On 29th October, Irish diver Eoin McGarry retrieved a telegraph machine from the wreck of the Lusitania, the Cunard Line cruiser that notoriously met her fate at the hands of a German U-Boat during the First World War.
A History of Exploration
The telegraph machine is not the first item that McGarry has recovered from the Lusitania. He has been diving the liner for 15 years, and last year salvaged the pedestal for the ship’s bridge telegraph. His most recent visit to the Lusitania was his sixth this year and was carried out with the approval of Ireland’s Heritage Ministry and the wreck’s millionaire owner, Greg Bemis. Due to her significant age and incredible historic importance, the Lusitania is protected by an Underwater Heritage Order, which states that divers may only visit the wreck with a licence.
Legalities aside, the liner is not an easy dive. She lies in over 295 ft/90m of water, in an area- off the Head of Kinsale plagued by rough weather and poor visibility. In an interview with Irish newspaper The Southern Star, McGarry said that his most recent dive was inspired by a window of good weather. He told the paper that “we were searching out-off the wreck and we found the telegraph and bought it up by the use of a lift bag. We still respect the wreck and to recover a few pieces will keep the memory alive”.
The Sinking of the Lusitania
Certainly, the Lusitania’s story is not an easy one to forget. Launched by the Cunard Line in 1906, she made more than 200 trans-Atlantic crossings and for a brief period of time was known as the world’s largest passenger ship. After conflict broke out in 1914, Germany declared the waters around the United Kingdom as a war zone. However, passenger crossings from America continued, and on 1st May 1915, the Lusitania set sail for England from New York. A week later on 7th May, she was torpedoed by a German U-Boat.
The hit triggered a huge internal explosion, and the Lusitania sank in a mere 18 minutes. Without time to evacuate, 1,198 passengers and crew were lost – making the sinking one of the world’s greatest maritime disasters. The loss of the Lusitania was controversial, with Britain accusing Germany of firing upon a civilian ship without warning. Germany retaliated with claims that the Lusitania was carrying large stocks of ammunition, making her a fair target – an accusation supported by the unexplained explosion that followed the initial torpedo attack.
However, the British adamantly denied the existence of munitions onboard, and to this day the truth is unclear. Either way, the sinking of the Lusitania proved pivotal. 128 American citizens were killed when the ship went down, and the outrage felt by the American public as a result of the sinking was instrumental in influencing the government’s decision to join the war effort in April 1917. The support of the United States in the final year of the war was a key factor in the eventual Allied victory.
Given the Lusitania’s role in shaping world history, McGarry’s find is of significant cultural importance. Bemis congratulated McGarry and his team for prevailing in the face of difficult conditions to salvage the telegraph, while Irish Minister for Heritage Heather Humphreys also spoke positively about the find. Humphreys said that it was “great news that the telegraph is safely on shore and will now be conserved by Mr Bemis, who hopes to place the artifacts recovered from the Lusitania on display locally”.
As for McGarry, the Dungarvan diver intends to keep exploring the Lusitania, and hopes to retrieve the ship’s bridge telegraph next year. Despite several salvage attempts over the years, there are many treasures still believed to be aboard the Lusitania – including priceless works of art by the likes of Rembrandt and Monet, which were supposedly being transported in sealed tubes by art collector Sir Hugh Lane.