RMS Lusitania

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The Lusitania arriving in port.
Name: RMS Lusitania
Owner: Cunard Line
Port of registry: Template:GBR, Liverpool
Route: Liverpool-New York
Builder: John Brown & Co. Ltd, Clydebank, Scotland
Yard number: 367
Laid down: 16 June 1904
Launched: 7 June 1906[1]
Christened: Mary, Lady Inverclyde[2]
Maiden voyage: 7 September 1907
In service: 1907–1915
Out of service: N/A
Fate: Torpedoed by German U-boat U-20 on Friday 7 May 1915. Wreck lies approximately 7 miles (11 km) off the Old Head of Kinsale Lighthouse in 300 feet (91 m) of water.
Status: Sunk at 51°25′N 8°33′W / 51.417°N 8.55°W / 51.417; -8.55Coordinates: 51°25′N 8°33′W / 51.417°N 8.55°W / 51.417; -8.55
General characteristics
Tonnage: 31,550 gross register tons (GRT)
Displacement: 44,060 Long Tons
Length: 787 ft (239.88 m)[3]
Beam: 87 ft (26.52 m)
Draught: 33.6 ft (10.24 m)
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).
Speed: 25 knots (46.3 km/h / 28.8 mph) Top speed (single day's run): 26.7 knots (49.4 km/h / 30.7 mph) (March, 1914)
Capacity: 552 first class, 460 second class, 1,186 third class. 2,198 total
Crew: 850

RMS Lusitania was an ocean liner owned by the Cunard Line and built by John Brown and Company of Clydebank, Scotland. She was torpedoed by German U-boat U-20 on 7 May 1915 and sank in eighteen minutes, eight miles (15 km) off the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland, killing 1,198 of the 1,959 people aboard. The sinking turned public opinion in many countries against Germany, and was instrumental in bringing the United States into World War I.[4] The sinking of the Lusitania was a coup for anti-German sentiment and caused great controversy.

Design, construction, and trials

The Lusitania was the first quadruple screw ocean liner.[5]

Lusitania was designed by Cunard's naval architect, Leonard Peskett. Peskett built a large model of the proposed ship in 1902 showing a three-funnel design. A fourth funnel was implemented into the design in 1904 as it was necessary to vent the exhaust from additional boilers fitted after Parson's then-revolutionary single reduction steam turbines had been settled on as the powerplant. Before installing the turbine powerplant in the ships, Cunard installed a smaller version of the turbine in its soon to be launched Carmania, 1905, so as to obtain a performance report on the new technology's operation.

Lusitania's keel was laid at John Brown & Clydebank as Yard no. 367 on 16 June 1904. She was launched and christened by Mary, Lady Inverclyde on 7 June 1906.[6][7] Lord Inverclyde (1861-1905), who had provided the main impetus with the British government to get the two ships built, had died before this occasion. The Bromsgrove Guild had designed and constructed most of the trim on the Lusitania.[8]

Starting on 27 July 1907, Lusitania underwent preliminary and formal acceptance trials. The shipbuilder's engineers and Cunard officials discovered that high speeds caused severe vibrations in the stern, and this led to the fitting of stronger internal bracing. After these modifications, the ship was finally delivered to Cunard on 26 August.


At the time of her launch Lusitania (and her sister ship Mauretania) possessed the most luxurious interiors afloat. In common with all major liners of the period, Lusitania’s interiors were decorated with a mélange of historical styles. The first-class dining saloon was the grandest of the ship’s public rooms; arranged over two decks with an open circular well at its centre and crowned by an elaborate dome, it was elegantly realised in the neoclassical Louis Seize style.[9] All other first-class public rooms were situated on the boat deck and comprised a reading and writing room, lounge, smoking room and verandah café. The last was an innovation on a Cunard liner and, in warm weather, one side of the café could be opened up to give the impression of sitting outdoors. However, as Maxtone-Graham notes, this would have been a rarely used feature given the often inclement weather of the north Atlantic. [10] The second-class public rooms were situated within an isolated section of the superstructure aft of the first-class passenger quarters. Although smaller and plainer than those in first-class, the rooms were nevertheless handsomely appointed. The dining saloon in particular echoed that of first-class with its two-level arrangement and open well supported by Corinthian columns. Third-class accommodation was plainer still, but, in comparison to other ships of the period, surprisingly comfortable and spacious.

Comparison with the Olympic class

Postcard (about 1910) of the Lusitania and Chelsea Piers

Lusitania and Mauretania were smaller than the White Star Line's Olympic-class vessels. Both vessels had been launched and had been in service for several years before the Olympic class ships were ready for the North Atlantic. Although significantly faster than the Olympic class would be, the speed of Cunard's vessels was not sufficient to allow the line to run a weekly transatlantic service from each side of the Atlantic. A third ship was needed for a weekly service, and in response to White Star's announced plan to build the three Olympic class ships, Cunard ordered a third ship: Aquitania. Like White Star Line's Olympic, Cunard's Aquitania had a slower service speed, but was a larger and more luxurious vessel.

The vessels of the Olympic class also differed from Cunard's Lusitania and Mauretania in the way in which they were compartmented below the waterline. The White Star vessels were divided by transverse watertight bulkheads. While Cunard's Lusitania also had transverse bulkheads, it additionally had longitudinal bulkheads running along the ship on each side, between the boiler and engine rooms and the coal bunkers on the outside of the vessel. The British commission that had investigated the Titanic disaster in 1912 heard testimony on the flooding of coal bunkers lying outside longitudinal bulkheads. Being of considerable length, when flooded, these could increase the ship's list and "make the lowering of the boats on the other side impracticable".[11] — and this was precisely what later happened with Lusitania. Furthermore the ship's stability was insufficient for the used bulkhead arrangement: Flooding of only three coal bunkers on one side could result in negative metacentric height.[12] On the other hand Titanic was given ample stability and sank with only a few degrees list, the design being such that there was very little risk of unequal flooding and possible capsize.[13]


File:RMS Luisitania.jpg
The Lusitania being escorted by tug boats

Lusitania departed Liverpool for her maiden voyage on 7 September 1907 under the command of Commodore James Watt and the ship arrived in New York City on 13 September. At the time she was the largest ocean liner in service and would continue to be until the introduction of the Mauretania in November that year. During her eight-year service, she made a total of 202 crossings on the Cunard Line's Liverpool-New York Route.

