Shipwreck S/S Burdigala ex S/S Kaiser Friedrich
S/S BURDIGALA at Garonne River where the port of Bordeaux is located. (© KFΒ Collection)
S/S BURDIGALA at the port of Pauillac, a small town at the Médoc peninsula near Bordeaux. (© KFΒ Collection)
S/S BURDIGALA – Marine de Commerce – Paquebot postal à grande vitesse “Burdigala” de la Compagnie de Navigation Sud-Atlantique. (© KFB Collection)
S/S BURDIGALA as a commanded troopship at the marine base of Toulon in 1915. (© KFB Collection)
The blueprints of the food halls of S/S KAISER FRIEDRICH, later named S/S BURDIGALA. (© KFB Collection)
The blueprints of the food halls of S/S BURDIGALA, ex S/S KAISER FRIEDRICH. (© KFB Collection)
The passenger list of S/S KAISER FRIEDRICH (later named S/S BURDIGALA) for its first transatlantic voyage in June 1898. (© KFB Collection)
The German submarine U73 was the one who created the minefield at the Straits of Kea that had as a result the sinking of the ships S/S BURDIGALA and HMHS BRITANNIC (© International Maritimes Museum Hamburg)
The submarine U73 at Cattaro in Montenegro during spring of 1916. (© International Maritimes Museum Hamburg)
The bow of S/S BURDIGALA. (© Kostas Milonakis)
The diving line and a part of the bow of the wreck. (© Kostas Milonakis)
The part of the bow before the superstructure.
The light marine gun at the bow of S/S BURDIGALA. (© Kostas Milonakis)
The gun of 140mm located at the right side of the bow. (© Kostas Milonakis)
The gun of 140mm located on the left part of the bow. (© www.grafasdiving.gr)
Part of the bow and the bridge of S/S BURDIGALA. The fallen mast of the bow of the ship is obvious. (© www.grafasdiving.gr)
The bridge of S/S BURDIGALA. (© www.grafasdiving.gr)
Part of the bridge of the wreck. (© Kostas Milonakis)
The left side of the bridge. (© Kostas Milonakis)
The big crack at the part of the middle ship. (© Kostas Milonakis)
In the left engine room. (© Kostas Milonakis)
Three of the total thirty-six davits of the ship. (© Kostas Milonakis)
The gun of 140mm at the right side of the stern. (© Kostas Milonakis)
The gun of 140mm at the left side of the stern. (© Kostas Milonakis)
The left propeller of S/S BURDIGALA. (© Kostas Milonakis)
The left propeller of the wreck from another point of view. (© Kostas Milonakis)
The stern of S/S BURDIGALA shooted from the area of the propellers. (© Kostas Milonakis)
The stern of the wreck where we can see the two marine guns of 140mm. (© Kostas Milonakis)
The French ocean liner S/S Burdigala (ex German S/S Kaiser Friedrich)
As the world human history has important and strong personalities to present, the world history of shipping too has big and strong ships, some of which became points of reference of its evolution and prosperity. Many of the historical traces of these ships are related not only to the companies that owned them but to facts that affected critically the history of the humanity either as successes or as failures.
If someone decides to create a list with the names of all ships that are considered to be historical points of reference, he should register the ocean liner S/S Burdigala, most known with its first name S/S Kaiser Friedrich, in a very special and particular position due to its fundamental differentiation from all other ships that are connected to the shipping evolution regarding its speed, success and competitive competency. The particularity of its position refers to the fact that the S/S Burdigala became more known due to its failure to work through the most crucial reason why its company ordered it, rather than its constructive particularities and high aesthetic quality of its interior design.
Constructed for one of the most important shipping companies of Germany, the NDL (Norddeutscher Lloyd), in order to compete, along with its sister ship S/S Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, for the excellence in speed and luxury in the most demanding shipping route, the line of the North Atlantic, it failed to fulfill the expectations of its concessionaires and constructors who had firmly requested in their contract that the minimum speed would be 22 knots, a number that the S/S Kaiser Friedrich never achieved. This failure tainted it and followed it as a curse within its almost 17 years of existence to stay inactive most of the time, while its activities did not last more than five years.
