Unfortunately for Britannic, a few other things happened in 1914, most notably, the start of World War I. The ship, designed for the transatlantic passenger trade, was instead made into a hospital ship and was sent to the Middle East.
On November 21, 1916 the ship was either torpedoed, hit a mine, or experienced some sort of explosion shortly after 8 a.m. The captain immediately closed the watertight doors, sent out a distress signal, and ordered an evacuation. The ship might have remained afloat, but some of the watertight doors malfunctioned, and open portholes on the lower decks allowed seawater to pour in as the ship’s list increased.
Britannic was sinking quickly, and in desperation, the captain attempted to beach the ship on nearby Kea, not realizing that some of the lifeboats had already been launched without authorization. The propellers sucked them in, destroying the boats and killing many of the occupants.
After that the captain stopped trying to beach the ship and just told everyone to get the hell out of there. Due to the ship’s list, several of the davits were useless. At 9 a.m. the captain abandoned ship, swimming to a collapsible boat and coordinating rescue operations. Shortly after, the ship rolled onto her side and the funnels began to collapse. At 9:07, less than an hour after the explosion, the ship disappeared. Britannic was the largest ship lost during the war.
Ships hurried to the scene, and the doctors and nurses from Britannic set up a makeshift hospital ward on the nearby shore. In all, 1,036 people were saved; 30 died. Fortunately, the ship wasn’t carrying any wounded at the time, which would have made a quick evacuation much more difficult.