wreck of the Lusitania draped in snagged fishing nets

RMS Lusitania rests awkwardly nearly 300 feet down on the sea bed some 11.2 miles  south west of the Old Head of Kinsale, a once-proud Queen of the Atlantic, now draped in cobweb-like fishing nets snagged on her wrecked carcass. [1] From the underwater silence of her cold tomb, her secrets have yet to be fully uncovered. Those responsible ensured that evidence was manipulated, falsified or concealed, but thanks to determined researchers one hundred years on, the truth has slowly emerged from the cover-up. What has been presented for generations as historical fact is now being unmasked as propaganda and lies. The action of the elites on both sides of the Atlantic in enabling the disaster, in covering up their complicity, in diverting attention away from critical evidence, was and is despicable.

In 2014-15, the British government struggled to find a chairperson to lead the inquiry into institutionalised child abuse after their first candidate, Baroness Butler-Sloss resigned. Her brother, when Attorney General 30 years earlier, had been accused of a cover up in a paedophile investigation. Second choice, corporate lawyer Mrs Fiona Woolf, stepped down when newspapers revealed her social links to the former Home Secretary Lord Brittan, ‘a key figure embroiled in the scandal.’ [2] A century earlier no such justifiable concern was expressed when Lord Mersey was appointed to lead the Inquiry into the sinking of the Lusitania. [3]  Yet Mersey was intimately associated with the government’s ministerial legal team of Attorney-General Sir Edward Carson and Solicitor-General Mr F E Smith who appeared on behalf of the Board of Trade and acted as the ‘prosecutors’. Three members of the British Establishment who socialised together and just happened to attend the highly suspicious ‘special dinner’ at the American Ambassador’s residence in London in the hours following the sinking of the Lusitania. [4] Smith and Carson represented a government that was absolutely complicit in the disaster, that ordered the munitions to be transported on the passenger liner, whose Admiralty intelligence knew precisely where U-20 was lurking on 7 May 1915 and facilitated its opportunity to sink the ship.

Captain William Thomas Turner 1915What transpired was not an independent inquiry, but a quasi-judicial trial which was in effect an attempted prosecution by the State. The man in the dock was not the U-boat captain, but William Turner.

Carson’s opening speech addressed the German government ’s accusation that the Lusitania was carrying munitions and contraband, but since the American State Department and US President had publicly rebutted this, he stated that there was no need to discuss it further. We will analyse the inter-government collusion in this cover-up in our next blog. Evidence regarding the ammunition and explosives which we now know was definitely aboard the liner, was effectively squashed. During Captain Turner’s examination Carson referred in passing to the cargo… ‘I will not go into the particulars of the crew and cargo, because we know what it was….’ [5] The lie was given the stamp of truth.

Carson stated as fact that ‘without any warning a German submarine fired a torpedo at the Lusitania and she was struck between the third and fourth funnels. There is evidence that there was a second and perhaps a third torpedo fired, and the ship sank within 20 minutes.’ [6] Again, fiction was presented as fact, undisputed and uncontested. Carson was reading from a memorandum which had been carefully fabricated by Captain Richard Webb, Director of the Trade Division at the Admiralty, to ensure that blame was deflected from them and focused on Captain Turner. [7]

At every level, Carson and Smith sought to suppress the truth. All appeared above board, but witnesses were carefully selected to give credence to the official lies. The Board of Trade had invited passengers to submit evidence and 135 ‘proofs’ were lodged. Of these only five were selected to appear in court; five whose statements corroborated ‘evidence’ that suited the government. All of the questions asked in court had been pre-selected by the Board of Trade and vetted by an ‘Intelligence Advisory Committee’, which duly struck out nineteen of the forty questions. Additionally, of the surviving questions, twenty-one were carefully emasculated. [8]

Key personnel were ignored. For example, there were survivors from all three boiler rooms, none of whom mentioned in affidavits that any explosion had happened in their location. Some reported that water had first entered no.1 boiler room through the bulkhead at the forward end. [9] Such evidence was contrary to the ‘prosecution’ case which falsely placed the impact of ‘torpedoes’ alongside the boiler rooms, so it was never called. Statements which claimed that the torpedoes struck aft, well away from where the ammunition was stored, found favour, even though it was totally inconsistent with the ship sinking by the bows.

