Lusitania Sunk - History

Lusitania Sunk - History

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Among the 1,200 passengers of the liner Lusitania were 128 Americans citizens. The Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine. The sinking of the Lusitania poisoned relations between the United States and Germany, but did not immediately result in US intervention in the war.

World War I also did not stop the travel of Americans and Brits from crossing the Atlantic. The British Cunard line continued to sail its large liners between the Liverpool and New York. The RMS Lusitania was commissioned in 1907 and was the fastest liner in serviceable to maintain a speed of 25 knots. While the Germans had begun to use submarines against British shipping, the Lusitania was confident that it was fast enough to outrun any German sub. The British were buying a great deal of their arms from the United States and much of those arms sailed on passenger ships. The German Embassy in the US warned Americas that traveling on those ships could be dangerous.

1,265 passengers and a crew of 694 embarked on the ship when it departed New York's Pier 54 on May 1st, 1915. In addition to the passengers, the ship also carried in its freight holds munitions for Great Britain. As the boat was nearing the British Isles, the Royal Navy became concerned about its safety and sent destroyers to escort it. The ship refused to communicate with the Royal Navy, however, and the escorts ships never intersected with the ship. On April 30th the German Submarine U-20 left Borkum for the Irish Sea. She attacked a number of merchant ships sinking three of them. The British Admiralty knew she was operating off the coast of Ireland and warned all the ships. The captain of the Lusitania Captain William Turner took what he thought were prudent steps, closing watertight doors and preparing her lifeboats for launching in case there was a need.

By May 7th the captain of U-20 Walther Schwieger decided that since he was low on torpedoes to return home. At 12:45 while the submarine was surfaced lookouts spotted a ship on the horizon. It turned out to be a large merchant vessel- the Lusitania. Schwieger ordered the sub close on the target. When the Lusitania was 700 meters away, U-20 fired one torpedo. The torpedo hit below the bridge causing a massive secondary explosion. The captain ordered the ship to head for the Irish coast, but the engines could not respond. He soon ordered abandon ship- while the wireless operator sent out an SOS. The Lusitania sank 18 minutes after being struck by the torpedo. Of the 1,959 people aboard when the torpedo hit 1,195 were lost.

The fact that there were 128 Americans aboard the ship turned the sinking into a crisis between Germany and the United States. Although it would be two years before the United States entered the war, the sinking began to turn American public opinion against Germany.

5. Lusitania’s captain was warned of sinkings on the evening of 6 May 1915

In the days before the sinking of the Lusitania, submarines were active around the south and west coast of Ireland: several ships were sunk, and Captain Turner was sent at least two warnings alerting him to this fact.

The British did not send escorts, or take any precautions other than this to help protect the Lusitania, presumably because they believed it wouldn’t be sunk without fair warning, given its status as a passenger ship.

Not so innocent after all?

But questions remain as to how the ship could have sunk so quickly with such a great loss of life. The U-boat fired only one torpedo, which hit the liner beneath the bridge, but a much larger secondary explosion then occurred, blowing out the starboard bow.

The ship then listed to starboard at an angle that made the release of life boats extremely difficult – of the 48 aboard, more than enough for everyone, only six got into the water and stayed afloat.

The source of the second explosion will remain a mystery for a long time and many believe that perhaps the ship was carrying something more sinister.

In 2008 divers discovered 15,000 rounds of .303 ammunition in boxes in the ship’s bow and estimated that it could have been carrying up to 4 million rounds in total, which might account for the second explosion and would have made the Lusitania a legitimate target for the Germans.

To this day there are those who believe the wreck, which lies 11 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale, has yet more secrets to tell.


Lusitania and Mauretania were commissioned by Cunard, responding to increasing competition from rival transatlantic passenger companies, particularly the German Norddeutscher Lloyd (NDL) and Hamburg America Line (HAPAG). They had larger, faster, more modern and more luxurious ships than Cunard, and were better placed, starting from German ports, to capture the lucrative trade in emigrants leaving Europe for North America. The NDL liner Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse captured the Blue Riband from Cunard's Campania in 1897, before the prize was taken in 1900 by the HAPAG ship Deutschland. NDL soon wrested the prize back in 1903 with the new Kaiser Wilhelm II and Kronprinz Wilhelm. Cunard saw its passenger numbers affected as a result of the so-called "Kaiser-class ocean liners". [15]

American millionaire businessman J. P. Morgan had decided to invest in transatlantic shipping by creating a new company, International Mercantile Marine (IMM), and, in 1901, purchased the British freight shipper Frederick Leyland & Co. and a controlling interest in the British passenger White Star Line and folded them into IMM. In 1902, IMM, NDL and HAPAG entered into a "Community of Interest" to fix prices and divide among them the transatlantic trade. The partners also acquired a 51% stake in the Dutch Holland America Line. IMM made offers to purchase Cunard which, along with the French CGT, was now its principal rival. [16]

Cunard chairman Lord Inverclyde thus approached the British government for assistance. Faced with the impending collapse of the British liner fleet and the consequent loss of national prestige, as well as the reserve of shipping for war purposes which it represented, they agreed to help. By an agreement signed in June 1903, Cunard was given a loan of £2.6 million to finance two ships, repayable over 20 years at a favourable interest rate of 2.75%. The ships would receive an annual operating subsidy of £75,000 each plus a mail contract worth £68,000. In return, the ships would be built to Admiralty specifications so that they could be used as auxiliary cruisers in wartime. [17]

Design Edit

Cunard established a committee to decide upon the design for the new ships, of which James Bain, Cunard's Marine Superintendent was the chairman. Other members included Rear Admiral H. J. Oram, who had been involved in designs for steam turbine-powered ships for the Royal Navy, and Charles Parsons, whose company Parsons Marine was now producing turbine engines.

Parsons maintained that he could design engines capable of maintaining a speed of 25 knots (46 km/h 29 mph), which would require 68,000 shaft horsepower (51,000 kW). The largest turbine sets built thus far had been of 23,000 shp (17,000 kW) for the Dreadnought-class battleships, and 41,000 shp (31,000 kW) for Invincible-class battlecruisers, which meant the engines would be of a new, untested design. Turbines offered the advantages of generating less vibration than the reciprocating engines and greater reliability in operation at high speeds, combined with lower fuel consumption. It was agreed that a trial would be made by fitting turbines to Carmania, which was already under construction. The result was a ship 1.5 knots (2.8 km/h 1.7 mph) faster than her conventionally powered sister Caronia with the expected improvements in passenger comfort and operating economy. [18]

The ship was designed by Leonard Peskett [19] and built by John Brown and Company of Clydebank, Scotland. The ship's name was taken from Lusitania, an ancient Roman province on the west of the Iberian Peninsula—the region that is now southern Portugal and Extremadura (Spain). The name had also been used by a previous ship built in 1871 and wrecked in 1901, making the name available from Lloyds for Cunard's giant. [20] [21]

Peskett had built a large model of the proposed ship in 1902 showing a three-funnel design. A fourth funnel was implemented into the design in 1904 as it was necessary to vent the exhaust from additional boilers fitted after steam turbines had been settled on as the power plant. The original plan called for three propellers, but this was altered to four because it was felt the necessary power could not be transmitted through just three. Four turbines would drive four separate propellers, with additional reversing turbines to drive the two inboard shafts only. To improve efficiency, the two inboard propellers rotated inward, while those outboard rotated outward. The outboard turbines operated at high pressure the exhaust steam then passing to those inboard at relatively low pressure.

