Americans found the war that became known as World War I as controversial as any war fought in more recent history. The Europeans at the heart of that conflict expected it to be of short duration, probably six weeks or so. Instead it turned into four and a half years of violence that changed the world forever.
America claimed neutrality, but continued to trade with England while refusing to do the same for Germany. Germans became bitter over their lack of food for their starving population while Americans were shipping food to the British. This situation brought about a declaration by the German chancellor that all ships, under any flag, that entered British waters was to be considered a military target. This included passenger liners. The largest, most elegant ocean liner since the Titanic, the Lusitania, was commissioned at this time to carry two thousand passengers between England and New York. This situation is the setting for Jerry Borrowman’s Attack the Lusitania!
Borrowman overlaps the stories of two young brothers who serve on the Lusitania with that of an older man, a passenger, who has business interests in both countries and sails on the vessel’s maiden voyage to New York and back until the ship’s encounter with a German torpedo. Everett Stringham is from Wyoming where he owns several coal mines and he is a representative of a larger coal coalition. He is a wealthy man, a Mormon, and is approaching retirement age. The Shafer brothers are in their early twenties; Bill is thin, the youngest, and serves as a steward while Avery is the older brother, brawny, and a fireman who stokes the steamer’s furnaces. Avery is also in love with a widow and her young son back in England.
The viewpoints of two German submarine captains are also an important element of the story. They find that their superiors are as lacking in ethics and support as the British admiralty is in their support of the massive ocean liner and its captain.
The international press also played a major role in World War I as they provided the most up to date details of the war and freely voiced opinions concerning it to the general public in an unprecedented fashion. There was a great deal of opposition to America entering the war and the sinking of the Lusitania became one of the rallying cries for those Americans who supported the war and it served to demonize the German Navy.
Borrowman focuses on the Lusitania and the lives that are impacted by the attack rather than on the larger scope of the war, only bringing in other details of the war as they relate to this one major event. He has a solid reputation as an historical writer who brings to life historically accurate happenings through the eyes of imaginary participants. His characters are easy to relate to and seen through their eyes, the reader gains greater insight and emotional involvement than would be possible by reading strictly the technical facts. In a non-preachy way he also manages to introduce religious insights into the story.
Though there are chapters that are tense and keep the reader glued to the pages, overall, Borrowman isn’t really a high action writer and his characters are not as multi-dimensional as some might like. They do fit the time period and display a kind of innocence that was lost by the world through the “Great War.” History buffs will enjoy this book more than will thrill readers. It’s a wonderful glimpse of history and for me brings back the stories of the mighty Lusitania and the impact of the war told to me by my father who was a teenager living in Canada at the time of World War I. I found Attack the Lusitania! a rich and rewarding journey back through time.
Jerry Borrowman has won many awards for his historical fiction, including the National Award from the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge for Three Against Hitler which he co-authored with Rudi Wobbe. He and his wife live in Utah and are the parents of four children.
* * ATTACK THE LUSITANIA! by Jerry Borrowman, published by Covenant Communications, hardcover, 221 pages, $19.99