Was the Lusitania a navy ship


D

Daniel Odysseus

Guest
My sister wrote a paper, saying the Germans were justified for sinking the Lusitania because the Lusitania was a comissioned naval ship, and also, because it was carrying weapons or explosives, and maybe even British troops. I disagree with her, but is she right? Was the Lusitania carrying all of those things?
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,604
627
483
Easley South Carolina
In that direction, some controversy lies. The Lusitania and Mauritania were both subsidized by the British Government with the provision that they be made available for use in time of war. The original concept was that of an armed merchent cruiser. However, at the time, the Lustaina was in commercial service and was not in commissioned service with the Royal Navy.

As to arms, there is no question that she was carrying some...mostly small arms ammunition and a few artillary shells, but at the time, she was not carrying troops. Just passengers. To my knowladge, the Mauritania never operated in the role of an armed merchent cruiser, but she did see service as a troopship.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Erik Wood

Member
Apr 10, 2001
3,519
11
223
But wouldn't the fact that the Lusitania was carrying arms of any kind be enough for a enemy ship to sink her based on the fact that she was carrying arms??

I heard that argument on a PBS specail about the Lusitania but never really researched it.

Erik
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,604
627
483
Easley South Carolina
As far as the Imperial German High Command was concerned it was! I doubt that the captain of the U-20 was thinking about that however. (Although the ships potential as a cruiser or troopship couldn't have been lost on him.)

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Erik Wood

Member
Apr 10, 2001
3,519
11
223
This is most interesting. I wonder if the Captain of U-20 knew the ship was full of passengers. But then again what is the difference between a ship carrying passengers and arms and a ship carrying troops in arms. Troops are basically passengers.

I have been doing some reading into German U-boats. A computer game that I have has sparked my interest.

Erik
 

Eric Sauder

Member
Nov 12, 2000
403
8
171
Daniel:

Although Lusitania was not a commissioned naval vessel at the time of her sinking, she was built with a government subsidy to Admiralty requirements so that she could be taken over, if needed, and converted to an auxiliary cruiser. In fact, Lusitania was listed as such in the 1914 edition of Jane's Fighting Ships. According to Bailey and Ryan's The Lusitania Disaster, she was also listed as a "Royal Naval Reserve Merchant Cruiser" in the 1914 edition of The Naval Annual. In addition, she was "expressly included in the navy list" that was released by the British Admiralty.

"...because it was carrying weapons or explosives...."

She was carrying small arms. A large number of artillery fuses were raised from Lusitania in 1982. The cargo manifests also clearly state that arms had been loaded in New York.

From the photographic evidence I've seen, 6"-gun mounts were placed on Lusitania fairly late in her career. They do not appear in any pre-1913 photo I have access to. I have never come across an exact date on which they were installed, and photos don't help much to pin the date down since there are only a handful of post 1913-on-deck views. Although she was not carrying weapons that I know of, she was certainly prepared to take them on board if the need arose.

"...and maybe even British troops."

She was carrying a large number of Canadian passengers who were going overseas to enlist, but no, she was not carrying organized troops, as such.

In a strictly technical sense, the Germans were perfectly within their rights to sink Lusitania without warning because, using the British definition at the time, she was carrying contraband. Remember that the British even considered food contraband.

On moral grounds, each of us has to decide for himself what we think was right. Schwieger had two choices: Sink the ship or let her go. The problem for Schwieger, as I see it, is that if he had let the ship reach Liverpool, when he returned to Germany, he would have had serious problems for letting such a large and important target (a potential warship) get by. He chose to sink her, and we all know how that scenario played out.

It's easy with 20/20 hindsight to say that what he did was morally unjustified. Personally, I can't blame Schwieger for his actions. He was in a tough position, and he did what he felt he had to.

Eric Sauder
 
May 9, 2001
741
12
171
Maybe the captain of the U-boat expected his torpedo to seriously damage the ship, but not ultimatly sink her. I doubt anyone could have envisioned a large coal dust explosion blasting the ship open and causing her to sink within minutes, even Captain Schwieger.

Yuri
 

Eric Sauder

Member
Nov 12, 2000
403
8
171
Yuri:

Schwieger was apparently stunned by the devastation that was caused by a single torpedo. Remember that just the previous day when Schwieger had sunk the Centurion, it took two torpedoes and an hour and twenty minutes for the ship to finally go down, and she was only 5945 tons.

Judging by that experience, which was obviously still very fresh in his mind, it is likely to assume that Schwieger didn't expect to sink the 30,000+-ton Lusitania with only one or even two torpedoes.

Eric Sauder
 
T

Timothy Brandsoy

Guest
I was reading Robert Ballard's "Exploring the LUSITANIA" in it was the announcement:

-------------------- --NOTICE!----------- ----------

TRAVELERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that,in accordance with formal notice given bt the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travelers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.
-------------------- -------------------- ----------
This announcement was on the same page of the New York newspapers as the Cunard scheduled departure for Lusitania.

