A Brief Summary and Resources for Deeper Inquiry
Since the beginning of World War I, Germany had been trying to cripple Britain by using submarines to sink war and cargo ships, as well as passenger ships identified as enemy craft or sailing under false flags (that is, British ships flying the flags of neutral nations to gain safe passage).
On April 22, 1915, Germany issued a warning to its embassy in Washington for general distribution stating that Americans should not sail on British vessels. Doing so would put them at risk of attack. Nine days later, on May 1, the German embassy published the warning. It appeared the day the Lusitania set out on its fateful voyage.
On April 30, Captain Walther Schwieger set the submarine U-20 on a course toward the Celtic Sea, the part of the Atlantic south of Saint George Channel, between the southern tips of Ireland and England. His mission was to sink as much enemy tonnage as possible, not specifically the Lusitania.
On May 7, U-20 encountered the Lusitania and sunk it, resulting in 1,198 dead and 761 survivors.
In the aftermath, anti-German riots break out worldwide. However, the sinking did not drive the U.S. into the war. (The U.S. declared war on Germany April 6, 1917. The World War ended on November 11, 1918.)
As with the Titanic (lost on April 14, 1912), the sinking of the Lusitania has generated millions of words about the ship itself, the crew, the passengers, the torpedoing, along with its own list of controversies. Following are resources for those interested in exploring the subject in greater depth.
The Lusitania Resource A history of the event, facts about the ship, biographies of the passengers and crew, primary documents related to the sinking, a gallery of photos, and more. The most in-depth resource on the subject.
“Sinking of the RMS Lusitania” A comprehensive article covering all aspects of the ship, its sinking, and the various controversies surrounding the event.
Dead Wake, by Eric Larson A new history that interweaves the stories of various passengers, crew, and the captain of the German U-20, plus commentary on the controversies. Rendered in Larson’s familiar style.
Room 40: British Naval Intelligence, 1914-1918, by Patrick Beesly On the subject of the Lusitania, Beesly makes the argument that the British government, i.e. Churchill, deliberately put the ship at risk in the hopes of drawing the U.S. into the World War, probably the most controversial of all the controversies.
A Night to Remember, by Walter Lord Just about the best book on the sinking of a great ocean liner, specifically the Titanic. Like no other, Lord manages to delineate the facts while adding real humanity with fascinating biographies and remembrances of survivors. c/w