Liverpool, U.K. (JFK+50) One hundred years ago today, May 7, 1915, the largest, fastest and most luxurious passenger liner in the world of the time, RMS Lusitania*, was sunk by a single torpedo fired from a German submarine.
The luxury liner,"the crown jewel of the Cunard Line," left New York City on May 1st and was scheduled to reach Liverpool later in the afternoon of May 7th.
As the great ship was running parallel to the coast of Ireland, at 2:10 p.m. local time, a German U-boat, 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.
At the time of her sinking, Lusitania was located eleven miles off the Southern Coast of Ireland's Old Head of Kinsale Lighthouse. 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."
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. Evidence lends support to the German argument.
In 2008, divers exploring the wreckage of Lusitania reportedly found four million American 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 was expanded from 200,000 to 4,000,000.
Today the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission along with the National Press Club will host a program in commemoration of the centennial of the sinking of Lusitania.
The program will feature a panel discussion conducted by John Maxwell Hamilton of Louisiana State University, Richard Striner of Washington College, and Samuel Cox, Director of the Navy History and Heritage Command.
The event, moderated by Gil Klein, will be held from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. EST at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
"The Lusitania 98 years later: How Wilson Sank a Nation," by Brandon Loran Maxwell, communities.washingtontimes.com/
"The United States World War One Centennial Commission," Lusitania Sinking Centennial Event, Washington, D.C. May 7, 2015, http://worldwar-1centennial.org/
*RMS 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.