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LusitaniaIt was 2:10 p.m. on May 7, 1915. Leslie Morton, a lookout on the Lusitania,screamed, 'Torpedoes coming on the starboard side.' Two explosions followed.Within 18 minutes the huge liner, once the largest ever built, sank to thebottom of the Celtic Sea. 1,195 out of the 1,959 people aboard died. WaltherSchwieger, commander of the German submarine U- 20, who had fired a singletorpedo 750 yards away from the ship, later called it the most horrible sight hehad ever seen.The Lusitania entered service between Liverpool and New York on September7, 1907.
Funded by the British Admiralty, the Lusitania, built by the CunardSteamship Company, was required to double as an auxiliary cruiser in case of war.This was a secret agreement between the Admiralty and Cunard. On May 12, 1913she was put in drydock to be double plated and hydraulically riveted, as well asmodified for the application of guns. War was declared on August 4, 1914, andthe ship was sent again into drydock. There she was armed with 12 six-inchguns(Simpson 60).Britain wanted to ship war materials over the Atlantic, but there was anembargo of shipping munitions on passenger ships. America also tended to publishthe cargo manifests so that the Allies as well as the Germans would know what isbeing shipped. Britain found a loophole in this.
New cargo added at the lastminute did not go on the original manifest, thus a supplementary manifest wouldbe submitted 4 or 5 days later. Also, due to the embargo, munitions were listedas 'sporting cartridges' and stamped with 'Not liable to explode inbulk'(Simpson 63).About a week before the voyage, the New York German community tried to runan ad warning about the trans-Atlantic voyage. But the duty officer at the Statedepartment did not approve, so no ads were placed. Later George Vierick, who wasin charge of placing the ads, convinced William Jennings Bryan, Secretary ofState, that on all but one of the Lusitania's voyages it carried war materials.Bryan had an advertisement run the morning of departure of May 1, 1915. BritishNaval Intelligence discovered the ad and gave orders to look out for U-boats,predicting a trap. Turner, Captain of the Lusitania, was told that he wouldrendezvous with the cruiser Juno about 40 miles west of the southern tip ofIreland.
German Intelligence thought that the U-boat lookout order meant thatlarge vessels would be leaving England. U-20 and U-30 were immediately sent tothe British Channel and southern Irish waters(Simpson 66-69).On May 5, Winston Churchill attended a meeting concerning the Lusitaniaand the U-20. They concluded that Juno would need an escort, so assistance wouldbe given, most likely the destroyer Flotilla. But this did not happen. Forunknown reasons, Juno was recalled to Queenstown, and no destroyers weresent(Simpson 70).On May 5 and 6 three ships were sunk by the U-20, the last without warning.Alfred Booth, Chairman of Cunard, read about this and sent a message to CaptainTurner diverting the Lusitania to Queenstown. Schwieger spotted the ship on May7, at 1:20 p.m.
and figured that it was either the Lusitania or the Mauretania,which he knew carried arms. At 1:35 the ship turned directly towards U-20.Schwieger saw his opportunity and shot a single torpedo at 2:10. Two explosionsfollowed, the second was described in the U-20's log as 'an unusually heavydetonation. . .
with a very strong explosion cloud.' The ship tilted about 15 ,making the lifeboats nearly impossible to board. Six out of the 48 lifeboatsescaped before the ship completely sank 18 minutes later (Simpson 74).Lord Mersey, the judge conducting the Court of Inquiry, concluded that theAdmiralty had tried to falsely blame Captain Turner for the incident. He alsofound that almost all oaths given by the crew members to all have started with'At the time of sailing the ship was in good order and well found. The vesselwas unarmed and possessed no weapons for offense or defense against an enemy andshe has never carried such equipment. Boat drill was carried out before leavingNew York.' He cleared Turner's name and concluded that the explosions came fromtwo torpedoes, and the ship was carrying no contraband(Simpson 80).Why did the ship sink so quickly? It has been thought that the weaponswere the second explosion. In 1972 divers 'unanimously testify that the bow wasblasted by a massive internal explosion'(Simpson 74).
It was thought that thiswas the area which the weapons would have been, but when the Woods HoleOceanographic Institution explored the wreck in 1994 they found no such hole. Sowhat about the contraband? The manifest for the voyage showed that indeed, theLusitania was carrying illegal war materials, including 4,200 cases of rifleamunition, 1,250 cases of shrapnel, and 18 boxes of percussion fuses(Ballard 80).There was a total of 173 tons of war materials(Simpson 66).If ammunition did not cause the blast, then what did? The expedition leadsus to believe that the torpedo struck one of the long coal bunkers. Since mostof the coal would have been used up, these bunkers would have contained lot ofcoal dust. The torpedo would have been cruising about 10 feet below the surface,about where the bunkers were. A lot of coal was also found on the sea floor. TheBrittanic, sister ship to the Titanic, is also suspected of suffering a similarexplosion(Ballard 80).Today there is a diving ban from Ireland, to protect from looters.
GreggBemis, a U.S. financier now claims to have purchased the wreck, which the Irishgovernment does not deny. However, they claim that Ireland owns the cargo,including a few priceless paintings by Rubens and Monet. The remains are alsorumored to have $350 million in gold bullion, though this has never beenproven(Marshall 1).
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