Torpedoed!

Historian Diana Preston presents findings about the Lusitania and draws on recently discovered interviews to bring the drama to life

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

Diana Preston traces her investigation of the sinking of the Lusitania, the British passenger liner torpedoed in May of 1915 by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland, to the day in 1998 that she came across the ship’s “giant bronze propeller, stark as a dinosaur bone, sitting on the quayside in Liverpool’s docks.” 

The relic so intrigued Preston, a noted historian and author of The Boxer Rebellion, that she would devote three years to investigating the incident and conduct dozens of interviews, trying to better understand “how a ship carrying civilian men, women and children could have been sunk without warning.” She tracked down passengers’ families, pored over military documents in England, Germany and the United States, plunged into the files of the ocean liner’s company, Cunard, and listened to interviews with survivors and witnesses recorded decades ago by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “It was an extraordinary sensation to hear those voices speaking out across the years, sometimes so choked with emotion as they described losing hold of parents or children in the cold water,” says Preston. 

She unearthed evidence that sheds new light on the attack, which killed 1,201 of the 1,962 people aboard and, in her view, heralded the brutality that would characterize World War I. “The sinking of the Lusitania signaled a sea-change in the nature of warfare,” she writes in Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy, published this month. Following world condemnation after the sinking, German authorities recanted their initial boasts that they had deliberately torpedoed the ocean liner, saying that the captain of the submarine that launched the two torpedoes—one of which struck home—didn’t know what he was firing at. Though historians have differed on the degree of Germany’s culpability, Preston, analyzing documents in a German military archive, found evidence that the attack was “premeditated and that German U-boats had, in fact, been stalking the liner for months.” Moreover, Preston writes that the German submarine’s logbook was doctored after the event, “probably when the Kaiser began to fear defeat and the potential for war crimes charges.” 

Preston’s research bears directly on questions about the incident that spark debate to this day. Though the attack helped draw the United States into the war, she found no evidence that the British had, in any way, allowed the Lusitania to be sunk as a ploy to recruit American support, contrary to conspiracy theories. At the same time, she documents that British officials largely ignored warnings by the Imperial German Embassy in Washington—published in 50 American newspapers—that vessels flying the British flag were “liable to destruction.” 

Nor did Preston substantiate German claims that the ship was carrying Canadian troops and was thus a legitimate target. But she does present evidence that the liner was transporting munitions and weapons. That’s significant because British authorities played down that fact at the official inquiry, presumably out of concern that the public would assume that explodingmunitions contributed to the tragedy. In fact, a technical study commissioned by Preston found that the ship foundered so quickly—in just 18 minutes—because the torpedo struck it just below the bridge, causing catastrophic structural failure.

But for all its political intrigue and controversy, the story’s enduring significance, Preston says, lies in the remarkable courage of the stricken liner’s passengers. In a collection of unpublished papers, she tracked one woman’s quest to learn the fate of her young son, a passenger. The hundreds of letters the woman received cast new light on the Lusitania’s final moments and show, says Preston, “how despite the confusion and danger, people instinctively helped one another regardless of nationality, gender or age. They prove the resilience of the human spirit in the worst of times.” 

The 785-foot-long Lusitania, whose home port was Liverpool, was put into service in September 1907. Her last voyage began May 1, 1915, when she steamed out of New York. The reader should be warned that the following exclusive excerpt from Preston’s book contains graphic descriptions of the violence that befell passengers. The incident occurred some ten miles off the coast of Ireland. German U-20 submarine Capt. Walther Schwieger, 2,300 feet from the ship, gave the order to fire at 2:10 p.m., local time:

Just ten minutes after the torpedo struck, Lusitania’s captain, William Turner, knew he could do nothing to save his ship. With water already lapping over the liner’s bows, he told Staff Capt. John Anderson to lower the lifeboats into the water. But the listing to starboard made launching boats from the port side virtually impossible, since they were “all swinging into the ship.” Seamen and passengers struggled to push the lifeboats out over the rail, but their desperate efforts produced catastrophic results. Third Officer Albert Bestic appealed at the top of his voice to men in the crowd pressing around him to help him heave the No. 2 boat, loaded with women and children, over the side. Hard as they tried, they did not have the strength to shift its more than two tons of weight. Bestic watched helplessly as the boat slammed against the superstructure, crushing people as it went. Even when the boats were successfully pushed over the rail, they bumped down the ship’s side, where rivets, protruding nearly two inches, snagged them. At each bump and jolt people spilled like rag dolls into the water below.