In October 1907 Lusitania took the Blue Riband for eastbound crossing from Kaiser Wilhelm II of the North German Lloyd, ending Germany's ten-year dominance of the Atlantic. Lusitania averaged 23.99 knots (44.43 km/h) westbound and 23.61 knots (43.73 km/h) eastbound.

With the introduction of Mauretania in November 1907, Lusitania and Mauretania continued to swap the Blue Riband. Lusitania made her fastest westbound crossing in 1909, averaging 25.85 knots (47.87 km/h). In September of that same year, she lost it permanently to Mauretania.

Hudson Fulton Celebration

Photo of Lusitania arriving at Pier 54 in New York City in 1908
File:Lusitania book image1.jpg
Lusitania with steam up on builder's trial

Lusitania and other ships participated in the Hudson-Fulton Celebration in New York City from the end of September to early October 1909. This was in celebration of the 300th anniversary of Henry Hudson's trip up the river that bears his name and the 100th anniversary of Robert Fulton's steamboat, Clermont. The celebration also was a display of the different modes of transportation then in existence, Lusitania representing the newest advancement in steamship technology. A newer mode of travel was the aeroplane. Wilbur Wright had brought a Flyer to Governors Island and proceeded to make demonstration flights before millions of New Yorkers who had never seen an aircraft. Some of Wright's trips were directly over Lusitania; several photographs of Lusitania from that week still exist.


File:SS Lusitania as an Auxiliary Cruiser in Warfare -1907.jpg
Lusitania in a 1907 painting, described as an "Auxiliary Cruiser in Warfare".

When Lusitania was built, her construction and operating expenses were subsidised by the British government, with the proviso that she could be converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser if need be. At the outbreak of the First World War, the British Admiralty considered her for requisition as an armed merchant cruiser, and she was put on the official list of AMCs. The Admiralty then cancelled their earlier decision and decided not to use her as an AMC after all; large liners such as Lusitania consumed large quantities of coal and became a serious drain on the Admiralty's fuel reserves, so express liners were therefore deemed inappropriate for the role. They were also very distinctive; smaller liners were used as transports, instead. Lusitania remained on the official AMC list and was listed as an auxiliary cruiser in the 1914 edition of Jane's All the World's Fighting Ships, along with the Mauretania.[14]

At the outbreak of hostilities, fears for the safety of Lusitania and other great liners ran high. During the ship’s first east-bound crossing after the war started, she was painted in a drab grey colour scheme in an attempt to mask her identity and make her more difficult to detect visually. When it turned out that the German Navy was kept in check by the Royal Navy, and their commerce threat almost entirely evaporated, it very soon seemed that the Atlantic was safe for ships like the Lusitania, if the bookings justified the expense of keeping them in service.

Many of the large liners were laid up over the autumn and winter of 1914-1915, in part due to falling demand for passenger travel across the Atlantic, and in part to protect them from damage due to mines or other dangers. Among the most recognizable of these liners, some were eventually used as troop transports, while others became hospital ships. Lusitania remained in commercial service; although bookings aboard her were by no means strong during that autumn and winter, demand was strong enough to keep her in civilian service. Economizing measures were taken, however. One of these was the shutting down of her No. 4 boiler room to conserve coal and crew costs; this reduced her maximum speed from over 25 knots (46 km/h) knots to 21 knots (39 km/h). Even so, she was the fastest first-class passenger liner left in commercial service.

With apparent dangers evaporating, the ship’s disguised paint scheme was also dropped and she was returned to civilian colours. Her name was picked out in gilt, her funnels were repainted in their traditional Cunard livery, and her superstructure was painted white again. One alteration was the addition of a bronze/gold coloured band around the base of the superstructure just above the black paint.[15]


File:Lusitania warning.jpg
The official warning issued by the Imperial German Embassy about travelling on Lusitania.

By early 1915 a new threat began to materialize: submarines. At first they were used by the Germans only to attack naval vessels, and they achieved only occasional – but sometimes spectacular – successes. Then the U-boats began to attack merchant vessels at times, although almost always in accordance with the old cruiser rules. Desperate to gain an advantage on the Atlantic, the German Government decided to step up their submarine campaign. On 4 February 1915 Germany declared the seas around the British Isles a war zone: from 18 February Allied ships in the area would be sunk without warning. This was not wholly unrestricted submarine warfare since efforts would be taken to avoid sinking neutral ships.[16]

File:David Dow.jpg
Captain Daniel Dow. Lusitania's penultimate captain

Lusitania was scheduled to arrive in Liverpool on 6 March 1915. The Admiralty issued her specific instructions on how to avoid submarines. Despite a severe shortage of destroyers, Admiral Henry Oliver ordered HMS Louis and Laverock to escort Lusitania, and took the further precaution of sending the Q ship Lyons to patrol Liverpool Bay.[17] Captain Dow of Lusitania, not knowing whether Laverock and Louis were actual Admiralty escorts or a trap by the German navy, evaded the escorts and arrived in Liverpool without incident.[18]

It seems that in response to this new submarine threat, some alterations were made to Lusitania and her operation. She was ordered not to fly any flags in the War Zone, a number of warnings and advices were sent to the ship’s commander in order to help him decide how to best protect his ship against the new threat, and it also seems that her funnels were most likely painted a dark grey to help make her less visible to enemy submarines. Clearly there was no hope of disguising her actual identity, since her profile was so well-known, and no attempt was made to paint out the ship’s name at the prow.[19]

Captain Dow, apparently suffering from stress from operating his ship in the War Zone, and after a significant “false flag” controversy, left the ship; Cunard later explained that he was "tired and really ill."[20] He was replaced with a new commander, Captain William Thomas Turner, who had previously commanded the Lusitania, Mauretania and the Aquitania in the years before the war.