The propellers were driven directly by the turbines, for sufficiently robust gearboxes had not yet been developed, and became available in only 1916. Instead, the turbines had to be designed to run at a much lower speed than those normally accepted as being optimum. Thus, the efficiency of the turbines installed was less at low speeds than a conventional reciprocating (piston-in-cylinder) steam engine, but significantly better when the engines were run at high speed, as was usually the case for an express liner. The ship was fitted with 23 double-ended and two single-ended boilers (which fitted the forward space where the ship narrowed), operating at a maximum 195 psi and containing 192 individual furnaces. [22]

Work to refine the hull shape was conducted in the Admiralty experimental tank at Haslar, Gosport. As a result of experiments, the beam of the ship was increased by 10 feet (3.0 m) over that initially intended to improve stability. The hull immediately in front of the rudder and the balanced rudder itself followed naval design practice to improve the vessel's turning response. The Admiralty contract required that all machinery be below the waterline, where it was considered to be better protected from gunfire, and the aft third of the ship below water was used to house the turbines, the steering motors and four 375-kilowatt (503 hp) steam-driven turbo-generators. The central half contained four boiler rooms, with the remaining space at the forward end of the ship being reserved for cargo and other storage.

Coal bunkers were placed along the length of the ship outboard of the boiler rooms, with a large transverse bunker immediately in front of that most forward (number 1) boiler room. Apart from convenience ready for use, the coal was considered to provide added protection for the central spaces against attack. At the very front were the chain lockers for the huge anchor chains and ballast tanks to adjust the ship's trim.

The hull space was divided into twelve watertight compartments, any two of which could be flooded without risk of the ship sinking, connected by 35 hydraulically operated watertight doors. A critical flaw in the arrangement of the watertight compartments was that sliding doors to the coal bunkers needed to be open to provide a constant feed of coal whilst the ship was operating, and closing these in emergency conditions could be problematic. The ship had a double bottom with the space between divided into separate watertight cells. The ship's exceptional height was due to the six decks of passenger accommodation above the waterline, compared to the customary four decks in existing liners. [23]

High-tensile steel was used for the ship's plating, as opposed to the more conventional mild steel. This allowed a reduction in plate thickness, reducing weight but still providing 26 percent greater strength than otherwise. Plates were held together by triple rows of rivets. The ship was heated and cooled throughout by a thermo-tank ventilation system, which used steam-driven heat exchangers to warm air to a constant 65 °F (18.3 °C), while steam was injected into the airflow to maintain steady humidity.

Forty-nine separate units driven by electric fans provided seven complete changes of air per hour throughout the ship, through an interconnected system, so that individual units could be switched off for maintenance. A separate system of exhaust fans removed air from galleys and bathrooms. As built, the ship conformed fully with Board of Trade safety regulations which required sixteen lifeboats with a capacity of approximately 1,000 people. [24]

At the time of her completion, Lusitania was briefly the largest ship ever built, but was soon eclipsed by the slightly larger Mauretania which entered service shortly afterwards. She was 3 feet (0.91 m) longer, a full 2 knots (3.7 km/h 2.3 mph) faster, and had a capacity of 10,000 gross tons over and above that of the most modern German liner, Kronprinzessin Cecilie. Passenger accommodation was 50% larger than any of her competitors, providing for 552 saloon class, 460 cabin class and 1,186 in third class. Her crew comprised 69 on deck, 369 operating engines and boilers and 389 to attend to passengers. Both she and Mauretania had a wireless telegraph, electric lighting, electric lifts, sumptuous interiors and an early form of air-conditioning. [25]

Interiors Edit

At the time of their introduction onto the North Atlantic, both Lusitania and Mauretania possessed among the most luxurious, spacious and comfortable interiors afloat. The Scottish architect James Miller was chosen to design Lusitania ' s interiors, while Harold Peto was chosen to design Mauretania. Miller chose to use plasterwork to create interiors whereas Peto made extensive use of wooden panelling, with the result that the overall impression given by Lusitania was brighter than Mauretania.

The ship's passenger accommodation was spread across six decks from the top deck down to the waterline they were Boat Deck (A Deck), the Promenade Deck (B Deck), the Shelter Deck (C Deck), the Upper Deck (D Deck), the Main Deck (E Deck) and the Lower Deck (F Deck), with each of the three passenger classes being allotted their own space on the ship. As seen aboard all passenger liners of the era, first-, second- and third-class passengers were strictly segregated from one another. According to her original configuration in 1907, she was designed to carry 2,198 passengers and 827 crew members. The Cunard Line prided itself with a record for passenger satisfaction.

Lusitania ' s first-class accommodation was in the centre section of the ship on the five uppermost decks, mostly concentrated between the first and fourth funnels. When fully booked, Lusitania could cater to 552 first-class passengers. In common with all major liners of the period, Lusitania ' s first-class interiors were decorated with a mélange of historical styles. The first-class dining saloon was the grandest of the ship's public rooms arranged over two decks with an open circular well at its centre and crowned by an elaborate dome measuring 29 feet (8.8 m), decorated with frescos in the style of François Boucher, it was elegantly realised throughout in the neoclassical Louis XVI style. The lower floor measuring 85 feet (26 m) could seat 323, with a further 147 on the 65-foot (20 m) upper floor. The walls were finished with white and gilt carved mahogany panels, with Corinthian decorated columns which were required to support the floor above. The one concession to seaborne life was that furniture was bolted to the floor, meaning passengers could not rearrange their seating for their personal convenience. [26]

All other first-class public rooms were situated on the boat deck and comprised a lounge, reading and writing room, smoking room and veranda café. The last was an innovation on a Cunard liner and, in warm weather, one side of the café could be opened up to give the impression of sitting outdoors. This would have been a rarely used feature given the often inclement weather of the North Atlantic. [27]

The first-class lounge was decorated in Georgian style with inlaid mahogany panels surrounding a jade green carpet with a yellow floral pattern, measuring overall 68 feet (21 m). It had a barrel vaulted skylight rising to 20 feet (6.1 m) with stained glass windows each representing one month of the year.

Each end of the lounge had a 14-foot (4.3 m) high green marble fireplace incorporating enamelled panels by Alexander Fisher. The design was linked overall with decorative plasterwork. The library walls were decorated with carved pilasters and mouldings marking out panels of grey and cream silk brocade. The carpet was rose, with Rose du Barry silk curtains and upholstery. The chairs and writing desks were mahogany, and the windows featured etched glass. The smoking room was Queen Anne style, with Italian walnut panelling and Italian red furnishings. The grand stairway linked all six decks of the passenger accommodation with wide hallways on each level and two lifts. First-class cabins ranged from one shared room through various ensuite arrangements in a choice of decorative styles culminating in the two regal suites which each had two bedrooms, dining room, parlour and bathroom. The port suite decoration was modelled on the Petit Trianon. [28]

Lusitania ' s second-class accommodation was confined to the stern, behind the aft mast, where quarters for 460 second-class passengers were located. The second-class public rooms were situated on partitioned sections of boat and promenade decks housed in a separate section of the superstructure aft of the first-class passenger quarters. Design work was deputised to Robert Whyte, who was the architect employed by John Brown. Although smaller and plainer, the design of the dining room reflected that of first class, with just one floor of diners under a ceiling with a smaller dome and balcony. Walls were panelled and carved with decorated pillars, all in white. As seen in first class, the dining room was situated lower down in the ship on the saloon deck. The smoking and ladies' rooms occupied the accommodation space of the second-class promenade deck, with the lounge on the boat deck.

