1915: Rising Up from a Sinking Ship

Jordan Lemon, guest writer

All was quiet. He did not know what woke him, but it did not matter now. Just twenty-four hours earlier, he had waved goodbye to his family from the ship Lucitania bound for Liverpool. On May 2, he had awakened about 3:00 in the morning. After tossing around for about 30 minutes, he decided to walk outside for some air. Putting on his grey trench coat and hat to match, he walked to the lift. The slow clank of the lift made him fall into a sleepy stupor, but almost immediately, he jolted awake from his sleepiness by the shrill “Ding!” of the lift. As he walked to the rail, Bob lit a Cuban cigar, and looked wistfully out at the sea. The shimmering, mirror like surface glistened in the moonlight.
“Hello there.”
A voice cut into his thoughts like a knife through butter. He turned to see a girl. Her eyes were blue and her dark hair flowed down her shoulders. Her face looked tired, but her eyes twinkled.
“You frightened me there miss, he said, and who might you be?” Bob stepped away from the rail and took a few steps toward her.
“I’m Amelia Baker and who are you?” she said as she backed slowly toward the stairs.
“Bob Hogan at your service mum,” replied Bob as he tipped his fedora.
“Well, Bob it’s nice seeing you, maybe we’ll see each other around.”
Without another word, the girl vanished; she disappeared as fast as she had come. Bob was once again alone at the rail. A mist drifted in; the ship’s foghorn sounded, making the night seem eerie. He grew tired, but instead of going back to his quarters he went to the saloon lounge.
The saloon lounge was quite elegant. Mirrors adorned the walls, which made the room seem huge. Chairs and tables were scattered around the room. Each table had a lamp and an ash tray. If there had been windows, it wouldn’t have mattered. The room always was covered in a thick smog, which made even the most seasoned smoker sputter. Bob settled into his chair and began puffing his cigar. Pablo Casal’s “Spanish Dance” wafted over from the bar as Bob slowly drifted into a deep sleep.

. . .

He jolted awake. Towering over him, the bar tender said, “Ya ought to be goin’ mate. It’s almost breakfast and I knows you don’t wanna miss that.” Bob smiled and politely thanked the man as he felt his way out of the dense smog. He must have taken a wrong turn, because he found himself walking into an empty corridor. He figured that he had ventured into a “crew only” area because the doorway ahead of him led to a hatch that said: “Cargo Hold.” He walked in for a closer look. The hatch had been left ajar and he could hear a slight commotion going on inside. The words were faint, but he knew that it was in a foreign language.
“Ich habe etwas Schießpulver gefunden!”
It was German! Immediately Bob roused out of his tired stupor. Throwing open the cargo hatch, he jumped into the dark abyss. Three shadowed figures looked up from where they were searching. Immediately, he tackled one of them, he overpowered him, and took his gun. The other Germans had drawn their guns, but Bob was an excellent marksman. He shot both Germans in the knees and took their guns. The commotion had alerted several of the crew.
“Hey whatcha doing mate?” exclaimed the crewman as he ran toward Bob.
“I caught some Germans spying on our ship.” Bob replied, as he began to tie the Germans hands together with a string he had procured from his coat pocket.
“What were they doing?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t we ask Fritz here?” said Bob pointing to the tall German.
Bob knew “the Germans were uncooperative” (“Final”). Ever since the initial attack each of them had fallen silent, and with an icy stare, each one looked at him.
The tall German smiled and said, “Dein Schiff ist verloren.”
“What did you say?” When the German didn’t respond, Bob punched him in the jaw. “I said, what did you say?
“I said your ship is doomed,” the German said with a laugh that sent chills up and down Bob’s spine.
“Take them away,” said the sailor, as some mates popped out from around the corner. The men dragged the Germans through a corridor on the far side of the hold.
Bob remained because he was curious about what the Germans had been looking for. As he lit another cigar, he looked around the room for the first time. All around him lay boxes marked “Sealed: Do not open!” In one corner of the room was a box; the lid was slightly open. Bob was a curious man. When he was young, his curiosity had always gotten him into trouble, and even now he felt the open box pulling him. Walking over to the box, he noticed it was a clone compared to the others. He finished prying the lid open. Inside the box were oysters; the box was lined with ice, but something was off. He scooped some ice out of the box and he dug his hand a little deeper. The bottom of the box was too shallow; feeling around the bottom, he found a small leather handle. Pulling on it, Bob felt it give way! Bob pulled out the bottom, letting the ice and oysters fall onto the floor. Peering into the secret compartment, he saw guns.
Guns! Why didn’t they tell us they were transporting munitions? We’re a target.” It all made sense now. The Germans had come on board to spy! His mind raced. Various scenarios flew through his brain—all of them ended badly. He returned to his stateroom in a frenzy, for he had lost his appetite.
Far off in the distance, silent and out of sight, a giant form sank into the ocean, and the only sign that was left of it was churning, bubbly water.
* * *

