The Sinking Of The Lusitania

This is a historical account of the famous ocean liner Lusitania. She was sunk by a German U-boat in May of 1915, with great loss of life.

Called the "Pride of the Cunard Line," Lusitania gained a sad place in the history books, primarily due to her connection with the First World War. Lusitania also had a sister ship called the Mauretania. The Mauretania had a lengthy and successful life until she was scrapped in 1934-35. Lusitania was not so lucky.

The Lusitania's keel was laid in May 1905. The ship was officially launched on June 7 of the year1906. The Lusitania was the largest ship afloat at the time and had seven decks for passenger use and grand accommodations. After initial trials, she left Liverpool in September of 1907 on her maiden voyage to Queenstown and New York. It's been estimated over 200,000 people came to witness the vessel's departure.

On May 7, 1915, a German U-boat was cruising off the coast of Ireland in search of enemy vessels. The day was sunny and the sea calm. Early in the afternoon the U-boat captain spotted a huge ocean liner. It was the Lusitania on her way from New York to Liverpool, England. She carried a large load of cargo and nearly two thousand passengers.

The U-boat captain fired only one torpedo and he saw it explode against the side of the ship. He later said he didn't expect a single torepo to sink her and just wanted to see how much damage it would cause. Almost immediately, another explosion rocked the ship. At the time, it was believed to be a second torpedo, but has since been confirmed as an internal explosion. The cause of the second explosion has never been absolutely confirmed.

Within a few short moments, the liner began to tilt. The decks were swarming with a thousand frightened people. Passengers climbed into lifeboats and were lowered from the high decks to the water. But, boats that were too crowded filled with water and sank at once. Fortunately, other lifeboats were lowered successfully and moved safely away from the ship. It's reported Captain William Turner's orders for "women and children first" were followed.

Yet, in a remarkable 18 minutes, it was all over. The great ship heaved up its stern and slid beneath the waves, similar to the Titanic which had gone down only three years previously. The death toll is listed at 1198, including 128 Americans.

The sinking of the Lusitania made headlines around the world. Since over one hundred Americans were among the dead and the US newspapers called for war. But then President Wilson would not let himself be pushed into war. He chose to stick up for American rights as neutral and sent a strong note of protest to the German governement. Although carefully worded, the meaning was the same; if your submarines don't stop killing Americans citizens, the U.S. will go to war against Germany.

Afterward, the Germans insisted the vessel was carrying arms for the allies, which was later established to be true. However, heated debate and controversy about the cargo lasted for years after the sinking. Germany did agree to make reparation. In addition, they agreed to not sink any more passenger ships without warning.

The sinking of the Lusitania as been called "one of the greatest tragedies" of the First World War.

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