The Lusitania is perhaps the most famous ocean liner to be sunk during World War One. Built by Cunard, the vessel, for a time, held the record for being the world’s largest ship. It also won the coveted Blue Riband award for crossing the Atlantic at the fastest speed. At the start of the war, the liner was less than a decade old.
Propaganda surrounding the sinking was a contributing factor in the United States eventually entering the war.
Let’s take a look at the facts surrounding the sinking.
War Breaks Out
When the war began, some vessels were requisitioned by the military for use as transport and supply vessels. Others later became hospital ships. Lusitania was considered for this purpose, but a ship of its size used too much fuel to be practical for war use, so it remained a civilian vessel.
During the war’s first few months, the British Navy had prevented its German counterpart from becoming a threat. Passenger service across the Atlantic was not disrupted and was considered safe.
In 1915, however, the situation changed. German U-boats began attacking vessels in the restricted war zone it declared in the waters surrounding the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. While neutral vessels would be spared, those flying the flags of Allied nations would be sunk without warning.
Other than painting the funnels and not flying any flags, Lusitania continued to operate without problems.
The Final Voyage
In late April, ads were placed in newspapers by the German Embassy warning Americans that they traveled on the Lusitania at their own risk. Few heeded the warning. Passengers were told by the captain that the ship could outrun any U-Boat. However, one of the boilers had been shut down to conserve coal, and the ship was considerably slower than it otherwise would have been.
On May 1, 1915, Lusitania disembarked from New York with nearly 2,000 on board. The majority of the passengers were British and Canadian along with several dozen Americans, and most were booked in second class. Four Germans also are known to have been onboard.
Five days later, the ship received warning messages about submarine activity. Precautions were put into place in case disaster struck.
On May 7, the ship was nearing the coast of Ireland in thick fog. A U-Boat saw its opportunity and fired. Lusitania was struck by a torpedo.
The order was given to abandon ship. Lusitania was listing heavily to the right, making it difficult to launch lifeboats on that side. It also made launching on the left a challenge. After the Titanic disaster rules were created stating that ships must have enough lifeboats for all passengers and crew. Although this was the case with Lusitania, the list of the ship meant only eight lifeboats were launched. One was overturned.
Within 18 minutes the ship sank; 1,195 people were killed. The 761 survivors were taken to Ireland.
The sinking was condemned in the press on both sides of the Atlantic, viewed as an example of German aggression against innocent civilians.
What do you think is the legacy of the Lusitania? Leave a comment below.
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