The Board of Trade Inquiry into the sinking of the Lusitania began at Central Buildings, Westminster on 14 June, 1915 under the Wreck Commissioner, Lord Mersey. In the short time between the dinner party in May thrown by Ambassador Page on behalf of President Wilson’s so-called peace emissary, the political landscape in Britain had changed. The newspapers hailed it as a major event, and it was in one sense. A few well-known Cabinet members had been discarded. Churchill was removed from the Admiralty because the Tory Party leaders demanded that he go. His like-for-like replacement was the Secret Elite’s Arthur Balfour. Lloyd George was moved from the Exchequer and given the highest-profile new post, Minister for Munitions. Sir Edward Carson was appointed Attorney General, the most senior legal advisor to the government, and Mr F E Smith was promoted to Solicitor General, the second most senior legal advisor in England. Sir Edward Grey stayed at his post in the Foreign Office. What few people realised was that the major political agents associated with the Secret Elite had begun to move into government. This coalition or National Government had as its most immediate priority to find a solution to the munitions shortage which had been turned into a public scandal. [1] 

Image of sinking lusitania drawn for the Illustrated History of the First World War by Norman Wilkinson.

Asquith’s new government could ill afford any more public criticism, and Lord Mersey’s Inquiry into the Lusitania had to focus on two highly contentious issues; the role of the Admiralty, and the fact that would be denied for nearly a century, namely that the passenger liner was carrying much needed munitions. [2] Sadly for Captain Turner, a coalition of vested interests, all Secret Elite controlled, set out to make him the scape-goat.

Lord Mersey was privately instructed on the outcome that the Admiralty wanted in a note passed to him inside official papers before the Inquiry began. It simply said that it was ‘politically expedient that Captain Turner, Master of the Lusitania, be most prominently blamed for the disaster.’ [3] The Secrete Elite intended to ruin Captain William Turner. Witnesses were carefully selected. Every surviving member of the crew gave a deposition to the Board of Trade but only 13 of the 289 have survived for public scrutiny. All begin with the identical opening sentence and all claim that the ship was hit by more than one torpedo. Furthermore even the illiterate seamen who signed their statements with the letter X wrongly placed the point of the torpedo’s impact in midship or well-aft. The Board of Trade had stated that passengers who wished to submit evidence to the inquiry should do so. 135 ‘proofs’ were submitted by passengers who wished to testify, but only five were invited to appear before the court. Not one passenger who referred to an explosion further forward than amidships appeared.  [4]

oliver bernard's illustrations taken from the sinking lusitania and from rescue boat

Contrary evidence was unwelcome. The architect, Oliver Bernard was on deck when the U-20’s torpedo struck. His famous eye-witness drawings of the liner as she sank were printed in the Illustrated London News [5] Commissioned in 1916 Bernard became a Captain in the Royal Engineers, and winner of a Military Cross. He was adamant that only one torpedo hit the Lusitania, and therefore, was not called to give evidence. [6] The American consul in Queenstown obtained sworn testaments from all the American survivors and these were sent onwards to the State Department in Washington and copied to the Board of Trade. Neither organisation used them at their respective inquiries, and currently there remains no trace of the copies sent to the British Board of Trade. [7] The reader may begin to sense a theme.

Today we have access to the full proceedings of Lord Mersey’s Inquiry on the internet [8] and over the five days 14-18 June, 1915, it is clear that Captain Turner was subjected to a concerted legal attack from the British Establishment. The Admiralty had concocted its highly prejudicial ‘evidence’ in the form of a memorandum from Captain Richard Webb, Director of the Admiralty’s Trade Division; a memorandum which was seen by Lord Mersey before the sitting began. [9] This secret document shaped the lines of enquiry and directed the assault on Captain Turner, deflecting questions about the cargo and concealing the truth about the telegraphic messages sent (and not sent) to the Lusitania. It was the script approved by the Secret Elite, but it was, by their standards, seriously flawed.

Lord Mersey inquiry into  sinking of the Lusitania in camera evidence

Sir Edward Carson used his persuasive and carefully rehearsed inquisition to undermine Captain Turner on the first day of the Inquiry. With the public removed from the hall, Carson attempted to belittle Turner’s seamanship, trying to get him to admit that he was sailing too close to the coast in contravention of Admiralty instructions. Turner would have none of it. He did not navigate a great liner by approximations and guesswork. [10] More devious tactics were required. Carson began to paint a picture of the Irish Sea ‘infested’ by German submarines, and repeatedly pressurised Turner to admit that he had disobeyed a clear Admiralty directive by failing to steer the Lusitania in a zig-zag manner. Lord Mersey asked Carson to reread the Admiralty advice on zig-zagging which drew some confusion from Captain Turner. He couldn’t quite remember the precise wording; ‘it seems different language’, he complained. And he was right. The instructions which were read out in court had not been given final approval by Winston Churchill until 25 April, and their widespread distribution did not begin until 13 May, five days after the disaster. [11] Turner was deliberately misled, confused by Carson’s determined assertion that he had received orders from the Admiralty about zig-zagging which he had allegedly flouted. We now know that these orders had never been sent. The Court of Inquiry was deliberately lied to by the Attorney General. Surely this is astonishing turn of events in any democracy?

