Lusitania and the Books on the Controversy


Michael Dow

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Nov 17, 2004
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I have just come across this article which I found on the web by Keith Allen (http://www.gwpda.org/naval/lusika00.htm)which seems to me to be the first really constructive and intelligent resume of the 'facts'. The Lusitania was NOT carrying high explosives and neither was she carrying guns (mounted or otherwise). If so they would have to have been installed whilst my grandfather was in command and he would never have agreed to serve as Master if they had. Finally, the whole idea that not only Churchill but the whole of the Admiralty would have even considered a conspiracy to 'arrange' for the Lusitania sinking is preposterous. I cannot make up my mind whether or not Simpson was trying to make a cheap political point by discrediting Churchill or whether he just became obsessed with information which he failed to check. Unfortunately too many people still think he was right and some subsequent authors accepted some of his evidence without checking for themselves. After all it's more interesting to think there was a conspiracy rather than just an unfortunate event in time of war. Perhaps interested persons could read what Allen has said and come back to this thread.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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I think it was more a matter of overthinking the problem and looking for the increeeeeeeeeeedible at the expense of the mundane. To a point, this was understandable since it's difficult for most people to understand how a single torpedo can sink a ship built and subdivided to Admiralty standards.

Of course, it kind of ignores the fact that warships, which are obviously built to Admiralty standards, haven't always done that well after suffering damage. The HMS Audacious for example was sunk by a single mine.

What a lot of people don't understand is that it's rarely the primary damage which sinks the ship. It's all the secondary stuff which follows which does them in. The watertight doors and bulkheads blown away, portholes foolishly left open, steam feed lines having a catastrophic failure and adding to the carnage, assymetric flooding which is uncorrected...take your pick.

All of those were factors with the Lusitania.
 

Michael Dow

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Michael. Thanks for this and I am sure your are right. A number of very unfortunate incidents led to the disaster none of which can be attributed to conspiracy or illegal arms shipments! My grandfather said later that he always thought that sooner or later they would sink the Lusitania. He may have had his tongue in his cheek but he always thought that the Germans, who had dominated the North Atlantic and the 'Blue Riband' for so long, would never forgive Cunard for stealing it away! Was he right? I wonder!
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>but he always thought that the Germans, who had dominated the North Atlantic and the 'Blue Riband' for so long, would never forgive Cunard for stealing it away! Was he right? I wonder!<<

Maybe but I doubt that this was on the mind of the U-20's commander at the time. His encounter with the Lusitania was a completely unplanned and unexpected event. For Kapitan-Leutnant Schwieger it was a target of opportunity. No more and no less. Even if there had been a conspiracy of some kind, he wouldn't have been in on the details. It's not as if the German High Command would co-operate in a plot where they would end up screwing themselves over.

That by the way, is the single biggest flaw in the whole conspiracy theory angle. In order for it to work, the British would have to get the Germans to play along or at the very least be able to predict exactly where the hostile subs would be in order to steer a ship towards one that was lying in wait. Their operational intelligence on German submarine movements was actually pretty good, but it wasn't that good.
 

Michael Dow

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Michael. I agree but almost since the day war broke out the Lusitania, and no doubt other ships leaving New York, were shadowed. Hence the feeling that they were being harassed unduly. My grandfather was ordered to have the ship painted grey and, of course, there was the famous case when he flew 'Old Glory'. So the Admiralty were actually doing all they could to assist masters to avoid known trouble spots. It is also worth remembering that the German Navy were not having a good time generally and were having problems trying to slow down traffic in the Atlantic. Even so the whole idea of any conspiracy is so ridiculous to be laughable. Apart from anything else I don't see how such a thing would have stayed secret within the Admiralty never mind anywhere else!
 
Jan 29, 2001
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Michael D.,

Have you ever read Walter Schweiger's log? I have a first published copy of it (MID-WEEK PICTORIAL '20).

It's interesting...after having hit the LUSITANIA with *one* torpedo, thru periscope Schweiger recognized the gold letters on the bow,
LUSITANIA. He went on to write..."I could not have fired a second torpedo into that mass of humanity fighting to save their lives".

Schweiger aslo stated LUSY posted no stern flag on her poopdeck.

Michael Cundiff
NV, USA
 
May 27, 2007
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Hello Michael C and Michael D.,

I just want to add my cents on the May 7, entry of Schweiger's U 20 log? I think it was doctored after the fact. Because on his other logs Schweiger signed of on them but never signed of on the May 7, log and there are also some other differences as well. I think the German High Command doctored the log for various reasons at the end of the war and that Schweiger was already dead so he couldn't sign off on it. Diana Preston made a good case on this in her book about the Lusitania and the subject has been discussed on this board somewhere. Just my theory. If one of you has anything to add please do. I'd like to hear your theories on this. We had quite a discussion Schweiger's log here.- https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/10245/132894.html?1224722913
 

Jim Kalafus

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>It's interesting...