Cunard had not previously provided a separate lounge for second class the 42-foot (13 m) room had mahogany tables, chairs and settees set on a rose carpet. The smoking room was 52 feet (16 m) with mahogany panelling, white plaster work ceiling and dome. One wall had a mosaic of a river scene in Brittany, while the sliding windows were blue-tinted. Second-class passengers were allotted shared, yet comfortable two- and four-berth cabins arranged on the shelter, upper and main decks. [29]

Noted as being the prime breadwinner for trans-Atlantic shipping lines, third class aboard Lusitania was praised for the improvement in travel conditions it provided to emigrant passengers Lusitania proved to be a quite popular ship for immigrants. [30] In the days before Lusitania and even still during the years in which Lusitania was in service, third-class accommodation consisted of large open spaces where hundreds of people would share open berths and hastily constructed public spaces, often consisting of no more than a small portion of open deck space and a few tables constructed within their sleeping quarters. In an attempt to break that mould, the Cunard Line began designing ships such as Lusitania with more comfortable third-class accommodation.

As on all Cunard passenger liners, third-class accommodation aboard Lusitania was located at the forward end of the ship on the shelter, upper, main and lower decks, and in comparison to other ships of the period, it was comfortable and spacious. The 79-foot (24 m) dining room was at the bow of the ship on the saloon deck, finished in polished pine as were the other two third-class public rooms, being the smoke room and ladies room on the shelter deck.

When Lusitania was fully booked in third class, the smoking and ladies room could easily be converted into overflow dining rooms for added convenience. Meals were eaten at long tables with swivel chairs and there were two sittings for meals. A piano was provided for passenger use. What greatly appealed to immigrants and lower class travelers was that instead of being confined to open berth dormitories, aboard Lusitania was a honeycomb of two, four, six and eight berth cabins allotted to third-class passengers on the main and lower decks. [31]

The Bromsgrove Guild had designed and constructed most of the trim on Lusitania. [32] Waring and Gillow tendered for the contract to furnish the whole ship, but failing to obtain this still supplied a number of the furnishings.

Construction and trials Edit

Lusitania ' s keel was laid at John Brown on Clydebank as yard no. 367 on 17 August 1904, Lord Inverclyde hammering home the first rivet. Cunard nicknamed her 'the Scottish ship' in contrast to Mauretania whose contract went to Swan Hunter in England and who started building three months later. Final details of the two ships were left to designers at the two yards so that the ships differed in details of hull design and finished structure. The ships may most readily be distinguished in photographs through the flat-topped ventilators used on Lusitania, whereas those on Mauretania used a more conventional rounded top. Mauretania was designed a little longer, wider, heavier and with an extra power stage fitted to the turbines.

The shipyard at John Brown had to be reorganised because of her size so that she could be launched diagonally across the widest available part of the river Clyde where it met a tributary, the ordinary width of the river being only 610 feet (190 m) compared to the 786-foot (240 m) long ship. The new slipway took up the space of two existing ones and was built on reinforcing piles driven deeply into the ground to ensure it could take the temporary concentrated weight of the whole ship as it slid into the water. In addition, the company spent £8,000 to dredge the Clyde, £6,500 on new gas plant, £6,500 on a new electrical plant, £18,000 to extend the dock and £19,000 for a new crane capable of lifting 150 tons as well as £20,000 on additional machinery and equipment. [33] Construction commenced at the bow working backwards, rather than the traditional approach of building both ends towards the middle. This was because designs for the stern and engine layout were not finalised when construction commenced. Railway tracks were laid alongside the ship and across deck plating to bring materials as required. The hull, completed to the level of the main deck but not fitted with equipment weighed approximately 16,000 tons. [34]

The ship's stockless bower anchors weighed 10 1 ⁄ 4 tons, attached to 125 ton, 330 fathom chains all manufactured by N. Hingley & Sons Ltd. The steam capstans to raise them were constructed by Napier Brothers Ltd, of Glasgow. The turbines were 25 feet (7.6 m) long with 12 ft (3.7 m) diameter rotors, the large diameter necessary because of the relatively low speeds at which they operated. The rotors were constructed on site, while the casings and shafting were constructed in John Brown's Atlas works in Sheffield. The machinery to drive the 56-ton rudder was constructed by Brown Brothers of Edinburgh. A main steering engine drove the rudder through worm gear and clutch operating on a toothed quadrant rack, with a reserve engine operating separately on the rack via a chain drive for emergency use. The 17 ft (5.2 m) three-bladed propellers were fitted and then cased in wood to protect them during the launch. [35]

The ship was launched on 7 June 1906, eight weeks later than planned due to labour strikes and eight months after Lord Inverclyde's death. Princess Louise was invited to name the ship but could not attend, so the honour fell to Inverclyde's widow Mary. [36] [1] The launch was attended by 600 invited guests and thousands of spectators. [37] One thousand tons of drag chains were attached to the hull by temporary rings to slow it once it entered the water. On launch, the propellers were fitted, but on later launches propellers would be fitted in dry dock as they could be damaged by colliding with another object on launch. [38] The wooden supporting structure was held back by cables so that once the ship entered the water it would slip forward out of its support. Six tugs were on hand to capture the hull and move it to the fitting out berth. [39] Testing of the ship's engines took place in June 1907 prior to full trials scheduled for July. A preliminary cruise, or Builder's Trial, was arranged for 27 July with representatives of Cunard, the Admiralty, the Board of Trade, and John Brown aboard. The ship achieved speeds of 25.6 knots (47.4 km/h 29.5 mph) over a measured 1 mile (1.6 km) at Skelmorlie with turbines running at 194 revolutions per minute producing 76,000 shp. At high speeds the ship was found to suffer such vibration at the stern as to render the second-class accommodation uninhabitable. VIP invited guests now came on board for a two-day shakedown cruise during which the ship was tested under continuous running at speeds of 15, 18 and 21 knots but not her maximum speed. On 29 July, the guests departed and three days of full trials commenced. The ship travelled four times between the Corsewall Light off Scotland to the Longship Light off Cornwall at 23 and 25 knots, between the Corsewall Light and the Isle of Man, and the Isle of Arran and Ailsa Craig. Over 300 miles (480 km) an average speed of 25.4 knots was achieved, comfortably greater than the 24 knots required under the admiralty contract. The ship could stop in 4 minutes in 3/4 of a mile starting from 23 knots at 166 rpm and then applying full reverse. She achieved a speed of 26 knots over a measured mile loaded to a draught of 33 feet (10 m), and managed 26.5 knots over a 60-mile (97 km) course drawing 31.5 feet (9.6 m). At 180 revolutions a turning test was conducted and the ship performed a complete circle of diameter 1000 yards in 50 seconds. The rudder required 20 seconds to be turned hard to 35 degrees. [40] [41]

The vibration was determined to be caused by interference between the wake of the outer propellers and inner and became worse when turning. At high speeds the vibration frequency resonated with the ship's stern making the matter worse. The solution was to add internal stiffening to the stern of the ship but this necessitated gutting the second-class areas and then rebuilding them. This required the addition of a number of pillars and arches to the decorative scheme. The ship was finally delivered to Cunard on 26 August although the problem of vibration was never entirely solved and further remedial work went on through her life. [42]

Comparison with the Olympic class Edit

The White Star Line's Olympic-class vessels were almost 100 ft (30 m) longer and slightly wider than Lusitania and Mauretania. This made the White Star vessels about 15,000 tons larger than the Cunard vessels. Both Lusitania and Mauretania were launched and had been in service for several years before Olympic, Titanic and Britannic were ready for the North Atlantic run. Although significantly faster than the Olympic class would be, the speed of Cunard's vessels was not sufficient to allow the line to run a weekly two-ship transatlantic service from each side of the Atlantic. A third ship was needed for a weekly service, and in response to White Star's announced plan to build the three Olympic-class ships, Cunard ordered a third ship: Aquitania. Like Olympic, Cunard's Aquitania had a lower service speed, but was a larger and more luxurious vessel.

Due to their increased size the Olympic-class liners could offer many more amenities than Lusitania and Mauretania. Both Olympic and Titanic offered swimming pools, Turkish baths, a gymnasium, a squash court, large reception rooms, À la Carte restaurants separate from the dining saloons, and many more staterooms with private bathroom facilities than their two Cunard rivals.