With Norddeutscher Lloyd
At the end of 1895, NDL, having the financial capacity, the vigor and the necessary business background, started, under the administration of its charismatic manager Dr. Heinrich Wiegand, the realization of its ambitious vision: to compete for the first place of the route of Europe – North America that was until then under the British. In order to achieve its plans, the company needed ships that would be capable not only to contest the ships of other companies, such as the HAPAG of Hamburg or the French Line, but to contest and surpass the ships of the British Cunard Line, such as the R.M.S Campania and R.M.S. Lucania.
The plan of Dr. Wiegand was to order four ships of middle level of about 10.500 tonnage and two big ocean liners that would be the means to contest for the greatest speed in the transatlantic voyages. The representatives of NDL, under the close supervision of Dr. Wiegand, visited the most important German shipping companies and saying “construct the most fast ship of the world and we will buy it“, they posed the conditions of the constructive details and characteristics of the ships that they wanted. The most important characteristics were the number of passengers as well as the speed that could not be lower than 22 knots. Dr. Wiegand left the constructors free regarding the constructive form of the ship, however he was very strict for the condition that the company had posed; they would accept the ship in their fleet only after a transatlantic voyage that would fulfill all the requirements of the contract. In case those requirements were not fulfilled, NDL had the right to return the ship to the constructor. In this way Dr. Wiegand tried to secure NDL from the huge financial risk that took, because he knew that until back then no other German company had constructed ships of this size.
Two companies responded to the NDL’s challenge: the A.G. Vulcan of Stettin and the Ferdin and Schichau of Danzig. The A.G. Vulcan shipyard constructed the ocean liner Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and the F. Schichau the ocean liner Kaiser Friedrich. The names of the ships were given according to the policy of NDL that wanted to honor in this way the Kaisers of the Hohenzollern family from which the Kaiser Wilhelm II and his ancestors were coming. Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was his grandfather and Kaiser Friedrich III was his father. NDL followed this policy within the next years of its activity, giving names of the German Imperial family to the biggest ships of its fleet.
The primary target of Schichau Company was to construct a ship that would be a little smaller than the one of A.G. Vulcan and of course cheaper. At the same time though, the ship should be able to fulfill the requirements set on the contract with NDL: the test speed of the ship should be 22,5 knots for a period of 6 hours and the guarantee speed at least 21 knots, so that the total duration of the transatlantic voyage was exactly 6 days. According to these requirements the Kaiser Friedrich with three funnels was designed and constructed, being registered with the number 587 and the characteristics below: 183 meters length, 19,4 meters width, 12.480 tonnage and 20.100 tones displacement. The two five-cylinder reciprocating engines (cylinder diameter: 109,22cm, 162,56cm, 233,68cm, 2×236,22cm) of quadruple expansion, giving motion to two three-wing brass propellers of 6,19m diameter that were applying on crankshaft axis made with Krupp steel, the best steel in Germany, were supposed to have as a maximum indicative power 28.000hp and in combination with the pressure of 15,5 bar of the ten boilers of the ship, they could offer, according to the estimations of the Ferdinand Schichau engineers, an important saving on fuels. Unlike the common construction practices of that period, the engineers of Schichau placed the ship engines a little bit more forward, between the second and the third engine room. The ship had nine main boilers with one groove for putting fuels each and a tenth auxiliary boiler with a groove, distributed in three waterproof engine rooms that each one of them had one funnel.
S/S Kaiser Friedrich, that until its completion costed 525.000 British pounds surpassing the expected cost, was offering a dignity on the outside having as main characteristics its beautiful lines, the low freeboards, the unusual long forecastle, the curved line bridge, the spacious walking deck and the characteristic for the German construction system of that period high poop. Except for all these, Kaiser Friedrich, as all the other ships of that period, was designed and constructed in order to operate as an armed cargo cruiser in case of war, as defined by the German law, so its exterior had a solid and strong aspect. Besides, it is not strange that anyone who was referring to this ship was always talking with very good words about its exterior characteristics and its constructive form.
