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Remembered Today:

Lusitania


kenneth505
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Thought I'd share a link to my local newspaper which has a front page article today about Greg Bemis and the Lusitania.

The article is here from the Santa Fe New Mexican.

It is a different perspective then what was available a couple months ago when there was coverage on this topic in British press. Bemis is a home owner here in Santa Fe, may still be a resident and used to pen an opinion column for this newspaper. As such there seems to be more of a slant for Bemis' position then was evident in the recent articles in the Telegraph, for one, around the time the National Geo Television program aired.

As was mentioned in a previous thread on this forum, at that time the press on the UK/Ireland side seemed to put to bed the 'second explosion' causes. Arguing, seemingly convincingly, that it was a boiler explosion. This article attempts at least to refute them. This article asserts as accepted fact that at least three elements of cargo, .303 rifle ammunition - 3 million rounds, gun cotton and aluminium dust, were present and thus implies the ship was a nomially valid target.

I do not know and have not met Mr. Bemis. Can certainly see why continued controversy on the topic could be useful. Can also believe that the facts have not been firmly established. Do wonder why the Irish Government is so reticenct to allow more exploration. Yes it's a somber relic of a great catastrophe, a tomb, a familial resting place. But haven't many other locations fitting that description been fully examined and laid to rest again? Am I insensitive or missing a crucial point on this? I find myself considering the Ossuary at Verdun. How much more powerful a symbol that is for it's aggregation. Yes there are obvious differences and challenges w/an ocean site versus land based.

Also thought the article interesting in the tired old assertion, early in the piece; "The event was indeed momentous. One thousand one hundred ninety eight people died and outrage over the ostensibly unprovoked attack on innocent civilians, including Americans, led the U.S. into war against Germany two years later." Just two short years from torpedo to 'Over There.' This is sadly all many Americans know, if that, about our involvement in The Great War. As if the sinking of the Lusitania was on a par with 9/11 in terms of a direct cause and effect for US involvment.

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I've seen Mr. Bemis' programme on the telly. He claims to be trying to establish the facts, but what he seems to be trying to establish is the facts as he wants them to be. I speculate that he wants to establish the view that the tragedy stemmed from British smuggling of war materials on board the Lusitania, and the use of civilians including US citizens as human shields, perhaps as a component of a conspiracy theory to bring the US into the war.

Whatever materials were aboard, the civilian passengers will not have known it was there and must be regarded as innocent. Schwieger will have known that. The decision to launch the torpedo was his, and without it those people wouldn't have died.

Regards,

MikB

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I've seen Mr. Bemis' programme on the telly. He claims to be trying to establish the facts, but what he seems to be trying to establish is the facts as he wants them to be. I speculate that he wants to establish the view that the tragedy stemmed from British smuggling of war materials on board the Lusitania, and the use of civilians including US citizens as human shields, perhaps as a component of a conspiracy theory to bring the US into the war.

Whatever materials were aboard, the civilian passengers will not have known it was there and must be regarded as innocent. Schwieger will have known that. The decision to launch the torpedo was his, and without it those people wouldn't have died.

Regards,

MikB

And Schweiger didn't know they were there (if they were) either. He just shot at a liner.

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I've been involved with quite a few documentaries of this ilk, and regularly come across people (including Gregg Bemis) who argue their position quite passionately. Whatever their case or motive it can still make for a fascinating programme, provided that the director keeps everything in proportion, although there is also a tendency among broadcasters to come up with a programme balanced to suit their particular audience, which therefore leaves so much excellent material on the cutting room floor. It can be damn frustrating but at the end of the day they are the ones paying for it and it has to fit in with their schedules, so it’s hard to argue with that. On the other hand, although the experiments in this particular programme may ultimately have proved inconclusive, to a certain extent we should take some comfort from that, knowing that the results have not been glossed-over or disregarded in order to prove a particular theory.

There have been previous expeditions to the wreck. In 1993 Bob Ballard even reported Lusitania’s magazine as being completely intact (arguing against an explosion of munitions) but almost twenty years later the ongoing controversy prompted National Geographic to invest another sum in excess of $1,000,000 (so the article implies) to solve the riddle – although including the production costs, etc. I would not be at all surprised if the actual figure was closer to double that.

