Sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 Part 1

About the history of the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 when Germany attacked the ship by submarine, sinking it and killing over 1,000 people.

THE Lusitania

Ninety years ago, and prior to the involvement of the U.S. in W.W. I, the Lusitania, a great sleek Greyhound of the seas, was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. The tragedy happened so quickly that escape from the mortally wounded luxury liner was all but impossible. There were few survivors and the full controversial story may never be known.

When: Shortly after 2 P.M. on May 7, 1915.

Where: 12 mi. off Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland.

The Loss: 1,198 passengers and crewmen including 128 Americans lost their lives. The 31,950-ton floating palace had cost an estimated $10 million.

The Cause: The ill-fated Lusitania was cursed with problems from the time Cunard directors and the British Admiralty gave their specifications to designer Leonard Peskett: It was to be the fastest ship on the seas, carry 2,000 passengers plus a crew of 800, and cruise at 24 knots. Its huge engines--capable of developing 68,000 hp--and the 4 boiler rooms containing 25 boilers, fuel storage, and complicated controls, must all be fitted below a narrow waterline beam of 88' X 760', leaving space for longitudinal watertight compartments along each side. With this accomplished there was no place for fuel--the 6,600 tons of coal needed to power the Lusitania between Liverpool and New York.

Its watertight longitudinal compartments were transformed into coal bunkers, an expedient that would not be acceptable today. On top of this unstable powerpack, Peskett added 6 decks, making the Lusitania taller than any ship in use. On May 12, 1913, the giant liner went into drydock to be armed with 12 guns. On August 4, when England declared war on Germany, the Lusitania was registered as an armed auxiliary cruiser. German submarines were taking such a toll of British shipping that Winston Churchill ordered British ships to fly the flags of neutral countries including that of the U.S. It was alleged that he hoped the sinking of ships flying the American flag would bring the U.S. into the war.

On the fateful voyage from New York to Liverpool, the Lusitania's cargo was almost entirely contraband: 1,248 cases (51 tons) of 3"-diameter shrapnel shells, 1,639 copper ingots, 76 cases of brass rods, and 4,927 boxes of .303 caliber cartridges (1,000 rounds per box) weighing over 10 tons--in all, 24 pages of manifest of which only one page was used for "clearance to sail."

The Disaster: On the morning of May 7, 1915, the Lusitania, heavily laden with passengers and cargo, was nearing the coast of Ireland. Capt. William Turner expected momentary contact with his navy escort ship, the Juno. He had not been informed that the Admiralty had canceled the escort mission on May 5. Twelve years later British Commodore Joseph Kenworthy would write in his book The Freedom of the Seas: "The Lusitania, steaming at half speed straight through the submarine cruising ground on the Irish coast, was deliberately sent."

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