Like many others, I had always been taught from schooldays that it was the sinking of the Lusitania that propelled America into the First World War. The author, with his rendition of the developments described in “Dead Wake”, seems to contradict that theory.
The first half of the book deals with the events surrounding the voyage just prior to and during the ocean trip. There are descriptions of various passengers and some slightly-technical paragraphs about the Lusitania itself and its’ capabilities and structure, the background of the Captain and some of the crew, and the owners of the ship, the Cunard line. Of course the reader realizes that later chapters will reveal the fate of some of the passengers described and this only adds to the suspense.
“Passengers brought diaries, books, pens, ink, and other devices with which to kill time. Ian Holbourn, the famed writer and lecturer now returning from a speaking tour of America, brought along the manuscript of a book he had been working on for two decades, about his theory of beauty, whose pages now numbered in the thousands. It was his only copy.”
Interspersed with these chapters are those of the German submarine command and naval personnel, giving a picture (albeit unfavorable) of life aboard a submarine.
I found the chapters about President Woodrow Wilson, some of his personal experiences, and his dilemma in leading American into war to be very interesting. “Far from a clamor for war, there existed a widespread, if naive, belief that war of the kind that had convulsed Europe in past centuries had become obsolete – that the economies of nations were so closely connected with one another that even if a war were to begin, it would end quickly.”
And then there are the chapters dealing with the British Admiralty and naval intelligence.
When it is evident that the Admiralty knew of several vessels torpedoed in the same area, just prior to the sinking of the Lusitania, the author addresses the question of whether they purposely allowed the attack without warning Captain Turner of the imminent danger or providing naval escort. “The neglect to provide naval escort for her in the narrow waters as she approached her destination was all the more remarkable as no less than twenty-three British merchant vessels had been torpedoed and sunk by German U-boars near the coasts of Britain and Ireland in the preceding seven days.”
This question has been examined over and over for years, the surmise being that England wanted America to have sufficient cause to enter the war. However the author makes the point that it was an additional two years before America actually declared war on Germany, and that the success in the sinking of the Lusitania belonged solely with a “chance confluence of forces”.
Although tragedy is never a pleasant subject to read about, especially with the loss of so many lives unnecessarily (had circumstances and decisions been different), the author has written a compelling, highly readable and meticulously researched account of the sinking of the Lusitania.