While the story of the Lusitania remains a controversial subject, to my parochial mind the known facts are pretty inescapable. Lusitania’s own manifest indicates that she was carrying small-arms ammunition (.303 calibre bullets, some of which have been recovered), shell casings and fuzes. Even though these items were not in themselves illegal, their mere existence could be used to justify Germany’s claim that the ship was carrying war materials, even if the claim that she carried mounted guns as an armed merchant cruiser was more fanciful. It can therefore be argued (and here’s the controversial bit) that Lusitania would have been a legitimate target.

I’m not personally inclined towards the clandestine cargo theory, but for me it is the manner of the ship’s sinking which remains controversial. Kapitanleutnant Schwieger had no idea what lay in the Lusitania’s cargo holds and although he may have had the moral right to sink her in the event that he had definite knowledge on the matter, the bottom line is that he didn’t have that information. All he saw was a four-funnelled steamer through his periscope, meaning that it could only have been one of four ships on the British mercantile marine register. Of these four ships, only one was in commercial service at that time, with the other three (Mauretania, Olympic and Aquitania) being laid up. Okay Aquitania had briefly served as an AMC in August 1914, but the Admiralty had quickly come to the conclusion that such large ships were wholly unsuited to the role and for the next eight months the larger liners had not been utilised.

Had Schwieger surfaced and given the warning to which Lusitania was legally entitled at that time then the British would not have had a leg to stand on. The bottom line, though, is that he attacked without warning. We can speculate that this was because he may have been mindful of the recent standing instruction to British merchant marine skippers to attempt to ram a surfaced submarine if possible, but the facts are that all along Schwieger knew that he was attacking a passenger steamer. Whether another U-boat skipper would have declined the opportunity might be an interesting discussion, but to my mind Schwieger will always be the key factor in this particular episode.

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Simon, I agree that the programme's producers kept a balanced view, but it seemed to me that Mr. Bemis accepted this only grudgingly.

If I've understood your view, I agree with you that the decision Schwieger took outweighs anything we may or may not find out about Lusitania's cargo and the second explosion. That decision, like the decision to bomb civilians from the air, changed warfare permanently from the more regulated affair it had been - between Europeans at any rate - during the 19th century.

Nevertheless, Schwieger was just the point man - I think if it hadn't been him and Lusitania, it would probably have been some other U-boat commander and some other passenger steamer.

Regards,

MikB

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Simon, I agree that the programme's producers kept a balanced view, but it seemed to me that Mr. Bemis accepted this only grudgingly.

If I've understood your view, I agree with you that the decision Schwieger took outweighs anything we may or may not find out about Lusitania's cargo and the second explosion. That decision, like the decision to bomb civilians from the air, changed warfare permanently from the more regulated affair it had been - between Europeans at any rate - during the 19th century.

Nevertheless, Schwieger was just the point man - I think if it hadn't been him and Lusitania, it would probably have been some other U-boat commander and some other passenger steamer.

Regards,

MikB

Mik,

You're right, I haven't seen the programme so that puts me at a definite disadvantage when it comes to discussing the specifics in this case. All I can say is that I have been involved with with a lot of documentaries or discussions of this sort, and it's not uncommon for some people expressing an opinion to highlight anything that supports their case, and gloss over anything that works against them. That's where a reputable broadcaster will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, although it has to be said that they also like to tell the human story as well, and sometimes concentrating on an individual's response (good or bad) can add to the drama. Important tip: If you're being filmed for a documentary then, remembering the scene from Young Frankenstein, always accept your failures as well as your successes with "calm, dignity and grace!" :mellow:

Yes, ultimately I do think that Schwieger was the king pin in this particular episode, although it doesn't necessarily absolve Captain Turner from some of the decisions that he took, but like so many Lusitania-related threads these issues can be pretty divisive. As to the likelihood of another U-boat skipper taking the same course of action as Schwieger, that could well be, but at the same time there were U-boat skippers who demonstrated greater forbearance. One who comes to mind is Hans Rose: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Rose

Who knows, if he had been in command of the U-20 then history could have been very different...

S.

