AUF WIEDERSEHEN, DEUTSCHLAND…..

Conformation has finally come through the Peter Deilmann’s classic little jewel box of a ship, Deutschland, has been sold to Semester at Sea.

The 19,000 ton vessel, built in 1998 but idle off Gibraltar since last November, will be renamed the World Odyssey when she takes up her new role. I understand that the red band on her hull will be replaced with blue.

Management of the ship will be by V Ships of Monaco.

Semester at Sea was in need of a new vessel after selling it’s previous floating campus, the Explorer, to Celstyal Cruises, for whom she now sails as the Celestyal Odyssey.

While many- this author included- will find it sad that the delightful little Deutschland has not been retained for the cruising market, it was always really pretty hard to see who might make a go of her commercially, without totally destroying her unique, almost Victorian style liner interiors. These were quite unlike anything else out there, and still are.

She was rumoured to be going to Crystal at one stage, but these rumours appear to have inaugurated in Germany. They also sank without trace just as quickly under scrutiny.

Still, it is good that this wonderful ship will continue to grace the oceans. I just sincerely hope that her new owners appreciate her as much as her past passengers still do. It really is the end of an era.

Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland…..

Bye bye to this.....

Bye bye to this…..

FOUR STAR! STAR CLIPPERS TO BECOME A QUARTET

In a move that has been bruited for many years- and anticipated by the maritime community just as long- Star Clippers has finally announced that it will build a new ship, due to make her commercial debut in 2017.

The five masted, 300 passenger ship is due to enter service in the second half of 2017. The 8,770 ton vessel, powered by more than 6,350 square metres of sail, will be built by the Brodosplit shipyard in Croatia, and will sail on Mediterranean and Caribbean itineraries.

This new ship will be heavily influenced by the legendary sailing ship France II, according to Star Clippers owner, Mikael Krafft. Indeed, stories exists that the masts for this fourth planned vessel in the fleet were actually built in preparation some years ago.

Many features from the immensely successful Royal Clipper (see previous blogs) will return, including a trio of upper deck pools, one of which will have a transparent bottom that filters sunlight down into the dining room, set at the bottom of a central atrium. Like the Royal Clipper, the new, as yet nameless ship will also feature a water sports platform at the stern.

Accommodation wise, the ship will have some thirty four cabins with balconies, as well as four more expansive owner’s suites as top drawer offerings. The dining room will be able to accommodate all passengers for dinner at a single sitting.

With a capacity for around 75 extra more guests than the Royal Clipper, this new ship is a logical evolution of the Star Clippers concept of providing a near perfect replication of the original, late nineteenth century sailing ships of old, married to a wealth of modern technological ‘must haves’ such as air conditioning, to provide one of the most stunningly unique sailing experiences available anywhere at sea.

Having been privileged enough to sail on all three of the current Star Clippers fleet- Star Flyer, Star Clipper and, of course, Royal Clipper, truly, the ‘cathedrals of the sea’- I am absolutely delighted that Mikael Krafft has finally felt able to go ahead with his vision for this new ship, one I know personally that he has carried a torch for over many years.

This new ship is going to be clearly quite something, and I am going to try and follow her progress as she comes along with great interest. As developments come into the public domain, you will most definitely find them here.

As ever, pray stay tuned…

Sails up! The Royal Clipper sets out on another elegant adventure

Sails up! The Royal Clipper sets out on another elegant adventure

80 YEARS AGO TODAY; THE MOST SPECTACULAR MAIDEN VOYAGE IN MARITIME HISTORY

The noise was utterly stupendous.

A vast armada of floating, bustling tugs, yachts and small ferries tooted, shrieked and wailed in salute as the brand new SS. Normandie eased slowly out of her berth in Le Havre, at the start of her long anticipated maiden crossing to New York. Crowds blackening the waterfront cheered themselves hoarse as the new liner, carrying some 1,013 passengers, stole with almost effortless ease out toward the breakwater, her three enormous, black and red smoke stacks looming over everything in sight.

From her forward funnel came a stately, sonorous kind of boom that shook windows and tugged at every heartstring for miles around. And then she was gone, immortalized in film reels and buzzed by local aircraft as she surged towards the west.

The most dazzling, auspicious and spectacular maiden voyage in the history of sea travel had officially begun.

