Großadmiral Karl Dönitz had left the Führerbunker on April 21, 1945. He was in a remote hideout at Plön, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. He received the following message from Martin Bormann:
“The Führer has appointed you, Herr Admiral, as his successor in place of Reichsmarschall Göring. Confirmation in writing follows. You are hereby authorized to take any measures which the situation demands. — Bormann.”
This surprised Dönitz. In his memoirs, he describes his reactions:
“… This took me completely by surprise. Since July 20, 1944, I had not spoken to Hitler at all except at some large gathering. … I had never received any hint on the subject from anyone else…. I assumed that Hitler had nominated me because he wished to clear the way to enable an officer of the Armed Forces to put an end to the war. That this assumption was incorrect, I did not find out until the winter of 1945-46 in Nuremberg, when for the first time I heard the provisions of Hitler’s will…. When I read the signal I did not for a moment doubt that it was my duty to accept the task … it had been my constant fear that the absence of any central authority would lead to chaos and the senseless and purposeless sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of lives … I realized … that the darkest moment in any fighting man’s life, the moment when he must surrender unconditionally, was at hand. I realized, too, that my name would remain forever associated with the act and that hatred and distortion of facts would continue to try and besmirch my honor. But duty demanded that I pay no attention to any such considerations. My policy was simple — to try and save as many lives as I could ...“
On the morning of May 1, 1945, Dönitz received the following radio message, classified as “Secret and Personal,” from Bormann:
“[Hitler’s] Will now in force. Coming to you as quickly as possible. Pending my arrival you should in my opinion refrain from public statement.“
On perusing this message, Dönitz presumed that Hitler was dead, but knew not how. The public had to be told of the Führer’s death expressed in respectful terms:
“… To denigrate him … as, I felt, many around me would have liked me to do, would, in my opinion, have been a mean and cheap thing to do … I believed that decency demanded that I should word my announcement in the manner in which it was, in fact, worded. Nor, I think, would I do otherwise today…“
The same day, Dönitz received a third and final radio message from the Berlin chancellery classified as “Personal and Secret” but signed this time by Goebbels and Bormann:
“Führer died yesterday, 1530 hours. In his will dated April 29 he appoints you as President of the Reich, Goebbels as Reich Chancellor, Bormann as Party Minister, Seyss-Inquart as Foreign Minister. The will, by order of the Führer, is being sent to you and to Field Marshal Schoerner and out of Berlin for safe custody. Bormann will try to reach you today to explain the situation. Form and timing of announcement to the Armed Forces and the public is left to your discretion. Acknowledge.“
Then the voice of Großadmiral Karl Dönitz, named by Hitler in his political testament as his successor with the title of Reichspräsident, was relayed from his remote hideout in North Germany. He said:
“German men and women, soldiers of the armed forces: Our Führer, Adolf Hitler, has fallen. In the deepest sorrow and respect the German people bow.
At an early date he had recognized the frightful danger of Bolshevism and dedicated his existence to this struggle. At the end of his struggle, of his unswerving straight road of life, stands his hero’s death in the capital of the German Reich. His life has been one single service for Germany. His activity in the fight against the Bolshevik storm flood concerned not only Europe, but the entire civilized world.
Der Führer has appointed me to be his successor.
Fully conscious of the responsibility, I take over the leadership of the German people at this fateful hour.
It is my first task to save Germany from destruction by the advancing Bolshevist enemy. For this aim alone the military struggle continues. As far and for so long as achievement of this aim is impeded by the British and the Americans, we shall be forced to carry on our defensive fight against them as well. Under such conditions, however, the Anglo-Americans will continue the war not for their own people, but solely for the spreading of Bolshevism in Europe.
What the German people have achieved in battle and borne in the homeland during the struggle of this war is unique in history. In the coming time of need and crisis of our people I shall endeavor to establish tolerable conditions of living for our women, men and children so far as this lies in my power.
