Woodrow Wilson: Did He Know The Lusitania Carried Munitions?

RMS Lusitania

Lusitania Sank Awfully Fast
Lusitania Sank Awfully Fast

On This Date in History: On June 28, 1914 Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip. The Habsburg Austria-Hungarian government set it’s eyes on Serbia. Now, in his farewell address President George Washington warned the United States against getting involved in entangling treaties with foreign governments when he left office. World War I is a great example of his wisdom because European nations had mutual defense agreements among one another. An attack on Serbia meant an attack on Russia. Germany had previously announced support for Austria. England had vowed support for Russia, the French for the Russians and so forth. Basically, Europe chose up sides in a Baltic conflict which is why there was such a rush during the Clinton Administration to stem the conflict in that region in the 1990’s before it expanded.

Europe Gets It On in 1914

Toward the end of 1914, hostilities opened up with Germany invading Belgium, Luxemborg and France while Austria-Hungary was invading Serbia and Russia attacked Prussia. In the meantime, perhaps keeping to the wisdom of General Washington, the United States decided to sit this one out. While all parties in Europe thought it would be a short war, Americans thought it was “over there” and not their business. America though had experienced strengthening ties with the mother country, England. While America declared neutrality, most Americans privately sided with England and some press reports about supposed attrocities by the Germans did not help change public opinion. Nevertheless, President Woodrow Wilson took a strong, public and vocal stance regarding the neutrality of the United States and expected all parties to recognize the US as such.

Coded and Deciphered Version of Zimmerman Telegram

The Germans, however, were skeptical of the United States. Not only did they think that the true sympathy of the Americans was on the side of the Allies, but they suspected that Uncle Sam was providing materials to support the Allied war effort. Though it was slightly smaller than the RMS Titanic had been, the RMS Lusitania was still one of the largest ocean liners in the world at the time. Between 1907 and 1915, the Lusitania made 202 transatlantic crossings. On this date in 1915, the German submarine U-20 sank the RMS Lusitania . All British shipping was ordered to travel at full speed and in a zig zag pattern as a precaution against German U-Boat activity. Germany had already declared unrestricted submarine warfare against all shipping in the Atlantic providing munitions or aid toward the allied effort in the war. Theorthetically, the Lustitania should have been exempt from submarine attack as it was a luxury passenger liner and it was filled with civilians.

Why Was a Royal Navy Officer Like Captain Turner at the helm of the civlian RMS Lusitania?

On May 7, 1915 the Lusitiania ran into some thick fog so Captain William Thomas Turner slowed the ship and stopped zig zagging. It was an easy shot for the U-Boat. Some 1200 went down with the ship including 128 Americans. The attack resulted in a letter of protest from President Woodrow Wilson. The Germans claimed the ship was carrying munitions. The US denied the charge and the American public grew quite angry as passions against the Germans grew. The sneak attack on perhaps the most luxurious passenger liner at the time created the image of the ruthlessness of the Germans. Nevertheless, the United States did not enter the war following the sinking. Nearly two years later, America learned of the Zimmerman Telegram (the British coincidentally provided it to the Americans) in which the Germans proposed that Mexcio attack the US should the Americans enter the war. The sinking of the Lusitania primed the pump but the Zimmerman Telegram was the ultimate catalyst that led to the US entry into the Great War.

Here’s the rub. The Germans were right. The Lusitania was carrying munitions.

Captain Walther Schwieger: Justified in Sinking Lusitania?

When the U-20 slammed it’s torpedo into the starboard side of the RMS Lusitania, almost immediately a secondary explosion rocked the ship. The torpedo explosion probably wouldn’t have sunk the ship but the second explosion caused a huge gash in the hull and the great liner sank in just 18 minutes. The story that was told to the American public was that the Germans fired at least two torpedoes. That was false. What the people did not know was that the passenger liner was indeed carrying a deadly cargo  as a manifest shows tons of munitions and supplies for the war effort. As it turns out, the British had regularly used passenger ships as supply transports, disguised warships as merchant ships, armed merchant ships and utilized Q-ships which were disguised military ships that flew a neutral country’s flag as cover. The Lusitania, along with its sister ship Mauritania, had intially been taken out of service as part of the war effort before it returned to regular service. And, both the Lusitania and Mauritania were listed in the British Naval Packet Book and Jane’s Fighting Ships as armed merchantmen. No wonder U-20 Captain Walther Schwieger went ahead and attacked. Schwieger later told of the attack:

A U-20 Class German U-Boat

“When the steamer was two miles away it changed its course. I had no hope
now, even if we hurried at our best speed, of getting near enough to attack her…. I saw the steamer change her course again. She was coming directly at us. She could not have steered a more perfect course if she had deliberately tried to give us a dead shot….I had already shot away my best torpedoes and had left only two bronze ones…not so good. The steamer was four hundred yards away when I gave an order to fire. The torpedo hit, and there was a rather small detonation and, then after, instantly a much heavier one. The pilot was beside me. I told him to have a look at close range. He put his eye to the periscope and after a brief scrutiny yelled: ‘My God, it’s the Lusitania.'”

