Sinking of the Lusitania

Sinking of the Lusitania

In February, 1915, the German government announced an unrestricted warfare campaign. This meant that any ship taking goods to Allied countries was in danger of being attacked. This broke international agreements that stated commanders who suspected that a non-military vessel was carrying war materials, had to stop and search it, rather than do anything that would endanger the lives of the occupants.

The Lusitania, was at 32,000 tons, the largest passenger vessel on transatlantic service, left New York harbour for Liverpool on 1st May, 1915. It was 750ft long, weighed 32,500 tons and was capable of 26 knots. On this journey the ship carried 1,257 passengers and 650 crew.

At 1.20pm on 7th May 1915, the U-20, only ten miles from the coast of Ireland, surfaced to recharge her batteries. Soon afterwards Captain Schwieger, the commander of the German U-Boat, observed the Lusitania in the distance. Schwieger gave the order to advance on the liner. The U20 had been at sea for seven days and had already sunk two liners and only had two torpedoes left. He fired the first one from a distance of 700 metres. Watching through his periscope it soon became clear that the Lusitania was going down and so he decided against using his second torpedo. The crew attempted to put women and children into the lifeboats. Unfortunately, only six of the 48 lifeboats were launched successfully. After a second, larger explosion, the Lusitania rolled over and sank in eighteen minutes.

(Source 2) Admiral Hugo Von Pohl, Chief of Marine Staff (4th February, 1915)

The waters round Great Britain and Ireland, including the English Channel, are hereby proclaimed a war region.

On and after February 18th every enemy merchant vessel found in this region will be destroyed, without its always being possible to warn the crews or passengers of the dangers threatening.

Neutral ships will also incur danger in the war region, where, in view of the misuse of neutral flags ordered by the British Government, and incidents inevitable in sea warfare, attacks intended for hostile ships may affect neutral ships also.

(Source 3) Statement issued by the German Embassy on 22nd April 1915.

Travellers intending to embark for an Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that in accordance with the formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain or any of her allies are liable to destruction in those waters; and that travellers sailing in the war zone in ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.

(Source 5) Margaret Haig Thomas, This Was My World (1933)

In New York, during the weeks preceding the last voyage of the Lusitania, there was much gossip of submarines. It was freely stated and generally believed that a special effort was to be made to sink the great Cunarder so as to inspire the world with terror. She was at that time the largest passenger boat afloat. The few pre-war passenger boats of greater tonnage had been commandeered for war service of various kinds.

On Saturday, May 1st (the day on which the Lusitania was to sail), in order that there might be no mistake as to German intentions, the German Embassy at Washington issued a warning to passengers couched in general terms, which was printed in the New York morning papers directly under the notice of the sailing of the Lusitania. The first-class passengers, who were not due on board till about ten o'clock, had still time after reading the warning, unmistakable in form and position, to cancel their passage if they chose. For the third-class passengers it came too late. As a matter of fact, I believe that no British and scarcely any American passengers acted on the warning, but we were most of us very fully conscious of the risk we were running. A number of people wrote farewell letters to their home folk and posted them in New York to follow on another vessel.

(Source 7) The Manchester Guardian (10th May, 1915)

The death roll in the Lusitania disaster is still not certainly known. About 750 persons were rescued, but of these some 50 have died since they were landed. Over 2,150 men, women and children were on the liner when she left New York, and since the living do not number more than 710, the dead cannot be fewer than 1,450.

What the American people think of the crime is plain. Their newspapers are violent in denunciation; the public, except for the German-Americans, who have celebrated the event as a great and typical victory for their native country, are enraged. How President Wilson regards the affair no one knows. A semi-official statement issued from the White House says he knows the nation expects him to act with deliberation as well as firmness.

It should be remembered that the United States have many and peculiar difficulties of their own, and that Dr. Wilson personally will go to almost any length before he consents to a breach with Germany. His fixed aim is to preserve the world's respect by abstaining from any course of action likely to awaken the hostility of either side in the war, and so to keep the United States free to undertake the part of peacemaker.

Throughout the world the news has been heard with horror. In Norway, Sweden, Holland, Spain and Italy, as well as in the territories of the Allied Powers, the newspapers express an unhesitating condemnation. Even journals who regard Germany as a friend have no excuse to offer. In several quarters the British Navy is sharply criticised. Why, it is asked, were not the submarines known to be off the Irish coast hunted down? Why was the liner not escorted into safety? These questions, which are to be found here and there in the neutral press, have been put also by many among the survivors. Possibly an official answer will be made in due course.

In Germany and Austria the people are undisguisedly delighted. They see in the sinking of the liner a fulfilment of all their boasts about the submarine blockade, which has hitherto signally failed to win any military or naval advantage. The newspapers seek to find an excuse in the Lusitania's armament. Their charge is false. Both the Admiralty and the Cunard company declare positively that the ship carried no guns. She had never done so, and the Government, although they had the right to employ her, had never called for her services. She was a genuine non-combatant merchant vessel.

Survivors tell the most terrible stories of their adventures. Some say the crew behaved bravely, others make no mention of such a thing, but all agree that few of the lifeboats were launched, that the ship went down quickly, and that hundreds were sucked under with her. Several survivors were drawn by the rush of water into the funnels, to be thrown to the surface a few moments later. Two torpedoes struck the liner, and she sank with half an hour of the first blow. Because of an injury to the engines it was not possible to stop the propellers at once, and the ship did not lose way until ten minutes had passed. During those precious ten minutes no boats could be launched from the moving vessel.

(Source 9) McMillan Adams was an American passenger aboard the Lusitania when it was torpedoed on 7th May 1915.

I was in the lounge on A Deck when suddenly the ship shook from stem to stem, and immediately started to list to starboard. I rushed out into the companionway. While standing there, a second, and much greater explosion occurred. At first I thought the mast had fallen down. This was followed by the falling on the deck of the water spout that had been made by the impact of the torpedo with the ship. My father came up and took me by the arm. We went to the port side and started to help in the launching of the lifeboats. Owing to the list of the ship, the lifeboats had a tendency to swing inwards across the deck and before they could be launched, it was necessary to push them over the side of the ship. While working there, the staff Captain told us that the boat was not going to sink, and ordered the lifeboats not to be lowered. He also asked the gentlemen to help in clearing the passengers from the boat deck (A Deck). it was impossible to lower the lifeboats safely at the speed at which the Lusitania was still going. I saw only two boats launched from this side. The first boat to be launched, for the most part full of women, fell sixty or seventy feet into the water, all the occupants being drowned. This was owing to the fact that the crew could not work the davits and falls properly, so let them slip out of their hands, and sent the lifeboats to destruction. I said to my father "We shall have to swim for it. We had better go below and get our lifebelts."

When we got down to Deck D, our cabin deck, we found it was impossible to leave the stairs, as the water was pouring in at all the port holes. Finally, we reached the boat deck again, this time on the starboard side, and after filling a lifeboat with women and children, we jumped into it. The lifeboat was successfully lowered until we were about twelve feet from the water, when the man at the bow davit lost his nerve, and let the rope go. Most of the occupants were thrown into the water, but we, being in the stern, managed to stay in. The lifeboat was full of water, but the sailors said it would float if only we could get it away from the Lusitania which was now not far from sinking. My father threw off his overcoat, and worked like a slave trying to help loose the falls from the boat. This, however, was impossible. B. Deck was then level with the water, and I suggested to my father we should climb up and get into another lifeboat. He, however, looked up, saw the Lusitania was very near its end, and was likely to come over on us, and pin us beneath. He shouted to me to jump, which I did. We were both swimming together in the water, a few yards from the ship, when something separated us. That was the last I saw of him.

After about an hour I was helped on to a collapsible boat which was upside down. It was at this time that we saw smoke coming towards us on the horizon out to sea, but as soon as the funnel was just in sight, it went away again from us. This must have been one of the boats that the German submarine stopped from coming to our rescue.

(Source 10) Margaret Haig Thomas, This Was My World (1933)

It became impossible to lower any more from our side owing to the list on the ship. No one else except that white-faced stream seemed to lose control. A number of people were moving about the deck, gently and vaguely. They reminded one of a swarm of bees who do not know where the queen has gone.

I unhooked my skirt so that it should come straight off and not impede me in the water. The list on the ship soon got worse again, and, indeed, became very bad. Presently the doctor said he thought we had better jump into the sea. I followed him, feeling frightened at the idea of jumping so far (it was, I believe, some sixty feet normally from "A" deck to the sea), and telling myself how ridiculous I was to have physical fear of the jump when we stood in such grave danger as we did. I think others must have had the same fear, for a little crowd stood hesitating on the brink and kept me back. "And then, suddenly, I saw that the water had come over on to the deck. We were not, as I had thought, sixty feet above the sea; we were already under the sea. I saw the water green just about up to my knees. I do not remember its coming up further; that must all have happened in a second. The ship sank and I was sucked right down with her.

The next thing I can remember was being deep down under the water. It was very dark, nearly black. I fought to come up. I was terrified of being caught on some part of the ship and kept down. That was the worst moment of terror, the only moment of acute terror, that I knew. My wrist did catch on a rope. I was scarcely aware of it at the time, but I have the mark on me to this day. At first I swallowed a lot of water; then I remembered that I had read that one should not swallow water, so I shut my mouth. Something bothered me in my right hand and prevented me striking out with it; I discovered that it was the lifebelt I had been holding for my father. As I reached the surface I grasped a little bit of board, quite thin, a few inches wide and perhaps two or three feet long. I thought this was keeping me afloat. I was wrong. My most excellent lifebelt was doing that. But everything that happened after I had been submerged was a little misty and vague; I was slightly stupefied from then on.

