Snapshot from Letterstime
---- Bridge RMS Lusitania 7/5 1915
The calm sea was in sharp contrast to the tension on the bridge. The
huge liner was steaming at high speed just south of Ireland. The Irish
coast clearly visible to the north. This was the most dangerous part of
the Atlantic crossing, the odds of stumbling on a German submarine was
much higher here than anywhere else along the route. Nervous lookouts
kept the sea under close surveillance searching for periscopes, torpedo
tracks drifting mines and any other hazard that might appear at any time.
After the disaster at Dogger Bank, a feeling of uncertainty had crept
into most of the English seamen, things like Dogger Bank weren't supposed
to happen to the Royal navy. That's what we are supposed to do to them,
the captain thought.
Even after their victory the German U-boats hadn't completely abandoned
their cowardly attacks on civilian shipping and the captain was very aware
that his ship was one of the biggest targets on the Atlantic. Their high
speed made it unlikely that they would be caught by a hostile submarine
but there was always the risk of literally stumbling on one. The crew
were not the only ones watching the calm surface of the ocean, many passengers
were also staring out at the sea, most however didn't seem to realise
the danger lurking out there beneath the waves.
---- SM U-20 patrol station Atlantic ocean 7/5 1915
"Captain! We have smoke at bearing 30!" the call came from
Kapitän-Leutnant Walter Schwieger hurried up the ladder. This had
been an unusually uneventful patrol but perhaps that was about to change.
"There! It seems to be heading straight for us, sir!" the lookout
"Yes, I see it! It looks big, could it be more than one ship?" Schwieger asked.
If it were more than one it would mean a Royal navy squadron. Not even
after the victory at Dogger Bank had any German surface raiders operated
in these waters.
"Hard to say at this angle sir, it could be." the lookout answered.
"Whats your opinion, lieutenant?" Schwieger asked his second
"It's impossible to say for sure but it seems to be one ship captain." he answered.
"Well, lets get closer and prepare to dive." perhaps they could
do some good today.
---- Promenade deck RMS Lusitania 7/5 1915
Hours. That is how far away they were from safety; he would have felt
much better if his wife hadn't insisted on coming along for this journey.
"Something bothering you, James?" his wife asked.
"No dear. Why do you ask?" he answered.
"Well you have been staring at the sea for hours and you havn't
paid any attention to me whatsoever." she said and turned to look
at the distant coast across the deck. "It will be nice to visit the
old country and the family again."
"I wished you hadn't come along. The seas aren't safe anymore, not
with the Huns out there, they torpedo ships without warning and kill any
survivors in the water."
"Don't try to frighten me! You don't believe those stories any more
than I do." she answered and embraced her husband "Besides not
even the crazy Germans are going to attack an ocean liner this big."
He smiled and they turned from the railing to return to their quarters.
Neither saw a faint glimmer on the calm surface.
---- Bridge RMS Lusitania 7/5 1915
"Lookout reports a periscope off the starboard bow sir!" one
All heads on the bridge turned to search for it.
"Helmsman hard to port, engine flank speed!" the captain roared.
"Do you see anything?" he asked his officers who were all scanning
the surface of the sea.
The sudden turn caught most passengers and crew off guard, including
a couple returning to their second class cabin.
---- SM U-20 patrol station Atlantic ocean 7/5 1915
"They are still coming straight for us, captain." the lookout
"Can you see what kind of ship it is?" Schwieger asked.
"No. Not yet, but it's big and fast. Either a liner or a large cruiser
or Dreadnought." the lookout said.
"All right, prepare to dive. Let's not give them a chance to spot
us." Schwieger said.
The boat slid smoothly beneath the calm surface of the Atlantic, a silent
deadly steel shark in search of prey. On the surface no one had seen the
low silhouette of the lethal craft.
"Periscope depth, balance the boat." Schwieger ordered.
"Boat is balanced at periscope depth sir." his dive officer
"Come to course 30, slow speed." Schwieger ordered as he looked
through the periscope. "Ah yes, there she is still heading straight
for us. Are the torpedoes ready?"
"Yes sir! All tubes armed and ready." the weapons officer said
"Periscope down!" Schwieger ordered "They will be in range
soon if they continue on this course." he said and looked at the
plot. " Come to course 35, half speed."
Time seemed to crawl by, interrupted by the captain's occasional glances
through the periscope at the rapidly approaching target to plot the firing
"Yesssss. Perfect. Fill the forward tubes." Schwieger said.
