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The Secrets Of The Lusitania

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The American owner of the ill-fated Lusitania is planning to explore and

hopefully salvage the liner, sunk off the south-west coast of Ireland on May

7, 1915, killing 1,198 people.

"The Lusitania is probably the most important shipwreck that hasn't been

investigated in any detail so far," says Gregg Bemis. And although there are

striking similarities between the Lusitania and the Titanic, recently the

subject of a major movie, Bemis believes that the Lusitania is "a much more

interesting and historical story - and you don't have to make up any phoney

romance the way they did with the Titanic."

It is a story which involves US President Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill

and the still unanswered question of what the liner was carrying on board.

The Lusitania, pride of the Cunard line, was sailing from New York for the

port of Liverpool when a single torpedo from a German U-boat crashed into her

hull between the third and fourth funnels.

The ship sank in just under 20 minutes. Of those killed, 128 were American

citizens, and the incident influenced the eventual US decision to enter the

war two years later. It also provoked curiosity and mystery that naval

historians have argued over ever since. Was the Lusitania, as the Germans

claimed persistently, heavily loaded with

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weapons of war? If she was, who tipped Germany off? In addition, did she

carry priceless works of art in watertight containers, and what of the six

million dollars in gold bullion rumored to have been taken aboard but which

was not on the manifest? Following the

discharge of the fatal torpedo, there was a second blast deep inside the ship

a few minutes later - could this have been a secret cargo of explosives? What

is certain is that since the fatal day of May 7, 1915, the wreck of the

Lusitania has lain untouched 100 meters deep off the Old Head of Kinsale, a

prominent peninsula on Ireland's southern coast.

Gregg Bemis is in no doubt that she was carrying weaponry. "She went down in

18 minutes," he says. "That would have been impossible with one torpedo for a

ship that size. There were high explosives on board, all right." Bemis also

points out that one of those who perished was Sir Hugh Lane, Irish art

collector and head of London's National Gallery. He was believed to have had

a stack of paintings by Rubens, Titian and Monet on board in watertight

containers and worth a fortune.

If indeed the Lusitania had been carrying arms, passengers embarking at New

York would have been blissfully unaware of it. They had been far more

occupied taking in the ship's luxury appointments, handsome state rooms with

soaring Doric columns, shimmering chandelier, damask and inlaid mahogany

furnishings. There had been lifts, a nursery, diet kitchens for babies, a

fully staffed hospital, kennels, telephones and special rooms for maids and


Above all, with her double-bottom and watertight compartments, the Lusitania

was reckoned to be one of the safest ships afloat, and with her revolutionary

steam turbines, one of the fastest. But aside from all the splendour and

comfort, there was one

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factor that could not be forgotten - a grim warning contained in an

advertisement placed in New York's newspapers on May 1:

"Travellers intending to embark for an Atlantic voyage are reminded that a

state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her

allies... vessels flying the flag of Great Britain or any of her allies are

liable to destruction."

The signatory was the Imperial German Embassy in Washington.

The Cunard authorities took the threat seriously enough to question each

passenger and closely examine their credentials. Anonymous telegrams were

received by scores of passengers, warning them of the ship's imminent

destruction and urging them to disembark. Most of the passengers ignored any

threat. One of the most celebrated of them, the multi-millionaire Alfred G

Vanderbilt, scoffed:

"Why should we be afraid of German submarines? We can out-distance any

submarine afloat."

Amid the gaiety of waved straw hats and tossed confetti, the tunes It's a

Long Way to Tipperary and The Star-spangled Banner had accompanied the

departure from the New York pier. It was in sharp contrast to the muted

departure during the early hours of April 30 from the dock in Germany's




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