100th Anniversary of The Sinking of RMS Lusitania
The Lusitania Disaster 7th May 1915.
During the few days before she was due to sail from New York to Liverpool the German Government had issued adverts in the press warning the public as to the dangers of travelling on the RMS Lusitania through a war zone.
Despite this the public chose to ignore the warnings in large numbers and she set sail on May 1st with 1266 passengers and a crew of 696. Although this was well short of her capacity of 2198 passengers and 850 crew, she was still well patronised despite the warnings.
This warning was published in American newspapers.
TRAVELLERS intending to embark on the 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 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 on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.
IMPERIAL GERMAN EMBASSY
Washington, D.C., April 22, 1915.
Built for the Cunard Line about five years before her rival White Star Line’s Olympic class ships, which included Titanic, Lusitania was a little smaller and was fitted with the new Steam turbine engines, whilst the White Star company fitted their ships with slower triple expansion engines, making the RMS Lusitania and her sister ship RMS Mauritania faster ships.
She had steamed event free for 5 days but it was feared that as she approached Europe that she should be afforded some protection from U-boat attack. No such cover was provided by the British.
The Germans viewed the ship as a hostile warship. She was carrying munitions and supplies destined for the Woolwich Arsenal and her decks had been modified with gun emplacements. Both Governments had defied the protocols put in place concerning commercial shipping, the Germans for attacking a passenger vessel and the British for loading it with munitions.
Only 240 miles from Liverpool and a bit over ten miles off the Old Head of Kinsale she ran across the path of U-20 at about 2.10pm. The U-boat captain, having been informed by his Government that the ship was a legitimate target, fired a single torpedo at the bow of the ship. This was a common tactic to stop commercial vessels, allowing time to take to the boats before sinking the target. On this occasion following the explosion at the starboard bow, a secondary explosion occurred from within the hull. This caused the ship to suddenly list to starboard and rapidly progressed the sinking process., with the loss of 1191 lives. Of the rescued survivors 3 died ashore from their injuries.
The subsequent inquiry is regarded as a cover up and did its best to pin the blame on the Lusitania’s captain. Winston Churchill the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time had only a few days earlier stated that it would be advisable to encourage foreign shipping into British waters, knowing that any attacks might expedite America’s entry into the war. At the time of the crisis he had taken himself off to Paris for the weekend and was unable to be contacted. No orders were given to provide escort, the rest is history
The effect of the tragedy was that public opinion in the USA swayed against the Germans but it was to be another two years before America joined the Great War.