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RMS Lusitania

RMS Lusitania was an ocean liner operated by the Cunard Company that served the Liverpool, England – New York City, United States route on the North Atlantic. The ship was designed by Leonard Peskett and built by John Brown and Company of Clydebank, Scotland. The ship was named after the ancient Roman province of Lusitania, which is now part of present-day Portugal and western Spain.

Lusitania was launched on 7 June 1906 and entered service for Cunard on 26 August 1907. When she entered service, Lusitania set the records for the largest and fastest ship afloat, taking these records from the ships of the United Kingdom’s naval rival, Germany. Lusitania maintained these records until the entry of her twin sister Mauretania into the North Atlantic run.  Lusitania, Mauretania, and slower but larger Aquitania provided a weekly passenger service for the Cunard Line just prior to the First World War.

During World War I, Germany waged submarine warfare against the United Kingdom. Lusitania, which had been built with the capability of being converted into a warship, was identified as a target. The German submarine U-20 torpedoed and sank her on 7 May 1915; this was early in the war before tactics for evading submarines were fully developed. The ship suffered two explosions, the second one which could never fully be explained, and sank in 18 minutes. The Lusitania disaster killed 1,192 of the 1,960 known people on board, leaving 768 survivors. Four of these survivors died soon afterwards of trauma sustained from the sinking, bringing the final death toll to 1,196.

The sinking turned public opinion against Germany, particularly those in Ireland and the then-neutral United States. Previously the war was seen as being removed from their daily lives, but after the sinking they felt that the war now involved them. The United States joined the war on the side of the Allies (same side as the United Kingdom) and against Germany on 6 April 1917.

Official inquiries in both the United Kingdom and United States into the cause of the Lusitania wreck were obstructed by the needs of wartime secrecy and a propaganda campaign to ensure all blame fell upon Germany. In defense of her wartime actions, Germany claimed that Lusitania, a passenger ship, was carrying war contraband that exploded upon torpedoing and that the British Government had deliberately exposed Lusitania to danger in hopes of bringing United States into the war on Britain’s side.

Arguments on whether Germany’s attack on a ship that was carrying passengers as well as war contraband was justified, as well as the nature of the ship’s second explosion, continue to be debated today.

Contributors:
Paul Latimer
J. Kent Layton
Michael Poirier
Eric Sauder

References:
Ballard, Robert D. and Spencer Dunmore.  Exploring the Lusitania.  Warner Books, 1995.

Braynard, Frank O. and William H. Miller.  Fifty Famous Liners, Volume I.  W. W. Norton & Company, 1982.

Hickey, Des and Gus Smith.  Seven Days to Disaster.  G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1981.

Hoehling, A. A. and Mary Hoehling.  The Last Voyage of the Lusitania.  Madison Books, 1956.

Kludas, Arnold.  Great Passenger Ships of the World, Volume I.  Patrick Stephens Ltd., 1975.

Lauriat, Charles E. Lusitania‘s Last Voyage. Houghton Mifflin and Co., 1915.

Layton, J. Kent.  Lusitania:  An Illustrated Biography of the Ship of Splendor.  Lulu Press, 2007.

Preston, Diana.  Lusitania:  An Epic Tragedy.  Berkley Books, 2002.

“RMS Lusitania.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004. Web. 22 April 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Lusitania>

Sauder, Eric.  RMS Lusitania:  The Ship & Her Record.  Tempus Publishing Ltd, 2005.

Sauder, Eric and Ken Marschall with Bill Sauder.  R.M.S. Lusitania: Triumph of the Edwardian Age. Waterfront Publications, 1993.

Simpson, Colin.  The Lusitania.  Little, Brown, and Company, 1972.

Warren, Mark D.  The Cunard Turbine Driven Quadruple-Screw Atlantic Liner Lusitania.  Patrick Stephens Ltd., 1986.

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