Liverpool, U.K. (JFK+50) The largest, fastest and most luxurious passenger liner in the world at the time, Lusitania*, was sunk 99 years ago today, May 7, 1915, by a single torpedo fired from a German submarine.
The luxury liner, called "the crown jewel of the Cunard Line," had left New York City on May 1st and was scheduled to reach Liverpool later in the afternoon of May 7th.
Lusitania at Liverpool
Photo by N.W. Penfield
Library of Congress (1907)
As the great ship was running parallel to the coast of Ireland, at 2:10 p.m. local time, a German submarine, U-20, commanded by Captain Walther Schwieger, fired a torpedo which struck Lusitania on her starboard side.
The initial explosion was followed quickly by a second and the ship sank within 18 to 21 minutes.
Lusitania was located 11 miles off the Southern Coast of Ireland's Old Head of Kinsale Lighthouse at the time she was struck.
1,198 lives were lost including 128 Americans. Most of the victims were British and Canadian.
Because the passenger ship would be sailing in the established "war zone," the German Embassy had published a WARNING in 50 U.S. newspapers including those in New York.
The advertisement read in part...
"NOTICE: Vessels flying the flag of Great Britain...are liable to destruction...travelers sailing on the ships of Great Britain...do so at their own risk."
Robert Hunt Picture Library
While it is not known if the passengers saw the warning, 139 Americans were aboard the vessel at the time of the sinking.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, this question was asked,
How could such a large ship sink so rapidly from the effects of a single torpedo?
The Germans believed they knew the answer.
They said that Lusitania was carrying CONTRABAND, that is, illegal munitions manufactured by a neutral and being shipped secretly to a belligerent.
The neutral nation in question, of course, was the United States, while the belligerent was Germany's enemy, Great Britain.
Recent evidence lends support to the German argument.
In 2008, divers exploring the wreckage of Lusitania reportedly found 4 million U.S. made REMINGTON .303 bullets.
Brandon Loran Maxwell writes...
"It was President (Woodrow) Wilson's notion that America had a responsibility to spread democracy abroad which would sink the United States in the long run, not a torpedo."
Maxwell goes further to say that the sinking of Lusitania was an important step in convincing many Americans that U.S. entry into WW I was necessary and in reversing the nation's long-standing isolationist stance.
As a result of our declaration of war on Germany in April 1917, the United States Army would be expanded from 200,000 to 4,000,000.
"The Lusitania 98 years later: How Wilson Sank a Nation," by Brandon Loran Maxwell, communities.washingtontimes.com/
*Lusitania, launched in 1907, was fitted with 4 turbine engines which delivered 76,000 HP each. The ship was manufactured by John Brown and Company, LTD of Scotland. She was 787 feet long and had 9 decks.
Photo by Maritime Quest (1907)
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