A newspaper once stated that there was “never been a more daring experiment in marine architecture” then the RMS Lusitania. May 7, 1915 saw the German torpedo sink the ship, killing over 1100 civilians. This event was the catalyst that brought the United States into World War I. Continue reading to learn more about this iconic ocean liner.
1. The Lusitania was created to aid Britain in regaining economic power
Cunard, a Liverpool-based shipping firm, ordered the R.M.S. Lusitania, and its sister ship the R.M.S. Mauretania was built in 1902 and the Lusitania by John Brown & Co., Scotland. Cunard saw the two ocean liners as having a common purpose. They were meant to challenge the German and, in a lesser extent, American competition. The German ocean liners held the record for fastest Atlantic crossings since 1897, at the beginning of the 20th Century. Cunard bet its new superliners that they could achieve unheard-of speeds, and bring new life to British travel.
2. Cunard received a loan of over $1 million, but there was a catch.
Cunard received a PS2.6million subsidy from the British government to build the Lusitania or Mauretania. This subsidy was in today’s currency which is approximately PS300 million. Cunard was also granted an operating subsidy of PS75,000 per year, which is approximately PS8.6 millions today. A contract for transporting mail, worth PS68,000 each (or PS7.8million today), was also awarded to Cunard. (The “R.M.S.” (The “R.M.S.” in their names stands to represent “royal mail ship.”
What would the British government gain from the deal? Other than national pride and very low returns on investment, Both ships had to be built according to naval specifications in order for them to be requisitioned by the Admiralty for war purposes. The Lusitania did not transport troops. However, the Mauretania was used as a troopship and a hospital ship. even received a coat with dazzle to disguise it at sea.
3. The Lusitania featured cutting-edge Edwardian technology.
Cunard also guaranteed that both ships could cruise at least 24.5 kn (about 28 miles) as part of the loan agreement. This would make the Lusitania or Mauretania more efficient than the fastest German liners which could only run slightly over 23 knots.
Cunard installed four steam turbine engines with their own screw propellers to meet the challenge. This was a first for ocean-liners. The New York Times reported that the new technology in the Lusitania required “68 more furnaces, six boilers, 52,000 feet of heating surface and an increase of 33,000 horsepower.” The New York Times reported . To reach 25 knots without the turbines, the ship would need at least three standard engines of 20,000 horsepower to power.
The Lusitania required all the power it could get because it was huge: 787ft with a gross weight of around 32,000 tonnes, four funnels to match German look (previous British liners had only three), and seven passenger decks. The ship was built to carry 563 passengers of first-class, 464 of second-class and 1138 passengers of third-class. It also had 802 crew.
4. Many people watched the Lusitania sail on its maiden voyage.
The Lusitania left Liverpool on September 7, 1907 for its maiden voyage. It was en route to New York and made a stop at Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland. The Manchester Courier reported that she was impressive with her powerful funnels and brilliant lightings as she left. “The departure was watched by approximately 200,000 people throughout the day. There was an incessant stream of sightseers aboard the ship all through the day.
The paper stated that 768 bags of mail were loaded onto the Lusitania when the ship arrived in Queenstown. This, amid cheers from crowds drawn from all over the Emerald Isle, set her off on a great speed test across the Atlantic.
5. Even passengers in third class traveled in style.
Every class had a dining room, smoking room, ladies’ lounge, nurseries, and other public spaces. The first-class compartments were decorated in Queen Anne and Georgian styles, while the third-class cabins were simple but comfortable. The Lusitania was the first ocean liner with elevators. It also had a wireless telephone, telegraph and electric lights.
For Edwardian gourmets, there were dozens of options at every seating. From January 1908, a luncheon menu suggested appetizers such as potted shrimps and omelette auxtomates, lamb Pot Pie, and grilled sirloin steaks or mutton chops. Next, guests were served a variety of cold meats, including roast beef, Cumberland Ham, roast beef and boiled ox tongue. For dessert, guests were able to enjoy fancy pastry, compote made with prunes and rice, cheeses and fruits, as well as nuts and cheeses.
6. The Blue Riband was reclaimed by the Lusitania.
Britain was hurt by Germany’s dominance of transatlantic service. It is the country that invented the race to cross the Atlantic faster. Cunard wanted to reclaim the Blue Riband title, which was an informal title that identifies the German superliners as the fastest average crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. The Lusitania was unable to reach its maximum speed in bad weather. The ship achieved an average speed of 23.99 knots during the voyage between October 6-10th 1907, breaking the German record.
The Lusitania broke the record but was beaten by the Mauretania, who took it in 1909. They held onto the Blue Riband for the next twenty years.