...and probably fictional. From his "position" he witnessed events later widely reported in newspapers as fact which no one actually aboard that day reported seeing while the memories were still fresh. For instance.... the fire breaking out above the point of impact? We have accounts from May 8 and May 9th by people who stood on the boat deck directly over the point of impact, watched the torpedo vanish into the side of the ship, and survived the rain of debris which fell on to the area....and not one of these people saw fire break out. Mrs. Martin, a third class passenger who was pulled up the front of the superstructure and ran aft along the starboard boat deck, left an account so detailed-yet-whiny that you want to slap her and she saw no fire. Believe me...if there HAD been one, she'd have whined about it.

Bridge 'torn asunder?' No one saw that except for him. D.C. Harris climbed over the bridge front, twice, and within a day had written the single most detailed account of the disaster we've ever found. Did not comment on any damage, OR fire.

Then, there are the score-plus accounts from May 8th that agree that the submarine surfaced, men appeared, and a flag was raised. These were not newspaper fabrications, and were written less than 24 hours after the event by people who did not know one another and had not had time to compare notes. Yet Schwieger, who gets painfully, and self-servingly, melodramatic with details in SOME places, conveniently omits any mention of having personally surveyed the post-sinking carnage and raised a flag.

>..."I could not have fired a second torpedo into that mass of humanity fighting to save their lives".

Melodramatic garbage. By the time a 'mass of humanity' was visible on deck, it was evident that the ship was NOT going to recover and...if he had any thought on the matter at all....it was probably the desire not to waste a second torpedo on an already- doomed ship that motivated him.

One might ALSO point out that the 'mass of humanity' was mostly arrayed along the port side, where he could not see them. People who were there that day commented on how very few passengers and crew went to the 'low' side of the ship. One starboard boat was lowered with only two or three people in it. The surge over to starboard happened during the final few minutes, which seems to be later in the narrative than this internal monologue.

His log...at least in that section...reads like bad fiction...for christs sake, it has character development and a tormented anti-hero. He details events reported in the newspapers but not by any witnesses on May 8/9. It entirely omits the raising of the flag.

My hunch is that it was created at some point during mid-to-late 1918, in an effort to soften the impact of what MIGHT have been used as evidence of a war crime.
 
May 27, 2007
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My hunch is that it was created at some point during mid-to-late 1918, in an effort to soften the impact of what MIGHT have been used as evidence of a war crime.
That's what I thought but it's pretty obvious when you sit and think about it. Of course Schweiger couldn't sign off on this log because he was dead.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>I agree but almost since the day war broke out the Lusitania, and no doubt other ships leaving New York, were shadowed.<<

By who? The Germans were not quite the presence out on the Atlantic that the British were, and few of their warships could match the Lusitania's speed and none of these were submarines.

>>Melodramatic garbage. By the time a 'mass of humanity' was visible on deck,<<

And if I recall correctly, he needed to save that last torpedo for the voyage home just in case it was needed. Besides, why even consider using a second torpedo when it was glaringly obvious that the first one had done the job? These weapons were expensive and would not have been expended lightly.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Ain't that the truth.<<

It's one of the big reasons why submarines used gunfire to do the job whenever possible. Trouble is, later on in the war as anti-submarine tactics improved, this became impractical to the point of being suicidal.

But that's another rant.
 

Michael Dow

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Michael S. I can't remember whether or not this information came out in the Lusitania enquiry but on at least two voyages my grandfather was chased by a German light cruiser and managed to avoid her by altering course into a fogbank. This was not long after leaving New York. The second time he was forewarned in time that there were German warships in the vicinity. She was actually given a coat of grey paint whilst in New York but I don't have all the details at home now as most of grandfathers papers etc were deposited in the Maritime Museum so I am writing from memory which is getting shaky now! Next time I am in Liverpool I will have a look at the records and post information on this thread - if anyone is interested! It must be remembered, too, that this was early on in the war and I have always wondered why the German navy should be so interested in patrolling this part of the Atlantic when I would have thought they had other priorities at this time.
 

Jim Kalafus

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>I can't remember whether or not this information came out in the Lusitania enquiry but on at least two voyages my grandfather was chased by a German light cruiser and managed to avoid her by altering course into a fogbank. This was not long after leaving New York.

It happened in August 1914. The Lusitania had to alter course approaching NYC after the onset of the war, and was delayed by nearly a day as she hugged the coast and approached from the south.

One of the turbines was sabotaged in New York harbor. Passengers heard odd grinding noise. Lusitania reduced to 18 knots. German cruiser miraculously appeared. Signaled 'you are captured' Ship sailed into fog bank. Terrified passengers left MANY accounts of a long slow voyage during the course of which too much information was shared with them, and course was altered each time another ship was seen. Passengers were made aware that the reports in England were that the ship was lost at sea with huge loss of life, but were not allowed to radio out to the contrary.

