British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 2


Examined by the ATTORNEY-GENERAL.

215. Is your name Alfred Allen Booth?
- Yes.

216. Are you Chairman of the Cunard Line, the owners of the "Lusitania"?
- Yes.

217. After the outbreak of war was there any change made by the Company about running ships?
- Could you make that question a little more detailed?

218. Yes. It was said here yesterday that only certain of the boilers were used on the "Lusitania” during the voyage we are enquiring into?
- That change was made, not at the outbreak of the war, but in November, I think.

219. Tell us why the change was made?
- After the rush of homeward - bound American traffic was over, and that came to an end towards the end of October, it became a question as to whether we could continue running the two large steamers the "Lusitania” and the "Mauretania" at all or not. We went into the matter very carefully and we came to the conclusion that it would be possible to continue running one of them at a reduced speed, that is to say, that the traffic would be sufficient, but only sufficient to justify running one steamer a month if we reduced the expense.

220. You mean to run it with a profit, of course?
- To run it to pay expenses. We did not hope to make any profit, and as a matter of fact we did not make any profit.

221. What was the reduction of speed that you decided upon?
- We decided to run the "Lusitania," not the "Mauretania," at ¾ - boiler power, and that meant a reduction of speed from an average of about 24 knots to an average of about 21 knots.

222. I want to have it on the notes; that, of course, would result in a reduction of the consumption of coal?
- It would result in a considerable reduction in the total consumption of coal, and also a reduction in the number of men required for the crew, both of which were important.

223. The Commissioner: Did you say a reduction of 25 per cent. in speed?
- I said we ran her with ¾ - boiler power, and there was a reduction of 25 per cent. of boiler power, but that does not mean a reduction of 25 per cent. in speed.

224. Is the reduction from 24 to 21 knots equivalent to a reduction of 25 per cent. of boiler power?
- Yes.

225. I do not know how you calculate it; I should have called it a reduction of 1/6th?
- A reduction of 1/6th on the speed, but the power required for different speeds does not necessarily vary directly with the speed.

226. If you reduced the boilers from 24 to 21, would the effect of that be to reduce the speed 25 per cent.?
- No.

227. Then what is the 25 per cent. you speak of?
- 25 per cent. is the number of boilers out of the total number of boilers which were not used.

The Commissioner:
There were six not used.

The Attorney-General:
Five, my Lord.

It depends on whether you count double engine or single engine boilers.

228. It was I think put generally yesterday, but will you tell us exactly what was the reduction first in boiler power?
- My recollection is that the number of boilers used was 18 out of a total of 24, which is three-quarters, 75 per cent., and that as a matter of fact that reduction of power means bringing the speed down from 24 to 21 knots. That is a matter of fact; we knew it from the models made when the ship was built, and also from actual running experience when we have run the ship at reduced speed in the past.

229. The Commissioner: The number of boilers and the figures in reduction of speed, do not appear at sight to correspond?
- They never would. The higher the speed the greater the increase of power required. For instance, to run at 18 knots the ship requires very little over half full boiler power.

230. And every knot that you increase requires a larger percentage of driving power?
- That is right.

231. The Attorney-General: And a larger percentage in proportion, as I understand?
- Yes.

232. What reduction did the closing of these boilers make in the number of firemen and trimmers?
- It reduced the number of firemen and trimmers roughly in the same proportion: - 25 per cent; not exactly, because there are certain charge hands who would be necessary in any case, such as the Leading Stoker on the Watch, and so on.

233. Had the "Lusitania” made other voyages under the same conditions?
- She had been running under those conditions since November. May I put on the Notes the exact number of voyages, because I have it here - five voyages before the voyage on which she was lost.

234. Do you mean five voyages altogether, or five outwards and five homewards?
- Five round voyages.

235. With that boiler power you have told us, and we have been told that they got an average maximum speed of about 21 knots?
- That is right.

236. Is that as fast or faster than most Atlantic - going steamers?
- That is considerably faster than any Atlantic steamer which was running during last winter or is running now.

237. With reference to that, were you aware when the "Lusitania" was preparing for this voyage from New York to Liverpool of threats being made by the Germans to attack her with submarines?
- Do you refer to the threats advertised in the American papers?

238. I have not referred to anything in particular, I want to know whether you had information that threats were being made of her being attacked by submarines on this particular voyage?
- I do not think I heard anything about the special threats made in New York until the Sunday morning after she had sailed. I have been trying to remember whether I heard on the Saturday. I cannot remember whether I did, but I understand the threats were published in New York on the Saturday morning. Therefore, I do not think I could have heard until the Saturday evening at the earliest. I certainly remember knowing it on the Sunday but not on the Saturday.

