Lusitania Sinking - Summary

In April, 1915, the Imperial Government of Kaiser Wilhelm II had issued a dire warning to American citizens: Stay out of the waters around the British Isles. Those waters included the Irish Sea.

A well-built, Cunard-Line ship - the Lusitania - was sailing in the Irish Sea on the 7th of May, 1915. Certified to carry emigrants, her capacity was three thousand souls, including crew. On this particular day, as Lusitania headed toward her home port of Liverpool, 1959 people were on board.

William Turner, who had commanded the ship during her first years at sea, replaced Lusitania’s regular captain, Daniel Dow, in April of 1915. Dow was suffering from nervous exhaustion due to the constant threat of German U-boat attacks.

A turbine steamship, Lusitania was fast. She could travel up to 25 knots an hour. Sailing from New York City on the first of May, she had forty-eight lifeboats aboard. Regulations (from the British Board of Trade) had not kept pace with the new super liners.

The great ship was making good time. Just west of the Old Head of Kinsale, on Ireland’s southern coast, she was about 14 miles offshore.

U-boats had been busy on this foggy spring morning. Three ships in the area had already been attacked, and destroyed, and Admiralty officials were concerned about Lusitania. She was ordered to make port at Queenstown instead of Liverpool. That would more quickly get the ship and her passengers off the water, and out of potential danger.

The order, however, created a serious problem for Lusitania. As she changed course, she put herself into a vulnerable position. She was now sailing toward a lurking, unseen German submarine.

When the ships were 650 yards apart, U-20's captain ordered a torpedo strike. Traveling at about 38 knots, the torpedo streaked toward Lusitania’s starboard side. From the crow’s nest, her lookout spotted the unthinkable. There was no time, however, for Captain Turner to take evasive action.

The torpedo struck the ship between the third and fourth funnels. Then, nearly instantaneously, Lusitania exploded. Not from a second torpedo. From an internal explosion.

Nearly two thousand people had eighteen minutes to get off the mortally wounded, quickly-sinking liner. More than half (1,198) didn’t make it. Lusitania went to the bottom of the Irish Channel, at a depth of about 295 feet.

People have always speculated whether Lusitania was carrying American-supplied munitions for Britain. What else could have caused such a massive explosion?

Attempting to answer that question, Dr. Robert Ballard found, and investigated, Lusitania’s remains. While he observed an empty munitions hold, he also saw coal scattered about the ship’s resting place.

Based on the evidence, Ballard concluded the torpedo struck the starboard coal bins (after it had penetrated the ship’s starboard side), instantly beginning a chain of fatal events. Sparks from the torpedo strike probably ignited coal powder. And the ignited coal powder, in Ballard’s judgment, caused the fatal explosion.

In this story behind the disaster, learn about the Lusitania, her passengers, the U-boat which torpedoed them and Dr. Ballard’s subsequent investigations. Examine sections of Lord Mersey’s official report of the Wreck Inquiry. See how German mothers, like the artist Kathe Kollwitz, responded to the war. And meet Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian who assassinated Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, thereby setting in motion a series of events which led to “the great war.”

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Apr 01, 2004

Updated Last Revision: Nov 09, 2016

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"Lusitania Sinking" AwesomeStories.com. Apr 01, 2004. Feb 27, 2020.
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