Heavy vibrations as a by-product of the four steam turbines on Lusitania and Mauretania would plague both ships throughout their voyages. When Lusitania sailed at top speed the resultant vibrations were so severe that second- and third-class sections of the ship could become uninhabitable. [43] In contrast, the Olympic-class liners utilised two traditional reciprocating engines and only one turbine for the central propeller, which greatly reduced vibration. Because of their greater tonnage and wider beam, the Olympic-class liners were also more stable at sea and less prone to rolling. Lusitania and Mauretania both featured straight prows in contrast to the angled prows of the Olympic-class. Designed so that the ships could plunge through a wave rather than crest it, the unforeseen consequence was that the Cunard liners would pitch forward alarmingly, even in calm weather, allowing huge waves to splash the bow and forward part of the superstructure. [44] This would be a major factor in damage that Lusitania suffered at the hands of a rogue wave in January 1910.

The vessels of the Olympic class also differed from Lusitania and Mauretania in the way in which they were compartmented below the waterline. The White Star vessels were divided by transverse watertight bulkheads. While Lusitania also had transverse bulkheads, it also had longitudinal bulkheads running along the ship on each side, between the boiler and engine rooms and the coal bunkers on the outside of the vessel. The British commission that had investigated the sinking of Titanic in 1912 heard testimony on the flooding of coal bunkers lying outside longitudinal bulkheads. Being of considerable length, when flooded, these could increase the ship's list and "make the lowering of the boats on the other side impracticable" [45] — and this was precisely what later happened with Lusitania. The ship's stability was insufficient for the bulkhead arrangement used: flooding of only three coal bunkers on one side could result in negative metacentric height. [46] On the other hand, Titanic was given ample stability and sank with only a few degrees list, the design being such that there was very little risk of unequal flooding and possible capsize. [47]

Lusitania did not carry enough lifeboats for all her passengers, officers and crew on board at the time of her maiden voyage (carrying four lifeboats fewer than Titanic would carry in 1912). This was a common practice for large passenger ships at the time, since the belief was that in busy shipping lanes help would always be nearby and the few boats available would be adequate to ferry all aboard to rescue ships before a sinking. After the Titanic sank, Lusitania and Mauretania were equipped with an additional six clinker-built wooden boats under davits, making for a total of 22 boats rigged in davits. The rest of their lifeboat accommodations were supplemented with 26 collapsible lifeboats, 18 stored directly beneath the regular lifeboats and eight on the after deck. The collapsibles were built with hollow wooden bottoms and canvas sides, and needed assembly in the event they had to be used. [48]

This contrasted with Olympic and Britannic which received a full complement of lifeboats all rigged under davits. This difference would have been a major contributor to the high loss of life involved with Lusitania ' s sinking, since there was not sufficient time to assemble collapsible boats or life-rafts, had it not been for the fact that the ship's severe listing made it impossible for lifeboats on the port side of the vessel to be lowered, and the rapidity of the sinking did not allow the remaining lifeboats that could be directly lowered (as these were rigged under davits) to be filled and launched with passengers. When Britannic, working as a hospital ship during World War I, sank in 1916 after hitting a mine in the Kea channel the already davited boats were swiftly lowered saving nearly all on board, but the ship took nearly three times as long to sink as Lusitania and thus the crew had more time to evacuate passengers.

Lusitania, commanded by Commodore James Watt, moored at the Liverpool landing stage for her maiden voyage at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday 7 September 1907 as the onetime Blue Riband holder RMS Lucania vacated the pier. At the time Lusitania was the largest ocean liner in service and would continue to be until the introduction of Mauretania in November that year. A crowd of 200,000 people gathered to see her departure at 9:00 p.m. for Queenstown (renamed Cobh in 1920), where she was to take on more passengers. She anchored again at Roche's Point, off Queenstown, at 9:20 a.m. the following morning, where she was shortly joined by Lucania, which she had passed in the night, and 120 passengers were brought out to the ship by tender bringing her total of passengers to 2,320.

At 12:10 p.m. on Sunday Lusitania was again under way and passing the Daunt Rock Lightship. In the first 24 hours she achieved 561 miles (903 km), with further daily totals of 575, 570, 593 and 493 miles (793 km) before arriving at Sandy Hook at 9:05 a.m. Friday 13 September, taking in total 5 days and 54 minutes, 30 minutes outside the record time held by Kaiser Wilhelm II of the North German Lloyd line. Fog had delayed the ship on two days, and her engines were not yet run in. In New York hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the bank of the Hudson River from Battery Park to pier 56. All New York's police had been called out to control the crowd. From the start of the day, 100 horse-drawn cabs had been queuing, ready to take away passengers. During the week's stay the ship was made available for guided tours. At 3 p.m. on Saturday 21 September, the ship departed on the return journey, arriving Queenstown 4 a.m. 27 September and Liverpool 12 hours later. The return journey was 5 days 4 hours and 19 minutes, again delayed by fog. [49]

On her second voyage in better weather, Lusitania arrived at Sandy Hook on 11 October 1907 in the Blue Riband record time of 4 days, 19 hours and 53 minutes. She had to wait for the tide to enter harbour where news had preceded her and she was met by a fleet of small craft, whistles blaring. Lusitania averaged 23.99 knots (44.43 km/h) westbound and 23.61 knots (43.73 km/h) eastbound. In December 1907, Mauretania entered service and took the record for the fastest eastbound crossing. Lusitania made her fastest westbound crossing in 1909 after her propellers were changed, averaging 25.85 knots (47.87 km/h). She briefly recovered the record in July of that year, but Mauretania recaptured the Blue Riband the same month, retaining it until 1929, when it was taken by SS Bremen. [50] During her eight-year service, she made a total of 201 crossings on the Cunard Line's Liverpool-New York Route, carrying a total of 155,795 passengers westbound [51] and another 106,180 eastbound. [52]


When Lusitania was built, her construction and operating expenses were subsidized by the British government, with the provision that she could be converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser if need be. At the outbreak of the First World War, the British Admiralty considered her for requisition as an armed merchant cruiser, and she was put on the official list of AMCs. [5]

The Admiralty then canceled their earlier decision and decided not to use her as an AMC after all large liners such as Lusitania consumed enormous quantities of coal (910 tons/day, or 37.6 tons/hour) and became a serious drain on the Admiralty's fuel reserves, so express liners were deemed inappropriate for the role when smaller cruisers would do. They were also very distinctive so smaller liners were used as transports instead. Lusitania remained on the official AMC list and was listed as an auxiliary cruiser in the 1914 edition of Jane's All the World's Fighting Ships, along with Mauretania. [6]

At the outbreak of hostilities, fears for the safety of Lusitania and other great liners ran high. During the ship's first eastbound crossing after the war started, she was painted in a drab grey colour scheme in an attempt to mask her identity and make her more difficult to detect visually. When it turned out that the German Navy was kept in check by the Royal Navy, and their commerce threat almost entirely evaporated, it very soon seemed that the Atlantic was safe for ships like Lusitania, if the bookings justified the expense of keeping them in service.

Many of the large liners were laid up over the autumn and winter of 1914–1915, in part due to falling demand for passenger travel across the Atlantic, and in part to protect them from damage due to mines or other dangers. Among the most recognizable of these liners, some were eventually used as troop transports, while others became hospital ships. Lusitania remained in commercial service although bookings aboard her were by no means strong during that autumn and winter, demand was strong enough to keep her in civilian service. Economizing measures were taken, however. One of these was the shutting down of her No. 4 boiler room to conserve coal and crew costs this reduced her maximum speed from over 25 to 21 knots (46 to 39 km/h). Even so, she was the fastest first-class passenger liner left in commercial service.