When I came to the surface I found that I formed part of a large, round, floating island composed of people and debris of all sorts, lying so close together that at first there was not very much water noticeable in between. People, boats, hencoops, chairs, rafts, boards and goodness knows what besides, all floating cheek by jowl. A man with a white face and yellow moustache came and held on to the other end of my board. I did not quite like it, for I felt it was not large enough for two, but I did not feel justified in objecting. Every now and again he would try and move round towards my end of the board. This frightened me; I scarcely knew why at the time (I was probably quite right to be frightened; it is likely enough that he wanted to hold on to me). I summoned up my strength - to speak was an effort - and told him to go back to his own end, so that we might keep the board properly balanced. He said nothing and just meekly went back. After a while I noticed that he had disappeared.

(Source 11) Gottlieb von Jagow, statement issued after the sinking of the Lusitania (18th May, 1915)

The Imperial Government must specially point out that on her last trip the Lusitania, as on earlier occasions, had Canadian troops and munitions on board, including no less than 5,400 cases of ammunition destined for the destruction of brave German soldiers who are fulfilling with self-sacrifice and devotion their duty in the service of the Fatherland. The German Government believes that it acts in just self-defense when it seeks to protect the lives of its soldiers by destroying ammunition destined for the enemy with the means of war at its command.

(Source 12) Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg speech in the Reichstag on the sinking of the Lusitania (19th August, 1915)

For our and other peoples' protection we must gain the freedom of the seas, not as England did, to rule over them, but that they should serve equally all peoples. We will be and will remain the shield of peace and freedom of big and small nations.

(Source 14) Die Kölnische Volkszeitung (May 1915)

The sinking of the giant English steamship in a success of moral significance which is still greater than material success. With joyful pride we contemplate this latest deed of our Navy. It will not be the last. The English wish to abandon the German people to death by starvation. We are more humane. we simply sank an English ship with passengers, who, at their own risk and responsibility, entered the zone of operations.

(Source 16) The Great World War: Volume III (1917)

The Lusitania was 790 feet long, 88 feet broad, and her gross tonnage was 32,500. There was, of course, one way in which she might be made available for Admiralty service. Though she was built as a swift passenger-ship, and a very large proportion of her space was occupied by engines and cabins, and her actual capacity was small in comparison to her tonnage, still she could carry a good deal, and her speed, 26.6 knots at her best, would enable her to escape the pursuit of most cruisers. These qualities would make her valuable as a carrier of ammunition.

When the war broke out the Admiralty did not call on the company to hand the Lusitania over to them for service. She continued to be employed as a passenger-ship. The German Government has maintained, and continued to maintain, that the British Admiralty was guilty of what would have been a singularly mean device. It alleged, and went on alleging, that though the Lusitania continued to run as a passenger-ship she was loaded with contraband in the form of explosives, that the travellers who crossed the Atlantic in her were simply a blind, and that they were, in fact, allowed to embark in ignorance of the danger they were running, and in the hope that their presence would save the ship from attack.

The Germans quoted the undoubted fact that the Lusitania was warned at an earlier stage of the war to hoist the American flag when approaching the coast of Ireland as a proof that she was really in the service of the Admiralty. This assertion was firmly denied both at home and in America, and it was impossible to believe that the German Government possessed evidence of the truth of its charge. If it had, it possessed an easy means of both stopping the Lusitania and discrediting the British Admiralty. The laws of the United States forbid the carrying of large quantities of explosives in passenger ships. Had the German Government held even prima facie evidence that explosives were being smuggled on board contrary to the United States law it would have taken the correct legal steps to call the offenders to account. It had every reason for taking this course, since a demonstration that the British Admiralty was making a gross and most insulting abuse of the hospitality of the port of New York must have produced an impression highly favour- able to Germany on public opinion in America. There can be but one explanation of the failure of the German Embassy at Washington to avail itself of so effective a weapon; and it is, of course, that there was no proof of the alleged violation of neutrality and American Law.

(Source 18) Ernest Sackville Turner, Dear Old Blighty (1980)

The King, as everyone knew, was the Kaiser's cousin; probably he had more relatives on the wrong side than any of his subjects... However, the occupants of thrones are not faced with the embarrassment of actually sticking bayonets into each other, nor are international industrialists. From humbler homes, Englishmen who had married German women went off to the Front to kill Germans and so did their sons, leaving mum to like it or lump it. Was she not now a British subject? In some ways "Hunwives" were luckier than those English women who had married Germans of low degree and had no opportunity of going into exile, even if they had wished to do so. Overnight the war turned them into second-class citizens. Their husbands, if of military age, were interned and because they themselves were aliens in the eyes of the law they were subject to travel restrictions; they also received lower allowances than German-born wives. In Acton Police Court the father of a weeping English-born woman told the bench that her husband, a German, had been ordered to leave his house after the Lusitania sinking. Her father protested, "My daughter is English." But the clerk retorted, "She is German, not English." The court ruled that the landlord was entitled to turn the couple out if he wished. There was little sympathy for such victims, the general feeling being that "it serves them right for marrying Huns"; but the Quakers who befriended persecuted aliens did what they could for these native outcasts.

(Source 19) Greg Bemis Jr, purchased the Lusitania in 1968. He was interviewed about the disaster in an article published in the Sunday Times (5th May 2002)

The fact is that the ship sank in 18 minutes. That could only happen as the result of a massive second explosion. We know there was such an explosion, and the only thing capable of doing that is ammunitions. It's virtually impossible to get coal dust and damp air in the right mixture to explode, and none of the crew who were working in the boiler rooms and survived say anything about a boiler exploding. I don't think there's any question that there was a steamline explosion, but that wouldn't have damaged the ship to the point where it sunk in 18 minutes. It's blarney, part of another cover story.

(Source 21) Basil Liddell Hart, History of the First World War (1980)

Germany... torpedoed the great Lusitania, May 7th, 1915. The drowning of 1,100 people, including some Americans, was a spectacular brutality which shocked the conscience of the world, and appealed more forcibly to American opinion than even the desolation of Belgium. This act, succeeded by others, paved the way for the entry of the United States into the war, though it was to be later than seemed likely on the morrow of the tragedy.

(Source 22) Martin Gilbert, First World War (1994)

At noon on May 7, U-20 sighted the cruiser Juno, but as she was zigzagging and going at full speed, Captain Walther Schwieger gave up the chase. An hour and a half later he sighted the Lusitania. A single torpedo was fired, without warning. The Lusitania sank in eighteen minutes. Of the 2,000 passengers on board, 1,198 were drowned, among them 128 Americans... The sinking of the Luisitania shocked American opinion, but President Wilson had no intention of abandoning neutrality.

(Source 23) Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States (1980)

It was unrealistic to expect that the Germans should treat the United States as neutral in the war when the U.S. had been shipping great amounts of war materials to Germany's enemies... The United States claimed the Lusitania carried an innocent cargo, and therefore the torpedoing was a monstrous German atrocity. Actually, the Lusitania was heavily armed: it carried 1,248 cases of 3-inch shells, 4,927 boxes of cartridges (1,000 rounds in each box), and 2,000 more cases of small-arms ammunition. Her manifests were falsified to hide this fact, and the British and American governments lied about the cargo.

(25) Alan Travis, The Guardian (1st May 2014)

A 1980s salvage operation on the wreck of the Lusitania, the Cunard luxury liner that was torpedoed in the first world war, triggered a startling Foreign Office warning that its sinking could still "literally blow up on us".

Newly released secret Whitehall files disclose that a Ministry of Defence warning that "something startling" was going to be found during the August 1982 salvage operation raised such serious concerns that previously undeclared war munitions and explosives might be found that divers involved were officially warned in the strongest terms of the possible "danger to life and limb" they faced.

Foreign Office officials also voiced serious concerns that a final British admission that there were high explosives on the Lusitania could still trigger serious political repercussions with America even though it was nearly 70 years after the event.

The RMS Lusitania was sunk on 7 May 1915 by a torpedo fired without warning from a German submarine just off the Irish coast with the loss of 1,198 lives, including 128 American civilians. The liner went down in just 18 minutes and the loss of civilian life enraged US public opinion and hastened American's entry into the first world war.

The Cunard liner was nearing the end of her voyage from New York to Liverpool and her sinking was to feature as a major theme in British propaganda and enlistment campaigns: "Take up the sword of justice – avenge the Lusitania" read one famous poster.

The Foreign Office files released by the National Archives at Kew on Thursday show that news of the imminent salvage operation in 1982 sparked alarm across Whitehall.

"Successive British governments have always maintained that there was no munitions on board the Lusitania (and that the Germans were therefore in the wrong to claim to the contrary as an excuse for sinking the ship)," wrote Noel Marshall, the head of the Foreign Office's North America department, on 30 July 1982.

"The facts are that there is a large amount of ammunition in the wreck, some of which is highly dangerous. The Treasury have decided that they must inform the salvage company of this fact in the interests of the safety of all concerned. Although there have been rumours in the press that the previous denial of the presence of munitions was untrue, this would be the first acknowledgement of the facts by HMG."

Marshall said the disclosure of the true nature of the Lusitania's cargo was likely to spark a public, academic and journalistic debate. He also reveals that Treasury solicitors had even gone so far as to consider whether the relatives of American victims of the sinking could still sue the British government if it was shown the German claims were well-founded.

A senior government lawyer, Jim Coombes at Treasury Chambers, told Marshall that the Admiralty had always denied that the Lusitania was armed or carrying war munitions but that there had always been persistent rumours about the latter.

He said: "It cannot be denied that the sinking of the Lusitania did much to sway American opinion in favour of entering the war. If it were now to come to light that there was after all some justification, however slight, for torpedoing, HMG's relations with America could well suffer. (Your Republic of Ireland desk is of the opinion is of the opinion that the Irish would seek to create as much uproar as possible.)"

But Coombes added that a 1918 New York court case had established the Lusitania had not been armed or carrying explosives but did have 4,200 cases of small arms ammunition aboard. He added that the cases of cartridges had been stowed well forward in the ship, 50 yards from where the German torpedo had struck.

An urgent Whitehall search of the records was ordered. The Ministry of Defence said they could find no evidence to substantiate the rumours of a secret munitions store. But it was still felt to be prudent to warn the salvage company of the "obvious but real danger inherent if explosives did happen to be present". For good measure the Salvage Association was also told to deliver a similar warning both orally and in writing.