Relieved lusitania crew survivors in happier timesStatements from the crew were written up for them in standardised words and expressions and those chosen to give evidence were carefully selected. Quartermaster Hugh Johnston’s comments show how the Lusitania’s crew were pressured to testify that she had been hit by two torpedoes rather than one. This was on the grounds that such evidence would be ‘ helpful’. ‘When Johnston (who was at the wheel when the torpedo struck) refused to cooperate, he was still allowed to appear as a witness – as the ships helmsman he could hardly have been omitted – but he was questioned only briefly and, unlike other crewmen, was not asked to comment on the number of torpedoes.’ [10] By instructing witnesses to respond to questions with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, the prosecutors carefully controlled the ‘evidence’. Lord Mersey’s final report declared that the ship had been struck on the starboard side somewhere between the third and fourth funnels, and that a second torpedo was fired immediately afterwards which also struck the starboard side. Yet another classic example of the manipulation of truth to suit the official lie.

Other evidence was vigorously restricted by Lord Mersey. He allowed no discussion on the ship’s compartmentalisation and construction, or the location of the damage inflicted by the U-boat. Tellingly, this could have led to revelations about the second explosion caused by the munitions. When Alexander Galbraith, the superintending engineer was questioned about the Lusitania’s structure, [11] Mersey quickly put a stop to his statement before he could make reference to the internal changes and alterations which had been made to enhance Lusitania’s capacity to carry illicit cargo. Soon after the declaration of war, she had been withdrawn from service for an Admiralty refit to enlarge the forward cargo hold. [12] Carson denied this absolutely in his opening remarks. ‘There was no such outfitting of the vessel as is alleged and fancied or invented by the German Government…’ [13] Another blatant lie. Drawings and plans of the ship were submitted to the court, but these were of the original construction and bore no relation to the interior design of her hold when she left New York on 1 May 1915.

Valentia marconi wireless map showing area covering Lusitania's approachWorse still was the deliberate misrepresentation employed in presenting Robert Leith on the second day of the trial (it was in reality a trial, not an inquest) as the Marconi wireless telegraphist who had taken crucial telegrams on the morning of 7 May. Leith, however, had worked the early shift from 2.00am until 8.00am before being replaced by his colleague, David McCormick, who had been on duty when the telegrams came in. He had taken receipt of the crucial coded message sent by Admiral Coke instructing Captain Turner to divert immediately to Queenstown. Leith, who understandably had no recollection of the Coke telegram, was asked to give evidence of which he knew nothing, while McCormick was never summoned. Every shred of evidence about the existence of this crucial message that could be found was destroyed by order of the Admiralty.

Vice-Admiral Henry Coke was commander at Queenstown. His prime responsibility was to ensure that 285 miles of coast along the southern shores of Ireland were adequately patrolled [14] A diligent and respected commander, Coke telegraphed his message to the Lusitania under MFA code (Maritime Fleet Auxiliary) just after 11 am on 7 May. Captain Turner decoded it in his cabin. Its content was explicit. He was ordered to divert immediately to the safety of Queenstown rather than continuing his passage to Liverpool. This was not an exceptional instruction. It was ‘standard practice in situations of grave peril’. [15] It came too late. It had been clear for over twenty-four hours that the Lusitania was in ‘grave peril’. The Admiralty had ensured that she was in ‘grave peril’ and Captain Schweiger on U-20 now had the great ship in his sights.

No instruction had emanated from London to protect her, but ignorant of the master-plan, Coke acted on his own initiative. This message explains why Turner turned his ship towards Queenstown and why he was heading closer to land. It destroyed the accusation that he had ignored Admiralty instructions, hence the evidence had to be buried. The page containing this critical signal was removed from the Admiralty signal register and no reference was made to it at Mersey’s inquiry. Though he was at the very heart of the disaster as it unfolded, Vice-Admiral Coke was not called to give evidence. Incredible.

Every effort was made by the Admiralty to undermine and indeed disgrace Captain Turner. He was to be the chief scapegoat. Admiral Fisher had called him a knave and suggested that he be arrested and charged, no matter what the verdict might be. Winston Churchill agreed and sanctioned the falsified memorandum urging that Turner be ‘pursued without check.’ [16] After Churchill was dismissed from the Admiralty, his replacement, the Secret Elite’s Arthur Balfour, tried to exert even more pressure on Lord Mersey, but in the end he became so disillusioned by the entire mismanagement of the case, that Captain Turner escaped from these character-assassins with vague words of faint praise. But he was damaged.

Imagine for a moment how Turner felt when the Lusitania emerged from the Atlantic fog that morning to apparent emptiness. Before departing New York he had been told that a cruiser from the Juno squadron would rendezvous with him ten miles south and 40 miles west of the Fastnet. He had expected to find a Royal Navy cruiser if not an escort of destroyers waiting close by as had been offered on previous runs. He was aware that submarine activity had been reported in the area he had entered, and thought he was taking every precaution. What he did not realise was that the Admiralty had literally cleared the way for U-20 to find his ship unprotected. He could never have anticipated that the Secret Elite’s men would hang him out to dry to deflect.