The ship that emerged from the spring sunshine off the French coast was unlike anything else that had ever cut salt water before or, indeed in many respects, ever since. The first ship to exceed the 80,000 ton mark, and the first to ever come in at over a thousand foot in length, the Normandie was already serenaded by scores of materialistic drum rolls long before she ever put to sea.

Of course, she was a ravishing beauty. Her pert, gracefully flared clipper bow and diamond style cruiser stern were just the entrees to a vast, snow white superstructure, completely devoid of all the usual mechanical clutter that looked like pimples on a supermodel’s face. The three great, graceful, black and red ovoid funnels that crowned her upper deck seemed to diminish slightly in height from bow to stern. On that most perfect of bows, a snow white whaleback covered all the anchors, winches and steam capstans.

The sum total was a streamlined, almost space age piece of stunning technological magnificence. No ship ever combined such an excess of grace, pace and sheer, jaw dropping beauty with such effortless, elegant ease as did the Normandie.

But it was the details that truly set her apart. From the three hundred and twenty five separate items listed on her first class dinner menu to the wine cellar, loaded aboard a full six months before she ever sailed. This allowed the wine to settle so that, if by unforeseen chance the Normandie should ever roll, then that rolling should least upset the wine. And, naturally, table wine was always free at lunch and dinner on the Normandie. After all, this was France afloat.

Of course, the French Line asserted that you were in France the moment that you crossed her gangways. The Normandie was a glittering confection of scarlet, gold, glass and lalique; vast, anodized bronze panels and bas reliefs lined the walls of the two storey public rooms that flowed, one into another, in an unbroken run hundreds of feet long.

There was a winter garden, complete with bubbling fountains and chattering birds, a café grill room that never really got lively until after midnight, and scattered, casual groupings of sofas and chairs decorated with hand stitched Aubusson detailing. Vast, spectacular staircases flanked the full width of the interior, allowing for magnificent vistas from any part of the ship.

The overall effect was staggering, and it was meant to be. The Normandie resembled nothing so much as a Hollywood movie set afloat. It would be no coincidence that she would become so beloved of motion picture’s royalty. More film stars, fashionistas and fun lovers sailed on her than on any other ship. Internally, the Normandie was simply the most stunningly beautiful, original ship that has ever been seen.

Of course, announcements on board her were always made first in French, even though around eighty per cent of her passengers on average would be American. There were scarlet jacketed mousses to operate the lifts, and then guide Monsieur or Madame to wherever they wished to go.

If all of this is suggestive of overkill, then there is truth in that also. Many ordinary tourist and third class passengers were actually put off by the high style, glittering luxe of the Normandie. For sure, she was a ship that was built primarily for first class passengers. One tenth of her total cost went on internal decoration; one tenth of that would have been enough, but then, of course, it would not have been magnificent.

And, of course, she took the Blue Riband at the first attempt. Naturally, the Normandie had not been actually trying for the speed record; no lady of any breeding ever did, after all.

Still, when she thundered past the finish line at Ambrose Light at 11.03 on the morning of June 3rd, her steam whistles let out a single, triumphant scream, and a thirty metre long blue pennant- which ‘happened’ to be on board- was unfurled from her mainmast. It signified one knot for each metre. At the same time, every single passenger was presented with an engraved, celebratory medallion to commemorate the historic event. They just ‘happened’ to be on board as well.

Her triumphal entry into New York harbour remains the greatest seagoing welcome ever extended to any ship. Buzzed by squadrons of planes and even shadowed by a blimp, the Normandie was surrounded by literally hundred of small yachts, pleasure boats and fireboats hurling plumes of water skywards in welcome. An estimated two hundred and fifty thousand  people blackened the banks of the Hudson to see her come in.

By the time she finally docked at New York’s Pier 88 in mid afternoon, the Normandie had garnered a level of world news coverage that would not be equalled until the first Moon landing, some thirty four years later.

The first crossing of the Normandie had been a spectacular, show stopping triumph of the first order, carried through by a ship that could do nothing undramatic. Most importantly for both the ship and her owners, it had been carried through with the kind of breezy, Gallic panache that made it all look effortless, somehow inevitable.

Time and tide has garlanded this greatest of all ocean liners with many crowns. But she wore none so jauntily as the one she earned on that first, historic crossing of the Atlantic, which began eighty years ago today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

CMV GOES WORLDWIDE; MAGELLAN TO MAKE LINE’S INAUGURAL WORLD CRUISE IN 2017

In something of a surprise move, Cruise and Maritime Voyages has laid out details for a first ever world cruise for 2017. Utilising the newly refurbished Magellan, the ambitious, four month long global odyssey will sail from Tilbury on January 5th, 2017, and return to the Essex port on the following May 5th.

