In the absence of the Chairlady, who is on holiday overseas, the Deputy Chairman, Flip Hoorweg, opened the meeting by giving us a brief account of his own recent overseas visit to some of the historical battlefield sites in the USA. He then welcomed Brig. Gen. Deon Fourie and presented him with the George Barrell prize for the best curtain raiser lecture of 2004, "Smuts the Soldier". Once again the raffle ticket #014068 was unclaimed so it was decided to do another draw. This time the lucky ticket was #014080, which was also unclaimed, as was the next draw, #014092. If you are in possession of one of these tickets, then you are the proud owner of a new DVD, so please come along to the next meeting and claim your prize.
After the usual notices, Flip introduced our first guest speaker of the evening. This was Mr. Robert Morgan-Wilson, who was to speak on "Toxopholy - an overview". Toxopholy is the scientific name for "archery" and Mr Morgan-Wilson proceeded to give a highly amusing and informative talk on the history of archery and a host of little-known facets of archery in warfare. He described the rigorous training which all Englishmen between the ages of seven and fifty were required to undergo, as a matter of law, so that the military skill of the English archer with his long bow could be maintained. He described how this training was used to devastating effect against the French at Agincourt, Crecy and Poitiers, and the subsequent cruelty displayed towards any archer who was unfortunate enough to fall into enemy hands. Producing a bow, Robert described the muscle needed to use it and emphasised its superiority over the crossbow.
An interesting part of his lecture was the influence which archery has had on the English language. Many of the phrases we use today have their origin in archery. The origin of the phrase "picking a quarrel" comes from the use of a crossbow bolt (arrow) and known as a "quarrel". One picked this carefully as you had to make sure that your first, and possibly only, shot hit the target - otherwise you might end up being "shafted" yourself! Other well-known phrases are "straight as an arrow" and "a bolt from the blue". Arrows were, of necessity, straight, and a bolt from the blue was likely to arrive when an archer fired a shot high up into the air, before it plunged to the ground. Robert then demonstrated the term "brace yourself", which is associated with stringing a bow for action, and how "rule of thumb" is the rough way of checking to see if the bowstring is the correct length, by clenching the fist and extending the thumb to measure the distance from the bow handle to the string.
In closing, he drew attention to the large number of surnames which have their origin associated with archery, such as Archer, Bowman, Bowmaker, Fletcher, Broadhead and Stringer.
Flip thanked Mr Morgan-Wilson for a most interesting and entertaining curtain raiser and then introduced Mr John Murray, a former committee member and the main speaker of the evening. John's talk was entitled "The Sinking of the Lusitania" and was the result of his recent visit to Cobh (formerly Queenstown) in Eire, where he had researched the sinking and visited some of the sites associated with it.
The "Lusitania" was owned by the Cunard Line and together with their "Mauretania" was engaged on their regular transatlantic service between Liverpool and New York. She had been launched in 1906 and after the sinking of the "Titanic" in 1912 had been updated to comply with the international regulations which had been brought in regarding lifeboats. She thus had sufficient lifeboats on each side to accommodate all those aboard. However, these still had to be launched from the radial davits of the time and this was a time-consuming business which required a well-drilled crew.
On 1 May 1915 the "Lusitania" sailed from New York and commenced her normal transatlantic crossing. Notwithstanding an advert in the press placed by the German Embassy warning prospective passengers of the danger of sailing in a British ship into what had been classified as a war zone, the "Lusitania" had a full passenger list and cargo for Liverpool. Her Master, Captain William Turner, was one of Cunard's senior Masters and highly experienced, but fully convinced that a submarine could pose no real danger to his fast and powerful ship. The "Lusitania" entered what was known as the war zone on 6 May so Capt Turner had his lifeboats swung out ready for lowering, but continued on at 21 knots. No abandon ship drill was carried out at any time during the voyage and many passengers were not even aware of which boat they were assigned to in case of an emergency.
Unbeknown to Captain Turner, U-20, commanded by Kapitanleutnant Walther Schweiger, had left Emden in Germany on 30 April to carry out a patrol off the approaches to Liverpool and, after a series of successes, was down to only two remaining torpedoes. Schweiger decided to abandon his patrol and return home, hoping to expend his remaining two torpedoes on suitable targets on the way.
The British Admiralty reacted to his success by issuing a series of warnings, which included specific warnings to "Lusitania", that submarines were active off the southern coast of Ireland. Turner was told to travel at full speed, keep to the middle of all channels, avoid headlands and to pick up his Liverpool pilot at the Bar light vessel. Confident of his invulnerability in his large and fast ship, Turner rounded the southern tip of Ireland as U-20 was approaching it and then adjusted his speed to arrive at the Bar light vessel at high water. He then altered course in towards Queenstown to fix his position by cross bearings of landmarks.
At this time he was spotted by U-20 but his course and speed placed him beyond the reach of the submarine. Having fixed her position, the "Lusitania" then swung on to her course up the Irish Sea towards Liverpool, still out of reach of U-20. At this moment, however, Turner received an urgent message from Queenstown to divert there because of the extreme danger of submarine attack. This he did, and his new course put him directly in a perfect attack situation for U-20.
At 14h10 on Friday 7 May 1915, Schweiger fired one of his remaining two torpedoes and hit the "Lusitania" on her starboard side between her first and second funnels. This torpedo explosion was followed by a second and larger explosion, caused by the coal dust in her bunkers igniting. The "Lusitania" immediately took a heavy list to starboard and started sinking. She was still moving ahead and this, coupled with the list and inadequate training in launching lifeboats, plus the complete absence of any sort of previous passenger boat drill, created the ideal conditions for confusion and panic aboard the liner.
Although Turner never ordered "abandon ship" various officers acted on their own initiative and managed to get six boats away in the eighteen minutes it took the "Lusitania" to sink. Because of the previous submarine warnings there were no other ships in the vicinity, but an SOS from "Lusitania" brought a stream of fishing boats from Queenstown to her assistance. Unfortunately they were too late in arriving and more than 60% of "Lusitania's" complement were lost - 1 201 in all. 124 of these were American citizens.
In the aftermath of the sinking, accusations flew back and forth. The British and US authorities accused Schweiger of torpedoing the "Lusitania" without warning, a heinous crime at that time, although it was something which would become commonplace later in that war. The Germans accused the British of using a liner filled with civilians to transport arms and ammunition. This the British vigorously denied, although the "Lusitania" was in fact carrying 4 200 cases of Remington rifle cartridges, fuses and 1 250 cases of empty shrapnel shells in her cargo.
In the diplomatic furore that followed, Germany eventually issued a statement expressing regret for the loss of American lives, but the impression of German barbarity towards civilians had been created and had a profound effect on American thinking. This, coupled with Germany's later "sink on sight" policy, became one of the factors which eventually, in 1917, brought the USA into the war.
Turner's career was brought to an end by this incident and he was severely criticised for his actions and placed on early pension. Schweiger met with a very cool reception on his return to Emden and had his ship's official log "doctored" to place Germany in a better light. Nonetheless, he went on to become one of Germany's top U-Boat aces, before being lost whilst in command of U-88, which struck a mine.
Mr Murray was thanked for his most interesting talk by Mr Colin Dean who complimented John on the passion with which he delivered it.
June 2005 Military History Journal
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