Comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
As with almost any lost ship, there is always a certain amount of posthumous mythology that lingers long after the event.
What follows now is the sort of accepted truths this website is often asked to address.
Is it true that…..?
The Lusitania was carrying a fortune in Gold Bullion when she was sunk.
No, she wasn’t. This myth seems to have come about due to the fact that she often carried British Gold to America, a fact often
reported in The New York Times and other American Newspapers. The US Government however, wasn’t sending Gold to England,
they were supplying war materials. When the Lusitania did carry a cargo such as Gold Bullion, it would have been on her trips to
America, in all likelihood to pay for the war materials, rather than on her homeward trips. The Americans were selling, not buying.
The Lusitania was chased by a German Cruiser on her first voyage home after war broke out.
This story first appeared in The New York Times on August 6th ,1914. It was attributed to an intercepted wireless message, apparently
picked up by an amateur enthusiast. She was reported as “Fleeing before two German Cruisers and under orders to return to either
Portland or Boston at full speed”. This story was also featured in an official British history of The Great War and was later published
again in 1972, in Colin Simpson’s book, LUSITANIA. The German Cruisers were cited as being SMS Dresden and/or SMS Strassburg,
or if you go by Simpson, SMS Karlsruhe. As we subsequently discovered from the BundesMilitarArchiv in Freiburg, Germany; this story
was nothing more than British propaganda, with absolutely no basis in truth. The FULL version of this “incident” is featured in our book,
THE LUSITANIA STORY.
The Germans knew what she was carrying and they deliberately planned to sink her.
They did indeed know about the American made munitions that were regularly being shipped across the Atlantic on British, French and
Dutch ships. In fact, on June 3rd 1915, The New York Times ran a front page story reporting a visit by the German Ambassador, Count
Bernstorff, to President Wilson. On page two, there is a bye-line; SHELLS ON THE LUSITANIA. Bernsdorff laid a copy of the ship's
manifest in front of Wilson and then quoted direct from a copy of Bethlehem Steel's shipping note, that "the consignment of 1,250
cases of shrapnel was in fact 5,000 shrapnel shells, filled; and that the total weight of this consignment was 103, 828 lbs". Bernstorff
left memo of these and other figures with Wilson as proof and called Wilson's attention to the "deliberately incorrect marking" of this
consignment as "Non-Explosive Shrapnel", when it was known (and proven) to have been filled shrapnel shells. Count Bernstorff
seems to have been remarkably accurately informed, but the specific sinking of the Lusitania by U20 was not pre-planned. It was quite
clearly a chance encounter.
The cargo holds of liners such as the Lusitania were too small to carry a worthwhile contraband cargo.
Although smaller than the hold areas of a sizeable freighter, the hold of a transatlantic liner was still quite large enough to make it
worthwhile. Also, it must be remembered that the Admiralty somewhat modified the ship’s storage areas at the front end so as to utilise
some of the upper decks to carry their “freight”. The liners were used because they were all faster than freighters and in theory, were
less likely to be targeted by U Boats. If proof of such is needed; on December 10th, 1915, seven months after the Lusitania was sunk,
the New York Times announced that the White Star Liner Adriatic had left New York carrying 18,000 tons of war munitions for the Allies.
The Adriatic was the same age as the Lusitania, though somewhat smaller. She was 729 feet long, 75 feet in the beam and was 24,
541 Gross Registered Tons. The ship’s cargo was valued at $10,000,000. Not a worthwhile load?! Less than a year later, in August of
1916, the New York Times again reported the sailing of another White Star Liner, one of Adriatic’s sisters, the Baltic, also carrying
18,500 tons of war munitions for the Allies. Such reports usually appeared in the New York papers about three to five days after the
ship had left and only after their supplementary manifests had been filed with US Customs. The (illegal) transporting of munitions
aboard transatlantic passenger liners has to have been the worst kept secret of the First World War. It is incredible, given that the
American newspapers reported the sailings and cargoes of these liners so freely, that anyone can still to this day, doubt or question
that it ever took place!
Lusitania’s funnels were painted black to disguise her identity.
The ship’s funnels were indeed painted black, but this was not some half-baked attempt at a disguise. There could be no realistic hope
of disguising a ship as distinctive as her. Imagine painting a Concorde or a Space Shuttle black, so that nobody would be certain of
their identity! The reason is very simple. The funnels of every ship sailing under British Admiralty charter were always painted black.
The sinking brought America into the war.