Lusitania  survivors and victims at Queenstown

Having been plucked from the sea, Captain Turner reached Queenstown where he complained bitterly to Admiral Coke about the lack of protection he had expected from the Juno.

Consider the extent of this cover-up. Those involved in fabricating evidence from the Admiralty included Admiral Oliver and Captain Webb, First Sea Lord Fisher and Winston Churchill. The Board of Trade led by Cabinet Minister Walter Runciman knew about the purchasing and transporting of all the munitions orders from America. Kitchener and his staff at the War Office were well aware that their arsenals were being supplied from Bethlehem Steel through Cunard liners. The Bank of England and Morgan Grenfell were organising payments with the knowledge of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George. Arms procurer George Booth (another who attended Ambassador Page’s dinner in the company of Lord Mersey, Edward Carson, F E Smith and Sir Edward Grey) advised the Treasury and the War Office, and had recommended J P Morgan and Co. as Britain’s sole munitions procurer in America. The Foreign Office knew what had been agreed through their embassy in Washington, and Secret Elite mandarins like Sir Eyre Crowe, Assistant Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office [17] advised Cunard on how to manipulate custom’s officials. [18] Cunard themselves were implicitly involved. Yet approved and official history denies it all.

Rember The Lusitania Propaganda Poster

Their unforgivable deception worked.  The sinking of the Lusitania was blamed on the villainous German government and used to promote enlistment. Of course U-20 had fired the torpedo, but the responsibility and complicity of British and American officials and politicians in creating and allowing the circumstances behind the attack were buried in denials and falsehood. The propaganda that the Secret Elite spewed over Britain and America spawned riots on the British side, and revulsion on the American. It did not immediately bring America into the war, but it most certainly fanned the flames of resentment there and added to the voices clamouring for action against Germany. What was of vital importance, what mattered above all, was that there was no perceptible change in American attitudes towards providing the munitions which the Allies desperately needed. Criticism of the war remained muted in Britain. A potential crisis passed. History was falsified by political expediency and lives on in the minds of young people who are taught only the lies.

And what of those who served the aspirations of the Secret Elite? Lord Mersey was raised to the rank of Viscount in 1916 and died in 1929. Captain Webb, author of the falsified memorandum for the Admiralty, ended life as Admiral Sir Richard Webb, KCMG, CB. Sir Edward Carson was elevated to Lord Carson in 1921 and was given a state funeral. F E Smith became 1st Earl of Birkenhead and was Secretary of State for India between 1924-28. Such rich pickings from one valuable whitewash. For Vice-Admiral Coke there was no such glory. He was removed from his Queenstown appointment on 27 May 1915, just days before the Mersey Inquiry began.

Captain William Turner never forgave the Admiralty.  When in 1923, Winston Churchill published the first volume of his memoirs of the First World War under the title World Crisis, his criticism of Turner’s actions re-opened old wounds. [19] He again produced the fallacious claims that Captain Turner had disobeyed Admiralty instructions, that U-20 had fired two torpedoes at mid-ship and aft and that the Lusitania’s cargo contained only a small consignment of rifle ammunition and shrapnel shells. [20]

These lies have been repeated in history books and taught in our schools and universities for generations. That is why it is so important to keep publishing the truth.

[1] Robert Ballard with Spencer Dunmore, Robert Ballard’s Lusitania, p. 10.
[2] Mail on Sunday, 6 September 2014.
[3] British Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry,  http://www.titanicinquiry.org/Lusitania/lucy01.php
[4] Colin Simpson, Lusitania, p. 135.
[5] British Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry, Day 1, Testimony of William Thomas Turner examined by the Attorney-General http://www.titanicinquiry.org/Lusitania/01turner1.php
[6] Ibid.
[7] Captain Webb’s memorandum can be found in the National Archives at PRO., ADM/137/1058.
[8] Simpson,  Lusitania, pp. 199-200.
[9] Patrick Beesly, Room 40, p. 114.
[10] Diana Preston, Wilful Murder The Sinking Of The Lusitania, p. 457.
[11] British Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry,  http://www.titanicinquiry.org/Lusitania/lucy01.php  Day 1, Alexander Galbraith.
[12] http://www.lusitania.net/chronology.htm
[13] http://www.titanicinquiry.org/Lusitania/01Header.php  Day 1, 15 June 1915, Attorney-General
[14] Diana Preston, Lusitania, An Epic Tragedy, p. 190.
[15] Mitch Peeke, lusitania.net
[16] PRO ADM/ 137/1058.
[17] Gerry Docherty and Jim Macgregor, Hidden History, The Secret Origins of the First World War. p. 364.
[18] Simpson, Lusitania, pp. 60-1.
[19] Winston Churchill, World Crisis, 1911-1918, p. 448.
[20]  Ibid., p. 447.