Lusitania - Last Voyage of the Lusitania

On one hand this is a documentary of one of the most tragic ship sinkings in modern history. On the other hand, there are great recreations and stories told by survivors on the ship, which bring a very real sense of what it was like to be involved in this sinking. The entire production is very well done and is narrated by Martin Sheen.

Robert Ballard, famous for his work on the Titanic shipwreck, uses his underwater camera expertise to piece together this mystery. Back in the days of World War I, the US was not involved in the fight between England and Germany. England began smuggling in munitions on peaceful ships since the new German U-Boat submarines were sinking their military ships. A high end passenger ocean liner, the Lusitania, left the US for Liverpool, full of wealthy passengers. On May 7, 1915, within sight of the Irish coast, a German sub torpedoes and sinks the Lusitania. She goes down in broad daylight in only 15 minutes time - and 2/3rds of her passengers die, either trapped inside the ship or frozen in the cold waters before they could be rescued.

It's one thing to learn about the Titanic which struck an iceberg in the "middle of nowhere", and where human follies - our pride in claiming it couldn't be sunk, the lack of lifeboats, the lack of binoculars for the looksouts - contributed to the disaster. It's another thing for a cruise ship full of innocent people, sailing in the middle of the day right next to a large populated land mass - to be deliberately sunk. This one sinking caused an international sensation and led to the US being involved in the war.

The question of course is - was the Lusitania really innocent? Many have claimed that the Lusitania was full of high end explosives and that the Germans had every right to blow it up. There was an initial explosion from the torpedo hitting - but this could never have sunk the boat in 15 minutes. It was a subsequent large explosion that tore a hole in the ship and made it sink so quickly. Ballard's team went down to answer that question.

They found pretty quickly that there was NOT a giant hole near the supposed storage area for munitions. Yes, it's admitted now that the UK was sending over some guns and bullets for their troops on the steamer, but for most people that does not fall into the same category as large boxes of TNT or other explosives. Instead, after a lot of investigation, Ballard's team found that the large, now-empty bins of coal dust left over from the crossing ignited and caused a coal dust fireball to explode. It was in essence "bad luck" for the ship that the one torpedo was able to sink it so quickly. Still, in the end, the Germans fired a torpedo hoping to damage the ship. They were only "lucky" in damaging it so badly. In fact, the Germans had explicitly taken out an ad in the paper the day the Lusitania sailed, warning passengers that their ship was fair game. So any passenger who read the paper would have known they were a target. It was well publicized in general that the Germans were shooting down ships.

It's interesting to watch the video in "modern times" when these results are well known. In a way it's like watching footage of old Titanic recreations where they thought the Titanic sent down in one piece, when we know clearly now that the Titanic broke in two before sinking. During the historic video segments here they show the newspaper headlines from the time, talking about 2 or 3 torpedoes hitting the Lusitania. These are being reported as front page facts. It reminds us just how carefully we should evaluate news sources, and know that "facts" are always subject to future revision when we get more information.

For example, when the ship was first sunk, the British government claimed quite loudly that there were no weapons at ALL on the ship. It was only after proof was acquired of the guns and bullets that they admitted to that part. It made people suspicious that there were more lies involved, which then "tainted" the history of the Lusitania for decades. No matter how loudly the British government kept claiming there was not TNT on the ship, why would people believe them now, given the previous lies? It took a team of scientists actually going down to examine the physical ship to lay that myth to rest.

Well recommended for any lover of cruise ships, to see the many photos and videos of this gorgeous cruise ship. Well recommended for any student of history, to see just what a single event can do to change the course of nations, and how that event affects every person caught up in it.

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