Germany did consider the Lusitania a valid target. As mentioned, it was capable of being a war ship. But it wasn't outfitted as such.....yet.

We (the US and Britain) were warned. Although American's considered themselves neutral, British flags were often changed to US flags, in Germany's view invalidating the neutrality.

There were no troops and it was small arms amunition. Not a big deal, but Britain was blockading food and supplies to Germany.

Germany FELT they were justified. I disagree, it was still primarily a passenger liner. They should have warned her first. The Germans got lucky in sinking her. Captain Turner was going too slow, not zig-zagging as he should have, and was too close to the coast line where U-boats were known to be active. It's possible they only wanted to wound her first, allowing the passengers and crew to exit the vessel, and then sink her.

Tim B
 

Eric Sauder

Member
Nov 12, 2000
403
8
171
Tim:

You wrote: "Germany FELT they were justified. I disagree, it was still primarily a passenger liner. They should have warned her first."

Yes, she was still a passenger ship, but you're looking at it through nearly 100 years of hindsight. The British were blockading Germany thereby starving hundreds of thousands of innocent German civilians. In reality, which "crime" was worse? I'm not justifying the torpedoing, but there were other circumstances that Schwieger was considering.

As for warning her first, that would have been suicide for the U-boat crew. Turner, as well as every other British merchant captain, had secret orders to ram German U-boats on sight and sink them. Even though Lusitania was traveling at 18 knots (well under her top speed), the U-20 would have been a sitting duck if she had surfaced and tried to warn Lusitania beforehand.

Besides that, although I cannot say what was in Schwieger's mind, it is extremely unlikely that he thought a single torpedo would have sunk Lusitania. See the example in my post above. Perhaps he thought that one torpedo would have gotten her attention (and most likely prevented her from ramming his submarine). As you say, the passengers and crew could have then left the ship with a minimal loss of life. Once everyone was off the ship, he could have finished her off.

"The Germans got lucky in sinking her."

Can't disagree with that one. The Lusitania was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the U-20 (depending on your point of view) was in the right place at the right time.

"Captain Turner was going too slow"

But still faster than any other ship on the Atlantic. In the end, the extra three knots she could have made would probably not have saved her.

"...not zig-zagging as he should have...."

According to Turner's testimony at the Inquiry, he understood his orders to mean that he should zig-zag only *after* a submarine had been sighted.

"...and was too close to the coast line where U-boats were known to be active...."

By whose definition? Turner's orders were to "steer a mid-channel course." There is no channel were he was sailing. If he were to be remotely "mid-channel," he would have had to be at least another 60 miles off shore. Also, keep in mind that if he had truly disobeyed his orders and kept Lusitania only a mile or two off shore (as Lusitania's previous captain had done on every voyage), there would have been no way for the U-20 to catch her.

Eric Sauder
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,604
627
483
Easley South Carolina
Well, on the technical side, I have to wonder how the coal dust explosion theory manages to hold on so well. Given the cold Atlantic conditions, I would think that the condensate in the bunkers would make it extremely unlikely that the right conditions could occur.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
T

Timothy Brandsoy

Guest
Eric,

You wrote:"Yes, she was still a passenger ship, but you're looking at it through nearly 100 years of hindsight. The British were blockading Germany thereby starving hundreds of thousands of innocent German civilians. In reality, which "crime" was worse? I'm not justifying the torpedoing, but there were other circumstances that Schwieger was considering."

At the time England and the US thought it was barbaric and uncivilized to attach a passenger ship with (or without?)"neutrals" as I think most people would feel today. I acknowleged the British blockade previously. But remember that Great Britain is an ISLAND, Germany is not. GB owned the waters,until the U-boats arrived. Great Britain, IMHO, was flexing too much muscle in preventing food and civilian supplies. Nowadays we are just as shocked about Sept 11th, but when we attacked Afganistan were also sent food and supplies to the civilians in need.

"As for warning her first, that would have been suicide for the U-boat crew. Turner, as well as every other British merchant captain, had secret orders to ram German U-boats on sight and sink them. Even though Lusitania was traveling at 18 knots (well under her top speed), the U-20 would have been a sitting duck if she had surfaced and tried to warn Lusitania beforehand."

I don't think the Schwieger would have had to surface to warn the Lusitania. A torpedo or two sent in their general direction would have been noticed.

".....it is extremely unlikely that he thought a single torpedo would have sunk Lusitania."

I agree

"According to Turner's testimony at the Inquiry, he understood his orders to mean that he should zig-zag only *after* a submarine had been sighted.......But still faster than any other ship on the Atlantic. In the end, the extra three knots she could have made would probably not have saved her."