For all this, I need your help. Give me your confidence because your road is mine as well. Maintain order and discipline in town and country. Let everybody do his duty at his own post. Only thus shall we mitigate the sufferings that the coming time will bring to each of us; only thus shall we be able to prevent a collapse. If we do all that is in our power, God will not forsake us after so much suffering and sacrifice.“
Even as he announced the death of Adolf Hitler, Dönitz was not aware of the suicide of Joesph Goebbels and his wife, and the murder of their children.
Dönitz then authorized a withdrawal of the German forces to the west hoping to save the army and the nation by negotiating a partial surrender to the allied forces. This move enabled about 1.8 million German soldiers to avoid capture by the Soviets. However, the troops continued to fight until May 8, 1945.
“For us, we have burnt our bridges. We cannot go back, but neither do we want to go back. We are forced to extremes and therefore resolved to proceed to extremes.” – Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.
On May 1, 1945, after Hitler committed suicide, Joseph Goebbels looked very depressed. He said:
“It is a great pity that such a man is not with us any longer. But there is nothing to be done. For us everything is lost now and the only way left for us is the one which Hitler chose. I will follow his example.“
Though Hitler in his political testament had appointed Joseph Goebbels as Reich Chancellor, the latter considered it as an empty title. He knew that Karl Dönitz whose sole concern was to negotiate with the western Allies to save Germany from Soviet occupation, would not want a notorious figure like him to be the head of his government.
Even though Hitler had signed the order to allow a breakout from the Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker on April 29, 1945, Goebbels told Vice-Admiral Hans-Erich Voss that he would not entertain the idea of either surrender to the Soviets or escape:
“I was the Reich Minister of Propaganda and led the fiercest activity against the Soviet Union, for which they would never pardon me.”
Moreover, Goebbels could not escape because he was Berlin’s Defense Commissioner and he considered it would be disgraceful for him to abandon his post.
In the morning on May 1, 1945, Joseph Goebbels, in his official capacity as the new Chancellor, dictated a letter and ordered German General Hans Krebs, under a white flag, to deliver the letter to General Vasily Chuikov, commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army, commanding the Soviet forces in central Berlin. In this letter, Goebbels informed Chuikov of Hitler’s death, and requested a ceasefire, hinting that the establishment of a National Socialist government hostile to Western plutocracy would be beneficial to the Soviet Union.When this request was rejected, Goebbels knew that further efforts were futile.
Shortly after, he dictated a postscript to Hitler’s testament:
“The Führer has given orders for me, in case of a breakdown of defense of the Capital of the Reich, to leave Berlin and to participate as a leading member in a government appointed by him. For the first time in my life, I must categorically refuse to obey a command of the Führer. My wife and my children agree with this refusal. In any other case, I would feel myself… a dishonorable renegade and vile scoundrel for my entire further life, who would lose the esteem of himself along with the esteem of his people, both of which would have to form the requirement for further duty of my person in designing the future of the German Nation and the German Reich.“
In the afternoon on May 1, 1945, before the start of the breakout from the Führerbunker, Vice-Admiral Hans-Erich Voss and about 10 generals and officers, went individually to Goebbels’s shelter to say goodbye, and asked Goebbels to join them. But he replied:
“The captain must not leave his sinking ship. I have thought about it all and decided to stay here. I have nowhere to go because with little children I will not be able to make it.”
Magda Goebbels bore six children to Nazi propaganda minister Dr. Joseph Goebbels between 1932 and 1940 – five daughters and one son. According to some writers the names of all the children began with ‘H’ as a tribute to Adolf Hitler, but there is no evidence to support this contention; rather, it supports that Magda’s ‘H’ naming was the idea of her first husband, Günther Quandt who named his other two children after his first wife beginning with ‘H’.
Magda and Joseph Goebbels hated each other, and were estranged for a long period since the husband blackmailed his wife emotionally. Their marriage was held together on Hitlers’s orders only.
The Goebbels sought the help of Helmut Kunz, an SS dentist, to kill their six children.
Magda Goebbels told her children that they needed an inoculation. According to Kunz’s testimony, he injected the children with morphine. Magda then put the children to bed. She then asked Kunz to help her give the children cyanide once they were asleep, but he refused. She then turned to one of Hitler’s doctors, Ludwig Stumpfegger. He helped her crush cyanide vials between the children’s teeth as they slept.
