The Last Ship Sunk in WW1 : HMS Britannia

The Last Ship Sunk in WW1 : HMS Britannia

HMS Britannia: A Vessel’s Journey through World War I

World War 1


Left elevation and deck plan as depicted in Jane’s Fighting Ships

HMS Britannia was constructed at Portsmouth Dockyard, inheriting her name from the Latin term that the Romans used for Great Britain. Laid down on 4th February 1904 and launched on 10th December that same year, she was completed by September 1906. This battleship, unfortunately, was among the last pre-dreadnoughts constructed by the Royal Navy and quickly became obsolete following the launch of HMS Dreadnought.


The forecastle of Britannia at sea in October 1914.

Upon commissioning into reserve at Portsmouth Dockyard on 6th September 1906, Britannia was soon moved into active service within the Atlantic Fleet by 2nd October. Her journey with the Channel Fleet began on 4th March 1907. Due to a strategic reorganisation by the Royal Navy on 24th March 1909, the Channel Fleet transformed into the Second Division, Home Fleet. Britannia was then appointed the flagship in this division by April 1909. Following a brief refit at Portsmouth from 1909 to 1910, she experienced a minor collision with the barque Loch Trool in July 1910, resulting in slight damage.


Line-drawing of the King Edward VII class

As tensions escalated globally, Britannia underwent another reassignment in May 1912. Along with her sister ships, including HMS Africa and HMS Hindustan, she became part of the 3rd Battle Squadron. With the First Balkan War erupting in October 1912, the squadron was dispatched to the Mediterranean. Arriving in Malta by 27th November, the fleet took an active role in blockading Montenegro and later in occupying Scutari. However, by June 1913, Britannia detached and reverted to the Home Fleet’s Second Division.


World War I brought further challenges. As hostilities began in August 1914, Britannia and her squadron were based at Rosyth and tasked with the Northern Patrol. During fleet operations, she often protected the more advanced dreadnoughts from potential mine threats. After several fleet reassignments and encounters, including the Battle of Dogger Bank, Britannia met a mishap in early 1915 when she ran aground. This accident inflicted significant damage, necessitating extensive repairs at the Devonport Dockyard.

Post-repairs, Britannia ventured into the Adriatic Sea to reinforce the Italian Navy against Austro-Hungarian forces.


Adriatic Microplate boundaries

In early 1917, after a brief refit at Gibraltar, she transitioned to the 9th Cruiser Squadron, undertaking convoy escort duties in the Atlantic, primarily based out of Sierra Leone. Another notable refit in Bermuda saw her 6-inch guns replaced with more modern alternatives.

Tragically, on 9th November 1918, under Captain Francis Wade Caulfeild’s command, HMS Britannia faced her ultimate challenge.

As she navigated the western entrance of the Strait of Gibraltar, the German submarine UB-50 launched a successful torpedo attack. Although the crew tried to manage the damage, a second explosion and subsequent fires made the situation untenable. While the ship maintained her stability for a few hours, the burning cordite produced toxic smoke that endangered the crew. Of the ship’s personnel, 50 lost their lives, and 80 sustained injuries. However, 39 officers and 673 men were successfully rescued.


Britannia lists before sinking on 9 November 1918.

Heartbreakingly, HMS Britannia’s sinking occurred a mere two days before the signing of the Armistice that concluded World War I on 11th November 1918. Her legacy remains as the final warship lost during this global conflict.

The Last Ship Sunk in WW1 : HMS Britannia

Historian Harry Gillespie : Collected Works

Harry Gillespie is a writer who resides in the UK with his family. His work focuses on Naval & British history with a specific look at 20th century warfare and ships. From World War 1 to The Falkland Islands Campaign.

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