Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Dead Wake

Title: Dead Wake
Author: Erik Larson
Published: March 10th 2015 by Crown
Format: Hardcover, Pgs 430
Genre: History, Non-Fiction

Dead Wake “a maritime term that describes the fading disturbance that lingers on the surface of a body of water long after a vessel (or torpedo) has passed.”

What started out as a very boring history lesson turned real once the R.M.S. Lusitania was hit by a torpedo. The people became real. The horrifying situation for those onboard became a twisted nightmare. Lies are told and history will forever have multiple tellings of this story. Fingers may be pointed but in the end, you have to remember that nearly 1,200 people died.

On May 7, 1915, the Lusitania was traveling from New York to Liverpool when it encountered the German Submarine U-20. What is at question is if the submarine commander Walther Schwieger knew it was the passenger ship Lusitania. What he did know, was that a ship of this size was going to make the largest strike of his career. This would definitely put his tonnage numbers over the top. The post investigation said that two torpedoes hit the ship; Schwieger claims that it was only one. What is not in question is that there was a secondary explosion that caused the ship to list. What exactly was the Lusitania carrying? At the time, it was known that some passenger liners were conveying munitions, but to what degree has always been in question - but for a four-funnel, 787-foot superliner to sink in 18 minutes, is it possible that there was more in the cargo hold than was previous stated in the ships manifest.

Conspiracy theories still cling to this ship. What was the ship carrying that might have caused the secondary explosion? Why was there no escort when the area was known to have hostile factors? Most importantly, what did Churchill know? Was the sinking of the ship just a ruse to get the United States into the war? If so, it worked, two years after the sinking of the ocean liner full of innocent civilians, America finally entered the First World War.

There was a tremendous amount of research put into this book. There are certain parts that are as dry as a textbook, but then interspersed are the stories of the people. I do not feel that Erik Larson imparted too much of his own personal beliefs. He does not go off on diatribes of the “could haves” and trying to explain the unexplainable. He delivers facts. There is no proof of the ammunition, and the secondary explosion just might have been the result of the main steam line being ruptured from the torpedo that had torn a 40’ by 15’ hole in the side of the steam liner.

The title is two-fold. Not only does it describe what lingers on the surface of water after a vessel passes, it also describes what is left in the historical wake of the R.M.S. Lusitania disaster.

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