Around 8:15 pm, Goebbels and his wife left the Vorbunker and went up and out to the garden of the Reich Chancellery. They were followed by Goebbels’s adjutant, SS-Hauptsturmführer Günther Schwägermann. While Schwägermann was busy preparing the gasoline, Magda bit a vial of cyanide and, Goebbels shot her with a pistol, to make doubly sure that she died, before turning it on himself. Schwägermann ordered one of the soldiers to shoot Goebbels again because he was unable to do it himself.
The bodies of Joseph Goebbels and his wife were then burned in a shell crater, but owing to the lack of petrol, the burning was only partly effective. The remains were not buried.
In the above manipulated vintage image, the visage of the uniformed Harald Quandt, stepson of Joseph Goebbels born to Magda Behrend Rietschel and Günther Quandt, was inserted and retouched. Actually Harald was away on military duties when the photo of the Goebbels family was taken. He was not present when his half-siblings were killed. He was safe in Canada, incarcerated in a prisoner-of-war camp.
On November 21, 1916, at 8:15 am, the British destroyer the HMS Scourge had received the distress signal from HMHS Britannic. Immediately, her Captain set course for the Kea channel. He sent a request for assistance to the HMS Foxhound, another British destroyer, patrolling in the Gulf of Athens. He also requested the French tugs Polyphemus and Goliath to help rescue survivors.
At 8:28 am, the auxiliary cruiser SS Heroic, which had encountered the Britannic earlier that day, received the signal and reversed its course immediately.
At 8:35 am, the HMS Scourge requested the assistance of the HMS Foxhound, another British destroyer, patrolling in the Gulf of Athens.
Northwest of Korissia on Kea, the sea was littered with debris, corpses and survivors in lifeboats.
Fortunately, as I mentioned before, two lifeboats on HMHS Britannic were motor propelled and equipped with wireless sets for communications. These innovations proved crucial in the rescue of the hundreds of people scattered all over the area of the wreckage. The two motorized lifeboats quickly picked up as many survivors as possible as they traveled faster and were more maneuverable than the vintage non-motorized lifeboats. They transported the wounded to Korissia.
Greek fishermen from Kea were the first to arrive on the scene of the wreckage. They picked up a few people from the water.
Around 10 am, SS Heroic picked up 494 people from the lifeboats and from water.
A few minutes later, HMS Scourge arrived and picked up 339 survivors. The HMS Foxhound arrived at 11:45 am, followed by the HMS Foresight, one of two Forward class scout cruiser of the Royal Navy, at 2 pm.
A total of 1,036 people out of 1,066 on board the HMHS Britannic were saved. Thirty people - nine members of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and 21 crew members - lost their lives and 24 people were injured.
Even though HMHS Britannic was the biggest ship lost in the First World War, her sinking was not costly in terms of loss of human life when compared to the sinking of her sister ship RMS Titanic. There were 1,066 people on board, with 1,036 survivors picked up from the sea and lifeboats with the loss of 30 lives chopped by the giant propellers.
After the sinking of HMHS Britannic, Violet Jessop continued to work aboard ocean liners for 38 more years. After the First World War, she left the White Star Line and joined the Red Star Line and then joined the Royal Mail Line again.
She got married in her late thirties. The marriage was brief. In 1950 she retired to Great Ashfield, Suffolk.
Violet Jessop, often, allegorically called “Miss Unsinkable” by many, died of congestive heart failure in 1971 at the age of 83.
The book “Titanic Survivor” contains some passages of Violet Jessop memoir written in 1934, originally named Neptune’s Greenroom. It has been informatively annotated by editor John Maxtone-Graham.
I feel that Arthur John Priest, the lowly stoker in the boiler rooms, truly deserves the name ‘unsinkable‘ rather than Violet Jessop. He survived the following incidents:
In 1907, the RMS Asturias foundering on its maiden voyage.
On September 20, 1911, the collision of RMS Olympic with HMS Hawke.
