View Full Version : The Sinking of the Lusitania

The Sailor
05-02-2008, 03:26
The warning from the German Embassy that appeared directly under the sailing notice. It reads as follows:

Travellers 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 by 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 travellers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.
Imperial German Embassy
Washington, D. C., April 22, 1915

On the first day of May 1915 almost 2000 people would alight upon the decks of the Lusitania either in ignorance or in outright denial of their own peril. Aboard what was regarded the finest liner in the world, passengers were unaware that destiny had assigned them the roll of sacrificial pawns in a deadly global chess match.
On a quiet May afternoon off the Irish coast destiny called checkmate and the Lusitania earned her place in the history of wartime tragedy.
No record of the U-Boat war could be complete without the tale of the U-20, the elusive submarine that sank the Lusitania and thereby set the world aflame with the fiercest anger and horror of the time. British Newspaper reports told of the outrage to humanity and disregard for the 'rules' of warfare, describing the sinking as 'a dastardly piratical act' and 'the ghastliest crime in history'.
In London, Liverpool and Manchester angry citizens took to the streets, hurling bricks at shops and restaurants with German associations.
U-20's orders had been to patrol the waters to the Southwest of Ireland and to enforce the submarine blockade that Germany had declared against England. Many thought she had been sent specifically to encounter and sink Lusitania and the propaganda war would be fuelled by the disaster. With oil supplies running low and only two torpedoes left, surrounded by dense fog, the U-20 turned its nose homeward for Wilhelmshaven keeping its course until 2.20 that afternoon. In his log Walther Schwieger, commander of the U-20, wrote of the sighting of a large steamer directly in front of his vessel south-Southwest towards Galley head, unrecognised, according to official records of the time, as the Lusitania. At 3.10 his log read:
'Torpedo shot at distance of 700m going 3m below the surface. Hits steering centre behind bridge. Unusually great detonation with large cloud of smoke and debris shot above funnels. In addition to torpedo, a second explosion must have taken place. Bridge and part of ship where the torpedo hit are torn apart, and fire follows'.
Only 764 of the 1,916 who had sailed on the Lusitania lived to tell the tale. 1,152 innocent travellers had been sent to their death by the hand of one man.
Kapitanleutnant Schwieger was one of the few U-Boat officers who was in the submarine service when the war began, one of the few commanders who were consulted by Grand Admiral von Tirpitz and on whose advice Von Tirpitz relied. The records credit him with having sunk 190,000 tons of allied shipping.
Our hero.

I have photographed these pics from my book "Lost Liners"

05-02-2008, 07:23
I had heard of the Lusitania and the loss of so many lives. Interesting to read your post on it Sailor.


The Sailor
05-02-2008, 11:44
Well I put a bit of work into it Cissy. Fun thing to do for me. I'm into books on this sort of history. My Fuji camera and software help.

05-02-2008, 18:12
The loss of the Lusitania was a pivotal moment. There's always the rumour that she died because of "friendly fire".

And there's a very good display about her last voyage at Cork, Ireland. From where she departed on that fateful voyage.

18-05-2008, 00:38
Was the LUSITANIA such an innocent victim?

She was, after all, carrying munitions for Britain.

18-05-2008, 00:54
With due respect it is a nonsense to ask "was the Lusitania an innocent victim?"
The pertinent fact is that the passengers carried in the Lusitania were the innocent victims.
The ship was sailing for the purpose of carrying people across the Atlantic. Whether or not there were munitions aboard as well is a matter of conjecture. This was not a munitions ship that happened to be carrying a few people. It was a world famous passenger liner crammed full of [innocent]passengers carrying out a well advertised regular service...

18-05-2008, 02:51
The sinking of Lusitania was a shocking tragedy that caused so much loss of innocent lives and unquestionably caused a re-think about getting involved in the USA.

On February 4, 1915, Germany declared the seas around the British Isles a war zone. Effective as of February 18, Allied ships in the area would be sunk without warning. Lusitania was sunk on May 7th.

The quartermaster of the submarine, Charles Voegele, would not take part in an attack on women and children, and refused to pass on the order to the torpedo room — a decision for which he was court-martialed and served three years in prison at Kiel.

There is no doubt now that she was carrying munitions. It is not a matter of conjecture. Even so, I can't accept that this fact in any way excuses the act.

"Included in this cargo were 4,200,000 rounds of Remington 0.303 rifle cartridges, 1250 cases of 3 inch (76 mm) fragmentation shells, and eighteen cases of fuses. (All were listed on the ship's two-page manifest, filed with U.S. Customs after she had departed New York on May 1.) However, the materials listed on the cargo manifest were small arms and the physical size of this cargo would have been quite small. These munitions were also proven to be non-explosive in bulk, and were clearly marked as such. It was perfectly legal under American shipping regulations for her to carry these; experts agreed they were not to blame for the second explosion. Allegations the ship was carrying more controversial cargo, such as fine aluminium powder, concealed as cheese on her cargo manifests, have never been proven." (quote from Wiki article.)

A dive team from Cork Sub Aqua Club, under license, made the first known discovery of munitions aboard in 2006.

