Monday, March 16, 2015
"Dead Wake, The Last Crossing of the Lusitania" by Erik Larson
May 7 of this year will mark the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the British passenger liner Lusitania by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland. Erik Larson has written this book to tie in with that century anniversary. I saw this book reviewed in the Post-Gazette last week, and it also popped up on my daily email from Amazon. I had read three other of Larson's books (The Devil in the White City, Thunderstruck, and In the Garden of Beasts). His books are all well researched, and he is a terrific writer when he tells his stories, so I was all over this one. I finished reading it in two days.
I confess to having known very little of the story of the sinking of the Lusitania. I knew it happened. I knew it had something to do with drawing the United States into World War I, but I knew very little of the event itself.
Larson tells the story almost cinematic fashion (if done right, this would make one terrific movie). Alternating chapters take place aboard the Lusitania as it leaves New York and crosses the Atlantic, headed for Liverpool, aboard the German Unterseeboot-20, or U-20, as it leaves it's base in Germany to patrol the North Atlantic and the Irish Sea, and it also intersperses chapters in London's Admiralty office, and Washington DC, where the widowed President Woodrow Wilson was juggling to keep the USA neutral while the rest of the world was at war and was also falling madly in love while courting Washington widow Edith Galt.
The central characters of the story are Lusitania Captain William Turner and U-20 Captain Walther Schwieger. Throw in the passengers aboard the Lusitania, and the research that Larson had to have done to tell their stories is staggering to imagine, Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, several British Intelligence operatives, and you've got one fascinating book.
One torpedo hit the Lusitania that May 7 morning 100 years ago, and eighteen minutes later, the ship was gone. Twelve hundred people died, seven hundred survived.
Of course, there are questions that still exist as to why the Lusitania was struck. Where were the Royal Navel escort ships that were supposed to escort passenger ships? British navel intelligence was well aware of the presence of U-20 in those waters at that time, why wasn't the Lusitania better warned and protected? And why did officials the British government, led by no less than Lord of the Admiralty Churchill himself, so zealously seeking to affix blame on Captain Turner?
It's a great story, a very sad story, and a terrific book.