Sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 Part 2

About the history of the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 when Germany attacked the ship by submarine, sinking it and killing over 1,000 people.

THE Lusitania

On May 6, after several British ships had been torpedoed, Admiral Coke, at Queenstown, was forbidden to initiate retaliatory action or to send any messages via radio, but he chose to disregard orders. At 7 P.M. he sent a warning to Turner: "Submarines active off south coast of Ireland." Though Turner's orders would not allow a deviation in his course, he did reduce his speed, and warned his passengers of danger. He was still unaware there would be no navy escort. At 11:02 A.M. on the 7th, Coke sent a coded 12-word message to the tug Hellespont to come to Queenstown immediately. Turner intercepted this message and decided to divert the Lusitania to Queenstown, 25 mi. from his position 12 mi. off Old Head of Kinsale. The British Admiralty later denied that such a message was sent, but there is a certified copy of it in the Naval Station at Valentia.

At approximately 1:30 P.M. Walter Schwieger, commander of the German submarine U-20, satisfied with his toll of British shipping near Queenstown, was about to head for Germany with his last 3 torpedoes when he sighted the smoke of the Lusitania and changed course to intercept it. About 2:10 P.M. he fired a bow shot from 700 meters. Turner saw the torpedo approach before it struck the starboard side directly behind the bridge. There was a tremendous explosion. The great liner listed 15 deg.. Then there was a 2nd explosion, louder than the 1st. The bridge was demolished and the big ship stopped dead, its stern out of the water. Slowly it began to nose under to starboard.

The Lusitania had left New York with a shortage of engine-room crewmen and able seamen. Now there weren't enough seamen to man the 48 70-passenger lifeboats. Absolute panic reigned. There was no time and nothing worked right. Launching davits were frozen. Many of the 26 collapsible canvas lifeboats, stored beneath the 22 2 1/2-ton wooden boats, could not be lowered easily due to a 15 deg. list. When the heavier boats were lowered, both collapsible boats and passengers were crushed against the hull. On the port side, lifeboats plunged into the sea. Now the German torpedo which had pierced the coal bunkers ignited this fuel and set off the contraband cargo. It was this 2nd explosion that sank the Lusitania. Within 18 minutes, the luxury liner had settled under 300' of water. Afterward only 6 scattered lifeboats could be seen floating on the ocean's surface.

Aftermath: An inquiry in London produced one cargo manifest. In the U.S. a 2nd cargo manifest was produced, and then the Cunard Lines produced a 3rd manifest. All were different. Franklin D. Roosevelt found a 4th manifest in the papers of Woodrow Wilson. This 4th manifest, the carbon copy of the one that went down with the Lusitania, verified that the cargo was contraband, not innocuous.

Tomorrow: Many ships have been sunk by torpedoes since the tragedy of the Lusitania and more will find their way to the locker of "Davy Jones," both in war and in peace. Will the official records of tomorrow's tragedies be as fraught with controversy as the records of the Lusitania? This question can be answered only by those who are chosen to govern the future.

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