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The Lusitian in The World War

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World War one started on the 28th of July 1914 between two sides; The triple alliance and the triple entente. It ended on the 11th of November 1918. Difference in policies were to blame, although the immediate cause of World War one was the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was an Archduke of Austria-Este, Austro-Hungarian and Royal Prince of Hungary and of Bohemia’s. The war started mainly because of four aspects: Militarism, Alliances, Imperialism and Nationalism. This is because big armies become potential threats to other countries, other countries started forcing alliances in order to secure land. Imperialism was caused because building an empire needs manpower such as an army and a navy to conquer and keep the land that they colonized (Erik pg.3). The alliances system meant that a local conflict could easily result into an intimidating global one. Nationalism was also a cause of World War one because of countries beginning to get greedy and not negotiating. Nationalism shows you are proud of your country and want it to be the best. A lot of causes all linked back to countries all wanting to be better than each other. Nationalist groups in Austria-Hungary and Serbia wanted independence (Erik pg.32).

On Aug. 4, 1914, after war was declared, Lusitania went back into dry dock. More space was provided for cargo, and the vessel was now carried on Cunard’s books as an auxiliary cruiser. Churchill visited the ship in dry dock and referred to Lusitania. When war began, German submarine captains, to save torpedoes, would surface and permit the crews of cargo ships to scramble into lifeboats, and then they would plant bombs or use gunfire to sink the vessels. Churchill’s response was to outfit merchant ships with hidden guns, order them to ram submarines, and put out “Q-ships,” disguised as merchant ships, which would not expose their guns until submarines surfaced. German naval commanders began to order submarines to sink merchant ships on sight. First Sea Lord Sir John (“Jackie”) Fisher said he would have done the same. Churchill, seeing an opportunity to bring America into Britain’s war. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan wanted to warn Americans not to travel aboard British ships. But President Woodrow Wilson, writes Winch, “said that American citizens had a right to travel on belligerent ships.” A defiance of common sense and an absurd interpretation of international law. On May 1, 1915, Lusitania set sail from New York. “After the war, Churchill admitted that the Lusitania carried a small consignment of rifle ammunition and shrapnel shells weighing 173 tons. New York Customs Collector Dudley Malone told President Wilson that practically all her cargo was contraband of various kinds. Future Secretary of State Robert Lansing knew that British passenger ships carried war materiel (Erik pg. 7).

German diplomats in New York warned American passengers they were in danger on the Lusitania. And instead of sailing north of Ireland to Liverpool, the Lusitania sailed to the south, into waters known to be the hunting ground of German submarines.

On May 7, 1915. Leslie Morton, a lookout on the Lusitania, screamed, “Torpedoes coming on the starboard side.” Two explosions followed. Within 18 minutes the huge liner, once the largest ever built, sank to the bottom of the Celtic Sea. 1,195 out of the 1,959 people aboard died. Walther Schwinger, commander of the German submarine U- 20, who had fired a single torpedo 750 yards away from the ship, later called it the most horrible sight he had ever seen. The Lusitania entered service between Liverpool and New York on September 7, 1907. Funded by the British Admiralty, the Lusitania, built by the Cunard Steamship Company, was required to double as an auxiliary cruiser in case of war. Had Wilson publicly warned U.S. citizens not to sail on the ships of belligerent nations and forbidden U.S.-flagged merchant ships to carry contraband to nations at war, America might have stayed out of the war, which might have ended in a truce, not a German defeat. There might have been no Adolf Hitler and no World War II (Erik pg. 5). This was a secret agreement between the Admiralty and Cunard. On May 12, 1913 she was put in drydock to be double plated and hydraulically riveted, as well as modified for the application of guns. War was declared on August 4, 1914, and the ship was sent again into drydock. There she was armed with 12 six-inch guns (Erik pg. 1-13). Britain wanted to ship war materials over the Atlantic, but there was an embargo of shipping munitions on passenger ships. America also tended to publish the cargo manifests so that the Allies as well as the Germans would know what is being shipped. Britain found a loophole in this. New cargo added at the last minute did not go on the original manifest, thus a supplementary manifest would be submitted 4 or 5 days later. Also, due to the embargo, munitions were listed as ‘sporting cartridges’ and stamped with ‘Not liable to explode in bulk’ (Erik pg. 8).

