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Anniversary of Lusitania Sinking – May 7, 1915






On this day in 1915 the British ocean liner R.M.S. Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine.





RMS Lusitania was a British ocean liner, holder of the Blue Riband and briefly the world's biggest ship. She was launched by the Cunard Line in 1907, at a time of fierce competition for the North Atlantic trade. In 1915 she was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, causing the deaths of 1,198 passengers and crew.

As German shipping lines tended to monopolise the lucrative passage of continental emigrants, Cunard responded by trying to outdo them for speed, capacity and luxury. Lusitania and her running mate Mauretania were fitted with revolutionary new turbine engines, able to maintain a speed of 25 knots. Equipped with lifts, wireless telegraph and electric light, they provided 50% more passenger space than any other ship, and the first class decks were noted for their sumptuous furnishings.

When she left New York for Liverpool on what would be her final voyage on 1 May 1915, submarine warfare was intensifying in the Atlantic. Germany had declared the seas around the United Kingdom to be a war-zone, and the German embassy in the United States had placed a newspaper advertisement warning people not to sail on Lusitania. On 7 May Lusitania was nearing the end of her crossing, as she was scheduled to dock at the Prince's Landing Stage in Liverpool later that afternoon. She was running parallel to the south coast of Ireland, and was roughly 11 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale when the liner crossed in front of U-20 at 2:10 p.m. It was sheer chance that the liner became such a convenient target, since U-20 could hardly have caught the fast vessel otherwise. Schwieger, the commanding officer of the U-boat, gave the order to fire one torpedo, which struck Lusitania on the starboard bow, just beneath the wheelhouse. Moments later, a second explosion erupted from within Lusitania's hull where the torpedo had struck, and the ship began to founder in a much more rapid procession, with a prominent list to starboard.






Almost immediately, the crew scrambled to launch the lifeboats but the conditions of the sinking made their usage extremely difficult, and in some cases impossible due to the ship's severe list. In all, only six out of 48 lifeboats were launched successfully, with several more overturning, splintering to pieces and breaking apart. Eighteen minutes after the torpedo struck, the bow struck the seabed while the stern was still above the surface, and in a manner similar to the sinking of Titanic three years earlier, the stern rose into the air and slid beneath the waves. Of the 1,959 passengers and crew aboard Lusitania at the time of the sinking, 1,195 lost their lives that afternoon in the waters of the Celtic Sea. Just as had been seen with Titanic, most of the casualties were from drowning or from hypothermia. In the hours after the sinking, acts of heroism amongst both the survivors of the sinking and the Irish rescuers who had heard word of Lusitania's distress signals brought the survivor count to 764. By the following morning, news of the disaster had spread around the world.



In firing on a non-military ship without warning, the Germans had breached the international laws known as the Cruiser Rules. Although the Germans felt they had reasons for treating Lusitania as a naval vessel, including that the ship was carrying war munitions. Lusitania was officially carrying among her cargo rifle/machine-gun ammunition, shrapnel artillery shells without powder charges and artillery fuses. The sinking caused a storm of protest in the United States, as 128 Americans were among the dead. It also influenced the decision by the US to declare war in 1917.











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By Robert F Edwarrds
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