In 1918 a New York judge had ruled that there were 4,200 cases of safety cartridges, 18 fuse cases and 125 shrapnel cases without any powder charge on board the liner when it went down but that these did not constitute "war munitions". He added that the Lusitania had not been armed or carried any high explosives.

The 1915 British inquiry into the sinking of the Lusitania, chaired by Lord Mersey, barely touched on the issue. When a French survivor, Joseph Marichal, a former army officer, tried to claim that the ship had sunk so quickly because the ammunition had triggered a second explosion, his testimony was quickly dismissed.

Marichal, who had been in the second-class dining room, said the explosion was "similar to the rattling of a maxim gun for a short period" and came from underneath the whole floor. Mersey dismissed him: "I do not believe him. His demeanour was very unsatisfactory. There was no confirmation of his story."

The secret report of the inquiry concluded that the Lusitania was not carrying any explosives or any "special ammunition". The British public were not told at the time about the 5,000 cases of small arms cartridges that had been aboard but were deemed non-military.

Back in 1982 in Whitehall, it was agreed to stick to the official line that there had been no munitions aboard and that it had "always been public knowledge that the Lusitania's cargo included some 5,000 cases of small arms ammunition."

Marshall, the senior Foreign Office mandarin, however, remained sceptical. "I am left with the uneasy feeling that this subject may yet – literally – blow up on us," he said adding his suspicion that others in Whitehall had decided not to tell all that they knew. As for the salvage operation. It did recover 821 brass fuses for six-inch shells but failed to settle the bigger question.

Question 1: Study sources 1, 4, 7, 21 and 22. How many people were drowned as a result of the sinking of the Lusitania?

Question 2: (a) How did the Germans defend the sinking of the Lusitania? It will help you to read sources 2, 3, 11, 12 and 14 before answering this question. (b) How does source 5 help to support the German argument?

Question 3: Explain the meaning of source 6.

Question 4: Read the introduction and sources 9 and 10 and describe the problems encountered by the people on the Lusitania. Can you explain why more women than men survived the sinking of the Lusitania.

Question 5: Read source 18 and explain why the sinking of the Lusitania caused problems for the English woman living in Acton?

Question 6: Use the information in source 22 to explain source 20.

Question 7: The governments of Britain and the United States used the sinking of the Lusitania to produce anti-German propaganda. Study sources 8, 13, 15, 17 and 24 and explain the message being communicated by these visual images. Can you explain why source 24 was produced two years after the other sources?

Question 8: Source 11 claims that the Lusitania had "on earlier occasions, had Canadian troops and munitions on board, including no less than 5,400 cases of ammunition destined for the destruction of brave German soldiers". Find evidence in this unit to support this claim.

A commentary on these questions can be found here

You can download this activity in a word document here

You can download the answers in a word document here

German submarine sinks Lusitania

On the afternoon of May 7, 1915, the British ocean liner Lusitania is torpedoed without warning by a German submarine off the south coast of Ireland. Within 20 minutes, the vessel sank into the Celtic Sea. Of 1,959 passengers and crew, 1,198 people were drowned, including 128 Americans. The attack aroused considerable indignation in the United States, but Germany defended the action, noting that it had issued warnings of its intent to attack all ships, neutral or otherwise, that entered the war zone around Britain.

When World War I erupted in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson pledged neutrality for the United States, a position that the vast majority of Americans favored. Britain, however, was one of America’s closest trading partners, and tension soon arose between the United States and Germany over the latter’s attempted quarantine of the British isles. Several U.S. ships traveling to Britain were damaged or sunk by German mines, and in February 1915 Germany announced unrestricted submarine warfare in the waters around Britain.

In early May 1915, several New York newspapers published a warning by the German embassy in Washington that Americans traveling on British or Allied ships in war zones did so at their own risk. The announcement was placed on the same page as an advertisement of the imminent sailing of the Lusitania liner from New York back to Liverpool. The sinkings of merchant ships off the south coast of Ireland prompted the British Admiralty to warn the Lusitania to avoid the area or take simple evasive action, such as zigzagging to confuse U-boats plotting the vessel’s course. The captain of the Lusitania ignored these recommendations, and at 2:12 p.m. on May 7 the 32,000-ton ship was hit by an exploding torpedo on its starboard side. The torpedo blast was followed by a larger explosion, probably of the ship’s boilers, and the ship sunk in 20 minutes.

It was revealed that the Lusitania was carrying about 173 tons of war munitions for Britain, which the Germans cited as further justification for the attack. The United States eventually sent three notes to Berlin protesting the action, and Germany apologized and pledged to end unrestricted submarine warfare. In November, however, a U-boat sunk an Italian liner without warning, killing 272 people, including 27 Americans. Public opinion in the United States began to turn irrevocably against Germany.


When Lusitania was built, her construction and operating expenses were subsidized by the British government, with the provision that she could be converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser if need be. At the outbreak of the First World War, the British Admiralty considered her for requisition as an armed merchant cruiser, and she was put on the official list of AMCs. [5]

The Admiralty then canceled their earlier decision and decided not to use her as an AMC after all large liners such as Lusitania consumed enormous quantities of coal (910 tons/day, or 37.6 tons/hour) and became a serious drain on the Admiralty's fuel reserves, so express liners were deemed inappropriate for the role when smaller cruisers would do. They were also very distinctive so smaller liners were used as transports instead. Lusitania remained on the official AMC list and was listed as an auxiliary cruiser in the 1914 edition of Jane's All the World's Fighting Ships, along with Mauretania. [6]

At the outbreak of hostilities, fears for the safety of Lusitania and other great liners ran high. During the ship's first eastbound crossing after the war started, she was painted in a drab grey colour scheme in an attempt to mask her identity and make her more difficult to detect visually. When it turned out that the German Navy was kept in check by the Royal Navy, and their commerce threat almost entirely evaporated, it very soon seemed that the Atlantic was safe for ships like Lusitania, if the bookings justified the expense of keeping them in service.

Many of the large liners were laid up over the autumn and winter of 1914–1915, in part due to falling demand for passenger travel across the Atlantic, and in part to protect them from damage due to mines or other dangers. Among the most recognizable of these liners, some were eventually used as troop transports, while others became hospital ships. Lusitania remained in commercial service although bookings aboard her were by no means strong during that autumn and winter, demand was strong enough to keep her in civilian service. Economizing measures were taken, however. One of these was the shutting down of her No. 4 boiler room to conserve coal and crew costs this reduced her maximum speed from over 25 to 21 knots (46 to 39 km/h). Even so, she was the fastest first-class passenger liner left in commercial service.

With apparent dangers evaporating, the ship's disguised paint scheme was also dropped and she was returned to civilian colors. Her name was picked out in gilt, her funnels were repainted in their usual Cunard livery, and her superstructure was painted white again. One alteration was the addition of a bronze/gold colored band around the base of the superstructure just above the black paint. [7]

1915 Edit

The British established a naval blockade of Germany on the outbreak of war in August 1914, issuing a comprehensive list of contraband that included even foodstuffs, and in early November 1914 Britain declared the North Sea to be a war zone, with any ships entering the North Sea doing so at their own risk. [8] [9]

By early 1915, a new threat to British shipping began to materialise: U-boats (submarines). At first, the Germans used them only to attack naval vessels, and they achieved only occasional—but sometimes spectacular—successes. U-boats then began to attack merchant vessels at times, although almost always in accordance with the old cruiser rules. Desperate to gain an advantage on the Atlantic, the German government decided to step up its submarine campaign. On 4 February 1915, Germany declared the seas around the British Isles a war zone: from 18 February, Allied ships in the area would be sunk without warning. This was not wholly unrestricted submarine warfare, since efforts would be taken to avoid sinking neutral ships. [10]

Lusitania was scheduled to arrive in Liverpool on 6 March 1915. The Admiralty issued her specific instructions on how to avoid submarines. Despite a severe shortage of destroyers, Admiral Henry Oliver ordered HMS Louis and Laverock to escort Lusitania, and took the further precaution of sending the Q ship Lyons to patrol Liverpool Bay. [11] One of the destroyers' commanders attempted to discover the whereabouts of Lusitania by telephoning Cunard, who refused to give out any information and referred him to the Admiralty. At sea, the ships contacted Lusitania by radio, but did not have the codes used to communicate with merchant ships. Captain Daniel Dow of Lusitania refused to give his own position except in code, and since he was, in any case, some distance from the positions he gave, continued to Liverpool unescorted. [2] : 91–2 [12] [13] : 76–7

It seems that, in response to this new submarine threat, some alterations were made to Lusitania and her operation. She was ordered not to fly any flags in the war zone a number of warnings, plus advice, were sent to the ship's commander to help him decide how to best protect his ship against the new threat and it also seems that her funnels were most likely painted a dark grey to help make her less visible to enemy submarines. There was no hope of disguising her actual identity, since her profile was so well known, and no attempt was made to paint out the ship's name at the prow. [14]

Captain Dow, apparently suffering from stress from operating his ship in the war zone, and after a significant "false flag" controversy [ further explanation needed ] left the ship Cunard later explained that he was "tired and really ill." [15] He was replaced with a new commander, Captain William Thomas Turner, who had commanded Lusitania, Mauretania, and Aquitania in the years before the war.

On 17 April 1915, Lusitania left Liverpool on her 201st transatlantic voyage, arriving in New York on 24 April. A group of German–Americans, hoping to avoid controversy if Lusitania were attacked by a U-boat, discussed their concerns with a representative of the German Embassy. The embassy decided to warn passengers before her next crossing not to sail aboard Lusitania, and on 22 April placed a warning advertisement in 50 American newspapers, including those in New York: [16]

This warning was printed adjacent to an advertisement for Lusitania ' s return voyage. The warning led to some agitation in the press and worried the ship's passengers and crew.