About a week before the voyage, the New York German community tried to run an ad warning about the transAtlantic voyage. But the duty officer at the State Department did not approve, so no ads were placed. Later George Veeck, who was in charge of placing the ads, convinced William Jennings Bryan, Secretary of State, that on all but one of the Lusitania’s voyages it carried war materials. Bryan had an advertisement run the morning of departure of May 1, 1915. British Naval Intelligence discovered the ad and gave orders to look out for U-boats, predicting a trap. Turner, Captain of the Lusitania, was told that he would rendezvous with the cruiser Juno about 40 miles west of the southern tip of Ireland. German Intelligence thought that the U-boat lookout order meant that large vessels would be leaving England (Erik pg. 43).U-20 and U-30 were immediately sent to the British Channel and southern Irish waters (Erik pg. 27-30). On May 5, Winston Churchill attended a meeting concerning the Lusitania and the U-20. They concluded that Juno would need an escort, so assistance would be given, most likely the destroyer Flotilla. But this did not happen. For unknown reasons, Juno was recalled to Queenstown, and no destroyers were sent (Erik pg. 49).

On May 5 and 6 three ships were sunk by the U-20, the last without warning. Alfred Booth, Chairman of Cunard, read about this and sent a message to Captain Turner diverting the Lusitania to Queenstown. Schwinger spotted the ship on May 7, at 1:20 p.m. and figured that it was either the Lusitania or the Mauretania, which he knew carried arms. At 1:35 the ship turned directly towards U-20. Schwinger saw his opportunity and shot a single torpedo at 2:10. Two explosions followed, the second was described in the U20’s log as “an unusually heavy detonation. . . with a very strong explosion cloud.” The ship tilted about 15, making the lifeboats nearly impossible to board. Six out of the 48 lifeboats escaped before the ship completely sank 18 minutes later (Erik pg. 56). Lord Mersey, the judge conducting the Court of Inquiry, concluded that the Admiralty had tried to falsely blame Captain Turner for the incident. He also found that almost all oaths given by the crew members to all have started with “At the time of sailing the ship was in good order and well found. The vessel was unarmed and possessed no weapons for offense or defense against an enemy and she has never carried such equipment. Boat drill was carried out before leaving New York.” He cleared Turner’s name and concluded that the explosions came from two torpedoes, and the ship was carrying no contraband (Erik pg. 80). Why did the ship sink so quickly? It has been thought that the weapons were the second explosion. In 1972 divers “unanimously testify that the bow was blasted by a massive internal explosion”(Erik pg. 74).

It was thought that this was the area which the weapons would have been, but when the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution explored the wreck in 1994 they found no such hole. So, what about the contraband? The manifest for the voyage showed that indeed, the Lusitania was carrying illegal war materials, including 4,200 cases of rifle ammunition, 1,250 cases of shrapnel, and 18 boxes of percussion fuses (Erik pg. 88). There was a total of 173 tons of war materials (Erik pg. 91). If ammunition did not cause the blast, then what did? The expedition leads us to believe that the torpedo struck one of the long coal bunkers. Since most of the coal would have been used up, these bunkers would have contained lot of coal dust. The torpedo would have been cruising about 10 feet below the surface, about where the bunkers were. A lot of coal was also found on the seafloor. The Britannic, sister ship to the Titanic, is also suspected of suffering a similar explosion (Erik pg. 103).

Even though America did not declare war on Germany until 1917, it had been involved in the war from the beginning supplying the allies with weapons and supplies. America was critical involved in military operations that led to the final conclusion of the Great War and was there to witness the end of World War One. Because of the sinking of the Lusitania Americans were outraged and put pressure on the government to enter the war. Woodrow Wilson campaigned for a peaceful end to the war. He then appealed to both sides to try to settle the war by diplomatic means but was unsuccessful (Erik pg. 183). In February 1917, the Germans announced an unrestricted submarine warfare campaign. They planned to sink any ship that approached Britain whether it was a military ship, supply ship or passenger ship. On April 3rd 1917, Wilson made a speech declaring that America would enter the war and restore peace to Europe. The United States declared war on Germany on April 6th 1917. American troops joined the French and British in 1918. They were fresh and not war-weary and were invaluable in defeating the Germans. The allied victory in November 1918 was not only due to American involvement. Rapid advancements in weapon technology meant that by 1918 tanks and planes were commonplace (Erik pg.176).

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The Lusitian in the World War. (2019, February 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from
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