Instead of declaring war, Woodrow Wilson sent a formal protest to Germany. Wilson was bitterly criticised in Britain as a coward. In the trenches a shell that did not explode was called a "Wilson."

There are however, a few significant unanswered questions to be answered about the sinking. Maybe just the realm of rumour. Maybe not.

There's a nice memorial in Cork, Ireland as she was sunk soon after leaving that port.

18-05-2008, 03:24
This makes interesting reading:


18-05-2008, 10:54
I'm intrigued as to why there's a memorial to Cork, as she sank off Kinsale (which I can attest has a good memorial) and she was headed to Queenstown (now Cobh). Were the bodies taken to Cork?


18-05-2008, 14:28
The demise of Kapitanleutnant Schwieger, U-20.

HMS Baralong, Q Ship, went to assist in a mayday from a ship being attacked by U-20. This is part of an account in 'Gallant Gentlemen' Chatterton, from the then First Lt, Commander Steele VC RN.

Steele then asked permission to shoot away the Nicosians gun, and also to put off the duty of sinking the ship. Things were happening with such cinema—like celerity that by this time the Nicosians survivors had got back on board their vessel, and among them was her Captain. He, going straight on to his bridge, shouted to Herbert that the Nicosian carried 250 mules, and was full of munitions from the United States. Thereupon Commander Herbert immediately gave the order to cease fire, and to use every endeavour for saving the ship. The Captain further announced that the gun was a dummy, but that in the chartroom were a dozen rifles and several hundred rounds of ammunition. At this stage Steele joined Herbert on Baralongs bridge, and it was then that the latter was able to tell the former he had seen many of the enemy scramble aboard the mule ship before the ladder had been shot away. The instructions now were to recapture her and save her at all costs, for it was expected that the Germans would either resist with the chartroom rifles, or set the ship on fire, or else scuttle her. "I intend to run my ship alongside, and send over a boarding party," was the decoy Captain’s grave decision, and Steele promptly asked permission to lead this party. His Captain had to decline the plucky offer. “ You will have to look after your own guns, and defend them should the Germans attempt to rush them," said Herbert. " For I propose bringing
Baralongs quarter alongside the Nicosian.” So Steele hurried off to organise the boarding party of Marines who were to make the big adventure under their Sergeant Collins. With admirable sea- manlike skill, and in spite of the heavy Atlantic swell, Commander Herbert brought his vessel so close that Sergeant Collins’ party watched their chance, waited till a high wave brought the two ships together, and then jumped. There followed a series of incidents which are so remarkable that we must set them down in detail, here and now, by one who watched them " going over the top " in the same gallant manner that their brothers were braving in France. Every one of us knows the glorious traditions of the Marines throughout their history; but here was just the job for sea-soldiers, yet with a background that was remarkable. Who would ever have associated these smart fellows with the duty of ferrets in a mule steamer ?
The Baralongs people watched the drama from the front row, as the dozen men with their rides began their task. “ They spread out," says Steele, " took occasional cover and, seeing here or theresome German figure crouching behind hatches, winches, or anything else, opened fire. The Germans scattered and fled. The captain of the submarine locked himself in a deck cabin ; the Corporal pursuing him battered down the door with the butt of his rifle. But the captain escaped through the port and slid down to fall into the sea, whereupon the Corporal shot him through the head whilst the fugitive was swimming off. Our boarding party, with cries of Lusitania ’ shot four remaining Germans at fairly long range. The ship was unlit down below, and it was not possible to ascertain whether these men were armed or not at the time, for they were discovered in dark passages and the engine-room. Anyhow they were pirates, and were treated as such. Only two hours before they had sunk an unarmed, outward bound steamer, forty four women, children and men being drowned. They had taken no part in rescue work, but had steamed callously among the survivors, and only by most splendid seamanship was the Arabic's death toll so small."
The reader has already noticed the impatience of gallant youth, and it was utterly impossible for the twenty-two—year grandson of a General of Marines to remain a spectator any longer. So, having convinced himself that the enemy had no intention of rushing the Baralongs guns, young Steele leapt on to the Nicosian and joined the boarding party. He was able also to perform the valuable service of securing the stern of each steamer together. The whole story moves, indeed, so quickly and there is such downright healthy vigour in all this unusual melodrama, that one has to keep reminding oneself this is neither a chapter in a boy’s book of fiction, nor is it fifteen minutes out of a flicking film.
The German Captain, fresh from his own atrocities, had no right to expect other than the reception which was accorded. " The Corporal who shot him," Commander Steele tells me, " was a steady old soldier of many years splendid service. His simple explanation of his act was that he treated all Germans as vermin ; that even before the Great War, he had seen instances of their brutality in China."

Regards Charles

18-05-2008, 15:25
I'm intrigued as to why there's a memorial to Cork, as she sank off Kinsale (which I can attest has a good memorial) and she was headed to Queenstown (now Cobh). Were the bodies taken to Cork?


She certainly did sink off Kinsale. There is a large museum at Cork in what was (I think) the terminal where many ships departed, especially to the USA full of Irish Immigrants. I guess the Lusitania memorial is there because of its association.