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But there again it could have been Rudolf Schneider, captain of the U24. He had no compunction in sinking RMS Arabic, which was an unarmed passenger liner sailing from New York to Liverpool in September 1915. My Grandfather was ship's printer onboard. He arrived home in his whites, having lost all his possessions. .The ship sank in ten minutes. Forty crew and three passengers drowned. This was probably the moment which tipped the balance of the USA entering the war as the passengers included American citizens.

See SS Arabic (1902) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia for more details.

The ship was sunk off the coast of Ireland quite close to where RMS Lusitania was sunk.

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This was probably the moment which tipped the balance of the USA entering the war as the passengers included American citizens.

I don't think I can agree with this. Wilson 'kept us out of war, he deserves four more' was at least what the popular press was feeding on up to the 1916 elections. The resumption of unrestricted u-boat activity in spring 17 seems much more immediate to the April decision. But even without that I suspect America would have entered the war although I'm sure I could not say exactly how or why.

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But there again it could have been Rudolf Schneider, captain of the U24. He had no compunction in sinking RMS Arabic, which was an unarmed passenger liner sailing from New York to Liverpool in September 1915. My Grandfather was ship's printer onboard. He arrived home in his whites, having lost all his possessions. .The ship sank in ten minutes. Forty crew and three passengers drowned. This was probably the moment which tipped the balance of the USA entering the war as the passengers included American citizens.

See SS Arabic (1902) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia for more details.

The ship was sunk off the coast of Ireland quite close to where RMS Lusitania was sunk.

Which is exactly why I hate hypothetical discussions...

Donald, I have a friend in Northern Ireland who is doing a lot of research into the Arabic -- a few years back I even had to dig out a few records at Kew for him. Do you have any stories about your grandfather or even some of his old White Star Line possessions, and if you do then could I put you in touch?

Simon.

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Hi Simon,

Unfortunately that's as far of my Grandfather's wartime maritime career that I know of. It did infuriate him so much that he had volunteered for the army by the end of the year (Dec 1915). He wasn't called up until April 1917 so the experience didn't put him off going to sea..... Needs must!

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A slight but somewhat related tangent: yesterday, a minor family mystery solved. My grandmother had a scrapbook that contained a very early postcard of the Lusitania that, when I was a dumb teenager, I removed (it was already coming loose anyway). Shortly thereafter I misplaced it. Fast forward 23 years, and the long-lost postcard has been found, miraculously in with my father's stamp collection!

488184_3981230321829_1700950508_n.jpg

The card was posted in December 1907.

As far as the point being debated, I am of the mind the ship was indeed carrying munitions (operation Rancid Butter), but the point about the u-boat not knowing that is the takeaway.

-Daniel

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As far as the U Boat capt. not knowing. Couldn't there have been a spy network at the docks reporting?

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As far as the U Boat capt. not knowing. Couldn't there have been a spy network at the docks reporting?

Even if there had been (and I don't think I've heard any evidence there was) he would still have known that nearly all the people he was going to kill were not complicit.

Regards,

MikB

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"War is cruelty. There's no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is the sooner it will be over"

"It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the

wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell"

Respectfully,

Joe R

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Spot on Joe, it is the leisure- time- strategists that amuse me who can not put oneself in someone's shoes, because they have no clue what split second deliberations must go on in a commanders head when decisions are imminent*. I can sing a song of these restricted primitive states one's brain has to cope with in times of exceptional circumstances.(Hope everybody understands what I liked to express in proper English language)

egbert,

serving my military 38 years with lots of life threatening split-second-emergency-decisions to include warzone, who retrospectively proofed right or utterly wrong.

* let me assure you that a final deadly decision can be a series of split second decisions, where each single new information may either distract you from the real thing or reinforces your previous, right or wrong, assumption. Its a constant string of new challenges. I had lived own cases in very fast moving air defense situations where it took more than 15 minutes to finalize and incorporate all previous, numerous incoming informations into one single and irreversible "split second-decision". And yes, in all militarys of the world commanders are expected and trained to make decisions quickly-right or wrong, but do it!

Edited by egbert
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To a certain extent I would agree with that although the fact is (particularly in this day and age) that these split-second decisions are open to scrutiny. I can understand that some people are obliged to make them in life-and-death situations but when the lives of over a thousand people are involved then a degree of examination and accountability is not unreasonable – so long as all the factors involved are fairly considered...

