Looking for a Scapegoat
As soon as news of the disaster reached the Admiralty in London, Admiral Oliver and Captain Richard Webb [Director Trade Division] went into ‘save-our-skins’ mode with indecent haste. They had three problems: the Lusitania had been sunk by a German U-boat that the Admiralty knew to be operating in the area after the Juno, which was meant to escort the Lusitania from the Fastnet Lighthouse, had been withdrawn without Captain Turners knowledge; they had given the Captain confusing and inaccurate information about the position of U-boats off the south coast of Ireland and in the English channel; the explosive nature of the cargo the Lusitania carried. To prevent the obvious set of awkward questions being asked and important heads from rolling a scapegoat had to be found and quickly – Captain Turner became the easiest target because he was bound by Admiralty oath not to disclose crucial signal information. The cunning scheme almost succeeded as Captain Turner was unable to fully grasp what was taking place at the official enquiry being conducted by Lord Mersey, HMS Receiver of Wrecks. Near the end of the Enquiry, during the summing-up, the clever plan ran aground when Admiral Sir Frederick Inglefield referred to a particular signal in his Master File which Lord Mersey failed to find in his copy of the file – the two files did not match.
It was precisely this signal, sent incidentally via the Naval Wireless Station at Valentia by Vice Admiral Coke, advising Captain Turner to divert the Lusitania to Queenstown (now Cobh) that had been expunged from Mersey’s file. His oath of secrecy prevented Captain Turner from acknowledging receipt of this vital signal – precisely what the Admiralty had been relying on in their attempt to scapegoat him. It is worth noting that the page recording this signal in the WW1 Admiralty’s Signals Log is the only page missing! This series of ‘dirty-tricks’ has, inevitably, given rise to elaborate conspiracy theories about Britain’s real intentions regarding the final voyage of the Lusitania. Lord Mersey must be given full credit for standing by the honourable and upright Captain William Thomas Turner.
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