With apparent dangers evaporating, the ship's disguised paint scheme was also dropped and she was returned to civilian colors. Her name was picked out in gilt, her funnels were repainted in their usual Cunard livery, and her superstructure was painted white again. One alteration was the addition of a bronze/gold colored band around the base of the superstructure just above the black paint. [7]

1915 Edit

The British established a naval blockade of Germany on the outbreak of war in August 1914, issuing a comprehensive list of contraband that included even foodstuffs, and in early November 1914 Britain declared the North Sea to be a war zone, with any ships entering the North Sea doing so at their own risk. [8] [9]

By early 1915, a new threat to British shipping began to materialise: U-boats (submarines). At first, the Germans used them only to attack naval vessels, and they achieved only occasional—but sometimes spectacular—successes. U-boats then began to attack merchant vessels at times, although almost always in accordance with the old cruiser rules. Desperate to gain an advantage on the Atlantic, the German government decided to step up its submarine campaign. On 4 February 1915, Germany declared the seas around the British Isles a war zone: from 18 February, Allied ships in the area would be sunk without warning. This was not wholly unrestricted submarine warfare, since efforts would be taken to avoid sinking neutral ships. [10]

Lusitania was scheduled to arrive in Liverpool on 6 March 1915. The Admiralty issued her specific instructions on how to avoid submarines. Despite a severe shortage of destroyers, Admiral Henry Oliver ordered HMS Louis and Laverock to escort Lusitania, and took the further precaution of sending the Q ship Lyons to patrol Liverpool Bay. [11] One of the destroyers' commanders attempted to discover the whereabouts of Lusitania by telephoning Cunard, who refused to give out any information and referred him to the Admiralty. At sea, the ships contacted Lusitania by radio, but did not have the codes used to communicate with merchant ships. Captain Daniel Dow of Lusitania refused to give his own position except in code, and since he was, in any case, some distance from the positions he gave, continued to Liverpool unescorted. [2] : 91–2 [12] [13] : 76–7

It seems that, in response to this new submarine threat, some alterations were made to Lusitania and her operation. She was ordered not to fly any flags in the war zone a number of warnings, plus advice, were sent to the ship's commander to help him decide how to best protect his ship against the new threat and it also seems that her funnels were most likely painted a dark grey to help make her less visible to enemy submarines. There was no hope of disguising her actual identity, since her profile was so well known, and no attempt was made to paint out the ship's name at the prow. [14]

Captain Dow, apparently suffering from stress from operating his ship in the war zone, and after a significant "false flag" controversy [ further explanation needed ] left the ship Cunard later explained that he was "tired and really ill." [15] He was replaced with a new commander, Captain William Thomas Turner, who had commanded Lusitania, Mauretania, and Aquitania in the years before the war.

On 17 April 1915, Lusitania left Liverpool on her 201st transatlantic voyage, arriving in New York on 24 April. A group of German–Americans, hoping to avoid controversy if Lusitania were attacked by a U-boat, discussed their concerns with a representative of the German Embassy. The embassy decided to warn passengers before her next crossing not to sail aboard Lusitania, and on 22 April placed a warning advertisement in 50 American newspapers, including those in New York: [16]

This warning was printed adjacent to an advertisement for Lusitania ' s return voyage. The warning led to some agitation in the press and worried the ship's passengers and crew.

Departure Edit

While many British passenger ships had been called into duty for the war effort, Lusitania remained on her regular route between Liverpool and New York. She departed Pier 54 in New York on 1 May 1915 on her return trip to Liverpool with 1,959 people aboard. In addition to her crew of 694, she carried 1,265 passengers, mostly British nationals as well as a large number of Canadians, along with 128 Americans. [17] Her First Class accommodations, for which she was well regarded on the North Atlantic run, were booked at just over half capacity at 290. Second Class was severely overbooked with 601 passengers, far exceeding the maximum capacity of 460. While a large number of small children and infants helped reduce the squeeze into the limited number of two- and four-berth cabins, the situation was rectified by allowing some Second Class passengers to occupy empty First Class cabins. In Third Class, the situation was considered to be the norm for an eastbound crossing, with only 373 travelling in accommodations designed for 1,186. [18]

Captain Turner, known as "Bowler Bill" for his favourite shoreside headgear, had returned to his old command of Lusitania. He was commodore of the Cunard Line and a highly experienced master mariner, and had relieved Daniel Dow, the ship's regular captain. Dow had been instructed by his chairman, Alfred Booth, to take some leave, due to the stress of captaining the ship in U-boat infested sea lanes and for his protestations that the ship should not become an armed merchant cruiser, making her a prime target for German forces. [19] Turner tried to calm the passengers by explaining that the ship's speed made her safe from attack by submarine. [20] However, Cunard shut down one of the ship's four boiler rooms to reduce costs on sparsely subscribed wartime voyages, reducing her top speed from 25.5 to around 22 knots. [21]

Lusitania steamed out of New York at noon on 1 May, two hours behind schedule, because of a last-minute transfer of forty-one passengers and crew from the recently requisitioned Cameronia. [2] : 132–33 Shortly after departure three German-speaking men were found on board hiding in a steward's pantry. Detective Inspector William Pierpoint of the Liverpool police, who was travelling in the guise of a first-class passenger, interrogated them before locking them in the cells for further questioning when the ship reached Liverpool. [2] : 156, 445–46 Also among the crew was an Englishman, Neal Leach, who had been working as a tutor in Germany before the war. Leach had been interned but later released by Germany. The German embassy in Washington was notified about Leach's arrival in America, where he met known German agents. Leach and the three German stowaways went down with the ship. They had probably been tasked with spying on Lusitania and her cargo. Most probably, Pierpoint, who survived the sinking, [22] would already have been informed about Leach. [2] : 131–32, 445

Submarine activity Edit

As the liner steamed across the ocean, the British Admiralty had been tracking the movements of U-20, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger, through wireless intercepts and radio direction finding. The submarine left Borkum on 30 April, heading north-west across the North Sea. On 2 May, she had reached Peterhead and proceeded around the north of Scotland and Ireland, and then along the western and southern coasts of Ireland, to enter the Irish Sea from the south. Although the submarine's departure, destination, and expected arrival time were known to Room 40 in the Admiralty, the activities of the decoding department were considered so secret that they were unknown even to the normal intelligence division which tracked enemy ships or to the trade division responsible for warning merchant vessels. Only the very highest officers in the Admiralty saw the information and passed on warnings only when they felt it essential. [23]

On 27 March, Room 40 had intercepted a message which clearly demonstrated that the Germans had broken the code used to pass messages to British merchant ships. Cruisers protecting merchant ships were warned not to use the code to give directions to shipping because it could just as easily attract enemy submarines as steer ships away from them. However, Queenstown (now Cobh) was not given this warning and continued to give directions in the compromised code, which was not changed until after Lusitania ' s sinking. At this time, the Royal Navy was significantly involved with operations leading up to the landings at Gallipoli, and the intelligence department had been undertaking a program of misinformation to convince Germany to expect an attack on her northern coast. As part of this, ordinary cross-channel traffic to the Netherlands was halted from 19 April and false reports were leaked about troop ship movements from ports on Britain's western and southern coasts. This led to a demand from the German army for offensive action against the expected troop movements and consequently, a surge in German submarine activity on the British west coast. The fleet was warned to expect additional submarines, but this warning was not passed on to those sections of the navy dealing with merchant vessels. The return of the battleship Orion from Devonport to Scotland was delayed until 4 May and she was given orders to stay 100 miles (160 km) from the Irish coast. [24]