On 17 April 1915 Lusitania left Liverpool on her 201st transatlantic voyage, arriving in New York on 24 April. A group of German–Americans, hoping to avoid controversy if Lusitania were attacked by a U-boat, discussed their concerns with a representative of the German embassy. The embassy decided to warn passengers before her next crossing not to sail aboard Lusitania. The Imperial German embassy placed a warning advertisement in 50 American newspapers, including those in New York (see illustration).

Last voyage and sinking


Lusitania departed Pier 54 in New York on 1 May 1915. The German Embassy in Washington had issued this warning on 22 April.[21]

TRAVELLERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.
Washington, D.C. 22nd April 1915

This warning was printed right next to an advertisement for Lusitania's return voyage. The warning led to some agitation in the press and worried the ship's passengers and crew.

Captain William Thomas Turner, known as "Bowler Bill", had returned to his old command of Lusitania. He was commodore of the Cunard Line and a highly experienced master mariner, and had relieved Daniel Dow, the ship's regular captain. Dow had been instructed by his chairman, Alfred Booth, to take some leave, due to the stress of captaining the ship in U-boat infested sea lanes and for his protestations that the ship should not become an armed merchant cruiser, making it a prime target for German forces.[22][citation needed]. Captain Turner tried to calm the passengers by explaining that the ship's speed made her safe from attack by submarine.[citation needed]

Lusitania steamed out of New York at noon that day, two hours behind schedule due to a transfer of passengers and crew from the recently requisitioned Cameronia.[citation needed] Shortly after departure, three blind passengers (evidently stowaways) were found on board and detained below decks.[citation needed]

The Lusitania at end of the first leg of her maiden voyage, New York City, September 1907. (*photo taken with a panoramic camera.)


Lusitania carried 1,959 people on her last voyage, with 1,257 passengers and 702 crew aboard. Those aboard included a large number of illustrious and renowned people such as:


The Lusitania entering the River Mersey, bound for Liverpool - her intended destination. Postcard photo taken from Waterloo, near Liverpool in 1908.

Lusitania's landfall on the return leg of her transatlantic circuit was Fastnet Rock, off the southern tip of Ireland. As the liner steamed across the ocean, the British Admiralty, through wireless intercepts, tracked movements of U-20, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger and operating along the west coast of Ireland and moving south.

On 5 and 6 May U-20 sank three vessels, The Candidate, The Centurion and Miss Morris, a merchant schooner, in the area of Fastnet Rock, and the Royal Navy sent a warning to all British ships: "Submarines active off the south coast of Ireland".[citation needed] Captain Turner of Lusitania was given the message twice on the evening of 6 May, and took what he felt were prudent precautions. He closed watertight doors, posted double lookouts, ordered a black-out, and had the lifeboats swung out on their davits so that they could be launched quickly if necessary.[citation needed] That evening a Seamen's Charities fund concert took place in the second class lounge.[citation needed]

At about 11:00 on 7 May, the Admiralty radioed another warning, and Turner adjusted his heading northeast, apparently thinking submarines would be more likely to keep to the open sea, so that Lusitania would be safer close to land.[23]

U-20 was low on fuel and only had one torpedo left, and Schwieger had decided to head for home.[citation needed] The submarine was moving at top speed on the surface at 13:00 when one of the crew members spotted a vessel on the horizon not more than 800 metres away. Schwieger ordered U-20 to dive and to take battle stations. The previous week, U-20 had encountered a small cargo vessel and allowed the crew to escape in the boats before sinking it;[citation needed] Schwieger could have allowed the crew and passengers of the Lusitania to take to the boats, but he considered the danger of being rammed or fired upon by deck guns too great.[citation needed] The Lusitania's captain had, in fact, been ordered to ram any U-boat that surfaced; a cash bonus had been offered for successful ramming.[citation needed]


Lusitania was approximately 30 miles (48 km) from Cape Clear Island when she encountered fog and reduced speed to 18 knots.[24] She was making for the port of Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, 70 kilometres (43 mi) from the Old Head of Kinsale when the liner crossed in front of U-20 at 14:10.

According to Bailey and Ryan, Lusitania was travelling without any flag and its name painted over with darkish dye.[25]

One story states that when Lieutenant Schwieger of the U-20 gave the order to fire, his quartermaster, Charles Voegele, would not take part in an attack on women and children, and refused to pass on the order to the torpedo room — a decision for which he was court-martialed and served three years in prison at Kiel.[26]

From roughly 750 yards, a single torpedo was fired at 14:10 hours. Leslie Morton, an eighteen year old lookout on the bow, spotted thin lines of foam racing toward the ship. "Torpedoes coming on the starboard side!" he shouted through a megaphone, thinking the bubbles came from two projectiles. The torpedo struck Lusitania under the bridge, sending a plume of debris, steel plating and water upward and knocking Lifeboat number five off of its davits. It sounded like a "million ton hammer hitting a steam boiler a hundred feet high," one passenger said. A second, more powerful explosion followed, sending a geyser of water, coal, and debris high above the deck. Schwieger's log entries attest that he only launched one torpedo, but some doubt the validity of this claim, contending that the German government subsequently doctored Schwieger's log,[27] but accounts from other U-20 crew members corroborate it.

