Thursday 14 May 2015

Lusitania - The Inquest

Capt. Turner's Evidence

Captain William Turner giving evidence at the Lusitania Inquiry
Message from the Admiralty

At the inquest at Kinsale on Monday, Captain W. S. Turner was sworn by the Coroner as to the death of Captain Mathews and certain other unknown passengers. He said he left New York on May 1st. I received no personal warnings beyond what I saw in the newspaper. The voyage was without incident. I was fully aware that threats had been made that the ship would be torpedoed.

The Coroner -- Was she armed?

Witness -- No, sir.

What precautions did you make in connection with these threats? I had all the boats swung out and the bulkheads doors closed when we came within the zone. We passed the Fastnet about eleven o'clock. Between that time and the torpedoing I saw no sign whatever of any submarine. There was some haze on the Irish coast, and when near the Fastnet I slowed down to fifteen knots. I was in wireless communication with the shore all the way across.

The Coroner -- Did you receive any message with reference to submarines being off the Irish Coast?

Witness -- Yes.

What was the nature of the message?

Witness -- I respectfully refer you to the Admiralty for an answer to that question.

Did you receive any message as to the sinking of a ship off the Old Head of Kinsale? No.

Did you receive any special instructions as to the voyage? Yes, sir.

Are you at liberty to tell us what they are? No, sir.

Did you carry them out? Yes, to the best of my ability.

Tell us in your own words what happened after passing the Fastnet. The weather was clear and we were going at a speed of eighteen knots. I was on the port side, and I heard the second officer, Hefford, call out, "There's a torpedo." I ran over to the other side, and saw clearly the wake of the torpedo. Smoke and steam came up between the last two funnels. There was a slight shock immediately after the first explosion. There was another report, but that might possibly have been internal. I at once gave the order to lower the boats down to the rails, and I directed that the women and children should be got into them. I also gave the order to "Stop ship," but we could not stop it. We found the engines were out of commission. It was not safe to lower boats until speed was off. The vessel did not stop; as a matter of fact, there was a perceptible headway on her up to the time she went down. The moment she struck she listed to starboard. I stood on the bridge as she sank, and the Lusitania went down under me. She floated about eighteen minutes after the torpedo struck her. My watch stopped at 2-36¼.

A Juryman -- That exactly corresponds with the time of another watch.

The Coroner—It does.

Firemen and engine room staff on the deck of the Lusitania.


Witness continued -- I was picked up from among the wreckage, and was afterwards brought aboard a trawler. No warship was convoying us. I saw no warship. None was reported to me as having been seen. At the time I was picked up I noticed bodies floating on the surface, but no living persons. Captain Matthews was unknown to me. Eighteen knots was not the normal speed of the Lusitania. At ordinary times she could make twenty-five knots, but in war time her speed was reduced to twenty-one knots. My reason for going eighteen knots was I wanted to arrive at Liverpool Bar without stopping, and within two or three hours of high water.

The Coroner -- Was there a look-out kept for submarines, having regard to the previous warnings? Yes; we had double look-outs.

Were you going a zig-zag course at the moment the torpedoing took place. No. It was bright weather, and the land was clearly visible.

Was it possible for a submarine to approach without being seen? Oh, yes, quite possible.

Something has been said as to the impossibility of launching the boats on the port side? Yes, owing to the listing of the ship.

How many boats were launched safely? I cannot say.

Were any launched safely? Yes, and one or two on the port side, too.

Were your orders promptly carried out? Yes.

Was there any panic aboard? No, there was no panic at all, and it was almost calm.

How many persons were on board? There were 1,500 passengers and about 600 of a crew,

A Juryman -- Did you get a wireless to steer the vessel in a northerly direction? No.

Was the course of the vessel altered after the torpedo struck her? I headed straight for the land, but it was useless. Previous to this the watertight bulkheads were closed. I suppose the explosion forced them open. I do not know the exact extent to which the Lusitania was damaged.

The Coroner -- There must have been serious damage done to the watertight bulkheads? There certainly was without doubt.

Were the passengers supplied with lifebelts? Yes.

Were any special orders given that morning that lifebelts should be put on? No.

Was any warning given you before you were torpedoed? None whatever. It was suddenly done and finished.

If there had been a patrol boat about might it have been of assistance? It might; but it is one of those things one never knows. The submarine would have probably torpedoed both of us.

The Coroner -- We all sympathise with you very much in the terrible crime that has been committed, and we also express our appreciation to the high courage you have shown. You have proved yourself worthy of the traditions of the service to which, you belong. We are very much obliged to you for coming here to-day at considerable inconvenience to give evidence. (Murmurs of approval.)

The captain then retired from the witness chair.


The jury found -- "This appalling crime was contrary to international law and the conventions of all civilised nations, and we therefore charge the officer of the submarine and the German Emperor and Government of Germany, under whose orders they acted, with the crime of wilful and wholesale murder." The jury expressed sympathy with the relatives, with the Cunard Company, and with the United States.

Punch, 12th May 1915



Washington, Thursday. -- The Government Note to be sent to Germany to-day will demand a guarantee that no further submarine attacks will be made on merchantmen carrying non-combatants, and also gives notice that reparation will be sought for the loss of over one hundred lives on the Lusitania, and for other violations of the rights of Americans in the sea war zones.

Whilst no indication is given in the Note of the steps which the Government will take in the events of an unfavourably reply, Germany is informed in it that America will leave nothing undone, either diplomatically or otherwise, to obtain compliance.

More Impertinence to America.

Washington, Thursday. -- The German Embassy yesterday evening notified by letter and telegraph the newspapers, in all the large cities of the United States, to discontinue the publication of the advertisement warning Americans against Transatlantic travel in belligerent ships. No reason for the discontinuance was given, but it was stated by the Embassy that the warning was considered to have been sufficient.


Speaking at a meeting of the Sustentation Fund Committee on Tuesday

The Moderator said he felt that at that the first representative meeting of their Church since that most calamitous occurrence that had happened on the shores of Ireland he should say a word. In such a matter one felt, he said, to speak with calmness. (Hear, hear.) They were all greatly distressed when the Titanic, by an accident, went down, and when so many of their fellow-creatures were overwhelmed in the mighty deep. But he thought they had different feelings -- feelings of the deepest sympathy on the one hand, but also feeling of deep indignation at the barbarity and the brutality of a nation that claimed to be civilised at all. He would not further enter into that side of the question, but he wished to express the sympathy and sorrow they all felt with the relatives of those who had perished not only in this land, but in America. That feeling would be shared throughout the whole Church -- (hear hear) -- as it was fully shared by that committee. (Hear, hear.)

Text: The Witness, 14th May 1915

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