The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

JULY  2004

                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.






One Torpedo Was Enough.

Bizarre, Fascinating, and Wacky World War I & ll Secrets.

by Cecil Owen

On May 1, 1915, this ominous warning appeared in the major newspapers along the Atlantic Coast. "Notice! Travelers 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 travelers 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."

The Cunard British Steamship company had four luxury passenger liners, R.M.S. Transylvania, R.M.S. Tuscania, R.M.S. Orduna, and the R.M.S. Lusitania. The R.M.S. Lusitania was the biggest and most luxurious vessel afloat at the time. Captain William Turner, the skipper of the ship, scoffed at the warning in the newspapers. Any civilized nation would never attack an unarmed passenger ship, he said. And we are just too fast for any submarine, we can outrun any submarine that Germany builds. So the R.M.S. Lusitania left pier 54 in New York City, bound for Liverpool, England on May 1, 1915. This would be her 202 crossing and would also be the final one!

Cecil Owen

They crossed the Atlantic Ocean without incident, and it continued to be a wonderful voyage. Then the ship entered the Celtic Sea, which flows between Ireland and Wales. Captain Turner was very pleased with the way things had gone. Smooth sailing as I predicted, he gratefully exclaimed, soon we will be back home! He ordered one of the four boiler rooms shut down, in order to save on fuel. He also ordered the pilot not to zig zag, but to steer a straight course for England. As they passed the lighthouse at Old Head of Kinsale .. it happened! The lookout, 18 year old Leslie Morton, stationed on the bow of the ship shouted, "Torpedoes coming in on the starboard," (right side). He had spotted thin lines of foam racing toward the ship. It was only one torpedo, but that would be enough to send the proud Lusitania to a watery grave!

Kapitan-lieutenant Walter Schwieger was captain of U-Boat 20, a German attack submarine. He was ordered to patrol the Celtic sea and attack any ship belonging to England or her allies. He had met with great success May 5, 1915 he sunk the Earl of Lathom, on May 6, 1915 the Candidate and the Centurion were both sunk. Now on May 7, 1915, the U-20 was after the biggest prize of all, the Lusitania.

Although one boiler room had been shut down, it was still too fast for the German sub to catch. But then a strange thing happened, the ship changed course and came toward the submarine. The German skipper waited until the Lusitania was only 750 yards away. At that close range, there was no way the ship could escape. At 2:10 p.m. May 7, 1915, a single torpedo slammed into the mighty British Ocean liner, the R.M.S. Lusitania. A large explosion blew a hole in the side of the ship, followed by another much larger explosion. This blew water, coal and other debris upon the upper decks. Then, listing immediately to starboard, the liner began to sink very rapidly at the bow. The ship had four large funnels, and it broke in two between the third and fourth

funnel. (oddly enough, this is the same place where the Titanic broke in two, between the third and fourth funnel!)

Panic rapidly grew among the passengers and also the crew. The ship was

listing (leaning) so sharply to one side, that many of the lifeboats could not be reached. And if reached, they could not be untied because of the sharp angle of the deck. Women were crying and screaming and some of them fell to the deck in a dead faint! The "floating palace" the pride of the Cunard British Shipping Company, the colossal R.M.S. Lusitania was sinking very fast.

Many women and children were put into some of the available lifeboats, but some were overcrowded and sank as soon as they were lowered into the water. Many people just jumped into the ocean, afraid the ship would pull them under as it sank. As the whole bow (the front half) of the ship went down, it did suck one lady, (Margaret Gwyre) down one of the funnels. Before she could drown, a boiler exploded and blew her back up the funnel! She was covered with ashes and soot, but she survived and later was rescued!

Next the stern (back half) went under and 1,195 men, women and children (several were babies) went with her! The time was now 2:28 p.m. believe it or not, this all happened in just eighteen minutes! The Lusitania was slightly smaller than the Titanic, but they both were the largest and most luxurious passenger ships of their time. The Titanic was 882 1/2 ft long and 92 1/2 ft. wide, while the Lusitania was 787 ft. long and 88 ft. wide. The Titanic had 2340 people aboard and the Lusitania had 1959 people aboard. The Titanic carried only 20 lifeboats, yet the Lusitania carried 48 lifeboats. The Titanic lost 1,595 souls, and only 745 were rescued. The Lusitania lost 1,1995 souls and only 764 were rescued. (As you can see by these figures, sometimes having enough lifeboats does not make any difference!)

Germany and England had been at war for nine months, while the United States was supposed to be neutral. However, we were supplying England with everything she needed. Food, clothes, farm equipment, guns and ammunition, it made no difference! We filed a protest with Germany, as 128 Americans went down with the ship. President Woodrow Wilson almost declared war, but the American public was not ready at this time. "Why would you sink an unarmed steam ship that carried only passengers?" he  asked the Kaiser (Emperor of Germany.) "You have violated the rights of humanity by torpedoing the Lusitania without warning."

Germany claimed that England had deliberately exposed the ship so it would be sunk. This would so enrage the United States that it would declare war on Germany. And although it was a  passenger liner, Germany claimed that it was carrying war supplies for the enemy. Of course this was vigorously denied by the British government.  It was an innocent victim!

The absolute truth would not be revealed for many years. When the Lusitania was loaded at pier 54 in New York City, it was loaded with many more items than just passengers! Meat, medical supplies, copper, cheese, oil, and machinery were included on the packing list. But she was also being secretly loaded with munitions for England for the war.

The famous underwater explorer, Bob Ballard, was able to confirm this. Recently, he spent several days on the bottom of the Celtic sea (298 ft. down). He found cases upon cases of ammunition, clearly stamped "made in the U.S.A." Other types of war supplies were also discovered, all made in U.S.A.

Should Captain William Turner be blamed for the loss of his ship? He was warned by Germany with the newspaper ads. He was warned by England to sail a zig-zag course. (During World War ll., a high ranking Navy skipper was court-marshaled because his ship was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine. He was supposed to zig zag, but instead was sailing a straight course!) Even today....89 years later, there is still a big controversy over the sinking of the R.M.S. Lusitania!

Who was to blame, what do you think?