In response to inquiries about my “action” Lusitania model: You can see it working in my 4-minute YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJm3jKLYMZU . I built the ship to promote my WWI historical novel Lusitania Lost, now available at amazon.com/dp/B06XXCX6F4 , and to pitch my screenplay of the story to Hollywood “visual” types! More info, and all my Lusitania and Titanic blogs are at leonardcarpenter.com
Suddenly again we’re on the brink. What lies before us is destruction—at least, of a prosperous, populous region of the world, and at worst, of our whole civilization, species and planet. How to avoid plunging in?
Much the same idealism, hope and dread is portrayed in my historical spy thriller Lusitania Lost, depicting romance, intrigue and murder on the war-torn seas of 1915. Pre-order from Amazon or www.Mango.bz for October release.
If there is an October.
A century ago in Europe, the slide into war was gradual. A local event, an assassination in Bosnia, triggered an international chain of threats, demands, and treaty provisions. This set in motion the ponderous machinery of war. The great powers had prepared for the inevitable, in an arms race with ever larger warships and terrible new aeroplanes, dirigibles, submarines, torpedoes, and poison gas. Passenger steamers in England and Germany were built to be armed and converted to navy cruisers.
Today we stand poised and poisoned with destructive power a million times greater, enough to turn a World War into a World’s End. The pressures are the same: national pride, geopolitics, colonialism, imperialism, hate. Extremist leaders’ threats may turn crisis into conflagration. On the eve of war, the German Kaiser asked his generals, could his attack order be taken back, the troops recalled? But no, they told him, it was too late. The armies had been mobilized, the borders crossed, the die cast.
Nowadays, communications are near-instantaneous. So are the weapons.
The Great War was, in part, a family squabble between the Hohenzollern kin who ruled England and Germany. Der Kaiser was a cousin of King Charles V, both of them grandsons of Queen Victoria. But that didn’t help. Kaiser Wilhelm was a proud, insecure man, deformed at his breech birth by the English doctor brought in by his English mother. He had colonial ambitions and a love of naval ships, but found England and her navy in his way. He was prone to boisterous, intemperate speech, once even comparing his own armies to ravaging Huns. It never was clear whether he and his generals would carry out their war plans.
England ruled the waves and much of the world, in a far-flung empire. They had always opposed the dominance of a single power on the European continent, which might threaten their islands. They overcame such a threat from Spain, from France under Napoleon and others, and then from Germany… twice.
103 years ago last month in 1914, the strident “guns of August” announced the Great War in Europe. 100 years ago in 1917, it became, with the entry of the United States, the First World War. The deaths of US passengers in the sinking of the Lusitania, the German sabotage of US arms shipments to England, and the Zimmermann telegram to enlist Mexico against us, had pushed America into President Wilson’s “War To End All Wars.”
Today our colony of Guam, a former steamship coaling-station, is threatened by the fanatical leader of a small country. Or rather half a country, partitioned since the Cold War. Our Homeland is also imminent threatened by their nuclear missiles. Our own fanatic and his generals make threats many believe. A threat alone, in this hair-trigger showdown, is seen as cause for attack. In our century, pre-emptive strikes, like those in WWII against Poland and Pearl Harbor, are back in fashion.
What breeds fanaticism? 65 years ago, in a 3-year UN “police action,” every structure, dam, bridge and power source in North Korea was destroyed by our air power, resulting in deaths by exposure, famine, flood and disease, under the constant threat of attack or brutal invasion. Our air forces bombed them back into the Stone Age. Now they’re in the Nuclear Age.
Like Der Kaiser, our ruler has never learned to “speak softly but carry a big stick.” Does he know that China joined against the West in the first conflict, turning back our tide of conquest? And Russia, too, borders on North Korea. Does either superpower want radioactive fallout or hordes of refugees pouring across their borders? How pre-emptive are they?
Interesting times we live in. High hopes and grand ideals, harnessed to geopolitical goals and confused by towering self-aggrandizement. Each week more interesting than the last… until the last.
RMS Titanic, the unsinkable giant launched in 1912, had three powerful engines, each driving a screw propeller, and four tall smokestacks. What White Star Line didn’t advertise was, the fourth stack was a dummy, a glorified ventilator to make the ship look as powerful as previous titans of the sea.
