannic’s forward grand staircase was the finest point of her grand interior, many people would agree. Essentially it was similar in design to the staircase on her older sister-ships, but several changes were made to improve further the design.

 Although on the earlier liners you could walk around the boat deck landing of the staircase, on Britannic you were unable to because of the addition of an enormous pipe organ which was installed at A-deck level and extended up to the boat deck landing. The actual organ was out-of-sight, but at the foot of the stairs a door surrounded by a beautiful carved design led to the organ, the pipes presumably extending upwards and through the boat deck level, although apparently hidden from view by what looks to be a carved screen.

 Vestibules were located at boat deck and A-deck level to ensure that when passengers went out onto the promenade deck, the warm air was kept inside and the cold air was kept outside. One change was made to the balustrades at boat deck level, for the sections on the port and starboard sides that were closest to the actual staircase were enlarged and the carving extended; the actual wooden handrail on each section was made rounded, leaving an arch-like impression. General changes to this area included the carving generally being more lavish and there is a possibility that the chandelier in the centre of the huge glass dome was enlarged, judging from an artist’s impression of the area.

Britannic's Grand Staircase

 Perhaps the most famous feature of this area on Olympic was the clock in a carved panel at the top of the stairs, which represented Honour & Glory crowning time. However, some mystery surrounds Britannic’s configuration. What is apparent in the artist’s impression of the staircase is what appears to be a small clock in the carving above the door leading to the organ, at the foot of the stairs on A-deck. It seems strange that two clocks would be installed in this area, but in my opinion the Honour & Glory panel and clock would have been retained on Britannic as the top of the stairs would otherwise have looked bare; the small clock would be far less obvious to passengers on the staircase, but more visible for the passengers at boat deck level who might have been coming from the lifts, which were extended to the boat deck on Britannic, but stopped at A-deck on Olympic. Therefore it seems quite possible that the Honour & Glory feature was retained and the smaller clock was merely an additional feature, rather than a replacement.

 

Titanic's Grand Staircase

 The flooring of the grand staircase landings looks to have been different from Olympic's more simple design, as can be seen from the picture in Simon Mills' Britannic: the Last Titan and the photographs of Olympic in Don Lynch's and Ken Marschall's Titanic: An Illustrated History. Britannic’s staircase landings had diamond-shaped patterns on the flooring, but Olympic’s staircase landings were simpler when she entered service, for the most part pure white but with occasional black shapes in patterns at intervals; Olympic’s half-way landing in front of Honour & Glory was pure white, while Britannic’s shared the same pattern as the remainder of her landing flooring.

[Source: Harland & Wolff Photo H2153, Ulster Folk & Transport Museum]

Partitions

By Remco Hillen

 

Olympic’s partitions:

  Those partitions had a different function from the ones present on the sisterships.On Olympic the sole function was to separate the 1st class from the 2nd class.The partitions resembled the collapsible gates that were installed for class-separation lower in the ship.2 of those gates were installed, 1 on each side of the ship, near the Restaurant area on B-deck.

Titanic’s partitions:

  The partitions on Titanic were not build for class-separation but they helped sealing off the enclosed part of the promenade deck from the heavy elements of the Atlantic.Because of that, they were more like a normal bulkhead, instead of Olympic’s collapsible gates.The steel partitions were gull wing-shaped and had a door in their straight part and a window in their angled part. The style of the steel door resembles doors that would have been used in lower classes or machinery areas; it looks like H&W chose functionality above style.Titanic only had 2 partitions, at A-deck forward, as B-deck was filled with cabins and no partitions were needed.

 

Forward A-deck partition on Titanic.

 

Britannic’s partitions:

Britannic’s partitions were more ‘stylish’ than the ones on Titanic. Wreck footage shows them as a straight wall, with 2 holes for doors.The fact that there aren’t any doors visible in the particular wreck footage indicates that the doors were made of wood and were deteriorated.It’s unknown what the exact style of the doors was, but it seems to have been a normal door as used more often around the ship.They were definitely not in a ‘machinery style’, with steel doors as on Titanic.Britannic had 4 of these partitions in total, 2 at A-deck and 2 at B-deck; forward.