Departure Edit

While many British passenger ships had been called into duty for the war effort, Lusitania remained on her regular route between Liverpool and New York. She departed Pier 54 in New York on 1 May 1915 on her return trip to Liverpool with 1,959 people aboard. In addition to her crew of 694, she carried 1,265 passengers, mostly British nationals as well as a large number of Canadians, along with 128 Americans. [17] Her First Class accommodations, for which she was well regarded on the North Atlantic run, were booked at just over half capacity at 290. Second Class was severely overbooked with 601 passengers, far exceeding the maximum capacity of 460. While a large number of small children and infants helped reduce the squeeze into the limited number of two- and four-berth cabins, the situation was rectified by allowing some Second Class passengers to occupy empty First Class cabins. In Third Class, the situation was considered to be the norm for an eastbound crossing, with only 373 travelling in accommodations designed for 1,186. [18]

Captain Turner, known as "Bowler Bill" for his favourite shoreside headgear, had returned to his old command of Lusitania. He was commodore of the Cunard Line and a highly experienced master mariner, and had relieved Daniel Dow, the ship's regular captain. Dow had been instructed by his chairman, Alfred Booth, to take some leave, due to the stress of captaining the ship in U-boat infested sea lanes and for his protestations that the ship should not become an armed merchant cruiser, making her a prime target for German forces. [19] Turner tried to calm the passengers by explaining that the ship's speed made her safe from attack by submarine. [20] However, Cunard shut down one of the ship's four boiler rooms to reduce costs on sparsely subscribed wartime voyages, reducing her top speed from 25.5 to around 22 knots. [21]

Lusitania steamed out of New York at noon on 1 May, two hours behind schedule, because of a last-minute transfer of forty-one passengers and crew from the recently requisitioned Cameronia. [2] : 132–33 Shortly after departure three German-speaking men were found on board hiding in a steward's pantry. Detective Inspector William Pierpoint of the Liverpool police, who was travelling in the guise of a first-class passenger, interrogated them before locking them in the cells for further questioning when the ship reached Liverpool. [2] : 156, 445–46 Also among the crew was an Englishman, Neal Leach, who had been working as a tutor in Germany before the war. Leach had been interned but later released by Germany. The German embassy in Washington was notified about Leach's arrival in America, where he met known German agents. Leach and the three German stowaways went down with the ship. They had probably been tasked with spying on Lusitania and her cargo. Most probably, Pierpoint, who survived the sinking, [22] would already have been informed about Leach. [2] : 131–32, 445

Submarine activity Edit

As the liner steamed across the ocean, the British Admiralty had been tracking the movements of U-20, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger, through wireless intercepts and radio direction finding. The submarine left Borkum on 30 April, heading north-west across the North Sea. On 2 May, she had reached Peterhead and proceeded around the north of Scotland and Ireland, and then along the western and southern coasts of Ireland, to enter the Irish Sea from the south. Although the submarine's departure, destination, and expected arrival time were known to Room 40 in the Admiralty, the activities of the decoding department were considered so secret that they were unknown even to the normal intelligence division which tracked enemy ships or to the trade division responsible for warning merchant vessels. Only the very highest officers in the Admiralty saw the information and passed on warnings only when they felt it essential. [23]

On 27 March, Room 40 had intercepted a message which clearly demonstrated that the Germans had broken the code used to pass messages to British merchant ships. Cruisers protecting merchant ships were warned not to use the code to give directions to shipping because it could just as easily attract enemy submarines as steer ships away from them. However, Queenstown (now Cobh) was not given this warning and continued to give directions in the compromised code, which was not changed until after Lusitania ' s sinking. At this time, the Royal Navy was significantly involved with operations leading up to the landings at Gallipoli, and the intelligence department had been undertaking a program of misinformation to convince Germany to expect an attack on her northern coast. As part of this, ordinary cross-channel traffic to the Netherlands was halted from 19 April and false reports were leaked about troop ship movements from ports on Britain's western and southern coasts. This led to a demand from the German army for offensive action against the expected troop movements and consequently, a surge in German submarine activity on the British west coast. The fleet was warned to expect additional submarines, but this warning was not passed on to those sections of the navy dealing with merchant vessels. The return of the battleship Orion from Devonport to Scotland was delayed until 4 May and she was given orders to stay 100 miles (160 km) from the Irish coast. [24]

On 5 May, U-20 stopped a merchant schooner, Earl of Lathom, off the Old Head of Kinsale, examined her papers, then ordered her crew to leave before sinking the schooner with gunfire. On 6 May, U-20 fired a torpedo at Cayo Romano from Cuba, a British steamer flying a neutral flag, off Fastnet Rock narrowly missing by a few feet. [25] At 22:30 on 5 May, the Royal Navy sent an uncoded warning to all ships – "Submarines active off the south coast of Ireland" – and at midnight an addition was made to the regular nightly warnings, "submarine off Fastnet". [26] On 6 May U-20 sank the 6,000 ton steamer Candidate. It then failed to get off a shot at the 16,000 ton liner Arabic, because although she kept a straight course the liner was too fast, but then sank another 6,000 ton British cargo ship flying no flag, Centurion, all in the region of the Coningbeg light ship. The specific mention of a submarine was dropped from the midnight broadcast on 6–7 May as news of the new sinkings had not yet reached the navy at Queenstown, and it was correctly assumed that there was no longer a submarine at Fastnet. [27]

Captain Turner of Lusitania was given a warning message twice on the evening of 6 May, and took what he felt were prudent precautions. That evening a Seamen's Charities fund concert took place throughout the ship and the captain was obliged to attend the event in the first-class lounge. [2] : 197

At about 11:00 on 7 May, the Admiralty radioed another warning to all ships, probably as a result of a request by Alfred Booth, who was concerned about Lusitania: "U-boats active in southern part of Irish Channel. Last heard of twenty miles south of Coningbeg Light Vessel". Booth and all of Liverpool had received news of the sinkings, which the Admiralty had known about by at least 3:00 that morning. [28] Turner adjusted his heading northeast, not knowing that this report related to events of the previous day and apparently thinking submarines would be more likely to keep to the open sea, so that Lusitania would be safer close to land. [13] : 184 At 13:00 another message was received, "Submarine five miles south of Cape Clear proceeding west when sighted at 10:00 am". This report was inaccurate as no submarine had been at that location, but gave the impression that at least one submarine had been safely passed. [29]

U-20 was low on fuel and had only three torpedoes left. On the morning of 7 May, visibility was poor and Schwieger decided to head for home. He submerged at 11:00 after sighting a fishing boat which he believed might be a British patrol and shortly after was passed while still submerged by a ship at high speed. This was the cruiser Juno returning to Queenstown, travelling fast and zig-zagging having received warning of submarine activity off Queenstown at 07:45. The Admiralty considered these old cruisers highly vulnerable to submarines, and indeed Schwieger attempted to target the ship. [2] : 216 [30]

Sinking Edit

On the morning of 6 May, Lusitania was 750 miles (1,210 km) west of southern Ireland. By 05:00 on 7 May, she reached a point 120 miles (190 km) west south west of Fastnet Rock (off the southern tip of Ireland), where she met the patrolling boarding vessel Partridge. [31] By 06:00, heavy fog had arrived and extra lookouts were posted. As the ship came closer to Ireland, Captain Turner ordered depth soundings to be made and at 08:00 for speed to be reduced to eighteen knots, then to 15 knots and for the foghorn to be sounded. Some of the passengers were disturbed that the ship appeared to be advertising her presence. By 10:00, the fog began to lift, by noon it had been replaced by bright sunshine over a clear smooth sea and speed increased to 18 knots. [2] : 200–2

U-20 surfaced again at 12:45 as visibility was now excellent. At 13:20, something was sighted and Schwieger was summoned to the conning tower: at first it appeared to be several ships because of the number of funnels and masts, but this resolved into one large steamer appearing over the horizon. At 13:25, the submarine submerged to periscope depth of 11 metres and set a course to intercept the liner at her maximum submerged speed of 9 knots. When the ships had closed to 2 miles (3.2 km) Lusitania turned away, Schwieger feared he had lost his target, but she turned again, this time onto a near ideal course to bring her into position for an attack. At 14:10, with the target at 700m range he ordered one gyroscopic torpedo to be fired, set to run at a depth of three metres. [2] : 216–17 [32]

In Schwieger's own words, recorded in the log of U-20:

Torpedo hits starboard side right behind the bridge. An unusually heavy detonation takes place with a very strong explosive cloud. The explosion of the torpedo must have been followed by a second one [boiler or coal or powder?]. The ship stops immediately and heels over to starboard very quickly, immersing simultaneously at the bow. the name Lusitania becomes visible in golden letters. [33]

U-20 ' s torpedo officer, Raimund Weisbach, viewed the destruction through the vessel's periscope and felt the explosion was unusually severe. Within six minutes, Lusitania ' s forecastle began to submerge. Though Schwieger states the torpedo hit beneath the bridge, survivor testimony, including that of Captain Turner, gave a number of different locations: some stated it was between the first and second funnels, others between the third and fourth, and one claimed it struck below the capstan.