Even though Kaiser Friedrich in terms of techinal characteristics was not superior to the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, the luxury of its interior was much higher as its arrangement was aesthetically very balanced, with high quality and taste. The 180 cabins of first class and the 111 of second class were located in the higher levels so that guests could enjoy the view. Also, besides the usual cabines deluxe, some of the first class cabins were able to become spacious seating areas. The ship could host – except for the 420 crew members – 1350 passengers: 400 at the first class, 250 at the second class and 700 at the third class. As in the majority of the first class ocean liner ships of that period, Kaiser Friedrich had luxury chandeliers in the central hall of food and in the living rooms, while their walls were decorated with caissons which had boards with the portraits of the Kaiser Friedrich III family along with imperial coat of arms with Caryatids that represented the arts and the science. The walls were painted in ivory color with golden decorative details and all carpets were red. However, the main characteristic of the ship was the walking decks, especially the one of the first class of 100 meters length, which was open to the views and was located along the highest point of the middle ship. The ship also had smoking seating areas, bar, music hall and library.
The construction works completed in May 1898 and the ship started its first and at the same time test voyage in May 12th from Danzig at Bremerhaven, the mother port of Norddeutscher Lloyd. During this voyage, the engineers of NDL who were on board ascertained with great disappointment that the S/S Kaiser Friedrich managed to reach 20 knots with huge efforts and without surpassing them. Upon the arrival of the ship at the port and due to its low performance in terms of the speed that it had during the voyage, NDL refused to receive the ship, based on the explicit conditions of the contract. Only after the confirmation of the F. Schichau shipyard that would take care of the improvement of its speed, NDL accepted to include Kaiser Friedrich in its fleet tentatively, scheduling its first transatlantic voyage from Bremerhaven to Southampton and then to New York.
It is sure that both companies had great interest in finding a solution as both had ownership titles of the ship. However, the fact was that the biggest share of ownership (62%) belonged to F. Schichau that was trying with this ship to enter the world shipping market and the condition of the contract with NDL that was permitting the return of the ship in case the requirements were not fulfilled, brought F. Schichau in a very difficult position. It was absolutely necessary, for the prestige and the reputation of the company, to find a solution that would be satisfying for all parts. As first step, the ship was sent to Southampton in order to undergo some ”constructive adjustments” having as primary target the increase of its speed. The ship was towed and stayed many days at Prince of Wales shipyard. During this time, the length of the blades of the propellers decreased by 30cm. In June 1st 1898 sailed back to Bremerhaven.
In June 1898, S/S Kaiser Friedrich sailed with the primary captain of NDL, Mr. Ludwig A. Stormer, from Bremen to Southampton. The next day, in June 8th, the ship started its first transatlantic voyage heading to New York and carrying 209 passengers at the first and second class and 183 at the third class the majority of which was immigrants. The voyage started well, but very fast the bad weather and some engineering problems decreased a lot the speed of the ship. Later, the operation of the left engine stopped for 20 hours and 26 minutes and then the same happened with the right engine that stopped working for 11 hours and 42 minutes. Luckily for the passengers and the crew, the engines did not stop working at the same time. The cause of these engineering problems was the overheating of the ball bearing or more officially “the failure of the slide valves to work smoothly and to the breakage of studs on the air pump brackets, so that a proper vacuum could not be maintained“ ,as the valid magazine The Marine Engineer states. The result was disastrous as the voyage of S/S Kaiser Friedrich from Southampton to Sandy Hook of New York lasted 7 days, 10 hours and 15 minutes and it arrived in June 16th. For its bad luck, the ship had to wait a lot of time outside the port of New York until they permit its entrance due to the minefields that were placed there for the safety of the port, as in April 1898 the Spanish-American War had started. This fact delayed even more the total duration of the voyage. The next day NDL organized a press conference at the living room area of the ship and invited representatives of the media, ship constructors, engineers and ship owners. As broadcasted by the valid newspaper The New York Times in its article in June 17th 1898 with title ”The Kaiser Friedrich – The Fine Big Steamship Makes Her Maiden Trip in Over Seven Days – Engines Easily Overheated“, the average speed during its first transatlantic voyage was 17,73 knots, notifying though that ”no one knows the real speed of the ship” as the average speed was calculated with the engineering problems.