October 1915: Lusitania late by over a day. Widely believed destroyed. Arrives safe in NYC.

December 1915. Bomb threat in NYC just in time for the Christmas crossing leads to 2008-level security at piers.

After that, there was a series of 'close calls,' culminating in the scary March crossing where the Lusitania was kept idling at the mouth of the Mersey until after dark and was then ordered to shoot forth at top speed and not even pause to allow the pilot off. A few, scattered, reports that a submarine WAS sighted, but we've never found one we'd consider ironclad.
 

Jim Kalafus

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>By who? The Germans were not quite the presence out on the Atlantic that the British were, and few of their warships could match the Lusitania's speed and none of these were submarines.

Oh....she was shadowed. Read this August 1914 account by passenger Herbert Corey:

Eight days out from New York, the crippled Lusitania anchored in the pool of the Mersey. A naval officer climbed aboard her bridge and, after formally taking possession in the name of the government, began a supper party which lasted until 2:30 o’clock in the morning. The purser began doing thriving business, exchanging seventy-five cents in British money for each good American dollar offered. These were the crowning sensations of a passage filled with thrills- and gossip- most of the thrills being traceable to twittering nerves.

The events of the voyage may be epitomized as follows:

Ten minutes away from the dock in New York, the low pressure turbine went to smash. Obviously it had been tampered with by some emissary of Germany while the boat lay at the pier.

Fifty miles off the coast of America, she was chased by a destroyer of some sort. Captain Dow said she was a German destroyer. Everyone worried busily. By and by the destroyer was dropped by a steamer which could steam a scant nineteen knots in her one-legged form.

The wireless news went perfectly crazy. We heard of a naval battle in the North Sea in which nineteen German ships and six British vessels went to the bottom. Captain Dow sent up a rocket from the bridge. In the midst of his gratulation he sounded a note of grief:

“Poor O’Callahan” he mourned. “He went to the bottom in his flagship, the Iron Duke.”

Next day it developed that there had been no battle, no lost Iron Duke, no martyr O’Callahan. Therefore, the morning paper, which might have contained this cheering information did not appear. The ninety-eight first class passengers, a lesser number of second cabin men and women, and a hundred-odd in the steerage were left to play with their fears and surmises.

Upon the authority of the bridge the statement was made that some seafaring liar in New York had reported the Lusitania blown up and sunk with all hands. This was disquieting, to say the least. Not a man or woman on board but had friends in New York- and in London, where, according to bridge authority, the story had been reprinted- to which this fake meant the bitterness of death. But the use of the wireless was not permitted.

“We are under war orders.” announced the bridge. “Not a word may be sent by wireless.”

At night the steamer crept along without a light showing. Even her green and red lights were off duty. Her windows were curtained. Her interior halls were dark. One groped to find one’s stateroom at night through gloomy passageways, colliding with shuddering stewards who spoke in whispers.

It was weird, an unusual experience. People who owned sensibilities began to feel them jerking. It brought home to them the fact that war is actually upon the seas- that after half a century of peace the privateer may again be regarded as a possibility, and that innocent people are exposed to the danger of capture as prisoners of war.

“Suppose we are captured?” asked Guy Standling, the actor, of the British consul in New York, previous to embarking upon the Lusitania. “In that event, what will be my status as a British non-combatant?”

“Undoubtedly,” said the consul, “you will be exchanged- ultimately.”

It was 1:15 in the morning when the Lusitania backed away from her pier in New York. To do so, steam was turned into the low-pressure turbine, which is used for reversing the propeller.

“Whang!” went the engine.

There can be no doubt that it had been tapered with while the steamer lay at the pier. A screw the size of a five-cent piece once before played hob with this delicate engine. Someone had monkeyed with the steam ports this time. The evident plan was not to prevent the Lusitania from sailing, but to cripple her that she would prove easy prey for a faster vessel that might be lying in wait.

That faster vessel- according to Captain Dow- was laying in wait. We were fifty miles off the coast and 159 miles from New York when she was sighted on Wednesday morning. Fortunately, she was at a distance estimated at six miles.

“I can only say that she was a destroyer, burning oil and that she chased us” said the officer on watch at the time. “She did not run up a signal flag giving her nationality. She merely signaled to us ‘You are captured. Heave to!’ “

But we didn’t heave to. Instead we ran as hard as a cripple chasing a pig. The sea was a bit tumbled, and in a minute a wraith of fog crept over the sea, shutting off a view of the presumed enemy. When it lifted, she was out of sight. Captain Dow had shifted his course, and eluded her.

