Her destruction, they fondly hoped, would strike terror to the hearts of the British, for it would prove the inability of the English navy to protect her merchantmen. It would prove to the world that von Tirpitz was ’ on a fair way of carrying out his threat to isolate the British Isles and starve the British people into submission to Germany. It would be a last warning to neutrals to keep off the Allies’ merchantmen and would help stop the shipment of arms and ammunition to the Allies from America. It would – as a certain royal personage boasted – shake the world’s foundations.
Gloating over their project and forgetting the rights of neutrals, the mad war lords did not think of the innocent persons on board, the men, the women and babies. The lives of these neutrals were as nothing compared with the shouts of triumph that would resound through Germany at the announcement of the torpedoing of the big British ship, symbol of sea power. The attitude was truly expressed by Captain von Papen, who on receiving news of the sinking of the Lusitania remarked: “ Well, your General Sherman said it: ’ War is Hell.’ “
So the war lords schemed and the plots which resulted in the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915, bringing death to 113 American citizens, were developed and executed in America, through orders from Berlin. The agents in America put their heads together in a room in the German Club, New York, or in a high-powered limousine tearing through the dark. These men, who had worked out the plot, on the night of the successful execution had assembled in a club and in high glee touched their glasses and shouted their devotion to the Kaiser. One boasted afterwards that he received an Iron Cross for his share in the work.
On the night of the tragedy, one of the conspirators remarked to a family where he was dining – a family whose son was on the Lusitania – when word came of the many deaths on the ship : “I did not think she would sink so quickly. I had two good men on board.”
In their secret conferences the conspirators worked their way round obstacles and set their scheme in operation. Hired spies had made numerous trips on the Lusitania, and had carefully studied her course to and from England, and her convoy through the dangerous zone where submarines might be lurking. These spies had observed the precautions taken against a submarine attack. They knew the fearful speed by which the big ship had eluded pursuers in February. They also had considered the feasibility of sending a wireless message to a friend in England – a message apparently of greeting that might be picked up by the wireless on a German submarine and give its commander a hint as to the ship’s course. In fact, they did attempt this plan. Spies were on board early in the year when the Lusitania ran dangerously near a submarine, dodged a torpedo and then quickly eclipsed her German pursuer.
Spies also had brought reports concerning persons connected with the Lusitania, and had given suggestions as to how to place men on board in spite of the scrutiny of British agents. All these reports were considered carefully and the conclusion was that no submarine was fast enough to chase and get the Lusitania ; that it was practically impossible to have the U-boats stationed along every half mile of the British coast, but that the simplest problem was to send the Lusitania on a course where the U-boats would be in waiting and could torpedo her. The scheme was, in substance, as follows:
“Captain Turner, approaching the English coast, sends a wireless to the British Admiralty asking for instructions as to his course and convoy. He gets a reply in code telling him in what direction to steer and where his convoy will meet him. First, we must get a copy of the Admiralty Code and we must prepare a message in cipher, giving directions as to his course. This message will go to him by wireless as though from the Admiralty. We must make arrangements to see that the genuine message from the British Admiralty never reaches Captain Turner.”
That was the plan which the conspirators, aided and directed by Berlin, chose. Upon it the shrewdest minds in the German secret service were set to work. As for the British Admiralty Code, the Germans had that at the outbreak of the war and were using it at advantageous moments. How they got it has not been made known; but they got it and they used it, just as the Germans have obtained copies of the codes used by the American State Department and have had copies of the codes used in our Army and Navy. While the codes used by the British officials change almost daily, such is not the case with merchant vessels on long voyages.
The next step of the conspirators was to arrange for the substitution of the fake message for the genuine one. Germany’s spy machine has a wonderful faculty for seeking out the weak characters holding responsible positions among the enemy or for sending agents to get and hold positions among their foes. It is now believed that a man on the Lusitania was deceived or duped. Whether he was a German sympathizer sent out by the Fatherland to get the position and be ready for the task, or whether he was induced for pay to play the part he did – has not been told. Neither is his fate known.
Communication between New York and the German capital, ingenious, intricate and superbly arranged, was almost as easy as telephoning from the Battery to Harlem. Berlin was kept informed of every move in New York and, in fact, selected the ill-fated course for the Lusitania’s last voyage in English waters. Berlin picked out the place where the Lusitania was to sink. Berlin chose the deep-sea graves for more than one hundred Americans. Berlin assigned two submarines to a point ten miles south by west off Old Head of Kinsale, near the entrance of St. George’s Channel. Berlin chose the commander of the U-boats for the most damnable sea-crime in history.
Just here there is a rumour among U-boat men in Europe that the man for the crime was sent from Kiel with sealed instructions not to be opened till at the spot chosen. With him went “ a shadow “ armed with a death warrant if the U-boat commander “ baulked “ at the last moment.
The German officials in Berlin looking ahead, sought to prearrange a palliative for their crime. Their plan, which in itself shows clearly how carefully the Germans plotted the destruction of the Lusitania, was to warn Americans not to sail on the vessel. While the German Embassy in Washington was kept clear of the plot and Ambassador von Bernstorff had argued and fought with all his strength against the designs of the Berlin authorities, he, nevertheless, received orders to publish an advertisement warning neutrals not to sail on the Allies’ merchantmen. Acting under instructions, this advertisement was inserted in newspapers in a column adjoining the Cunard’s advertisement of the sailing of the Lusitania. Germans in New York, who had knowledge that German submarines were lying in wait off the Irish coast to “get” the Lusitania, sent intimations to friends before the sailing of the ship.
The New York Sun was told of the plot and warned Captain Turner by wireless after the ship sailed. The German secret service in New York also sent warnings to Americans booked on the Lusitania. One of the persons to receive such a message signed “morte” was Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt. Many other passengers got the same warning that the ship was to be torpedoed; but they all laughed at it. They knew she had outrun submarines on a previous voyage and tricked them on another voyage. Besides, before the horrors of this war, optimistic Americans firmly believed the world was a civilized place. It was only after the destruction of the Lusitania that many neutral Americans could credit the atrocity stories of Belgium. (End)