A HISTORY expert from York has examined discoveries from a famous shipwreck with the aim of deciphering one of the great mysteries of the First World War.

Ian Panter, principal conservator at York Archaeological Trust, visited Ireland to examine new discoveries and live footage from the RMS Lusitania, which sank off the coast of County Cork after being torpedoed by the Germans in 1915.

The findings, which will be broadcast by the National Geographic in a documentary next year, hope to shed some light on why the ship sank so quickly.

There were claims that the civilian liner was carrying munitions which resulted in a second explosion, as the ship inexplicably sank in a matter of minutes and some 1,198 of the 1,959 passengers on board were killed, even though sea conditions were quite calm at the time.

Mr Panter said he examined a telemotor, which was part of the ship’s steering mechanism; its tell-tale, which was a dial mounted to the engine order telegraph on the ship’s bridge and four portholes retrieved from the wreckage. He was also able to watch as a small robot with a camera examined the inside of the cargo area.

But although he did make some important discoveries – which will be saved for the documentary – he was unable to find a definitive answer.

He said: “It’s still unresolved as to what the source of the second explosion was. We saw quite a bit – we were able to look inside the ship for the first time in a long time. It was really exciting.

“We could see a lot of damage, a lot of the internal strengthening was damaged. There were millions of bullets or cartridges in there.”

Another theory for the explosion is that coal dust in the liner’s bunkers may have exploded in the seconds after the torpedo impact.

Mr Panter is also currently working on the Swash Channel wreck, the UK’s largest maritime archaeology project, from which a 400-year-old carving of a merman is currently on display at the DIG exhibition at York’s Hungate site, and has worked on two cast-iron cannons at the Tower of London recovered from the Elizabethan shipwreck off Alderney in the Channel Islands.