On April 15, 1912, the sinking of RMS Titanic. He was rescued, probably in lifeboat 15.
On February 29, 1916, the sinking of SS Alcantara by the German armed merchant cruiser SMS Greif.
On November 21, 1916, the sinking of RMS Britannic.
In April 1917, the sinking of SS Donegal. Also, on board that ship was Archie Jewell, the lookout. Priest survived yet again, but Archie Jewell was killed.
John Priest died in Southampton from pneumonia in 1937.
Now, I wonder who the real Jonah was on the three ships: RMS Olympic, RMS Titanic and RMS Britannic. Was it Violet Jessop, the stewardess/nurse, or Arthur John Priest, the fireman/stoker?
On November 21, 1916, Violet Jessop, after attending an early service by Rev. John A. Fleming, one of the ship’s chaplains, was having breakfast along with others in the dining room. In the dining room was John Priest, a fireman or stoker who was on board along with Violet Jessop on the RMS Olympic when she collided with the HMS Hawke, and was also aboard the RMS Titanic when she sank on April 15, 1912.
At 8:12 am, a loud explosion reverberated around the ship. HMHS Britannic apparently struck a submerged sea mine. Violet Jessop later wrote:
“Suddenly, there was a dull deafening roar. Britannic gave a shiver, a long drawn out shudder from stem to stern, shaking the crockery on the tables, breaking things till it subsided as she slowly continued on her way. We all knew she had been struck...”
Later on, Reverend Fleming described the blast as “if a score of plate glass windows had been smashed together.”
In his official report Captain Charles Alfred Barlett said:
“…atremendous but muffled explosion occurred, the ship trembling and vibrating most violently fore and aft, continuing for some time; the ship fell off about 3 points from her course.”
Some aboard the ship thought the ship had hit a small boat. Even so, the doctors and nurses left the dining room immediately for their posts. Many others outside the dining room felt a forceful bump that swept them off their feet. Captain Barlett said:
“Water was seen to be thrown up to E or D deck forward at the time of the explosion, and a cloud of black smoke was seen, the fumes for some time being suffocating.”
The first reports brought to Captain Bartlett and Chief Officer Hume on the bridge were alarming; HMHS Britannic had apparently struck a submerged sea mine. The explosion had taken place low on the starboard side between holds 2 and 3. The watertight bulkhead between hold 1 and the forepeak was damaged.
The first four watertight compartments started filling with water. The watertight door of the firemen’s tunnel connecting the firemen’s quarters in the bow with boiler room 6 was severely damaged and water started flowing into that boiler room. The watertight door between boiler rooms 6 and 5 also failed to close properly.
Captain Barlett later said:
“The damage was most extensive, probably the whole of the fore part of the ship’s bottom being destroyed and in my opinion penetrating to No.6 boiler room.“
To aggravate matters, as the ship’s list increased, water reached the level of the portholes that had been opened previously by the nurses to ventilate the wards.
Captain Bartlett sent a distress signal and ordered the crew to get ready to launch the lifeboats.
At 8:35 am, Captain Bartlett gave the order to abandon ship and the crew members started the drill to lower the lifeboats for evacuation.
At 8:35 am, Captain Bartlett gave the order to abandon ship and the crew members started the drill to lower the lifeboats for evacuation.
An officer ordered two lifeboats to be lowered. A group of panic-stricken stewards and some sailors rushed immediately and occupied the two lifeboats. The officer decided not to remove the frightened stewards from the lifeboats as he did not want them later to obstruct the evacuation of the people on board. He ordered all the sailors to get out except one on each lifeboat to take charge of it as it left the sinking ship.
The officer then ordered the lifeboats to be lowered, but stopped lowering them when they were about six feet above the churning water as he realized the engines were still running. He waited for further orders from the bridge. Shortly after, the order came from the bridge not to launch any lifeboats as the Captain Bartlett had decided to beach the Britannic.
Captain Bartlett made a dire try to beach the ship on the shores of Kea, about three miles out to his right. Unfortunately, the steering gear did not respond due to the list and she slowly started to turn.
