William Thomas Turner
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Early life 
William Turner was born in 1856 to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Turner in Everton, England, near Liverpool. He persuaded his parents to let him go to sea at the age of eight as cabin boy of the bark Grasmere, which was later shipwrecked. Turner's next ship was the clipper White Star. As a deckboy, he sailed around the Cape of Good Hope on his first voyage. Will Turner also served on the War Spirit where many of the crew died of yellow fever. He briefly served as junior officer on the Inman liner Leyland before joining Cunard in 1878 as third officer aboard the Cherbourg, which ran in the Mediterranean. In his career, he rescued several drowning victims. He was made chief officer of the Umbria before being given command of the Aleppo. Promotions came quickly after that, and Turner went on the command the Carpathia, Ivernia, Caronia, and others.
Commodore of Cunard 
In 1907, William Turner succeeded Captain Jim Watt as captain of the Lusitania. Turner was promoted to Commodore of the Cunard Line and on 16 November 1907 he commanded the Mauretania, the Lusitania 's running mate, on her maiden voyage. With the Cunard greyhounds, Turner set new speed records. The Mauretania 's 1909 record of an average speed of 26.06 knots held undisputed for twenty years. While captaining the Mauretania in 1912, Turner saved the crew of the burning steamer West Point and was awarded the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society's Medal. On 30 May 1914, Turner commanded of Cunard's newest and largest, the RMS Aquitania, on her maiden voyage.
He married, and had two sons, Percy and Norman.
The outbreak of World War I diverted much of Cunard's fleet, and his commands were taken out of passenger service. Early in 1915, Turner was in command of the Transylvania off the Irish Coast. He received an order to divert to Queenstown because three British ships had been sunk by German submarines the previous day. Calming the passengers and after reaching Liverpool safely, Turner remarked, "I fooled them that time."
The Lusitania sinking 
Daniel "Fairweather" Dow, then captain of the Lusitania, felt the strain of war get to his nerves, and so Cunard chairman Sir Alfred Booth re-assigned Turner to the Lusitania for the ship's 201st voyage. Turner's conduct during this voyage was to be the subject of significant controversy.
On 16 April 1915, the Admiralty issued a memo to Captain Turner about zigzagging. This was the text as read at the Mersey Inquiry:
"War experience has shown that fast steamers can considerably reduce the chance of successful surprise submarine attacks by zigzagging—that is to say, altering the course at short and irregular intervals, say in ten minutes to half an hour. This course is almost invariably adopted by warships when cruising in an area known to be infested with submarines. The underwater speed of a submarine is very slow and it is exceedingly difficult for her to get into position to deliver an attack unless she can observe and predict the course of the ship attacked."
Turner would later admit that he received an order about zigzagging, and Third Officer Bestic would recall a conversation with Second Officer Hefford about trying to understand what the zigzag memo meant. Authors Bailey and Ryan would claim that Turner received the order as worded this way. Simpson and Beesly, noting that "it sounded rather different" to Turner when it was read aloud to him at the inquiry, suggests that Turner received a different zigzag order, as the general memo about zigzagging was not approved by Churchill until 24 April — after Lusitania left Liverpool for the last time — and was not distributed outside of the Admiralty until 13 May, almost a week after the Lusitania sinking.
As captain, Turner was not inclined to socialize with the passengers. He saw socialization as being a chore and often let Staff Captain John Anderson handle the passengers. Turner, however, did make an appearance at the first dinner in saloon class and played the part of the host.
Turner attended the lifeboat drill on Sunday afternoon Only the crew attended the jumping in and out of lifeboats #13 and #14. Chief Officer John P. Piper reported that everything had been carried out properly.
Due to a shutdown of Boiler Room Number Four (ordered by the Cunard management as a wartime economizing measure), the Lusitania could only maintain a top speed of 21 knots, which Turner felt would still be sufficient to avoid submarines. At 8:30 on Thursday, May 6, Turner received a more specific warning from the Admiralty: "TO ALL BRITISH SHIPS 0005: TAKE LIVERPOOL PILOT AT BAR AND AVOID HEADLANDS. PASS HARBOURS AT FULL SPEED. STEER MID-CHANNEL COURSE. SUBMARINES OFF FASTNET." Acting on this information, Turner ordered the lifeboats swung out, watertight bulkheads closed, lookouts doubled, and portholes closed and blacked out. That night, during the intermission of the Seamen's Charities Concert, Captain Turner addressed the audience. He told the passengers that there had been a submarine warning, but had assured them that "on entering the war zone tomorrow we shall be securely in the care of the Royal Navy.... Of course, there is no need for alarm."
Friday morning dawned foggy and the Lusitania slowed down to 15 knots. Midmorning, the ship passed Fastnet Rock, but Turner noted that he "did not see it." The fog dispersed by 11:00 A.M. and the weather was clear and calm. Turner ordered the ship's speed be increased to 18 knots and the course to remain straight so they could take their point bearings at first landfall. At 11:25 a.m. another message came in from the Admiralty: "SUBMARINE ACTIVE IN SOUTHERN PART OF IRISH CHANNEL, LAST HEARD OF TWENTY MILES SOUTH OF CONINGBEG LIGHT VESSEL. MAKE CERTAIN LUSITANIA GETS THIS." Yet another Admiralty dispatch reached Turner at 12:40: "SUBMARINE FIVE MILES SOUTH OF CAPE CLEAR, PROCEEDING WEST WHEN SIGHTED AT 10:00 A.M." Turner, thinking that his ship had passed Brow Head, believed to have left the submarine danger behind him. Believing that being closer to shore would be safer, Turner altered course to 67 degrees East.
