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From the Monitor Archives: RMS Lusitania sunk by German U-boat

More than 1,100 people – including 120 Americans – died when the British oceanliner Lusitania was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland, 100 years ago today. The incident was a key event in eventually drawing the US into WWI.

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    On May 1, 1915, the British cargo and passenger ship Lusitania sets out for England on its last voyage from New York City. The British ocean liner was sunk off Ireland on May 7, 1915 by a German U-Boat, killing 1,150 people, 114 of them Americans.
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These articles originally ran in The Christian Science Monitor on May 7 and 8, 1915. At that point, the United States was a neutral party in World War I. But it maintained close ties with Britain, one of its largest trading partners, to the frustration of Germany. In early 1915, Germany announced that it would conduct unrestricted submarine warfare around Britain, making any British-flagged vessel a potential target. (And even before that announcement, American vessels were at risk: in January 1915, a German U-boat stopped and sank the William P. Frye, a US merchant vessel, off the Brazilian coast.)

The RMS Lusitania, a British ocean liner, was a frequent traveler between New York City and Liverpool, England, and thus at obvious risk from German submarines – so much so that Germany published advertisements in US newspapers ahead of the ship's May 1 departure from New York, warning that Americans should not travel aboard the vessel.

Undaunted, the Lusitania set out for Liverpool, England, on May 1, with more than 1,900 people on board. But despite the warnings of German subs prowler, the Lusitania took few of the advised precautions, like zigzagging to make it difficult for U-boats to plot its course, or avoiding known U-boat hunting grounds.

On May 7, off the southern coast of Ireland, the Lusitania sailed into the path of a German submarine, which fired one torpedo at the liner, causing a secondary explosion. The Lusitania sank in under 20 minutes, and of the 1,900-plus on board, only some 760 people survived.

Around 120 Americans were killed in the sinking, which many in the US saw as a war crime. Germany argued that the Lusitania was carrying arms and thus was a fair target under the rules of war. (The Lusitania was indeed carrying several million rounds of rifle shells.) Nonetheless, Germany officially apologized to the US and promised to end unrestricted submarine warfare.

Even so, the Lusitania's sinking was a key stepping stone for the American transition from neutral party to participant in World War I. In February 1917, when Germany reversed its policy and began unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic again, the US officially broke ties with Germany. Two months later, it formally entered the war.

– Arthur Bright / Staff writer

May 7, 1915

WIRE LUSITANIA IS SUNK OFF THE IRISH COAST

Boston Office of the Cunard Line Says the Steamship Was Tor­pedoed on Approach to Queenstown

BOATS SENT TO AID

Twenty Small Craft From the Great Vessel Stand By and Other Assistance Said to Be at Hand

At the Boston office of the Cunard line it was stated this afternoon that the steamship Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk off the Irish coast today, accord­ing to cable received from the Liverpool office.

No loss of life is reported.

Immediately the liner was struck 20 boats were lowered and filled with passengers.

According to the report, boats put out at once from Queenstown in the di­rection of Old Head of Kinsale, off which the attack is said to have taken place. At this point the vessel would normally have been within sight of land.

An unconfirmed report had it that the Lusitania was turned toward the shore and beached.

A cable timed 4:23 p. m. says that several boats, apparently containing sur­vivors have been sighted to the south­east, and that a Greek steamer is proceeding to assistance.

Information given out at the Heston office of the Cunard line was to effect that the Lusitania which left New York last Saturday had 290 saloon [first class] passengers, 602 second cabin and 361 steerage, all of whom were booked by the Cunard line, besides other passengers who were transferred from the Anchor liner Cameronia which was cancelled just before its sail­ing time.

The wireless message sent out from the Lusitania, as reported here by cable, read as follows: “Come at once. Big list. Ten miles south of Kinsale.”

Among others [known to be on board the ship] are Alfred Gwynne Van­derbilt, Elbert Hubbard and Charles Frohman. Just before the steamer sailed many of the passengers received tele­grams advising them not to make the voyage as something was going to hap­pen to the big liner.