I thought ZZ was in any wartime situation, or where U-boats are known to exist. While Turner was going 18 knots, Schweiger was only doing 9 knots. Even at that speed he thought he was going to lose the target. Had she been going faster AND zig-zagging he probably would have missed.

My thoughts, from reading Ballard's book, were that U-boats were able to hide near the coast and come out when a potential target came around. From the book: "...he (Turner) made no attempt to follow any of the instructions issued by the Admiralty for the benefit of merchant skippers in this area that had seen so many U-boats. He steamed along close to Brow head, Galley Head and the Old Head of Kinsale despite the Admiralty's instructions........ to stay away from headlands where U-boats tend to lurk, waiting for prey."
???????


Sincerely,
"Land Lubber" Tim!
 
J

John Meeks

Guest
Hi folks...

Just a thought...but, surely (wether we like it or not) Lusitania was a legitimate target of opportunity.

Admittedly submarine warfare was a "new" phenomenon, and questions of morality and ethics were sure to be raised at the time - most certainly in the cause of allied propaganda, if nothing else; however, Lusitania was, to Schwieger, an identified enemy merchant vessel - and fair game!

Surely this was recognized by the British and American authorities, Cunard, and the U.S. press, when the well known warnings were published at the time prior to the sailing.

I feel sure that Schwieger did not have to feel that he had comitted anything like a crime when he fired his "lucky fish" - any more than a Lancaster pilot felt when he dumped a few tons of TNT on Dresden.

No one claims that he enjoyed the experience.

John M
 

Dave Gittins

Member
Apr 11, 2001
5,039
292
353
The legality of Schwieger's attack hinged on the secret orders to ram U-boats if possible. To be protected from being attacked on sight, a merchant ship had to satisfy conditions.

1. No armed escort.
2. No offensive armament. (Small guns as allowed by sea tradition were allowed).
3. No resistance.
4. No attempt to escape.

If these conditions were met, the ship was supposed to stop and be searched.

British captains had secret orders to ram U-boats if possible. The Germans had wind of this and in any case 5 U-boats had been sunk by ramming. The German argument was that the orders turned Lusitania's bow into an offensive weapon. They also argued that an attack by such a merchant ship constituted an act of piracy, making her liable to be sunk on sight. In a court of law Germany might have won the case.

The moral case is another thing. So is the argument that the action was ultimately not in Germany's interest, because it created more animosity towards her than the sinking of one potential troop ship was worth.
 

Mark Baber

Moderator
Member
Dec 29, 2000
6,282
290
353
Lusitania was, to Schwieger, an identified enemy merchant vessel - and fair game!

Surely this was recognized by the British and American authorities


I preface all this by admitting that my knowledge of this subject is extremely limited. But I have in front of me copies of articles published in The New York Times on 10 and 11 May 1916 about the torpedoing of White Star's Cymric on 8 May. According to that article it was the position of the US government at the time that the only merchant ships that that took on the character of a warship and could therefore be attacked without "visit and search" were those which had been requisitioned by the Admiralty. Cymric, which was on charter to the Admiralty and alleged to have been carrying war supplies, was nonetheless said to have retained her character as a private merchant ship, subject to "search and visit" before being sunk.
 
J

John Meeks

Guest
Hi Mark

With regard to my post. You make a good point, but-

What I was getting at was not that the authorities in question regarded an attack on Lusitania as "legitimate", but did they regard it as possible or likely.

When the warning notices were published (I believe they originated in the German Embassy), I am most sure that they did! Certainly the Cunard Line did - they printed them!

Of course the position of the US government was as you state, I am sure it was the position, also, of the British government. But it was manifestly not the position of the German government!

I suppose the question must be "Did the Americans or the British take the German 'threats' (for that is what they were) seriously.

I am sure they did; but there would be very little that they could do about it - especially if they were aware that certain elements of the Lusitania's character (however nebulous) could, or might have been construed as sufficient for her to lose her status as a private merchant ship.

Incidentally - however did the Cymric retain her status?

On reflection, however - this really is a helluva grey area, though, isn't it?

Best Regards

John M
 

Eric Sauder

Member
Nov 12, 2000
403
8
171
Hi, Tim:

Sorry for the delay in answering.

"At the time England and the US thought it was barbaric and uncivilized to attach a passenger ship with (or without?)"neutrals" as I think most people would feel today."

I'm sure most Germans didn't relish the thought of attacking a passenger liner either, but the fact remains that she *was* a potential warship and she *was* carrying contraband by the British definition. What choice did Schwieger really have?

"Great Britain, IMHO, was flexing too much muscle in preventing food and civilian supplies."

Yes, she was. That's why the Germans had to do something, and unrestricted submarine warfare was the only thing they had to pull out of their sleeve.

"I don't think the Schwieger would have had to surface to warn the Lusitania. A torpedo or two sent in their general direction would have been noticed."

