R.M.S. Lusitania






Changing Colours to Elude German Cruisers:

A Liner Disguised


“In utter darkness, save for a masthead and sidelight, we started on what surely must have been one of the most memorable sea trips of modern times. We passed the North-German Lloyd and Hamburg-Amerika docks, where the enormous Vaterland was lying, having been afraid to come out on August 1, when she was due to sail. She would, doubtless, have liked to inform the German cruisers that we had left port, but her wireless was controlled by the American authorities. In the Narrows we passed the Olympic hurrying into port…. All lights were now extinguished, even the masthead light, and the ship was in complete darkness. Next morning we heard bad news. When we dropped our pilot, one of our turbines went wrong, and we had only three working instead of four. This was a really serious matter, for instead of being one of the two fastest vessels afloat, we had become one that any moderate-speed cruiser could overhaul.

“There was luckily a mist, for suddenly we sighted a warship on our port quarter, and as we watched her intently, not knowing what her nationality was, we saw her swing round, and deliberately try to cut us off. At the same instant we changed our course and ran for it. She seemed to gain a little on us, but you could see the heavy seas breaking over her bows, and presently there was a puff of white smoke or steam, but we heard nothing. Just then, the mist came on thicker, and we gradually lost her. We heard afterwards that the captain had wired to the Essex to come to us quick, and that the puff of smoke, which many of us had thought was her steam-whistle, was probably a gun fired. We also heard that she signalled to us to lay to, which order we declined to comply with. This episode was the only real excitement we had during our voyage.” So writes a passenger on the Lusitania.

The Lusitania's voyage from New York to Liverpool was the slowest she has made, taking more than six days, from midnight on Tuesday, August 4, to nearly noon on Wednesday, August 12, whereas her record is 4 days 11 hours. News of the declaration of war had reached New York just before she started. As regards the photographs below, the correspondent whose account of the voyage is given above writes: “Those of us who went up on deck early on Thursday morning were surprised to find the ship's colour being changed. Some of the crew were suspended in what seemed, to landsmen, most precarious positions round the four immense funnels, painting them war-grey, and the following day was occupied in transforming all the white paint of the bridge and fittings of the same hue. This gave the ship a most extraordinary and warlike appearance when seen from the fo'c'sle.” Before the great Cunarder left New York, a large stock of grey paint had been laid in for “disguising” her on the voyage.


In these extremely rare, dramatic photos taken during Lusitanias first wartime crossing from New York to Liverpool, one can clearly see her newly applied camouflage.  Following are the original captions for the photos.


Painted war-grey to deceive possible pursuers on the high seas: the Lusitanias bridge from the forecastle. (Illustrated London News, Eric Sauder Collection)

Repainted at sea as a precaution against German war-ships: the Lusitanias funnels turned from red to war-grey. (Illustrated London News, Eric Sauder Collection)


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© 2005 Eric Sauder

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