The Sinking of the Lusitania, May 7, 1915
The Lusitania was built in 1903, and made her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York in September 1907. She was the fastest liner afloat. The engines produced 68,000-horse power at a speed over 25 knots. The Lusitania was known as the “Greyhound of the Seas” and she soon captured the record for the fastest Atlantic crossing.
When war broke out in Europe in 1914, The United States originally pursued a policy of Isolationism. President Wilson was avoiding conflict while trying to broker a peace. This resulted in increased tensions with Berlin and London. When a German U-boat sank the British liner Lusitania in 1915, with 128 Americans aboard, U.S. President Wilson vowed, “America was too proud to fight” and demanded an end to attacks on passenger ships. Germany complied.
On May 1, 1915, the ship departed New York City bound for Liverpool. Unknown to her passengers but probably no secret to the Germans, almost all her hidden cargo consisted of munitions and contraband destined for the British war effort. As the fastest ship afloat, the luxurious liner felt secure in the belief she could easily outdistance any submarine.
On May 7, the ship neared the coast of Ireland. At 2:10 in the afternoon a torpedo fired by the German submarine U 20 slammed into her side. A mysterious second explosion ripped the liner apart. The ship listed so badly and quickly that lifeboats crashed into passengers crowded on deck, or dumped their loads into the water. Most passengers never had a chance. Within 18 minutes the giant ship slipped beneath the sea. One thousand one hundred nineteen of the 1,924 aboard died. The dead included 114 Americans.