Sunday, May 10, 2015


Just a few days over a century ago the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk.

There is a good article in Fortune magazine about stalled attempts to recover her and to determine if she did in fact carry war material to England as the Germans claimed.  This time though it is the Irish Government and not the Brits that are holding up the attempt.

At the time (and since then) there was lots of propaganda and counter-propaganda regarding the event.  There have been other articles in the past confirming that there was ammo aboard, tons of speculation but was there any definitive proof?  Not sure myself but I would not put it past the British war office.  One article from the Daily Mail in 2008 'seemed'' to confirm they carried 303 rifle cartridges.  The bigger question is whether or not they carried guncotton and/or artillery shells that could have caused the lerge secondary explosion.   It would be good IMHO to know the truth.  I do not believe it was the Lucy that got us into WW1, but perhaps it head-shaped us into our eventual entry two years later.


  1. Thanks for the interesting read, mike!

    The world is a strange place.

    The owner can't do destructive archaeology to their property,
    but fishermen can drag nets across it.
    I wonder how long it will be before the sea corrodes
    it all away?

    The strange thing is, I really do understand how stuff like that happens.

  2. Ael -

    I have to admire a 76 year old who dives down to 300 feet below the ocean surface and then has the cojones to take off his mask in order to kiss 'Miss Lucy's' beam. In another sense though I do not understand his crusade. He understands now he will never be able to turn her into scrap metal for $. Why pursue this gun-cotton theory? What skin does he have in that game? He has permission to cut a hole in the hull and send in a remote cam. Why not spend his money on perfecting that technique? Or was permission later overruled?

    As for how long will it be before the sea corrodes it all away? No telling for sure. Brass and bronze will last a lot longer than the iron and steel. Stainless steel even longer, but I'm not sure if they had stainless when she was built. Perhaps some early steel-chromium alloys were used for cutlery or other smaller pieces. She would be in more danger if brought to the surface as the oxidation would corrode her a lot faster than the seawater. And the encrustation of sediments, marine life, chlorides, etc helps preserve her also.

    I wonder how gun cotton was transported in those days and how susceptible it (gun cotton and its containers) is to corrosion?

  3. Nitrocellulose decays naturally, giving off nitric and sulfuric acid.
    Nasty stuff.

    I suspect the key to the puzzle is to get a camera into the boiler room.
    If the boilers are relatively intact, then something else went boom.

  4. An extremely well researched article on the subj is by Martin Gibson a Brit blogger who writes mostly on the Royal Navy. Two key points that I carried away from his blog post are:
    1] There is strong speculation that the superheated steamlines and not necessarily the boilers themselves were the source of the second explosion.
    2] Lucy' manifest in fact confirms she carried a number of munitions: 4,200,000 rifle cartridges, 1,250 cases of 3.3 inch shrapnel shells and 18 cases of percussion fuses. The shells and fuses were stated in the official manifest to be without explosives. it was also carrying material for military uniforms and leather equipment.

    1. Thanks for the reblog.

      Martin Gibson

  5. Thanks for posting. mike. Interesting story. I kind of support Occam's Razor. Lucky shot with resulting steam line explosion. But then, that's not as much fun as looking for something else that's a bit more sinister.

  6. And your guy Gibson, mike, makes the valid point that per the sort of "cruiser warfare" conventions operating in 1915 Schweiger's options were to 1) let the liner pass, or 2) surface, stop her, board and search her, order her passengers and crew to the lifeboats, and sink her. And that Option 2 - given the proximity of the British ASW patrols - wasn't really an option. The sinking without warning was a "war crime" by the definition in use at the time, and therefore the outrage generated by the civilian deaths wasn't a British horror-propaganda exercise or the result of some sort of conspiracy to trick the Kaiserliche Marine into one...

  7. Hi all-

    Funny, not mention of this in the Forture article . . .

    As to Cruiser Rules, the British had ordered their merchant ships to ram the Uboots if they surfaced in February 1915, that is against the rules. Also they were in the process of arming their merchant ships to fight the Uboots if they did surface, making them in effect warships, so no warning would be necessary, according to the rules. Reports from German agents in the US, probably false, stated that the Lusitania was armed with naval guns. The Germans knew about the change in British policy from experience, so Schweiger only had two choices.