These telegrams followed on the pub­lication in the newspapers of an advertisement authorized by the German embassy, warning all Americans that travel to and from England was dan­gerous.

The Lusitania is commanded by Capt. W. T. Turner, royal naval reserve, and Staff Capt. J. C. Anderson is his assis­tant. On board were a number of British reservists going to join the colors and representatives of many American and Canadian firms who deal in war materials.

Page 1 of the May 7, 1915, edition of the Monitor. The story about the sinking of the Lusitania appears on the far right. The Christian Science Monitor, ProQuest

May 8, 1915

DETAILS AS TO LUSITANIA LOSS NOW AVAILABLE

Queenstown Reports Arrival of Nearly All Boats and Trawlers

HERON STILL TO COME

Kinsale Fishing Boats Be­lieved May Have Few Passengers

Special Cable to The Christian Science Monitor from its European Bureau

LONDON, May 7 – The Cunard Steam­ship Company confirm the [ ] that the steamer Lusitania was torpe­doed and sunk off the head of Kinsale.

An earlier report said the Lusitania was sunk today off the Old Head of Kinsale.

Saturday—The admiral at Queens­town reports through the press bureau that the torpedo boats and armed traw­lers from Queenstown are all in except the Heron. From these 595 survivors landed.

From the steam trawlers 52 survivors landed.

Landed at Kinsale there are 11 survi­vors, total number of survivors 638, Num­bers are to be verified later. Kinsale fishing boats may possibly have a few more passengers.

Only a few first-class passengers were saved. It is understood they thought the ship would float but she sank in from 15 to 25 minutes and is reported to have been struck by two torpedoes.

Cunard agent gives the total number on board as 2180.

In addition to above, it has just been signaled that one armed trawler and two fishing trawlers have arrived.

On inquiry in official quarters The Christian Science Monitor learns that very strong views are held in regard to the sinking of the Lusitania.

It is pointed out that Germany’s action represents the crowning example of a set determination entirely to disregard the most elementary rights of non-combatants and neutrals.

The action of the German embassy in Washington in issuing a warning to American passengers that they traveled at their own risk showed clearly that the sinking of the Lusitania was de­liberately planned and premeditated and therefore comes under the simple cate­gory of a deliberate crime.

It is further pointed out, once again, that Germany can claim no rights under her supposed blockade. The blockade, so far, has had no effect on shipping, 1500 ships a week still going and coming to and from British ports.

Germany's right to stop the Lusitania to make prisoners of all belligerent pas­sengers and capture the ship is admitted, but to sink the ship without warning with all of the passengers is regarded as an act of lawless barbarism which it is useless to discuss.

Great Britain, it is pointed out, has never desired or asked for active inter­vention on the part of the United States.

It is difficult, however, it is pointed out, not to refer at this juncture to Mr. Churchill's warning in the early stages of the war that if Germany beat England it would be America's turn next.

Great Britain today, it is urged, neither desires nor asks for interven­tion by the United States but in justi­fication of her struggles points to the sinking of the Lusitania and says in effect to the United States, “this is what we are fighting."

REPORT IS ASKED OF GERMANY ON THE LUSITANIA

Special to The Christian Science Monitor from its Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — "We are informing ourselves as rapidly as possible of the facts anti doing all we can for the in­jured,” said Secretary [of State William Jennings] Bryan this morning. This is all that officials at the state department or White House would say for publication, but it is not unlikely that some statement may be issued conseling [sic] the American people to remain calm, as was done in the Frye case.

Berlin has been asked by this government, through Ambassador Gerard, for Germany’s report of the sinking of the Lusitania and the consul at Queenstown and Ambassador Page at London have been instructed to get all the information they can.

It has not been determined officially whether the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine.

To get away and collect his thoughts President [Woodrow] Wilson went for a motor drive this morning and may play some golf. Secretaries Bryan and Redfield [William C. Redfield, Secretary of Commerce] gave up plans for a trip down the Potomac today and Secretary [of War Lindley Miller] Garrison canceled a trip to Alabama.

It is certain that the administration will proceed with extreme deliberation and prove their ground before they pro­ceed on any line of action.

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