In Schwieger's own words, recorded in the log of U-20:

Torpedo hits starboard side right behind the bridge. An unusually heavy explosion takes place with a very strong explosive cloud. The explosion of the torpedo must have been followed by a second one [boiler or coal or powder?]... The ship stops immediately and heels over to starboard very quickly, immersing simultaneously at the bow... the name Lusitania becomes visible in golden letters.[28]

Lusitania's wireless operator sent out an immediate SOS and Captain Turner gave the order to abandon ship. Water had flooded the ship's starboard longitudinal compartments, causing a 15-degree list to starboard. Captain Turner tried turning the ship toward the Irish coast in the hope of beaching her, but the helm would not respond as the torpedo had knocked out the steam lines to the steering motor. Meanwhile, the ship's propellers continued to drive the ship at 18 knots (33 km/h), forcing more water into her hull.

The U-20's torpedo officer, Raimund Weisbach, also viewed the destruction through the vessel's periscope and felt the explosion was unusually severe. Within six minutes, Lusitania's forecastle began to submerge. Lusitania's severe starboard list complicated the launch of her lifeboats. Ten minutes after the torpedoing, when she had slowed enough to start putting boats in the water the lifeboats on the starboard side swung out too far to step aboard safely.[29] While it was still possible to board the lifeboats on the port side, lowering them presented a different problem. As was typical for the period, the hull plates of the Lusitania were riveted, and as the lifeboats were lowered they dragged on the rivets, which threatened to seriously damage the boats before they landed in the water.

Many lifeboats overturned while loading or lowering, spilling passengers into the sea; others were overturned by the ship's motion when they hit the water. It has been claimed[30] that some boats, due to the negligence of some officers, crashed down onto the deck, crushing other passengers, and sliding down towards the bridge. This has been refuted in various articles and by passenger and crew testimony.[31] Crewmen would lose their grip on the falls—ropes used to lower the lifeboats—while trying to lower the boats into the ocean, and this caused the passengers from the boat to "spill into the sea like rag dolls."[cite this quote] Others would tip on launch as some panicking people jumped into the boat. Lusitania had 48 lifeboats, more than enough for all the crew and passengers, but only six were successfully lowered, all from the starboard side. A few of her collapsible lifeboats washed off her decks as she sank and provided refuge for many of those in the water.

Despite Turner's efforts to beach the liner and reduce her speed, Lusitania no longer answered the helm. There was panic and disorder on the decks. Schwieger had been observing this through U-20's periscope, and by 14:25, he dropped the periscope and headed out to sea.[32]

Later in the war, Schwieger was killed in action when, as commander of Template:SMU, he was chased by HMS Stonecrop, hit a British mine, and sank on 5 September 1917, north of Terschelling. There were no survivors from U-88's sinking.

Captain Turner remained on the bridge until the water rushed upward and destroyed the sliding door, washing him overboard into the sea. He took the ship's logbook and charts with him. He managed to escape the rapidly sinking Lusitania and find a chair floating in the water which he clung to. He survived, having been pulled unconscious from the water after spending three hours there. Lusitania's bow slammed into the bottom about 100 metres (330 ft) below at a shallow angle due to her forward momentum as she sank. Along the way, some boilers exploded, including one that caused the third funnel to collapse; the remaining funnels collapsed soon after. Turner's last navigational fix had been only two minutes before the torpedoing, and he was able to remember the ship's speed and bearing at the moment of the sinking. This was accurate enough to locate the wreck after the war. The ship travelled about two miles (3 km) from the time of the torpedoing to her final resting place, leaving a trail of debris and people behind. After her bow sank completely, the Lusitania's stern rose out of the water, enough for her propellers to be seen, and went down.

Lusitania sank in 18 minutes, 8 miles (13 km) off the Old Head of Kinsale. 1,198 people died with her, including almost a hundred children.[33] Afterwards, the Cunard line offered local fishermen and sea merchants a cash reward for the bodies floating all throughout the Irish Sea, some floating as far away as the Welsh coast. In all, only 289 bodies were recovered, 65 of which were never identified. The Cunard Steamship Company announced the official death toll of 1,195 on 1 March 1916. The bodies of many of the victims were buried at either Lusitania's destination, Queenstown, or the Church of St. Multose in Kinsale, but the bodies of the remaining 885 victims were never recovered.


German reaction

File:Lusitania book image2.jpg
Illustration of Lusitania's life boats in the slip in Queenstown
File:Take Up the Sword of Justice.jpg
Take Up the Sword of Justice, a US propaganda poster with the Lusitania in the background

On 8 May Dr. Bernhard Dernburg, the former German Colonial Secretary, made a statement in Cleveland, Ohio, in which he attempted to justify the sinking of Lusitania. At the time Dernburg was recognized as the official spokesman of the Imperial German government in the United States. Dernburg said that because Lusitania "carried contraband of war" and also because she "was classed as an auxiliary cruiser" Germany had had a right to destroy her regardless of any passengers aboard. Dernburg further said that the warnings given by the German Embassy before her sailing plus the 18 February note declaring the existence of "war zones" relieved Germany of any responsibility for the deaths of the American citizens aboard. He referred to the ammunition and military goods declared on Lusitania's manifest and said that "vessels of that kind" could be seized and destroyed under the Hague rules without any respect to a war zone.[34]

The following day the German government issued an official communication regarding the sinking in which it said that the Cunard liner Lusitania "was yesterday torpedoed by a German submarine and sank", that Lusitania "was naturally armed with guns, as were recently most of the English mercantile steamers" and that "as is well known here, she had large quantities of war material in her cargo".[35]

Dudley Field Malone, Collector of the Port of New York, issued an official denial to the German charges, saying that Lusitania had been inspected before her departure and no guns were found, mounted or unmounted. Malone stated that no merchant ship would have been allowed to arm itself in the Port and leave the harbour. Assistant Manager of the Cunard Line, Herman Winter, denied the charge that she carried munitions:

She had aboard 4,200 cases of cartridges, but they were cartridges for small arms, packed in separate cases... they certainly do not come under the classification of ammunition. The United States authorities would not permit us to carry ammunition, classified as such by the military authorities, on a passenger liner. For years we have been sending small-arms cartridges abroad on the Lusitania.
New York Times, 10 May 1915[36]

The fact that Lusitania had been carrying shells and cartridges was not made known to the British public at the time.[37]

The German public was shocked by the news of the sinking, and only a minority believed that it was a proper action. When it was revealed that passengers had been warned not to travel on the ship, this information removed any doubt that Lusitania had been singled out for attack, and caused a loss of confidence in the German government[citation needed].

