RMS Gigantic (Britannic)

Intended to be the third ship in the trio of express liners conceived by Lord Pirrie and Bruce Ismay, the Gigantic was laid down in November 1911, almost six months after the launch of the Titanic, the idea being to incorporate improvements in her based on service experience with her two sisters.  As it turned out, the changes and modifications were more extensive and radical than anyone had ever anticipated, all the consequence of the Titanic disaster.

The double bottom originally designed into all three ships was modified  on  the Gigantic into a double hull that extended ten feet above her waterline.  Likewise her watertight bulkheads were raised to the same level.  These hull modifications made the third sister two feet wider in beam than the other two ships.

More readily apparent were the changes to the Gigantic’s after well-deck and poop deck.  The well deck was decked over, creating a covered promenade area for Third Class, while the poop deck was given a large deckhouse–neither of these features had been included on the other two sisters.  The additional enclosed area raised the Gigantic’s gross registered tonnage (GRT) to 48, 768 tons (remember that GRT is a measure of volume, not weight!), making her the largest British passenger liner built before the Great War.

But the most noticeable change to the Gigantic was the addition  of  handful of ungainly-looking  cantilevered davits abreast of the first, third and and fourth funnels, as well as on the poop deck.  They were designed to serve the extra  forty-two lifeboats that the Gigantic would now carry in addition to the sixteen  called for by her  original design.  These additional boats and their awkward-looking davits (the latter  looked like left-overs from some monstrous Meccano set) were obvious–and obviously–responses by the White Star Line to the Titanic disaster and the charges that the doomed ship had carried insufficient lifeboats for all of her passengers and crew.

The final change to the Gigantic was the one least readily apparent, however: she simply ceased to exist!  After the disaster the White Star Line abandoned such pretentious names, so it was as the subdued but dignified Britannic that the third sister was launched in April, 1914.  World War One exploded across Europe before the Britannic was completed, and she was requisitioned in late 1914 to serve as a hospital ship for the British armed forces.  In September 1916, while steaming off the coast of Greece in the Aegean Sea, she struck a mine that ripped open her first six watertight compartments–a suspected coal dust explosion almost blew her bow off–and despite the extensive modifications to her hull she sank in fifty-five minutes.  Only plenty of lifeboats and a warm sea kept the death toll down to thirty-five.  The Britannic was gone before the world ever knew she existed.

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