The nurses were loaded onto the lifeboats for evacuation after being counted and grouped by Matron E. A Dowse.
A group of firemen/stokers furtively took a lifeboat from the poop deck without being authorized. Seeing the lifeboat was not filled to its maximum capacity, Assistant Commander Harry William Dyke ordered the firemen to pick up some men who had already jumped into the water. In the next 50 minutes, the crew managed to lower 35 of 58 lifeboats.
Of the lifeboats assigned to Third Officer David Laws three were lowered without his knowledge. Using automatic release gear they dropped six feet and hit the water violently. The gigantic propellers that were still running were almost out of the water and the two of the three unauthorized lifeboats started drifting towards the giant rotating blades of the portside propeller.
Archie Jewell, the lookout, was in one of the lifeboats which was being sucked into the ship’s still turning propellers. However, he survived. In a letter to his sisters Archie described his escape:
“… most of us jumped in the waterbut it was no good we was pulled right in under the blades…I shut my eyes and said good bye to this world, but I was struck with a big piece of the boat and got pushed right under the blades and I was goin around like a top…I came up under some of the wreckage … everything was goinblack to me when some one on top was strugling and pushed the wreckage away so I came up just in time I was nearly done for … there was one poor fellow drowning and he caught hold of me but I had to shake him off so the poor fellow went under.“
Violet Jessop was in one the other lifeboat, No. 4. In her memoirs she wrote:
“... the lifeboat started gliding down rapidly, scraping the ship’s side, splintering the glass in our faces from the boxes, which formed, when lighted, the green lighted band around a hospital ship’s middle, and making a terrible impact as we landed on the water...”
“… eyes were looking with unexpected horror at the debris and the red streaks all over the water. The falls of the lowered lifeboat, left hanging, could now be seen with human beings clinging to them, like flies on flypaper, holding on for dear life, with a growing fear of the certain death that awaited them if they let go…”
Moments after touching the water, her lifeboat clustered with the other lifeboats already in the water, struggling to get free from the ship’s side, but it was rapidly drifting into the propellers.
“… every man jack in the group of surrounding boats took a flying leap into the sea. They came thudding from behind and all around me, taking to the water like a vast army of rats … I turned around to see the reason for this exodus and, to my horror, saw Britannic’s huge propellers churning and mincing up everything near them-men, boats and everything were just one ghastly whirl“.
To avoid being sucked into the Britannic’s propellers that chopped to shreds the lifeboats, one after another, Violet overcame her fear and jumped out of the lifeboat even though she could not swim. She struck her head on the ship’s keel. An arm grabbed her, but Violet shirked it off fearing the arm was that of another person drowning like herself. She surfaced because of the life-belt she was wearing and her clothes almost torn off her.
“… The first thing my smarting eyes beheld was a head near me, a head split open, like a sheep’s head served by the butcher, the poor brains trickling over on to the khaki shoulders. All around were heart-breaking scenes of agony, poor limbs wrenched out as if some giant had torn them in his rage. The dead floated by so peacefully now, men coming up only to go down again for the last time, a look of frightful horror on their faces…“.
At this exact moment, a third lifeboat was about to be shred to pieces by the propellers. Violet Jessop closed her eyes to stop watching the impending massacre. Unaware of the bloodbath generated by the monstrous propeller blades, Captain Bartlett gave orders to stop the engines. The propellers stopped turning, and the occupants of this boat pushed against the blades and escaped with their lives.
Violet Jessop was rescued once again by a lifeboat.
Around 8:50 am noticing the rate of the flooding had decreased, Captain Bartlett gave orders to restart the engines in a second attempt to beach the ship. But he immediately aborted the attempt as water was reported on Deck D.
At 9:00 am, when the water reached the bridge, Captain Bartlett sounded one last blow on the whistle alerting the ship’s engineers, who had remained at their posts until the last possible moment, to evacuate the ship.
Captain Bartlett swam from the bridge to a collapsible lifeboat. From there he coordinated the rescue operations.