 

 Forward A-Deck partition on Britannic

© 2000 Remco Hillen

Well decks

By Remco Hillen

 

AFT WELL DECK

Left:RMS Britannic - Right:RMS Titanic

© 2000 Remco Hillen

 A covered area was created for the third class passengers (down left corner in the Britannic sketch) where the addition of a fourth expansion joint is also visible.Hatches #5 and #6 were extended above the new coverAnother important modification is the introduction of new staircases.2 of them  allowing access from the well deck to the A-deck and another one  allowing access from the A-deck to the boat deck.This arrangement was important for safety reasons,because now access to the boat deck was easier for all-class passengers in case of an emergency.The second class passengers gained extra deck space, created by the roof of the covered area.Visible the absence of the 2 cranes on A-deck and the more simple shape of its aft edge.In general,the result was the creation of larger space on B-deck and A-deck.

 

Corrections:

-The aft wall of A-deck needs to be a straight wall; the Palm Courts on Britannic were moved aft. Deckplans show this change, and also, a photo which was taken at Harland&Wolff in the final stages of construction shows the straight wall quite clear.

 -The bulkheads aft of the the #4 hatches on B-deck need venting grates added, 2 on each side, outboard.

-Photo's show an object near the mast, but it's unknown what it is. This drawing shows a cable reel there, which is in my opinion too small to match the object in photo's.

 -There should be a firehose added just aft of the last pole of the A-deck sides.

 

FORWARD WELL DECK

© 2000 Remco Hillen

 

Corrections:

-The roofs between the hatches would have been grey, in any case not white.

 -The winches should be a dark green colour.

 -A sidenote: there would have been ladders to gain access to the roofs. I imagine that these would have been on the starboard walls of the structure.

RMS Britannic's lifeboat configuration

By Mark Chirnside

 Recently the subject of Britannic’s planned complement of lifeboats has come under discussion. While there had always been sources that varied in their statement of the total number of lifeboats, until recently the general consensus had been that Britannic was planned to have a total complement of forty-eight lifeboats in commercial service, consisting of forty-six 34-foot long lifeboats (two of these with motors) and two smaller cutters. However, in the light of new evidence even this figure might be called into question. The purpose of this article is to explore those sources relating to the total complement of lifeboats planned for Britannic in commercial service and analyse them in some detail. This is made harder by the fact that Britannic never made her glittering maiden voyage to New York, not to mention the general scarcity of sources relating to this ship compared to other vessels. From a variety of sources, including primary and secondary material related to Britannic, to sources relating to other ships which might help shed some light on the matter, material will be presented in support of several configurations or scenarios.

 It is important to start this article with information that we know to be strictly accurate and can be proven as such, for we need a firm foundation on which to build the discussion of various configurations. Britannic was a ship that has been described as one of the safest ocean liners ever constructed. Matters such as improved watertight bulkheads, a new watertight inner skin running for much of the ship’s length, and safer lifeboat lowering equipment all figured importantly in her design. As part of this quest for safety, the lifeboats that Britannic would have been provided with in commercial service must have been able to accommodate all those people who she could carry – namely, at least 3,529 passengers and crew, her registered capacity. It is unthinkable that Britannic would not have been provided with enough boats to accommodate everyone onboard, especially considering the great lengths that the White Star Line went to in order to make the ship’s design as safe as possible. Therefore the complement of lifeboats that Britannic was planned to have would have accommodated a total of at least 3,529 passengers and crew.

 It has never been disputed that Britannic was planned to have eight huge davits serving her lifeboats, as part of her redesign following the Titanic disaster in the spring of 1912. These davits can variously be described as ‘gantry’ or ‘girder’-type designs, of strong lattice construction, towering above the boat deck. Each davit could usually accommodate a maximum of six lifeboats, indicating a total of twelve boats at each of the four ‘lifeboat stations’ – the two davits abreast the officers’ quarters forward being ‘station one,’ with stations two and three aft on the boat deck, and the two remaining davits situated aft on the ship’s Shade Deck, the top of the deckhouse above the ship’s poop deck. Using these figures, we can estimate that the ship could have accommodated a total of forty-eight lifeboats.

 As far as I am aware, it has never been disputed that Britannic was intended to carry two 34-foot motor boats and two 26-foot cutters; but what does seem to be unclear, from a number of sources, is the total number of other boats – if there were forty-four 34-foot wooden lifeboats there would have been forty-eight lifeboats in total, but if there were only planned to be forty other 34-foot wooden lifeboats then Britannic would have accommodated forty-four lifeboats in total, including the motor boats and cutters.

