No thinking man–whether he believes or disbelieves in war–expects to
have war without the horrors and atrocities which accompany it. That
“war is hell” is as true now as when General Sherman so pronounced it.
It seems, indeed, to be truer today. And yet we have always
thought–perhaps because we hoped–that there was a limit at which even
war, with all its lust of blood, with all its passion of hatred, with
all its devilish zest for efficiency in the destruction of human life,
Now we know that there is no limit at which the makers of war, in their
frenzy to pile horror on horror, and atrocity on atrocity, will stop. We
have seen a nation despoiled and raped because it resisted an invader,
and we said that was war. But now out of the sun-lit waves has come a
venomous instrument of destruction, and without warning, without respite
for escape, has sent headlong to the bottom of the everlasting sea more
than a thousand unarmed, unresisting, peace-bent men, women and
children–even babes in arms. So the Lusitania was sunk. It may be war,
but it is something incalculably more sobering than merely that. It is
the difference between assassination and massacre. It is war’s supreme
crime against civilization.
AN UNPRECEDENTED CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY
The horror of the deadly assault on the Lusitania does not lessen as the
first shock of the disaster recedes into the past. The world is aghast.
It had not taken the German threat at full value; it did not believe
that any civilized nation would be so wanton in its lust and passion of
war as to count a thousand non-combatant lives a mere unfortunate
incidental of the carnage.
Nothing that can be said in mitigation of the destruction of the
Lusitania can alter the fact that an outrage unknown heretofore in the
warfare of civilized nations has been committed. Regardless of the
technicalities which may be offered as a defense in international law,
there are rights which must be asserted, must be defended and
maintained. If international law can be torn to shreds and converted
into scrap paper to serve the necessities of war, its obstructive letter
can be disregarded when it is necessary to serve the rights of
[Illustration: THE TRIUMPH OF HATE.]
THE LUSITANIA: BUILT FOR “SAFETY”
The irony of the situation lies in the fact that from the ghastly
experience of great marine disasters the Lusitania was evolved as a
vessel that was “safe.” No such calamity as the attack of a torpedo was
foreseen by the builders of the giant ship, and yet, even after the
outbreak of the European war, and when upon the eve of her last voyage
the warning came that an attempt would be made to torpedo the Lusitania,
her owners confidently assured the world that the ship was safe because
her great speed would enable her to outstrip any submarine ever built.
Limitation of language makes adequate word description of this mammoth
Cunarder impossible. The following figures show its immense dimensions:
Length, 790 feet; breadth, 88 feet; depth, to boat deck, 80 feet;
draught, fully loaded, 37 feet, 6 inches; displacement on load line,
45,000 tons; height to top of funnels, 155 feet; height to mastheads,
216 feet. The hull below draught line was divided into 175 water-tight
compartments, which made it–so the owners claimed–“unsinkable.” With
complete safety device equipment, including wireless telegraph,
Mundy-Gray improved method of submarine signaling, and with officers and
crew all trained and reliable men, the Lusitania was acclaimed as being
unexcelled from a standpoint of safety, as in all other respects.
Size, however, was its least remarkable feature. The ship was propelled
by four screws rotated by turbine engines of 68,000 horse-power, capable
of developing a sea speed of more than twenty-five knots per hour
regardless of weather conditions, and of maintaining without driving a
schedule with the regularity of a railroad train, and thus establishing
its right to the title of “the fastest ocean greyhound.”
GERMANY’S ANNOUNCED INTENTION TO SINK THE VESSEL
On Saturday May 1, 1915, the day on which the Cunard liner Lusitania,
carrying 2,000 passengers and crew, sailed from New York for Liverpool,
the following advertisement, over the name of the Imperial German
Embassy, was published in the leading newspapers of the United States:
TRAVELERS 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 of any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and
that travelers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or
her allies do so at their own risk.
IMPERIAL GERMAN EMBASSY.
WASHINGTON, D. C., April 22, 1915.
The advertisement was commented upon by the passengers of the Lusitania,
but it did not cause any of them to cancel their bookings. No one took
the matter seriously. It was not conceivable that even the German
military lords could seriously plot so dastardly an attack on
When the attention of Captain W. T. Turner, commander of the Lusitania,
was called to the warning, he laughed and said: “It doesn’t seem as if
they had scared many people from going on the ship by the looks of the
Agents of the Cunard Line said there was no truth in reports that
several prominent passengers had received anonymous telegrams warning
them not to sail on the Lusitania. Charles T. Bowring, president of the
St. George’s Society, who was a passenger, said that it was a silly
performance for the German Embassy to do.
Charles Klein, the American playwright, said he was going to devote his
time on the voyage to thinking of his new play, “Potash and Perlmutter
in Society,” and would not have time to worry about trifles.