The ship rolled over her starboard side. The funnels collapsed. The machinery on the deck fell into the sea.
At 9:07 am, 55 minutes after the explosion, HMHS Britannic, built to be an ocean cruiser, envisaged to be the last word in luxury travel, but never served as a transatlantic passenger liner, sank and vanished into the depths at 37°42’05.0″N 24°17’02.0″E, on its sixth voyage as a hospital ship transporting sick and wounded soldiers.
Reverend John Fleming who left the sinking ship in the second-last boat, described the sinking:
“Gradually the waters licked up and up the decks — the furnaces belching forth volumes of smoke, as if the great engines were in their last death agony; one by one the monster funnels melted away as wax before a flame, and crashed upon the decks, till the waters rushed down; then report after report rang over the sea, telling of the explosions of the boilers. The waters moved over the deck still, the bows of the ship dipping deeper and deeper into the sea, until the rudder stood straight up from the surface of the water, and, poised thus for a few moments, dived perpendicularly into the depths, leaving hardly a ripple behind. A sense of the desert overwhelmed my soul.“
The HMHS Britannic was the third and largest Olympic-class ocean liner of the White Star Line larger than the RMS Titanic.
Some sources claim the ship was to be named “Gigantic“. At least one set of documentations exists, in which Noah Hingley & Sons Ltd., in Netherton, near Dudley, United Kingdom, discuss the order for the ship’s anchors; this documentation states that the name of the ship is Gigantic. It appears more probable that the name Gigantic must have been used informally in correspondence with Harland & Wolff before being dropped quietly. However, Tom McCluskie affirmed that in his capacity as Archive Manager and Historian at Harland & Wolff, he “never saw any official reference to the name ‘Gigantic’ being used or proposed for the third of the Olympic class vessels.”
The keel for Britannic was laid on November 30, 1911, at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, 13 months after the launch of the RMS Olympic. Her watertight bulkhead was extended, higher than Titanic’s had been. Britannic was designed to carry 48 open lifeboats. Of these, 46 were to be 34 feet long, the largest lifeboats ever carried until then and two of the 46 were to be motor propelled equipped with wireless sets for communications. The other two were to be 26-foot cutters placed on either side of the bridge.
Though Britannic was intended to enter service as a transatlantic passenger liner, she never crossed the Atlantic carrying the rich and the poor to the New World.
After improvements were introduced as a consequence of the Titanic disaster, Britannic was launched at 11:10 am on February 26, 1914. Around 20 tonnes of tallow, train oil and soft soap were used to move the gigantic ship down the slipway. In 81 seconds she stood afloat in the water. Later, she was towed to the Abercon Basin for fitting by five tugs.
The British press hailed her as “a twentieth century ship in every sense of the word” and “the highest achievement of her day in the practise of shipbuilding and marine engineering.” However, after launching, she was laid up at her builders in Belfast for many months.
In August 1914, when the first World War broke out, the shipyards in Britain focused on converting many liners for Transport of Troops. Some were converted to Hospital ships. Britannic‘s maiden voyage scheduled for April 1915 was cancelled.
On November 13, 1915, after being docked for 15 months, the British Admiralty requisitioned Britannic, which was just an empty hull, to use it as a hospital ship. She was readied in just six weeks before being put to use as a hospital ship and was given ship number 9618.
The public rooms on the upper decks were converted into wards for the wounded soldiers. The large first class dining rooms and the reception rooms were converted into operating theatres and main wards. Deck B was furnished to house the medical officers. The lower decks were fitted out for medical orderlies, other staff and the less wounded patients. In all, the ship was fitted to carry 3,309 people.
The ship’s hull was repainted in the internationally recognized colours of a hospital ship; a green band was painted along each side of the ship broken by three large red crosses, to provide her safe passage at sea. For protection at night, two large red crosses were painted on both sides of the boat deck and were highlighted at night with a band of green electric bulbs.
Renamed HMHS (His Majesty’s Hospital Ship) Britannic, she entered service on December 23, 1915 under the command of Commodore Charles Alfred Bartlett.
