Dead Wake: by Erik Larson | Summary & Analysis
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“Dead Wake” is Erik Larson’s account of events surrounding the last voyage of the liner, Lusitania. The basic story is well known. Lusitania sailed from New York on 1st May, 1915 bound for Liverpool. On 7th May, 12 miles off the southern Irish coast she was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank with the loss of 1198 civilian lives, many of them American.
Larson explores the military and political background to the attack. He asks questions and supplies possible answers which, where they cannot be proved, do at least make sense. The rules of war were being changed by events. Prior to May 1916, naval warfare was a gentlemanly affair with passenger ships allowed to pass unmolested and cargo ships subject to search but not sinking, at least not without first removing the crew. Germany was intent on changing all that.
Erik Larson explains why and addresses other questions. Why did the ship sail at all when the Admiralty was fully aware of the U-Boat threat to ships approaching the British Isles? Lusitania was the fastest ship afloat, nothing could catch her and her owners and her Master, Captain Turner, believed that her speed alone would keep Lusitania safe from the U-Boat’s torpedoes. Walther Schwieger, captain of U20, knew better!
Why did the Admiralty not provide a Naval escort through these dangerous waters? Was it really a political ploy? Did the British Government of the day consider that if harm should befall Lusitania and her many American passengers, America would be more likely to enter the war against Germany? Larson examines this long held suspicion.
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