A century-old mystery beneath the waves remains unsolved as we enter this New Year. It involves the sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania during the First World War. Martha Teichner takes us back:
Before air travel, the departure of a great liner was considered news … and Cunard’s Lusitania was the greatest, the fastest, the most luxurious liner afloat on May 1, 1915 as she prepared to leave New York City for Liverpool.
It was news that the glamorous and rich Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt was aboard, a member of the “Just Missed It Club” (people who had booked on the Titanic, but cancelled at the last minute).
And it was news that in the morning papers that day, Germany – at war with Great Britain – published a warning, that vessels flying the British flag, or the flag of any of her allies, were subject to attack as they passed through the waters off the British Isles.
“Even though it made no mention of the Lusitania, it was widely interpreted to be aimed at the ship,” said Erik Larson, the author of the New York Times bestseller, “Dead Wake,” about the Lusitania.
“The prevailing view was that the Lusitania was too big, too fast to ever be caught by a German submarine,” he told Teichner. “Also, there was this other idea that no German commander would try to sink it in the first place, because it was a passenger liner.”