Thus at this stage we can confidently state that:

bullet

No matter what their total number, Britannic’s lifeboats would have to accommodate at least 3,529 passengers and crew.

bullet

Britannic would have been equipped with eight ‘girder’-type davits, each generally accommodating six boats.

bullet

Britannic would have been equipped with two 34-foot motor boats and two 26-foot cutters.

bullet

Depending on the number of other 34-foot wooden lifeboats onboard, Britannic’s total complement of lifeboats would number the two motor boats, two cutters, added to whatever number of 34-foot wooden boats.

Our formula for the total number of lifeboats (D) would be:

 A (no. of normal 34-foot boats) + B (two motor boats) + C (two cutters) = D

 

*   *   *

 Unlike data for Titanic’s lifeboats, in Britannic’s case there is little information as to the lifeboats’ individual capacities. Yet this data is vital to ascertaining how many lifeboats were carried, for we know that whatever their number, the lifeboats would have to have accommodated every single soul onboard the ship. Even the 1912 specification book merely gives the dimensions of the lifeboats, but not the number of people that each lifeboat could hold. However, based on other sources, we can here try to reconstruct the lifeboats’ capacities based on our knowledge of their size in cubic feet.

 In this table, it is clear that the lifeboats each had the following capacities in cubic feet. It is important to stress that these capacities are only approximate, for the lifeboats were not of a uniform breath or depth throughout their hulls, but they seem to be the closest data available to us at present.

 

 

Length

Breadth

Depth

Estimated cubic capacity in feet

Wooden boats

34 feet

10 feet

4½ feet

1,530

Motor boats

34 feet

10 feet

4 feet

1,360

Cutters

26 feet

8 feet

3 feet

624

 

To narrow down our estimated lifeboat capacities, we can present the capacity of one of Titanic’s main fourteen wooden boats:

 

 

Length

Breadth

Depth

Estimated cubic capacity in feet

Actual cubic capacity in feet

Wooden boat

30 feet

9 feet 1 inch

4 feet

1,090

655.2

 

 It is clear that the estimated cubic capacities are far too optimistic, for the plain reason that the lifeboats were not of a uniform size throughout their hulls, as has been mentioned. From the size and capacity of one of Titanic’s lifeboats, shown in the above table, it is clear that the actual cubic capacity in feet is approximately sixty percent of that which we had estimated. Applying this detail to Britannic’s lifeboats in the following table, we can estimate that her lifeboat capacities in cubic feet were as follows, based on sixty percent of the original estimated figure:

 

 

Length

Breadth

Depth

Estimated cubic capacity in feet

Estimated actual cubic capacity in feet

Wooden boats

34 feet

10 feet

4½ feet

1,530

918

Motor boats

34 feet

10 feet

4 feet

1,360

816

Cutters

26 feet

8 feet

3 feet

624

374

 

 Alas, even in this table the ‘estimated actual capacities’ do not seem accurate. Based on the Board of Trade premise that one person took up ten cubic feet of space in a lifeboat, then Britannic’s 34-foot wooden lifeboats would have accommodated over ninety people each; her motor boats perhaps seventy people considering the space taken up by their motors and other equipment; and the cutters thirty-seven people each. On this basis, even if Britannic had ‘only’ had forty-four lifeboats in total, these would have accommodated 3,814 people; well above the ship’s capacity of 3,529 passengers and crew. Although it is always desirable to have some lifeboat capacity in excess of requirements, whether there would have been the need for almost three hundred ‘reserve’ places is questionable, especially on a ship such as the Britannic with her advanced system of davits. With forty-eight lifeboats in total, there would be approaching six hundred places in ‘reserve,’ with the lifeboats carrying almost 4,200 people. We could conclude that the motor boats could each take much fewer people than seventy, but even so that would leave the remaining boats with high capacities, and even forty-four boats in total would have a considerable excess capacity.

 From the data available here, all we can ascertain seems to be that Britannic’s lifeboats could not accommodate as many people as they would seem to based on their cubic capacities, at least so far as the calculations presented here are concerned. If the boats could accommodate as many people as the cubic capacities seem to imply, then Britannic would only have needed forty-one boats in total. In comparison, her rivals Aquitania and Imperator (although the figures for their total lifeboat complements also vary) were planned to carry ninety-two and eighty-three lifeboats respectively, for 4,200 and 5,200 passengers and crew; they had much larger third class and steerage capacities compared to Britannic and so were able to ‘squeeze’ far more passengers into their hulls.