239. Before that, had you had any information of submarines being on the route on which your ships were travelling?
- Yes.

240. After you learned that, did you have any consultation either amongst you and your directors or those employed by you as to whether it would be right or not to increase your speed?
- I should not generally put a subject of that kind down for specific discussion at a Board Meeting or a Committee Meeting of Directors. I am in constant touch with them every day and with my Managers, and I have no recollection now of any specific discussion on that point, I am quite sure if there had been we should have felt that we could not make any difference in our action. It was a question of either running the "Lusitania” at 21 knots or not running her at all; and I know my own view would have been strongly against withdrawing the ship entirely on the submarine threat, and I think that I must in conversation with my Directors have learned that that was also their view. Certainly, it was taken for granted as far as I am concerned.

241. Let me put this to you. Had you information that in reference to avoiding submarines speed was a matter of great importance?
- I had my own opinion that speed was a factor of great importance in avoiding submarines.

242. Had you also had skilled information about that?
- I do not think that is a matter on which I would require any skilled information.

243. Then may I take it that at the time the "Lusitania" left New York you were fully alive to the importance of the factor of speed in relation to the journey, so as to avoid submarine attack?
- Yes.

244. Being so alive to that, do you tell his Lordship that you had no consultation of your Board or any consultation as to whether you would, having regard to that fact, increase the speed for the journey by using the five boilers?
- That question, if it had arisen at all, would have arisen in February when the first submarine attacks were made, and my view and the view of my Directors was that the "Lusitania," being in fact the fastest ship that was running, the difference between 21 and 24 knots was not material so far as avoiding submarines was concerned.

245. Would you say the difference between 18 and 24 knots was not material?
- It is very difficult to say exactly where one would draw the line. No steamer so far as I know of over 14 knots had been caught by a submarine at all.

246. May I take it as the result of what you have told us, that while you were fully alive to the question of speed you had no special consultation as to whether you would increase the speed?
- That is right.

247. When did you first become aware of the announcement of the Germans that they were going to try and sink passenger vessels and merchant vessels with submarines - I mean as a declared policy?
- When the German submarine blockade was declared as a declared policy.

248. That was in March?
- That was in March, but as a matter of fact submarines had appeared in Liverpool Bay before that - in February, I think.

249. You became aware I suppose at the time the Germans issued their declared policy of the fact?
- Yes, I became aware of it when in fact they were doing it.

250. I was asking when you became aware of their declared policy. First I understand you knew submarines were infesting the route?
- Yes.

251. Then you afterwards became aware that it was the declared and announced policy of the German Government to try and sink passenger and merchant ships?
- Yes.

252. When that policy was announced, did you have any consultation with your colleagues as to whether you ought to make any change?
- Yes. We discussed it, but we were not prepared to make any change at all.

253. The Commissioner: The "Lusitania” was hit on the starboard side, was she not?
- Yes.

254. Have you any information at all as to whether she was pursued by the submarine. The submarine, you know, appeared on her starboard side?
- As far as I have been able to make the story out the submarine was not seen at all.

255. But was there any reason to suppose that she was pursuing the ship, as far as you know?
- I should say she cannot have been pursuing the "Lusitania." If she had been pursuing her she must have been on the surface and must have been seen.

256. The point is this - whether, supposing you had had the extra six boilers in commission so that you could have got up a speed of 24 knots, it would in this particular case have made any difference?
- I cannot see that it would. The submarine was in the right position.

257. Then I understand you to say that so far the experience of shipowners is that a submarine cannot effectively chase a boat that is making more than 14 knots?
- That had been the experience at that time, and I do not know of any other case since either.

258. Is it the experience of the present?
- I think so.

259. I do not know, but the "Falaba" was travelling at between 13 and 14 knots, and in that case the submarine was overtaking her fairly rapidly, and the evidence there was that the submarine was making about 18 knots?
- I knew of several cases of vessels of 14 knots that had been chased and got away.

260. The Attorney-General: You told me, I think, that the day after the "Lusitania" sailed you heard of the special threats by advertisement in America, I believe, to sink the "Lusitania"?
- Yes.

261. Did you after that take any steps?
- We were unable then to communicate with the ship in any way ourselves.

262. I only want to know what happened. Did you take any steps after that. You say you did not communicate with the ship?
- We could not communicate with the ship.