In June 25th 1898, S/S Kaiser Friedrich started its return voyage to Southampton without passengers that lasted 9 days, 2 hours and 30 minutes. Due to its very low average speed of 15 knots and due to the engineering problems that occured again during this voyage, NDL cancelled the next two scheduled voyages and the ship was sent to the F. Schichau shipyard at Danzig in order to be fixed and surpass the speed of 20 knots and of course reach the promised 22 knots. In September 4th, the ship was delivered again to NDL. In September 14th, it started its second transatlantic voyage from Southampton to New York that lasted 6 days and 12 hours. The ship arrived in New York in September 21st with an approximate average speed of 19-20 knots. The modifications made by the engineers of F. Schichau had brought a result, but it was not enough to fulfill the main condition of the contract that required an average speed of 22 knots. In the next three voyages of S/S Kaiser Friedrich, until December 1898 that was the end of the travelling season, the speed stayed at the same levels without any significant alteration. During winter of 1898-1899, the ship stayed for three months at the Schichau shipyard in Danzig in order to be repaired and fixed always in order to increase its average speed. Except for placing new airpumps in the engine rooms, the funnels got 4,5m longer, something that changed a lot its exterior. In March 5th, exactly at the beginning of the new season, the ship started its first transatlantic voyage for the year of 1899 from Southampton to New York. The voyage, that lasted 7 days and 40 minutes due to the loss of two blades from the propellers, confirmed that the ship, despite the new changes that underwent, could not reach the limit of 22 knots. NDL, as it did not have other such ship to cover the shipping gap that would be created by the loss of Kaiser Friedrich from its fleet and also because it did not want to return this ship that owned its 38% to its constructors, decided to wait a little bit more and give another chance to the engineers of Schichau.
There were eight more voyages from which the fastest one lasted 6 days, 22 hours and 30 minutes, a fact that categorized the ship once and for all in the class of 19 knots. In June 27th 1899, during the ship’s return from New York, Norddeutscher Lloyd not being able to be patient anymore, returned the S/S Kaiser Friedrich to its construction company with the official reason that the ship did not fulfill the requirement of the contract that defined a minimum speed of 22 knots. At the same time, Norddeutscher Lloyd ordered a new ship, which was bigger and faster, at the Vulcan Company. This ship was S/S Kronprinz Wilhelm that later would contest and win the Blue Riband for being the fastest ship in 1902 reaching an average speed of 23,09 knots. Until the delivery of this new ship that had the name of the son of kaiser Wilhelm II, NDL replaced Kaiser Friedrich with S/S Kaiserin Maria Theresia (ex S/S Spree) which sank in October 1904 during the Russian-Japanese War.
In 1898, the shipping company of Hamburg HAPAG (Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft) sold one of its oceangoing ships, the S/S Normannia, to the Spanish Government who used it as an auxiliary cruiser under the name S/S Patriota during the Spanish-American War. This sale created a gap in the transatlantic fleet of the company in a period that there was a lot of work going on, firstly because the second phase of immigration towards America was in its peak and secondly because, due to the Spanish-American War and the World War II of Boers in South Africa, many American and British ships left the North-American line creating in this way a big gap in shipping. This was a great chance for the German and the French shipping companies to react by covering the lack and making huge profits. HAPAG was one of the first companies that tried to take advantage of this opportunity so it decided to rent S/S Kaiser Friedrich from Schichau Company and to immediately include it in its express line that connected Hamburg with Southampton, Cherbourg and New York.