Cunard Line’s RMS Lusitania and Mauretania, the best-known four-stackers since 1907, had four steam turbines and four screws. Titanic did not claim to match their top speed of 25 knots but made up for it in luxury and stability. Furthermore, with two ordinary steam engines and only one turbine, which couldn’t run in reverse, Titanic had the ability to back out of berths without being towed by tugboats.
White Star didn’t fake the smoke. Photos make it clear that Titanic’s stern chimney didn’t appear to smoke unless she was steaming directly upwind.
What most passengers on the Lusitania’s final voyage in 1915 didn’t notice was that their Speed Queen was also running on three stacks. Due to wartime coal shortages and reduced tourist revenue, the stern boiler room had been shut down and the steam pressure redistributed. Although Captain Turner and his crew boasted their ship could outrun an enemy U-boat, her speed was reduced.
Alma Brady, heroine of my novel LUSITANIA LOST whose parents had been globe-trotters, notices this change. But she doesn’t know that submarines lie in wait, or that the promised naval escort may not arrive. If not for this lack of coal, could the Lusitania have shifted to the safer northern route around Ireland? That is one of the questions history may never answer. Pre-order at facebook.com/lendicarpio .
A travel disaster is usually a “cascading failure” situation involving multiple hazards, equipment failures, and human error. But ultimately, pure happenstance can be at fault. Murphy’s Law says if anything can possibly go wrong, it will. This is shown by the fate of RMS Titanic and by that of RMS Lusitania, as depicted in my novel Lusitania Lost.
Proximal causes of the Titanic tragedy—extreme speed, impaired visibility, wireless neglect and inadequate lifeboats—were not enough. Neither were the Lusitania’s drawbacks—inadequate warning, lack of an escort, munitions aboard and two explosions.
Of course, the prime causes are simple—ice and torpedoes—but those alone might not have done the job.
In the Lusitania’s case, history records a single torpedo strike. But that alone can’t account for all the damage. A hit for’ard would have caused a bow list, causing the ship to go down slowly by the nose, if at all; surely not in 18 minutes! A hit in the sidelong coal bunker would explain the starboard list, which made the more-than-adequate lifeboats almost impossible to launch. But a single torpedo couldn’t do both, even if it struck the dividing compartment, which had fore and aft bulkheads with automatic doors.
No; to be so swiftly fatal, the “eel” had to strike precisely in the cargo hold, where a massive ammo explosion could reach and breach the side bunkers. Its location forward was due to U-boat Kapitan Schwieger’s error of reckoning when plotting the torpedo strike, in slightly underestimating his target’s speed. He logically would have aimed for the middle of the ship to reduce his chance of missing entirely. But the Lusi had not traveled quite so far by the time the paths met.
So, Fate intervenes unpredictably, causing the worst outcome—in this case, a world-changing one.
Aboard Titanic, a similar coincidence proved fatal. The scraping and buckling damage of the iceberg caused water to gush in and flood four of the five critical forward compartments. The fifth Division, boiler room #5 according to the testimony of a survivor, was only slightly compromised, with the inflow of water weak enough to be controlled by the room’s pumps. The watertight bulkhead designed to keep the sea at bay appeared to be working, at first as the boilers were shut down. Then a sudden torrent of water came rushing through, and the witness was sent topside to abandon ship.
Curiously, this bulkhead was the same one warped and penetrated by the heat of a coal fire, which had been discovered at sea. It smoldered in the two adjacent bunkers for days, to finally be put out that very afternoon. Whether the fire caused the bulkhead to fail, or whether the sea found some other way around it, we may never know. The point is that by sheer happenstance—unpredictable and uncontrollable—the iceberg somehow found the critical weak point, doing just enough damage to cause a final, fatal result.As with Lusitania. But in her case, the “unanswerable” questions are answered by my fictional characters, above and below decks in my historical romance LUSITANIA LOST, due out next month and available for pre-order at the vendors on this site.
Just read a good book—my own! Conan the Gladiator, my tenth “posthumous collaboration” with the great Robert E. Howard, from ancient times, 20+ years ago. Tired from promoting my more recent historical yarn LUSITANIA LOST (available for pre-order from Mango.bz or at leonardcarpenter.com) I picked up the old yellowing paperback and read it. over 3 or 4 nights at bedtime. (continued below)
It’s a rousing read, but a departure from Conan’s usual remorseless sword-slinging on behalf of his own or others’ survival. I couldn’t let our hero be a merciless mercenary, a pit-fighter or captive slave fighter (this was pre-Russell Crowe.) Instead, he tends to make friends with his fellow gladiators and battles them only reluctantly. In fact, the whole Arena scene is so decadent and (ugh!) civilized that he loses (temporarily) his taste for killing (except in urban street gang rumbles.)