On board the Lusitania, Leslie Morton, an eighteen-year-old lookout at the bow, had spotted thin lines of foam racing toward the ship. He shouted, "Torpedoes coming on the starboard side!" through a megaphone, thinking the bubbles came from two projectiles. The torpedo struck Lusitania under the bridge, sending a plume of debris, steel plating, and water upward and knocking lifeboat number five off its davits. "It sounded like a million-ton hammer hitting a steam boiler a hundred feet high," one passenger said. A second, more powerful explosion followed, sending a geyser of water, coal, dust, and debris high above the deck. Schwieger's log entries attest that he launched only one torpedo. Some doubt the validity of this claim, contending that the German government subsequently altered the published fair copy of Schwieger's log, [2] : 416–19 but accounts from other U-20 crew members corroborate it. The entries were also consistent with intercepted radio reports sent to Germany by U-20 once she had returned to the North Sea, before any possibility of an official coverup. [34]

German drawing of Lusitania being torpedoed which incorrectly depicts the torpedo hitting the port side of ship

British drawing of Lusitania being torpedoed shows disputed "second torpedo"

Lusitania is shown sinking as Irish fishermen race to the rescue. In fact, the launching of the lifeboats was more chaotic

At 14:12, Captain Turner ordered Quartermaster Johnston stationed at the ship's wheel to steer 'hard-a-starboard' towards the Irish coast, which Johnston confirmed, but the ship could not be steadied on the course and rapidly ceased to respond to the wheel. Turner signalled for the engines to be reversed to halt the ship, but although the signal was received in the engine room, nothing could be done. Steam pressure had collapsed from 195 psi before the explosion, to 50 psi and falling afterwards. [2] : 227 Lusitania ' s wireless operator sent out an immediate SOS, which was acknowledged by a coastal wireless station. Shortly afterward he transmitted the ship's position, 10 miles (16 km) south of the Old Head of Kinsale. [2] : 228 At 14:14, electrical power failed, plunging the cavernous interior of the ship into darkness. Radio signals continued on emergency batteries, but electric lifts failed, trapping passengers and crew bulkhead doors, that were closed as a precaution before the attack, could not be reopened to release trapped men. [2] : 238–40

About one minute after the electrical power failed, Captain Turner gave the order to abandon ship. Water had flooded the ship's starboard longitudinal compartments, causing a 15-degree list to starboard.

Lusitania ' s severe starboard list complicated the launch of her lifeboats. Ten minutes after the torpedoing, when she had slowed enough to start putting boats in the water, the lifeboats on the starboard side swung out too far to step aboard safely. [35] While it was still possible to board the lifeboats on the port side, lowering them presented a different problem. As was typical for the period, the hull plates of Lusitania were riveted, and as the lifeboats were lowered they dragged on the inch-high rivets, which threatened to seriously damage the boats before they landed in the water.

Many lifeboats overturned while loading or lowering, spilling passengers into the sea others were overturned by the ship's motion when they hit the water. It has been claimed [36] that some boats, because of the negligence of some officers, crashed down onto the deck, crushing other passengers, and sliding down towards the bridge. This has been disputed by passenger and crew testimony. [37] Some crewmen would lose their grip on ropes used to lower the lifeboats while trying to lower the boats into the ocean, and this caused the passengers to spill into the sea. Others tipped on launch as some panicking people jumped into the boat. Lusitania had 48 lifeboats, more than enough for all the crew and passengers, but only 6 were successfully lowered, all from the starboard side. Lifeboat 1 overturned as it was being lowered, spilling its original occupants into the sea, but it managed to right itself shortly afterwards and was later filled with people from in the water. Lifeboats 9 (5 people on board) and 11 (7 people on board) managed to reach the water safely with a few people, but both later picked up many swimmers. Lifeboats 13 and 15 also safely reached the water, overloaded with around 150 people. Finally, Lifeboat 21 (52 people on board) reached the water safely and cleared the ship moments before her final plunge. A few of her collapsible lifeboats washed off her decks as she sank and provided flotation for some survivors.

Two lifeboats on the port side cleared the ship as well. Lifeboat 14 (11 people on board) was lowered and launched safely, but because the boat plug was not in place, it filled with seawater and sank almost immediately after reaching the water. Later, Lifeboat 2 floated away from the ship with new occupants (its previous ones having been spilled into the sea when they upset the boat) after they removed a rope and one of the ship's "tentacle-like" funnel stays. They rowed away shortly before the ship sank.

There was panic and disorder on the decks. Schwieger had been observing this through U-20 's periscope, and by 14:25, he dropped the periscope and headed out to sea. [38] Later in the war, Schwieger was killed in action when, as he commanded U-88 the vessel struck a British mine and sank on 5 September 1917, north of Terschelling. There were no survivors from U-88 's sinking.

The track of Lusitania. View of casualties and survivors in the water and in lifeboats. Painting by William Lionel Wyllie

The second explosion made passengers believe U-20 had torpedoed Lusitania a second time

The effect of U-20's torpedo

Captain Turner was on the deck near the bridge clutching the ship's logbook and charts when a wave swept upward towards the bridge and the rest of the ship's forward superstructure, knocking him overboard into the sea. He managed to swim and find a chair floating in the water which he clung to. He survived, having been pulled unconscious from the water after spending three hours there. Lusitania ' s bow slammed into the bottom about 100 metres (330 ft) below at a shallow angle because of her forward momentum as she sank. Along the way, some boilers exploded. As he had taken the ship's logbook and charts with him, Turner's last navigational fix had been only two minutes before the torpedoing, and he was able to remember the ship's speed and bearing at the moment of the sinking. This was accurate enough to locate the wreck after the war. The ship travelled about two miles (3 km) from the time of the torpedoing to her final resting place, leaving a trail of debris and people behind. After her bow sank completely, Lusitania ' s stern rose out of the water, enough for her propellers to be seen, and went under. None of the four funnels collapsed, although some survivors testified that the third funnel swung and struck their lifeboat as they boarded it.

Lusitania sank in only 18 minutes, at a distance of 11.5 miles (19 km) off the Old Head of Kinsale. Despite being relatively close to shore, it took several hours for help to arrive from the Irish coast. By the time help arrived, however, many in the 52 °F (11 °C) water had succumbed to the cold. By the days' end, 764 passengers and crew from Lusitania had been rescued and landed at Queenstown. The final death toll for the disaster came to a catastrophic number. Of the 1,959 passengers and crew aboard Lusitania at the time of her sinking, 1,195 had been lost. [39] In the days following the disaster, the Cunard line offered local fishermen and sea merchants a cash reward for the bodies floating all throughout the Irish Sea, some floating as far away as the Welsh coast. Only 289 bodies were recovered, 65 of which were never identified. The bodies of many of the victims were buried at either Queenstown, where 148 bodies were interred in the Old Church Cemetery, [40] or the Church of St Multose in Kinsale, but the bodies of the remaining 885 victims were never recovered.

Two days before, U-20 had sunk Earl of Lathom, but first allowed the crew to escape in boats. According to international maritime law, any military vessel stopping an unarmed civilian ship was required to allow those on board time to escape before sinking it. The conventions had been drawn up in a time before the invention of the submarine and took no account of the severe risk a small vessel, such as a submarine, faced if it gave up the advantage of a surprise attack. Schwieger could have allowed the crew and passengers of Lusitania to take to the boats, but he considered the danger of being rammed or fired upon by deck guns too great. [ citation needed ] Merchant ships had, in fact, been advised to steer directly at any U-boat that surfaced. A cash bonus had been offered for any that were sunk, though the advice was carefully worded so as not to amount to an order to ram. [41] This feat would be accomplished only once during the war by a commercial vessel when in 1918 the White Star Liner HMT Olympic, sister ship to the Titanic, rammed SM U-103 in the English Channel, sinking the submarine.

According to Bailey and Ryan, Lusitania was travelling without any flag and her name painted over with darkish dye. [42]

One story—an urban legend—states that when Lieutenant Schwieger of U-20 gave the order to fire, his quartermaster, Charles Voegele, would not take part in an attack on women and children, and refused to pass on the order to the torpedo room – a decision for which he was court-martialed and imprisoned at Kiel until the end of the war. [43] This rumour persisted from 1972, when the French daily paper Le Monde published a letter to the editor. [44] [45]

SS Lusitania

SS Lusitania was a Portuguese twin-screw ocean liner of 5,557 tons, built in 1906 by Sir Raylton Dixon & Co, and owned by Empresa Nacional de Navegação, of Lisbon.

The ship was wrecked on Bellows Rock off Cape Point, South Africa at 24h00 on 18 April 1911 in fog while en route from Lourenço Marques (now Maputo), Mozambique, with 25 first-class, 57 second-class and 121 third-class passengers, and 475 African labourers. Out of the 774 people on board, eight died when a life boat capsized. [1] On 20 April the ship slipped off the rock into 37 metres (121 ft) of water to the east of the rock. The wreck has become a fairly well known recreational dive site, but at 33 to 40 metres, it is deeper than recommended for the average recreational diver, and the currents and breakers over the reef make it a moderately challenging dive.

The sinking of Lusitania spurred the local authorities to construct a new lighthouse on the Cape Point. [2]

6. She was struck by a single deadly torpedo

In the early afternoon of 7 May, the German U-boat U-20 fired a single torpedo at RMS Lusitania, which struck her just under the bridge. A second explosion rocketed through the ship seconds later, and she began to sink rapidly. The electrics failed 4 minutes later, trapping people below deck, in lifts, and the wrong side of bulkheads.

5 minutes after the torpedoing, Captain Turner gave orders to abandon ship. It took just 18 minutes for the Lusitania to sink.

Fateful Voyage of the Lusitania

Shortly after noon on a drizzly spring day in 1915, the Cunard liner Lusitania backed slowly away from Pier 54 on New York’s Lower West Side. It was Lusitania‘s 202nd Atlantic crossing, and as usual the luxury liner’s sailing attracted a crowd, for the 32,500-ton vessel was one of the fastest and most glamorous ships afloat. In the words of the London Times, she was ‘a veritable greyhound of the seas.’

Passengers, not yet settled in their accommodations, marveled at the ship’s size and splendor. With a length of 745 feet, she was one of the largest man-made objects in the world. First-class passengers could eat in a two-story Edwardian-style dining salon that featured a plasterwork dome arching some thirty feet above the floor. Those who traveled first class also occupied regal suites, consisting of twin bedrooms with a parlor, bathroom, and private dining area, for which they paid four thousand dollars one way. Second-class accommodations on Lusitania compared favorably with first-class staterooms on many other ships.

People strolling through nearby Battery Park watched as three tugs worked to point the liner’s prow downriver toward the Narrows and the great ocean beyond. While well-wishers on the pier waved handkerchiefs and straw hats, ribbons of smoke began to stream from three of the liner’s four tall funnels. Seagulls hovered astern as the liner slowly began to pick up speed.