 During the sinking thirty-five lifeboats were launched, or at least floated on the water after the sinking, as recorded by the rescue ships that came to Britannic’s aid; considering the number of survivors there would have been an average of thirty people per boat, which would be even lower if we considered the numerous people in the water. Thus we can get little help from these records. However, Fifth Officer Fielding is recorded as lowering one lifeboat with seventy-five people, the highest figure recorded for a lifeboat to my knowledge during the sinking, which coincides with an estimate of seventy-six people based on twelve cubic feet per person. I also seem to remember another source stating a full boat of seventy-five people, but I wish I could locate it again. Based on supposition, we can assume that Britannic’s main thirty-four-foot lifeboats accommodated seventy-five people each. Supposition is by no means a preferred historical tool, but in these circumstances it seems to be the only thing that we can do. A figure of seventy-five people would seem reasonably accurate.

 Here we can base a scenario on forty-four, forty-six and forty-eight boats in total, assuming that the main thirty-four-foot boats carried seventy-five people each:

 

Wooden boats

Total capacity

Total necessary accommodation in motor boats and cutters

Total capacities

Forty

3,000 people

529 people

3,529 people

Forty-two

3,150 people

379 people

3,529 people

Forty-four

3,300 people

229 people

3,529 people

 

Even with forty-four wooden lifeboats (forty-eight lifeboats in total) accommodating seventy-five people, there would still need to be forty people in each cutter and seventy-five people in each motor boat in order to accommodate Britannic’s full complement of 3,529 passengers and crew. With seventy-five people in each of the main lifeboats, only forty-eight boats could have accommodated everyone onboard.However, for the sake of diversity the following table assumes eighty people in each of the main lifeboats.

 

Wooden boats

Total capacity

Total necessary accommodation in motor boats and cutters

Total capacities

Forty

3,200 people

329 people

3,529 people

Forty-two

3,360 people

169 people

3,529 people

Forty-four

3,520 people

9 people

3,529 people

 

In this scenario, forty-four boats in total can be discounted, because the four remaining boats – two motor and two cutters – would need to accommodate 329 people alone, or eighty-two people per boat; an apparent impossibility. With forty-six boats, the motorboats and cutters would need to accommodate the 169 people remaining, an average of forty-two each, which seems believable. With forty-eight lifeboats in total, there would clearly have been several lifeboats worth of spare capacity.

 The only way to make the total of forty-four lifeboats possible is to assume that they could each accommodate eighty-four people each, leaving 169 people to be accommodated in the motor boats and cutters. It seems possible that they could have accommodated this many people, but also doubtful for there is not a single report of any of Britannic’s lifeboats ever being loaded with this many people.

 

*   *   *

 It is worth exploring here the purpose of motor lifeboats. At the Titanic Investigations in 1912, the question was raised as to whether or not it would be advisable for motors to be fitted in some lifeboats on a ship. Lord Mersey put this question to Edward Wilding one of Harland & Wolf’s designers and the deputy ofThomas Andrews. Interestingly, Wilding’s reply sounded less than enthusiastic about motor boats, stating that they were ‘allowed’ rather than ‘recommended’ or ‘useful’:

20549. (The Commissioner) Then I should like to ask this - it is only one of the innumerable suggestions which have been made to me - I do not mean by my colleagues - is it possible to have motor lifeboats? - Have you ever heard of such a thing? - Motor lifeboats are allowed at present, my Lord, but the Board of Trade deduct from the volume of the boat the cubic space occupied by the motor in ascertaining the number of people it it eligible for.

20550. I know. But is a motor boat more easily handled and handled by a less number of men? - In a considerable sea-way, yes. As you have heard, on a very still night it only wants two men and someone at the tiller with the ordinary boat.

20551. Yes, I know that. - You can hardly handle a motor boat with less than three.

20552. Take ordinary conditions, not the exceptional conditions that existed here. Is there any advantage in having as a lifeboat a motor boat? - Well, there is this way of looking at it. In a given boat or a given area of boat, that is a given size of boat, with a motor in, you carry fewer people. Further, if a ship that is fitted with wireless telegraphy there is no object in the boat going any great distance. I mean if she remains near the scene of the accident she is more likely to be picked up quickly.

20555. Then it is suggested that a motor boat could tow the other boats? - Well, it can only do so at the expense of its own speed, to a certain extent.