The sinking was severely criticized by and met with disapproval in Turkey and Austria-Hungary,[38] while in the German press, the sinking was deplored by Vorwärts, the daily newspaper of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, and also by Captain Persius, an outspoken naval critic who wrote for the Berliner Tageblatt.[39]

In the aftermath of the sinking, the German government tried to justify it by claiming in an official statement that she had been armed with guns, and had "large quantities of war material" in her cargo.[40] They also stated that since she was classed as an auxiliary cruiser, Germany had had a right to destroy her regardless of any passengers aboard, and that the warnings issued by the German Embassy before her sailing plus the 18 February note declaring the existence of "war zones", relieved Germany of any responsibility for the deaths of American citizens aboard.[41] While it was true that the Lusitania had been fitted with gun mounts as part of government loan requirements during her construction, to enable rapid conversion into an Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC) in the event of war, the guns themselves were never fitted. However, she was still listed officially as an AMC.[42] Her cargo had included an estimated 4,200,000 rounds of rifle cartridges, 1,250 empty shell cases, and 18 cases of non-explosive fuses[43], all of which were listed in her manifest, but the cartridges were not officially classed as ammunition by the Cunard Line.[44] Various theories have been put forward over the years that she had also carried undeclared high explosives that were detonated by the torpedo and helped to sink her,[45] but this has never been proven.

British and American actions

Schwieger was condemned in the Allied press as a war criminal.

Of the 139 US citizens aboard the Lusitania, 128 lost their lives, and there was massive outrage in Britain and America, The Nation calling it "a deed for which a Hun would blush, a Turk be ashamed, and a Barbary pirate apologise"[46] and the British felt that the Americans had to declare war on Germany. However, US President Woodrow Wilson refused to over-react. He said at Philadelphia on 10 May 1915:

There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight. There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to convince others by force that it is right[46]

When Germany began its submarine campaign against Britain, Wilson had warned that the US would hold the German government strictly accountable for any violations of American rights.[citation needed]

During the weeks after the sinking, the issue was hotly debated within the administration. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan urged compromise and restraint. The US, he believed, should try to persuade the British to abandon their interdiction of foodstuffs and limit their mine-laying operations at the same time as the Germans were persuaded to curtail their submarine campaign. He also suggested that the US government issue an explicit warning against US citizens travelling on any belligerent ships. Despite being sympathetic to Bryan's antiwar feelings, Wilson insisted that the German government must apologise for the sinking, compensate US victims, and promise to avoid any similar occurrence in the future.[47]

Wilson notes

Backed by State Department second-in-command Robert Lansing, Wilson made his position clear in three notes to the German government issued on 13 May, 9 June, and 21 July.

The first note affirmed the right of Americans to travel as passengers on merchant ships and called for the Germans to abandon submarine warfare against commercial vessels, whatever flag they sailed under.

In the second note Wilson rejected the German arguments that the British blockade was illegal, and was a cruel and deadly attack on innocent civilians, and their charge that the Lusitania had been carrying munitions. William Jennings Bryan considered Wilson's second note too provocative and resigned in protest after failing to moderate it, to be replaced by Robert Lansing who later said in his memoirs that following the tragedy he always had the "conviction that we would ultimately become the ally of Britain".

The third note, of 21 July, issued an ultimatum, to the effect that the US would regard any subsequent sinkings as "deliberately unfriendly".

While the American public and leadership were not ready for war, the path to an eventual declaration of war had been set as a result of the sinking of the Lusitania. On 19 August U-24 sank the White Star liner SS Arabic, with the loss of 44 passengers and crew, three of whom were American. The German government, while insisting on the legitimacy of its campaign against Allied shipping, disavowed the sinking of the Arabic; it offered an indemnity and pledged to order submarine commanders to abandon unannounced attacks on merchant and passenger vessels.[47]

The British public, press, and government in general were upset at Wilson's actions—not realizing it reflected general US opinion at the moment. They sneered "too proud or too scared". Shells that did not explode at the front were called "Wilsons".

German policy reversal

German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg persuaded the Emperor to forbid action against ships flying neutral flags and the U-boat war was postponed once again on 27 August, as it was realised that British ships could easily fly neutral flags.[48]

There was disagreement over this move between the navy's admirals (headed by Alfred von Tirpitz) and Bethman-Hollweg. Wilhelm II decided in favour of the Chancellor, backed by Army Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn, and Tirpitz and the head of the admiralty backed down. The German restriction order of 9 September 1915 stated that attacks were only allowed on ships that were definitely British, while neutral ships were to be treated under the Prize Law rules, and no attacks on passenger liners were to be permitted at all. The war situation demanded that there could be no possibility of orders being misinterpreted, and on 18 September Henning von Holtzendorff, the new head of the German Admiralty, issued a secret order: all U-boats operating in the English Channel and off the west coast of the United Kingdom were recalled, and the U-boat war would continue only in the North sea, where it would be conducted under the Prize Law rules.[48]

British propaganda

It was in the interests of the British to keep US passions inflamed, and a fabricated story was circulated that in some regions of Germany, schoolchildren were given a holiday to celebrate the sinking of the Lusitania. This story was so effective that James W. Gerard, the US ambassador to Germany, recounted it in his memoir of his time in Germany, Face to Face with Kaiserism (1918), though without substantiating its validity.[49]

Goetz medal

In August 1915, Munich medalist and sculptor Karl X. Goetz (1875-1950), who had produced a series of propagandist and satirical medals as a running commentary on the war, privately struck a small run of medals as a limited-circulation satirical attack (fewer than 500 were struck) on the Cunard Line for trying to continue business as usual during wartime. Goetz blamed both the British government and the Cunard Line for allowing the Lusitania to sail despite the German embassy's warnings.

