In any maritime disaster—such as collision, grounding, or sinking—a chain of events leads to the mishap. Take out almost any link, the chain breaks, and calamity is avoided. But when the chain is complete, the results can be catastrophic.
Such was the case a century ago, as portrayed in Erik Larson’s superb new book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania (Crown Publishers, 2015). On the sunny afternoon of 7 May 1915, the tiny German submarine U-20 torpedoed and sank the majestic British liner off Ireland’s southern coast. With World War I not yet a year old, a chain of events had to coincide perfectly for the U-boat to administer the killing blow.
The advent of war caused a dramatic reduction in ocean travel, so the Cunard Line saved money by directing the use of only three of the ship’s four boiler rooms. The reduction in speed added a day to the transatlantic journey.