263. The Commissioner: Why not?
- Because only the Admiralty could communicate with the ship.

264. Could you not send a marconigram to the ship?
- No.

263. Why not?
- We could only ask the Admiralty to send a message for us.

266. You could do that?
- Yes.

267. The Attorney-General: Did you make any communication to the Admiralty?
- Not at that time.

268. Not till after the accident, I think?
- Not till the Friday morning.

269. The Commissioner: Were there any means on board of putting the six boilers in commission. Do you follow what I mean?
- Temporarily; they could not have been worked throughout the voyage.

270. But could you have got those six boilers at work by a message to the ship or would you have had to do something before leaving port?
- She would not have coal on board to make the voyage with full boiler power, and she would not have the crew to fire those extra boilers; that was out of the question.

271. The Attorney-General: Did your company give any special directions to your officers with reference to submarines?
- We discussed the submarine danger with the individual captains - either I or my immediate assistant in every case, but the discussion had necessarily to be of the nature of making sure that they realised what the general dangers were. We could not venture to give specific instructions when in an emergency they would be in possession of facts which could not be in our possession, and we felt it would be very dangerous to attempt to give specific instructions when the circumstances might make those instructions absolutely dangerous to follow.

272. May I take it your answer is that for the reasons you have given you gave no instructions?
- No specific instructions.

273. I do not know what you mean by that. Did you give any instructions?
- We discussed the general form the danger would take and the general methods whereby it could best be avoided. One of the particular points of course was the question of closing the watertight doors when in the danger zone, swinging out the boats, seeing that all the ports were closed, seeing that everything was ready in the boats; and another point was the danger of stopping in the danger zone to pick up a pilot or stopping at the Liverpool Bar to wait for the tide to rise.

274. Then may I take it that you did with Captain Turner discuss those points?
- Yes - not I, personally. In that particular instance it was the General Manager who did it.

275. But you are aware that it was done?
- Yes.

276. I suppose you received the Admiralty suggestions and passed them on to Captain Turner?
- They go direct to the captains; they do not go through the steamship company.

277. They go direct from the Admiralty?
- They go direct from the Admiralty.

278. Do you ever see them yourself?
- I do see them myself, some of them at any rate, being on the Committee of the Liverpool and London War Risks Association. I do not think I necessarily see them all, but I know, generally speaking, the kind of instructions that are being sent.

279. At all events, you had no communication with Captain Turner with reference to any instructions from the Admiralty?
- No.

280. Was the question of when the ship should arrive at the bar at Liverpool settled by you or suggested, or how was it left?
- That was left in this way. It was one of the points that we felt it necessary to make the Captain of the "Lusitania” understand the importance of. The "Lusitania" can only cross the Liverpool Bar at certain states of the tide, and we therefore warned the captain, or whoever might be captain, that we did not think it would be safe for him to arrive off the bar at such a time that he would have to wait there, because that area had been infested with submarines, and we thought therefore it would be wiser for him to arrange his arrival in such a way, leaving him an absolutely free hand as to how he would do it, that he could come straight up without stopping at all. The one definite instruction we did give him with regard to that was to authorise him to come up without a pilot.

281. Can you tell me or can you fix the time at which he could have come into Liverpool on the morning of the 8th?
- I'm afraid I do not remember that now.

282. I suggest he could have come at any time from 4 a.m. up to 9?
- I have not got that in my head.

The Commissioner:
Then, Sir Edward, it would not have been wise, according to what you suggest, for the ship to have arrived before 4 o'clock in the morning.

283. The Attorney-General: No, my Lord. (To the witness.) There is only one other matter. On Friday morning, the 7th May, that is the day on which the "Lusitania" was sunk, had you heard of certain ships being sunk in St. George's Channel?
- Yes.

284. What ships were they?
- Two steamers of the Harrison Line; the "Candidate" and "Centurion," I think they were.

285. They had been sunk the previous day, I think?
- They had been sunk the previous day.

286. Did you take steps to send a message to the "Lusitania” to inform them on board of that fact?
- Yes.

287. That is, I suppose, you went to the Admiralty?
- We went to the Admiral or the Senior Naval Officer in Liverpool and asked him to send a message. We, of course, did not venture to send any message to the captain as to how he should proceed, because the Admiralty might be doing that, or the captain might know a great deal more about it than we did. We merely asked the Admiralty to convey the fact that these ships had been sunk.

288. But I think you are of opinion, having regard to the time when you asked that should be done, the information could not have arrived in time?
- I think it did not arrive in time.

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