MV Britannic (1929)

MV Britannic was a transatlantic ocean liner and the penultimate ship owned by the White Star Line before its merger with the Cunard Line in 1934, and was the third company ship to bear the 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, from 1932 she was joined by her sister ship MV Georgic. When White Star Line merged with Cunard Line in 1934, the ship's route changed to the London-New York line, and she later provided winter Mediterranean cruises.

The MV Britannic
United Kingdom
Name: Britannic
Builder: Harland & Wolff
Launched: August 6, 1929
Maiden voyage: June 28, 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)
Propulsion: Twin propellers, diesel propulsion
Speed: 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph)
  • 1553 passengers:
  • 504 First class passengers
  • 551 Second class passengers
  • 498 Third class passengers

During World War II she 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 she was sold for scrap to Thos W Ward. Britannic was the last ship constructed for White Star Line to remain in service.


Design and construction

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 January 1, 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 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 Britannic, despite previously preferring multiple expansion steam engines, because it required less fuel and was cheaper to operate.[4]

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] Construction of the ship became even more necessary with the loss of the RMS Celtic of the Big Four which ran aground near Cobh, Ireland, in December 1928,[6] and was left beyond repair.[7] Britannic was launched on 6 August 1929 with the second-largest ship's engine in the world after MS Augustus.[8] 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

When Britannic entered service, the financial impact of the Great Depression was profoundly altering marine traffic on the North Atlantic line, resulting in fewer passengers using the route. Many ships of the White Star line that served Canada, such as SS Calgaric, SS Albertic, SS Laurentic, and SS Megantic, had to provide cheap cruises in order to earn money. Britannic, which offered more affordable rates because of lower operating costs, became the ideal ship for the then economic situation.[9]

The delivery of the ship to Liverpool resulted in an ecstatic press and was well received. On 28 June 1930, 14,000 people flocked to watch the ship begin its maiden voyage to New York City via Glasgow and Belfast.[10] The ship served this route during the summer along with aging ships RMS Cedric, RMS Baltic, and RMS Adriatic, and proved to be the company's most profitable ship.[11][lower-alpha 1]

In 1932, Britannic was joined by a running mate, MV Georgic,[13] and both ships plied the same route.[12] In 1933, Britannic was able to carry 1,103 passengers, the highest number of passengers of any ship that year.[14]

Cunard White Star Line

During this time of economic uncertainty, White Star Line was experiencing additional difficulties: Lord Kylsant, a White Star Line owner, was imprisoned in 1931 for producing deceptive documents while serving as a director of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company.[15] The economic situation was worsening year by year, and the Cunard Line was in no healthier a financial state than White Star Line. Neville Chamberlain, then-Chancellor of the Exchequer, pressured both companies to merge in order to preserve Britain's naval prestige.[16] On 11 May 1934, the companies merged to form the Cunard White Star Line, with White Star Line holding a minority position.[17]

Following this merger, most ships of White Star Line were scrapped between 1934 and 1936, and only Britannic and Georgic remained in service.[18] The SS Laurentic was also retained until she sank in 1940.[19] On 19 April 1936, Britannic and Georgic were assigned to the route between London and New York, making them the largest ships to sail the River Thames. This service was continued until the outbreak of the Second World War.[20]

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 that year, Britannic carried 26,943 passengers; Georgic carried a few hundred more. However, Champlain achieved a greater number of passengers.[21] The poor performance of Britannic was partially due to slightly damaged engines, identified on 4 January 1937 while the ship was leaving New York, and it was sent into a dry dock for repairs.[22]

World War II

While World War II was imminent, 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 collect officers of the British Indian army, and naval officers, who were then transported to Bombay. Here the ship was armed with guns and left for England with several tons of goods. Following this, the ship resumed commercial service.[23]

The ship was again requisitioned on 23 August 1940 for a tour of Africa before travelling to Bombay. During the following two years, Britannic served India via Cape Town.[24] The capacity of the ship increased from 3,000 to 5,000 troops.[25] In 1943, the ship served as the command ship of a convoy to land troops in Algiers.[26] 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.[27]

In May 1941, the Britannic embarked England on its way to Canada while being escorted by Rodney and four destroyers. Around midday on Saturday 24 May, HMS Rodney left the escort upon being called upon by the Admiralty with the intent of pursuing the German battleship Bismarck with three of the designated destroyers; HMS Somali, HMS Mashona and HMS Tartar. The remaining destroyer, HMS Eskimo (F75), stayed with the Britannic until the evening of the following day, (25 May). At that time the escort had encountered an Eastbound convoy of approximately 50 vessels which did not appear to have an escort. At this point, the last destroyer left the Britannic and turned round to presumably shepherd the convoy back towards the UK. The Britannic continued, unprotected, to Halifax, Nova Scotia and arrived on Thursday 29 May. She proceeded to New York, arriving at W 34th St Pier on 2 June, where she disembarked 200 British government employees.

