Final Crossing


Travellers 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 of 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 any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.

IMPERIAL GERMAN EMBASSY Washington, D.C. 22nd April 1915

The German Embassy issued the above warning, but it did not appear in newspapers until 1 May, the date of Lusitania’s sailing.  In a number of newspapers, this warning was printed next to an advertisement for Lusitania, leading to speculation that the Germans were intent on destroying Lusitania on this particular voyage.  The warning generated some excitement and some passengers did cancel, but the Cunard Company’s representative in New York City, Charles Sumner, and Lusitania’s captain, William Turner, dismissed the warning.  He explained to the press that Lusitania was too fast for any submarine to catch her, and the talk of torpedoes had been “the greatest joke” that he had heard in many days. Additionally, a number of prominent passengers, such as saloon passenger Alfred Vanderbilt, received cryptic telegrams the morning of the sailing, warning them not to sail.  These telegrams were dismissed as cranks.  Second cabin passengers Theodore and Belle Naish had heard of these telegrams, but Theodore told Belle that if the Germans truly were serious about destroying Lusitania, such telegrams would have been delivered to every single American passenger aboard. Lusitania was originally scheduled to leave New York at 10 a.m., but the Admiralty’s requisition of the passenger ship Cameronia led to the transfer of the latter ship’s 41 passengers and crew to Lusitania, delaying the Cunarder’s departure from New York by 2 hours.  Lusitania’s passengers had not been informed of the development, and saloon passengers Howard Fisher and Dorothy Conner speculated that the submarine threats had caused Captain Turner to lose his nerve. Lusitania departed New York for the last time at noon on Saturday, 1 May 1915, on crossing 202, also the return leg of voyage 101.  Shortly after departure, Staff Captain Anderson apprehended three German stowaways found hiding in a steward’s pantry.  Some versions of the story stated that the Germans had photographic equipment with them.  With the help of translator Adolph Pederson, Detective-Inspector William Pierpoint interrogated the Germans.  The Germans were uncooperative, stating only that they would show Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, “how to trim his navy.” Lusitania’s deck plans do not show a jail on board, so these stowaways were probably locked in an empty cabin below decks.  The presence of the Germans aboard was probably related to the espionage activities of Captain Boy-Ed, which were known for acts of sabotage with use of cigar-sized pipe bombs.  Scholars of Lusitania have also linked the German stowaways with waiter John Neil Leach, a known German sympathizer who found employment on Lusitania through family connections with Staff Captain Anderson. News of the ongoing war was of great interest to Canadian war correspondent and second cabin passenger Ernest Cowper, who crossed into first class every day to interview saloon passenger Elbert Hubbard, who was on his way to see Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. The war meant a rationing of coal and shortage of manpower, meaning that Cunard could not run Lusitania at her regular service speed.  Her fourth boiler room was shut down for reasons of economy and her top speed was reduced from 25.5 knots to 21-22 knots.  Even so, Lusitania’s reduced speed would have been faster than any submarine, submerged or on the surface.  Passengers such as saloon passengers Charles Lauriat and Lothrop Withington, who had been closely following the ship’s progress across the Atlantic, were disappointed as Lusitania’s slower than usual progress. Second cabin passenger Ian Holbourn thought it was important that passengers know proper evacuation procedures and how to put lifebelts on properly.  A deputation soon came to him on Tuesday, 4 May, ordering him to stop as he was upsetting the passengers.  On Wednesday, 5 May, Holbourn approached Captain Turner directly about the need for a lifeboat drill.  Saloon passenger George Kessler approached Turner about the same matter, but Turner found their interference unwelcome. On 6 May, Lusitania entered the war zone.  Captain Turner took what he thought were prudent precautions.  Turner ordered a blackout and covered up the skylights to the public rooms, posted double lookouts, closed the watertight doors, and swung out the lifeboats to facilitate quicker launching if needed.  These lifeboats happened to be swung out in the early hours of the morning, causing a racket that awoke some of the passengers. Saloon passenger Charles Frohman threw a party in his cabin that afternoon with the theater set of Rita Jolivet, Charles Klein, Justus Miles Forman, and Josephine Brandell.  Alfred Vanderbilt, Captain Turner, and Staff Captain Anderson all made appearances.  At about the same time, George Kessler also had a party with Fred and Mabel Pearson, Theodate Pope and Edwin Friend, Charles Lauriat, Goldiana Morell, Fred Gauntlett, Albert Lloyd Hopkins, and Samuel Knox.  