In between, the 46,052 ton, 1,250 passenger Magellan- originally built as the Holiday for Carnival back in 1985- will cut an ambitious furrow through some of the most magnificent, remote and remarkable waters on earth, showcasing an entire conga line of must see highlights including the Azores, the Panama Canal, and the highlights of French Polynesia.

Then it’s on to Australasia, and the fantastic cultural melting pots of the Far East, followed by India and a Red Sea transit, before a final series of adventures around the Holy Land, and a last, languid sweep through the springtime Mediterranean, prior to returning to the UK.

In addition to the grand event itself, a series of no less than nine, separate fly cruise sectors have been provisionally pencilled in. These will allow passengers to board and leave the Magellan at a whole raft of signature ‘greatest hits’ ports including Auckland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney, Australia.

Thus far, five of the ports en route are offered with an overnight stay on board. These are; Cairns, Hong Kong, Phu My for Ho Chi Minh city, Singapore, and Sydney.

For single passengers, this voyage represents an excellent bargain, with rates coming in at £13, 269. Twin saver rates come in from around £8,999- roughly equivalent to around £75 per day per person. This is on sale as of now.

Although Cruise and Maritime has run several longer cruises to both the Amazon and the Caribbean with both Magellan and Marco Polo- plus a series of ongoing, old style ‘liner’ voyages with the Astor- this first, world cruise is an enormously significant statement of intent from a company still not yet a decade old.

Magellan herself offers some 726 cabins, all of a good size, and a vast amount of open deck space, as well as an entire, interior, window walled boulevard of shops, bars and clubs. And, with a trio of dining venues on board, the ship- recently extensively renovated- could very well prove to be a formidable new competitor, especially for the no-fly types wanting to take a little ‘slice of home’ with them as they voyage around the globe.

Interesting development, for sure. As ever, pray stay tuned.

Visit vibrant Singapore on Magellan's stunning, inaugural world cruise in 2017

Visit vibrant Singapore on Magellan’s stunning, inaugural world cruise in 2017

BACK TO THE FUTURE; THE RETURN OF STOCKHOLM’S BELL

Fact, as they say, is often stranger than fiction. But this one really takes some beating….

After more than five decades of immersion some two hundred and fifty feet below the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, the original ship’s bell from the MV Stockholm has now been returned to the vessel, now trading as the Azores of Cruise and Maritime Voyages.

You literally could not make this one up….

The ship was originally built as the Stockholm, a small, 12,000 ton Swedish ocean liner that went into service in 1948. As was traditional back then, the brand new, bronze ship’s bell was duly installed on the liner’s forward bow.

Late on the foggy evening of July 26th, 1956, the ice stengthened bow of the Stockhom skewered into the forward, starboard side of the 29,000 ton Andrea Doria. The Italian liner was just hours from docking in Manhattan after a thus far routine crossing from Genoa.

The bow of the Stockholm acted like a dagger; crumpled and ruined, and with five dead crewmen trapped inside it, it still held and the smaller, Swedish ship was never in any real danger of sinking.

Fifty six passengers and crew died in the gaping wound inflicted on the Andrea Doria. But the Italian liner’s brave, lonely struggle against the encroaching ocean bought enough time to evacuate more than 1600 passengers and crew to the rapidly gathering fleet of rescue ships.

The Andrea Doria, wounded beyond salvation, sagged unde the ocean some eleven hours later. And, with her went the bell from the Stockholm, somehow trapped in the gaping wound in the hull of the Italian beauty. No one ever thought to see it again.

As the years went by, the wreck of the Andrea Doria became one of the most appealing of all dive sites, as well as one of the most inherently dangerous. More than one life has been lost by overly careless divers, caught by vicious currents in and around the wreck.

But slowly, a conga line of mostly small, yet highly evocative artefacts of everday life aboard the legendary fifties liner began to see daylight once more, brought aloft by triumphant divers. But no one ever expected that one of them would be the actual bell from the Stockholm herself.

After it’s improbable recovery, the bell was passed around in the USA, in exchange for a series of different boat parts.

But when it went back on the market again recently, Cruise and Maritime Voyages got in first. And now, after all this time, the bell has been reunited with the ship that it left so abruptly on the night of July 26th, 1956.