On 5 May, U-20 stopped a merchant schooner, Earl of Lathom, off the Old Head of Kinsale, examined her papers, then ordered her crew to leave before sinking the schooner with gunfire. On 6 May, U-20 fired a torpedo at Cayo Romano from Cuba, a British steamer flying a neutral flag, off Fastnet Rock narrowly missing by a few feet. [25] At 22:30 on 5 May, the Royal Navy sent an uncoded warning to all ships – "Submarines active off the south coast of Ireland" – and at midnight an addition was made to the regular nightly warnings, "submarine off Fastnet". [26] On 6 May U-20 sank the 6,000 ton steamer Candidate. It then failed to get off a shot at the 16,000 ton liner Arabic, because although she kept a straight course the liner was too fast, but then sank another 6,000 ton British cargo ship flying no flag, Centurion, all in the region of the Coningbeg light ship. The specific mention of a submarine was dropped from the midnight broadcast on 6–7 May as news of the new sinkings had not yet reached the navy at Queenstown, and it was correctly assumed that there was no longer a submarine at Fastnet. [27]

Captain Turner of Lusitania was given a warning message twice on the evening of 6 May, and took what he felt were prudent precautions. That evening a Seamen's Charities fund concert took place throughout the ship and the captain was obliged to attend the event in the first-class lounge. [2] : 197

At about 11:00 on 7 May, the Admiralty radioed another warning to all ships, probably as a result of a request by Alfred Booth, who was concerned about Lusitania: "U-boats active in southern part of Irish Channel. Last heard of twenty miles south of Coningbeg Light Vessel". Booth and all of Liverpool had received news of the sinkings, which the Admiralty had known about by at least 3:00 that morning. [28] Turner adjusted his heading northeast, not knowing that this report related to events of the previous day and apparently thinking submarines would be more likely to keep to the open sea, so that Lusitania would be safer close to land. [13] : 184 At 13:00 another message was received, "Submarine five miles south of Cape Clear proceeding west when sighted at 10:00 am". This report was inaccurate as no submarine had been at that location, but gave the impression that at least one submarine had been safely passed. [29]

U-20 was low on fuel and had only three torpedoes left. On the morning of 7 May, visibility was poor and Schwieger decided to head for home. He submerged at 11:00 after sighting a fishing boat which he believed might be a British patrol and shortly after was passed while still submerged by a ship at high speed. This was the cruiser Juno returning to Queenstown, travelling fast and zig-zagging having received warning of submarine activity off Queenstown at 07:45. The Admiralty considered these old cruisers highly vulnerable to submarines, and indeed Schwieger attempted to target the ship. [2] : 216 [30]

Sinking Edit

On the morning of 6 May, Lusitania was 750 miles (1,210 km) west of southern Ireland. By 05:00 on 7 May, she reached a point 120 miles (190 km) west south west of Fastnet Rock (off the southern tip of Ireland), where she met the patrolling boarding vessel Partridge. [31] By 06:00, heavy fog had arrived and extra lookouts were posted. As the ship came closer to Ireland, Captain Turner ordered depth soundings to be made and at 08:00 for speed to be reduced to eighteen knots, then to 15 knots and for the foghorn to be sounded. Some of the passengers were disturbed that the ship appeared to be advertising her presence. By 10:00, the fog began to lift, by noon it had been replaced by bright sunshine over a clear smooth sea and speed increased to 18 knots. [2] : 200–2

U-20 surfaced again at 12:45 as visibility was now excellent. At 13:20, something was sighted and Schwieger was summoned to the conning tower: at first it appeared to be several ships because of the number of funnels and masts, but this resolved into one large steamer appearing over the horizon. At 13:25, the submarine submerged to periscope depth of 11 metres and set a course to intercept the liner at her maximum submerged speed of 9 knots. When the ships had closed to 2 miles (3.2 km) Lusitania turned away, Schwieger feared he had lost his target, but she turned again, this time onto a near ideal course to bring her into position for an attack. At 14:10, with the target at 700m range he ordered one gyroscopic torpedo to be fired, set to run at a depth of three metres. [2] : 216–17 [32]

In Schwieger's own words, recorded in the log of U-20:

Torpedo hits starboard side right behind the bridge. An unusually heavy detonation takes place with a very strong explosive cloud. The explosion of the torpedo must have been followed by a second one [boiler or coal or powder?]. The ship stops immediately and heels over to starboard very quickly, immersing simultaneously at the bow. the name Lusitania becomes visible in golden letters. [33]

U-20 ' s torpedo officer, Raimund Weisbach, viewed the destruction through the vessel's periscope and felt the explosion was unusually severe. Within six minutes, Lusitania ' s forecastle began to submerge. Though Schwieger states the torpedo hit beneath the bridge, survivor testimony, including that of Captain Turner, gave a number of different locations: some stated it was between the first and second funnels, others between the third and fourth, and one claimed it struck below the capstan.

On board the Lusitania, Leslie Morton, an eighteen-year-old lookout at the bow, had spotted thin lines of foam racing toward the ship. He shouted, "Torpedoes coming on the starboard side!" through a megaphone, thinking the bubbles came from two projectiles. The torpedo struck Lusitania under the bridge, sending a plume of debris, steel plating, and water upward and knocking lifeboat number five off its davits. "It sounded like a million-ton hammer hitting a steam boiler a hundred feet high," one passenger said. A second, more powerful explosion followed, sending a geyser of water, coal, dust, and debris high above the deck. Schwieger's log entries attest that he launched only one torpedo. Some doubt the validity of this claim, contending that the German government subsequently altered the published fair copy of Schwieger's log, [2] : 416–19 but accounts from other U-20 crew members corroborate it. The entries were also consistent with intercepted radio reports sent to Germany by U-20 once she had returned to the North Sea, before any possibility of an official coverup. [34]

German drawing of Lusitania being torpedoed which incorrectly depicts the torpedo hitting the port side of ship

British drawing of Lusitania being torpedoed shows disputed "second torpedo"

Lusitania is shown sinking as Irish fishermen race to the rescue. In fact, the launching of the lifeboats was more chaotic

At 14:12, Captain Turner ordered Quartermaster Johnston stationed at the ship's wheel to steer 'hard-a-starboard' towards the Irish coast, which Johnston confirmed, but the ship could not be steadied on the course and rapidly ceased to respond to the wheel. Turner signalled for the engines to be reversed to halt the ship, but although the signal was received in the engine room, nothing could be done. Steam pressure had collapsed from 195 psi before the explosion, to 50 psi and falling afterwards. [2] : 227 Lusitania ' s wireless operator sent out an immediate SOS, which was acknowledged by a coastal wireless station. Shortly afterward he transmitted the ship's position, 10 miles (16 km) south of the Old Head of Kinsale. [2] : 228 At 14:14, electrical power failed, plunging the cavernous interior of the ship into darkness. Radio signals continued on emergency batteries, but electric lifts failed, trapping passengers and crew bulkhead doors, that were closed as a precaution before the attack, could not be reopened to release trapped men. [2] : 238–40

About one minute after the electrical power failed, Captain Turner gave the order to abandon ship. Water had flooded the ship's starboard longitudinal compartments, causing a 15-degree list to starboard.

Lusitania ' s severe starboard list complicated the launch of her lifeboats. Ten minutes after the torpedoing, when she had slowed enough to start putting boats in the water, the lifeboats on the starboard side swung out too far to step aboard safely. [35] While it was still possible to board the lifeboats on the port side, lowering them presented a different problem. As was typical for the period, the hull plates of Lusitania were riveted, and as the lifeboats were lowered they dragged on the inch-high rivets, which threatened to seriously damage the boats before they landed in the water.