Lusitania Sinking Did Not Lead Directly to US Entrance in World War I

The Lusitania’s Captain Turner was an officer of the Royal Navy, not the Cunard Line. On April 24, 1915 the German government had taken out ads in some 40 US newspapers announcing that a state of war existed between Germany and Great Britain and that passengers would travel by steamship at their own risk. After the sinking of the Lusitania, Wilson urged the American public to remain neutral and he sent the protest letter to Kaiser Wilhelm stating that Germany would be held to “strict accountability” if the attacks conitnued. If the president really thought that it was a naked attack on civlians, might he not do something more than write a letter? Earlier, Wilson had offered to arbitrate an end to the war and both sides refused. But, German Ambassador asked President Wilson on September 2, 1916 if he would help negotiate an end to the war in return for a German withdrawl from Belgium. The great peacemaker Wilson refused! He wanted to wait until after the upcoming presidential election. He apparently was afraid that if he helped negotiate a peace that it might hurt his re-election chances. He knew that he had a small chance of ending the war and he passed it up in favor of political concerns. It went on for two more years. What else did he know and ignore for political reasons?

Wilson Lied?

Wilson claimed that the RMS Lusitania was strictly a civilian ship and carried no munitions. We know that is not true. I have yet to read anything in historical annals that say that President Wilson lied. I suppose he had plausible deniability and historians have given him a pass. In January 1917, Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare. In February 1917, the British made the Zimmerman Telegram available to the Americans. In subsequent weeks, the Germans sank a few more ships. So, on April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany, which it did two days later. The question as to whether Wilson knew that the Lusitania was hiding munitions among its passengers will never be known. But we do know that nearly 20 million people perished in The Great War.

SPC Severe Risk Fri AM to Sat AM

SPC Friday Tornado Probability

Weather Bottom Line:  Friday is here.  We have our cold front approaching.  There is a severe threat but it really does look like Ohio will be the target as that is the region with the parent low.  I just don’t think that the atmosphere had enough time to recover from the weak front that came through and brought such pleasant conditions on Thursday and a cool Friday start.  Southwesterly winds will be helping to move temperatures well into the 80’s and moisture will be increasing.  We have a bit of a cap on the atmosphere so afternoon heating will have to work on that and it should put a lid on any afternoon stuff.  I suspect that the front will create storms, there may be some gusty winds and a little rain but otherwise, I’m not totally convinced that there will be more than that.  Regardless of what my gut is telling me, the SPC does have our region in a slight risk for severe storms for late Friday night.

SPC Severe Wind Probability Friday

As I had mentioned yesterday, the dynamics look great for the late afternoon but by the time we actually get rainfall according to the models, the dynamics back off.  However, between the afternoon heating and the dynamics that are remaining, t’storms will probably be in the area.  Keep in mind though that both the GFS and NAM are not very enthusiastic about rainfall, which seems odd.  The NAM only advertises less than 1/10th of an inch of rain while the GFS is only .028 inches.  What this tells me is that rainfall amounts will vary with regions that get an errant thunderstorm getting more and places in between getting decidedly less. The Hydrometeorlogical Prediction Center has jumped on board with this scenario as well as they are looking at perhaps a tenth of an inch of rain for the region with the heaviest amounts of up to 1.5″ around the Great Lakes.  That previous little front really knocked out the moisture and, as I said, it should serve to limit our rain potential.  That is fine with most people because we had our fair share of rain last weekend.  On a side note, I had a guy tell me some time ago that the Old Farmer’s Almanac worked on an assumption of a 7 day cycle.  So, if they initiated the weather correctly at the beginning of the year then it was astonishingly accurate.  I used to teach class on Thursday evenings and I noticed that 6 out of 7 Thursdays we had thunderstorms.  This is the 3rd consecutive weekend that we’ve had a cold front come through and bring t’storms.  It’s kinda interesting.