 Several key points seem apparent from Wilding’s testimony. Firstly, that in a motor boat cubic space needed for the motor and equipment will be deducted from the boat’s overall capacity, indicating that the number of people carried will be lower than a non-motor boat of the same hull size and design. Secondly, in good conditions a motor boat could be handled by only a few people. What we could conclude is that although the motor boats were intended to carry a certain number of people, their purpose was two-fold:

bulletto carry people off the ship, as with the ‘regular’ complement of other boats;
bulletand to assist other lifeboats in the water, if it became necessary in any circumstances.

As part of our analysis, it is important to include what the motorboats were used for during the sinking. Unlike on Titanic, Britannic’s crew were regularly put through their paces during frequent boat drills.

 It seems that the motor boats were intended as auxiliary launches aside from the remaining ‘regular’ lifeboats and cutters, although they were certainly included in the Britannic’s total complement of lifeboats. Perhaps this might explain one (apparently mistaken) solitary modern reference to ‘forty-eight lifeboats plus two motor boats.’ The motor boats themselves were well-equipped, and the specification of one of Aquitania’s motor boats, made by the same company that constructed Britannic’s, bears a good resemblance to the two installed on her. Each motor boat was fitted with Marconi wireless apparatus, ship’s stores, blanket lockers, and a doctor’s medical chest, along with other essential supplies – they were described as having ‘oil and petrol motors’ for reliable service. It is unfortunate that the present author was unable to contact Thornycroft’s when he was researching the matter more than two years ago, for they might well have been able to help with regard to the boats’ specifications and passenger capacities.

 Unfortunately for our calculations, the motor boats’ capacities seem more mysterious than the rest of the ship’s boats; not only do we have the individual capacities of the two cutters, but we also need to know the two motor boats’ capacity, and the capacity of the remaining ‘regular’ thirty-four-foot long wooden boats – whether or not there were forty or forty-four of them. What is clear is that if the two cutters accommodated a combined total of eighty people, then (assuming a forty-eight boat configuration) the remaining forty-six boats would have to accommodate an average of seventy-five people per boat in order to accommodate everybody onboard the ship. Yet the motors in two of the boats render it unlikely that they could accommodate the same number of people as the other boats which did not have motors; and without adequate numbers an average of about seventy-five people for forty-six boats in a forty-eight boat configuration seems reasonable. How that average was achieved is troublesome.

 

*   *   *

 Having established a framework for calculating the total number of lifeboats, we can now present the sources supporting various configurations, and then assess them with the first two definite criteria presented towards the beginning of this article.

 

FORTY-FOUR LIFEBOATS

 To my knowledge, there are no published sources that state that Britannic was intended to be fitted with forty-four lifeboats. However, there is an excellent primary source detail from the vessel’s specification book, which was drafted in 1912. According to the specification book, Britannic was intended to be outfitted with the following lifeboats:

 

bullet

Forty 34-foot long, ten-foot wide and 4½-foot deep wooden lifeboats.

bullet

Two 34-foot long, ten-foot wide and 4-foot deep motor boats.

bullet

Two 26-foot long, eight-foot wide and 3-foot deep cutters.

 

Harland & Wolff’s official deck plans of Britannic, which apparently have never been published, indicate a total of forty-four lifeboats; with the forward two ‘girder’ davits serving only three boats each.

 

ANALYSIS IN RELATION TO CRITERIA:

bullet

Forty-four lifeboats, including forty wooden thirty-four-foot lifeboats, two motor boats and two cutters could accommodate Britannic’s full complement of passengers and crew, but only with eighty-four people in each of the forty wooden boats, the remaining 169 people being accommodated in the motor boats and cutters.

bullet

With Britannic’s eight ‘girder’-type davits, she could easily have accommodated forty-four lifeboats in total, leaving space to spare.

 

FORTY-SIX LIFEBOATS

 Interestingly, the specification book also notes a total of forty-six lifeboats for Britannic, but this figure for the ship pre-dates the forty-four boat figure and was apparently revised down to the forty-four boat total mentioned previously from the specification book. Nonetheless, it appears that the specification book originally provided for forty-two wooden boats, two motor boats and two cutters, of the same sizes as previously quoted.