On December 23, 1915, she entered service as His Majesty’s Hospital Ship – HMHS Britannic.
After her traumatic experience on the RMS Titanic, Violet Jessop secured a position with the British Red Cross as a stewardess. She was posted on HMHS Britannic.
Along with Violet on board was 27-year-old Arthur John Priest, a fireman / stoker, who, like her, had survived the collision of the RMS Olympic with the HMS Hawke, and escaped from the RMS Titanic when she sank on April 15, 1912.
Also, on board was 23-year-old Archie Jewel, one of the six lookout men on the deck of the ill-fated Titanic. On the night of April 14, 1912, he had worked the 8 pm to 10 pm shift and was in his berth when the ship hit the iceberg at 11:40 pm. He was one of the first to leave the ship on the starboard side at 12:45 pm in lifeboat 7, with just 28 people on it while the full capacity was for 65. After the Titanic, Archie was on board the SS Donegal which was sunk by enemy action in April 1917.
On December 23, 1915, HMHS Britannic left Liverpool on her maiden voyage to Moudros, on the island of Lemnos, North Aegean, Greece under the command of Commodore Charles Alfred Bartlett. She reached Moudros eight days later on December 31, 1915 and returned to Southampton on January 9, 1916.
After completing two more voyages to Naples, she was laid up on April 12, 1916.
On August 28, 1916, HMHS Britannic was recalled to active service and was given a new Transport Identification Number, G618. She made two more voyages to Moudros returning with the sick and wounded.
The HMHS Britannic left Southampton at 2:23 pm on November 12, 1916 with Captain Charles Bartlett in command on her 6th outbound voyage to Moudros. On arriving at Naples on November 17, 1916, she took on board more coal and water.
The ship was secured for two days at Naples due to a storm. On Sunday, November 19, 1916, finding a brief shift in the weather, Captain Bartlett decided to sail away from Naples. A total of 1,066 people – sick and wounded soldiers, the ship’s crew, and the medical staff – were on board.
As HMHS Britannic left the port, a storm set in and the sea rose again. The following morning, the storm passed and the sea became calm and the ship passed the Strait of Messina without any further problems. In the early hours of Tuesday, November 21, 1916, the ship rounded Cape Matapan.
At 8:00 am, Captain Bartlett changed course for the Kea Channel, in the Aegean Sea, lying between the islands of Makronisi (to her port side) and Kea (to her starboard side), just off Cape Sounion on the mainland of Greece. Chief Officer Robert Hume and Fourth Officer D. McTowis were on the Bridge along with him.
As early as the 9th century BC, the Assyrians and the Greco-Roman world used fiery weapons such as incendiary arrows and pots that contained combustible substances in warfare. Thucydides mentioned the use of tubular flame throwers during the siege of Athens in 424 BC. According to the chronicler John Malalas, the naval fleet of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I used a sulphur-based mixture to subdue the revolt of Vitalianas in 515 AD as advised by Proclus, a philosopher from Athens.
During the classical and medieval periods – about 8th century BC until the mid-16th century AD, warring factions used thermal weapons such as burning projectiles and other incendiary devices to burn, damage and destroy enemy personnel, fortifications, towns, villages and farms.
In the simplest, and most common cases, the antagonists used boiling water and hot sand, as thermal projectiles. They poured or spewed hot liquefied bitumen, pitch, resin, animal fat and boiling oil, and at times chemicals such as sulphur and nitrates that burned or caused physical irritation over the enemy who tried to scale their fortifications, or projected the incendiaries onto the enemies waiting at a distance using war machines such as catapults. They used smoke to confuse or drive off attackers.
They followed the scorched-earth strategy – a practice carried out by an army in enemy territory or in its own home territory that involved destroying large tracts of land, towns, villages, and assets used or can be used by the enemy such as food sources, and transportation.
Though the Western Roman Empire fragmented and collapsed in the 5th century, the Byzantine Empire continued to thrive. It existed for more than a thousand years as the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe until 1453.