"Target is Black Prince class armoured cruiser, bearing 345 speed
20 knots course 105... Damn!"
Wham! Wham! wham, WHAM! WHAM!!!!!! wham...
The U-boat suddenly shook as heavy shells from the cruiser landed in
the water nearby.
"Fire one! Fire two... Emergency dive 40 meters..."
"Torpedoes away!" the Weapons officer confirmed "Closing
"Down scope! Diving Diving..." The Dive Officer shouted to
be heard over the sudden pandemonium that had erupted in the previously
"Come to 120 top speed." Schwieger said "They spotted
our periscope, damn this calm sea!"
"We are at 40 meters sir." the dive officer reported.
"The torpedoes have 25 seconds more to run." the weapons officer
said in an icy voice.
wham. wham. wham.
The shots from the cruiser were more distant but the sound of high speed
propellers approaching told of a greater danger.
"They had a destroyer trailing along behind them." Schwieger
answered the questioning looks from his officers.
"The time has run out on torpedo number one..." the weapons
officer said. "Four, three, two, one... Time has run out on torpedo
Everyone listened intently for the detonation of the torpedo but none
could be heard. The destroyer was a lot closer now everyone could hear
that through the pressure hull. They all waited for the splashes of the
depth charges being rolled overboard. That was the only reason for the
destroyer to charge them.
---- RMS Lusitania in port night between 7/5 and 8/5 1915
The passengers had left the ship long ago. They all had an exciting story
to tell about how they had escaped the Kaiser's ruthless pirates and dozens
had told reporters how torpedoes had streaked by only yards from the hull
of the great liner. The papers tomorrow would be filled with anger and
outrage over the criminal attempt to sink an ocean liner without warning
and with total disregard for both international law and the safety of
the passengers. The captain suspected that it had all been a case of lively
imagination by his lookouts and passengers alike combined with reflections
off the calm surface. But that wasn't really a problem; 'realistic excercises'
he preferred to call the phantom periscopes.
The area below was clearly illuminated and with good reason, the men
below were unloading arms and ammunition a cargo that needed to be handled
with care. To avoid curious civilians and reporters they had waited to
unload the cargo until now. Long after the passengers had disembarked
and long after relieved relatives had met their kinfolk from the new world.
The Captain thought it was foolish to carry weapons on a liner, sooner
or later the Germans would have enough of that praxis and the loss of
life would be horrible that day. But perhaps... Perhaps that was the intent
behind it all, the unescorted runs. No! No, that was something the Kaiser
and his Huns would do, not the British government. He just wished they
didn't have to carry passengers at the same time they were transporting
war materials, his duty to protect his passengers, his main priority for
his entire career at sea, and his duty to the empire conflicted in that
---- SM U-20 surfacing Atlantic ocean night 8/5 1915
Dried blood covered the dive officers face, he had cut his forehead when
a close by depth charge had sent him crashing, head first, into a depth
meter. The destroyer had lingered in the area and called in reinforcements.
Three more destroyers had prowled around until the coming night made it
too dangerous to remain in the area.
"We have surfaced sir." he reported.
"Good, let's have a breath of fresh air then." Schwieger said
and climbed the ladder to his tower. His second followed him up. "This
is insanity lieutenant!" Schwieger said when they were alone. "That
is the third time we have attacked British warships. How many have we
sunk? None, that's how many! The Royal navy is too alert, too sharp to
be easy prey."
"Yes sir. And while we are playing tag with them, hundreds of fat,
dumb, lazy merchants are feeding the British, and arming them." the
"If we are ever to accomplish anything we should target unguarded
lone transports rather than warships with hundreds of screening vessels
and alert lookouts. We could really hurt the British there but the all-knowing
and almighty Letters wont let us do that, and as long as he is the Kaiser's
pet admiral..." Schwieger said resentfully.
"Well sir, I have heard that they think he can walk on water even
without the Derfflinger's deck under him back in Berlin, so unless
the Grand Fleet decides to test that theory I don't think our situation
will improve." the lieutenant said.
Both officers looked at the far off Scottish coast, barely visible in
the dark. They had patrolled these hostile coasts for weeks. Somewhere
not far away in the north east among the windswept islands behind minefields
and nets their main prey hid, the Grand Fleet, safe, unassailable.
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