MV Britannic (1929)

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For other White Star liners with the same name, see SS Britannic (1874) and HMHS Britannic.
Britannic (III).jpg
The MV Britannic
Name: MV Britannic
Builder: Harland & Wolff
Launched: 6 August 1929
Maiden voyage: 28 June 1930
Fate: Scrapped in 1960
General characteristics
Type: Motor ocean liner
Tonnage: 26,943 gross tons
Length: 217 m (712 ft)
Beam: 25 m (82 ft)

The MV Britannic was a transatlantic ocean liner of the White Star Line and the company's third ship to bear that name. Constructed by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, the ship was delivered to White Star Line in 1930 and assigned to the Liverpool-New York line. When White Star Line merged with Cunard Line in 1934, the ship's route changed to the London-New York line, and it later provided winter Mediterranean cruises.

During World War II it was used to transport troops, carrying 173,550 people. Resuming commercial service in 1948 after being overhauled, the ship experienced a number of problems in the 1950s, including two fires. However this diesel-powered ship's career continued until 1960, when it was sold for scrap. The Britannic was the last ship constructed for White Star Line to remain in service.


Design and construction[edit]

In the mid-1920s the International Mercantile Marine Co. (IMM), an American group of shipping companies, announced that it wished to sell its British companies, the most important of which was White Star Line. On 1 January 1927, White Star Line was sold to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (RMSPC), making the RMSPC the largest shipping group in the world.[1] At that time the company fleet was ageing rapidly, and Lord Kylsant, chairman of the RMSPC, announced plans to construct new ships.[2]

Two projects then took place simultaneously. The first, which was already vaguely envisioned when White Star Line was still part of the IMM, concerned the construction of a new ship for prompt service of the North Atlantic. This project was never completed.[3] The second project concerned the replacement of the Big Four quartet of ocean liners, the first of which was the Britannic. These replacements were designed to be smaller and slower than the Big Four but more luxurious. White Star Line chose a diesel method of propulsion for the Britannic, despite previously preferring multiple expansion steam engines.[4]

The Britannic was to be constructed by Harland and Wolff and the ship's keel was placed on 14 April 1927 in Belfast in yard 807.[5] The construction of the ship became even more necessary with the loss of the RMS Celtic of the Big Four. The Britannic was launched on 6 August 1929 with the second-largest ship engine in the world, behind MS Augustus.[6] The following spring, the ship was laid out and completed, performed three days of sea trials from 25 May 1930, and then was delivered to White Star Line.[5]

Early years[edit]

Britannic at Liverpool in the early 1930s

When the Britannic entered service, the Great Depression was profoundly altering the marine traffic on the North Atlantic line, with less passengers desiring to use the route. Many ships of White Star line that served Canada, such as the SS Calgaric, SS Albertic, SS Laurentic, and SS Megantic, had to provide cheap cruises in order to earn money. The Britannic, which offered more affordable rates and consumed less fuel, thus became a ship ideal for the economic situation.[7]

The delivery of the ship at Liverpool resulted in an ecstatic press and was well received. On 28 June 1930, 14,000 people flocked to watch the ship initiate its maiden voyage to New York City via Glasgow and Belfast.[8] The ship served this line during the summer with aging ships RMS Cedric, RMS Baltic, and RMS Adriatic, and proved to be the company's most profitable ship.[9][a]

In 1932, the Britannic was joined by a twin, the MV Georgic,[10] and both ships followed the same route.[11] In 1933, the Britannic was travelling at a speed of 19.5 knots, above its previously-intended speed, and was able to carry 1,103 passengers, the highest numbers of passengers on board a ship that year.[12]

Cunard White Star Line[edit]

During this time of economic problems, White Star Line was experiencing additional difficulties: Lord Kylsant was imprisoned in 1931 for producing deceptive documents.[13] The economic situation of getting worse year by year, and the Cunard Line was not in a healthier state. Neville Chamberlain, then-Chancellor of the Exchequer, pressured both companies to merge in order to preserve the British naval prestige.[14] On 11 May 1934, the companies merged to form the Cunard White Star Line, with White Star Line holding a minority position.[15]

