Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Lusitania Cover-Up

By Greg Taylor

The Lusitania Cover-Up was published in July in i-Magazine in the UK.

Nearly 100 years after the 9/11 of its day, the truth comes out.

On May 1st last year, the government archives at Kew released declassified documents. What documents are kept secret? Those that are dangerous or embarrassing to the government. In the case of documents related to RMS Lusitania released on May 1st 2014, both are true.

The sinking of the Lusitania was the 9/11 of its day. On May 7th 1915, the 31,550-ton Cunard Liner was en route to Liverpool from New York with 1,959 souls aboard when a German U-Boat torpedoed her just 11 miles off the coast of Ireland.

Everyone is familiar with the tale of the Titanic but what about the Lusitania?

She was launched into the River Clyde to the strains of “Rule Britannia” on June 7 1906, the largest moveable object ever created by man. On the Lusitania rested the hopes of the Empire and Cunard Lines that Britain would reclaim from the German liners the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic.

By George Grantham Bain [Public Domain]
via Wikimedia Commons

She was financed with government loans on the condition she be available for troop transport in time of need. Despite this, the Lusitania was fitted out to a standard of luxury never seen before. She reclaimed for Britain the Blue Riband on her third Atlantic crossing with a speed of 23.99 knots.

Dining Saloon RMS Lusitania,
[Public Domain] Wikimedia Commons

In 1915, the Lusitania was the fastest, most luxurious ship making the transatlantic run. When she sailed from New York on May 1st 1915, the New York Times and other papers carried a warning from the German Embassy. Everyone ignored it - confident the fastest ship in the world could outrun any German submarine that might dare to threaten a passenger liner travelling from a neutral country.

Submarines of that period had a top speed underwater of only nine knots. They could reach speeds of fifteen knots on the surface but were vulnerable of being rammed. This led the Admiralty to issue such instructions to the merchant fleet in February 1915, a command that was intercepted and known to the German High Command.

The U20 spotted the Lusitania on the 7th of May, the last day of her crossing. The submarine nearly lost her due to the liner’s superior speed but a last minute change of direction gave the U20 an excellent shot. After being hit by a single torpedo, the Lusitania sank in eighteen minutes at a list so severe that only eight of the forty-two lifeboats were launched. Due to the thirty-degree list, the lifeboats on the port side smashed into the decks below, while those on the starboard side hung eight feet from the doomed ship.

Knowing the speed of the Lusitania might flip lifeboats put into the water, Captain Turner ordered the boats lowered to the Promenade Deck and kept empty until the ship slowed. He did not realise that he and his passengers would have only eighteen minutes before the stern slipped under the water.

By Winsor McCay (Living Lines Library)
[Public Domain] Wikimedia Commons

Kapitänleutnant Schwieger, who ordered the torpedo strike, was shocked when he saw through his periscope a second, much larger explosion. He refused to permit his crew to look at the drowning passengers of the Lusitania.

To this day, experts continue to debate the cause of the second explosion that sealed the Lusitania’s fate after the torpedo struck. Imperial Germany immediately claimed the ship was loaded with explosives destined for the front.

In June 1915, during the official inquiry into the sinking of the Lusitania, the Admiralty manipulated testimony so that Lord Mersey reached an erroneous conclusion that multiple torpedoes struck the ship. The Admiralty knew from an intercepted message that Kapitänleutnant Schwieger had fired only a single torpedo. It was important to many that the inquiry blame only Imperial Germany. Lord Mersey waived his fees for the case and formally resigned two days after the verdict, saying, "The Lusitania case was a damned, dirty business!" Documents related to the closed sessions of the inquiry have never been released and Lord Mersey’s personal copy is claimed to be lost.

The Admiralty had withdrawn the Lusitania’s escort ship, HMS Juno, once the submarine threat became known. Like the Lusitania, the Juno was built with longitudinal coal bunkers that protected vital machinery from shellfire but made the ship vulnerable to listing when hit by a torpedo. It was also known that First Sea Lord Winston Churchill had remarked that the loss of an ocean liner such as the Lusitania might help bring America into the war on the side of Britain.

Beginning in 1922, Germany repeatedly requested international dives on the Lusitania wreck to determine whether the second explosion was a result of contraband munitions on board. The alleged use by the British Navy of the site for testing depth charges is considered by some an effort to destroy evidence.

What was in the documents released at Kew last year?

Under the 30 Year Rule, the British National Archive released internal memoranda between the Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence that showed that in 1982 the Government was concerned that divers to the Lusitania wreck were at risk because the wreck contained explosives. One of the memos went so far as to say that this disclosure might “blow up on us all”. The British government was worried about ramifications for British-American relations because the discovery of explosives on the wreck would imply the Lusitania had been a legitimate target.

The novel, Lusitania R.E.X, weaves fiction around the known facts to create a plausible explanation of some of the mysteries surrounding the sinking. The story is centred on one of the wealthiest men in the world, Alfred Vanderbilt, who lost his life after giving his lifebelt to a woman passenger. This historical fiction is replete with spies, secret societies and superweapons, as well as millionaires, monarchs and martyrs. In the book, Alfred and his fellow members of Skull and Bones, a Yale secret society that in 1911 included the President of the United States, the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Treasury, have taken a secret cargo aboard the ship. The story unfolds on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean in settings that range from gilded palaces and the Lusitania to the blood-soaked trenches of Ypres.

Greg Taylor is the author of Lusitania R.E.X and the inaugural winner of the M.M. Bennett's Award for Historical Fiction. Lusitania R.E.X is also a finalist in the People’s Book Prize. For more information, visit his website at


  1. It's interesting how many movies have been made about the Titanic but not the Lusitania.

  2. Fascinating. The detail that sticks with me is that the German captain wouldn't let his crew look upon the drowning souls.


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