The Lusitania


The Lusitania Essay, Research Paper

On June 7, 1906 the world was marveled by the size and speed of the Lusitania on it’s maiden voyage. On the trip it set a record speed of 25.88 knots, with an average of 24 knots. During its time it was the largest translantic service ship, measuring at 760 feet long and 87.5 feet high, and weighing in at 32,000 tons. It was not only known for its size, but also for it’s luxury. The architecture was compared to the world’s finest hotels, and it was given the names of,

“The Floating Palace” and, “The Grey Hound of the Seas”. All of this put together into one ship made The Lusitania the favorite ship of Atlantic travelers.

The last journey for the Lusitania started in the New York harbor where it set sail headed for Liverpool. In command of the ship for the voyage was Captain William Thomas Turner. On board the ship was almost 2,000 people, and $77,695.19 worth of cargo, this included six million rounds of ammunition and explosives intended to be sold to England.

On May 7, 1915 the Lusitania was attacked by a German U-Boat just south of Kinsale Ireland.

Receiving a warning in the area that the Lusitania was traveling Captain Turner took many precautions to try to avoid an attack. This was not the first time that Turner or the Lusitania had needed to bypass a confrontation from a submarine. He wanted to divert his ship to another course, but he was not able to do this without specific instructions from either the Admiralty or a British war ship. Because of this he just had to do the best he could. He ordered all the lifeboats to be swung out on their davits, and their canvas covers removed. Double lookouts were posted, all watertight doors and bulkheads not essential to the working of the ship had been closed. The stewards were ordered to blackout all the passenger’s portholes and the passengers themselves were asked to not show any unnecessary lights. There wasn’t much else for Turner to do so he joined the passengers for dinner. After the dinner normally people would have a smoke with cigars. Turner asked the passengers though to not light any of their cigars on the deck, but only in closed quarters.

With all the precautions and lookouts, the Lusitania still never knew what hit her because of a fog that had drifted over the water. It was hit by three torpedoes on the starboard side. Water rushed in the ship at a rate of 3 3/4 tons per minute. After four minutes the deck was under water, and after eighteen minutes the whole ship was down. Out of the forty-eight life boats, only six were launched. This helped cause the 1,198 deaths which included 128 Americans. Only 764 people survived.

An inquiry and investigation done by Lord Mersey further explained the many reasons of the sinking and the even more outstanding number or deaths. A major reason led back to the huge engine and boilers, they left no room for the 6,6000 tons of coal. They decided to put all of the coal in the longitudinal compartments. At the time it had been an accepted idea to have the coal stored there to help absorb shots. Back then no one thought of the reaction it would have with mines or torpedoes. Now we also realize that this destroyed the whole purpose of compartments for buoyancy and balance. Another problem the coal caused was that at the time of the attack all of the coal was all used up. The coal left behind compartments filled with very flammable and combustible coal dust. Some say this may have been the third explosion felt by the passengers in the attack, instead of a third torpedo.

Lord Mersey found more problems the coal inflicted on the Lusitania. The longitudinal compartments were not made for holding the coal so special watertight hatches were added. The hatches were controlled by Stokers and were very hard to close because of the weight of coal and coal, and also the dust that ground in to hinges. The failure to be able to close the hatches allowed water to pour into the compartments becoming a prime factor in the increased rate of the sinking ship. The designer of the Lusitania Leonard Peskett did however realize if the coal bunkers water would enter the portholes as the ship sank. Peskett put in watertight doors on deck F that were controlled by a switch on the bridge, or a manual override that could be used below. The problem was there was no record of the passengers being taught to use the manual override leaving people below deck F trapped.

The failure to launch life boats became a prime factor in the loss of life. The boats sat when not in use eight feet above deck and sixty-eight feet from the water. During the attack the boat tilted to the starboard side because of the torpedoes. This left all the boats on the port side unable to be let down into the water because they would hit the deck. Some of the crew tried to lower them anyway and that is exactly what happened. Not only did it hit the deck though, it also hit the people standing on it. Captain Turner tried to flood the port side to balance the ship. When that didn’t work Turner desperately ran along the deck through the mass confusion trying to stop this from happening. He watched three boats all do the same thing before he finally was able to stop the crews mistake. When Turner finally let some of the boats down in the water, the headway was to strong and it capsized many of the boats.

Proper safety measures were obviously not taught to the passengers. Not only did they not know how to open the watertight doors, but the improperly put on life jackets caused hundreds more deaths that would have been saved. The water was not cold like in the sinking of the Titanic, but the water was actually a comfortable temperature. The SOS call was followed up after only a couple of hours. Mostly it was the poor job of using life jackets is what killed the people in the water.

Luck was not on the side of the Lusitania for who they were up against. Lieutenant Waltehr Schwieger was in command of the German U-20 submarine. Schwieger was known as a good officer with a lot of potential. Schwieger didn’t have much confidence in his torpedoes but with the coal dust helping the explosions it quickly reassured him.

The sinking of the Lusitania greatly upset the American people. Many Americans were ready to march over to Europe right then, and get involved in the war. The government held back though and just used it as propaganda saying how Germany would sink passenger ships. The Germans on the other hand said it was America’s fault in the first place. Germany said that America was using the passengers as a shield so that they wouldn’t blow it up. Germany also had sent out warnings to all people boarding passenger ships saying,”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 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 of 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.”

Even though the tremendous loss of life was partly due to the lack of U.S. standard in safety regulations, the U.S. people still saw the sinking of the Lusitania was Germany’s fault even with their warning to the U.S. The sinking became one of the prime factors to the U.S.’s involvement in WWI.

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