Alfred G. Vanderbilt was one of the last to go on board.
Elbert Hubbard, publisher of the Philistine, who sailed with his wife,
said he believed the German Emperor had ordered the advertisement to be
placed in the newspapers, and added jokingly that if he was on board the
liner when she was torpedoed, he would be able to do the Kaiser justice
in the Philistine.
The early days of the voyage were unmarked by incidents other than those
which have interested ocean passengers on countless previous trips, and
little apprehension was felt by those on the Lusitania of the fate which
lay ahead of the vessel.
The ship was proceeding at a moderate speed, on Friday, May 7, when she
passed Fastnet Light, off Cape Clear, the extreme southwesterly point of
Ireland that is first sighted by east-bound liners. Captain Turner was
on the bridge, with his staff captain and other officers, maintaining a
close lookout. Fastnet left behind, the Lusitania’s course was brought
closer to shore, probably within twelve miles of the rock-bound coast.
LINER’S SPEED INCREASED AS DANGER NEARED
Her speed was also increased to twenty knots or more, according to the
more observant passengers, and some declare that she worked a sort of
zigzag course, plainly ready to shift her helm whenever danger should
appear. Captain Turner, it is known, was watching closely for any
evidence of submarines.
One of the passengers, Dr. Daniel Moore, of Yankton, S. D., declared
that before he went downstairs to luncheon shortly after one o’clock he
and others with him noticed, through a pair of marine glasses, a curious
object in the sea, possibly two miles or more away. What it was he could
not determine, but he jokingly referred to it later at luncheon as a
While the first cabin passengers were chatting over their coffee cups
they felt the ship give a great leap forward. Full speed ahead had
suddenly been signaled from the bridge. This was a few minutes after two
o’clock, and just about the time that Ellison Myers, of Stratford,
Ontario, a boy on his way to join the British Navy, noticed the
periscope of a submarine about a mile away to starboard. Myers and his
companions saw Captain Turner hurriedly give orders to the helmsman and
ring for full speed to the engine room.
The Lusitania began to swerve to starboard, heading for the submarine,
but before she could really answer her helm a torpedo was flashing
through the water toward her at express speed. Myers and his companions,
like many others of the passengers, saw the white wake of the torpedo
and its metal casing gleaming in the bright sunlight. The weather was
ideal, light winds and a clear sky making the surface of the ocean as
calm and smooth as could be wished by any traveler.
SUBMARINE’S PERISCOPE DIPS UNDER SURFACE
The torpedo came on, aimed apparently at the bow of the ship, but nicely
calculated to hit her amidships. Before its wake was seen the periscope
of the submarine had vanished beneath the surface.
In far less time than it takes to tell, the torpedo had crashed into the
Lusitania’s starboard side, just abaft the first funnel, and exploded
with a dull boom in the forward stoke-hole.
Captain Turner at once ordered the helm put over and the prow of the
ship headed for land, in the hope that she might strike shallow water
while still under way. The boats were ordered out, and the signals
calling the boat crews to their stations were flashed everywhere through
Several of the life-boats were already swung out, according to some
survivors, there having been a life-saving drill earlier in the day
before the ship spoke Fastnet Light.
Down in the dining saloon the passengers felt the ship reel from the
shock of the explosion and many were hurled from their chairs. Before
they could recover themselves, another explosion occurred. There is a
difference of opinion as to the number of torpedoes fired. Some say
there were two; others say only one torpedo struck the vessel, and that
the second explosion was internal.
PASSENGERS OVERCOME BY POISONOUS FUMES
In any event, the passengers now realized their danger. The ship, torn
almost apart, was filled with fumes and smoke, the decks were covered
with débris that fell from the sky, and the great Lusitania began to
list quickly to starboard. Before the passengers below decks could make
their way above, the decks were beginning to slant ominously, and the
air was filled with the cries of terrified men and women, some of them
already injured by being hurled against the sides of the saloons. Many
passengers were stricken unconscious by the smoke and fumes from the
The stewards and stewardesses, recognizing the too evident signs of a
sinking ship, rushed about urging and helping the passengers to put on
life-belts, of which more than 3,000 were aboard.
On the boat deck attempts were being made to lower the life-boats, but
several causes combined to impede the efforts of the crew in this
direction. The port side of the vessel was already so far up that the
boats on that side were quite useless, and as the starboard boats were
lowered the plunging vessel–she was still under headway, for all
efforts to reverse the engines proved useless–swung back and forth, and
when they struck the water were dragged along through the sea, making it
almost impossible to get them away.