Even so, Schwieger’s decision was not the result of a split-second calculation. If my transcript of the U20 log is correct (Raiders of the Deep by Lowell Mason; 1929) then a period of approximately fifty minutes elapsed between Schwieger first sighting the Lusitania and firing his torpedo:

2.20 p.m. Directly in front of us I sighted four funnels and masts of steamer at right angles to our course, coming from south-southwest and going toward Galley Head. It is recognised as a passenger steamer.

2.25. Have advanced eleven metres towards the steamer, in hope it will change its course along the Irish coast.

2.35 Steamer turns, takes direction to Queenstown, and thereby makes it possible for us to approach it for shot. We proceed at high speed in order to reach correct position.

3.10 Torpedo shot at distance of 700 metres, going 3 metres below the surface. Hits steering centre behind bridge…

Based on the above log, it’s difficult to portray Schwieger’s dilemma as a split second-decision. He saw a passenger steamer and then proceeded at high speed to take up an attacking position before firing his torpedo, almost an hour after first sighting his target.

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Really, the more you look at this event the more you can find fault with pretty much everyone except the passengers. If the allied governments at the time had not been shipping munitions and other war materials on passenger ships, the Germans probably would not have had the inclination to sink them, at least this early in the war. Of course, as I said previously, until someone produces a smoking gun-type document that tells the Captain that Lucy's stuffed full of ammo, the sinking responsibility lies with the u-boat Captain.

I know, this is all a lot of Monday Morning Quarterbacking, but them's my two pfennig.

-Daniel

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The warrior's defence of a split-second decision made in the face of death doesn't wash here.

It's reasonable to speculate that the factors uppermost in Schwieger's mind were:-

The big potential boost to his tonnage sunk

The misery and lamentation brought to the homes of his enemies

The fear of contempt from comrades and superiors if he refrained.

Regards,

MikB

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Even so, Schwieger’s decision was not the result of a split-second calculation. If my transcript of the U20 log is correct (Raiders of the Deep by Lowell Mason; 1929) then a period of approximately fifty minutes elapsed between Schwieger first sighting the Lusitania and firing his torpedo:

2.20 p.m. Directly in front of us I sighted four funnels and masts of steamer at right angles to our course, coming from south-southwest and going toward Galley Head. It is recognised as a passenger steamer.

2.25. Have advanced eleven metres towards the steamer, in hope it will change its course along the Irish coast.

2.35 Steamer turns, takes direction to Queenstown, and thereby makes it possible for us to approach it for shot. We proceed at high speed in order to reach correct position.

3.10 Torpedo shot at distance of 700 metres, going 3 metres below the surface. Hits steering centre behind bridge…

Based on the above log, it’s difficult to portray Schwieger’s dilemma as a split second-decision. He saw a passenger steamer and then proceeded at high speed to take up an attacking position before firing his torpedo, almost an hour after first sighting his target.

I have a feeling that their is more to the u-boat log than that quoted.

I am sure in another version there is an entry about checking the identity of the ship with a 1914 copy of "Janes" which had the Cunard Liners listed as auxillery cruisers. I cannot remember where I picked up this idea from, possibly a TV documentary on the sinking. It may not have been in the log but the transcript of a statement by Schwieger made after the event to justify his actions. However it does in some way sugest that the U-Boat Captain beleived he was attacking a ligitimate target.

bill

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I am sure in another version there is an entry about checking the identity of the ship with a 1914 copy of "Janes" which had the Cunard Liners listed as auxillery cruisers. I cannot remember where I picked up this idea from, possibly a TV documentary on the sinking. It may not have been in the log but the transcript of a statement by Schwieger made after the event to justify his actions. However it does in some way sugest that the U-Boat Captain beleived he was attacking a ligitimate target.

bill

Bill,

There is more to the log than I quoted; I just used the excerpts leading up to the attack.

Coincidentally Schwieger's personal description of the attack is in the same book (pages 96-97) as the log excerpt to which I referred. The information was apparently supplied to the author by another WWI U-boat ace (Max Valentiner) and was Schwieger's own description of the events to his colleagues. There is no mention of Janes in the text; merely that Schwieger saw a steamer approaching and that he took up a firing position.