7. Passengers on the Lusitania were warned about possible enemy attacks.
In July 1914, the First World War brokeout in Europe. The day after the Lusitania‘s tragic departure, the German embassy in Washington, D.C. published a note in New York’s Morning Newspapers warning passengers about the dangers of transatlantic travel during World War I. The announcement was found in some newspapers directly below an advertisement for Cunard’s future sailings, which included the Lusitania‘s planned trip on May 29, 1915. “Notice! It shouted, “Notice! “Vessels flying Great Britain’s flag or any of its allies are at risk of destruction in British waters. It is recommended that anyone sailing in the war zone aboard ships of Great Britain and her allies does so at their own risk.
Because it had been sailing without incident since the start of the war, few believed that the Lusitania could be in danger. It was a passenger vessel carrying civilians so it wasn’t considered a legitimate military target.
8. A German U-boat tore it apart.
The first six days of crossing were generally uneventful. Leslie Morton, a able seaman, began his watch at 2 p.m. on May 7. The BBC was informed by he .
It was a beautiful day; the sea was like glass. And as we were going to be in Liverpool the next day, everybody felt very happy. We hadn’t paid a great deal of attention to the threats to sink her because we didn’t think it was possible … Ten past two, I saw a disturbance in the water, obviously the air coming up from a torpedo tube. And I saw two torpedoes running toward the ship, fired diagonally across the course. The ‘Lucy’ was making about 16 knots at the time. I reported them to the bridge with a megaphone, we had torpedoes coming on the starboard side. And by the time I had time to turn round and have another look, they hit her amidships between No. 2 and 3 funnels.
The impact was felt by the suffragette, and the businesswoman Margaret Haig Thomas (later Second Viscosse of Rhondda). She told BBC that there was a “dark thud” but not loud enough to be mistaken for an explosion. “I didn’t wait, as I ran up the stairs, the boat was already heeling.”
9. In just 18 minutes, the Lusitania went down.
The torpedo struck just below the bridge (nearly the bow of the ship), and a huge smoke cloud rose. The bow of the ship began to sink immediately after it began listing to its starboard side. The seven passenger decks were flooded with passengers and chaos ensued. Morton explained to BBC that the port-side lifeboats could no longer be lower to the water. The starboard-side vessels were full of panicked passengers who let go haphazardly. Some even capsized or fell on top other boats in the sea. From his periscope, Walther Schwieger , the U-boat captain, observed that many people had lost their heads as several boats were loaded with people.
A second explosion erupted from the ship’s interior moments after the torpedo struck. The sea was crowded with people, lifeboats and other debris. “The whole thing was done in fifteen minutes. Morton said that it takes longer to determine. He had saved dozens of passengers and found a collapsible vessel. He said that the ship had already fallen to the bottom an hour later.
The survivors and bodies of the dead were pulled from the sea by small boats of fishermen, who then took them to Queenstown. 1193 of the 60 verified passengers onboard the Lusitania were killed and only 767 survived. Four of the survivors would soon die from trauma.
10. The possibility that the tie of World War I was broken by the sinking is possible.
Nearly all the passengers from the USA, more than 120 of 159 aboard the ship, did not survive the sinking. The attack on civilians was immediately condemned by the U.S., which is neutral. Public opinion quickly turned against Germany’s actions. The Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan claimed that Germany (which imposed a blockade on food shipments to Germany), and Britain (which imposed a blockade on Germany’s food shipments) were equally responsible for the disaster. However, the American people chose a side. However, the U.S. didn’t enter World War I until April 1917.
11. It is still unknown what caused the second explosion.
Morton claimed that he saw two torpedoes being launched at the Lusitania during his testimony in the official investigation. Schwieger’s log, and the accounts of the U-boat crew indicate that the submarine only fired one.
Although the cause of the second explosion occurred 15 seconds after the initial strike, there are many theories. One theory suggests that undeclared explosives meant to be used by the British military were stored in the ship’s magazine and detonated after the torpedo’s impact. Robert Ballard, the man who found the Titanic wreck in 1985, suggested in his book Lose Liners, that the torpedo broke through the ship’s coal bunkers, kicking up enough coal dust to cause the explosion. It is possible that another submarine, not yet identified, fired a second torpedo. However, Schwieger’s global backlash prevented any other sub from taking credit for the fatal strike.
The truth may not be known by maritime archaeologists. The Lusitania shipwreck lies three hundred feet below the seafloor. Many of the decks have fallen onto the seafloor, obscured further clues.
12. In 2011, the last Lusitania survivor died.
Audrey Warren Pearl, a 3 month old, sailed on the Lusitania along with her parents, three older brothers, and two first-class nannies. Audrey, Stuart, her 5-year old brother, and Alice Lines, her nanny, were separated from Amy and Susan, as well as Greta Lorenson, the nanny, and her parents Warren and Amy Pearl. Alice, her two children and Audrey were able safely board Lifeboat 13. Audrey’s parents were saved by the waves and were able to survive. Greta and her two other children were never found.
Audrey continued to participate in Britain’s war effort during the 1940s, as well as in many charities. Alice Lines, her friend, remained close to Audrey until Alice’s death at 100 in 1997. Audrey, the last survivor from the 1915 catastrophe, died January 11, 2011, at the age of 95.