An incendiary weapon used by the Byzantine Empire in naval battles known as “Greek fire” instilled fear in its enemies and helped to win many Byzantine military victories. It saved Constantinople from two Arab sieges securing the Empire’s survival. It provided a technological advantage over other incendiaries because It continued to burn while floating on water.
When the west European Crusaders came face-to-face with the Greek fire, it made an impression such that they applied the name to any incendiary weapon, including those used by the Arabs, the Chinese, and the Mongols.
Even though we use the term “Greek fire” in English and in many other languages, the original Byzantine sources called it by a variety of names, such as: “sea fire” (Ancient Greek: πῦρ θαλάσσιον), “Roman fire” (πῦρ ῥωμαϊκόν), “war fire” (πολεμικὸν πῦρ), “liquid fire” (ὑγρὸν πῦρ), or “manufactured fire” (πῦρ σκευαστόν).
The Byzantine formula for the composition of Greek fire, a closely guarded state secret, now lost, remains a matter of speculation and debate. Some suggest combinations of pine resin, naphtha, quicklime, sulphur, or nitre (the mineral form of potassium nitrate, KNO3, also known as saltpetre). Byzantines used pressurized siphons to project the liquid incendiary mixtures onto the enemy.
Saint Theophanes the Confessor, a member of the Byzantine aristocracy who became a monk and chronicler accredits Kallinikos, an architect from Heliopolis in the former province of Phoenice, by then overrun by the Muslim conquests, as the developer of the Greek fire around 672 AD. However, Thephanes also reports the use of fire-carrying and siphon-equipped ships by the Byzantines a couple of years before the supposed arrival of Kallinikos at Constantinople. The report of this chronicler stands unresolved due to the variance in the chronology of events.
Around 672, the Arabs who subdued Syria, Palestine and Egypt now set out to capture Constantinople, the imperial capital of the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine navy used Greek fire to repel the Muslims during the first and second Arab sieges of the city. During the expansion of the Byzantine Empire in the late 9th and early10th centuries, the Byzantines used Greek fire in naval battles against the Saracens.
The Byzantines themselves used Greek fire in their civil wars, for example, in the revolt of the thematic fleets in 727 and during the large-scale rebellion in i821–823 led by Thomas the Slav. In both cases, the Imperial Fleet defeated the rebel fleets by using Greek fire. The Byzantines also used the weapon against the various Rus’ raids to the Bosporus in 941 and 1043, as well as in the Bulgarian war of 970–971, when the fire-carrying Byzantine ships blockaded the Danube.
The Byzantines believed that divine intervention led to the discovery of Greek fire during the Empire’s struggle against the Arabs. Emperor Constantine Porphyrogennetos who ruled from 945 to 959 in his book De Administrando Imperio, advised his son and heir, Romanos II never to reveal the secrets of its composition. He wrote that since it was “shown and revealed by an angel to the great and holy first Christian Emperor Constantine” and that the angel bound him “not to prepare this fire but for Christians, and only in the imperial city.” He also warns by citing an incident of one official bribed into handing some of it over to the Empire’s enemies struck down by a “flame from heaven.”
However, the enemies of the Byzantine Empire captured their precious secret weapon: in 827, the Arabs captured at least one fireship intact, and in 812/814, the Bulgars captured several siphons and a fair amount of the substance. Even so, the Bulgars found the amount of substance not sufficient enough to copy it. The Arabs used a variety of incendiary substances similar to the Byzantine Greek fire, but they never succeeded in copying the Byzantine method of deployment by siphon – they used catapults and grenades.
Greek fire continued to be mentioned during the 12th century. Anna Komnene, a Greek princess, scholar, physician, hospital administrator and the daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos of Byzantium in her book Alexiad gives a vivid description of the use of Greek fire in a naval battle against the Pisans in 1099.
During the 1203 siege of Constantinople by the Crusade, though reports mentioned hastily improvised fire-ships, none of them confirmed the use of the actual Greek fire. This might be because of the disarmament of the Empire in the twenty years leading up to the sacking of Constantinople, or because the Byzantines had lost access to the territories where the ingredients that composed the Greek fire were to be found, or because the secret had been lost over time.