On the 7th of May 1915 the Lusitania was sunk on her 202nd trans-Atlantic crossing, by a German U-boat 11 miles (18 km) off the southern coast of Ireland, killing 1,198 passengers and crew.
The Lusitania was a British ocean liner, launched by the Cunard Line in 1906 and held the Blue Riband appellation for the fastest Atlantic crossing in 1908. It was briefly the world’s largest passenger ship until the completion of the Mauretania three months later.
On 7 May 1915, Lusitania was nearing the end of her 202nd crossing, bound for Liverpool from New York, and was scheduled to dock at the Prince’s Landing Stage later that afternoon. Aboard her were 1,266 passengers and a crew of 696, which combined totalled 1,962 people. She was running parallel to the south coast of Ireland, and was roughly 11 miles (18 km) off the Old Head of Kinsale when the liner crossed in front of U-20 at 2:10 pm. Due to the liner’s great speed, some believe the intersection of the German U-boat and the liner to be coincidence, as U-20 could hardly have caught the fast vessel otherwise. There are discrepancies concerning the speed of Lusitania, as it had been reported travelling not near its full speed. Walther Schwieger, the commanding officer of the U-boat, gave the order to fire one torpedo, which struck Lusitania on the starboard bow, just beneath the wheelhouse. Moments later, a second explosion erupted from within Lusitania‘s hull where the torpedo had struck, and the ship began to founder much more rapidly, with a prominent list to starboard.
Almost immediately, the crew scrambled to launch the lifeboats but the conditions of the sinking made their usage extremely difficult, and in some cases impossible due to the ship’s severe list. In all, only 6 out of 48 lifeboats were launched successfully, with several more overturning and breaking apart. Eighteen minutes after the torpedo struck, the ship’s trim levelled out and she went under, with the funnels and masts the last to disappear.
Of the 1,962 passengers and crew aboard Lusitania at the time of the sinking, 1,198 lost their lives. In the hours after the sinking, acts of heroism amongst both the survivors of the sinking and the Irish rescuers who had heard word of Lusitania‘s distress signals brought the survivor count to 764, three of whom later died from injuries sustained during the sinking.
A British cruiser HMS Juno, which had heard of the sinking only a short time after Lusitania was struck, left her anchorage in Cork Harbour to render assistance. Just south of Roche’s Point at the mouth of the harbour only an hour from the site of the sinking she turned and returned to her mooring as a result, it is believed,of orders issued from Admiralty House in Cobh (HQ Haulbowline naval base) by Admiral Charles Henry Coke. By the following morning, news of the disaster had spread around the world. While most of those lost in the sinking were British or Canadians, the loss of 128 Americans in the disaster, including writer and publisher Elbert Hubbard, theatrical producer Charles Frohman, multi-millionaire businessman Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, and the president of Newport News Shipbuilding, Albert L. Hopkins, outraged many in the United States.
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