On 7th May 1915, the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Ireland with the loss of over 1,100 lives. The Lusitania was sailing to Liverpool from New York when it was attacked at 14:10 by the German U-boat U20.
Controversy would soon surround the sinking of the Lusitania. Questions were asked as to why she had sailed when a warning had been issued by the Imperial German Embassy in Washington stating that any ships flying the British flag, or that of her allies, and who entered British waters would be entering a war zone and be ‘liable to destruction’.
Further details emerged that suggested the Lusitania had been transporting armaments to Britain to aid the war effort. Being a passenger liner, at the time many did not believe the Lusitania would be at risk, being of no ‘military value’, despite the warning from the German Embassy being placed next to the departure dates of the liner in the newspaper.
Outrage quickly spread over the sinking. Even if military materials were being quietly transported to Britain, the failure of the U-boat Captain to issue a warning and to not give the civilian passenger’s time to reach safety was to strongly influence public opinion in the United States and contribute to their eventual declaration of war in 1917.
Debate has ensued as to whether the British Admiralty deliberately put the Lusitania at risk in an attempt to bring the US into the war; questioning the rumours that there were explosives on board given how quickly the Lusitania sank – in just 18 minutes. Files released in 1982 only added to the uncertainty but today the importance and tragedy of the Lusitania is still remembered.