That would have been a waste of a torpedo. German submarines at the time were relatively small and were able to carry a very limited number of torpedoes. The U-20 specification says that she could carry a mere six. On this particular voyage, they were able to squeeze one extra in for a total of seven. Schwieger had already used four by the time he spotted Lusitania. After he had fired the first torpedo at her, he only had two left, and both of these were in his stern tubes. To use them, he would have had to turn the submarine around, which was no easy task. Also, per his standing orders, he needed to save no less than two torpedoes for his return trip to Germany.

The simple fact is that he couldn't waste a torpedo as a warning shot. Schwieger also had to justify/account for every one he fired, and to report to his superiors that he fired a torpedo as a warning shot, when his supply was so limited, would no doubt have been met with universal displeasure.

But let's say Schwieger *had* fired a torpedo to warn Lusitania. The ship would have had to be very close for anyone to see the wake of the torpedo, which would have been hidden in even the slightest of swells. If she were close enough for someone to see the torpedo (which would not have been fired *at* the ship but would have been fired quite a ways ahead of her as a warning with no intention of hitting her), all Turner would have had to do would be to turn Lusitania to port and steam away. There would have been no reason for Turner to stop and risk certain destruction.

As I see it, the only way Schwieger could have warned Lusitania and still stayed relatively safe was to surface while she was still a few miles away and fire a warning shot with a deck gun. If Lusitania chose not to stop and turned her bow toward the submarine (as Turner had orders to do), the U-20 may still have had time to submerge and get into position to possibly fire a torpedo before Lusitania reached his position. But another thing Schwieger had to consider in surfacing and warning Lusitania was that a number of U-boats had tried to play by the "gentlemanly" rules of war by surfacing and warning and, as a result, had been rammed and sunk. And considering Lusitania's speed (even though it was reduced), Schwieger probably wasn't willing to take that chance.

"I thought ZZ was in any wartime situation, or where U-boats are known to exist."

That's true, but what you and I think now doesn't make a difference. The only thing that matters in this instance is what Turner was thinking 87 years ago when zig-zagging was relatively new and the benefits of which were still unknown to or not understood by most merchant captains. Many people place far too much blame on Turner for what he didn't do. What most people tend to forget is that he was a man nearly sixty years of age who didn't seem to comprehend how the world around him was changing. Warfare had changed considerably in the few months since the war began.

"My thoughts, from reading Ballard's book...."

Not to be snide, but that's exactly the problem. I've said this before, and I'm sure it's not the last time I'll say it -- Please, please, please don't use Ballard's book as a historical reference. It was written by a novelist (Spencer Dunmore) who did no research whatsoever for the book. He simply took the books that had already been written and rewrote what they said, mistakes and all. If you read Exploring the Lusitania, please double verify the information with a primary source or ask someone who has extensively researched the subject. Although I was the consultant on the book, I was sorely disappointed in the dozens of errors that found their way into print despite my best efforts to correct them. And you should see some of the stuff that I was able to get cut.... It was pure delusional fantasy.

If you want to read an excellent book, try Bailey and Ryan's The Lusitania Disaster. Although I don't agree with some of their conclusions, it is by far the best researched, most complete Lusitania book yet written.

You quoted the Ballard book and said: "...he (Turner) made no attempt to follow any of the instructions issued by the Admiralty for the benefit of merchant skippers in this area that had seen so many U-boats."

This is a perfect example of why I say don't use Ballard's book as a serious reference work. This statement is by no means true. Of the eight general instructions received by Turner, he followed four.

Quoting from the Ballard book, you wrote: "He steamed along close to Brow head, Galley Head and the Old Head of Kinsale despite the Admiralty's instructions........ to stay away from headlands where U-boats tend to lurk, waiting for prey."

Again, depending on one's definition of "staying away from headlands," this may or may not be true. Turner passed Brow Head at a distance of more than 30 miles and passed Galley Head at 25 miles. Captain Dow, the Lusitania's previous wartime commander, regularly passed the Old Head of Kinsale at an average of 2-3 miles. Turner passed it at 12 miles, which he obviously felt was far enough. If Turner had truly disobeyed his orders to avoid headlands, he would have been much closer to land. If that had been the case, there would have been no way for the U-20 to catch him, and history would have played out quite differently.

Eric Sauder
 
T

Timothy Brandsoy

Guest
Thanks Eric, I'm by no means an expert on 'Lusi' and your information is most informative. I understand the moral dilemma of the British and the Germans. Neither were innocent, using whatever was available for warfare and propaganda.

I didn't think the warning torpedo made any sense from the moment (after) I sent it LOL.

It seems odd how wars and conflicts can seem at the time inevitable, and only in retrospect that they seemed avoidable.

TimB
 

Similar threads

Similar threads