The early years of the twentieth century belonged to the great ocean liners, and Lusitania was one of the elite. A Scotsman who was present at her launching in 1907 recalled his awe at the sight:

Was it the size of her, that great cliff of upperworks?… Was it her majesty, the manifest fitness of her to rule the waves? I think what brought the lump to the boy’s throat was just her beauty, by which I mean her fitness in every way for this was a vessel at once large and gracious, elegant and manifestly efficient. That men could fashion such a thing by their hands out of metal and wood was a happy realization.

In 1908, on one of her first Atlantic crossings, Lusitania broke the existing transatlantic speed record, making the run from Liverpool to New York in four and one-half days, traveling at slightly more than twenty-five knots. Like her sister ship, Mauritania, she could generate sixty-eight thousand horsepower in her twenty-five boilers. Lusitania was also versatile, for the government subsidy that helped pay for her construction required her to have features that would facilitate her conversion to an armed cruiser if necessary. The liner’s engine rooms were under the waterline, and she incorporated deck supports sufficient to permit the installation of six-inch guns.

It was May 1, 1915, and Lusitania, with 1,257 passengers and a crew of 702, was beginning a slightly nervous crossing. War was raging in Europe, and although no major passenger liner had ever been sunk by a submarine, some passengers were uneasy. The German embassy had inserted advertisements in a number of American newspapers warning of dangers in the waters around the British Isles.

Because this warning appeared only on the day of sailing, not all of those who boarded Lusitania saw it. Yet for travelers with an apprehensive turn of mind, there were alternatives to the Cunarder. The American Line’s New York, with space available, sailed the same day as Lusitania, but she required eight days to cross the Atlantic as opposed to Lusitania‘s six.

Despite the warning posted by the German embassy, Lusitania‘s captain was not nervous. When Captain William Turner was asked about the U-boat threat he reportedly laughed, remarking that ‘by the look of the pier and the passenger list,’ the Germans had not scared away many people.

By the spring of 1915 the land war in Europe had settled into a bloody stalemate, but one in which the Central Powers held the advantage. A decisive German victory at Tannenberg had all but taken czarist Russia out of the war. The initial German thrust for Paris had been repulsed, but even as Lusitania sailed, the British were being mauled in the month-long Second Battle of Ypres.

The war at sea, however, was a different matter. The Royal Navy’s numerical superiority made it perilous for the German fleet to venture out of port and enabled the Allies to move troops and materiel by sea. Most important of all, Allied control of the sea had cut the Central Powers off from overseas supplies of food and raw materials. When the increased range of shore-based guns prevented the British from maintaining a traditional offshore blockade of German ports, the Royal Navy mounted a long-range blockade instead. British cruisers patrolled choke points well away from German ports, halting all vessels suspected of carrying supplies to Germany and enlarging the traditional definition of contraband to include even raw materials and food.

Not all contraband was headed for Germany. Lusitania carried some forty-two hundred cases of Remington rifle cartridges destined for the Western Front. Her cargo also included fuses and 1,250 cases of empty shrapnel shells. Although the Germans had no knowledge of this cargo, it is clear that British authorities were prepared to compromise Lusitania‘s nonbelligerent status as a passenger liner for a small amount of war materiel.

The growing effectiveness of the Allied blockade had forced Germany to take drastic measures. Germany’s most promising offensive weapon at sea was the submarine, but international law of the time prohibited its most effective employment. If a submarine encountered a vessel that might belong to an enemy or might be carrying contraband, the U-boat had to surface, warn her intended victim, and ‘remove crew, ship papers, and, if possible, the cargo’ before destroying her prey.

In response to Britain’s unilateral redefinition of a naval blockade, Germany issued a proclamation of its own, declaring the waters surrounding Great Britain and Ireland to be a war zone. From February 18, 1915, on, Berlin had declared, enemy merchant vessels found within the zone would be subject to destruction without warning.

The day before Lusitania sailed from Pier 54, U-20, skippered by thirty-two-year-old Kapitänleutnant (Lt. Cmdr.) Walther Schwieger, left the German naval base at Emden on the North Sea. Schwieger’s orders were to take U-20 around Scotland and Ireland to the Irish Sea. There he was to operate in the approaches to Liverpool for as long as his supplies permitted. His orders allowed him to sink, with or without warning, all enemy ships and any other vessels whose appearance or behavior suggested that they might be disguised enemy vessels. The British were known to dispatch ships under neutral flags.

Submarine warfare was still in its infancy, and Germany had only eighteen seagoing subs, of which only about one-third could be on station at any one time. Schwieger’s U-20 displaced just 650 tons, making it about half the size of a fleet submarine in World War II. The boats were crowded and damp, and the eight torpedoes they carried were often unreliable. But the men who commanded the U-boats included some of the boldest officers of an elite service, and U-20 had a reputation as a ‘happy’ ship. The scion of a prominent Berlin family, Schwieger was popular with his officers and crew. One of his colleagues recalled him as ‘tall, broad-shouldered, and of a distinguished bearing, with well-cut features, blue eyes and blond hair–a particularly fine-looking fellow.’

On May 3, U-20‘s fourth day at sea, Schwieger spotted a small steamer just north of the Hebrides. Although the vessel was flying Danish colors, Schwieger concluded that she was British and fired a torpedo at her from three hundred meters. The torpedo misfired and his quarry escaped, but the incident said much about Schwieger’s interpretation of his orders. He would not risk his boat by questioning possible neutrals. Rather, he would make full use of his authorization to sink ships without warning.

On the sixth day of his patrol, Schwieger rounded the southern tip of Ireland and entered the Irish Channel. There he encountered a small schooner, Earl of Lathom, under sail. Schwieger considered her so minimal a threat that he surfaced, allowed the schooner’s five-man crew to abandon ship, and destroyed the vessel with shellfire. Later the same day he attacked a three-thousand-ton steamer flying Norwegian colors, but the single torpedo he fired missed.

The next day, May 6, brought better fortune. That morning U-20 surfaced and pursued a medium-sized freighter, bringing her to a halt with gunfire. Schwieger believed in shooting first and identifying later, but in this case he was vindicated, for his prey turned out to be a British merchantman, Candidate, out of Liverpool. Schwieger dispatched her with a torpedo. That same afternoon U-20 sighted another ship of undetermined nationality. Schwieger stopped her with one torpedo and watched as her crew took to the boats. He then sent her to the bottom with a second torpedo. This victim was Centurion, sister ship to the fifty-nine-hundred-ton Candidate.

After sinking Centurion, Schwieger made a critical decision. Although his orders called for him to press on to Liverpool, he had only three torpedoes left and was near the end of his cruising range. Schwieger would expend one more torpedo in his current operational area and then begin the return voyage, confident of finding targets en route for his remaining two torpedoes.

Although Lusitania had left New York City with much of the pomp of a peacetime crossing, not all was well aboard the liner. To conserve coal, six of the ship’s twenty-five boilers had been shut down, effectively reducing her top speed from twenty-five to twenty-one knots. Perhaps most important, there was a shortage of experienced seamen on Lusitania. The Royal Navy had called up most reservists, leaving Cunard to recruit crewmen as best it could.

Nevertheless, the ship was in the hands of one of the most experienced skippers on the Atlantic run. Captain Turner, sixty-three, had been assigned to Lusitania just before her previous crossing, but he was a veteran commander. One of his officers, Albert Worley, saw his skipper as a typical British merchant captain, ‘jovial yet with an air of authority.’ The son of a sea captain, Turner had signed aboard a clipper as a cabin boy at age thirteen and had served as a junior officer on a variety of sailing vessels. Some believed that Turner’s blunt speech and unpolitic manner were liabilities, but no one questioned his seamanship. In 1912, while captain of Mauritania, he had won the Humane Society’s medal for rescuing the crew of the burning steamer West Point.

Much would later be made of Turner’s seeming lack of concern about the submarine menace. But the skipper knew that no ship the size and speed of Lusitania had ever fallen victim to a U-boat. Even steaming at a reduced speed, Lusitania could outrun any submarine, underwater or on the surface.

The liner plowed ahead on its northeasterly course, averaging about twenty knots. The normally festive atmosphere on board had been dampened somewhat by the war indeed, Cunard had obtained a full passenger list only by reducing some fares. The only gilt-edged celebrity on board was multimillionaire Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, en route to Britain for a meeting of horse breeders. Vanderbilt was fortunate in more than his inherited wealth three years earlier he had booked passage on Titanic‘s maiden voyage but had missed the fatal cruise because of a change in plans. Other first-class passengers included Broadway impresario Charles Frohman, scouting for new theatrical offerings, and Elbert Hubbard, the homespun writer of inspirational essays such as ‘A Message to Garcia.’

On Sunday, May 2, the first day out, Captain Turner conducted church services in the main lounge. The following day found the liner off Newfoundland’s Grand Banks. On May 4, Lusitania was halfway to her destination. The weather was fine, and Turner had reason to anticipate an easy crossing. Even so, the war was never entirely forgotten. On the morning of May 6, as the ship prepared to enter Berlin’s proclaimed war zone, some passengers were startled by the creak of lifeboat davits. Early risers on B deck saw the Cunard liner’s lifeboats being uncovered and swung out over the sides of the ship, where they would remain during the final, most dangerous portion of the voyage.

That evening Turner was called away from dinner to receive a radio message from the British Admiralty that warned of submarine activity off the southern coast of Ireland. There was no elaboration the Admiralty did not mention the recent losses of Candidate and Centurion. Forty minutes later, however, came an explicit order to all British ships: ‘Take Liverpool pilot at bar, and avoid headlands. Pass harbors at full speed. Steer midchannel course. Submarines off Fastnet.’

Lusitania acknowledged the message and continued on course. She was now about 375 miles from Liverpool, making twenty-one knots. Turner ordered all watertight doors closed except those providing access to essential machinery, and he doubled the watch. Stewards were instructed to see that portholes were secured and blacked out.

May 7 began with a heavy fog, and Lusitania‘s passengers awakened to the deep blasts of the liner’s foghorn. Turner maintained a course of eighty-seven degrees east but because of the fog ordered a reduction in speed to eighteen knots. The skipper was timing his arrival at the Liverpool bar for high tide so that, if no pilot was immediately available, he could enter the Mersey River without stopping.