The evidence does seem to confirm that Schwieger did not know that he was firing at the Lusitania and that there was only one torpedo, but the U20 log in itself pretty much confirms that he knew that it was a passenger steamer, and the fact that he recorded seeing four four funnels prior to the attack means that Schwieger would also have known that he was firing at a particularly big ship, of which there could only have been four possible candidates.

S.

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I think you are being quite naive to say that Kptlt. Schweiger was responsible for the decision to attack a passenger ship. Don’t you think this would have been discussed at the highest levels, along with the consequences of such an attack on a passenger ship? The German declaration of 4th February 1915 says:

“(1) The waters around Great Britain and Ireland, including the whole of the English Channel, are hereby declared to be a War Zone. From February 18 onwards every enemy merchant vessel encountered in this zone will be destroyed, nor will it always be possible to avert the danger thereby threatened to the crew and passengers. (2) Neutral vessels also will run a risk in the War Zone, because in view of the hazards of sea warfare and the British authorization of January 31 of the misuse of neutral flags, it may not always be possible to prevent attacks on enemy ships from harming neutral ships.”

Do you see that passengers are specifically mentioned? Germany fully disclosed its intensions with this declaration, and Kptlt. Schweiger was simply implementing this policy.

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The document referred to is not from U 20's log but rather from U 20's Kriegstagebuch (KTB, literally war diary). WWI U-boats kept both; KTBs are generally what researchers of U-boat operations use. The British captured the German naval archives at the end of World War II, the Americans were allowed to make a microfilm copy of the files, including virtually WWI U-boat KTBs. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration sells copies of these microfilms. In fact, they have taken it a step further in this case, as they have even posted a copy of the page of U 20's KTB on their website.

What Victory says above is correct — the rules of engagement that Schwieger was operating under allowed attacks on passenger vessels. He followed those ROE. The decision to issue those ROE and the consequences of Schwieger following them falls upon the German government, not Schwieger.

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What Victory says above is correct — the rules of engagement that Schwieger was operating under allowed attacks on passenger vessels. He followed those ROE. The decision to issue those ROE and the consequences of Schwieger following them falls upon the German government, not Schwieger.

Did those rules allow attacks on passenger ships or require them?

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Did those rules allow attacks on passenger ships or require them?

Do you have any military experience? If yes you may answer your Q by yourself- are you allowed to follow orders and apply RoE or are you required to do so?

And coming back to my earlier posted decision making process -

you can be 100% assured that the following facts influenced Schwieger's decision:

- RoE

- L. sailing without displaying her flag

- L. funnel camouflaged

- L. known to the German High Command since 1914 transports military cargo like explosives and ammo

- L. built with subsidies from the Admiralty and subsequently declared "Auxiliary Armed Cruiser" on 17.9.1914 reflected in the on-board "Kriegsschiff-Erkennungstafeln" (sort of ship recognition tables). It was known since 12 May 1913 that L. received special reinforced deck armament for accepting 12x 15cm guns, powder chamber and ammo storage holds for for her ship artillery

- (do not know whether Schwieger had the same intel knowledge than that of the German Navy Command with reflect of L's. cargo hold at last voyage)

- German Uboot captains knew of the Admiralty order for L. to ram and sink Uboots immediately when sighting

- of course Schwieger knew or even was involved in the discussions that went around in Germany for some time about how many German soldiers' can be killed with these amounts of infantry ammunition (Germany calculated that with such. cargo of some 5.4 million cartridges at a kill ratio of 3% a total of 150.000 soldiers in the trenches can be killed)

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Guest Paul Louden-Brown

Hi Simon,

Unfortunately that's as far of my Grandfather's wartime maritime career that I know of. It did infuriate him so much that he had volunteered for the army by the end of the year (Dec 1915). He wasn't called up until April 1917 so the experience didn't put him off going to sea..... Needs must!

Donald, I would be interested to know your Grandfather's full name. Researching RMS Arabic and have reconstructed her full passenger and crew lists for that last voyage. Alas no printer is listed, although all passenger vessels carried one, your Grandfather is probably listed (in my records) as 'steward'. Paul

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