By Rob Morgan
I originally wrote this for the Naval Wargames Society’s Newsletter. But it may be of interest to US readers of the blog.
(“No Contraband!” is the motto on a German World War I commemorative medal issued for the sinking of the liner Lusitania bound from New York.)
I am currently reading Max Hastings’ ‘Apocalypse’ on the opening phases of the Great War. Sadly, too little of it is naval oriented. However, on page 358, I came upon a note dealing with the anticipated campaign against British commerce afloat when war broke out. There were, says Hastings, about 40 armed merchant cruisers in British service in 1914 (it seems a large number on reflection) and he mentions two intended Armed Merchant Cruisers by name. The big Cunard liners Lusitania and her sister Mauretania ‘… had received large government subsidies for their construction because they were earmarked for service as Armed Merchant Cruisers, though never employed in the role.’
What, I wondered, was the intended armament of these two giants? The first of them was sunk by U-Boat in May 1915, a turning point in the war at sea. The photos are of my late grandmother’s Lusitania Medal, a copy of one allegedly struck in Germany as a commemorative and its supporting information sheet. The medal itself is some 2½ inches round, roughly the size of a British Crown piece, is of heavy gunmetal, beautifully engraved with German inscriptions.
Interestingly, it seems that the Admiralty was greatly worried that some or all of the 21 German liners sheltering in New York would come out, armed and ready to attack merchantmen at sea! The two Cunarders would have been very big, and obvious AMC’s, but there were some bigger ones around. The Germans had two, at least. I don’t know if the French had AMCs. They certainly had many liners.