Informed opinion of Captain Turner


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Dave Moran

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Apr 23, 2002
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Having just finished the Hoehning ( did I spell it correctly, apologies if I didn't ) book ' The Last Voyage of The Lusitania ' I wondered what the prevailing opinion of Captain Turner was ?

To my mind, he seems to have been, if not negligent, then very naive regarding the risks he was running as he approached Ireland that day.

(1) Taking a four point position that would require a straight, level course for at least 40 minutes, in an area where a submarine was KNOWN to be operating.

(2) Poor responses after the disaster (?), possibly because he did not realise the major damage to the ship. He seems to me to have concentrated on saving the ship rather than his passengers, hence his failing to slow the ship down, or stop altogether - the consequence being badly launched lifeboats, pressure on the bulkheads, water forced through the portholes et al.

However, I am no seaman and try to avoid being an armchair historian, so I would welcome feedback and/or correction on these views. Please feel free to tell me what you think...
 
May 3, 2002
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Dave,

On the contrary you raise some salient issues.
On the matter of taking the bearing you will recall fron Hoehling et al, He had sailed out of fog at about 11am so he missed Fastnet Rock therefore he would be faced with a low featureless (from 20 miles out) coastline. To establish his position with precision was essential since he would later that day be closing on St Georges Channel with its attendant shoal hazards just off the Irish coast. Being a fine clear spring day Turner would be correct to assume that fog could become a problem later as he closed on the shoals near the Coningbeg lightship and Tuskar Rock.
No master would want to be in that position with any degree of error in his course.
You and I know where the U20 was at pretty much any given time but Turner was not so clear. On the strength of Admiralty's inadequate communication Turner assumed the U20 was 20 miles of the coast. This would have factored into his bringing the ship closer in to land, and to get a good fix as well. We must take into account that Turner had no idea of what happened to the CENTURION and CANDIDATE right in his new path. I think his actions would have been quite different if he had known.
The navigation of the LUSITANIA was the hook upon which the admiralty hoped to hang him on to cover up their own shortcomings.

Now onto the second point. The big problem Turner faced after the second explosion was the loss of power to the engine plant. At 18 knots a ship weighing 43,000 tons has quite a bit of momentum. turner tried to slow the ship by reversing the turbines but the power was already failing (Simpson asserts that this sudden application of full astern actually fatally damged the the steam lines) all Turner could do was wait until the way was off the ship sufficiently to safely put the boats into the water. At the inquiry Turner expressed the view that he did not beilieve that the ship would sink until 10 minutes after the 1st explosion. Turner first called for women and children into the boat but then Captain Anderson countermanded that until the ship had slowed sufficiently. As it turned out the ship was sinking fast and her fine bow meant that her momentum was only slowly decreasing. The two captains realised they had no choice hence the catastrophic abandonment heavy starboard list and all.

One can fault Turner on the matter of lifejacket/boat drill for passenger as George Kesseler wanted. But then this was not normal practice then.
In summation I think Turner did as best he could in the circumstance, boat drills not withstanding.

Martin
 
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