Was the Lusitania a navy ship


Status
Not open for further replies.
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
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
 
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
 
If the lusitania had followed the Cruiser Rules and flew a flag, it would have been obvious that she was a passanger ship, though the admiralty is can largely be blamed to as they gave orders to all merchant ships under the british flag to disregard the Cruiser Rules and ram U Boats and not to stop for them when a U Boat gave the signal or fired a shot over the bow, also because alot of british ships under admiralty pressure flew neutural flags and were armed, and the british also desguised warboats as merchant ships (Q Boats). so i dont blame Schwieger for an underwater attack, he was only being cautious and trying to isure the safety of his crew. if the british had followed the Cruiser Rules the Lusitania might have never been sunk, and if she was sunk while following Cruiser Rules alot less lives would have been lost, as the U Boat Captains gave the passengers and crew time to get to the boats and lower them, and in a good many cases before britain started disregarding the Cruiser rules the U Boats would take the life boats in tow til they were near enough to land so they could row to land safely and not endanger the U Boat.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top