In October 2nd 1899, S/S Kaiser Friedrich departed from Southampton to New York for its first transatlantic voyage with HAPAG and having at its bow the red flag with the coat of arms of Hamburg. Upon the end of its voyage, the ship washed ashore in New Jersey without any damages though. After its return in Europe, a second voyage followed with the same route that ended with the return of the ship at Southampton in November 16th 1899. During winter 1899-1900, Kaiser Friedrich stayed in Hamburg, at the Blohm & Voss shipyard, where repairs took place in order to increase the number of passengers and its transfer capacity. Upon the beginning of the new travelling season, the ship sailed from Southampton to New York in March 30th 1900. That was the beginning of the most successful and stable period of the ship’s career as HAPAG was not interested in the speed and for that period the speed of Kaiser Friedrich was more than enough for this company.
Within the next seven months, the ship made eight completed transatlantic voyages (roundtrip Europe-America) between Plymouth and New York, the majority of which had an eastern direction and was made in less than seven days. Kaiser Friedrich best performance was its return voyage from New York to Plymouth in August 1900 that lasted 6 days and 11 hours. According to the press of that period, S/S Kaiser Friedrich looked like it had found the fleet in which could belong as its speed was almost the same with the other oceangoing ships of HAPAG offering at the same time a more luxurious and sophisticated stay than the others. During its fourth voyage, in June 30th 1900, the ship arrived at HAPAG dock in Hoboken, New Jersey where the dock of Norddeutscher Lloyd was also located. Its arrival was on the same day with the big fire that took place in Hoboken during which many ships of NDL were completely destroyed, among them there was also S/S Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse that was not destroyed but underwent many damages. During the fire, Kaiser Friedrich participated in the rescueing of many ships and crews, offering significant help and services. In the newspapers of that period as well as in many marine documents, special references to the heroism of its crew are mentioned.
In July 1900, the promising S/S Deutschland, constructed by A.G. Vulcan for HAPAG, started its maiden voyage from Hamburg to New York. Within only few months, it conquered the speed trophy, the so called Blue Riband, surpassing the 23 knots of average speed and taking the first place from S/S Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse of NDL. This fact meant the dynamic entry of HAPAG in the superior class of the transatlantic shipping and the end of renting S/S Kaiser Friedrich. Even though the constructor company F. Schichau hoped that the successful inclusion of the ship in the fleet of Hamburg-Amerika Linie would mean that the latter would buy the ship, HAPAG had different plans as it decided to extend its fleet by constructing new ships.
In October 1900, Kaiser Friedrich started its last North transatlantic voyage from New York and upon its arrival to Hamburg it was given to the owner company F. Schichau who condemned it at the port of Hamburg where it stayed for almost 12 years. Even though S/S Kaiser Friedrich was a beautiful and well made ship whose speed was quite sufficient to fulfill the demands of many shipping lines, the bad reputation and its inability to fulfill the reason why it was constructed left it abandoned with a destiny that probably did not deserve to have. It was the first time – if we do not count the tragic first voyage and the later luck of S/S Great Eastern – that the possession of such a ship was considered to be “a useless luxury“.
S/S Kaiser Friedrich stayed inactive at the port of Hamburg until 1910. During that period, the newly founded Norwegian Company Norwegian American Line (Norske Amerikalinje) was dealing with financial problems in concentrating the necessary capitals that would assure its existence. As mentioned by the Norwegian historian Mr. Bard Kolltveit, F. Schichau Company proposed to Norske to participate as a shareholder offering the necessary funds, if later on Norske bought S/S Kaiser Friedrich from Schichau. This proposition was accepted and agreed by Norske that even renamed the ship to S/S Leif Eriksson, in honor of the Icelandic explorer of 10th century Leif Eriksson, who, according to the history of the North Countries, was the first European who went to America. Unfortunately for Schichau, Norske at last minute changed its mind and decided not to buy Kaiser Friedrich. There have been two more years until the change of this situation and find the solution that would make Kaiser Friedrich active again. The solution came in 1912 with Compagnie de Navigation Sud Atlantique and this is how the French period of the ship started.
