Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania - Erik Larson On 1 May 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool. The passengers - including a record number of children and infants - were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, its submarines had brought terror to the North Atlantic.

But the Lusitania's captain, William Thomas Turner, had faith in the gentlemanly terms of warfare that had, for a century, kept civilian ships safe from attack. He also knew that his ship - the fastest then in service - could outrun any threat. But Germany was intent on changing the rules, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit were tracking Schwieger's U-boat...but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way towards Liverpool, forces both grand and achingly small - hubris, a chance fog, a closely-guarded secret and more - converged to produce one of the great disasters of 20th century history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don't, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, including the US President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.

Fascinating narrative non-fiction account of the sinking of the Lusitania that brings the disaster, as told through various passengers experiences, to life.

Beautifully written the reader feels a connection to those people whose words you are reading and they are are made especially poignant when you eventually discover the writer (often) did not survive the ordeal.

A seaman lookout first spotted "a burst of foam about 500 yards away," then a track moving across the flat plane of the sea as clear as if it had been drawn "by an invisible hand."

It was just after 2 p.m. The sun was shining; the sea was like glass; the Irish coast was visible just over 10 miles away and passengers were strolling on deck after lunch.

Some of them also saw the torpedo approaching. One noticed "a streak of froth" arcing across the surface towards the ship. Another leaned over the rail to watch what would happen when it hit the side. He described the torpedo as "a beautiful sight,'' covered with a silvery phosphorescence as it sped through the green water.

A woman asked, "That isn't a torpedo, is it?" The man bedside her later said, "I was too spellbound to answer. I felt absolutely sick."

The main feeling I came away with was how fate, as well as deliberate action, played such a large part in the disaster...a late departure, changing weather and unclear instructions to the Captain. As the liner approaches the Irish Coast and its last moments, you are willing the ship to sail to safety but it is not to be. What follows is panic, confusion, disbelief and accounts of heroism and tragedy. If things, even little things had been done differently such as closing the portholes the disaster might not have resulted in such massive loss of life.

Even as the ship was sinking - fate played a role, even though the sun was shinning and the sea calm, rescue was slow in coming and too late when it did for many people.

The author must be praised for how he conveys the despair and sheer terror of that sunny afternoon in in 1915...just a few miles off the Old Head of Kinsale

Living across the Mersey from the Lusitania's home port of Liverpool I was interested, and sobered, to see information from the brilliant Liverpool Maritime Museum on where the crew came from. A 2nd officer lived 3 doors down the road from my house and another in the next road.