On this day in history : 7th May 1915 – A German U-boat sinks RMS Lusitania killing 1,198 people – 128 of which are US citizens and turns the American public against the German Empire….

Lusitania in 1907 – Public domain

The Lusitania had been launched on the 7th of June 1906 and was designed to carry passengers transatlantic…. At the time she was the largest ship in the world, measuring 787 feet (240m) and weighing approximately 31,550 tons…. She was especially noted for her speed…. A month after her maiden voyage, which began on the 7th of September 1907, she was awarded the Blue Riband for the fastest Atlantic crossing, averaging at 24 knots….

Lusitania was coming to the end of her 202nd Atlantic crossing and was headed to Liverpool from New York…. On board the British ocean liner, which was part of the Cunard Shipping Line, were 1,959 passengers and crew….

The ship was running parallel to Ireland’s south coast when at 2.10pm she crossed in front of a German U-boat…. Lusitania’s captain, William Thomas Turner, had been warned by the British Admiralty to avoid the south coast of Ireland because of submarine activity – but he chose to ignore the warnings…. Commanding Officer of the U-boat, Walter Schweitzer, gave the order to fire a torpedo – which at 2.12pm struck the Lusitania on the starboard bow…. The initial impact explosion was quickly followed by a second much larger explosion, quite possibly the ship’s boilers….

English drawing of Lusitania being torpedoed – Public domain

The crew rushed to launch the lifeboats but because of the ship’s list it was all but impossible – only 6 out of the 48 lifeboats were successfully launched…. Within 20 minutes the Lusitania had sunk….

Illustration of the sinking by Norman Wilkinson – Public domain

News of the Lusitania’s sinking soon reached around the world, causing an international outcry – especially in Britain and across the British Empire…. Most of the casualties onboard were British or Canadian but included were 128 Americans…. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson had declared US neutrality – it took another two years before the States entered the War but the sinking of the Lusitania played a significant part in turning American public opinion against Germany….

U-20 (second from left) – the submarine responsible for the sinking of Lusitania – Public domain

The Germans justified the attack as necessary as the Lusitania had been carrying 173 tons of rifle ammunition and shells…. Nevertheless Germany apologised to the US and said there would be no more unrestricted submarine warfare…. However, just a few months later, in November 1915, an Italian liner was sunk by a U-boat, killing over 270 people, including more than 25 Americans….

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