That was the last of real happenings. We passed into the realm of the unreal. The moment that wireless news began to come in, we were treated to the wildest feats of surmise treated as fact the imagination can conceive. A battle was reported in which 30,000 Germans were killed- no wounded being reported- while 15,000 brave Frenchmen laid down their lives. Alsace and Lorraine had been regained. The Teuton hordes were in full retreat. England had sent an immense army to Belgium.

“If this is true” asked Frederick Roy Martin, manager of the Associated Press at New York,”let me get in touch with my office. I can get the exact truth for you at once.”

“We are not permitted to use the wireless” was the reply. “We can receive but not send.”

And so we sauntered along on the slowest voyage the Lusitania has ever made- her log shows it- talking, worrying, whispering, lights out, dodging every time a fishing smack’s sail showed on the horizon, as nervous as a boarding school girl at her first party. In the safe of the vessel was $6,000,000.00 in gold (Note: That sum is vouched for by gossip only; no officer would confirm it!) not to speak of thousands of dollars carried by individuals.

The Lusitania was under government orders from the moment she passed Sandy Hook. In the Mersey she was formally taken over. Her anchor was dropped about ten o’clock on the night of August 11. A naval officer climbed to the bridge.

“When can we go ashore?” the passengers asked the purser.
“I don’t know.” said that official, yawning.
“When will we land?”
“I don’t know.”

And he didn’t care to know, apparently. Neither did any of his force. The ship was in the service of the government. This is a state of war. The passengers and crew alike would be disposed of when the admiralty wished. There was no more to be said.

Later on the reason developed. All the buoys in the Mersey have been lifted. There was a fog on the water. It was not possible to take so large a vessel to her landing place in absolute safety. It was possible to send a tender out to her- two tenders were tied to her for hours- but no one was permitted to go ashore. Why? War!

Ashore the wildest rumors were in circulation, and came to us by pilot. Liverpool was under martial law. All Germans had been ordered to report once a day or be shot as spies. One German had been shot. Our German- a most inoffensive passenger- had been made prisoner of war. He would be handcuffed when we landed. Passengers were cautioned- by each other- not to speak German. That way danger lay. The broad port of the Mersey, usually bristling with shipping, seemed deserted under the foggy sun.

One began to sense the fact that a great war- a world war- is actually in progress.
 

Michael Dow

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Jim. Many thanks for these reports! It really is amazing how rumours spread in times of stress! There was, of course, a battle in the North Sea in January 1915 when Jellicoe and Beatty beat the German High Fleet back into port after the battle of Dogger Bank. I don't remember anything in our papers about the Lusitania engines being sabotaged but that may not have come out until later and possibly wasn't relative. However, although I said that grandfather may have had his tongue in his cheek when he remarked that the Germans were somewhat sore because they had lost the N Atlantic supremacy but my father thought that there may have been something in it. After all it was easy for them to try and make the excuse that the ship was carrying illegal weapons or troops and even accusing the ship of being an armed merchant ship. It's a far more likely scenario than the idea of the British and Germans, at war with one another, agreeing to sink the Lusitania in order to urge the US into the war - is that likely? I don't think so!
 
May 27, 2007
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Hello Gents,

I always thought the Conspiracy nuts got their suspicions from Winston Churchill's 1937 remark that the Lusitania torpedoing did a lot for British Propaganda. What with those poor infants at the bottom of the sea not dying in vain or something is how he phrased it. Please forgive my bad quoting.Churchill was right of course. I think he didn't know it would bite him and the British Government in the but after all the nut jobs started screaming conspiracy and that the British government purposely let the Lusy get torpedoed to make America enter the war on the side of the allies. Shoot, The British wanted America to stay neutral so we could make their bombs for them. Why not. We needed the money. I do think Wilson short changed the Germans and favored the British even before the torpedoing. His Mother was English. Bryan was right even if he was a fuddy duddy. 12 years later he would participate in the famous Scopes Monkey Trial on whether teaching evolution in the Classroom was to be allowed or not.
 

Jim Kalafus

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A few other thoughts. Quite a few diaries and letters written on the May 1 voyage survived. From them, we know that a "dreadnought" of undetermined origin, sailing westbound, altered course and followed the Lusitania east for a time on May 1. We ALSO know that on the night of May 2, around midnight, she met with a British military vessel and exchanged messages via morse lamp. On the morning of May 7, there was a military vessel sailing alongside the Lusitania witnessed, independently, by early risers. An hour before the disaster a score of passengers, all atop the second class deckhouse, watched 'something' tailing the ship between her port side and the shore.

These are all notes made by people who...of course...did not suspect that they would be dead before the journey's end. But, what the heck was going on?
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>One began to sense the fact that a great war- a world war- is actually in progress.<<

And the Rumour Mill was clearly underway at flank speed. I wonder how many of those "German" vessels were really either British or a tugboat?
 

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