The latter part of April on my first trip to the front I dined at Great Headquarters (Grosse Haupt Quartier) in Charleville, France, with Major Nicolai, Chief of the Intelligence Department of the General Staff. The next day, in company with other correspondents, we were guests of General von Moehl and his staff at Peronne. From Peronne we went to the Somme front to St. Quentin, to Namur and Brussels. The soldiers were enthusiastic and happy. There was plenty of food and considerable optimism. But the confidence in victory was never so great as it was immediately after the sinking of the Lusitania. That marked the crisis in the future trend of the war.
Up to this time the people had heard very little about the fight between the Navy and the Foreign Office. But gradually rumours spread. While there was previously no outlet for public opinion, the Lusitania issue was debated more extensively and with more vigour than the White Books which were published to explain the causes of the war.
With the universal feeling of self confidence, it was but natural that the people should side with the Navy in demanding an unrestricted submarine warfare. When Admiral von Bachmann gave the order to First Naval Lieutenant Otto Steinbrink to sink the Lusitania, he knew the Navy was ready to defy the United States or any other country which might object. He knew, too, that von Tirpitz was very close to the Kaiser and could count upon the Kaiser’s support in whatever he did. The Navy believed the torpedoing of the Lusitania would so frighten and terrorise the world that neutral shipping would become timid and enemy peoples would be impressed by Germany’s might on the seas. Ambassador von Bernstorff had been ordered by the Foreign Office to put notices in the American papers warning Americans off these ships. The Chancellor and Secretary von Jagow knew there was no way to stop the Admiralty, and they wanted to avoid, if possible, the loss of American lives.
The storm of indignation which encircled the globe when reports were printed that over a thousand people lost their lives on the Lusitania, found a sympathetic echo in the Berlin Foreign Office. “Another navy blunder,” the officials said—confidentially. Foreign Office officials tried to conceal their distress because the officials knew the only thing they could do now was to make preparation for an apology and try to excuse in the best possible way what the navy had done. On the 17th of May like a thunderbolt from a clear sky came President Wilson’s first Lusitania note.