Following this merger, most ships of White Star Line were scrapped between 1934 and 1936, and only the Britannic and the Georgic remained in service.[16] The SS Laurentic was also retained until it sank in 1940.[17] On 19 April 1936 the Britannic and the Georgic were assigned to the line between London and New York, making them the largest ships to sail the Thames. They continued this service until the outbreak of the Second World War.[18]

A number of new ships appeared; the SS Manhattan and the SS Washington for United States Lines, and the SS Champlain and the SS Lafayette for the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. Figures from 1937 show that in 1937, the Britannic carried 26,943 passengers, the Georgic carried a few hundred more. However the SS Camplain achieved greater numbers of passengers.[19] The poor performance of the Britannic are partially due to partly damaged machines identified on 4 January 1937 while the ship was leaving New York, and it was sent into a dry dock for repairs.[20]

World War II[edit]

While World War II was imminent, the Britannic was requisitioned on 27 August 1939 while returning from New York. The ship was called to Southampton and was quickly equipped to transport troops. A few days later, the ship left for Glasgow to transport officers of the British Indian army and naval officers, who were transported to Bombay where the ship was armed with guns and left for England with several tons of goods. Following this, the ship resumed commercial service.[21]

The ship was again requisitioned on 23 August 1940 for a tour of Africa before travelling to Bombay. During the following two years, the Britannic served India via Cape Town.[22] The capacity of the ship increased from 3,000 to 5,000 troops.[23] In 1943, the ship served as the command ship of a convoy to land troops in Algiers.[24] Subsequently, between November 1943 and May 1944, the ship made eight North Atlantic crossings, carrying 20,000 American soldiers. It then transported troops to Italy and the Middle East.[25]

In April and May 1945 the Britannic was responsible for transporting British Canadian women espoused by the soldiers and their children. Since the initiation of WWII, the ship carried 173,550 people over 324,792 mi (522,702 km).[26] At the end of the conflict, the Britannic was temporarily stored under the responsibility of the state, and was released from service in March 1947. It then underwent a major overhaul in Liverpool which modernised its interior, and then resumed its commercial service.[27]

Post-war service[edit]

The Britannic made its first trip after WWII between Liverpool and New York via Cobh on 22 May 1948, and its new facilities were subject to a promotional campaign by Cunard White Star Line.[28] At the end of 1949 Cunard Line, having purchased all of the shares of White Star Line, took its original name in 1950. Despite this, the Britannic and the Georgic continued to display the flags of both White Star Line and Cunard Line.[29]

On 28 January 1950 the Britannic was unable to cruise from New York to the Mediterranean as a result of machine damage. On 1 June 1950 the ship struck and damaged the Pioneer Land in the port of New York, but was able to cross the Atlantic without damage.[30] The ship continued its 1950 summer transatlantic crossings and winter cruises.[26] In 1953 and 1955 fires broke out on the ship, but these did not put the Britannic in danger, although the latter destroyed some of the ship's cargo.[31] In January 1955 the Georgic was removed from service, making the Britannic the last remaining ship of the White Star Line.[26]

In 1958 the construction of a new vessel was announced that would replace the Britannic in 1961.[32] In 1960 the ship made its final cruise from New York to the Mediterranean, with a total of 23 stops over 66 days.[33] The Britannic traveled back to New York in preparation for another cruise, but the crankshaft of the ship was severely damaged and the next voyage was cancelled.[34] However, the Cunard Line declared repairs to be unprofitable, and she returned to Liverpool on 11 November 1960. Upon the ship's arrival on 16 December, it left for Inverkeithing[35] and was sold to a metal recovery company, and was scrapped the following year.[23]


Technical elements[edit]

The Britannic was a medium-sized ship and had a gross tonnage of 26,943 tons. Measuring 217 m (712 ft) long by 25 m (82 ft) wide,[36] the ship's hull was black with a golden line, and the underside of the ship was painted rust red.[29] Two chimneys were present, which were wider than those on other White Star Line ships, but only the rear one was functional, with the front chimeny being used for radar installations and water supplies.[37] The ship was powered by a diesel engine driving two propellers, and contained one of the largest 1930s machines, which was difficult for the engineers to run. This diesel engine allowed large fuel savings and was received positively by passengers.[38]

