Artist's representation of the Lusitania disaster. The Cunard Line ship Lusitania sank on passenger run from Liverpool to New York when it was hit by torpedo from German U-boat (U-20) off the coast of Ireland, May 7, 1915. 1198 people drowned, including 128 US citizens. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/Mansell/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images). The location of this image is At Sea. Copyright: Time & Life Pictures
RMS Lusitania was a British ocean liner designed by Leonard Peskett and built by John Brown and Company of Clydebank , Scotland . The ship entered passenger service with the Cunard Line on 26 August 1907 and continued on the line's heavily-travelled passenger service between Liverpool, England and New York City , which included a port of call at Queenstown (now Cobh ) Ireland on westbound crossings and Fishguard , Wales on eastbound crossings. The ship was named after the ancient Roman province of Lusitania , which is part of present day Portugal . During the First World War , as Germany waged submarine warfare against Britain, the ship was identified and torpedoed by the German U-boat U-20 on 7 May 1915 and sank in eighteen minutes. The vessel went down eleven miles (18 km) off the Old Head of Kinsale , Ireland , killing 1,198 of the 1,959 people aboard, leaving 764 survivors. The sinking turned public opinion in many countries against Germany , contributed to the American entry into World War I and became an iconic symbol in military recruiting campaigns of why the war was being fought.
Lusitania was constructed as part of the competition between the Cunard Line and other shipping lines, principally from Germany, for the trans-Atlantic passenger trade. Whichever company had the fastest and most luxurious ships had a commercial advantage: Lusitania and her sister Mauretania together provided a regular express service between Britain and the United States until the intervention of the First World War. The two ships both held the Blue Riband speed record for a transatlantic crossing at different times in their careers. Mauretania was generally the slightly faster of the two and continued to hold the record after the war until 1929.
The Cunard board had decided to use Parsons ' turbine propulsion, which accounted for their 22-year retention of the speed record with her running mate RMS Mauretania The turbines produced less onboard noise and vibration and more horsepower compared to expansion engines used in earlier vessels. The ships were the largest ever built at the time they were constructed, and had 50% greater passenger space than their nearest rivals, allowing unprecedented luxury for all Saloon, Cabin and Steerage passengers.
The Lusitania was designed so that she might readily be converted to an auxiliary cruiser in times of war as part of an agreement with the British government who provided a loan of £2.6 million to finance her and Mauretania's construction. The ships attracted an ongoing operating subsidy and also held a valuable mail contract. In the event, the ships proved to be impractical armed cruisers (the liners all had very high fuel consumption and were found to be too expensive for the Admiralty to operate). Lusitania and other express liners were released from the Royal Navy shortly after the commencement of the war with instructions to resume passenger services, while Mauretania performed service as a troop ship. Cunard expressed a desire to lay up the ship for the duration of the war, but under the terms of the subsidy contract they were required to make all their ships available for government use and to carry government cargoes.
Lusitania had the misfortune to fall victim to torpedo attack relatively early in the First World War, before tactics for evading submarines were properly implemented or understood. The contemporary investigations both in the UK and US into the precise causes of the ship's loss were obstructed by the needs of wartime secrecy and a propaganda campaign to ensure all blame fell upon Germany. Argument over whether the ship was a legitimate military target raged back and forth throughout the war as both sides made misleading claims about the ship. At the time she was sunk she was carrying a large quantity of rifle ammunition and other supplies necessary for a war economy , as well as civilian passengers. Several attempts have been made over the years since the sinking to dive to the wreck seeking information about precisely how the ship sank, and argument continues to the current day.
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