May 8, 2015

The Sinking of the RMS Lusitania, 1915


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This week marks the one hundred year anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania.


[August 7, 1914] -


Two British Cruisers Calle by Lusitania's Wireless

Declared to Have Fought Pursuers--Great Liner is Now Said to Be Safe

Special to The Inquirer.

NEW YORK, Aug. 6. -- Two German cruisers are reported to have been sunk by two British cruisers after a terrible sea battle off the Grand Banks today.  The Germans pursued the Cunard liner Lusitania, which sailed from New York early Wednesday, nearly 200 miles.

The British cruisers answered radio calls for assistance sent by the Lusitania. After destroying the Germans they followed the liner and will convoy her to Southampton.

Reports of the pursuit and battle were contained in radios picked up by Captain Agassiz, of the liner Uranium, which arrived here today from Rotterdam.

Captain Agassiz in a report to the British Consul here today said parts of the radio were indistinct, but the part telling of the battle and destruction of the German vessels was plain. This radio was picked up at 7 o'clock this morning.

Pursued by Two Cruisers

Another radio from the Lusitania was picked up at 1 A.M. today, saying she was being pursued by two German cruisers and two British cruisers had answered her call for assistance.

Red Cross liner Florizel, en route from Halifax, picked up another radio from the Lusitania at 7:30 last night, saying a German cruiser was in pursuit, and calling on "any British or French cruiser" for immediate assistance. The Florizel reported this on her arrival here today.

The radio station at Sayville, Long Island, was reported to have received a message early today saying the two Germans pursuing the Lusitania and engaged in the battle were the Karlsruhe and Dresden.

Wires Lusitania Is Safe

The British cruisers engaged in the fight are believed to have been the Suffolk and Lancaster. These, with the Essex, have been patrolling the steamship tracks between Nantucket Shoals and the Grand Banks, prepared to assist English or French liners.

The last radio from the Lusitania was short, the operator explaining he did not wish additional German cruisers to learn the position of the liner. It said the Lusitania was safe and Captain Dow was driving her under forced draft for Southampton. Her speed was then about twenty seven knots.

The message indicated that she had left the battling cruisers far astern, but that after the fight had received a radio saying at least one of the cruisers would follow as convoy for the remainder of the voyage.

"Coast is Clear," Cruiser Says

Captain Capper, of the Cunarder Pannonia, which arrived here today, reported passing the Lusitania and receiving a "wigwag" from her saying she was making twenty-seven knots.

Previous to this, the Pannonia passed a British cruiser which told him to proceed at full speed, as "the coast was clear." Later he received a radio from the Lancaster, which was out of sight, saying if he needed assistance to call at once.

Captain Martin, of the Florizel, reported to his company today he had picked up radios Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning which indicated two German cruisers were lying in wait for the Lusitania.

A comparison of the radio messages by steamship men today indicated the first German cruiser began the pursuit of the Lusitania when the latter was about 100 miles east of Nantucket Shoals lightship. It was several hours later before the other cruiser, believed to be the Karlsruhe, joined the chase.

The last message from the Lusitania indicated she was between 725 and 800 miles east of Sandy Hook. The weather was slightly foggy, but the liner was being driven at top speed.

Steamship men today declared if the British cruisers had not been patrolling in the positions they were they would not have been able to catch the speedy Lusitania or the Karlsruhe. [1]


[May 8, 1915] -

1,300 Die as Lusitania Goes to Bottom;

400 Americans on Board Torpedoed Ship;
Washington Stirred as When Maine Sank

Dying and Injured Brought in with Other Survivors to Queenstown -- Two Torpedoes Fired, Says Steward.


Attack Made About Eight Miles from Irish Coast in Broad Daylight and in Fine Weather -- Survivor Tells of Bravery of Canard Officers.

Washington, May 8. -- A dispatch to the State Department early to-day from American Consul Frost at Queenstown stated that the total number of survivors of the Lusitania was about 700.

[By Cable to The Tribune.]

London, May 8, 3 a.m. -- At least 1,300 lives were lost when the Lusitania was torpedoed without warning in broad daylight yesterday afternoon by a German submarine, according to estimates by survivors. The estimate of First Officer Jones puts the total nearer 1,500. 

Only a few of the first class passengers were saved. Most of them remained aboard, thinking the ship would float. Trawlers arriving at Queenstown have a hundred bodies or more.

The "Times" Queenstown correspondent says that some of the survivors who have arrived there report that Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt was drowned.

At Queenstown there have arrived 647 alive, 40 dead; at Kinsale 11 alive, 5 dead. All boats which went out from Queenstown have now returned, except one trawler. Fishing boats may be bringing more survivors to Kinsale.

It is believed here that there were about 2,000 persons on board, 1,254 passengers and between 700 and 800 in the crew.

Survivors of the Lusitania who have arrived at Queenstown estimate that only about 650 of those aboard the steamer were saved.