Go see it aboard the Azores while you can; in due course it will leave the ship again, to go on display at the Swedish maritime museum in Gothenburg.

And, while no one can doubt that it is amazing that the bell has been rediscovered after all these years, what is truly astounding is that the ship originally built to carry it is still sailing, as well.

Worth a thought, no?

MV Azores, seen in her Athena livery in 2010, is going French in 2016

MV Azores, seen in her Athena livery in 2010, is going French in 2016

LINERS AT WAR; HMS JERVIS BAY

The early November light was already fading in the mid ocean sky when the lookout on the Jervis Bay became suddenly aware of the fighting top of a lone warship, splintering the horizon. As it headed towards them, the Jervis Bay- the sole escort for the thirty seven merchantmen of convoy HX 84- sent out a challenge to the stranger to identify herself.

The reply came in the form of six giant geysers that erupted all around the converted liner almost at once. Without a second’s hesitation, Captain Edward Fegen gave the order to attack the stranger while the convoy scattered for cover like so many startled chickens.

The intruder was the German pocket battleship, Admiral Scheer. She had sailed from Germany at the end of October, intent on breaking into the Atlantic to savage convoys such as HX 84. Rounding the northern coast of Iceland in sea conditions so severe that it had swept two of her crew overboard, she had used that same foul weather to cover her tracks. When her fighting top was sighted from the Jervis Bay on the afternoon of November 5th, 1940, it was the first indication that this powerful raider was loose on the open ocean.

The Scheer presented an immediate, terrible lhreat to the thirty seven slow, wallowing merchantmen. The raider was much faster than any of them and, armed with a battery of six eleven inch guns, she was a squat, heavily armoured, death dealing menace. Only the Jervis Bay now stood between the pocket battleship and an unspeakable slaughter.

Built for the Aberdeen and Commonwealth Line in 1922, the Jervis Bay was a simple, no nonsense passenger liner of 14,000 tons, designed to sail between England and Australia. With a straight stem and a single funnel, she had none of the glamour or pretension of platinum chip Atlantic legends such as Mauretania or Olympic; instead, she was a stolid, slightly dour workhorse and, for the better part of two decades, she lived a relatively trouble free life.

When war broke out in 1939, the Jervis Bay was requisitioned by the Admiralty to serve as an armed merchant cruiser. Seven old six inch guns- all dating from 1898- were shoe horned into her deck spaces, together with a pair of three inch anti aircraft  guns. She was then painted grey, and given over to the command of Captain Edward Fegen. Under him, a crew of some two hundred and fifty four Royal Navy reservists worked manfully to adapt the liner to her new role.

Desperately short of convoy escorts, the Admiralty converted a number of these smaller, intermediate liners into the role of armed merchant cruisers. It was an almost suicidal role; such ships could never hope to seriously take on a bona fide warship and survive. They had no real protective armour, and their high sides made them almost unmissable targets. With a maximum speed of 17 knots, there was never a chance that the Jervis Bay could escape from her vastly more powerful foe.

But escape was not on Fegen’s mind on that fateful evening of November 5th, 1940. His ship was the convoy’s sole escort. An awful, inescapable obligation now fell on him, but he did not shirk it for one second.

As the convoy attempted to scatter into the slowly encroaching darkness, Fegen knew with awful certainty that neither his ship, or the bulk of her volunteer crew, would survive the events to follow. But, to the amazement of the Germans, the wallowing liner lunged at the pocket battleship, her battle ensign billowing in the icy November wind, like an ageing sheepdog throwing itself across the path of a rabid fox. As acts of sacrificial gallantry go, it was right up there with the charge of the Light Brigade.

What followed was inevitable. The eleven inch guns of the Admiral Scheer found the range almost at once, and began to methodically demolish the flimsy, high sided liner with a hail of deadly, accurate fire. Yet the old six inch guns of the Jervis Bay flared into defiant, if futile response, even as the decks around them collapsed in piles of flaming, charred scrap metal. Salt water spray from numerous near misses drenched the blazing liner as she slowly disintegrated. But still, she came on at the pocket battleship.

On the Scheer, Captain Theodore Krancke understood all too well what his incredibly valiant foe was attemtoing to do. It was all about buying time for the convoy. Every minute that the Jervis Bay held the line gave the merchant ships more time to scatter like ninepins into the encroaching darkness. The pocket battleship stepped up her assault with almost ruthless desperation.