 Further evidence that comes to light on the total number of lifeboats appears in photographs of the builder’s model of Britannic, photographed just after the ship’s launching and publication of those magazines, in April 1914. Unfortunately it is sometimes hard to make out how many lifeboats are in the pictures, and indeed the builder’s model might not have been configured entirely accurately, but nonetheless this material is interesting. In a view looking ‘stern on,’ taken on April 1st 1914 (Ulster Folk & Transport Museum photo 88), it is clear that there were fourteen boats on the Shade Deck above the poop – two rows of six boats, and two further boats above them, each suspended from one of the ‘girder’ davits. Because there were no funnels to complicate matters at this station, it seems that the full complement of six lifeboats per ‘girder’ davit could be accommodated, plus one boat suspended from each davit, in order to make the total of fourteen lifeboats at this station.

 

Lifeboat configuration on the Shade Deck, as seen on the builder's model. (Ulster Folk And Transport Museum - Courtesy of Russell Wild)

 In another photograph (UFTM 85) taken on the same day and showing a starboard profile of the builder’s model, there appear to be fourteen boats on the Shade Deck, twenty-four boats aft on the boat deck (six for each of the four davits situated there), and two wooden, one motorboat and one cutter forward on each of the two davits abreast the officer’s quarters; a grand total of forty-six lifeboats, apparently backing up the earlier original figure from the specification book. In a photograph of the model taken twenty-one days later on April 22nd 1914, there appear to be an identical number of lifeboats: fourteen on the poop deck; twenty-four aft on the boat deck; and eight boats forward on the boat deck, including the motorboats and cutters. Unfortunately although it was photographed in spring 1914, the builder’s model appears to discredit both the forty-four and forty-eight boat configurations, while backing up the originally contemplated forty-six boat figure from the early specification book, which had been altered at a later date. The model had originally been the Olympic and Titanic when it had been completed in 1910 and the two elder sisters were practically identical, although they became different in appearance as construction wore on. We could conclude that when it had been changed from 1913 to resemble the Britannic as redesigned after spring 1912, the builder’s model was specified to have forty-six boats, and no alterations were made even after Britannic herself had seen changes to her planned lifeboat profile. In any case, it is hard to offer these pictures of the builder’s model as conclusive evidence.

 

Starboard side view of the builder's model (Ulster Folk And Transport Museum)

 

ANALYSIS IN RELATION TO CRITERIA:

bullet

Assuming eighty people in each of the forty-two thirty-four-foot wooden boats, and the remaining 169 people in the motor boats and cutters, Britannic’s full complement of passengers and crew could have been accommodated in the lifeboats.

bullet

Britannic’s eight ‘girder’ davits could easily have accommodated forty-six lifeboats.

  

FORTY-EIGHT LIFEBOATS

 It is well-known that forty-eight lifeboats is the most commonly accepted figure for the total number of lifeboats that were planned to be aboard Britannic. There are a number of secondary 1914 sources which support this total. In the famous February 1914 edition of Engineering, the periodical noted that the Britannic was to carry a total of forty-eight lifeboats. The Shipbuilder of March 1914 proclaimed: ‘Forty-eight of the largest size of lifeboats yet made are being fitted, and two of these have powerful propelling machinery.’ In the same month, The Marine Engineer & Naval Architect agreed with a total of forty-eight lifeboats. Likewise, the figure of forty-eight lifeboats was repeated many times in the press; for example, The Daily Telegraph. Whilst these are all secondary sources, the fact that so many respected engineering magazines, which got details correct in other respects about the ship, all repeat the total of forty-eight lifeboats would seem to lend credence to the statistic.

 Whilst the 1912 specification book pre-dates this material by two years, and there is reasonably strong evidence suggesting that the lifeboat total had previously been revised from forty-six to forty-four during construction, it seems possible that the total number of lifeboats could have been revised again by the time of the ship’s launching and outfitting in 1914. Certainly those technical magazines relied heavily on the shipping companies and the shipbuilders for their information, and it seems hard to imagine that they could all have got the figure wrong unless they had been told that by either the White Star Line or Harland & Wolff. To a lesser extent, the same reliance can be credited to the newspapers and their reporters. These 1914 sources would certainly be more accurate in terms of their similarity to the ship’s intended ‘final’ design, simply because the ship had already been launched and outfitting had started.

 

ANALYSIS IN RELATION TO CRITERIA:

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With seventy-five people in each of the forty-four wooden lifeboats, and the remaining 229 people in the motor boats and cutters, Britannic’s full complement of passengers and crew could have been accommodated in forty-eight lifeboats. (Another possibility would be for the wooden lifeboats’ capacities to be any number between seventy-five and eighty people, reducing the number of people needed to be accommodated in the motor boats and cutters.)