Shortly after 1:00 p.m., Turner picked up landfall at Galley Head. Then he realized that the Lusitania was much farther west than previously thought. Still, he believed the submarine to be behind him and kept course on 67degrees East. Turner also disregarded the order to pass all ports at full speed, since following this directive would cause the ship to arrive at Liverpool before high tide, necessitating circling for hours outside of Liverpool, vulnerable to attack.
At 1:45 p.m., Turner changed course to 87 degrees East, putting the ship directly in position for attack by the German submarine U-20, which fired a single torpedo. Only moments before impact, Captain Turner had been on the starboard wing bridge. When he saw the torpedo was going to strike directly underneath of him, he retreated to the enclosed bridge. The starboard wing was obliterated in the explosion. As shrapnel rained down onto the deck, another explosion violently shook the entire ship. On the bridge, the fire/flood indicator went, in Turner's words, "...berserk for most of the forward compartments of the ship...." Immediately, Lusitania listed about 15 degrees to starboard, with the bow being driven underwater by the ship's momentum. Captain Turner seemed to have gone into shock. A suggestion by Staff Captain John Anderson to flood the portside tanks in hope of righting the ship went unanswered. As panic engulfed the occupants of the sinking liner, the bow was now submerged and water began to wash over the bridge. The water engulfed the whole bridge, sweeping Turner out into the sea.
Turner clung onto a deck chair before finding a nearly-swamped collapsible lifeboat; he boarded it briefly before resporting to swimming again. He was rescued several hours later.
When word reached London about the sinking of the Lusitania, First Sea Lord Jacky Fisher said of Turner, "The certainty is absolute that Captain Turner is not a fool, but a knave! It is my profound hope that Captain Turner will be arrested after the inquiry, whatever the outcome."
Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill remarked likewise: "Fully concur! We shall pursue the Captain without check!"
Fisher and Churchill had hoped to put as much blame of the sinking on Turner as possible. They did not wish to make it known the Britain was using passenger liners to ship war goods that may, or may not, have exploded, causing the ship to sink so quickly. They did not wish to make it known that in the Admiralty's internal squabblings and preoccupation with the failed Gallipoli campaign that they had completely neglected the protection of the Lusitania. In fact, survivors, propagandists, and scholars have even wondered if the Admiralty's negligence was deliberate, hoping that even an abortive submarine attack would anger the United States into joining the Great War on side of the Allies. But the Admiralty probably did not anticipate the scale of the disaster that unfolded, and so it rushed to cover up anything that would point any blame for Lusitania's loss at the Admiralty.
Solicitor Horgan had arranged for an inquest in Kinsale where Turner testified as to what had happened. The Admiralty had hoped to forestall any exposure of damning evidence of their neglect that they sent Harry Wynne, Crown Solicitor for Cork, to stop the inquest.
"Too late, Harry." Horgan told him, "It's all over."
Five weeks later Captain Turner was summoned to the official inquiry conducted by the British Board of Trade, overseen by Lord Mersey, the same man who presided over the Titanic inquiry three years previously. During this inquiry, Turner changed his testimony. While during Horgan's inquest he admitted that the second explosion may have been internal, for Mersey he said that it was from a second torpedo that had hit the engine room. He was, however, adamant that his ship was not carrying any explosives.
Turner also admitted that he received Admiralty memos to zigzag, but thought that they would only be used after a submarine had been sighted. The Crown Solicitors also sought to show that Turner's 40 minute four-point bearing that made Lusitania vulnerable to attack had been unnecessary, and that a sun bearing or cross-bearings would have been just as accurate in a much shorter amount of time. Turner did not believe that the other bearings were as accurate and defended his choice of a four-point bearing.
Going against the wishes of Fisher and Churchill, Mersey exonerated Turner and put the blame for the sinking squarely on the shoulders of the Imperial German Government. This was a wise calculated on Mersey's part, as he knew that any other verdict could be used as propaganda by the Germans.
Later Commands 
In November of that year, Turner was assigned to the small freighter Ultonia. While in New York City, Turner agreed to an interview with the New York Times. He was adamant that nothing could have been done to avoid being torpedoed, and that there were possibly 2 or 3 submarines lurking in the area, "just waiting to blow her up with all on board." Turner hoped that after the war he would be given command of the RMS Aquitania again.
In the fall of 1916, Turner was assigned the Ivernia when the original captain of the ship fell ill. Thirty miles off the coast of Greece, the ship was torpedoed. Once again, Turner survived, but Cunard never offered him another command.
In October 1917, Judge Julius Mayer summoned Turner as chief witness into the American Lusitania inquiry. Julius, like Mersey, exonerated Turner and blamed the German Government. This verdict was taken without any opposition as the United States was now at war with Germany.
Turner was awarded the Order of the British Empire, but still the Lusitania haunted him. In November 1919, Turner retired, saying, "All I want now is a quiet life." He never forgave Churchill for blaming him for the loss of the Lusitania, and maintained that the Admiralty had provided insufficient guidance and protection for his ship.
Mabel continued to take care of Turner until his death from stomach cancer on 23 June 1933. One of Turner's sons, Percy, was killed in September 1941 when his ship, the MV Jedmoor, was torpedoed by the German submarine U-98.
- "Captain Turner Dead. Commanded Lusitania When Liner Was Torpedoed". Montreal Gazette. June 24, 1933. Retrieved 2010-02-27. "Captain William Turner was one of the few officers saved when the Lusitania of the Cunard Line was torpedoed by a German sub marine and sank off the ..."
- "Capt. Turner Dies. Lusitania Master. Went Down With Liner and Was Rescued After Being in Water Two Hours. He Began as Deck Boy. The Ivernia, Also Commanded by Him, Was Torpedoed In the Mediterranean In 1917". New York Times. June 24, 1933. Retrieved 2010-02-27.