Ogden Hammond, a former U.S. diplomat from Hoboken, New Jersey, and his wife, Mary, were among a frightened group seeking temporary sanctuary high above the water when a petty officer told Mrs. Hammond to get into a lifeboat. She refused to be parted from her husband. Seeing that there was space for them both, they climbed in. According to Ogden Hammond, “The boat was about half filled, about 35 people in it. They started to lower the boat, and the men at the bow let the tackle slip.” Hammond, perched in the bow of the boat, grabbed at the speeding rope falls [block and tackle] used to hoist and lower the boats, losing “all the skin off my right hand.” The bow dropped but “the stern tackle held, and everybody fell out of that boat,” some 60 feet above the water. The lifeboat then broke free, crashing on top of the people struggling in the water below. Ogden never saw his wife again.

On the starboard side, lifeboats were swinging crazily away from the ship. Some of the more agile passengers jumped seven or eight feet to get into them. Frantic passengers hindered the crew manning the rope falls. There was no public-address system. The officers shouting out orders could barely be heard over the din of wood scraping against metal and the cries and shouts of frightened passengers. Able Seaman Leslie Morton rushed to lower a full lifeboat. He grabbed the afterboat fall while another seaman operated the forward fall. They succeeded in lowering the boat to the water. But because the Lusitania was still plowing through the sea, the boat immediately fell back, coming up alongside the listing ship directly beneath the next lifeboat being lowered. Morton could only watch aghast as the boat full of people broke free and dropped 30 feet onto the first boat. Morton heard “a gradual crescendo of noise as the hundreds and hundreds of people began to realize that, not only was she going down very fast but in all probability too fast for them all to get away.” It was “a horrible and bizarre orchestra of death.”

James Brooks, a passenger from Bridgeport, Connecticut, was also unnerved by what he had seen, especially the people who had tumbled out of the boats “bobbing for a mile back.” Seeing that the water was almost up to the Boat Deck, he helped some 20 or 30 women clinging to the rail into a boat and jumped in after them. The tackle, fall and snubbing chain were still attached, and he looked around desperately for a hammer to release the boat. Finding none, he and a crewman “both used our fists” but could make no impression. He heard “a crushing sound of wood” and saw that “the boat would never get away.” He and the sailor both jumped and began swimming.

Looking down the starboard deck, Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat saw that “wild confusion had broken loose.” Boat No. 7, filled with women and children, was still attached to the ship. He jumped in and tried to free the after falls. At the forward falls a steward was “bravely cutting away at the thick ropes with a pocket knife.” Lauriat grimly wished the man had an ax. He tried to go to his aid, “but it was impossible to climb through that boatload of people, mixed up as they were with oars, boat hooks, kegs of water, rope ladders, sails, and God knows what.” Looking up at the tremendous smokestack hanging out over them as the ship listed even farther only added to the terror. Lauriat pleaded with the boat’s occupants to jump, “but truly they were petrified.” Lauriat gave up and jumped himself. Looking back, he saw the lifeboat dragged under. He heard the choking cries of its occupants as the waters closed over them.

As the ship continued to list, some of those still trapped on board began to panic. Lucy and Harold Taylor were standing at the rail, near a lifeboat loaded with women. “I won’t go, I won’t!” Lucy Taylor was screaming. Her husband extricated himself from her embrace, kissed her and dropped her into the boat. As it pulled away she could see him waving to her; she waved back as he went down with the ship.

Seeing that the ship’s screw propellers and rudders were out of the water, some passengers tried to slide down wires and ropes. Many threw propriety to the winds and stripped down, believing their chances of survival would be better if they were wearing fewer clothes.

