Ifs and Buts of a Questionable History: The Lusitania Plots

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Artist’s impression of Lusitania’s last moments.

The world’s fastest passenger ship was sunk by a German submarine in May 1915, killing 1,200 people, mostly British. Despite hundreds of dives on the wreck of the Lusitania, which sits in 300 feet of water several miles off the south coast of Ireland, several mysteries have never been solved.

There is no doubt that the Lusitania was carrying small arms and ammunition, as machine gun ammunition and burst artillery shells are listed in its manifesto. In addition, evidence of them is scattered all over the seabed. The bigger question is whether it was carrying explosives and weapons much larger than those maintained by the Germans at the time. Although the Lusitania was hit by only one torpedo, it sank within 20 minutes. A second huge explosion was heard just after the torpedo struck, which could have been the engine room explosion when its steam cables were severed. Or maybe some illegal heavy ammunition exploded.

The Lusitania docked in New York on a previous voyage.

In the early 1940s, the Royal Navy dropped numerous hedgehog mortars on the wreckage, with an unexploded or two recovered. One opinion is that British ships mistook the wreck for a lurking Nazi submarine and, to be fair, there were plenty of them in Irish waters during WWII. Alternatively, the British tried to destroy as much of the wreckage of the Lusitania as possible in order to prevent divers from discovering too much. Many underwater explorers consider the attempted destruction to be deliberate.

Another mystery is why the submarine in 1915 managed to score a direct hit on the fastest ship afloat. Although Captain Turner of the Lusitania, who survived, refused to answer operational questions during the next court of inquiry, many surviving passengers and crew said the ship had deliberately slowed down as it approached. the Old Head of Kinsale on the Irish coast. It was unusual.

Some say it was because she needed to turn, but others point out that she did not zigzag (a common maneuver to avoid submarines in wartime) and that no ships of escort was sent to meet him. Some writers claim that Navy Chief Winston Churchill actually wanted the Lusitania sunk in order to bring America into war. 128 Americans died in the disaster, including American playboy Alfred Vanderbilt. But it was still two years before the United States intervened. Despite several unsuccessful attempts to reopen parts of the official investigation in Britain, silence has reigned in official circles ever since.

Controversies are common in major maritime tragedies, and the Titanic, three years ago, has its own pile of ifs and buts. But there is an unusual link between the two liners. Driver George Beauchamp was working under bridges when the Titanic hit the iceberg, but survived in one of the last lifeboats to leave the stricken liner. He was also aboard the Lusitania on her last fateful voyage and was rescued in the water by fishermen from the Irish mainland. After two disasters, he told his family, “I’ve had enough of big boats for a lifetime. He died in 1944, at the age of 72.


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