The Cunard Liner RMS Lusitania lies some 14 miles off The Old Head of Kinsale, South of Ireland, in 307 ft (93 meters) of water. Built by John Brown & Co Ltd. of Glasgow and launched on 7 June 1906 she was capable of 25 knots due to her relatively revolutionary use of four direct acting steam turbines to drive her quadruple screw propellers, as opposed to reciprocating engines which were the norm at the time.
Although requisioned by the Admiralty for the war effort she was not given orders and so continued her regular transatlantic passenger service. On May 1st 1915 under Captain Tuner she set sail from New York to Liverpool with 1959 passengers on board, but her speed was reduced to a maximum of 21 knots by shutting down six boilers in order to save on coal and man power.
The interior of the ship was palatial and magnificent. Her domed first class dinning room was like a ballroom, most of the first class sleeping quarters and suites were based on French designs made to look like the Palace of Versailles. En suite rooms had their own baths and toilets which can still be seen today.
The interior of the ship really was furnished in the style of a grand hotel, with the second class accommodation not being dissimilar to the first class and, for its day, the third class accommodation was still considered to be luxurious.
On May 7th 1915 she was torpedoed by U20. Kapitan Leutnant Walter Schwieger set off one torpedo hitting her starboard side. At the time it was thought that she had been torpedoed twice as two explosions were heard, however, many years later Robert Ballards expedition to the site concluded that the second explosion was due to coal dust. This is considered to be controversial by some and there are still may theories about the second explosion.
The severe list to starboard caused the port side lifeboats to swing in and become impossible to launch, especially with the ensuing panic on board. In the 18 minutes it took RMS Lusitania to sink only 8 of the 22 life boats were launched and about 1,200 of the 1,959 people on board died, 123 of those Americans. Although rescue boats were sent immediately the SOS from Lusitania was heard it was a foggy, light wind day and the rescue vessels could not get to the site before the cold May sea took the lives of so many.
Outrage about the tragedy throughout the world caused a strong tide of public opinion against the Germans and was considered to be a key event in bringing the Americans into the War.
The wreck is extremely broken and very difficult to navigate around. The bow is still more or less upright, looking like something from a film set. Debris is strewn around the site with many artifacts clearly visible including baths from the promenade en suites which act as a reminder of all the people on the ship who lost their lives in the tragedy. The in water visibility can be varied and due to the broken nature of the ship it makes a deep dive even more challenging.
U20 ran aground off the coast of Denmark in fog on 5th November 1916 whilst trying to assist another U boat. In order that she should not fall into enemy hands she was blown up using one of her own torpedoes. On our expedition to Jutland we saw her remains in a Danish Museum.
Mark Jones organised two expeditions to carry out video surveys of the Lusitania during 2000 and 2002. This footage was taken during the expeditions and is clipped from the Lost Liners video shown during Leigh Bishop and Teresa Telus’s dive show talks. Many thanks to Nick Jewson for allowing me to use some of his film in this clip. Nick’s footage includes an excellent shot of the shower. How this has managed to survive the collapse of the wreck and the destructive effects of the fishing trawls is beyond me.
The wreck is well broken and sometimes very difficult to navigate. The only intact part of the wreck is the bow. The visibility is usually not too bad but it is always pitch black.
The footage includes views of the bow, telemotor, various capstans, mast with hatch, chains and bollards, vent etc. In the deco shots you can see Bruce Dunton’s “Twinspiration” twin rebreather. The clip also includes archive footage bought from the British Pathe library.