Many lifeboats overturned while loading or lowering, spilling passengers into the sea others were overturned by the ship's motion when they hit the water. It has been claimed [36] that some boats, because of the negligence of some officers, crashed down onto the deck, crushing other passengers, and sliding down towards the bridge. This has been disputed by passenger and crew testimony. [37] Some crewmen would lose their grip on ropes used to lower the lifeboats while trying to lower the boats into the ocean, and this caused the passengers to spill into the sea. Others tipped on launch as some panicking people jumped into the boat. Lusitania had 48 lifeboats, more than enough for all the crew and passengers, but only 6 were successfully lowered, all from the starboard side. Lifeboat 1 overturned as it was being lowered, spilling its original occupants into the sea, but it managed to right itself shortly afterwards and was later filled with people from in the water. Lifeboats 9 (5 people on board) and 11 (7 people on board) managed to reach the water safely with a few people, but both later picked up many swimmers. Lifeboats 13 and 15 also safely reached the water, overloaded with around 150 people. Finally, Lifeboat 21 (52 people on board) reached the water safely and cleared the ship moments before her final plunge. A few of her collapsible lifeboats washed off her decks as she sank and provided flotation for some survivors.

Two lifeboats on the port side cleared the ship as well. Lifeboat 14 (11 people on board) was lowered and launched safely, but because the boat plug was not in place, it filled with seawater and sank almost immediately after reaching the water. Later, Lifeboat 2 floated away from the ship with new occupants (its previous ones having been spilled into the sea when they upset the boat) after they removed a rope and one of the ship's "tentacle-like" funnel stays. They rowed away shortly before the ship sank.

There was panic and disorder on the decks. Schwieger had been observing this through U-20 's periscope, and by 14:25, he dropped the periscope and headed out to sea. [38] Later in the war, Schwieger was killed in action when, as he commanded U-88 the vessel struck a British mine and sank on 5 September 1917, north of Terschelling. There were no survivors from U-88 's sinking.

The track of Lusitania. View of casualties and survivors in the water and in lifeboats. Painting by William Lionel Wyllie

The second explosion made passengers believe U-20 had torpedoed Lusitania a second time

The effect of U-20's torpedo

Captain Turner was on the deck near the bridge clutching the ship's logbook and charts when a wave swept upward towards the bridge and the rest of the ship's forward superstructure, knocking him overboard into the sea. He managed to swim and find a chair floating in the water which he clung to. He survived, having been pulled unconscious from the water after spending three hours there. Lusitania ' s bow slammed into the bottom about 100 metres (330 ft) below at a shallow angle because of her forward momentum as she sank. Along the way, some boilers exploded. As he had taken the ship's logbook and charts with him, Turner's last navigational fix had been only two minutes before the torpedoing, and he was able to remember the ship's speed and bearing at the moment of the sinking. This was accurate enough to locate the wreck after the war. The ship travelled about two miles (3 km) from the time of the torpedoing to her final resting place, leaving a trail of debris and people behind. After her bow sank completely, Lusitania ' s stern rose out of the water, enough for her propellers to be seen, and went under. None of the four funnels collapsed, although some survivors testified that the third funnel swung and struck their lifeboat as they boarded it.

Lusitania sank in only 18 minutes, at a distance of 11.5 miles (19 km) off the Old Head of Kinsale. Despite being relatively close to shore, it took several hours for help to arrive from the Irish coast. By the time help arrived, however, many in the 52 °F (11 °C) water had succumbed to the cold. By the days' end, 764 passengers and crew from Lusitania had been rescued and landed at Queenstown. The final death toll for the disaster came to a catastrophic number. Of the 1,959 passengers and crew aboard Lusitania at the time of her sinking, 1,195 had been lost. [39] In the days following the disaster, the Cunard line offered local fishermen and sea merchants a cash reward for the bodies floating all throughout the Irish Sea, some floating as far away as the Welsh coast. Only 289 bodies were recovered, 65 of which were never identified. The bodies of many of the victims were buried at either Queenstown, where 148 bodies were interred in the Old Church Cemetery, [40] or the Church of St Multose in Kinsale, but the bodies of the remaining 885 victims were never recovered.

Two days before, U-20 had sunk Earl of Lathom, but first allowed the crew to escape in boats. According to international maritime law, any military vessel stopping an unarmed civilian ship was required to allow those on board time to escape before sinking it. The conventions had been drawn up in a time before the invention of the submarine and took no account of the severe risk a small vessel, such as a submarine, faced if it gave up the advantage of a surprise attack. Schwieger could have allowed the crew and passengers of Lusitania to take to the boats, but he considered the danger of being rammed or fired upon by deck guns too great. [ citation needed ] Merchant ships had, in fact, been advised to steer directly at any U-boat that surfaced. A cash bonus had been offered for any that were sunk, though the advice was carefully worded so as not to amount to an order to ram. [41] This feat would be accomplished only once during the war by a commercial vessel when in 1918 the White Star Liner HMT Olympic, sister ship to the Titanic, rammed SM U-103 in the English Channel, sinking the submarine.

According to Bailey and Ryan, Lusitania was travelling without any flag and her name painted over with darkish dye. [42]

One story—an urban legend—states that when Lieutenant Schwieger of U-20 gave the order to fire, his quartermaster, Charles Voegele, would not take part in an attack on women and children, and refused to pass on the order to the torpedo room – a decision for which he was court-martialed and imprisoned at Kiel until the end of the war. [43] This rumour persisted from 1972, when the French daily paper Le Monde published a letter to the editor. [44] [45]

8 Famous People Who Missed the Lusitania

When the First World War began, in the summer of 1914, the Lusitania was among the most glamorous and celebrated ships in the world—at one time both the largest and fastest afloat. But the British passenger liner would earn a far more tragic place in history on May 7, 1915, when it was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland, with the loss of nearly 1,200 lives.

The Lusitania was not the first British ship to be torpedoed, and the German Navy had publicly vowed to destroy “every enemy merchant ship” it found in the waters surrounding Great Britain and Ireland. On the day the Lusitania set sail from New York, the German Embassy ran ads in U.S. newspapers, warning travelers to avoid liners flying the British flag.  But in the case of the Lusitania the warnings went largely unheeded, due in part to the belief that the powerful ship could outrun any pursuant. The ship's captain, W. T. Turner, offered additional reassurance. “It's the best joke I've heard in many days this talk of torpedoing,” he supposedly told reporters.

England and Germany had been at war for close to a year by that point, but the United States, whose citizens would account for about 120 of the Lusitania’s victims, had remained neutral ships sailing under the stars and stripes would not be the deliberate targets of German torpedoes. Though the U.S. didn’t officially enter the war until 1917, the sinking of the Lusitania, and the propaganda blitz that followed, proved a major factor in swaying public opinion in that direction.

Among the prominent American victims were such luminaries of the day as the theatrical impresario Charles Frohman, the popular writer Elbert Hubbard and the very rich Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt. But the list of passengers who missed the Lusitania’s last voyage was equally illustrious. Ironically, it wasn’t the fear of a German U-boat attack that kept most of them off the doomed liner but more mundane matters, such as unfinished business, an uncooperative alarm clock or a demanding mistress.

Here are the stories of eight famous men and women who were lucky enough to dodge the torpedo.

Arturo Toscanini

The conductor Arturo Toscanini was set to return to Europe aboard the Lusitania when his season at New York’s Metropolitan Opera ended. Instead, he cut his concert schedule short and left a week earlier, apparently aboard the Italian liner Duca degli Abruzzi. Contemporary newspaper accounts attributed his hasty departure to doctor’s orders. “His illness amounts practically to a nervous breakdown due to overwork during the season and also to excitement over the European war,” The New York Tribune reported.