The Britannic was divided into watertight compartments separated by twelve walls and doors that could be closed manually, or electrically from the navigational bridge.[39] The ship contained 24 conventional lifeboats, two speedboats, and two backup canoes.[38] Following the ship's post-WWII overhaul, the ship received sophisticated fire-detection systems. This overhaul resulted in the ship's gross tonnage increasing to 27,666 tons.[40] It had eight large cargo holds, one of which could transport unpackaged cars, and two allowed the transport of refrigerated cargo.[39]


The Britannic was a cabin ship and was designed to transport passengers in comfortable conditions comparable to those offered by large ocean liners, but at lower speeds, allowing a tariff reduction. The ship ws initially able to carry 504 "cabin" (first) class passengers, 551 "Tourist" class passengers, and 498 third class passengers. The first two classes offered very similar facilities.[41] It was initially decorated in various 1920s styles,[42] but was redecorated in Art Deco style after the post-WWII overhaul.[40] A significant number of the cabins were equipped with bathrooms and all have hot and cold running water, which was rare at the time. On deck A, the two luxurious cabins were present, equipped each with a living room, a bedroom, and a bathroom.[42]


  1. ^ In 1931, of the ten ships operated by White Star Line only four were profitable, with the Britannic being the most profitable by far. These figures do not include winter cruises for any ships.[11]


  1. ^ Anderson 1964, p. 165.
  2. ^ Anderson 1964, p. 168.
  3. ^ Eaton & Haas 1989, p. 253.
  4. ^ de Kerbrech 2009, p. 223.
  5. ^ a b de Kerbrech 2002, p. 10.
  6. ^ Haws 1990, p. 101.
  7. ^ Anderson 1964, p. 172.
  8. ^ de Kerbrech 2002, pp. 14-15.
  9. ^ de Kerbrech 2009, pp. 225-226.
  10. ^ de Kerbrech 2009, p. 231.
  11. ^ a b de Kerbrech 2002, p. 19.
  12. ^ de Kerbrech 2002, p. 20.
  13. ^ Anderson 1964, pp. 178-179.
  14. ^ Anderson 1964, p. 176.
  15. ^ de Kerbrech 2002, p. 26.
  16. ^ Anderson 1964, p. 181.
  17. ^ Anderson 1964, p. 216.
  18. ^ de Kerbrech 2002, p. 27.
  19. ^ de Kerbrech 2002, pp. 28-29.
  20. ^ Eaton & Haas 1989, p. 232.
  21. ^ de Kerbrech 2002, p. 31.
  22. ^ de Kerbrech 2009, p. 226.
  23. ^ a b Haws 1990, p. 102.
  24. ^ de Kerbrech 2002, p. 35.
  25. ^ de Kerbrech 2002, p. 36.
  26. ^ a b c de Kerbrech 2002, p. 227.
  27. ^ de Kerbrech 2002, pp. 41-42.
  28. ^ de Kerbrech 2002, p. 42.
  29. ^ a b Haws 1990, p. 24.
  30. ^ Eaton & Haas 1989, p. 247.
  31. ^ Eaton & Haas 1989, p. 248.
  32. ^ de Kerbrech 2002, p. 58.
  33. ^ de Kerbrech 2009, p. 229.
  34. ^ de Kerbrech 2002, p. 61.
  35. ^ de Kerbrech 2002, p. 62.
  36. ^ de Kerbrech 2002, p. 223.
  37. ^ de Kerbrech 2002, p. 15.
  38. ^ a b de Kerbrech 2009, p. 224.
  39. ^ a b de Kerbrech 2002, p. 12.
  40. ^ a b de Kerbrech 2002, p. 46.
  41. ^ de Kerbrech 2009, p. 225.
  42. ^ a b de Kerbrech 2002, p. 21.