The Innocence Campaign
- ‘Lusitania’: The Cultural History of a Catastrophe by Willi Jasper, translated by Stewart Spencer
Yale, 233 pp, £18.99, September 2016, ISBN 978 0 300 22138 1
At 9 a.m. on 7 May 1915, the commander of U-Boat-20, Lieutenant Walther Schwieger, troubled by low fuel and heavy fog, decided to end his marauding in the Irish Sea and return to Wilhelmshaven. Shortly after one o’clock, he took a last look around through his periscope. The fog had lifted and in his sights was ‘a big passenger steamer’. Without hesitation, he fired a single bow-shot; an initial great explosion was followed shortly by another. The steamer listed heavily to starboard, preventing most lifeboats on the port side from being lowered. Just 18 minutes after the torpedo had hit, the ship began to sink and Schwieger, as he noted later in his logbook, was able to make out ‘the name “Lusitania” in gold letters on the bow’. His action caused the deaths of 1197 people, about 61 per cent of those on board; 788 were passengers; 35 of the 39 infants aboard died.
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.