In 1910, the ship-owners Cyprien Fabre and Alfred Fraissinet along with the Company Société Générale de Transports Maritimes and two French banks founded the Shipping Company Société d´ Etudes de Navigation. In May 27th of the same year, this company made the proposition to the French Government to handle all the mail services between France and South America. In 1912, this agreement was about to end and the French Government created a contest with the conditions below. The company that would handle the mail services should have six ships of at least 175 meters that would be able to have an average speed of 18 knots. The communication would be realized every 15 days between Bordeaux and Buenos Aires with intermediate stops in Lisbon, Dakar of Senegal, Rio de Janeiro, Santos and Montevideo. Messageries Maritimes considering this agreemenτ disadvantageous left the contest leaving as the only participant Société d´ Etudes de Navigation who agreed with the conditions and signed the contract in July 1911 that would be active from July 22nd 1912. The French Parliament approved the agreement in January 31st 1911 and the exact next day Société d´ Etudes de Navigation ordered two ships in order to deal with its engagements, S/S Lutetia και S/S Gallia. These two ships, which would be delivered in 1913, were the first ships of a scheduled fleet of four ships of 15.000 tonnages that was the company’s target.
In February 8th 1912, Société d´ Etudes de Navigation changed its name to Compagnie de Navigation Sud-Atlantique preparing in this way its name as well for the services that was about to offer in the South Atlantic. An important problem that Sud-Atlantique had to deal with immediately after its rename was to find a solution on how to realize the itineraries that were scheduled to begin in July 22nd so that it could cover the time period until the receipt of the ordered ships. The company decided to buy some used ships in order to include them in its fleet. After a mutual agreement with the French Government, the beginning date of the voyages would be in September 22nd and that would be the company’s first voyage to South America. This change in the beginning date helped Sud-Atlantique to buy enough time in order to better get prepared and equip its fleet.
In March and April 1912, Sud-Atlantique bought six used ships from the Companies Orient Line, Union Castle, Bibby Line and French Line. These ships were old and had a tonnage of almost 6.000 – 7.600 something that was not according to the dynamic profile of the company. It was necessary for Sud-Atlantique to have a big, fast and impressive ship that would bring out their aspirations and enhance their prestige. Everything they requested was found in S/S Kaiser Friedrich that was bought from F. Schichau in May 1st 1912 for 4.000.000 French francs, an amount that was almost the one third of the real value of the ship. The ship was named S/S Burdigala according to the common policy of Sud-Atlantique to give ancient Latin names to the ships, such as Lutetia for Paris, Gallia for France and Burdigala for Bordeaux, which was the base city of the company. According to the specialist in shipping history Mr. Arnold Kludas, S/S Burdigala was amended at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg. Except for the changes to the re-arrangement at the food halls, there had been changes in the main systems of the ship, such as the boilers. Furthermore, the ship was painted white and on the funnels there was the coat of arms of Sud-Atlantique, a red rooster that is the symbol of the ancient Gauls.
After the completion of the works, S/S Burdigala sailed from Hamburg to Bordeaux where it was welcomed with enthusiasm as it was the biggest and fastest ship of the South Atlantic. It kept this title for one year. In September 26th 1912, a luxurious dinner on board was given in order to celebrate the inclusion of S/S Burdigala in the fleet of Cie de Navigation Sud-Atlantique. Nine days later, in October 5th, Burdigala started its first voyage with final destination Buenos Aires having the flag of Sud-Atlantique.
Even though the voyage took place without any incidents, during the return voyage the ship had some engineering issues that led it to the shipyard for repairs immediately after its arrival at Bordeaux. During the time that S/S Burdigala was inactive, Cie Sud-Atlantique was forced to replace it with another rented ship. This fact along with the huge consumption of coal of Burdigala made Sud-Atlantique to re-examine the relation between prestige and economy and resulted that the cost of the ship in relation to its profits was disadvantageous. However, Sud-Atlantique had to wait until the receipt of the ordered ships before retire the non-profitable Burdigala. In November 10th 1912, Burdigala started its second voyage with Sud-Atlantique. The ship stayed in this line without any other special problem, except for one aground on the sandy coast of Garonne river at the port of Bordeaux after its mooring. In November 1st 1913, the new ship of Sud-Atlantique, the S/S Lutetia, started its first voyage to South America. Immediately after the inclusion of S/S Gallia in the same line that started its first voyage in November 29th of the same year, S/S Burdigala was condemned and stayed at the port of Bordeaux until the beginning of World War I and its requisition by the French Government.