In the years since, historians have offered other explanations, including the maestro’s battles with the Met’s management over budget cutbacks, a particularly bad performance of the opera Carmen and a recent ultimatum from his mistress, the singer and silent-movie actress Geraldine Farrar, that he leave his wife and family. Little wonder he set to sea.

Toscanini, who was then in his late 40s, lived for another four decades, until his death at age 89, in 1957. He recorded prolifically—an 85-disc boxed set released last year represents just a portion of his output—and became a celebrity in the U.S., conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra on radio and later television. In 1984, a quarter-century after his death, he received a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement, sharing the honor that year with Charlie Parker and Chuck Berry.

Jerome Kern

Broadway composer Jerome Kern, then just 30 years old, supposedly planned to sail on the Lusitania with the producer Charles Frohman, but overslept when his alarm clock didn’t go off and missed the ship. The makers of the 1946 MGM musical biopic of Kern’s life, Till the Clouds Roll By, apparently didn’t consider that sufficiently dramatic, so the movie has Kern (played by Robert Walker) racing to the pier in a taxi and arriving just as the ship starts to pull away.

Kern would live for another three decades and write the music for such classics of the American songbook as “Ol’ Man River,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” and “The Way You Look Tonight.”

He died in 1945 at the age of 60 of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Isadora Duncan

With her latest tour of the United States just ended, the American-born dancer Isadora Duncan had a number of ships to choose from for her return to Europe, where she was then living, among them the Lusitania. Though she had crossed the Atlantic on the luxurious liner before, she passed it up this time in favor of the more humble Dante Alighieri, which left New York eight days later. One reason may have been money: Her tour had been a financial disaster.

In fact, Duncan’s creditors had threatened to seize her trunks and keep her from leaving the country at all until she paid about $12,000 in debts racked up during her visit. In a newspaper interview Duncan pleaded, “I appeal to the generosity of the American people and ask them if they are willing to see me and my pupils disgraced after all I have done in the cause of art.”  Fortunately, within hours of the Dante’s departure, Duncan’s creditors had been placated and a benefactor had given her two $1,000 bills to buy the steamship tickets.

Several histories of the Lusitania disaster give the impression that Duncan sailed on the liner New York with Ellen Terry (see below). Though Duncan idolized the older actress and even had a child with her son, theater director Edward Gordon Craig, it seems to have been one of Duncan’s young dancers rather than Duncan herself who accompanied Terry.

Duncan mentions the Lusitania briefly in her autobiography: “Life is a dream, and it is well that it is so, or who could survive some of its experiences? Such, for instance, as the sinking of the Lusitania. An experience like that should leave for ever an expression of horror upon the faces of the men and women who went through it, whereas we meet them everywhere smiling and happy.”

A dozen years later, Duncan would have a famously fatal encounter with another form of transportation, strangled when her scarf became entangled in one of the wheels of a car in which she was riding.

The primary events that led to the United States declaration of war against Germany were the Zimmerman Telegram and Germany’s announced intention to resume unrestricted submarine warfare. American sentiment had leaned toward the Allies and against the Central powers for some time.

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson went before a joint session of Congress to request a declaration of war against Germany. Germany’s resumption of submarine attacks on passenger and merchant ships in 1917 became the primary motivation behind Wilson’s decision to lead the United States into World War I.

Spotted by a U-Boat

Approximately 14 miles off the coast of Southern Ireland at Old Head of Kinsale, neither the captain nor any of his crew realized that German U-boat U-20 had already spotted and targeted them. At 1:40 p.m., the U-boat launched a torpedo. The torpedo hit the starboard (right) side of the Lusitania. Almost immediately, another explosion rocked the ship.

At the time, the Allies thought the Germans had launched two or three torpedoes to sink the Lusitania. However, the Germans say their U-boat only fired one torpedo. Many believe the second explosion was caused by the ignition of ammunition hidden in the cargo hold. Others say that coal dust, kicked up when the torpedo hit, exploded. No matter what the exact cause, it was the damage from the second explosion that made the ship sink.

Lusitania Sunk - History

The Lusitania had left New York City on May 1 bound for Liverpool. On the afternoon of May 7 she was steaming off the coast of Ireland within easy sailing distance of her destination. Known as the "Greyhound of the Seas," the Lusitania was the fastest liner afloat and relied on her speed to defend against submarine attack. However, she was not running at full speed because of fog. Nor was the ship taking an evasive zigzag course. It was a sitting duck and was headed straight into the sights of the U-20.

The two ships converged at about 2 pm. After stalking his prey for an hour, Captain Schwieger unleashed one torpedo that hit its target amidships. The initial explosion was followed quickly by a second, more powerful, detonation. Within 20 minutes the great liner had slipped under the water, taking 1,198 victims with her. Among the dead were 138 Americans. Many in the United States were outraged. A declaration of war was narrowly averted when Germany vowed to cease her policy of unrestricted submarine warfare that allowed attacks on merchant ships without warning. However, American public opinion had turned against Germany and when she resurrected her unrestricted submarine warfare policy in February of 1917, America decided to go to war.

"Great confusion arose on the ship. . ."

Captain Schwieger kept a diary of the voyage. We join his story as he first catches sight of the Lusitania in the early afternoon of May 7, 1915:

Went to 11m and ran at high speed on a course converging with that of the steamer, in hopes that it would change course to starboard along the Irish Coast.

The steamer turned to starboard, headed for Queenstown and thus made it possible to approach for a shot. Ran at high speed till 3 pm in order to secure an advantageous position.

Clear bow shot at 700 m. . . angle of intersection 90 [degrees] estimated speed 22 nautical miles.

A contemporary illustration of the
attack shows the Lusitania hit
by 2 torpedoes. This was
the explanation at the time
for the 2 explosions and the
rapid sinking of the ship.

Shot struck starboard side close behind the bridge. An extraordinary heavy detonation followed, with a very large cloud of smoke (far above the front funnel). A second explosion must have followed that of the torpedo (boiler or coal or powder?).

The superstructure above the point of impact and the bridge were torn apart fire broke out light smoke veiled the high bridge. The ship stopped immediately and quickly listed sharply to starboard, sinking deeper by the head at the same time.

Great confusion arose on the ship some of the boats were swung clear and lowered into the water. Many people must have lost their heads several boats loaded with people rushed downward, struck the water bow or stern first and filled at once.

On the port side, because of the sloping position, fewer boats were swung clear than on the starboard side.

The ship blew off steam at the bow the name &ldquoLusitania&rdquo in golden letters was visible. It was running 20 nautical miles.

Since it seemed as if the steamer could only remain above water for a short time, went to 24m. and ran toward the Sea. Nor could I have fired a second torpedo into this swarm of people who were trying to save themselves.

Went to 11m and took a look around. In the distance straight ahead a number of life-boats were moving nothing more was to be seen of the Lusitania. The wreck must lie 14 nautical miles from the Old Head of Kinsale light-house, at an angle of 358 degrees to the right of it, in 90m of water (27 nautical miles from Queenstown) 51 degrees 22&rsquo 6&rdquo N and 8 degrees 31&rsquo W. The land and the lighthouse could be seen very plainly.

Conditions for shot very favorable: no possibility of missing if torpedo kept its course. Torpedo did not strike. Since the telescope was cut off for some time after this shot the cause of failure could not be determined. . . The steamer or freighter was of the Cunard Line.

. . . It is remarkable that there is so much traffic on this particular day, although two large steamers were sunk the day before south of George&rsquos Channel. It is also inexplicable that the Lusitania was not sent through the North Channel."

Walter Schwieger&rsquos diary is part of the collection of the National Archives: Record Group 45: Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, 1691 &ndash 1945.
Other references: Hickey, Des & Smith, Gus, Seven Days to Disaster (1982) Simpson, Colin, The Lusitania (1972).

Watch the video: Titanic vs Lusitania


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