I'm pleased to welcome Greg Taylor to my blog today, to share with us the secrets of the Lusitania. Greg's book won the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction last year.
The Lusitania Cover Up
Nearly 100 years after the sinking of the RMS Lusitania the truth came out
By Greg Taylor
By Greg Taylor
On May 1st 2015, the British government archives at Kew released declassified documents. What documents are kept secret? Those which 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, which she did on her third Atlantic crossing with a speed of 23.99 knots.
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.
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.
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.
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 Kapitänleutnant Schwieger had fired only a single torpedo but it was important to blame only Imperial Germany since the Admiralty had withdrawn the Lusitania’s escort ship. 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 American into the war on the side of Britain.
What was in the documents released at Kew on the 99th anniversary of the sinking?
Under the 30 Year Rule, the British National Archive released internal memoranda between the Commonwealth Department and Ministry of War 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.
A new book, 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.