Charlotte Pye had grabbed her baby, Marjorie, and run onto the deck. She saw “women shouting and screaming and praying to be saved.” Again and again she was thrown off her feet by the list. A man came up to her and said, “Don’t cry. It’s quite all right,” to which the distraught mother replied, “No, it isn’t.” He promised to find her a life jacket. Then, failing to locate one, he gave her his own. As he tied it on her, Charlotte recognized him as the man who had paid her five dollars for a charity concert program the previous evening: American millionaire Alfred Vanderbilt. Seeing how steeply the ship was now listing, he advised her to carry her baby in her arms. He then helped her toward a boat. The crew helped her climb in, then handed the child to her. Looking up, Charlotte thought that the Lusitania was “just about ready to roll on top of us.” She had “the terrible feeling that I’d have to get up and push her back.” Canadian nurse Alice Lines saw Vanderbilt with his valet, Ronald Denyer, by his side. She heard him say, “Find all the kiddies you can, boy.” The man rushed off immediately to collect the children, and as he brought them to Vanderbilt, the millionaire “dashed to the boats with two little ones in his arms at a time.” He looked as composed as if waiting for a train. According to the ship’s barber, Lott Gadd, Vanderbilt was “trying to put life jackets on women and children. The ship was going down fast. When the sea reached them, they were washed away. I never saw Vanderbilt after that. All I saw in the water was children everywhere.”

Theodate Pope, a spiritualist from Connecticut, and her colleague Edwin Friend decided to jump. They reached the port side and pushed their way toward the stern, “which was now uphill work.” Theodate’s maid, Emily Robinson, joined them, “her habitual smile” frozen on her face. Friend found life jackets for them all. They “could now see the grey hull and knew it was time to jump.” Theodate begged him to go first, which he did. He surfaced, and she saw “a pleasant smile of encouragement on his face.” Theodate stepped forward, slipped, but then found a foothold on a roll of canvas. With a patrician instruction to her maid—“Come, Robinson”—she pushed off from the canvas and leaped into the sea.

Bellboy Ben Holton had tried to help launch lifeboats but gave up in despair. Looking toward the bridge, he saw a wretched-looking Captain Turner “watching the ship go down.” The boy slipped through a mass of “pushing and struggling” people, hopped on the rail under the bridge on the port side, and took a header into the Atlantic Ocean. It was “very, very cold.”

German submarine Capt. Walther Schwieger’s war diary described the death of the Lusitania: 2.10 p.m. Great confusion on board; boats are cleared away and some are lowered into the water. Apparently considerable panic; several boats, fully laden, are hurriedly lowered, bow or stern first and are swamped at once. Because of the list fewer boats can be cleared away on the port side. 

2.25 p.m. Since it seems as if the steamer can only remain afloat a short while longer, dive to 24 meters and head out to sea. 

Schwieger later told a friend: “It was the most terrible sight I have ever seen. It was impossible for me to give any help. I could have saved only a handful. . . . I gave orders to dive to twenty meters and away.”

After rushed into the Lusitania’s collapsing stacks. A clergyman’s wife, Margaret Gwyer, was sucked deep inside the cavernous vent of a funnel. Moments later she was amazed to be shot out again in a huge column of ashes, soot and oily black water. Most of her clothing had been torn off. One passenger struggling amid the debris in the water glanced back and saw the Lusitania about to take her final plunge. He forgot his own plight for a moment, transfixed by the shocking, almost incredible sight. To theatrical designer Oliver Bernard it had “something of picturesque grandeur about it, even though we knew that many hundreds of helpless souls, caught like rats in a gilded trap, were in her.” Lifeboats were still hanging lopsidedly and futilely from the davits. A man dangling from a rope over the ship’s stern was heard to shriek as a still-revolving propeller sliced off his leg. The stern itself, Bernard recalled, “was crowded with people who seemed to make for the last piece of the wreck left above water; while others, unsuccessful in their efforts to gain this temporary safe place, were falling over the side. All around were wreckage and human beings struggling for life.” 