It was a full hour before the doomed, gallant Jervis Bay finally gave up the ghost. The uncontrollable fires raging aboard her were finally smothered by the cold embrace of the icy winter Atlantic as she sagged under the waves. With her went Fegen and some one hundred and eighty six of her crew.

Sixty eight survivors were rescued by the Stureholm, a neutral Swedish merchant ship, although three of these died later. For Fegen, there was the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross,

It  was a magnificent, yet hopelessly inadequate tribute to a man whose actions saved literally thousands of lives on that cold November night. Partially thwarted, the Admiral Scheer managed to sink just five of the thirty seven vessels of the convoy, before the rest escaped under the welcome cloak of darkness.

Over the next five months, the Scheer would roam as far south as the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, in an operation that was every bit as daring and remarkable as the doomed last stand of her late adversary. She returned to Germany unharmed in March 1941, having sunk or captured some 100,000 tons of shipping.

It was a quite remarkable haul, but the devastation wrought by the Scheer would have been even worse if not for the incredible, selfless gallantry of Fegen, and the crew of the hopelessly outgunned Jervis Bay.

The last, incredible moments of the fire spitting, listing liner, lumbering across the rolling Atlantic swell, ablaze from bow to stern and surrounded by towering shell splashes as she charged unflinchingly at her deadly, death dealing foe, is one of the most immortal and undying images in the history of the entire British merchant marine. For that alone, Fegen, his gallant ship and her brave, fallen band of brothers, deserve to be honoured and remembered. Of such stuff are legends made.

Out of the darkening Atlantic, an ominous shape took form and approached the convoy....

Out of the darkening Atlantic, an ominous shape took form and approached the convoy….

FLYING HIGH; THOMAS COOK ADDS BOSTON AND LOS ANGELES FLIGHTS FROM MANCHESTER

Having started flights from Manchester to both New York and Miami during 2015, Thomas Cook has now announced a brace of new American landfalls for 2016.

Starting in May 2016, the airline will fly recently refurbished A330s on twice weekly flights to both Boston and Los Angeles.

In addition to the normal economy seats, a special, supplemental ‘Premium Service’ offers a range of enhanced facilities and in flight goodies. Among these are:

* Advance seat registration

* Priority check in

* 32 kilogram luggage allowance

* Seats with a pitch of 35″

* James Martin created menus

* Free drinks

* Upgraded in flight entertainment, with touch screens on the back of seats

The new Los Angeles flights will be particularly welcome to northern based travellers. Hitherto, we have had to fly via Heathrow or one of the major continental hubs, or from Manchester with a change at US airports such as Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Exact dates and prices will be advised as and when they become available. As ever, stay tuned.

LA's beaches are on the inflight menu for Thomas Cook from May, 2016

LA’s beaches are on the inflight menu for Thomas Cook from May, 2016

BALMORAL COMES TO THE TYNE FOR 2016

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has just announced that it’s flagship, the 1,350 passenger, 43,000 ton Balmoral, will come north to operate a series of eleven cruises from Newcastle between May and August of 2016.

The ship, originally built by Meyer Werft in Papenburg as the Crown Odyssey back in 1988, is the largest vessel in the current, four ship FOCL fleet, and will take the place currently occupied by fleet mate Boudicca, originally the fabled Royal Viking Sky.

The addition of the ship will increase the seasonal summer numbers sailing from Newcastle by an estimated forty five per cent. Ironically, it might also see Balmoral reunited from time to time with her former Orient Lines’ fleetmate, Marco Polo, which now sails for the rival Cruise And Maritime Voyages from the Tyne in summer.

The programme for Balmoral commences on May 21st, with a five night Norwegian fjords cruise. Standing out among the mostly Scandinavian itineraries is a rather attractive, eleven night cruise that showcases the best of Spain, Portugal and Guernsey.

Rightly famed for her beautiful, Art Deco styling and wide amount of open outdoor decks, Balmoral is an elegant, supremely comfortable vessel, decorated with great style, and features the excellent levels of service and cuisine for which the Fred. Olsen brand is well known in the cruising fraternity.

Her arrival in northern parts definintely ratchets up the increasing high profile of Newcastle/Port of Tyne as an ideal departure point, especially for the highlights of Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland.

An interesting development, for sure. As ever, stay tuned.

