Target of War?

Was Lusitania a legitimate target of war?

While it is certainly abominable to deliberately sink a ship with civilians on board, the fact remains that Lusitania was a British — and therefore belligerent — ship that had the capability to be converted into an auxiliary cruiser, and that she was running munitions and other war supplies through a German blockade.

According to cruiser laws, codified in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, the Germans should have fired a warning shot across the bow, stopped the ship, and confiscated or destroyed the contraband; however, Churchill had sent explicit orders for British captains not to stop their ships for German submarines, but to ram them at full speed, or if they were armed, to open fire.  Stopping for submarines would have been grounds for a court martial.

With German U-boats unable to stop enemy ships without the threat of being rammed or fired upon, if Captain-lieutenant Walther Schwieger of the U-20 wanted to stop Lusitania‘s munitions from being used against his countrymen, his only available course of action would have been to torpedo the ship.

What Lusitania was not, however, is also important.  She was not an armed auxiliary of the Royal Navy; she was not a warship; she was not carrying Canadian troops, and her cargo did not carry a large shipment of guncotton disguised as cheese or furs.

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