The situation was complicated by my deadline. It normally took me 9 months, working half-time, to grind out a respectable pulp pastiche. I was on track for this when my publishers for Tor, the late lamented Sprague and Catherine de Camp, informed me that my deadline had been moved forward 3 months, from April 1 to December 31! A wannabe Conan sequelizer had failed to deliver his book and they were being published quarterly.
Luckily, I had a holiday vacation available from my day job. But this meant writing every day, even Christmas. And, with a toddler at home who loved to “help” me work, I had to pretend to leave for the office each morning and then sneak back in the window to my closet, where my Apple lle time machine was hidden.
I did this dutifully for two weeks, “coming home” only for lunch with my wife, and to play briefly with the boy. I ended up finishing the book on New Year’s Eve at midnight. It was Fed-Exe’d only one day late, and published on time.
But alas, the accumulated resentment–scrabbling away at my keyboard, as ever “pushing the envelope” for more harrowing effects while the rest of my family loudly celebrated the New Year–may have poisoned my plotting. One irate reader later complained that I had, oops! killed Conan, by leaving him too long in the unbreakable grip of Xothar, the temple-consecrated strangler, amid the collapsing ruins of… well, no spoilers here.
Feeling vaguely guilty about this oversight, I neglected to look at the book for a couple decades. But now that I do, I find it delightfully historical, a blast from our Hyborian past.
Welcome to National Book Lovers’ Day! My novel LUSITANIA LOST is a wartime epic portraying hope, idealism, romance, terror and ultimate tragedy, the whole range of human emotions. Due out in September from Mango.bz and up for pre-order at www.leonardcarpenter.com, my 1915 war epic recounts the Lusitania ‘s last voyage. One reader says, “Anyone who thrilled to the Titanic film will love this book.”
What the passengers on the luxury liner didn’t know was, they were steaming into the modern savagery of war that targets civilians as brutally as combatants. The result, rivaling the war’s worst naval sinkings, was the greatest civilian sea disaster since Titanic. But the more momentous effect was to set the US on a path that by 1917 would escalate Europe’s Great War into the first World War.
These world-shaping themes are barely glimpsed by my characters: a torch singer fleeing a New York mob boss, taking refuge with nurses shipping out to the front, and meeting a pair of reporters on assignment as war correspondents. They join Broadway stars and rich globe-trotters aboard the glamorous liner, already being stalked by a relentless U-Boat captain attacking unarmed ships in the War Zone. The consequence—romance, intrigue and murder in this Lusitania spy thriller—is soon overshadowed by the looming crisis that will end so many lives, but possibly save others.
The social network
Destroyed my dream
You with another guy
My heart wants to scream…
paraphrasing Billy Idol, “Call Me Crazy” in his 2014 album Kings and Queens of the Underground
Up until now, 2017, pre-Lusitania, that’s pretty much all I heard about social networking: Catfishing horror stories on Dr. Phil, cyber-bullying suicides, chatroom adultery, fake news blogging, blah blah blah.
And I did vainly pursue one biker babe on Facebook, and tweet on Occupy America, but without ever really catching fire. And, more recently, invent (or re-invent) the hashtag #TREXIT that seems hot, lol.
But all that time I was busy posting websites of my own: a 2000 political site, SoreLosers.org; A vivid graphic site for my novel Biohacker, formerly titled Fatal Strain; my eco-religion page Church of the Goddess.org (still up there); this WordPress author page in its earliest form, now revamped as leonardcarpenter.com; etc.
Oh, and while trying to sell a Conan the Barbarian TV script, I did frequent the site of what may have been the worst (and lowest-budget) live-action TV show ever broadcast. (The highlight of the series was an Emmy-quality performance by Mickey Rooney as a tribal chieftain.) Their unmoderated chatroom was a cesspool, the Hyborian Age equivalent of a mosh-pit. Yuck!
A Lusitania Spy Thriller
Now, faced with the challenge of 21st century publishing—both online and in stores, by the grace of Mango.bz books—I get to extol the merits of my Lusitania spy thriller: how it is the literary equivalent of “Titanic Meets Das Boot” lol, a romantic adventure with gripping suspense and tragedy above and below decks on the Lusty Lusi.