19-05-2008, 01:12
Astral, you state:

"The pertinent fact is that the passengers carried in the Lusitania were the innocent victims."

All people who travelled in ships during the war knew the risk of being sunk, yet for whatever reason chose to take it.

Do Army commanders warn people in towns and villages that they are going to be subjected to an artillery barrage? Did we warn citizens of German towns that they were going to be carpet bombed?

In war the "innocent" are never considered.

19-05-2008, 02:06
"The pertinent fact is that the passengers carried in the Lusitania were the innocent victims."

All people who travelled in ships during the war knew the risk of being sunk, yet for whatever reason chose to take it.

Do Army commanders warn people in towns and villages that they are going to be subjected to an artillery barrage? Did we warn citizens of German towns that they were going to be carpet bombed?

In war the "innocent" are never considered.

Your points are valid David. But the passengers were nonetheless innocent. They did know the risks though as the original post - and mine - clearly show.

The 20th century saw the serious involvement of non military people (civilians) for the first time. Starting with the Boer War, it hasn't stopped and has reached new horrendous proportions with the now familiar suicide bombers.

The only time I know of an occasion when something non-military was spared was when a well educated American artillery officer realised in time that his target was Johannes Kepler's house.

19-05-2008, 16:04
Secretary of War Henry Stimson campaigned vociferously for the Japanese cultural centre of Kyoto to be taken off the target list for site of the dropping of the first atomic bomb. He had to fight as I recall strenuous objections from the military officers in on the Manhattan Project who wanted to make an example of it.


19-05-2008, 22:00
Harley, the man that originally nominated Kyoto was General Groves, head of the Manhattan Project (atomic bomb).

19-05-2008, 22:08
A point that has not been mentioned regarding the LUSITANIA is that it was called up by the Admiralty for conversion to an Armed Merchant Cruiser. After a period of time it was released back to commercial service because the Admiralty judged it to use too much fuel.

One of Steiger's claims was that he recognised her as the LUSITANIA from Janes 1914, which stated that she was an AMC. This was before the authorities in Berlin started the "spin" and removed a page from his log book.

It is possible that Steiger had not heard about her release from naval service.

19-05-2008, 22:21
Your last point is most relevant David. If only we could be sure.

I find it hard to believe that a passenger ship would be a target unless there was a good military reason. I think the Nazis would have realised the political implications of such an act. And as with WW1, they would have been keen not to rattle the American cage.

19-05-2008, 22:24
It brings up the question of Imperial German Navy intelligence in the United States - presumably the Imperial German Navy had a naval attache in Washington, D.C. If the consulate there could put notices about the war zone in U.S. papers, they were also reading them, and presumably someone would have noticed the announcement of "Lusitania's" passage to Britain near the German notice. I wonder whether it was common practice to inform the Fatherland of such shipping notices.


bob shayler
20-05-2008, 20:50
One German at least was unrepentant. Zimmerman, in a meeting with Gerard, the American Ambassador in Berlin, in the midst of the Lusitania Crisis, reminded Gerad of the large German community in America. Stating that "America would dare not do anything against Germany as they have 500,000 German reservists in America who would rise in arms against your Government should it take any action against Germany". This statement was emphasised by him striking the table with his fist.
The American Ambassador's response was to tell Zimmerman America had 500,001 lamposts where the German reservists would find themselves if they tried any uprising.

Also, cannot recall where, but read one theory that one major explosion on Lusitania may have been caused by coal dust ignited by previous explosions,

20-05-2008, 21:18
Also, cannot recall where, but read one theory that one major explosion on Lusitania may have been caused by coal dust ignited by previous explosions,

Bob, This theory of the coal dust was fully examined and, as I understand, rejected as a cause of the second explosion.

Perhaps something has come up more recently.

bob shayler
21-05-2008, 19:59
Thanks for the update Herales. I shall investigate. I at discovered my old pal Zimmerman played a part in the aftermath,

01-02-2009, 15:23
The best informations about the Lusitania are here: http://www.lusitania.net/index.html.
And here is a picture of U-20 crew in 1916, sold in ebay: http://cgi.ebay.de/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&ssPageName=STRK:MEWAX:IT&item=170297092599

01-02-2009, 15:48
The ebay photo link will disappear soon, so here is the picture in question.

06-04-2009, 06:40
The Lusitania issues is always brought up on web sites such as this, but at least on this site it does not confine comments to 1914 1918. There is still anger that lives on over this, but as someone on this thread has pointed out it certainly was not the first instance whereby inocent women and children died due to conflict.

It was only 15 years beforehand that women and children were placed in camps in South Africa, and if one does some homework on how many children died in those camps, it makes the Lusitania numbers look low by comparison. The Lusitania was an absoulte propanganda bonus for the British who used it to great effect in combating tactics being used by the U-Boats, and why wouldn't you when it was your best weapon at the time.

03-11-2010, 16:13
This is how The Times of London reported, on the 8th May 1915 about the loss of the Lusitania.

03-11-2010, 16:15
Part 2 of the Loss of the Lusitania

03-11-2010, 18:31
Great stuff Dave. Thanks for bringing this tragic atrocity to the fore.

Some more information and pictures here: