Sinking of the RMS Lusitania

RMS Lusitania coming into port between 1907-1913

RMS Lusitania coming into port between 1907-1913

Background

When the British passenger liner RMS Lusitania set out on its final voyage on May 1, 1915, World War I had been raging for almost a year (though America was still neutral), and Germany had begun unrestricted submarine warfare around the British Isles.

Still, despite a warning placed in newspapers by the German embassy that anyone traveling on a British or Allied ship did so at their own risk, many felt that the Germans would never sink a ship with so many civilians and that the Lusitania was much too fast for a submarine to catch anyway. So the Lusitania left New York, headed toward Liverpool, with about 2,000 passengers and crew—and munitions intended for the British war effort—aboard.

Sinking

As the ship neared Britain it received a few general warnings about German submarines operating nearby. Then, at 2:10 p.m. on the 7th, only 11 miles off the coast of Ireland, the ship was struck by a torpedo fired by a German submarine, U-20. The torpedo hit amidships on the starboard side and was quickly followed by a secondary explosion.

Though there were enough lifeboats and lifejackets for everyone, the ship sank far too rapidly (in just 18 minutes) for most people to make use of them. Everyone else was trapped in the ship or forced to fend for themselves in the frigid water. Rescue boats took about 2 hours to reach the survivors, and only about 760 people were saved—a little over a third of the number of those originally on board.

Effects

The sinking of the Lusitania caused international outrage toward Germany, especially in America, which had lost 128 of the 159 of its citizens on board. Though the sinking of the Lusitania didn’t directly cause America to enter the war (it wouldn’t enter for another two years), it did turn public opinion against Germany.

Learn more about the Sinking of the RMS Lusitania through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.


Articles and Clippings about the Sinking of the RMS Lusitania

Warning from Germans about traveling on British and Allied ships prior to sinking of LusitaniaWarning from Germans about traveling on British and Allied ships prior to sinking of Lusitania Sat, May 1, 1915 – Page 12 · The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, Kings, New York) · Newspapers.comPhoto of the Lusitania sailing from New YorkPhoto of the Lusitania sailing from New York Sat, May 8, 1915 – 5 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America) · Newspapers.comEarly headlines about the sinking of Lusitania; Mistakenly says all aboard were rescuedEarly headlines about the sinking of Lusitania; Mistakenly says all aboard were rescued Fri, May 7, 1915 – Page 1 · Reno Gazette-Journal (Reno, Washoe, Nevada, United States of America) · Newspapers.comCanadian newspaper headlines about the sinking of the Cunard liner LusitaniaCanadian newspaper headlines about the sinking of the Cunard liner Lusitania Fri, May 7, 1915 – 1 · Calgary Herald (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) · Newspapers.comU.S. paper reports sinking of Lusitania; Includes news of local residents on boardU.S. paper reports sinking of Lusitania; Includes news of local residents on board Sat, May 8, 1915 – Page 1 · Pittsburgh Daily Post (Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comBritish newspaper reports on sinking of Lusitania; Includes map of where ship was sunkBritish newspaper reports on sinking of Lusitania; Includes map of where ship was sunk Sat, May 8, 1915 – Page 9 · The Times (London, Greater London, England) · Newspapers.comAustralian newspaper announces sinking of Lusitania by German submarineAustralian newspaper announces sinking of Lusitania by German submarine Mon, May 10, 1915 – Page 9 · The Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) · Newspapers.comSummary of reactions of New York newspapers to the sinking of the LusitaniaSummary of reactions of New York newspapers to the sinking of the Lusitania Sat, May 8, 1915 – Page 10 · Palladium-Item (Richmond, Wayne, Indiana, United States of America) · Newspapers.comFacts about the Lusitania and its sinking, including interior photos of the shipFacts about the Lusitania and its sinking, including interior photos of the ship Sat, May 8, 1915 – 27 · Hartford Courant (Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut, United States of America) · Newspapers.comThe Lusitania reported to be the 29th ship sunk in German war zone in May 1915The Lusitania reported to be the 29th ship sunk in German war zone in May 1915 Sat, May 8, 1915 – Page 4 · The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Fulton, Georgia, United States of America) · Newspapers.comPhotos of 3 prominent victims of Lusitania sinking: Alfred Vanderbilt, FS Pearson, Charles FrohmanPhotos of 3 prominent victims of Lusitania sinking: Alfred Vanderbilt, FS Pearson, Charles Frohman Sat, May 8, 1915 – 9 · Calgary Herald (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) · Newspapers.comReports of the sinking of the Lusitania, including a list of known survivorsReports of the sinking of the Lusitania, including a list of known survivors Sun, May 9, 1915 – 14 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America) · Newspapers.comDays after the sinking of Lusitania, bodies of 1200 passengers are reported as not yet recoveredDays after the sinking of Lusitania, bodies of 1200 passengers are reported as not yet recovered Sun, May 9, 1915 – Page 1 · Morning Register (Eugene, Lane, Oregon) · Newspapers.comCunard representative claims the Lusitania was not carrying guns, ammunition, or explosivesCunard representative claims the Lusitania was not carrying guns, ammunition, or explosives Mon, May 10, 1915 – Page 5 · The Boston Daily Globe (Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.comTribute paid to 92 of the victims who died during the sinking of the LusitaniaTribute paid to 92 of the victims who died during the sinking of the Lusitania Tue, May 11, 1915 – 6 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America) · Newspapers.comGermany expresses sympathy but says actions were necessary as Lusitania was carrying war materialGermany expresses sympathy but says actions were necessary as Lusitania was carrying war material Thu, May 20, 1915 – 2 · The Marshfield News and Wisconsin Hub (Marshfield, Wisconsin, United States of America) · Newspapers.com
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