Contraband

As seen in the cargo manifestLusitania was carrying small arms munitions, which by themselves would not have been enough to sink the ship if detonated.  The cargo manifest also shows aluminum powder, that, if thrown into the air by the torpedo impact, is explosive at the right concentrations (O’Sullivan, 1998).  Simpson’s allegations that the cheese and furs were munitions in disguise can be discounted as the furs were actually washed ashore on Ireland following the Lusitania sinking (Ballard and Dunmore, 1995).

The more detailed supplementary cargo manifest, however, shows that the Lusitania was indeed carrying shrapnel shells in her hold. Beesly’s Room 40 (1982) and Simpson’s The Lusitania (1972) cite the supplementary cargo manifest as showing that the Lusitania was carrying fuses near her stern refrigerators and empty shrapnel shells in the forward magazine. This arrangement deviates from the cargo manifests of previous voyages that show fuses and filled shrapnel shells stored together in the forward magazine.

To Beesly, the fact that cargo manifest from the last crossing is different from previous manifests is suspicious and suggests a government cover-up. If the fuses had been in the forward magazine, this would be a problem if the filled shrapnel shells meant “filled with gunpowder.” A reaction with fuses stored nearby due to torpedo impact would have caused an explosion. On the other hand, if filled shrapnel shells merely meant “filled with shrapnel,” an explosion would not have happened.

Regardless of whether the torpedoing would have caused the shells to detonate, any such speculation would certainly have been unwelcome and unfavorable to the British.  Therefore, altering the details of cargo manifest, by emptying the shrapnel shells and placing the shells and fuses as far apart on the ship as possible, so that the last cargo manifest does not resemble the previous ones, would silence any such speculation.

Counter to Beesly’s theory, the Royal Artillery Regiment’s Historical Trust has confirmed to the Lusitania Historical Society that the fuses for the shells were stored separately in the aft. At the same time, the Royal Artillery Regiment’s Historical Trust has also stated that the shrapnel shells were shipped with their propellant charges fitted, and were thus, live. Each shell therefore contained 1.25 lbs of Cordite MD, in addition to its burster charge. The shells, listed as being 1,248 cases of shrapnel were placed in the forward hold, just below the baggage room, and were transported in unlined softwood crates.

Ballard’s 1994 expedition concluded that the point of torpedo impact would have been in the forward coal bunker between the foremost boiler room and the magazine, and not in either the boiler rooms or magazine.  Of course, the advanced state of deterioration of the wreck by 1994 and the fact that the ship is lying on the side of impact makes the evidence for this conclusion circumstantial. It remains possible that the torpedo did hit the magazine and triggered the second explosion, but, such a claim will probably never be able to be confirmed.

Simpson has claimed that this forward coal bunker had been converted into a secondary magazine prior to Lusitania‘s last voyage.  Such a conversion, which would have allowed for another possible alignment of torpedo and munitions, has been refuted by other Lusitania scholars (Sauder, personal communication).

Contributor:
Mitch Peeke, UK
Eric Sauder, USA

References:
Lusitania supplementary cargo manifest. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Archive/Lusitania Online.

Ballard, Dr. Robert D. and Spencer Dunmore.  Exploring the Lusitania.  Warner Books, 1995.

Beesly, Patrick.  Room 40.  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982.

O’Sullivan, Patrick.  The Lusitania:  Unravelling the Mysteries.  Collins Press, 1998.

Peeke, Mitch, Kevin Walsh-Johnson, and Steve Jones. The Lusitania Story.  US Naval Institute Press, 2003.

Simpson, Colin.  The Lusitania.  Little, Brown, and Company, 1972.

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