Tragic Facts About The Sinking Of The Lusitania

(Track of the Lusitania, by William Lionel Wyllie (1851–1931), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)


Most people know about the connection between the Lusitania and World War I. The German torpedoing of the ship in 1915 did not cause the United States to join the Allies in WWI, but it did set the emotions of U. S. citizens irreparably against Germany. Two years later, in 1917, the United States joined the Great War against Germany after further provocations.

At the time of the Lusitania’s last voyage, Germany had declared a state of unrestricted submarine warfare. The waters around Britain were declared by Germany to be a warzone, and any ships (including commercial passenger ships) entering the seas near Britain were considered fair game by U-boat submarine captains hunting for prey. During WWI, submarines sank countless innocent ships, but the Lusitania remains one of the best-remembered tragic stories of the war. Here are some facts about the ship, the passengers and the sinking of the Lusitania:


(Enlarged and cropped advertisement for the Lusitania alongside a warning from the Imperial German Embassy, courtesy of the Robert Hunt Picture Library, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)


The Ship

  • The German embassy posted a warning beside advertisements for the Lusitaniaprior to the ship’s last voyage.
  • 300 laborers shoveled around 1,000 tons of coal daily into the Lusitania’s 192 furnaces. The Lusitania left New York with 5,690 tons of coal.
  • The Lusitaniawas carrying a lot of cargo, but most notably, the ship was hauling a load of paintings worth nearly $92 million in modern currency. There were also 157 barrels of candy and around 170 tons of Remington brand rifle ammunition. There were also containers of aluminum  (or aluminium) and bronze powder, along with a large shipment of artillery shells.
  • The Lusitania was a sturdy ship. It could travel up to 26 knots, had a hull designed like a battleship, and had mounts (or rings) that could be used to attach naval-grade artillery to the ship.

The Passengers

  • The Lusitania was captained by William Thomas Turner.
  • In terms of nationalities aboard the Lusitania, there were (from most numerous to least) British, Russian, Persian, French, Greek, Swedish, Belgian, Dutch, German, Italian, Mexican, Finnish, Danish, Spanish, Swiss, Argentine, Norwegian and Indian passengers on the ship. In total, there were around 1,959 passengers and crew.
  • There were at least 95 children and 39 infants on the Lusitania when the ship sunk.

The Sinking

  • A German submarine, U-20, captained by Walther Schwieger, sunk the Lusitania with a torpedo.
  • The torpedo blasted a hole in the ship around 40 feet long and 15 feet high, causing thousands of rivets to pop and portholes to break.
  • Damage caused by the torpedo, along with the forward momentum of the ship, caused water to rush into the Lusitania at around 100 tons every second.
  • Because of the dramatic listing of the ship caused by the torpedo, as well as the general panic of the passengers, the Lusitania only launched 6 of its 22 conventional lifeboats.
  • The Lusitania sank in less than 20 minutes, causing many passengers to improperly put on their life jackets, resulting in many deaths by drowning.  Also, many passengers who could not find a lifeboat or floating debris died of hypothermia.
  • Of the nearly 2,000 passengers on the Lusitania, only 764 are thought to have survived. 27 infants died.
  • It is thought that at least 140 unidentified deceased victims of the Lusitania were given a mass burial in Queenstown. Only half of these victims were later identified from photographs and personal property.

Written by C. Keith Hansley


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