Irish Stamps: Centenary of the Sinking of the RMS Lusitania (2015)

On 7th May 2015, An Post has issued a set of 2 stamps commemorating the sinking of the RMS Lusitania off the Old Head of Kinsale in Co Cork on 7th May 1915.

On Thursday 7th May 2015, An Post will issue a set of 2 stamps to commemorate the sinking of the Lusitania off the Old Head of Kinsale, Co Cork, Ireland.

On Thursday 7th May 2015, An Post will issue a set of 2 stamps to commemorate the sinking of the Lusitania off the Old Head of Kinsale, Co Cork, Ireland.

Lusitania at the end of the first leg of her maiden voyage, New York City, September 1907

On 12 September 1907, the RMS Lusitania arrived in New York City after a record-breaking 5 day crossing (maiden voyage) of the Atlantic – some thought that these liners were too fast for U-Boats to sink.

When Lusitania was built, her construction and operating expenses were subsidised by the British government, with the proviso that she could be converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser if need be.

  • A secret compartment was designed in for the purpose of carrying arms and ammunition

When war was declared the Lusitania was requisitioned by the British Admiralty as an armed merchant cruiser, and she was put on the official list of AMCs. Lusitania remained on the official AMC list and was listed as an auxiliary cruiser in the 1914 edition of Jane’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, along with Mauretania.

New York Herald front page: May 1915 - Lusitania sunk. 100 lives lost. Newly released documents show that in 1982 the British government feared attempts to survey the wreck of the Lusitania would reveal an illegal stash of ammunition, which almost 70 years on, would discredit the premise on which the Americans were drawn into World War One

New York Herald front page: May 1915 – Lusitania sunk. 100 lives lost. Newly released documents show that in 1982 the British government feared attempts to survey the wreck of the Lusitania would reveal an illegal stash of ammunition, which almost 70 years on, would discredit the premise on which the Americans were drawn into World War One

In 1915, Britain was at war with Germany. The United States was still neutral. On May 7, the Lusitania, a British ocean liner en route from America to England, was sunk by a German submarine some 12 miles off Ireland’s southern coast.

  • There were 764 survivors, but nearly 1,200 people, including 128 Americans, lost their lives.

The Lusitania – which had been the world’s largest ship when launched in 1906 – went down in just 18 minutes after a single torpedo hit.

  • Survivors reported there had been two explosions – a smaller one followed moments later by an enormous one. This was affirmed by the log of the U-20, the submarine which sank her.

The tragedy was portrayed to the public as the wanton slaughter of women and children. It became the subject of a relentless propaganda campaign, including a fabricated claim that German children were given a holiday from school to celebrate the sinking.

One of the many propaganda items manufactured and distributed at the time were these propaganda stamps, issued to resonate the abhorrence of the Lusitania sinking

One of the many propaganda items manufactured and distributed at the time were these propaganda stamps, issued to resonate the abhorrence of the Lusitania sinking. They were not valid for postage but many people did put them on envelopes – alongside the valid postage stamps

Throughout Britain and Ireland, the sinking of the Lusitania was portrayed as an act of terrorism and used as a propaganda topic to help the British Army to enlist new recruits for its draining campaign in the Great War

Throughout Britain and Ireland, the sinking of the Lusitania was portrayed as an act of terrorism and used as a propaganda topic to help the British Army to enlist new recruits for its draining campaign in the Great War

The Lusitania was the most important in a series of pretexts used to generate the eventual U.S. declaration of war on Germany.

However, the reality was different – the Cunard Line built the Lusitania and her sister ship Mauretania with loans from the British government, which also bestowed annual subsidies on Cunard for operational costs. In return for this, the Admiralty required that the ships be designed as auxiliary cruisers, available in wartime.

  • The British used the Lusitania to ferry heavy loads of munitions from America to Britain.
    • This validates the German claim that she was a legitimate war target
    • Precisely what she was carrying is still a much debated topic
    • The millions of small arms (bullets) would not have been sufficient to sink her
  • Since the U.S. government disallowed shipment of most munitions on passenger ships, the British got around this by submitting falsified manifests for the Lusitania.

On 8 May 1915, Dr Bernhard Dernburg, a German spokesman and a former German Colonial Secretary, published a statement in which he said that

  • because Lusitania “carried contraband of war” and also because she “was classed as an auxiliary cruiser,” Germany had a right to destroy her regardless of any passengers aboard.
  • Dernburg further said that the warnings given by the German Embassy before her sailing plus the 18 February note declaring the existence of “war zones” relieved Germany of any responsibility for the deaths of the American citizens aboard.
  • He referred to the ammunition and military goods declared on Lusitania‍ ’​s manifest and said that “vessels of that kind” could be seized and destroyed under the Hague rules.

Lusitania was indeed officially listed as an auxiliary war ship, and her cargo had included an estimated 4,200,000 rounds of rifle cartridges, 1,250 empty shell cases, and 18 cases of non-explosive fuses, which was openly listed as such in her cargo manifest.

  • The day after the sinking, The New York Times published full details of the ship’s military cargo

Assistant Manager of the Cunard Line, Herman Winter, denied the charge that she carried munitions, but admitted that she was carrying small-arms ammunition, and that she had been carrying such ammunition for years.

  • The fact that Lusitania had been carrying shells and cartridges was not made known to the British public at the time

In the 27-page additional manifest, delivered to U.S. customs 4–5 days after the Lusitania sailed from New York, and the Bethlehem Steels papers is stated that the “empty shells” were in fact

  • 1,248 boxes of filled 3″ shell, 4 shells to the box, totalling 103,000 pounds or 50 tonnes
  • If these had exploded as a result of a torpedo hit, the massive explosion would have been more than enough to sink the Lusitania

These facts were kept from the public and, subsequently, a whole series of propaganda materials was produced at the time with the express purpose of turning public opinion in the USA against Germany – that it certainly did – and at 8:30 on the evening of April 2, 1917, President Wilson appeared before a joint session of Congress and asked for a declaration of war against Germany in order to “make the world safe for democracy.”

  • On April 4, Congress granted Wilson’s request
  • The United States of America was at war with Germany and her allies

Since the Great War, the Lusitania has been the subject of many conspiracy theories, including that relating to the illuminati – a secret society allegedly involved in many of the key events leading to WW1 – the so-called Atlantean Theory. Many books have also be written and, no doubt, 2015 will spawn a few more !

  • The Lusitania Plot, Linda & Gary Cargill
  • Wilful Murder: the Sinking of the Lusitania, Dian Preston
  • The Sinking of the Lusitania: The Most Controversial Submarine Attack of World War I
  • The Last Voyage of the Lusitania, A.A. & M. Hoehling
  • Dead Wake : The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, Erik Larson
  • Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age, Greg King & Penny Wilson
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