One side of the medal showed the Lusitania sinking laden with guns (incorrectly depicted sinking stern first) with the motto "KEINE BANNWARE!" ("NO CONTRABAND!"), while the reverse showed a skeleton selling Cunard tickets with the motto "Geschäft Über Alles" ("Business Above All").[50]

Goetz had put an incorrect date for the sinking on the medal, an error he later blamed on a mistake in a newspaper story about the sinking: instead of 7 May, he had put 5 May, two days before the actual sinking. Not realizing his error, Goetz made copies of the medal and sold them in Munich and also to some numismatic dealers with whom he conducted business.

The British Foreign Office obtained a copy of the medal, photographed it, and sent copies to the United States where it was published in the New York Times on 5 May 1916.[51] Many popular magazines ran photographs of the medal, and it was falsely claimed that it had been awarded to the crew of the U-boat.[49]

British replica of Goetz medal

File:Lusitania medal.jpg
Replica of Goetz Lusitania medal

The Goetz medal attracted so much attention that Lord Newton, who was in charge of Propaganda at the Foreign Office in 1916, decided to exploit the anti-German feelings aroused by it for propaganda purposes and asked department store entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge to reproduce the medal.[52] The replica medals were produced in an attractive case claiming to be an exact copy of the German medal, and were sold for a shilling apiece. On the cases it was stated that the medals had been distributed in Germany "to commemorate the sinking of the Lusitania" and they came with a propaganda leaflet which strongly denounced the Germans and used the medal's incorrect date to claim that the sinking of the Lusitania was premeditated. The head of the Lusitania Souvenir Medal Committee later estimated that 250,000 were sold, proceeds being given to the Red Cross and St. Dunstan's Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Hostel.[53][54] Unlike the original Goetz medals which were sand-cast from bronze, the British copies were of diecast iron and were of poorer quality.[50]

Belatedly realizing his mistake, Goetz issued a corrected medal with the date of 7 May. The Bavarian government suppressed the medal and ordered their confiscation in April 1917. The original German medals can easily be distinguished from the English copies because the date is in German; the English version was altered to read 'May' rather than 'Mai'. After the war Goetz expressed his regret that his work had been the cause of increasing anti-German feelings, but it remains a celebrated propaganda act.

Board of Trade investigation

The formal Board of Trade investigation into the sinking was presided over by Wreck Commissioner Lord Mersey, an expert on maritime law, and took place in the Wreck Commissioners Court in London from 15 June to 1 July 1915. A total of 36 witnesses were called. Some of its sessions were public, while others were held in camera, two of the hearings taking place behind closed doors. The full report has never been made available to the public, and it is thought that the only surviving copy is in Lord Mersey's private papers.

It was during the closed hearings that the Admiralty tried to lay the blame on Captain Turner, their intended line being that Turner had been negligent. When "prosecuting" barrister, F. E. Smith, began by reading from Admiralty memoranda that had not been submitted to the court, Lord Mersey halted the proceedings and summoned all the lawyers to the bench, where he demanded an explanation of the memoranda from the Solicitor General for England and Wales, who was at a loss to explain. Lord Mersey and Smith immediately realised that the evidence had been falsified by the Admiralty and refused to proceed. The inquiry was adjourned, and Lord Mersey asked all the assessors to give him their separate opinions in sealed envelopes, only Admiral Sir Frederick Inglefield returning a guilty verdict against Captain Turner. Inglefield had previously been briefed by the Board of the Admiralty and instructed to find Turner guilty of "treasonable behaviour".

Captain Turner, the Cunard Company, and the Royal Navy were absolved of any negligence, and all blame was placed on the German government. Lord Mersey found that Turner "exercised his judgement for the best" and that the blame for the disaster "must rest solely with those who plotted and with those who committed the crime".[55]

Two days after he closed the inquiry, Lord Mersey waived his fees for the case and formally resigned. His last words on the subject were: "The Lusitania case was a damned, dirty business!"

The rifle cartridges carried by the Lusitania were mentioned during the case, Lord Mersey stating that "the 5,000 cases of ammunition on board were 50 yards away from where the torpedo struck the ship"[56]

Engineering consequences

File:Popular Science Dec 1918 p23 - Ship Emergency Steam Cutoff Valves.JPG
How multiple emergency control valves could be used to stop an out-of-control steamship. (Popular Science, Dec 1918, p33)

One of the major causes of death to passengers after the ship was hit by the torpedo was that the captain had no way to slow or stop the ship, and consequently the lifeboats were battered on the sides of the fast-moving ship and the lifeboats overturned when they touched the ocean at high speed. The torpedo strike had either killed the ship's engineers or cut off contact with them, and there was no means for anyone else to shut down the engines.

In December 1918, Popular Science Monthly reported that this problem had occurred so many times to other ships after the sinking of the Lusitania that the British Board of Trade suggested that every passenger-carrying ship be provided with some means of stopping the engines from the deck or skylight hatchway. The magazine illustrated several such possible remote valve control methods to cut off engine steam from multiple locations.[57]

Last living survivor

Audrey Lawson-Johnston (née Pearl) (born 1915) is the last living survivor of the RMS Lusitania sinking; she currently resides in Bedfordshire, England.[58] She became the last living survivor following the death of Barbara McDermott (née Anderson) on 12 April 2008 and Ida Cantley on 31 December 2006.[59]

Cultural influence

Charles Ives's Orchestral Set No. 2 concludes with a movement entitled, From Hanover Square North, at the End of a Tragic Day, the Voice of the People Again Arose. It recounts Ives's experience waiting for an elevated train in New York City as the news of the sinking of the Lusitania came through. The passengers assembled on the platform began singing "In The Sweet By and By" in time to a barrel organ which was playing the tune. Echoes of their voices can be heard at the start of the music, and the hymn tune itself appears at the end.[60]


Contraband and second explosion

The telegraph on the wreck of Lusitania

The "Prize rules" or "Cruiser rules", laid down by the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, governed the seizure of vessels at sea during wartime, although changes in technology such as radio and the submarine eventually made them redundant. Merchant ships were to be warned by warships, and their passengers and crew allowed to abandon ship before they were sunk, unless the ship resisted or tried to escape, or was in a convoy protected by warships. Limited armament on a merchant ship, such as one or two guns, did not necessarily affect the ship's immunity to attack without warning, and neither did a cargo of munitions or war materiel.