May 7 dawned bright, Bob was eating in the dining room alone, but he didn’t mind. He had tried to tell the captain about the ammunition, but all the captain would say was that he was the captain and the cargo was his business.
“What a pleasant surprise, Mr. Hogan!” Bob turned to see Amelia Baker.
A young man appeared next to her, and Amelia introduced him as her brother: Reverend Peter Baker. Peter was a tall man, who was about twenty-five. He had a mustache that curled about his lip like the handles of a bicycle. The three talked awhile, but when the conversation turned to spirituality, Bob was hesitant.
“I don’t know Peter. God’s never taken too kindly to me. My mother died, even when I prayed to him,” Bob reminisced.
“Bob, evil presides in this world. God has given the devil dominion of this earth, and until we go to Heaven, bad things will happen to good people.”
Bob mused for a moment, and agreed that perhaps he had been judgmental concerning God. He told the siblings that he would give God a chance. Peter gave him a small New Testament.
Bob decided to tell the duo about the weapons in the cargo hold.
“I need to inform you guys that inside this ship are boxes of munitions for the war effort,” Bob said, as he lit another cigar (the fifth for that day).
“What! They have weapons on this ship?” Amelia asked.
“I asked them if they were shipping weapons, and they said no! I’m gonna talk to the captain!” exclaimed Peter, rising angrily.
“Sit down Peter; There’s no use. I talked to the captain, and he denied any knowledge of the weapons,” said Bob quietly, as he puffed on his cigar. “The Germans have declared unrestricted submarine warfare. If that ammunition is hit, we’re all goners,” said Bob, vocalizing all of their fears.
The three sat in complete silence; each thinking about the gravity of their situation.

* * *

Just 100 yards away from the ship, a large U-Boat traveled undetected by the Lucitania.
Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger looked through the periscope of his U-Boat. He had been very successful, over the past two days. He had sunk two ships already. Even now, he was bearing down on a British ocean liner. Was it moral? Was it right? The thoughts rushed through his head. Quickly, he pushed them aside. The Kaisers orders were firm: that they should “sink any ship found in the waters off Britain” (“Lucitania”). Orders were orders after all.
Walther pulled down the periscope. “We will launch the torpedo on my count,” he said to Petty Officer Shultz.
“Yes, sir Kapitänleutnant,” Shultz said with an evil smile.
The submarine lined up with the Lucitania.
“Mr. Shultz hit the forward deck. If my info proves correct, then we will have fireworks, and very few survivors,” said Walther grimly.
“Fire torpedo one.”
“Fire torpedo two.”
“Torpedoes away!” responded Shultz.
Straight they flew, through the water, carrying their deadly cargo. Impact was imminent.

* * *

Bob was seated on a lounge chair; his smoldering cigar bobbed up and down in his mouth, as he dreamily looked out at the sea. Beside him sat Amelia; something had happened between them. Anyone passing by could see that. Bob had asked her to join him in some of the fun activities on the ship, and she had joined him. Bob hoped that something might become of them.
“Bob, what is that?” she queried.
Bob looked out at the sea, only to see a bubbling mass racing toward the ship.
Without emotion Bob calmly said, “I knew it would happen.”
“Bob what is it? Is it a torpedo? Bob I’m scared!” She was almost in hysteria.
“Amelia . . .”, A gut wrenching “bang” was heard as the torpedo hit its mark. “I . . .” The silence was deafening. “Love you”.
“Boom!” Like a thousand rocks falling down a mountain, the sound resonated throughout the vessel. The torpedo had struck. A second later, another explosion sounded; “This second explosion sent a cloud of choking steam and dust swirling around the bridge and base of the first funnel. . .” (Sinking).
Bob and Amelia started scrambled their way to the navigation deck, where the lifeboats hung.
“Bob I’m scared!” Amelia panted, as she ran up the main staircase.
Bob didn’t answer; fear always gripped him like a vice, and this case was no different. She soon fell silent, as they pushed and shoved their way through the crowd. ‘Life boat 1’ full. Two, three, four, six. . . fifteen! Fifteen was not totally full. Amelia jumped in, but Bob was shoved aside as other people piled in. Frantically Bob tried to get in, but it was no use. The life boat began to be lowered into the water.
“Wait!” The voice was strong and authoritative.
Bob jerked his head toward the sound of the voice. He saw Peter stand up in the boat. “I’m getting out. Bob get in.” Peter said as he climbed out, but Bob hesitated. “There’s no time for discussion. Get in!”
Bob hopped into the boat and stared up at Peter. “How can I repay you?” he queried, as Peter rose above them.
“Take care of my sister. . .” Peter said, who was now almost too far above for them to see.
Their boat hit the water with a splash and they rowed away from the ship. Minutes later the Lusitania was gone, and Peter was never seen again.
Works Cited
“Sinking. www.rmslucitania.info n.d. Web. 29 January 2018.
“Final Crossing” www.rmslucitania.info n.d. Web. 31 January 2018.
“Lusitania Note.” American Decades, edited by Judith S. Baughman, et al., Gale.
“In harm’s way: The sinking of the Lusitania.” The Economist, 20 Apr. 2002. Student Resources in Context, Web. 15 Jan. 2018.
Leon Boyd, Carol. “The life of American workers in 1915.” Monthly Labor Review, February 2016, Web. 16 January 2018.
“Lusitania Deck Plans.” www.rmslucitania.info n.d. Web. 29 January 2018.
“Sinking. www.rmslucitania.info n.d. Web. 29 January 2018.
“Sinking of the Lusitania.” Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. History: War. Gale, 2009. Student Resources in Context, Web. 11 Jan. 2018.
“U-boat.” www.britannica.com August 02, 2016. Web. 13 February 2018.
“The Sinking of the Lusitania, 1915” EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com. 2000. Web. 11 Jan. 2018
King, Richie. “217 years of homicide in New York.” Quartz, 31 December 2013, qz.com Web. 16 January 2018.