Okay, so I have this THING about Shipwrecks. Yesterday marked the 35th anniversary of the Edmond Fitzgerald sinking, which got me poking around the interwebs about ship sinking stuff, and inevitably I found mention of the Lusitania. When I was a kid the Titanic was found by Dr. Ballard, and I remember being glued to my TV watching the footage of the robotic submarine swimming around and picking up things like staircases, shoes, and silverware on the ocean floor. I realized that there was similar stuff for the Lusitania, I’d just never seen it. So yesterday I sought it ought!
And now stay tuned for Hillary’s nerd out Lusitania thing!
The Lusitania was sunk during WWI (May 7, 1915). There were 1959 people on board – 1257 passengers, 702 crew. When she went down, 1198 people died including nearly 100 children. She was sunk by a German submarine called U-20. Now, her being sunk is not such a big freaking surprise. I think 2/3 of all ships in the early 1900’s were sunk in European waters thanks to the Germans. No one figured out how to combat the U-boats til sometime in WW2 if I have my history right. But the Lusitania sinking stands out for a few things that are just plain odd.
1) There was a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that if the Germans were sinking a merchant or passenger ship? They let the people get off first. They did not let this happen with the Lusitania, possibly because the British Navy was telling ship captains “if you’re about to be torpedoed, charge your boat at the submarine”. A ship the size of Lusitania making impact with a u-boat? Yeah, the Lusitania might have won that collision.
2) When the orders came down from the Germans to sink the Lusitania, the quartermaster of the U-20 refused to give the order to the torpedo crew because the Lusitania had women and children on board. Because of this, he was court-martialed and sent to prison for 3 years.
3) The survivors of the Lusitania’s sinking gave the same accounting of what they heard – two huge explosions right in a row. One would obviously be a torpedo hitting. The second explosion? Well, no second torpedo was launched, so history’s mysteries! Where did the second explosion come from.
4) Previous to the Lusitania sailing, some odd changes were made to her structure. One: she flew no flag. Two: her name was darkened out with dyes so you couldn’t see her ship name, and three: she got some black paint up top she never had before.
And now it’s tinfoil hat time! The Titanic took two hours and forty minutes to sink. The Lusitania took . . . 18 minutes. And I believe the wreckage was found only 11 miles off the coast of Ireland – kinda sad that they got that close and so many people died. The death toll was so high because only 6 lifeboats got launched and the ship went down that damned fast. But the big mystery has always been “What was that second explosion”. The Germans said it was because the boat was carrying munitions (and thus their justification of sinking it in the first place), the British claimed no, no it was just a passenger ship.
Trials happened, fingers pointed, all in all it was decided the Germans were a bunch of heartless dicks for sinking a boat with little kids on it. No surprises there. What was a surprise, though, was stuff found in the 50’s and as recent as 2009.
– In the 1950’s, just as ship salvaging technology became available, a group of unmarked ships went out and bombed the shit out of the Lusitania’s carcass. The British government has always claimed ignorance, but Irish fishermen said plainly they could see and hear the bombing going on.
– The ship’s remains were purchased by an American millionaire named Gregg Bemis. He teamed up with a ship salvaging company in 2007 and did a dive with a mechanical submarine team (as shown in the Discovery Channel show Treasure Quest). Bemis’s theory was that Lusitania WAS carrying munitions, and the second explosion was caused by the torpedo hitting the cargo bay and igniting the munitions. He based this theory on weirdness on the ship’s cargo manifest. For example: the ship claimed to have 700 crates of butter . . . stored in a non refrigerated cargo bay. That makes no sense. The same was said of oysters. His theory was that these were cover up items for what was really being transported, which was ‘SPLOSIVES.
So they go out and examine the Lusitania. It’s in rough shape for a couple reasons, primarily the bombing that happened 50 years ago making it look like Swiss cheese, but secondly because of illegal fishing done in the area. The whole shipwreck is COVERED in nets. It sorta gimped their underwater exploration because that submarine is worth more than the GNP of some small countries, so they couldn’t risk it getting tangled in nets. What this dive DID accomplish, though, is twofold.
– They found undetonated bombs on the surface of the Lusitania. It was a bomb make specific to the British at the time. Is it hard proof that the Royal Navy did it? No, but it doesn’t look good for them.
– The second hole where the second explosion came from. Remember, it’s theorized that the second explosion happened internally after the torpedo hit accounting for the fast sinking.
So Bemis decides he’s gonna return with divers, which he did in 2009. The divers head down into that hole and start poking around. Aaaaand find 15000 rounds of ammunition almost immediately. From visual investigation and looking at similar crates? They make a conservative guess that there’s maybe four MILLION rounds of ammunition in there. Yeah, and none of it was on the cargo manifest. Soooo the Lusitania did in fact have shit on it that wasn’t accounted for. It’s really not all that hard to believe that the second explosion was internal anymore.
Another thing Bemis pointed out (along with other historians of this sort of thing) was that the Lusitania had a sister ship called the Mauratania which actually WAS being used in combat at the time. And when they repainted the Lusitania? Yeah, she sorta LOOKED a lot like her sister ship. So! Tinfoil hat theorists are claiming that not only did the British government try to cover up what the Lusitania actually held in its cargo bay by trying to bomb the evidence to bits, but they’re saying they practically COURTED a bombing by the Germans so they could . . . use the tragedy to get the United States to join in WWI. Guess what, if that is true, and that was their goal? It worked. Posters all over the US told men to join up and to “Remember the Lusitania”.
So no one’s outright saying the Brits spoon fed 1200 people to the Germans in 1915. They’re just suggesting it. And starting to back it up with some pretty ugly evidence.