WRECK COMMISSIONER'S INQUIRY

REPORT

THE TORPEDOING OF THE SHIP


By the 7 th of May the "Lusitania" had entered what is called the "Danger Zone," that is to say, she had reached the waters in which enemy submarines might be expected. The Captain had therefore taken precautions. He had ordered all the lifeboats under davits to be swung out. He had ordered all bulkhead doors to be closed except such as were required to be kept open in order to work the ship. These orders had been carried out. The portholes were also closed. The lookout on the ship was doubled-two men being sent to the crow's nest and two to the eyes of the ship. Two officers were on the bridge and a quartermaster was on either side with instructions to look out for submarines. Orders were also sent to the engine room between noon and two p.m. of the 7 th to keep the steam pressure very high in case of emergency and to give the vessel all possible speed if the telephone from the bridge should ring.

Up to 8 a.m. on the morning of the 7 th the speed on the voyage gad been maintained at 21 knots. At 8 a.m. the speed was reduced to 18 knots. The object of this reduction was to secure the ship's arrival outside the bar at Liverpool at about 4 o'clock on the morning of the 8 th, when the tide would serve to enable her to cross the bar into the Mersey at early dawn. Shortly after this alteration of the speed a fog came on and the speed was further reduced for a time to 15 knots. A little before noon the fog lifted and the speed was restored to 18 knots, from which it was never subsequently changed. At this time land was sighted about two points abaft the beam, which the Captain took to be Brow Head; he could not, however, identify it with sufficient certainty to enable him to fix the position of his ship upon the chart. He therefore kept his ship on her course, which was S. 87 E. and about parallel with the land until 12:40 when, in order to make a better landfall he altered his course to N. 67 E. This brought him closer to the land, and he sighted the Old Head of Kinsale. He then (at 1:40 p.m.) altered his course back to S. 87° E., and having steadied his ship on that course began (at 1:50) to take a four-point bearing. This operation, which I am advised would occupy 30 or 40 minutes, was in process at the time when the ship was torpedoed, as hereafter described.

At 2 p.m. the passengers were finishing their mid-day meal.

At 2:10 p.m., when ten to fifteen miles off the Old Head of Kinsale, the weather being then clear and the sea smooth, the Captain, who was on the port side of the lower bridge, heard the call, "There is a torpedo coming, sir," given by the second officer. He looked to starboard and then saw a steak of foam in the wake of a torpedo travelling towards his ship. Immediately afterwards the " Lusitania " was struck on the starboard side somewhere between the third and fourth funnels. The blow broke number 5 lifeboat to splinters. A second torpedo was fired immediately afterwards, which also struck the ship on the starboard side. The two torpedoes struck the ship almost simultaneously.

Both these torpedoes were discharged by a German submarine from a distance variously estimated at from between two and five hundred yards. No warning of any kind was given. It is also in evidence that shortly afterwards a torpedo from another submarine was fired on the port side of the "Lusitania." This torpedo did not strike the ship, and the circumstance is only mentioned for the purpose of showing that perhaps more than one submarine was taking part in the attack.

The "Lusitania" on being struck took a heavy list to starboard and in less than twenty minutes she sank in deep water. Eleven hundred and ninety-eight men, women, and children were drowned.

Sir Edward Carson, when opening the case, described the course adopted by the German Government in directing this attack as "contrary to International Law and the usages of war," and as constituting, according to the law of all civilized countries, "a deliberate attempt to murder the passengers on board the ship." This statement is, in my opinion, true, and it is made in language not a whit too strong for the occasion. The defenceless creatures on board, made up of harmless men and women, and of helpless children, were done to death by the crew of the German submarine acting under the directions of the officials of the German Government. On the questions submitted to me by the Board of Trade I am asked, "What was the cause of the loss of life?" The answer is plain. The effective cause of the loss of life was the attack made against the ship by those on board the submarine. It was a murderous attack because made with a deliberate and wholly unjustifiable intention of killing the people on board. German authorities on the laws of war at sea themselves establish beyond all doubt that though in some cases the destruction of an enemy trader may be permissible there is always an obligation first to secure the safety of the lives of those on board. The guilt of the persons concerned in the present case is confirmed by the vain excuses which have been put forward on their behalf by the German Government as before mentioned.

One witness, who described himself as a French subject from the vicinity of Switzerland, and who was in the second class dining-room in the after part of the ship at the time of the explosion, stated that the nature of the explosion was "similar to the rattling of a maxim gun for a short period," suggested that this noise disclosed the "secret" existence of some ammunition. The sound, he said, came from underneath the whole floor. I did not believe this gentleman. His demeanour was very unsatisfactory. There was no confirmation of his story, and it appeared that he had threatened the Cunard Company that if they did not make him some immediate allowance on account of a claim which he was putting forward for compensation, he would have the unpleasant duty of making his claim in public, and, in doing so, of producing "evidence which will not be to the credit either of your Company or of the Admiralty." The company had not complied with his request.

It may be worth while noting that Leith, the Marconi operator, was also in the second class dining-saloon at the time of the explosion. He speaks of but one explosion. In my opinion there was no explosion of any part of the cargo.