In November 1914 the British announced that the entire North Sea was now a War Zone, and issued orders restricting the passage of neutral shipping into and through the North Sea to special channels where supervision would be possible (the other approaches having been mined). It was in response to this, and to the British Admiralty's order of 31 January 1915 that British merchant ships should fly neutral colours as a ruse de guerre[61], that Admiral Hugo von Pohl, commander of the German High Seas Fleet, published a warning in the Deutscher Reichsanzeiger (Imperial German Gazette) on 4 February 1915:

(1) The waters around Great Britain and Ireland, including the whole of the English Channel, are hereby declared to be a War Zone. From February 18 onwards every enemy merchant vessel encountered in this zone will be destroyed, nor will it always be possible to avert the danger thereby threatened to the crew and passengers.

(2) Neutral vessels also will run a risk in the War Zone, because in view of the hazards of sea warfare and the British authorization of January 31 of the misuse of neutral flags, it may not always be possible to prevent attacks on enemy ships from harming neutral ships.[62]

In response, the Admiralty issued orders on 10 February 1915 which directed merchant ships to escape from hostile U-boats when possible, but "if a submarine comes up suddenly close ahead of you with obvious hostile intention, steer straight for her at your utmost speed..." Further instructions ten days later advised armed steamers to open fire on a submarine even if it had not yet fired. Given the extreme vulnerability of a submarine to ramming or even small-caliber shellfire, a U-boat that surfaced and gave warning against a merchantman which had been given such instructions was putting itself in great danger. The Germans knew of these orders, even though they were intended to be secret, copies having been obtained from captured ships and from wireless intercepts;[63] Bailey and Ryan in their "The Lusitania Disaster", put much emphasis on these Admiralty orders to merchantmen, arguing it was unreasonable to expect a submarine to surface and give warning under such circumstances. In their opinion this, rather than the munitions, the nonexistent armament, or any other suggested reason, is the best rationale for the Germans' actions in the sinking.

Included in the Lusitania's cargo were 4,200,000 rounds of Remington 0.303 rifle cartridges, 1250 cases of empty 3 inches (76 mm) fragmentation shell cases, and eighteen cases of non-explosive fuses,[64] all of which were listed on the ship's two-page manifest, filed with U.S. Customs after she departed New York on 1 May.[65] However, these munitions were classed as small-arms ammunition, were non-explosive in bulk, and were clearly marked as such. It was perfectly legal under American shipping regulations for her to carry these; experts agreed they were not to blame for the second explosion. Allegations the ship was carrying more controversial cargo, such as fine aluminium powder, concealed as cheese on her cargo manifests, have never been proven. Recent expeditions to the wreck have shown her holds are intact and show no evidence of internal explosion.

File:Lusitania Prop.jpg
A propeller recovered from Lusitania

In 1993, Dr. Robert Ballard, the famous explorer who discovered Titanic and Bismarck, conducted an in-depth exploration of the wreck of Lusitania. Ballard found Light had been mistaken in his identification of a gaping hole in the ship's side. To explain the second explosion, Ballard advanced the theory of a coal-dust explosion. He believed dust in the bunkers would have been thrown into the air by the vibration from the explosion; the resulting cloud would have been ignited by a spark, causing the second explosion. In the years since he first advanced this theory, it has been argued that this is nearly impossible. Critics of the theory say coal dust would have been too damp to have been stirred into the air by the torpedo impact in explosive concentrations; additionally, the coal bunker where the torpedo struck would have been flooded almost immediately by seawater flowing through the damaged hull plates.[66][67]

More recently, marine forensic investigators have become convinced an explosion in the ship's steam-generating plant is a far more plausible explanation for the second explosion. There were very few survivors from the forward two boiler rooms, but they did report the ship's boilers did not explode; they were also under extreme duress in those moments after the torpedo's impact, however. Leading Fireman Albert Martin later testified he thought the torpedo actually entered the boiler room and exploded between a group of boilers, which was a physical impossibility.[68] It is also known the forward boiler room filled with steam, and steam pressure feeding the turbines dropped dramatically following the second explosion. These point toward a failure, of one sort or another, in the ship's steam-generating plant. It is possible the failure came, not directly from one of the boilers in boiler room no. 1, but rather in the high-pressure steam lines to the turbines. Most researchers and historians agree that a steam explosion is a far more likely cause than clandestine high explosives for the second explosion.[69]

The original torpedo damage alone, striking the ship on the starboard coal bunker of boiler room no. 1, would probably have sunk the ship without a second explosion. This first blast was enough to cause, on its own, serious off-centre flooding, although the sinking would possibly have been slower. The deficiencies of the ship's original watertight bulkhead design exacerbated the situation, as did the many portholes which had been left open for ventilation.