SPC Severe Hail Probability Friday

Anyway, the nitty gritty of the indicies reveals that the 6Z NAM had a CAPE of 1937, CINS of 5, Helicity 191, Bulk Richardson Number 32.34, Lifted Index of -5.5, the Total Totals at 54, K-Index of 29, Showalter index of -5 and SWEAT Index of 493.  Normally, I’d say that those numbers indicate a round of strong thunderstorms with the possibility of hail, high winds and even a tornado or two.  All of those numbers are high except the K index, which I think is telling and the Total Totals.  But, when it begins to rain at 8PM, the CAPE falls to 1436, the CINS stays up there at 6, the Helicity falls significantly to 66, BRN is still rather high at 26.73, TT falls to 48, the K-Index actually rises but is still not all that impressive at 34,  SHOW falls to -1 and the SWEAT goes to 353.  Suddenly, when it starts to rain its not so great.  The GFS is similar with the CAPE going from 1012 to 868, CINS is off the scale but falls to 22 which is still pretty good, BRN goes from 22.31 to 17.29, LI holds relatively steady from -2.7 to -2.2, K Index is a pedestrian 21 and goes down to a weak 17, SHOW is -2 to -1 and the SWEAT index is 414 to 351.   The GFS numbers are from 4PM to 7 PM with rain starting sometime between 7 and 10 pm, but it ain’t much.  The SWEAT numbers tell me that that there will be some wind energy available but it would appear that by the time anything gets here, the energy is rapidly depleting as the evening wears on.  The front is strong and should supply some lift for storms, but otherwise, it’s worth a look but not worth putting your house on the market.


11 Responses

  1. It didn’t surprise me that a guy who tried to restrict freedom of speech during war-time in Woodrow Wilson would have lied about innocent people dying too.

  2. OK nice to see- new comments are always sweet! See yas.

  3. Beautiful photos! I love the post so much! 😉

  4. wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy 😦

  5. just to let you no its a U-36 not a U-20 and i’m only a teenager and i no let god i have no life

  6. Every source that I have say the U-20 was responsible for the sinking of the Lusitania. You can try this one out http://firstworldwar.com/atoz/u20.htm or if you read the novel by David Butler titled Lusitania you will find he too refers to the U-20. Please supply a citation for your claim. Otherwise, I believe that you are mistaken. Thank you for participating though and feel free to comment any time.

  7. Because it was all out war.

  8. The fact that the Lusitania carried munitions is irrelevent, as this was perfectly legal under the rules of war then in place. It did not give the German’s any more right to sink the Lusitania without warning.
    The Lusitania was also never used as an armed warship by the Royal Navy, she remained in civilian service and was unarmed.

  9. I believe that recent additions to the historiography disputes some of your claims. The fact that the ship sunk so quickly and also reports of secondary explosions have always raised the question as to why; the supposition being that a single torpedo should have have caused a ship of that size to go down so fast. Manifests have been unearthed that suggest that there were in fact munitions on board. In order to support your position, then one must accept that Germany had no right to unilaterally declare unrestricted warfare on ships carrying munitions. I”m not sure but I don’t think that falls under the rules of war…if there really is such a thing. Either way, it seems reasonable that a nation can defend itself by preventing its enemy from receiving munitions that will be used against it. But, as I said, the whole idea of “rules of war” seems rather naive. I think a larger, better question would be if the U boat commander knew that it was carrying munitions and I would suspect that the answer would be no. Hence, his attack falling under the unrestricted warfare laid out by Germany was by happenstance and not from intent. I appreciate your contribution and point of view.

  10. Rules of war exist. At the time, they had not adjusted to the submarine. Old rules said an attacking ship had to warn the target merchant ship and help evacuate passengers, then the target ship could be sunk. (Called the cruiser rules, I believe.) Many merchant ships were armed with some type of defensive guns, and submarines, lacking armor, speed, or surface guns, were obviously vulnerable if they surfaced to give warning, and didn’t have room to take on passengers even if they did. It was just an instance of the “rules” being far behind a rapidly evolving technology. So, yes, the Germans were in violation of the rules of war, and much of the world still believed that “sneaky” submarines were immoral. Germany, on the other hand, couldn’t compete with the British surface fleet and saw subs as their only hope of winning the war. Just as they had justified invading and terrorizing neutral Belgium as a “necessity”, so they justified submarine warfare on the same grounds. They convinced themselves of their righteousness in so doing, but no one else. (See Tuchman’s “Guns of August” for more).

  11. You know that the German embassy tried to warn people to not sail on the Lusitania?

    “The German embassy in Washington was well aware of the nature of the cargo being loaded aboard the Lusitania and filed a formal complaint to the United States government, because almost all of it was in direct violation of international neutrality treaties. The response was a flat denial of any knowledge of such cargo. Seeing that the Wilson Administration was tacitly approving the shipment, the German embassy made one final effort to avert disaster. It placed an ad in fifty East Coast newspapers, including those in New York City, warning Americans not to take passage on the Lusitania. The ad was prepaid and requested to be placed on the paper’s travel page a full week before the sailing date. –Of the fifty newspapers, only the Des Moines Register carried the ad on the requested date.”

    Image of newspaper clipping:

    Research for yourself and make your own opinions, however this excerpt from G. Edward Griffin’s Creature from Jekyll Island sums it up decently.


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