The Lusitania was sunk in 1915. America entered the war in 1917. The sinking undoubtedly was a catalyst, but it was not the causal
Kapitan-Leutnant Schwieger and his crew were decorated by the Kaiser for sinking the Lusitania.
Not so. The medal so often supposed to have been awarded to U20’s crew was in fact the famous/infamous satirical medal struck by
Karl Goetz. The British seized on this piece and stamped out thousands of copies as propaganda. If many at the time believed it had
been awarded by the Kaiser to the crew of U20, it could only have served to further the original propaganda purposes of the British.
Schwieger was awarded the Blue Max in 1917 purely in recognition of his success as a U-Boat commander. He was sixth in the league
table of the top U-Boat Captains, but the citation for his award made no mention of the Lusitania.
Captain Turner disobeyed a specific Admiralty instruction to steer a mid-channel course.
Captain Turner was not navigating his ship through a channel. The Atlantic Ocean, off the Old Head of Kinsale (or if you prefer, the
Celtic Sea), is patently NOT a channel. Trying to redefine that area by constantly referring to it as The Irish Channel doesn’t change the
simple geographical fact that the next piece of land due south of The Old Head of Kinsale is a little over SEVENTY MILES away and
the wreck of the Lusitania lies in water that is 50 Fathoms deep.
Captain Turner sailed too close to shore. Captain Turner did nothing of the sort.
He was told to maintain at least ten miles between his ship and the Irish coastline. The Lusitania was fourteen miles offshore when she
was hit. The wreck sits on the seabed eleven and a quarter miles offshore, with her bows orientated roughly north-east, toward land.
(Turner put the helm toward land to try to beach her after the torpedo struck). Even as she was sinking, she never crossed the
Admiralty imposed ten-mile limit. Despite such geographical certainties, the Admiralty have always maintained (to this day) that Turner
was deliberately sailing perilously close, to quote Captain Webb in his infamous memorandum; “some eight miles off the Irish coast,
maintaining what appears to have been his usual peacetime route”. As a point of interest, Lusitania’s “usual peacetime route” was only
three miles off the Southern Irish coast and only ships coming closer than five miles to shore were reported, for the offence of
breaching their war risks insurance.
Captain Turner steered a straight, undeviating course, disobeying standing Admiralty orders to Zig-Zag.
NO such Admiralty orders were in force till after the Lusitania disaster. The specific order to Zig-Zag was draft dated April 16th 1915 but
its actual circulation outside of Admiralty House didn’t start till May 2nd, by which time Turner and the Lusitania were already on the
open ocean, heading home. The general circulation of that specific order was achieved about a week or so after that, which is the point
in time that it officially became a order”, once every ship’s master had a printed copy of it. Certainly, nobody at the Admiralty ever
relayed such an order by wireless to the Lusitania. The very first time Captain Turner saw that order was when it was used against him
at the Mersey inquiry in June. There was an advice note dated February 10th 1915 which Turner did have, but that note only
“recommended” steering “a serpentine course” if a submarine was actually “sighted”.
The second explosion was about 15-30 seconds after the torpedo explosion.
It is not unlike reading several different witness statements to the same car crash. Everyone means well, but each person has a
different perspective on the event. In writing our book, we gave our preference to statements from people who were trained observers,
rather than just those of innocent bystanders, but that is not to say that all passenger statements were inaccurate. More than a few of
the passenger statements put the second explosion as being “almost instantaneous”, “on the heels of the first explosion”, “immediately
after the first”, or more telling; “it was like a short boom, followed straightaway by a much larger, rumbling sort of bang”. (Anyone who
has ever heard ammunition being professionally detonated for the purpose of its disposal will recognise that sound description!) The
people who made such statements tended to be near to the Lusitania’s Bridge/Forward Well Deck/Foremast areas. It is most important
to remember that their statements were deliberately NOT used at the Public Inquiry into the disaster. The further aft people were
located at the time, the more the perspectives
differed in their statements; even down to those people who honestly swore that they had actually seen a second torpedo hit the ship
aft or amidships, whilst there were others who sincerely stated that there was a second submarine that put another torpedo into the
Lusitania’s PORT side. It is equally important to remember that these are the statements that WERE, deliberately used at the Public
One hundred years after the Lusitania went to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, the myths are now slowly dying out. Sadly however,
every now and again, some of these “Old Chestnuts” resurface, (usually in scantily researched television documentaries or on the
internet). They get repeated, even though they really do not stand up to competent scrutiny. Whenever they do get repeated, they
seem to be awarded the status of truth, at least for a time. Until they die out again.