from ‘the War Illustrated Deluxe’ volume III page 958
'The Demoniacal Destruction of the Lusitania'

The Great Episodes of the War

from a British history book


When the Lusitania left New York for Liverpool on May ist„ 1915, the Great War had been going on for nine months, amid every circumstance of barbarity on the part of the enemy, yet without the British people being stirred to a full depth of active indignation. But as Froissart said many hundred years ago of the English, they are very patient under great suffering, but in the end they pay back terribly.

It wanted but little at last to arouse our strangely sluggish and mild race to a complete sense of all that is involved in the crusade for civilisation. For this reason it is probable that the torpedoing of the unarmed Cunard liner may prove to be, from the British side, the most important event of the war.


Why Full Speed was not Maintained

The actual facts concerning the loss of the Lusitania are brief and simple. After an easy, pleasant voyage across the Atlantic, the superb ship passed the Fastnet at eleven o'clock on Friday morning. There was then a fog at sea, and the Irish coast was veiled in haze. To avoid any danger of colliding with small vessels, Captain Turner ordered his engineers to slow down to fifteen knots. But the weather cleared up, and the coast-line became plainly visible across the blue expanse of sea, and the speed of the ship was increased to eighteen knots. As a matter of fact, the Cunarder was the fastest liner afloat, and could be put to a speed of twenty-five knots or more. Captain Turner, however, kept her down to eighteen knots so that he should not arrive too soon by the bar at Liverpool, and have to wait, exposed to submarine attack, until the water was high enough to float the ship over the sand.

Meanwhile all the bulkhead doors were closed and the boats were swung out, as the ship neared the danger zone, about two o'clock in the afternoon. For the Old Head of Kinsale, fifteen miles south of which the Lusitania was steaming, was one of the chief places on our coasts from which ships took their bearings, so the sea assassins of Germany were lurking there.

There were 1,906 men, women, and children on board the Cunarder, and, though most of them knew that the German Government had threatened to sink the ship, they felt perfectly safe. For, if the fastest passenger steamer in the world could not escape from submarine attack, when slower British troopships had for months worked across the Channel without a mishap, then all was not well with Britain. And the passengers, including hundreds of Americans and members of other neutral nations, thought with amusement upon the warning notice from the German Embassy at Washington, published in American newspapers. Lunch was finishing, and the band was playing "Tipperary," when a torpedo struck the Lusitania by the engine-room. Immediately afterwards there was another loud report; but it was not known whether this was due to an indirect explosion or to the impact of a second German torpedo.

Danger in Launching the Boats

The large amount of high explosive contained in the torpedoes used by the enemy submarine burst open some of the bulkhead doors and broke the steam-pipe, putting the engines out of action. The immense ship listed to starboard the moment she was struck, making it impracticable to lower boats on the high side. Moreover, as the engines were useless, it was impossible to get the way off the ship, and she continued to move until she dived. It is always extremely dangerous to attempt to lower boats from a moving ship, and though Captain Turner and his heroic crew laboured with calm and eager skill to save the passengers, there was a natural tendency to wait until the vessel slowed down. As in the case of the Titanic disaster, it was expected that the great ship, with her double skin and numerous water-tight compartments, would float for an hour or more.

Meanwhile, lifebelts were served out, and the women and children were helped into some of the boats that had been lowered to the rails, and some of these boats were launched safely. The captain's orders were promptly obeyed, and, with few exceptions, everybody was calm. Most of the great loss of the lives of 1,134 non- combatants, a large proportion of whom belonged to neutral nations, was occasioned by the terrible rapidity with which the ship sank while she was still in motion. She was struck at fifteen minutes past two, and she dived at thirty-three minutes past two. The extraordinary suddenness of the final disaster appears to have been due to the immense damage done to the watertight bulkheads by the two explosions. Among the dead men remarkable for their heroism was Mr. Vanderbilt, who gave all his time to getting little children into the boats. Another American, the theatrical manager, Mr. Frohman, said a fine, memorable, and consoling thing. "Why fear death? It is the most beautiful adventure in life!" That was the way the victims of the German sea assassins met their Maker. The quiet, patient Anglo-Saxon people are not easily cowed, as the savages of Europe will in the end discover.

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