    It's also interesting to note that immediately after the declaration of war, Lusitania was re-painted a dull gray, but before her destruction was again repainted in the bright livery of the White Star line . . . Passengers need not have traveled on the British passenger liner (listed as a Royal Navy Auxiliary Cruiser in Janes btw) at all since US and neutral ships were safe from destruction. Given the vocabulary in use today we could accuse the Germans of a "war crime" or the British of using "human shields", or putting "profit before morality" depending on the politics . . .

  8. Hi Seydlitz -

    In my understanding the naval guns were never added to the Lucy although she was fitted out with empty gun mounts.

    Not sure about the Guardian article. Written 67 years after the event??? Were there ever any follow-ups to that story? I have not found any.

    IMHO I tend to side with Al that the exploding torpedo blew up the superheated steamlines. Guess we will never know what she was carrying unless Dublin recants or a less invasive technology is found.

    Probably the American most responsible for stirring up the public re the Lucy was H.P. Lovecraft, the racist, anti-pacifist writer. Best known for his horror genre fiction, he was the Steven King of a century ago. But he also wrote quite a bit of political poetry ranting polemics about German beasts, as well as evil negroes and Jewish influence. Strange that he was an anti-pacifist yet he himself was a chickenhawk and never served in uniform.

  9. seydlitz: "As to Cruiser Rules, the British had ordered their merchant ships to ram the Uboots if they surfaced in February 1915, that is against the rules."

    Might I rephrase this to read: "As to Cruiser Rules, the British had ordered their merchant ships to ram the Uboots if they surfaced in February 1915, thereby making merchant ships combatant vessels ."

    Effectively, by ordering captains to ram German vessels, the ship becomes a weapon, or the Cruiser Rules category of warships and merchant ships that are a threat to the attacker and thus may be sunk without warning. If this directive was perceived to extend to passenger vessels carrying cargo, then........

  10. Well, yes that is essentially how I see it Al. They would lose their status as non-combatants.

    As to mike's question as to why no follow-up of the Guardian article for last year . . . in whose interest is it to show that the Lusitania was actually carrying war munitions that exploded and caused the secondary explosion? What I found interesting was there was no mention of this in the Fortune article . . .

  11. Seydlitz;

    I thought that one of the main points of the Fortune article was that Mr Bemis wanted to open up the Lucy in order to prove that she carried war materials.

    In whose interest is it to show that she did in fact carry war munitions??? Good question. Bemis for one, with lots of other possibilities.

  12. It is fascinating, but whats even more interesting is that article...if Lucy has unexploded munitions...could make for a hazardous "salvage" operation. I wonder though, how good a shape is she in considering time, and pressure. Titanic is still intact enough to run a ROV through it, perhaps the same can be done with Lucy?


  13. Hi sheerakhan;

    Apparently they have not been able to get an ROV inside yet.

    Another interesting point though is that in the same month of May 1915,the British government fell. One of the reasons cited was the 'Shell Scandal'.

    Makes you wonder what was in the cargo hold of Lucy. But we won't know until they get inside her.

  14. Mike,
    it's strange that we talk of this event as a war crime, but yet in WW2 the US employed exactly the same tactic of unlimited sub warfare against the Japanese.
    in 1 war it's a causi belli and in another its an accepted procedure.
    best to you,

  15. Jim - Well said!

    Grand-Admiral Donitz, the man who conceived the Wolfpack, was put on trial at Nuremberg. The Brits wanted him charged with the crime of unrestricted submarine warfare. But the Brits themselves had used unrestricted warfare in the Skagerrak during the war sinking any shipping in that area regardless of nationality (including neutral Swedish ships).

    Donitz's lawyer, formerly a German Navy judge, introduced a written affidavit from US CNO Admiral Nimitz, who had been Commander of the US Pacific Fleet during the war. "Nimitz stated that from the very first moment of war, American submarines conducted an unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan. With that statement by one of their own military commanders, the Allied judges could not condemn Dönitz for unlawful warfare."

    However they got him anyway - for ten years. Couldn't let Hitler's heir skate completely.

    Court TV did an interesting piece on it also:

    I need to check the local library to see if they have a copy of his memoirs: Memoirs - Ten Years Twenty Days

  16. Mike,
    a brief comment.
    there is some who believe that the British gov't allowed the L. to be sunk in order to draw the US into the war on the British Empires side.

  17. Jim -

    I have heard that theory. But as perfidious as the Brits are IMHO not even they were devious enough for that.