Some 130 miles east, in his surfaced boat, Schwieger was wondering whether, given the poor visibility, he should continue on station. He recalled:

We had started back for Wilhelmshaven and were drawing near the Channel. There was a heavy sea and a thick fog, with small chance of sinking anything. At the same time, a destroyer steaming through the fog might stumble over us before we knew anything about it. So I submerged to twenty meters, below periscope depth.

About an hour and a half later…I noticed that the fog was lifting…. I brought the boat to the surface, and we continued our course above water. A few minutes after we emerged I sighted on the horizon a forest of masts and stacks. At first I thought they must belong to several ships. Then I saw it was a great steamer coming over the horizon. It was coming our way. I dived at once, hoping to get a shot at it.

Until midday, Turner had taken most of the measures that a prudent captain would be expected to take during wartime. On the fateful afternoon of May 7, however, he reverted to peacetime procedures. The coast of Ireland was in clear view at 1 p.m., but Turner was uncertain of his exact position. Ignoring Admiralty orders to zigzag in dangerous waters, to maintain top speed, and to avoid headlands, Turner changed Lusitania’s course toward land to fix his position. At 1:40 p.m. he recognized the Old Head of Kinsale, one of the most familiar headlands of the Irish coast. With cottages on the coast clearly visible to her passengers, Lusitania swung back toward her earlier course of eighty-seven degrees east and headed toward her reckoning.

The change of course involved two turns. In Schwieger’s recollection:

When the steamer was two miles away it changed its course. I had no hope now, even if we hurried at our best speed, of getting near enough to attack her…. [Then] I saw the steamer change her course again. She was coming directly at us. She could not have steered a more perfect course if she had deliberately tried to give us a dead shot….

I had already shot away my best torpedoes and had left only two bronze ones–not so good. The steamer was four hundred yards away when I gave an order to fire. The torpedo hit, and there was a rather small detonation and instantly after a much heavier one. The pilot was beside me. I told him to have a look at close range. He put his eye to the periscope and after a brief scrutiny yelled: ‘My God, it’s the Lusitania.’

U-20‘s torpedo, carrying three hundred pounds of explosives in its warhead, struck between the first and second funnels, throwing a huge cloud of debris into the air. Turner, who had been in his cabin when the torpedo wake was spotted, rushed to the bridge. Survivors later testified almost unanimously that a second, heavier explosion followed. Power was cut off throughout the ship, preventing Turner from communicating with the engine room and trapping some people belowdecks. Passenger Margaret Mackworth and her father were about to step into an elevator when they felt the ship tremble from Schwieger’s detonating torpedo. Both stepped back, an action that undoubtedly saved their lives.

Above, confusion was rampant. Passengers rushed to the boat deck, only to be told that the ship was safe and that no boats need be launched. Most life rafts were still lashed to the decks. Passengers and crewmen alike milled about although Lusitania carried ample lifeboats, passengers had never been informed to which boat they were assigned in case of an emergency. Charles Lauriat, a Boston bookseller, later noted that as many as half the passengers had put on their life jackets improperly.

The ship immediately took on a heavy list to starboard that made it impossible to lower boats from the port side. The inexperienced crew could not cope. When Third Officer Albert Bestic reached the No. 2 lifeboat on the port side, he found it filled with women–most in full-length skirts–but only one crewman was available to man the davits. When Bestic, the crewman, and a male passenger attempted to lower the boat, there was a sharp crack. One of the guys had snapped, dropping the bow of the lifeboat and spilling its passengers against the rail and into the sea.

Three years earlier, those aboard Titanic for whom there were not enough lifeboats had had some two hours in which to stare into their icy grave. Aboard Lusitania, the imminence of the disaster left little time for contemplation. For instance, shortly after the torpedo struck, second-class passenger Allan Beatty slid across the entire width of the deck, caught the side of a collapsible raft, and still almost drowned as water poured over the rail.

Although Turner never gave an order to abandon ship, individual officers began loading boats on their own initiative. But the fact that the liner was still underway made it difficult to launch even the starboard boats. Several capsized, spilling their occupants into the water. Only eighteen minutes after Schwieger’s torpedo struck, Lusitania sank with a roar that reminded one passenger of the collapse of a great building during a fire. Hundreds of passengers went down with her, trapped in elevators or between decks. Hundreds of others were swept off the ship and drowned in the roiled waters. Because Lusitania was nearly eight hundred feet long, her black-painted stern and four great screws were still visible to horrified onlookers on shore at Kinsale when the liner’s bow struck bottom at 360 feet.

Not a ship was in sight when the liner went down other skippers appear to have taken the submarine warnings more seriously than had Turner. But a stream of fishing boats from nearby Queenstown collected the living and the dead during the afternoon and evening of May 7. More than 60 percent of the people on board died–a total of 1,198–of whom 128 were Americans. About 140 unidentified victims were buried at Queenstown, but the remains of nine hundred others were never found. Of the American celebrities, all three–Frohman, Hubbard, and Vanderbilt–went down with the ship. One survivor recalled, ‘Actuated by a less acute fear or by a higher degree of bravery which the well-bred man seems to feel in moments of danger, the men of wealth and position for the most part hung back while others rushed for the boats.’

Whatever Lusitania may have been carrying as cargo, the death toll aboard the liner ensured that the sinking would become a public relations disaster for Germany. Instead of issuing an apology, however, or at least holding out the promise of an investigation, Berlin first sought to deflect responsibility. Adding insult to injury, thousands of Germans purchased postcards that portrayed Schwieger’s torpedo striking Lusitania, with an inset of Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz. The newspaper of one of the centrist political parties, Kolniche Volkszeilung, editorialized:

The sinking of the Lusitania is a success of our submarines which must be placed beside the greatest achievements of this naval war…. It will not be the last. The English wish to abandon the German people to death by starvation. We are more humane. We simply sank an English ship with passengers who, at their own risk and responsibility entered the zone of operations.

In Britain, reaction to the sinking was immediate and violent. British officials denied German suspicions that Lusitania was carrying contraband, and in London and Liverpool, mobs attacked German-owned shops. The reaction in the United States was less destructive but more ominous. Former President Theodore Roosevelt denounced the sinking as piracy to Roosevelt, it was inconceivable that the United States could fail to respond. The press reaction outside the German-American community was almost uniformly condemning. The New York Tribune warned that ‘the nation which remembered the Maine will not forget the civilians of the Lusitania.’ A cartoon in the New York Sun depicted the kaiser fastening a medal around the neck of a mad dog.

The United States was not yet ready for war, however, and amid the indignation there were calls for restraint. But the Lusitania tragedy caused thousands of Americans, heretofore indifferent to the war in Europe, to side with the Allies. On May 12 the British government released a report on German atrocities in Belgium. The report exaggerated the extent of German depredations, but in the aftermath of Lusitania’s sinking most Americans were a receptive audience. The German ambassador in Washington reported that the Lusitania affair had dealt a fatal blow to his efforts to enhance his country’s image.

The foreign reaction was sufficiently disturbing to the German government that Schwieger, on his return to Germany, met with a cool reception. Then U-20‘s log mysteriously disappeared. Typewritten versions of Schwieger’s log, made available after Lusitania survivors had reported a second explosion, included this sentence: ‘It would have been impossible for me…to fire a second torpedo into this crowd of people struggling to save their lives.’

In the diplomatic exchanges that followed the sinking, Germany was for a time intransigent and then issued a statement expressing regret for the loss of American lives. President Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan, resigned his post over the stern tone of Wilson’s notes protesting the German action, arguing that Germany had a right to prevent contraband from going to the Allies and that a ship carrying contraband could not rely on passengers to protect her from attack. But Germany had lost the propaganda war.

On August 19, 1915, while diplomatic notes on the Lusitania affair were still being exchanged, another British liner, Arabic, was torpedoed, with the loss of two American lives. This time the German Foreign Ministry impressed upon the kaiser the seriousness of any rupture with the United States, and Germany promised that no more merchant ships would be torpedoed without warning. The threat of Amercian intervention receded until, more than a year later, the beleaguered Germans believed it was necessary to resume unrestricted submarine warfare to break the British blockade. Berlin’s announcement, on January 31, 1917, that its submarines would’sink on sight’ brought the United States into the war.

Nearly two years had passed between the sinking of Lusitania and President Wilson’s call for a declaration of war. But when Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917, the picture that came to American minds was of the women and children aboard the legendary Cunard liner. Indeed, much of the world seemed prepared to accept the judgment of a British court that responsibility for Lusitania rested exclusively with the Germans, ‘those who plotted and…committed the crime.’

Turner, who survived the sinking of his ship, was roundly criticized for having failed to maintain top speed and for having ignored Admiralty orders to avoid headlands such as the Old Head of Kinsale. He never again took a Cunard liner to sea. As for Schwieger, he went on to become one of Germany’s top U-boat aces, receiving his country’s highest decoration for having destroyed 190,000 tons of Allied shipping. About five weeks after receiving his decoration, however, Schwieger took U-88 on what proved to be his last cruise. The submarine never returned she apparently struck a mine and went down with all hands.

Although divers attempted to explore the wreck of Lusitania both before and after World War II, only recently has the availability of advanced underwater cameras and robotic vehicles made a thorough examination possible. In August 1993, Dr. Robert Ballard, whose teams had earlier explored Titanic and Bismarck, led an expedition to the wreck of Lusitania. Employing a small submarine and remote-controlled, camera-equipped vehicles, Ballard took extensive photographs, partly in an attempt to explain the mysterious second explosion.

Although the ship lies on her starboard side, with the interior largely collapsed, Ballard had sufficient access to the wreck to determine that the magazine where the cartridges had been stored was undamaged. Nor was there any evidence of a boiler explosion. Given that Schwieger’s torpedo had struck near a coal bunker, and the fact that the wreck is surrounded by spilled coal, Ballard makes a convincing case that the second, fatal blast resulted from an explosion of coal dust in the forward bunkers.