Recent developments

In 1967 the wreck of the Lusitania was sold by the Liverpool & London War Risks Insurance Association to former US Navy diver John Light for £1,000. Gregg Bemis became a co-owner of the wreck in 1968, and by 1982 had bought out his partners to become sole owner. He subsequently went to court in England in 1986, the US in 1995, and Ireland in 1996 to ensure that his ownership was legally in force.[70][71]

None of the jurisdictions involved objected to his ownership of the vessel but in 1995 the Irish Government declared it a heritage site under the National Monuments Act, which prohibited him from in any way interfering with it or its contents. After a protracted legal wrangle, the Supreme Court in Dublin overturned the Arts and Heritage Ministry's previous refusal to issue Bemis with a five year exploration licence in 2007, ruling that the then minister for Arts and Heritage had misconstrued the law when he refused Bemis's 2001 application. Bemis planned to dive and recover and analyse whatever artefacts and evidence could help piece together the story of what happened to the ship. He said that any items found would be given to museums following analysis. Any fine art recovered, such as the paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt and Monet among other artists believed to have been in the possession of Sir Hugh Lane, who was believed to be carrying them in lead tubes,[72] would remain in the ownership of the Irish Government.

In late July 2008 Gregg Bemis was granted an "imaging" license by the Department of the Environment, which allowed him to photograph and film the entire wreck, and was to allow him to produce the first high-resolution pictures of it. Bemis planned to use the data gathered to assess the wreck's deterioration and to plan a strategy for a forensic examination of the ship, which he estimated would cost $5m. Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration (OME) were contracted by Bemis to conduct the survey. The Department of the Environment's Underwater Archaeology Unit was to join the survey team to ensure that research would be carried out in a non-invasive manner, and a film crew from the Discovery Channel was also to be on hand.[73]

A dive team from Cork Sub Aqua Club, diving under license, discovered 15,000 rounds of the .303 (7.7×56mmR) caliber rifle ammunition transported on the Lusitania in boxes in the bow section of the ship. The find was photographed but left in situ under the terms of the license.[74] In December 2008, Gregg Bemis discovered a further four million rounds of .303 ammunition and announced plans to commission further dives in 2009 for a full-scale forensic examination of the wreck.[45]

The joint American-German production, The Sinking of the Lusitania: Terror at Sea premiered on the Discovery Channel on 13 May 2007, and on BBC One in the UK on 27 May 2007.

1950s damage from depth charges

Dublin-based technical diver Des Quiqley, who dove on the wreck in the 1990s with Bemis' permission, has reported that the wreck is "like Swiss cheese" and the seabed around her "is littered with unexploded hedgehog mines". Royal Navy officials have claimed they had merely been "practicing" on the wreck, but others have suggested that in fact the Navy was deliberately trying to destroy evidence. Professor William Kingston of Trinity College, Dublin has said, "There's no doubt at all about it that the Royal Navy and the British government have taken very considerable steps over the years to try to prevent whatever can be found out about the Lusitania".[72]

In February 2009, the Discovery Channel TV series Treasure Quest aired an episode titled "Lusitania Revealed", in which Gregg Bemis and a team of shipwreck experts explore the wreck via remote control unmanned submersible. At one point in the show it is mentioned that Cobh locals have believed for years that in the 1950s during a two week period, the Royal Navy dropped depth charges on the wreck, greatly worsening its condition. It was stated that numerous Cobh residents on shore heard the blasting and saw navy ships hovering over the area of the wreck. At one point in the show an unexploded depth charge was found in the wreckage, in plain sight, clearly seen by the remote control submersible's video camera. Gregg Bemis, as well as other people on the team, believe the British Royal Navy deliberately bombed the Lusitania site to "make the wreck as unattractive as possible, to prevent further salvage" and to "prevent divers from going in and finding that there was contraband cargo". No government has ever admitted to the depth charging. The narrator says the depth charges probably crushed the upper decks of the ship, and further scattered the debris field.[75][76]

1984 British legal action

In 1982 various items were recovered from the wreck and brought ashore in the United Kingdom from the cargo of the Lusitania. Complex litigation ensued, with all parties settling their differences apart from the salvors and the British Government who asserted "droits of admiralty" over the recovered items. The judge eventually ruled in The Lusitania [1986] QB 384 that the Crown has no rights over wrecks outside of British territorial waters, even if the recovered items are subsequently brought into the United Kingdom.[77] The case remains the leading authority on this point of law today.[78]


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  77. Section 518 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 had originally applied to wreck found to taken possession of within UK territorial limits, but section 72 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1906 extended that provision to wrecks later brought into those limits; the court held that as there was no duty on the salvors to bring the wreck into UK waters, the Crown had no rights to wreck, or under the ancient Royal Prerogative relating to "wreck of the sea throughout the realm, whales and great sturgeons taken in the sea or elsewhere within the realm" (Statute of 17 Edw II, c. 11).
  78. Palmer & McKendrick, Interests in Goods, 2nd ed., page 379

Further reading

External links

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[[Commons: Category:RMS Lusitania

| RMS Lusitania

Preceded by
Holder of the Blue Riband (Westbound)
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Kaiser Wilhelm II
Atlantic Eastbound Record

ar:لوسيتينيا bg:Лузитания (кораб) ca:RMS Lusitania cs:RMS Lusitania cy:Lusitania (llong) da:RMS Lusitania de:RMS Lusitania el:Λουζιτάνια es:RMS Lusitania eo:RMS Lusitania fr:RMS Lusitania ga:Lusitania (long) gv:Lusitania (lhong) gd:RMS Lusitania gl:RMS Lusitania ko:RMS 루시타니아 hr:RMS Lusitania id:RMS Lusitania it:RMS Lusitania he:לוזיטניה la:Lusitania (navis) hu:Lusitania (hajó) nl:Lusitania (schip) ja:ルシタニア (客船) no:RMS «Lusitania» pl:RMS Lusitania pt:RMS Lusitania ru:Лузитания (лайнер) sr:РМС Лузитанија fi:RMS Lusitania sv:RMS Lusitania th:อาร์เอ็มเอส ลูซิทาเนีย uk:Лузітанія (корабель) vi:RMS Lusitania zh:卢西塔尼亚号