What Was the Sinking of the Lusitania?On May 7, 1915, the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania, which primarily ferried people and goods across the Atlantic Ocean between the United States and Great Britain, was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sunk. Of the 1,959 people on board, 1,198 died, including 128 Americans. The sinking of the Lusitania enraged Americans and hastened the United States' entrance into World War I.
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Be Careful!Since the outbreak of World War I, ocean voyage had become dangerous. Each side hoped to blockade the other, thus prevent any war materials getting through. German U-boats (submarines) stalked British waters, continually looking for enemy vessels to sink.
Turner was the captain of the RMS Lusitania, a British ocean liner famous for its luxurious accommodations and speed capability. The Lusitania was primarily used to ferry people and goods across the Atlantic Ocean between the United States and Great Britain. On May 1, 1915, the Lusitania had left port in New York for Liverpool to make her 202nd trip across the Atlantic. On board were 1,959 people, 159 of whom were Americans.
Spotted By a U-BoatApproximately 14 miles off the coast of Southern Ireland at Old Head of Kinsale, neither the captain nor any of his crew realized that the German U-boat, U-20, had already spotted and targeted them. At 1:40 p.m., the U-boat launched a torpedo. The torpedo hit the starboard (right) side of the Lusitania. Almost immediately, another explosion rocked the ship.
At the time, the Allies thought the Germans had launched two or three torpedoes to sink the Lusitania. However, the Germans say their U-boat only fired one torpedo. Many believe the second explosion was caused by the ignition of ammunition hidden in the cargo hold. Others say that coal dust, kicked up when the torpedo hit, exploded. No matter what the exact cause, it was the damage from the second explosion that made the ship sink.
The Lusitania SinksThe Lusitania sunk within 18 minutes. Though there had been enough lifeboats for all passengers, the severe listing of the ship while it sunk prevented most from being launched properly. Of the 1,959 people on board, 1,198 died. The toll of civilians killed in this disaster shocked the world.
Americans Are AngryAmericans were outraged to learn 128 U.S. civilians were killed in a war in which they were officially neutral. Destroying ships not known to be carrying war materials countered generally accepted international war protocols. The sinking of the Lusitania heightened tensions between the U.S. and Germany and helped sway American opinion in favor of joining the war.