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Britannic’s ‘girder’ type davits could have accommodated forty-eight lifeboats in total. With fourteen boats on the Shade Deck aft, twenty-four on the boat deck aft, and another ten forward on the boat deck at the forward two davits,. Nonetheless, forty-eight boats could certainly have been accommodated.

 

OVERALL ANALYSIS

 Once again, the conflict between sources cannot be overstated and bars the way to a more coherent and clear analysis or evaluation of the ship’s likely configuration. In a sense this mystery is a good thing, for it keeps interest up in Britannic, yet it is not easy to summarise the great number of possibilities. For instance, if the figure of fourteen lifeboats on the Shade Deck aft is disbelieved, and twelve installed (six to each davit set), and we believed that there were three boats on each girder davit beside the bridge as some sources show, then it would not even appear to be possible to have forty-four lifeboats. It is clear that whatever their number, the boats must have accommodated at least 3,529 people – Britannic’s registered complement of passengers and crew. Beyond that, we are speculating. Indeed, this fact is about the only one that we can categorically state, even now. Hopefully I can sum up the evidence for the various configurations, allowing debate to continue. It would be interesting to see debate on the topic on this website’s forum.

FORTY-FOUR LIFEBOATS

 This figure is backed up by the official Harland & Wolff deck plans, and the specification book to an extent (bearing in mind several alterations). Britannic’s davits could easily hold this many boats, yet each 34-foot wooden lifeboat would have to carry at least eighty-four people for the forty-four boats to accommodate Britannic’s maximum compliment of passengers and crew – this would be an increase of thirty percent in their capacity compared to Titanic’s 30-foot wooden boats, while the lifeboats were actually only thirteen percent longer and just under ten percent wider.

FORTY-SIX LIFEBOATS

 According to the specification book, forty-six boats certainly seems to have been the ‘original’ expected number of boats for Britannic. The ship’s davits could have accommodated this many boats, and the builder’s model photographed after the ship’s launch, in April 1914, would appear to back up this total – with fourteen lifeboats on the Shade Deck aft, twenty-four on the after boat deck and eight by the bridge on the forward two girder davits. Although the model does show two of these boats on the davits and hanging unsupported, this may be to indicate how the system worked and may not be an indicator of the intended stowing arrangements. Assuming eighty people were carried in each of the wooden lifeboats, then it is certainly possible that this configuration could have accommodated all of Britannic’s passengers and crew. However, the builder’s model’s accuracy can be questioned.

FORTY-EIGHT LIFEBOATS

 As the most common figure of Britannic’s lifeboats, I may be slightly biased towards the forty-eight boat configuration. Since a wide variety of 1914 sources at the time of the outfitting gave such a figure, and got all the other details of the ship’s specification correct from White Star and Harland & Wolff, I feel that this is certainly a leading contender for the ship’s final configuration as planned for transatlantic service. Each of the main 34-foot wooden lifeboats would have needed to accommodate at least seventy-five people each in order to hold Britannic’s maximum complement of passengers and crew, which seems close to previous estimates of their individual capacities. With fourteen boats on the Shade Deck aft, twenty-four aft on the boat deck, and ten on the forward davits near the bridge, Britannic’s davits could have accommodated this many boats. The placement of fourteen davits on the Shade Deck might seem excessive, yet even with the forty-four boat configuration of six boats by the bridge davits there would have to have been this many boats on the Shade Deck. Indeed, it would have been useful to have secured additional space on the boat deck, with fourteen boats aft on the ‘third class’ Shade Deck.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This article was not a one-man effort. History isn’t and never should be. I would like to thank Remco Hillen for a number of interesting discussions relating to the lifeboats, Michail Michailakis for all his kind help and information, and Simon Mills for both our discussion and allowing us to use the information that he provided from the Britannic’s specification book in this article.

 Particular note should be made here of Mark Warren’s wonderful Shipbuilder reprints for much of the information on Aquitania’s and Imperator’s lifeboat arrangements. (Warren, Mark D. Ed. Distinguished Liners from the Shipbuilder: 1907 – 1914 Volume 2. New York: Blue Ribband Publications; 1997.) For Britannic herself I have relied on all of the usual sources, ranging from newspapers and technical journals of the time to deck plans and photographs – and the specification book’s data on forty-four lifeboats.