Читать онлайн "Torpedo: The Complete History of the World's Most Revolutionary Naval Weapon" автора Branfill-Cook Roger - RuLit - Страница 71


Выбрать главу

The fact that this huge vessel should sink so quickly — in just eighteen minutes — after having been hit by only one torpedo, helped on her way by a large secondary explosion which Schweiger and everyone else ascribed to the detonation of a cargo of munitions, only served to justify the action.

Following Dr Ballard’s dives on the wreck of the Lusitania, it was generally thought that the secondary explosion incurred in an almost empty coal bunker, when the torpedo ignited coal dust. However, in November 2012 the Supplementary Manifest of the cargo Lusitania carried was obtained from the Franklin D Roosevelt Presidential Archive. FDR had requested sight of it in January 1940 and had then locked it away. This revealing document details tens of thousands of.303in rifle cartridges, not in themselves a high explosive risk, but the 1248 cases labelled ‘shrapnel’, intended to give the impression they contained the lead balls used in shrapnel shells, were in fact a consignment of 4992 live 13pdr shrapnel shells, with their cases filled with cordite. In addition, a 90-ton consignment labelled as ‘butter and cheese’ was not kept in the ship’s refrigerators, and was consigned to a Royal Navy Weapons Testing establishment in Essex. It is probable that the ‘butter and cheese’ was a cover for gun-cotton, used for many years in torpedo warheads.

Worst of all, the high explosives were stowed in the forward cargo hold, in approximately the position Schweiger’s torpedo hit. He had aimed to strike Lusitania amidships, but overestimated her speed, so his G7 torpedo struck just behind the foremast, in the area of the hold.

Despite this highly illegal transport of high explosive munitions, to the British and the Americans, the slaughter of 1198 passengers, including ninety-four children and 128 American citizens, was outrageous. Former President Theodore Roosevelt described it as piracy on a new, vast scale. To rub salt in the wound, the patriotic German artist Karl Goetz designed and issued a commemorative bronze medal of the event. Goetz depicted the Lusitania with a warship’s ram bow, and represented her foredeck as carrying artillery pieces and aircraft. To make matters worse, if that were possible, Goetz embellished the reverse with an imaginary New York scene, showing passengers queuing to buy their tickets on the Lusitania from a skeleton at the Cunard ticket office, representing death. In the crowd, a businessman points to a newspaper warning of the likely fate of the passengers.

The medallion was in very bad taste, but what shocked even more was the fact that Goetz had accidentally dated it 5 May 1915, or two days before the sinking, as if it had been planned in advance. He soon reissued the medal, restruck with the correct date of 7 May, but the damage had been done.

In an extraordinary move, copies of Goetz’s medal were produced in Britain in cast iron, packed in a presentation cardboard box complete with a certificate detailing the facts of the sinking. The date on the British version, although an indistinct strike, is more akin to a 5 than a 7, but this was a minor point compared to the ghastly caricature which the Goetz original represented. The copy was the inspiration of Captain Reginald Hall, RN, director of naval intelligence, and much of the cost of producing the 300,000 or so copies was borne by Mr Gordon Selfridge, the department store owner. Proceeds from the sale of the copy went to St Dunstan’s Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Hostel.

Many scholars argue over whether the Lusitania sinking was instrumental in bringing the United States into the Great War on the side of the Allies. Others feel that the more immediate casus belli was the infamous Zimmermann telegram to the Mexicans offering them German aid to reconquer the territories lost to them in Santa Anna’s war.

Obverse and reverse of the British propaganda copies of the Goetz medal, from the author’s collection.

Whatever the political outfall, it is certain that the explosion of U 20’s single torpedo that fateful day ignited the powder trail which would, on 11 November 1918, blow Imperial Germany’s ambitions sky-high.


Szent István (St Stephen) was a Tegetthoff-class battleship, the first, and only, Hungarian-built dreadnought. Launched in 1914 she displaced 21,343 tons at full load on a length of 152.18m (499ft) and beam of 28m (99ft). She was armed with twelve 12in guns in triple turrets, and her two turbines drove her at up to 20 knots. She carried a crew of thirty-eight officers and 1056 men.

Szent István was built with twin shaft machinery, large skegs supporting the propeller shafts, compared with the normal four-shaft arrangements of her sisters with shaft brackets (supports). An alarming incident occurred during Szent István’s machinery trials held at the end of November 1915. When steaming at full speed the helm was put over 35 degrees and the ship took on a list of 19 degrees as she turned. This caused water to enter through the secondary armament casemates which had not yet had their hatches installed. Investigations carried out by the director of construction revealed that the metacentric height was much lower than that planned for the ship, but it was felt that the real reason for the ship heeling so much was the massive skegs of her twin propellers.

During the Great War the Szent István spent most of her time swinging at anchor in the Austro-Hungarian naval base of Pola. On the one occasion she sortied with the fleet, on her way to try to break the Otranto Barrage on 8 June 1918, she was intercepted off the island of Premuda by the tiny Italian MAS 15 under the command of Luigi Rizzo.

MAS 15 was built by the Societa Veneziana Automobili Navali (SVAN). She weighed 12 tons, was 16m (52ft 6in) long with a beam of 3.2m (10ft 6in). She was armed with two 45.5cm (18in) torpedoes, four to six depth charges and two 8mm Colt machine guns, and carried a crew of eight. Her twin 225bhp Isotta-Fraschini petrol engines drove her at up to 24 knots, and she also had two 5ehp electric motors for creeping at 4 knots.

MAS 21, similar to MAS 15. (Drawing by Aldebaran, Trieste, courtesy of Erwin F Sieche)
Szent István in 1918. (Drawing courtesy of Erwin F Sieche)
The torpedo protection was designed following underwater explosion tests carried out in August and November 1906 using the old hulk Kaiser Max. Based on inconclusive results, General-Schiffbauingenieur Siegfried Popper designed what he called a ‘Minenpanzer’ or ‘armoured bottom’. This comprised a double bottom with the reinforced internal skin of 25mm + 25mm of steel (0.98in + 0.98in) spaced 1.22m (4ft) from the outer layer. German trials had concluded that the double bottom skins should be separated by at least 2m (6ft 6in), and that the internal torpedo bulkhead, preferably not vertical but inclined inwards at the bottom, should be placed at least 4m to 4.5m (13ft 1in to 14ft 9in) from the outer hull plating to have any effect. The vertical torpedo bulkhead on Szent István was placed only 2.5m (8ft 2?in) from the outer plating. (Drawing courtesy of Erwin F Sieche)


2011 - 2018