In this mockery of justice, the Crown treated the Inquiry as a trial, and selected its evidence to that end. The single member of naval or Admiralty staff called as a witness, Captain Anderson, was asked only about the merits of travelling at top speed and adopting a zig-zag pattern to reduce any chance of submarine attack. No question was asked about the Admiralty’s plan to protect the Lusitania. Indeed, all questions to be put to the Inquiry had been carefully preselected. Churchill had written on the infamous Webb memorandum that ‘Turner be pursued without check’ [12] and even though he was no longer at the Admiralty in June 1915, his replacement, the Secret Elite’s Arthur Balfour, maintained that course.

But the case, biased, even as it was, collapsed at the last hurdle when Lord Mersey discovered that the evidence with which he had been presented was not the same as that being used by the Solicitor General, Mr F E Smith. Confusion broke out over the alleged telegrams which had been sent to the Lusitania. Though both the Commissioner (Lord Mersey) and the Solicitor General were apparently working from documents headed Lusitania, a memorandum prepared by officials of the Board of the Admiralty, they were not identical. Someone had fouled up. In addition, Lord Mersey realised that having seen the questions to be asked at his inquiry in a previous draft, these had been altered in order to avoid any references to messages received by the Lusitania. [13] It was this fiasco which forced the court to end Captain Turner’s torture.

Sir Edward Carson and Mr F E  Smith reviewing Ulster Volunteer Force  in former times

The Secret Elite made one final bid to change Lord Mersey’s mind. Clearly Sir Edward Carson and Mr F E Smith had failed to strip Captain Turner of his dignity, so they brought forward the heavy artillery. From the Foreign Office, Sir Arthur Nicolson and Lord Crewe let it be known that if Turner was censured, there would be no objection to that being made public; that the new first Lord, Arthur Balfour agreed with that view, and would gladly speak with Lord Mersey’ at some convenient time’. It was a poorly-veiled threat, but Mersey was too long in the tooth to care. Disgusted by what he had been made party to, he wrote to Prime Minister Asquith and resigned from any further government appointment. He is reputed to have told his children that the case of the Lusitania was ‘a damned dirty business’ [14]

His findings amounted to an absolute whitewash. The whole blame for the catastrophe was allotted to ‘ those who plotted and committed the crime’, Germany. Praise was heaped on 18 year old Leslie Morton, the look-out who spotted that two torpedoes hit the ship, before saving nearly 100 lives assisted by his mate, Perry. Seriously, this is recorded in the Inquiry findings, not the Boy’s Own Annual. So, two torpedoes, then, from the U-Boat that fired only one. Not so. Lord Mersey found that a third torpedo had been fired at the port side, and thus ‘proved’ that there was indeed more than one submarine. Mersey directed that no explosives had been on board save about 5,000 cartridges as entered in the manifest. German accusations about the Lusitania’s cargo were deemed ’baseless inventions.’

Lord Mersey

Incredibly, even amidst this litany of nonsense, Lord Mersey was able to praise the Admiralty who he claimed had ‘diligently collected all available information likely to affect the voyage of the Lusitania’. He heaped on them the highest praise for the way in which they did their work’. No warnings for Captain Turner, no escort or convoy, no clear information about the whereabouts of U-Boat 20, yet they did their work diligently? Amazing. And for Captain Turner there was praise of sorts and not the damning condemnation which the Secret Elite wanted. Mersey concluded that Turner was ‘fully advised’ of the Admiralty’s advice on how to avoid the perils of submarine warfare but had ‘exercised his judgement for the best’.

But finally, it was, as ever, all the fault of the Germans. [15]

It was indeed a damned dirty business, compounded by lies and a legion of ‘lost’ reports, memoranda, documents and telegrams. It has taken a century of investigation to prise open the fragile remains of the evidence they could not cover up. The very credible proof presented by Colin Simpson, Diana Preston, Patrick Beesly, and Mitch Peeke in particular, has destroyed the myths and lies with which the Secret Elite covered their crimes. Like every expendable soldier and sailor, the Lusitania was sacrificed to prolong the war to crush Germany. It was turned into a propaganda coup which bolstered Britain’s standing in the United States. But it had been a risky business. Had the truth been known in the days and weeks after the event, both the American and British governments would have been in crisis. For nearly a century, court historians have held fast to the lie.

Consider these dismissive words from the Imperial War Museum’s own history, War At Sea. ‘Conspiracy theorists have flourished ever since, centred on a plot to allow the Lusitania to be torpedoed to bring America in to the war. Like so many conspiracy theories based on a fantasy world of ignorance and naivety, this one does not stand up.’ [16]

Make up your own mind.

[1] The Times and The Daily Mail, 21 May 1915.
[2] Public Records Office., ADM/137/1058/3621/143.
[3] Colin Simpson, Lusitania, p. 182, citing Lord Mersey’s papers.
[4] Ibid., p. 200.
[5] Eric Saunder and Ken Marschall, RMS Lusitania, Triumph of the Edwardian Age, pp. 46-7.
[7] Simpson, Lusitania, p. 168.
[9] PRO ADM/137/1058. Webb’s career blossomed. By the end of the war he had been promoted to Rear-Admiral, made Assistant High Commissioner at Constantinople and knighted in 1920.
[10] Mersey Report Day 1, In Camera, Testimony of Captain Turner
[11] Patrick Beesly, Room 40, p. 97.
[12] PRO ADM/137/1058
[13] The Mersey Inquiry, Day 4 (Continued)[]
[14] Colin Simpson, Lusitania, p.232.
[15] The Lusitania Inquiry, The Times 19 July 1915.
[16] Julian Thompson, The Imperial War Museum’s Book of The War at Sea, 1914-1918, p. 195.