In April and May 1945, Britannic was responsible for transporting British-Canadian women, married to Canadian soldiers, and their children, to Canada. From the outbreak of World War II, the ship carried 173,550 people over 324,792 mi (522,702 km).[28] At the end of the conflict, Britannic was temporarily stored, the responsibility of the state, and was released from service in March 1947. It then underwent a major overhaul in Liverpool which modernised her interior and then resumed her commercial service.[29]

Post-war service

Britannic made her first trip after World War II 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.[30] At the end of 1949, Cunard Line, having purchased all of the shares of White Star Line, returned to using its original company name in 1950. Despite this, Britannic and Georgic continued to display the flags of both White Star Line and Cunard Line.[31]

On 28 January 1950, Britannic was unable to cruise from New York to the Mediterranean as a result of engine damage. On 1 June 1950, the ship struck and damaged Pioneer Land in the port of New York but was able to cross the Atlantic without any problems.[32] The ship continued its 1950 summer transatlantic crossings and winter cruises.[28] In 1953, and 1955, fires broke out on the ship, but these did not put Britannic in danger, although the latter destroyed some of the ship's cargo.[33] In January 1955, Georgic was removed from service, leaving Britannic the last remaining ship of the White Star Line.[28]

In 1958, the construction of a new vessel was announced that would replace Britannic in 1961.[34] In 1960 Britannic made her final cruise from New York to the Mediterranean, with a total of 23 stops over 66 days.[35] Britannic returned to New York in preparation for another cruise, but the crankshaft of the ship was severely damaged and the next voyage was cancelled.[36] The Cunard Line declared repairs to be prohibitively expensive, and she returned to Liverpool on 11 November 1960. Upon her arrival on 16 December, she left for Inverkeithing[37] and was sold to a metal recovery company; she was scrapped the following year.[25] The Cunard Line replaced Britannic on the Liverpool—New York service with Sylvania.[38]


Technical elements

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,[39] the ship's hull was black with a golden line, and the underside of the ship was painted rust red.[31] Two funnels were present, which were wider than those on other White Star Line ships, but only the after one was functional, with the forward funnel being used for radar installations and water supplies.[40] The ship was powered by a diesel engine driving two propellers, and contained one of the largest 1930s engines, which was difficult for the engineers to run due to its complexity and size. This diesel engine allowed large fuel savings, and its ability to provide increased speed while also reducing the level of vibrations, was appreciated by passengers.[41]

Britannic was divided into watertight compartments separated by twelve bulkheads with doors that could be closed manually, or electrically from the navigation bridge.[42] The ship contained twenty-four conventional lifeboats, two speedboats, and two backup canoes.[41] As part of the ship's post-World War II overhaul, it received sophisticated fire-detection systems. This overhaul resulted in the ship's gross tonnage increasing to 27,666 tons.[43] It had eight large cargo holds, one of which could transport unpackaged cars, and two allowed the transport of refrigerated cargo.[42]


Britannic was a cabin ship designed to transport passengers in comfortable conditions comparable to those offered by large ocean liners, but at slower speeds, allowing a tariff reduction. The ship was initially able to carry 504 "Cabin" (first) class passengers, 551 "Tourist" (second) class passengers, and 498 third class passengers. The first two classes were offered very similar facilities.[44] Britannic was initially decorated in various 1920s styles,[45] but was redecorated in Art Deco style after the post-World War II overhaul.[43] A significant number of the cabins were equipped with bathrooms and all had hot and cold running water, which was rare at the time. Two luxurious cabins were located on A deck, each equipped with a living room, a bedroom, and a bathroom.[45]


  1. In 1931, of the ten ships operated by White Star Line, only four were profitable; Britannic being the most profitable by far. These figures do not include winter cruises for any of the ships.[12]


  1. Anderson 1964, p. 165.
  2. Anderson 1964, p. 168.
  3. Eaton & Haas 1989, p. 253.
  4. de Kerbrech 2009, p. 223.
  5. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 10.
  6. Eaton & Haas 1989, p. 206.
  7. de Kerbrech 2009, p. 99.
  8. Haws 1990, p. 101.
  9. Anderson 1964, p. 172.
  10. de Kerbrech 2002, pp. 14-15.
  11. de Kerbrech 2009, pp. 225-226.
  12. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 19.
  13. de Kerbrech 2009, p. 231.
  14. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 20.
  15. Anderson 1964, pp. 178-179.
  16. Anderson 1964, p. 176.
  17. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 26.
  18. Anderson 1964, p. 181.
  19. Anderson 1964, p. 216.
  20. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 27.
  21. de Kerbrech 2002, pp. 28-29.
  22. Eaton & Haas 1989, p. 232.
  23. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 31.
  24. de Kerbrech 2009, p. 226.
  25. Haws 1990, p. 102.
  26. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 35.
  27. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 36.
  28. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 227.
  29. de Kerbrech 2002, pp. 41-42.
  30. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 42.
  31. Haws 1990, p. 24.
  32. Eaton & Haas 1989, p. 247.
  33. Eaton & Haas 1989, p. 248.
  34. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 58.
  35. de Kerbrech 2009, p. 229.
  36. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 61.
  37. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 62.
  38. "The Cunard Liner 'Sylvania' of 1957". Liverpool Ships. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  39. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 223.
  40. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 15.
  41. de Kerbrech 2009, p. 224.
  42. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 12.
  43. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 46.
  44. de Kerbrech 2009, p. 225.
  45. de Kerbrech 2002, p. 21.


  • Anderson, Roy Claude (1964). White Star. T. Stephenson & Sons Ltd. OCLC 3134809.
  • de Kerbrech, Richard P. (2002). The Last Liners of the White Star Line: MV Britannic and MV Georgic. Shipping Book Press. ISBN 978-1-900867-05-4. OCLC 52531228.
  • de Kerbrech, Richard P. (2009). Ships of the White Star Line. Ian Allan Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7110-3366-5. OCLC 298597975.
  • Haws, Duncan (1990). White Star Line (17 ed.). TCL Publications, Merchant Fleets. ISBN 978-0-946378-16-6. OCLC 50214776.
  • Eaton, John P.; Haas, Charles A. (1989). Falling Star, Misadventures of White Star Line Ships. Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 978-1-85260-084-6. OCLC 20935102.
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