What fun! All of this amid the Great War in 1915, with scenes in the capitals and battlefields of Europe, in the White House in Washington DC and on the gang-haunted mean streets of New York. Three years after the Titanic disaster, here are the innocent joys and vivid tragedy that started the US on our path into World War I.
Romance, Intrigue and Murder
I also get to explain how my Lusitania Lost can be so rigorously faithful to history while portraying romance, intrigue and murder on the war-ravaged Atlantic. The drama unfolds both among my fictional characters and the actual world leaders, Broadway celebrities, and crew on RMS Lusitania and the submarine U-20 that relentlessly stalked the luxury liner.
Written to a tight, ticking historical timeline, my epic reveals gripping details lost or concealed in most written histories. Apart from my invented characters, everything is documented except my answers to those questions which may never be answered by the Lusitania’s crumbling wreck—such as, what secret weapons were in the liner’s hold? And what caused the second, more violent explosion that made the ship go down in only 18 minutes?
Lusitania the Video
I get to produce and display my background 4-minute model-animated Youtube,Who Sank The Lusitania? at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThKtjVlqasM
Lusitania the Movie
And I get to peddle my completed, 120-page screenplay THE LUSI, to any Hollywood studio that wants to challenge James Cameron’s immortal TITANIC with modern digital effects, rather than building a life-sized breakable model of half the giant ship in Mexico.
Two Shipboard Romances
I won’t go into the perils, loves and conflicts of my fictional characters, which are also faithfully portrayed in the movie script. All of that can be in a later blog, or possibly another video.
I expected this 4th Titanic blog to be even more controversial than my past three. But it shapes up to be a bigger flub than #3, regarding rudder backwash, that proved to be a fallacy.
As a historical novelist, I can’t be spreading fake news. The background of my epic spy thriller Lusitania Lost, available for pre-order at leonardcarpenter.com would be called into question. Some years ago a friend sent me a magazine piece that makes a startling claim. Now I can’t find the old xerox, nor any support for it in my library or online.
The article claimed that, since Titanic was designed for wartime conversion to a Royal Navy cruiser, her maiden voyage was also her shakedown cruise. And therefore her excessive speed through the ice field was due, not to J Bruce Ismay’s desire for headlines, but to military officers on board who insisted on running a speed trial. This was asserted in the article with backup details that I can’t remember or verify. Provocative, yes?
But to the contrary, it appears that all three White Star Line ships of the Olympic class–Titanic and Britannic included–were built without the British government subsidy or the military design features that went into the Cunard liners Lusitania and Mauretania. Although White Star’s Olympic did become a troopship, and Britannic a hospital ship, neither appears to have been armed and armored as their White Star predecessor Oceanic, which was converted to a British navy cruiser in a few days during August 1914 at the outbreak of the Great War.
In fact, White Star was not a British company, although its ships were laid down at Harland & Wolfe shipyard in Belfast, Ireland. The three passenger liners were part of American investor JP Morgan’s plan to monopolize Atlantic shipping by combining several companies, including the Hamburg-Amerika line. Since HAPAG was a German firm, it’s likely their big their ships were subsidized and adapted to German navy use–if not interned in US or British ports for the duration of the war to protect JP Morgan’s investment.
If Titanic had been designed to military standards, it probably wouldn’t have helped. Armor would not have been added below the waterline, and speed would’ve been only slightly reduced. As seen in my Lusitania video, the outdated navy requirement of using coal as armor against shellfire, by installing longitudinal coal bunkers along either side of the main hull at sea level, proved disastrous. Torpedoes had not been foreseen, and the rupture and flooding of this long compartment caused the stricken ships immediately to list, capsizing them or rendering lifeboats or rafts nearly impossible to launch.
As it turned out, the practice of converting passenger liners to auxiliary cruisers (or in German terms, surface raiders, as opposed to undersea boats or U-boats) did not last long. Big liners consumed too much coal for regular cruising, and were better suited as troop transports or hospital ships. They lacked sufficient armor, as seen when the British-converted Carmania sank the German-converted Cap Trafalgar but suffered excessive damage herself in the sea duel.
Even White Star’s Oceanic, sent so swiftly into British service, ran aground in the first month and was lost off the Shetland Islands. For Germany with no coaling stations at sea, the most efficient merchant raiders were small freighters that used less coal, or sailing ships requiring none at all.
This 3rd blog in the series was to be my own original theory of the Titanic tragedy’s final, fatal “cause.” Thankfully, due to what I just read on Wikipedia, my concern gets off to a flying stop. My notion was that Titanic was over-powered and under-steered.