Balmoral is Tyneside bound for summer 2016

Balmoral is Tyneside bound for summer 2016

LOUIS GROUP BUYS OUT CUBA CRUISES (Updated)

A spokesman for Cuba Cruises, the Canadian based tour operator which has chartered the Celestyal Cristal for the last two seasons, has confirmed that the Louis Group are now what is described as ‘significant majority shareholders’ in the operation.

The Greek operator has provided the use of the 24,000 ton ship for two years now, allowing Cuba Cruises to operate a very lucrative, weekly programme of voyages around Cuba for a predominantly Canadian and Scandinavaian market. Louis Group has also been active in selling cabins on board the ship for European passengers.

It appears that a joint plan by Louis and Cuba Cruise to extend a third, 2015-16 season by a month fell through, hence the move by Louis Group to take over the run full time. There was speculation last year the the Celestyal brand of Louis might also add a second ship for that season, though nothing so far has been confirmed from the company head office.

It’s a move that makes sense, and a product ideally sized and suited for the embryonic Cuban cruise scene. I’ve sailed on the Celestyal Cristal a couple of times on her summer cruises around the Greek Islands and Turkey, and she is a unique combination of homely intimacy and genuine Greek hospitality- the perfect style of ship for destination intensive cruising, such as around Cuba.

Interesting times, for sure. As ever, stay tuned.

May 8th update:

A Greek source at Louis Group has officially denied that the compnay has bought out Cuba Cruises. What has happened is that the Celestyal Cruises brand will now market the sales of both Cuba Cruises and Celestyal’s sailings in the Adriatic and Aegean areas- a logical bit of symmetry.

The 2015-16 season itself has been extended to include three additional, week long, round Cuba cruises.

Covered pool area on the Celestyal Cristal

Covered pool area on the Celestyal Cristal

THE LUSITANIA; 100 YEARS AGO TODAY…..

It was the original ‘shot that was heard around the world’…

When the stately bulk of RMS Lusitania loomed against the cross hairs of U-20’s periscope on the afternoon of May 7th, 1915, Walther Schweiger did not hesitate for one second. He slammed his last available torpedo into the glistening black flank of the liner. The rest is history, and no more relevant than today, the centenary of the sinking.

She went down in just eighteen minutes, leaving almost two thousand people gasping and thrashing for their lives in the frigid, sunlit waters off the coast of southern Ireland. 1,201 men, women and children were lost altogether. Bodies were still being found draped across Irish beaches some three weeks later.

The story was a sensation across the world. How could anyone torpedo an unarmed passenger liner, full of women and children, and leave them to such a ghastly fate? The media hyped the sinking into the ultimate act of barbarism; the despicable work of a dastardly enemy that would sink to any depths- in this case quite literally- to impose his cruel world view on humanity.

But, truth be told, the gloves were off from the first days of World War One. Any notion that the contest would be fought in a gentlemanly style between two rival power blocs, one that would do it’s utmost to spare civilians, was shot to pieces when the German army trampled all over the neutral status of petrified little Belgium.

That was followed by the British blockade of German ports, which soon resulted in severe rationing for women and children across Germany proper. In return, Germany introduced unrestricted submarine warfare against British merchant shipping, and announced that foreign nationals should not travel on passenger ships sailing under the British flag, which would now be liable to attack.

By this time, the German navy had already carried out coastal bombardments of towns such as Hartlepool and Scarborough, inflicting civilian casualties in all of them. And in towns across both France and Belgium, hordes of terrified civilians had already discovered for themselves that this would be anything but a ‘gentleman’s war’. No, the cat was out of the bag long before the Lusitania swung clear of New York’s Pier 54 for the last time on May 1st, 1915. It was total war in all but title.

And the Lusitania herself was no innocent party in all this. She was carrying a large amount of small arms munitions and stores, bound for the British army on the western front. The carriage of such stores in a liner loaded with passengers was blatantly illegal, and both the British and the Germans knew it. And it was also true that both sides knew that supposedly impartial US customs officials were turning a blind eye to these illegal shipments. For a nation fighting on two fronts, this was all like a red rag to an already enraged and careless bull.

For this last, fateful crossing, the Lusitania had 1,266 passengers embarked, plus a crew of 696. The biggest passenger load she had carried since the outbreak of hostilities. And, although the weather was fine and sunny as the liner romped across the springtime Atlantic towards Europe, everything else was actually working slowly, yet inexorably, against her.

