Lusitania Controversy - Introduction and Chronology

Return to Lusitania Controversy Main Menu

On 10 January Hans Andriessen wrote (on WW1-L), in reference to Colin Simpson's "Lusitania," Bailey and Ryan's "The Lusitania Disaster," and Dr. Ballard's "Exploring the Lusitania":

Since it was a long time ago that I read those books I quitted the discussion and promised to come back after reading this new evidence. So I did. I expected very much since it was said that it would prove without any doubt that Simpson's story was more or less a fraud and that his book was nuts.

Now, I must admit that I am very disappointed. I took both books and compared them with Simpson's book and (I am sure it is my fault) found Simpson's evidence in the most important cases far more convincing and documented than in the other two books. As a matter of fact, I noticed that Bailey & Ryan several times accused Simpson of being incorrect and then gave exactly the same story. I also cannot help but get the impression that Bailey-Ryan wrote their book with the sole purpose to discredit Simpson at all costs but naturally I might be wrong. Now, before I start to document my observations, is there anyone who can give me a solid example in which Bailey and Ryan give clear and undisputable evidence that Simpson was wrong, I mean not small details, but in the real important issues.

Below is a discussion of the controversies surrounding the LUSITANIA disaster, including a comparative look at the books by Simpson and by Bailey and Ryan, as well as discussion of other sources.

Colin Simpson, a British journalist, published "The Lusitania" in 1972. The book was also excerpted in "Life" magazine in the United States, and received a great deal of publicity. Simpson condemned both British and United States policy. He alleged that LUSITANIA carried a large cargo of munitions that was the ultimate cause of her demise. Most sensationally, he postulated that the Admiralty, and in particular First Lord Winston Churchill, had deliberately put LUSITANIA in harm's way to encourage an incident that might bring the United States into the war.

In 1975 Bailey and Ryan's "The Lusitania Disaster: An Episode in Modern Warfare and Diplomacy" appeared, written in part in response to Simpson. Captain Thomas B. Ryan was a retired naval officer. Bailey was one of the leading historians of American foreign policy, and particularly of its political aspects--struggles between President and Congress and the role of the public and press (a liberal dose of editorial cartoons is a trademark of any Bailey book, including this one). Among Bailey's major works were two volumes on the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations fight, "Woodrow Wilson and the Lost Peace" and "Woodrow Wilson and the Great Betrayal," published in 1944-1945, in which he was highly critical of Wilson's rigidity despite the general tendency at the time to regard Wilson as a sainted martyr of internationalism (as in the 1944 movie, "Wilson").

Bailey and Ryan strongly oppose Simpson's conspiracy notions. It should not be thought, though, that in doing so they engage in a one-sided defense of the British and Allied position. They are strongly critical of British blockade policy and of U.S. favoritism toward the Allies, and in fact conclude that the Germans had a good legal and moral case for sinking LUSITANIA.

Simpson's book was originally published by Longman in 1972. My edition is the 1983 Penguin paperback, whose pagination is different from that of the hardcover. Citations will therefore include both page and chapter numbers. Bailey and Ryan's book was published by the Free Press in 1975; as far as I know there has never been a second edition or a paperback.

Some other books should be noted as well. Hans mentioned the book by Dr. Robert D. Ballard, the famous underwater explorer, with Spencer Dunmore ["Exploring the Lusitania: Probing the Mysteries of the Sinking that Changed History"; Madison Press, 1995]. Ballard's work is a coffee-table book with excellent illustrations and a good narrative of the disaster, as well as descriptions of the wreck today. It is in agreement with Bailey and Ryan with two important exceptions, on the location of the torpedo strike and the cause of the mysterious second explosion that sank LUSITANIA.

Patrick Beesly's "Room 40: British Naval Intelligence 1914-18" [Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982] includes an analysis of the LUSITANIA sinking. Beesly generally supports Simpson's charges, with some significant exceptions.

A good concise account of U.S. policy in this period is Arthur Link's "Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era 1910-1917" (New American Nation series), the second half of which is devoted mainly to the diplomacy of 1914-1917. Many Americans here will be familiar with the recently departed Professor Link, who for half a century was the leading authority on Woodrow Wilson. Link wrote a five-volume history of the Wilson Administration (which got only to 1917) and edited Wilson's papers, published in several dozen volumes. He was generally sympathetic to Wilson and his views on the neutrality period are more pro-Allied than those of Bailey, although not uncritically so.

Chronology (all dates 1915)