In the eight decades since the torpedoing of Lusitania, the world has passed through two world wars, the Holocaust, Stalin’s purges, and China’s Cultural Revolution. Today, the indignation aroused by the sinking of Lusitania seems almost quaint. By the time of World War II, the idea that any submarine would surface to warn of an impending torpedo attack was ludicrous the practice of the German, British, and U.S. navies alike was to torpedo ships without warning.

By the standards of his day, however, Schwieger’s action was reprehensible. Although the U-boat commanders’ orders permitted them to attack without warning, many of his colleagues chose to warn their victims when possible, and most of them probably would have done so in the case of a passenger liner. By his own admission, Schwieger torpedoed Lusitania before he had even identified her. The one point in Schwieger’s defense is that he certainly did not expect his target to go down in eighteen minutes. As in the case of Centurion the day before, Schwieger probably expected his first torpedo to stop Lusitania. Then, after those aboard had abandoned ship, he would sink his victim at leisure. But this is not what happened, and Lusitania‘s victims were not the only ones who paid a price. Winston Churchill, British first lord of the Admiralty when Lusitania went down, wrote in 1931:

The Germans never understood, and never will understand, the horror and indignation with which their opponents and the neutral world regarded their attack…. To seize even an enemy merchant ship at sea was an act which imposed strict obligations on the captor. To make a neutral ship a prize of war stirred whole histories of international law. But between taking a ship and sinking a ship was a gulf.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 1999 issue (Vol. 11, No. 3) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Fateful Voyage of the Lusitania

Want to have the lavishly illustrated, premium-quality print edition of MHQ delivered directly to you four times a year? Subscribe now at special savings!

Customers who viewed this item also viewed

Top reviews from the United States

There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

This book is what I would call a "choose your own adventure" story. However while enjoying reading the book and choosing your various paths you can take as a character, the reader will learn historical facts about this ship and its place in world events.

The book is centered around three characters. So the reader chooses a character and after a page or two of the story, the reader chooses one of two paths. There are 42 paths to choose from and 23 different endings. I am sure you can see how this book can be read many times.

The author did a very good job giving the reader facts to assist in understanding the characters. The book was exciting to read and you could feel the emotion of the characters as they each went through the events on board the sinking ship.

At the end of the book are additional facts about how the sinking of the Lusitania eventually brought the United States into World War I.

If your child likes to read adventure books, I think this will be a good choice for a boy or girl.

Describe the sinking of the lusitania and it's effects on american public opinion at the time

The sinking of Lusitania was a public relations nightmare for Germany as public opinion in the United States turned against them. . In April 1917, the United States Congress voted to declare war on the Central Powers and entered World War I. The U.S. still doesn't enter the war, but is now ready.

It caused public opinion to turn against the Germans even more. In the early years of World War I, which of the following demonstrated the US government's commitment to winning public support for the war

C. It caused public opinion to turn against the Germans even more

C.) It caused public opinion to turn against the Germans even more

why do you ask more than one question at once bro

It caused public opinion to turn against the Germans even more.

The sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 had a very negative effect on the American public opinion of Germany, since it was the Germans who sank the American ship for seemingly no reason.

D. To influence public opinion

The correct answer is C. It caused public opinion to turn against the Germans even more.

The RMS Lusitania was a British transatlantic that sink in the British sea due to an attack by the German Navy during the WWI. In that ship there were British and American citizens that died after the attack. In total there were 1198 dead people. The United States remained neutral towards the war until this event, which turned the American public opinion against Germany. It was one of the main reasons for the entry of the United States in the war against Germany.

Lost in the Myths of History

In May 1915 when a German U-boat torpedoed the passenger liner Lusitania over a thousand people – including more than 100 Americans - drowned off the coast of Ireland. Since America was a neutral country the deaths of innocent people caused outrage and this is often cited as the event which brought the USA into the First World War – a sort of precursor of Pearl Harbour. In fact, it would be two years before Woodrow Wilson sent his troops to Europe to participate in that pointless conflict and, on closer inspection, it is clear that there was far more to this attack, which was seen as an example of German aggression, than is immediately apparent.


It was widely reported at the time (even put into a famous propaganda film of the day) that Kaptlt. Schwieger was decorated for sinking the Lusitania and that the Germans struck a medal to commemorate the event as sort of a celebration of their barbarism.

First of all, Schwieger was not rewarded for sinking the Lusitania. He was decorated later for being one of the most successful submarine commanders in history. Nor did he (as some put out at the time) kill himself out of guilt, he went down with his sub in the line of duty.

Second, Germany did strike a medal about the Lusitania affair (I have one) but it is not glorying in it but rather expresses disgust at the British for allowing passengers on a ship carrying weapons and headed for enemy waters. The seldom-shown reverse of the medal has the image of death in a booth selling tickets despite German warnings to stay away.

Of course, it was still a horrible event no matter how you look at it but then so was the starvation blockade of Germany, which took far more lives and not just German ones.

Thank you, MadMonarchist. I think that Churchill was behind much of that propaganda and I agree with you completely about the blockade, which was illegal!
How interesting that you have the medal - thank you so much for the description of it! Thanks again for your very interesting comment.

How refreshing to see someone with a fresh, un-programmed view of history! It's amazing what comes to light when we dispose of the myths we learned in high school and start digging into the facts. Keep up this good work! I'll be checking out this blog often.

Thank you very much for your comment and for kind words about the blog, Paul.
It really is amazing what comes to light when we look beneath the surface, isn't it!

Hello! My first visit, will visit you again. Seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed your posts. Congrats for your work. If you wish to follow back that would be great I'm at
Thanks for sharing!

Christina - I never learned a lot about the Lusitania in school or otherwise. This post was rather enlightening, but it saddened me at the same time. Thank you for sifting through the layers to bring us the truth!

Thank you, Val - I think that there are, sadly, many more layers before one can get even close to the truth.

Is the picture of the ship sinking public domain? I would like to use it on a TV show. Let me know if you know of its ownership. Email me at: bretonfilms at

Thank you for your question, Ana. I have emailed you.

Great post. this and others are changing my view of Churchill, once my uquestionable hero of the 20th century. Everybody has a dark side

It is interesting to see that the myth is perpetuated to this day even at official museum sites like the destroyer exhibit in Charleston, SC in which a existence of arms on the Lusitania is blandly denied as a myth.
In fact Woodrow Wilson, in spite of the neutrality laws in existence at the time and his own professed desire to keep out of the war, waived the prohibition against bank loans to Britain, opening the door to financial institutions like JP Morgan to use WW1 for their own financial gain - the result being that JP Morgan made billions out of the catastrophe of WWI - based on money that had to be paid back by Britain and in turn relied on the crippling war reparations that had been imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. So, once again WWI was all about money and making the bankers and industrialists rich.

Yes, Vega. Everybody has a dark side. Churchill was never my hero, but he did play an important part in politics and international relations and his legacy is the present world that emerged from WWI and WWII. The tragedy of the Lusitania is important for it connects the dots to everything else.

Guy, war is business and a battle for power. For the financiers, the more money you have, the more clout you got. 9/11 and the "War on Terror" are recent examples of manufactured events for favored results. All done by the same people.

Yes, Vega. Everybody has a dark side. Churchill was never my hero, but he did play an important part in politics and international relations and his legacy is the present world that emerged from WWI and WWII. The tragedy of the Lusitania is important for it connects the dots to everything else.

Guy, war is business and a battle for power. For the financiers, the more money you have, the more clout you got. 9/11 and the "War on Terror" are recent examples of manufactured events for favored results. All done by the same people.

After the Lusitania disaster, the German government had privately decided to abandon the practice of firing upon passenger liners. But in March 1916, acting against orders, a German submarine fired without warning upon the French steamer Sussex, killing about eighty people. Four of the twenty-five Americans aboard were injured. The ship had not possessed the usual markings that indicated a passenger ship it was painted black, and its bridge looked like that of a warship. When the German captain spied it traveling outside the routes that the British Admiralty had designated for passenger ships, he suspected it was The Germans had made a mistake, and would certainly have made reparation for the disaster. Wilson, however, took the opportunity to issue an ultimatum to Germany demanding that unless she abandoned submarine warfare entirely, the United States would sever diplomatic relations with her. The result was the Sussex pledge of May 1916, in which the German government made a major concession to Wilson. Although they would not abandon submarine warfare altogether, the Germans would not sink enemy merchant ships, armed or unarmed, without warning and without saving the lives of the people aboard, unless the ship in question opened fire or attempted to flee. This was an enormous concession, since the Germans, in effect, granted enemy merchant ships the opportunity to fire the first shot.

The pledge, however, was conditional. The German government expected Wilson to put pressure on the British government to abandon its hunger blockade and to allow food to make its way to Germany. Should the American government not achieve such a concession from the British, the German government would have complete freedom of action. Not surprisingly, Wilson accepted the concession and refused the condition. Since America’s neutral rights were absolute and inalienable, they were to be enjoyed regardless of the behavior of another belligerent. Wilson thus felt free to continue his policy, which he insisted on calling “neutrality,” of holding one belligerent strictly accountable for its violations of international law but doing next to nothing about those of another belligerent.

As the months passed following the Lusitania disaster, Wilson kept up the diplomatic pressure on the German government to a degree that alarmed some congressmen and other prominent Americans.

Senator Wesley Jones of Washington implored the president “to be careful, to proceed slowly, to make no harsh or arbitrary demands, to keep in view the rights of 99,999,000 people at home rather than of the 1,000 reckless, inconsiderate and unpatriotic citizens who insist on going abroad in belligerent ships.” Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin spoke of the wisdom of Wilson’s Mexico policy as compared with the president’s policy regarding American sea travel into the European war zone. The policy of warning Americans that they traveled to Mexico at their own risk was, he said, “a small sacrifice on the part of the few to preserve the peace of the nation. But how much less sacrifice it requires for our citizens to refrain from travel on armed belligerent ships.”

Watch the video: Lusitania: How A German U-Boat Killed 1,000 Civilians. Sinking The Lusitania Docudrama. Timeline