Shouldn’t a ship that’s bigger, heavier, and more powerful require a bigger rudder? Look at the design, three giant screws with one modest-sized rudder. (The cutaway view is the Titanic model on display aboard the SS Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. Other giant models there include Queen Mary and RMS Lusitania, a ship especially dear to me because of my soon-to-be-published Lusitania spy thriller. See the video of my own live-action Lusitania ship model at leonardcarpenter.com, with my other blogs in this series.)
Aboard RMS Titanic, the order given on sighting the iceberg was “Rudder hard-aport, engines full reverse!” Afterward, it was stated that the ship seemed slow in turning—a delay that could have caused the collision, or made the damage critical.
The cutaway shows Titanic’s rudder mounted directly behind the central screw. In my view, with engines reversed, this would affect the action of the rudder, reversing its force. Water currents drawn in under the stern by those powerful screws would cause a port rudder to push the ship to starboard, not port.
Now it appears that my concern about the rudder was shared by the ship’s designer, because Wikipedia states that the central screw could not be reversed. Only the port and starboard screws could, while the center screw was only stopped and would not battle the rudder.
So, was the rudder adequate? The same Wiki article states that Titanic was “agile,” capable of rapid turns. But here another factor may emerge. Historically, there has been confusion between orders to “port rudder” and “port tiller.” In a small vessel with hand-operated tiller-and-pintle or a steering oar, moving the tiller to port causes the rudder to swing starboard, & vice versa. The command “port-rudder” in some times and waters and nationalities, would actually be construed as “port tiller.” And in fact, there are some reports that the steersman aboard Titanic confessed to making this error, briefly at least in the urgency of the moment. How complex can this issue get?
The announced intention of the deck officer was to make a double turn, first swinging the ship’s bow away from the ice floe and then, as Titanic drifted forward, swerving the stern clear of the obstacle with a “hard-a-starboard” command. But by the time the ice was ever-so-lightly grazing the ship’s flank, that second turn seemed unwise. And as it happened, a number of small diverse factors had combined to alter history and thousands of lives.
I’m reading What Really Sank the Titanic, 2006 by McCarty & Foecke. A riveting history, LOL! Titanic was the inspiration for my novel Lusitania Lost, available by advance order at leonardcarpenter.com .
They’re saying Titanic’s steel, or at least the rivets, left much to be desired, due to a speedup in work at Harland & Wolff shipyard, and the need to repair collision-damaged RMS Olympic right next to the partly-completed Titanic.
Very interesting, really. But the middle plates of the hull were 1½ inch steel machine-bolted with triple rows of strong steel rivets, and that’s where she broke in two. The iceberg damage was likely iron and steel rivets partly unzipped along the bow and side. Titanic, although designed as an auxiliary Royal Navy cruiser, was not armored below the waterline. Could any rivets have held tight, or at least stopped the damage before it reached the fatal fifth compartment?
The bigger the ship, the bigger the impact. An iceberg that makes it to Newfoundland is big. And by floating an ice cube in a glass, you can see that 90% of it is underwater. Nearby on that same night, the steamer Californian was stopped before an ice floe 30 miles long. Even if ice is softer than steel, it’s no Slushy.
When a vast floating skyscraper’s irresistible force is concentrated at a tiny point on the hull by an immovable object, something’s got to give. It may have been better if, instead of turning, Titanic had struck the iceberg head-on. Then only two or three forward compartments might’ve been breached, and she would have stayed afloat. That’s naval doctrine for collisions. In a grazing hit, it seems unlikely that any rivets in the world could have reduced the damage.
Failing that, would better steel have slowed the leaks and allowed more time for escape or rescue? Well, there were only lifeboats enough for half the souls aboard. And the nearest rescue ship SS Californian was adrift for the night, her telegraphist asleep (after being telegraphed “Shut up!” by Titanic’s radio man.)
So another hour or two afloat might have made no difference. Even if RMS Carpathia had arrived before Titanic broke up and sank, there would have been little time for boats to circulate back and forth and pick up passengers in the frigid water. However slow the sinking, the lifeboats stayed clear of floating survivors even after the ship was down, for fear of being mobbed. Many boats were only partially filled with upper class men, women and children. Others had declined to enter the boats, doubtless assuring each other, “Don’t worry, it’s only leaking in steerage.” Much like our own upper classes in this century, on Spaceship Earth.