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Could someone tell me what exactly happened to Captain Walther Schwieger, the man who sank the Lusitania? Was he celebrated as a hero in Germany or was he shunned? I heard he was awarded a medal, but I want to know if that's true.
Likewise, did he ever have any regrets for sinking the ship or did he believe he was just doing his duty? If someone could give me a little biography about the man, I'd be most grateful. Best regards.
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After the storm of protest caused by the Lusitania disaster, the Kaiser called a halt to unrestricted submarine warfare. This caused a temporary lull in sinkings, though Schwieger and U-20 managed to sink the defensively armed White Star liner Cymric during this period. Unbeknownst to Schwieger, the liner was carrying the body of one of the Lusitania victims home to America at the time.
On November 5th, 1916 whilst trying to assist another U-boat, the U20 ran aground in fog off the Danish coast.
She resisted all attempts to refloat her and during the attempt to rescue Schwieger and his crew, the German Battleship KronPrinz Wilhelm, which was providing protective screening for the rescue operation, was torpedoed by the British submarine J1.
The stranded U20 was therefore hastily blown up using one of her own torpedoes, to prevent her from falling into enemy hands.
The wreck of the U-20 off Denmark, seen here after Schwieger's hasty attempt to blow her up. KronPrinz Wilhelm limped back to base, only to end her days at the bottom of Scapa Flow, in Scotland, when the interned German warships scuttled themselves in a last great act of defiance in 1919.
The Danish government eventually removed the wreck of U20 some years later, as she was a hazard to navigation. The remains of U-20 are now a static display in Denmark, open to the public.
After U20 was lost, Schwieger was given command of the slightly larger U88 on April 7th, 1917 and on 30th July 1917, he was awarded Germany's highest decoration for gallantry; the "Pour Le Merite" medal, or "Blue Max" as it was more popularly known, in recognition of his having sunk a total of 190,000 tons of allied shipping.
He was the 8th U-boat commander to receive this covetted award.
The citation for his award did not mention his largest victim; the Lusitania.
The "Blue Max".
Schwieger was killed in action six weeks later, on September 5th 1917.
Whilst being pursued by the Q-Ship HMS Stonecrop, the submerged U88
struck a British laid mine off the Frisian island of Terschelling in the North Sea.
The British were quick to credit HMS Stonecrop with this "kill" as it made for good propaganda, but the mine that proved fatal to Schwieger was not laid by HMS Stonecrop at all, and she certainly had not fired upon U-20 with any effect during the chase.
Walther Schwieger was seven months short of his 33rd birthday when his worst nightmare became a reality.
There were no survivors from the U88, whose last recorded resting place is 53,57N - 04,55E.
At the time of his death, Schwieger ranked 6th in the league table of top-scoring U-boat commanders and was therefore officially a U-boat "Ace".
In May of 1918, the first boat of "Project 46" was launched.
Project 46 was a class of U-Cruiser and the very first was U139,
which was named "Kapitan-Leutnant Schwieger" in honour of his memory.
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The first chapter of Fuerbringer: FIPS (Pen & Sword 2001) may be of interest to you. Fuerbringer was IWO of U-20 up to the voyage preceding the "Lusitania" incident, and he corresponded with Schwieger until the death of the latter.
When Fuerbringer was captured by the British in 1918, he informed his interrogators that if he had been in Schwieger's shoes, he would have had no hesitation in sinking "Lusitania".
The incident which appears to have hardened the hearts of these two officers occurred in the Channel on Fuerbringer's last voyage with Schwieger when they saw a British hospital ship, her decks crammed with armed uniformed personnel, sailing from Britain to France.
Specific warnings had been issued by the German Admiralty that any liner or merchant vessel entering the exclusion zone around the British Isles and Ireland (All Ireland then being part of Great Britain) would be sunk without warning. Irrespective of what she actually was carrying, "Lusitania" was capable of shipping contraband and troops and was of a size that she could not be stopped and searched safely in wartime.
The decision to send "Lusitania" on her voyage was so provocative that one wonders if some purpose lay behind the sacrifice - to bring the United States into the war maybe. A similar question may be asked regarding the "City of Benares" in September 1940 when a hospital ship with many children was sent to Canada as part of a general convoy with a good chance of being sunk.