Of the dead more than two hundred are supposed to be Americans, as it is believed there were about 400 on board.
Lady Mackworth, daughter of David A. Thomas, the Welsh "Coal King," and a noted militant suffragist, went down with the liner, but was saved by a life preserver she wore, and later was picked up. Twenty-two of those landed at Queenstown have since died of their injuries. Nearly all the officers, except Captain Turner and the first and second officers, perished.

A dispatch from Queenstown sent out at midnight says:

"Up to the present 520 passengers from the Lusitania have been landed here from boats. Ten or eleven boatloads came ashore, and others are expected."

The Central News says that the number of the Lusitania's passengers who died of injuries while being taken to Queenstown will reach 100. This is believed to indicate that the ship sank much more quickly than was expected, and that the few minutes that elapsed were used in getting into the boats those injured by the explosions.

The motor boat Elizabeth has arrived at Kinsale and reports that at 3:30 p.m. she picked up two lifeboats containing 63 and 16 survivors of the Lusitania, respectively. A Cork tug took the rescued to Queenstown. They were mostly women and children. 

The Lusitania could not launch many of her lifeboats, owing to her list to port.

The tiny hospitals at Kinsale and Clonakilty, and the institution at Cork and Queenstown are jammed with survivors from the ocean horror, those not actually wounded suffering terribly from shock. The giant Cunarder not rests on the bottom of the ocean, about eight miles off Kinsale Head and twenty miles from the entrance to Queenstown Harbor.


Telegrams have been filtering into London last night and early this morning stating that the rescued are being brought to Queenstown by three steamers. The Admiralty says between five and six hundred have already been landed at Clonakilty and Kinsale, coming into the latter port in the string of boats towed by a Greek streamer. Motor fishing boats hovering near the scene of the wreck, picking up what boats they could and turning them over to the powerful ocean going tug Stormcock.

Huge crowds fill Cockspur Street near the Haymarket, storming the Cunard office for news. The women, who had been weeping so bitterly, paused for a moment when an agent of the line bellowed through a megaphone the following dispatch:

"Our Liverpool office says First Officer Jones wires from Queenstown he thinks between five hundred and six hundred have been saved. This includes passengers and crew, and is only an estimate."

A steward in the first boat which landed at Kinsale said he feared that 900 lives had been lost.


The tug Stormcock returned to Queenstown, bringing about one hundred and fifty survivors, principally passengers, among whom were many women, several of the crew and one steward.

Describing the experience of the Lusitania, the steward said: "The passengers were at luncheon, when a submarine came up and fired two torpedoes, which struck the Lusitania on the starboard side, one forward and the other in the engine room. They caused terrific explosions.

"Captain Turner immediately ordered the boats out. The ship began to list badly immediately.

"Ten boats were put into the water, and between four hundred and five hundred passengers entered them. The boat in which I was approached the land with three other boats, and we were picked up shortly after 4 o'clock by the Stormcock.

"I fear that few of the officers were saved. They acted bravely.


"There were only fifteen minutes from the time the ship was struck until she foundered, going down bow foremost. It was a dreadful sight."

More dispatches brought word that the hotel and lodging houses are being canvassed in an effort to obtain more or less authoritative lists of the survivors.

 One of the first persons landed from the ship by a boat which reached Kinsale Head was General H. B. Lassetter, late commander of an Australian Light Horse Brigade. His wife and he were returning from a trip to Los Angeles. George A. Kessler, the New York wine agent, and Mrs. J. T. Smith, of Braceville, Ohio, were also reported among the saved.

The Admiralty gave out the official news about midnight that the attack was made in broad daylight and with absolute no warning.

A Queenstown dispatch to "The Daily Chronicle" says that seven torpedoes were discharged from the German craft and that one of them struck the Lusitania amidships.

There is no question in anyone's mind here that it was a submarine which caused the disaster. There is information at hand that persons on shore near Galley Head did see a submarine yesterday at that point.


Furthermore, the steamer Narragansett at 3:45 p.m. saw a submarine, believed to be the one which hit the Lusitania. She fired a torpedo at the Narragansett, but it passed ten years astern, and the vessel got away and went to the assistance of the Lusitania's survivors.

The Cunarder's wireless call for assistance was received at Queenstown at 2:15 p.m., and Admiral Coke, in charge of the naval station, at once sent all available tugs and trawlers to the point indicated. The tugs Warrior, Stormcock and Julia, with five trawlers and the Queenstown lifeboat in tow of another tug, put to sea immediately.

Within fifteen minutes of the receipt of the first S O S call Queenstown Harbor was virtually cleared of all movable craft, particularly smaller boats. Fishing vessels also gathered around, and it is judged here that there was no lack of assistance. At 2:30 o'clock what was apparently the last wireless message left the Lusitania. It was a curious message, and indicated that the wireless operator, at least, who was probably not under the direct supervision of his officers at that moment, did not know just where he was. It said: 

"We think we are off Kinsale. Big list. Come with all haste."

