The Lusitania Resource > Controversies > A Liberal Coat of Whitewash

A Liberal Coat of Whitewash

While the rest of the world was engulfed in the First World War, the United States was officially a neutral country in 1915 that sold munitions to the British despite American neutrality laws.  Such actions were officially illegal, and anyone who facilitated such an action would be jailed.  In practice, however, sympathetic and business-attuned Americans ignored these regulations and knowingly allowed the British to ship war goods out of the USA on ships like Lusitania. The facts of the Lusitania's last crossing remain that the Admiralty did not do their utmost to protect the Lusitania, that Lusitania was carrying munitions under the guise of a passenger ship, and that the ship suffered from a second, unexplained explosion and sank bow-first in under 20 minutes.  While one cannot definitely say that the second explosion was caused by the munitions in the cargo hold, even the suggestion of it would have been damning to the British cause.  This, in combination with the aforementioned facts, would have blunted the horror of the German attack and brought into question Britain's practice of using women and children to ensure the delivery of their war cargo. With these revelations, United States could hardly be expected to continue to turn a blind eye to British munitions running practices, and Britain's much needed supply of war material would have been in serious danger of being cut. In light of this national threat, the inquests deliberately discarded testimony of witnesses who claimed that only one torpedo and an internal explosion sank the ship, and went on to destroy the reputation of second cabin passenger Joseph Marichal who claimed that munitions were the source of the second explosion.  The cargo manifests may have been deliberately changed to end any speculation that the cargo was explosive, regardless of the cause of the second explosion. Eager to absolve the Admiralty of negligence in handling Lusitania's last days, Churchill and Fisher were quick to pin as much blame on Captain Turner as possible, backdating Admiralty orders, distorting geography, and hiring the best legal talent to prove Captain Turner guilty.  The reputation of a man like Turner could hardly have mattered to Churchill and Fisher when the survival of Britain was at stake.  Lord Mersey, who presided over the inquest, however, was aware of the political sensitivities during wartime, and made sure that everyone on the British side came out whitewashed and that only the Germans were pronounced as the villains. And yet the story does not end there.  Certain documents and exchanges between Lusitania and the Admiralty, which undoubtedly would have painted the Admiralty as grossly negligent at best, remain classified to this day.  Researchers, authors, and the general public still do not have access to these documents, which begs the question, what about the Lusitania's last voyage still needs to be classified almost 100 years after her sinking? From Beesly's Room 40, page 122: "The mysterious signals between the Admiralty and the Lusitania between 5 and 7 May may well hold the answer.  The file seems to have been in the possession of the Admiralty as recently as 1972.  Now it has vanished again!" From Preston's Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy, page 384:
Many of the Cunard Company's Lusitania files disappeared under mysterious circumstances.  Some but not all of them have resurfaced and been purchased by the Cunard archives.  Official files in Britain, the United States, and Germany give tantalizing leads that then disappear.  Blank sheets inserted to preserve pagination sequences suggest that certain documents, like telegrams sent to and from the ship during her final voyage, have been removed.  The authenticity of certain "official" documents or alleged statements is open to question.

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