The sinking and the end of S/S Burdigala
The requisition of S/S Burdigala marks the beginning of the last period of the ship. The problems that had to deal with the companies Norddeutscher Lloyd and Compagnie de Navigation Sud-Atlantique, with most important the one with the big consumption of coal, were not so important at all in this period of the ship as the French Government wanted to use every available buoyant means in order to support its war activities and of course the consumption of the fuels was not an issue.
The French Government used Burdigala as troopship and equipment carrier from the Mediterranean French city Toulon to Dardanelles and Thessaloniki. The first carrier register with immediate reference to the ship’s name was realized in November 9th 1914 at Toulon where the 14th order of the 2nd regiment of Zouaves (14e Bataillon du 2e Regiment de Zouaves) boarded on Burdigala. In December 1915, the ship was considered to be an auxiliary cruiser (Croiseur Auxiliaire) and it was equipped with Q.F machine guns and four guns of 140mm (5,5 inches) that were place per two at the bow and the stern.
In 1915 and 1916 and until its sinking, the ship continued to carry the army to Dardanelles and Thessaloniki that was the base of the Entente forces in the Balkans. The followed route started from Toulon, passing from the South of Sardinia and Sicily with stops at La Valetta of Malta and then, passing from Malea and Piraeus it went to the straits of Kea and then to Thessaloniki that was the last stop. At this point we should mention that Greece under the Government of Venizelos, until the official war declaration against the united forces of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey on 25.11.1916, was a neutral country and any activity that was taking place on its territory or sea borders was, at least in theory, an issue of the forces that were participating in the war.
In November 13th 1916, the ship sailed empty from Thessaloniki with destination to Toulon in order to receive troops and war equipment. The ship’s captain was the reservist Lieutenant Francois Rolland and engine responsible the chief engineer August Richard. The next day, in November 14th at 10.45am and while the ship was almost 2 nautical miles south-west of the cape of Agios-Nikolaos in Kea, there was an explosion at the right side of the middle ship due to which the engine room flooded. Even though at the beginning the ship had an inclination of four degrees and its captain, the reservist Lieutenant Rolland, thought that the ship would not sink, 20 minutes later the situation changed because the waters intruded in the second engine room of the ship that was located in front of the engines. The inclination of S/S Burdigala increased and the captain commanded to abandon the ship. The crew immediately, under the supervision of the captain, the chief engineer and the second officer Mercier, threw the lifeboats on the water and abandoned the ship. After 15 minutes and after the captain’s order to abandon the ship, S/S Burdigala, cut in two due to a second explosion, sank outside of the North-west coasts of Kea in a depth of 76m. The reason of sinking was the ship’s crash to a mine of the minefield number 32 that was created by the German submarine U73 (with captain the Lieutenant Gustav Siess) on 28/10/1916. One week after the sinking, on 21.11.1916, and in a very close distance from Burdigala with the exact same way, the British hospital ship HMHS Britannic was also sank after crashing in a mine of the same minefield.
S/S Burdigala was a ship that, even though failed to fulfill its primary condition of the company who ordered it and that was the indicative average speed of 22 knots, stayed in the shipping history as a point of reference exactly because of this failure. The ship’s history shows on one hand the activities of the shipping businesses regarding the know-how, the merchant, the profits, the social structures and the politics during the first top period of the industrialized economy, and on the other hand, through its voyages and long listings with passengers names, a part of the transatlantic immigration history of the North and South american continent is presented. Its tragic end is directly connected to the social and political crisis of the beginning of the 20th century, expressed through the armed attack that led to the World War I. Furthermore, its common historical destiny with the hospital steam ship HMHS Britannic makes it one of the last witnesses that mark the end of the historical ocean liners that acted and got lost in the East Mediterranean Sea during the World War I. Finally, S/S Burdigala is the second important historical wreck in the Greek seas – after the adjacent wreck of HMHS Britannic – in which we have dived and also we have researched and confirmed.