Not long before the liner reached the coast of Ireland, her intended escort, the old, armoured cruiser Juno, was ordered back into port in Queenstown- for fear of submarines known to be lurking in the area. And, despite this laudable care for navy lives, no message ordering the Lusitania into Queenstown was ever sent. And, by now, the liner was looming massively into the danger zone.

I suspect someone at the Admiralty dropped the ball here; with the disastrous onset of the Gallipoli campaign just two weeks earlier, the navy was now adrift in a nightmare situation of it’s own making, and perhaps more effort was being concentrated there than elsewhere. But it is strange that the Lusitania was deemed safe to proceed where a ship of war like the Juno patently was not.

In the ghastly aftermath, the navy did what any huge public body under adverse public scrutiny does; it kicked the blame down the field, and attempted to make a villain of Captain Turner, the man in command of the lost liner. He had, they said, blatantly disobeyed Admiralty standing instructions about sailing in a war zone.

These stated that ships such as the Lusitania were to steer well clear of headlands, and zig zag at maximum speed, so as to throw any submarine off a good aiming point.

But Turner and the Lusitania spent most of the fateful morning of May 7th, 1915, enveloped in a fog so thick that visibility was almost nil. Lusitania was coming up to the coast of Ireland at a smart clip and, in these pre radar days, Turner was effectively blind in the fog. So, when the weather did mercifully clear, he did what seemed perfectly sensible to him and many others; he brought the Lusitania closer in to the now visible shore in order to get an exact bearing on his position. And this put him on a course towards the lurking U-20.

But Turner did not zig zag, and kept the Lusitania romping along at a steady eighteen knots. Even with one of his four boiler rooms closed down as an economy measure, he could still have powered the Lusitania up to twenty-one. Perhaps he planned to do just that once he was satisfied with his bearings. We will never, ever know.

Once Walther Schweiger fired his torpedo into the path of the oncoming Lusitania, the die was effectively cast. The young U-boat captain knew exactly what he was doing, and he followed his orders with ruthless, tenacious efficiency.

He would have known that he was about to torpedo a very large passenger liner, one carrying many, many, women and children. But he also knew that the same ship was carrying arms and munitions to the British army on the western front, at a time when the British blockade was bringing hardship and even starvation to the streets of Germany. That knowledge probably steeled his determination to hit such a prize target.

Not that he expected this one puny, unreliable torpedo to sink such a huge ship; one built with all the strength and watertight sub division of a Royal Navy cruiser. Ships less than half the size of Lusitania had survived torpedo strikes before. At most, he expected to cripple and delay the liner.

Of course, that’s not how things played out.

Despite his determination to hurt this prestige enemy target, Schweiger was unable to watch the horrific events that unfolded as a result of his strike. It was simply too ghastly, too overwhelming, for any man to actually watch, let alone enjoy.

Such was the loss of the Lusitania, one of the ‘unholy trinity’ of great maritime tragedies on the Atlantic. It is sobering to reflect that the Titanic, the Empress Of Ireland and the Lusitania were all lost in the four years, between 1912 and 1915.

But those first two tragedies were accidents; the sinking of the Lusitania was a deliberate act of war. And it is that stark, simple fact that lends it the particularly grisly cachet that it still has to this day.

And, of course, other Cunarders would sink in the service of their country. In 1940, the Lancastria would take more than six thousand British soldiers down with her when she was dive bombed off the port of Saint Nazaire- a death total that exceeds all three of the above named liners by a mile. But, by then, we had become so immured by the concept of ‘total war’ that the loss of yet another troopship would not have registered so resoundingly as, say, the sinking of a ship that took down half of the New York stock exchange with her in mid Atlantic. Blood has always been a currency of wildly fluctuating value when the fate of nations is at stake.

Still, it is totally apt that, today of all days, we remember the Lusitania and her human cargo of sad, lost souls. They did not ask to be pitched, shuddering and terrified, into the freezing Atlantic on a fine spring afternoon. Certainly, they did not expect it.

They deserved much better, of course. As did the Tommies, the Poilous and the Landsers, cringeing and terrified as they cowered in the trenches of Flanders. You can say the same for the shell shocked civilians of Amiens, Ypres and Brussels and yes, even the scared, twitchy crew of U-20, crouching fearfully in their claustrophobic little tin bolt hole as it beetled along under a sea dominated by its foes.

The Lusitania. Lost 100 years ago today, May 7th, 1915. RIP.

The Lusitania. Lost 100 years ago today, May 7th, 1915. RIP.