Staff Captain Anderson made an appearance there as well, where Kessler pestered Anderson about why Captain Turner had not ordered a lifeboat drill for the passengers. That evening, saloon passengers Charles and Mary Plamondon celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary.  In third class, passengers John Welsh and Gerda Neilson, who had only met on board the ship, decided to get engaged that evening and that they would get married as soon as Lusitania reached Liverpool. The Seamen’s Charities concert took place that evening in the saloon lounge and music room.  Saloon and second cabin passengers mixed openly, and a number of the second cabin women, such as Charlotte Pye and Phoebe Amory, sold programs to raise funds for the charity.  During the concert, Captain Turner made an announcement that the ship was now in the war zone, and that passengers should not smoke on deck, lest their burning cigars be visible to any lurking submarines.  Saloon passenger Oliver Bernard had noted the social cliques in the room and mused that a submarine attack would finally get everyone to interact with each other. A pianist played Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano,” followed by a Scottish comedian whose jokes fell deaf on American ears.  The Welsh Choir sang Welsh songs and operatic arias.  A woman sang “When I Leave this World Behind.”  Actresses Josephine Brandell and Rita Jolivet to declined to perform. Captain Turner received two submarine warnings that evening, which Turner thought were incomplete and lacking details. Between Saturday, 1 May and Friday, 7 May, German submarines sank 23 merchant ships in the waters just south of Ireland, through which Lusitania was now sailing. News of none of these attacks reached Lusitania, despite specific requests from survivors of the SS Candidate, which had been sunk on 6 May. Around 6 a.m. on 7 May, Lusitania entered heavy fog.  Captain Turner posted extra lookouts.  Depth soundings were made as the ship approached Ireland, and at 8 a.m. the speed was reduced to 18, then 15, knots with the foghorn blaring. Saloon passenger and British Member of Parliament David Alfred Thomas was not amused by the ship advertising her presence to any potential nearby submarines. The fog began to lift around 10 a.m. and Lusitania sailed towards Ireland in calm seas under a bright, clear sky. Around 11 a.m., the Admiralty sent out a general warning that U-boats were active 20 miles south of Coningbeg Light Vessel.  Captain Turner, believing that this message meant that submarines were active farther from the coast, guided Lusitania closer to Ireland.  Passengers gathered on the port side deck as Ireland came into view. Second cabin passenger Daniel Virgil Moore noted that the ship was zigzagging to avoid submarines before resuming a straight path.  Turner received another message about 1 p.m., entirely erroneous in content, giving the impression that Lusitania had safely passed a submarine when passing Cape Clear. By and large the crossing was mostly routine and uneventful.  Saloon passenger Dorothy Conner complained of the boredom and hoped that they would get “some kind of thrill” on their approach to the British Isles. Officers on watch were puzzled by the complete lack of British patrols, cruisers, and destroyers coming to escort Lusitania to safety.  In previous wartime voyages, an escort ship would greet the Lusitania at this point and safely guide her to port.  This time, not a single escort or auxiliary was in sight. At 1:40 p.m. the Lusitania came upon the Old Head of Kinsale.  Turner knew where he was and remembered the Admiralty order to pass all ports at full speed, although some historians speculate that Turner may have intended to bring Lusitania into Queenstown to protect her from submarines.  Turner also knew that if he followed this directive, he would arrive at Liverpool ahead of high tide, meaning circling for hours outside of Liverpool, being vulnerable to attack. At 1:45 p.m., Turner changed course to 87 degrees East to fix the ship’s location, putting the ship directly in position for attack by the German submarine U-20.  Fireman John O’Connell, on deck at the time, thought it curious that Lusitania was steaming dead ahead and not taking and evasive precautions. The submarine U-20, which had been patrolling the seas south of Ireland for days, sinking the Earl of Lathom, SS Candidate, and SS Centurion, sighted Lusitania at 1:20 p.m. Greenwich Time (2:20 p.m. German time).  The U-20’s commander, Kapitanleutnant Walther Schwieger, ordered the submarine to submerge five minutes later to a depth of 11 meters. Observing Lusitania through the periscope, Schwieger did not think that his submarine and Lusitania would be in a line suitable for attack.  Then, Lusitania turned.  Seeing the opportunity, Schwieger brought U-20 into position.  At 700 meter range, Schwieger ordered one gyroscopic torpedo to be fired, running at a depth of 3 meters.

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