May 2015 was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania cruise ship. Before reading the book, I knew nothing about the Lusitania. Erik Larson provides a detailed look at the events surrounding the sinking of the British luxury cruise ship. His book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, provides detailed references and facts which made me feel like “I was there” when all hell broke loose on that fateful day, May 7th 1915.
Some background: World War I had begun. On the western front, The British and the French were fighting against the advancing Germans. Supplies for the war were being transported by sea using British shipping lanes. The Germans wanted control of the lanes but didn’t have enough naval fighting power, or should I say, they weren’t badass enough to just take it. The British kept them in check until the Germans started to use undersea boats, aka submarines. In war times, it was an unwritten rule to fire on civilian ships of any side. Germany made a wartime game changer because they fired on the civilian luxury cruise ship, Lusitania. 1,959 people boarded the ship. 1,198 were killed when it sank.
My speculation: U-boats were new in warfare, the Germans had a good number. To get an edge on winning the war, they had to stop all war supplies from getting through the shipping lanes. The Germans fired on anything that was suspected of smuggling in ammo the British.
Let’s talk about the Lusitania: She was built to maintain a speed of 25 knots (30 miles per hour). Only war vessels could maintain a speed like that at the time. In the event of war, the cruise ship could be converted with naval artillery and brought into service. The hull was designed to meet battleship specifications and was able to store coal equally throughout the ship, as fuel and a form of armor in the water. It was speculated that the cruise ship that could be converted for battle was smuggling ammo.
The warning: The German Embassy placed advertisements in local London and New York papers warning if any ship suspected of helping Great Britain or flying the flag of any of its allies, they would be destroyed. The Lusitania, a British ship, flew an American flag on its voyage to London. (Only 157 Americans were on board) The United States was not in the war yet, but this act was a wakeup call.
Bios: The book provides a thorough profile of William Turner, Captain of the Lusitania and Walther Schwieger, Captain of the U-20. I like the confidence Capt. Turner had and the feeling he would guide the passengers to safety, no matter what. I liked the determination of Capt. Schwieger, not allowing any vessel to get through to aid the opposition. Reasons why President Wilson stayed neutral, trying to keep the US from joining the British abound.
My book rating: 4 U-boat missiles out of 5, hitting the target!