BOAT CAPSIZES WITH WOMEN AND CHILDREN
The first life-boat that struck the water capsized with some sixty women
and children aboard her, and all of these must have been drowned almost
instantly. Ten more boats were lowered, the desperate expedient of
cutting away the ropes being resorted to to prevent them from being
dragged along by the now halting steamer.
The great ship was sinking by the bow, foot by foot, and in ten minutes
after the first explosion she was already preparing to founder. Her
stern rose high in the air, so that those in the boats that got away
could see the whirring propellers, and even the boat deck was awash.
Captain Turner urged the men to be calm, to take care of the women and
children, and megaphoned the passengers to seize life-belts,
chairs–anything they could lay hands on to save themselves from
drowning. There was never any question in the captain’s mind that the
ship was about to sink, and if, as reported, some of the stewards ran
about advising the passengers not to take to the boats, that there was
no danger of the vessel going down till she reached shore, it was done
without his orders. But many of the survivors have denied this, and
declared that all the crew, officers, stewards and sailors, even the
stokers, who dashed up from their flaming quarters below, showed the
utmost bravery and calmness in the face of the disaster, and sought in
every way to aid the panic-stricken passengers to get off the ship.
HUNDREDS JUMP INTO THE SEA
When it was seen that most of the boats would be useless, hundreds of
passengers donned life-belts and jumped into the sea. Others seized deck
chairs, tubs, kegs, anything available, and hurled themselves into the
water, clinging to these articles.
The first-cabin passengers fared worst, for the second- and third-cabin
travelers had long before finished their midday meal and were on deck
when the torpedo struck. But the first-cabin people on the D deck and in
the balcony, at luncheon, were at a terrible disadvantage, and those who
had already finished were in their staterooms resting or cleaning up
preparatory to the after luncheon day.
The confusion on the stairways became terrible, and the great number of
little children, more than 150 of them under two years, a great many of
them infants in arms, made the plight of the women still more desperate.
LUSITANIA GOES TO HER DOOM
After the life-boats had cut adrift it was plain that a few seconds
would see the end of the great ship. With a great shiver she bent her
bow down below the surface, and then her stern uprose, and with a
horrible sough the liner that had been the pride of the Cunard Line,
plunged down in sixty fathoms of water. In the last few seconds the
hundreds of women and men, a great many of them carrying children in
their arms, leaped overboard, but hundreds of others, delaying the jump
too long, were carried down in the suction that left a huge whirlpool
swirling about the spot where the last of the vessel was seen.
Among these were Elbert Hubbard and his wife, Charles Frohman, who was
crippled with rheumatism and unable to move quickly; Justus Miles
Forman, Charles Klein, Alfred G. Vanderbilt and many others of the
best-known Americans and Englishmen aboard.
Captain Turner stayed on the bridge as the ship went down, but before
the last plunge he bade his staff officer and the helmsman, who were
still with him, to save themselves. The helmsman leaped into the sea and
was saved, but the staff officer would not desert his superior, and went
down with the ship. He did not come to the surface again.
Captain Turner, however, a strong swimmer, rose after the eddying
whirlpool had calmed down, and, seizing a couple of deck chairs, kept
himself afloat for three hours. The master-at-arms of the Lusitania,
named Williams, who was looking for survivors in a boat after he had
been picked up, saw the flash of the captain’s gold-braided uniform, and
rescued him, more dead than alive.
INTERVIEW WITH CAPTAIN TURNER
Despite the doubt as to whether two torpedoes exploded, or whether the
first detonation caused the big liner’s boilers to let go, Captain
Turner stated that there was no doubt that at least two torpedoes
reached the ship.
“I am not certain whether the two explosions–and there were
two–resulted from torpedoes, or whether one was a boiler explosion. I
am sure, however, that I saw the first torpedo strike the vessel on her
starboard side. I also saw a second torpedo apparently headed straight
for the steamship’s hull, directly below the suite occupied by Alfred G.
When asked if the second explosion had been caused by the blowing up of
ammunition stored in the liner’s hull, Captain Turner said:
“No; if ammunition had exploded that would probably have torn the ship
apart and the loss of life would have been much heavier than it was.”
Captain Turner declared that, from the bridge, he saw the torpedo
streaking toward the Lusitania and tried to change the ship’s course to
avoid the missile, but was unable to do so in time. The only thing left
for him to do was to rush the liner ashore and beach her, and she was
headed for the Irish coast when she foundered.
According to Captain Turner, the German submarine did not flee at once
after torpedoing the liner.
“While I was swimming about after the ship had disappeared I saw the
periscope of the submarine rise amidst the débris,” said he. “Instead of
offering any help the submarine immediately submerged herself and I saw
nothing more of her. I did everything possible for my passengers. That
was all I could do.”