There can be no doubt that the Lusitania's officers knew where they were. The Lusitania was not due, according to the schedule which has been followed since shortly after the war broke out (when her run was lengthened from about four days to seven or more), at the point where she sank until about twenty-four hours later. This indicates that she had put on all her four screws, whereas for many of her trips she has been using only two, in order to save coal.

This would indicate that some attention was paid at least to the more recent threats against the ship in America. The submarine's achievement is considered a wonderful piece of luck, from the German point of view. It has been considered that any ship moving faster than fifteen knots was almost unhitable by the slower moving, clumsy submarine. The German evidently simply lay in wait, gauged the speed of the gigantic liner and at the proper moment let fly.

Naval officers considered that if the Lusitania was making full speed or anywhere near full speed it was almost a miracle that the torpedoes found their mark.


American feeling ran high here as soon as the news was received, and Ambassador Page made inquiry immediately at the Foreign Office to learn if any mines had been placed at the spot where the Lusitania sank. He was told definitely there were no mines in the locality, and has forwarded his report to that effect to Washington.

The Cunard company states officially that the ship was sunk without any warning whatever.

The weather off the Irish coast was particularly good yesterday, and the attack took place when the sun was shining. [2]


[May 11, 1915] -


First Lord of British Admiralty Says Captain Was Directed as to Course -- Mercantmen Will Not Be Convoyed by Warships

LONDON, May 10. -- The First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Spencer Churchill, stated in the House of Commons today that Captain Turner, of the Lusitania, had acknowledge receipt of message from the Admiralty giving him warning and directions for the course he was to take. He declared:

"The Admiralty had general knowledge and other information concerning submarine movements it sent warnings to the Lusitania and directions as to her course. I think, however, it not right to go into that matter in detail a it is going to be a subject of inquiry and it might appear that I was endeavoring to throw blame on the captain of the Lusitania in a matter which will be a subject of full investigation."

Continuing, Mr. Churchill said that investigation would be conducted by Lord Mersey, assisted by skilled assessors, and that it would be opened without avoidable delay. Mr. Churchill's remarks were drawn by questions from Lord Charles Beresford and others asking for details as to what speed the Lusitania was making when she was torpedoed; whether there was a patrol boat in that locality; whether all points where vessels arrive and depart are now adequately patrolled; what provisions were made in the case of the Lusitania in view of the warning issued in America; whether Mr. Churchill was aware that previously to last Friday German submarines had for some time been actively at work on the south coast of Ireland, whether he was aware that the Admiralty had provided torpedo boat destroyers and other naval vessels to meet on the South coast of Ireland steamers carrying horses from the United States on government account to convoy them to Liverpool, and finally, what arrangements, if any, were made to convey and protect the Lusitania?


Mr. Churchill, replying to further questions, spoke as follows:

"The shocking exception of the Lusitania should not divert the attention of the House of Commons and the country from the fact that Great Britain's entire seaport trade has been carried on without appreciative loss. The general principle regarding the providing of an escort is that merchant traffic must look after itself, subject to the general arrangements of the Admiralty, and there is no reason to suppose that this principle is not entirely successful."

Andrew Bonar Law, leader of the Opposition in the House, asked if any answer had been received from the captain of the Lusitania showing that the Admiralty instructions to the liner had come to his hand. Mr. Churchill replied that both messages had been acknowledged. The second acknowledgment came a very short time before the attack was made.


Lord Charles Beresford then inquired if Premier Asquith had received his letter of April 15, warning him of the peril that had met the Lusitania and that whether this warning had gone unheeded. Mr. Churchill answered that Premier Asquith had handed him Lord Beresford's letter and that it had been carefully studied by the Admiralty. So far from being unheeded, a great many of the measures recommended already had been adopted on the largest possible scale.

Asked if the German submarine which sank the Lusitania was of a larger type than anything known prior to April 14. Mr. Churchill replied: "I have no knowledge of the size or number of this submarine."

Questioned regarding a letter sent to the Admiralty ten days ago giving information concerning the supposed type of this submarine, Mr. Churchill said the information contained in this communication was wholly untrue and that the facts which had given rise tot he supposition were known to the Admiralty.

"This war was begun by Germany with a flagrant breach of a treaty and it has been carried on with a progressive disregard of convention and of previously accepted rules of warfare," said Premier Asquith today to the House of Commons.

"The facts are universally known and there is no object in approaching neutral governments unless and until the latter are prepared to take some action in the matter. We trust that neutral nations are growingly realizing that the issues involved in this war affect the whole civilized world and the future of humanity."

Premier Asquith's statement was made in response to a question from William Llewellyn Williams, who said that the British Government should officially bring to the notice of the nations signatory to The Hague convention "the gross and repeated breaches of the convention by Germany." [3]


[1] "2 German Warships Reported Sunk in a Battle Off U.S." Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA. August 7, 1914. Pages 1 and 10.

[2] "1,300 Die as Lusitania Goes to Bottom." New York Tribune, New York, NY. May 8, 1915. Page 1. LOC.

[3] "Lusitania Warned Churchill Declares." Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA. May 11, 1915. Page 13.

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