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Lusitania
Lusitania arriving in port
History
United Kingdom
Name: Lusitania
Owner: Cunard Line
Operator: Cunard Line
Port of registry: Liverpool
Route: Liverpool to New York City via Cherbourg, France and Cork, Ireland
Builder: John Brown & Co, Clydebank, Scotland
Yard number: 367
Laid down: 17 August 1904
Launched: 7 June 1906[1]
Christened: Mary, Lady Inverclyde
Acquired: 26 August 1907
Maiden voyage: 7 September 1907
In service: 1907–1915
Fate: Torpedoed by German U-boat U-20 on Friday 7 May 1915. Wreck lies approximately 11 mi (18 km) off the Old Head of Kinsale Lighthouse in 305 ft (93 m) of water at 51°25′N 8°33′W / 51.417°N 8.550°W / 51.417; -8.550Coordinates: 51°25′N 8°33′W / 51.417°N 8.550°W / 51.417; -8.550
Status: Partially collapsed wreck
General characteristics
Type: Ocean liner
Tonnage: 31,550 GRT
Displacement: 44,060 long tons (44,767.0 t)
Length: 787 ft (239.9 m)[a]
Beam: 87 ft (26.5 m)
Height: 60 ft (18.3 m) to boat deck, 165 ft (50.3 m) to aerials
Draught: 33.6 ft (10.2 m)
Decks: 9 passenger decks
Installed power: 25 Scotch boilers; four direct-acting Parsons steam turbines producing 76,000 hp (57 MW)
Propulsion: Four triple blade propellers. (Quadruple blade propellers installed in 1909).
Capacity: 552 first class, 460 second class, 1,186 third class. 2,198 total.
Crew: 850
Notes: First ship of Cunard's four-funnelled grand trio, along with RMS Mauretania

RMS Lusitania was a British ocean liner that was sunk on 7 May 1915 by a German U-boat 11 miles (18 km) off the southern coast of Ireland, killing 1,198 passengers and crew. The sinking presaged the United States declaration of war on Germany. Although the Lusitania sinking was a major factor in building support for a war, a declaration of war did not take place until nearly two years later, after repeated attacks and German use of unrestricted warfare against American shipping.

Lusitania held the Blue Riband appellation for the fastest Atlantic crossing and was briefly the world's largest passenger ship until the completion of the Mauretania three months later. The Cunard Line launched her in 1906 at a time of fierce competition for the North Atlantic trade. She was sunk on her 202nd trans-Atlantic crossing.[2]

German shipping lines were aggressive competitors for the custom of transatlantic passengers in the early 20th century, and Cunard responded by trying to outdo them in speed, capacity, and luxury. Cunard used assistance from the British Admiralty to build Lusitania, on the understanding that the ship would be available as a light merchant cruiser in time of war. She had gun mounts for deck cannons, but no guns were ever installed.

Both Lusitania and Mauretania were fitted with turbine engines that enabled them to maintain a service speed of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph). They were equipped with lifts, wireless telegraph, and electric light, and provided 50-percent more passenger space than any other ship; the first-class decks were known for their sumptuous furnishings.[3]

The Royal Navy had blockaded Germany at the start of the First World War; the UK had declared the North Sea a war zone in the autumn of 1914 and mined the approaches. In the spring of 1915, all food imports for Germany were declared contraband.[4] RMS Lusitania left New York for Britain on 1 May 1915 when German submarine warfare was intensifying in the Atlantic. Germany had declared the seas around the United Kingdom a war zone, and the German embassy in the United States had placed fifty newspaper advertisements warning people of the dangers of sailing on Lusitania. Objections were made by the British that threatening to torpedo all ships indiscriminately was wrong, whether it was announced in advance or not.[5]

On the afternoon of 7 May, a German U-boat torpedoed Lusitania 11 miles (18 km) off the southern coast of Ireland inside the declared war zone. A second internal explosion sank her in 18 minutes, killing 1,198 passengers and crew.[6]

The Germans justified treating Lusitania as a naval vessel because she was carrying hundreds of tons of war munitions and ammunition, making her a legitimate military target, and they argued that British merchant ships had violated the cruiser rules from the very beginning of the war.[7][8][9][10][11] The internationally recognized cruiser rules were obsolete by 1915; it had become more dangerous for submarines to surface and give warning with the introduction of Q-ships in 1915 by the Royal Navy which were armed with concealed deck guns. The Germans argued that Lusitania was regularly transporting "war munitions"; she operated under the control of the Admiralty; she could be converted into an armed auxiliary cruiser to join the war; her identity had been disguised; and she flew no flags. They claimed that she was a non-neutral vessel in a declared war zone, with orders to evade capture and ram challenging submarines.[12]

However, the ship was not armed for battle and was carrying thousands of civilian passengers, and the British government accused the Germans of breaching the cruiser rules. The sinking caused a storm of protest in the United States because 128 American citizens were among the dead. The sinking shifted public opinion in the United States against Germany and was one of the factors in the declaration of war nearly two years later. After the First World War, successive British governments maintained that there were no munitions on board Lusitania, and the Germans were not justified in treating the ship as a naval vessel. In 1982, the head of the Foreign Office's American department finally admitted that, although no weapons were shipped, there is a large amount of ammunition in the wreck, some of which is highly dangerous and poses a safety risk to salvage teams.[13][14]

Further reading

External links

Media related to Lusitania (ship, 1907) at Wikimedia Commons

Records
Preceded by
Deutschland
Holder of the Blue Riband (Westbound record)
1907–1909
Succeeded by
Mauretania
Preceded by
Kaiser Wilhelm II
Blue Riband (Eastbound record)
1907