The Lusitania Sinking

Author: Ernest C. Cowper  | Date: 1915

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The Lusitania Sinking

Ernest C. Cowper and Lieutenant Schweiger

NOTICE:—Travelers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or of any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travelers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk. IMPERIAL GERMAN EMBASSY.

Washington, D. C., April 22, 1915.

THE SINKING DESCRIBED BY ERNEST C. COWPER, A SURVIVOR

A SHORT time before the torpedo hit us I called attention of Elbert Hubbard and Mrs. Hubbard to the extra watch which had been put on for submarines, and walked them forward to where two men were right at the stem with glasses. Two were on each side of the navigating-bridge, and three were in the crow’s-nest, which is half way up the foremast. He [Hubbard] expressed surprise at this, for he was sure a submarine would never make any effort to torpedo a ship filled with women, children and non-combatants. He mentioned the fact that there were no guns on board, and that there was no place to put them. I agreed that there were no guns, but pointed out that there were places to put them, and walked both round to the places which were built with the vessel for the mounting of guns if required. Nobody but one having a close acquaintance with a ship would know what the round, elevated patch on the deck was for; but I come from a seafaring family (my father having been drowned at sea while in command), and so I knew what they were for.

We then parted to go to our cabins before taking lunch. On finishing mine I went to the top deck, and was smoking . . . when I saw the torpedo coming toward us. I sought the shelter of the companionway until after the explosion, when I saw another coming and again took shelter. After the second one. . . . the vessel took a terrible list right away. . . . They [Mr. and Mrs. Hubbard] emerged from their room, which was on the port side of the vessel, and came on to the boat-deck. Neither appeared perturbed in the least. They linked arms—the fashion in which they always walked the deck—and stood apparently wondering what to do. I passed him [Hubbard] with a baby which I was taking to a lifeboat when he said "Well, they have got us. They are a damn-sight worse than I ever thought they were." They did not move very far away from where they originally stood. As I moved to the other side of the ship, in preparation for a jump when the right moment came, I called to him, "What are you going to do?" and he just shook his head, while Mrs. Hubbard smiled and said, "There does not seem to be anything to do."

The expression seemed to produce action on the part of Elbert Hubbard, for then he did one of the most dramatic things I ever saw done. He simply turned with Mrs. Hubbard and entered a room on the top deck, the door of which was open, and closed it behind him. It was apparent that his idea was that they would die together, and not risk being parted on going into the water . . .

There was a preponderance of women and children on board. This fact is accounted for owing to the number of wives and children of men belonging to the Canadian contingents (which were almost wholly composed of Old-Country men) who were going to England, where they could live cheaper and be near to the hospitals where their dear ones would be taken in case of injury.

Some of the horrors of the disaster can never be committed to print. I can say this: There were a surprisingly large number of women on board who were in advanced stages of pregnancy—presumably English women who were going to their parents for the birth of their children. I saw the corpses of four of these in the mortuary at Queenstown, and they had been delivered of their infants in the water, precipitated labor owing to shock being the cause. . . . Because Great Britain was at war there should be stretched out on the cold flagstones of the mortuary at Queenstown the bodies of four women in a condition which even animals respect, and this for the furtherance of the Kultur which Emperor William would impose on Europe, and America next, I suppose, were he not stopped (and he is stopped). And this is but one of the many horrors. . . .

FROM THE DIARY OF LIEUTENANT SCHWEIGER, THE U-20 COMMANDER

RIGHT ahead appear four funnels and two masts of a steamer. . . . clean bow shot from 700 meters range. . . . Shot hits starboard side right behind bridge. An unusually heavy detonation follows with a very strong explosion cloud. (High in the air over first smokestack.) Added to the explosion of the torpedo there must have been a second explosion. (Boiler or coal or powder.)

The superstructure over point struck and the high bridge are rent asunder, fire breaks out and smoke envelops the high bridge. The ship stops immediately and quickly heels to starboard, at the same time diving deeper at the bows. She has the appearance of being about to capsize. Great confusion on board, boats being cleared and part being lowered to water. They must have lost their heads. Many boats crowded come down bow first or stern first in the water, and immediately fill and sink.

Fewer lifeboats can be made clear on the port side, owing to the slant of the ship. The ship blows off. In the front appears the name "Lusitania" in gold letters. . . . It seems as if the vessel will be afloat only a short time. Submerge to twenty-four meters and go to sea. I could not have fired a second torpedo into this throng of humanity attempting to save themselves.

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Chicago: Ernest C. Cowper, The Lusitania Sinking in America—Great Crises in Our History Told by Its Makers: A Library of Original Sources (Chicago: Americanization Department of Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, 1915), 261–265. Original Sources, accessed February 1, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=E1PVE74P3A3XVNM.

MLA: Cowper, Ernest C. The Lusitania Sinking, in America—Great Crises in Our History Told by Its Makers: A Library of Original Sources, Vol. 11, Chicago, Americanization Department of Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, 1915, pp. 261–265. Original Sources. 1 Feb. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=E1PVE74P3A3XVNM.

Harvard: Cowper, EC, The Lusitania Sinking. cited in 1915, America—Great Crises in Our History Told by Its Makers: A Library of Original Sources, Americanization Department of Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Chicago, pp.261–265. Original Sources, retrieved 1 February 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=E1PVE74P3A3XVNM.