Holton, the bellboy, “heard a roar like thunder inside the ship as if the vital parts had broken loose.” To James Brooks, it sounded like “the collapse of a great building during a fire.” As the Lusitania slid down into the water, some onlookers thought she nearly righted herself. Then the “mighty crescendo of screams and cries of fear died away to a whisper” as the ship turned slowly onto her starboard side “and went under the water.” At 2:28 p.m., a mere 18 minutes after the U-20 had attacked, the Lusitania disappeared beneath the surface of the Atlantic. Steward Robert Barnes and Seaman Thomas O’Mahoney felt a “violent underwater explosion.” Holton saw “clouds of steam and surging water” over the spot where the ship had gone down. The ocean seethed like “a boiling wilderness that rose up as if a volcanic disturbance had occurred beneath a placid sea.” The mound of foaming water sent “swimmers, corpses, deckchairs, oars, and wreckage churning upwards to the surface.” Survivors instinctively shielded their heads with their hands as a tidal wave of debris surged toward them.

As the waters gradually stilled, they left “a circle of people and wreckage about half a mile across.” Those with sufficient presence of mind looked toward land in the hope of seeing rescue ships steaming out from Queenstown, Ireland. There was nothing. They could only cling to wreckage and hope to be picked up by one of the lifeboats that had got away from the ship. In some cases they had most to fear from each other. Matt Freeman, a British boxing champion, had gashed his head open when he dived into the sea, then struggled with five other men for a hold on a barrel that clearly could not support them all. In desperation he let go but managed to grab the keel of an upturned lifeboat. Having jumped into the water, Theodate Pope found herself “being washed and whirled up against wood.” Opening her eyes, she saw through the green water that she was being dashed against the keel of a lifeboat. Something hit her hard on the head, but, although half-stunned, she surfaced at last. “People all around me were fighting, striking and struggling,” she later recalled. Then a man “insane with fright” made “a sudden jump and landed clean on my shoulders, believing I could support him.” He had no life jacket, and his weight was pushing her back under. Somehow she found the strength to say “Oh, please don’t” before the waters closed over her. Feeling her sink, the man let go. Theodate surfaced again and looked around for Edwin Friend. Instead she saw close by her an elderly man, another man with a bloody gash in his forehead, and a third clasping a small tin tank as a float. Seeing an oar floating nearby, she pushed one end toward the old man and took hold of the other. Moments later she lost consciousness.

Charlotte Pye had lost her infant daughter, Marjorie, when she fell from her lifeboat into the water. When Pye finally surfaced, all she could see were bodies “and those that were living were screaming and shouting, wanting to be saved.” She drifted on with the tide, washing up against an upturned boat. A collapsible boat rowed toward them. Pye dimly heard someone shout, “Take the lady on, for God’s sake, she’s almost gone.” For a moment, the occupants debated whether to help her. Then, covered in grease and soot, she was pulled aboard.

After Margaret Cox, a Canadian, tossed her baby son, Desmond, into a lifeboat, she was pushed in after him. The boat was lowered, but when Cox tried to pick up the boy, people shouted, “We don’t know if it’s your baby or not.” Cox insisted he was. Sitting in the lifeboat, clutching Desmond to her, she tried not to look at “the people that swam up and begged to be taken in.” The boat was bursting with people “packed one on top of the other.” She felt herself go “a little mad.”

As time passed, the tightly packed mass of people and wreckage began to drift apart with the current. People were becoming paralyzed with cold—the water temperature was about 52 degrees Fahrenheit—and their hands were losing their grip on pieces of wreckage. Many of the ship’s lifeboats were now full to capacity, and their traumatized occupants were terrified of taking on more people and capsizing. Yet many passengers and crew did their best to help one another. Charles Lauriat and James Brooks climbed onto a collapsible lifeboat. Taking out penknives, they “went at a kind of can-opening operation” to try and raise the boat’s canvas sides and lash them in place. Because terrified, half-drowned people were hanging to the rail to which the canvas was attached, it was impossible to lift. Lauriat tried to persuade the people to let go and hold onto life ropes instead. But they were convinced he meant to “push them off.” Lauriat later wrote that he had never heard “a more distressing cry of despair” than when he appealed to them to relinquish the rail for a few moments.

Finally, having succeeded in raising the canvas sides, Lauriat and others picked up more people, loading the boat “until it sunk flush with the water.” When there were “about as many in our boat as we ought to take,” Lauriat heard a woman say, “in just as natural a tone of voice as you would ask for another slice of bread and butter, ‘Oh, won’t you take me next? You know I can’t swim.’” He peered into the debris around the boat to see “a woman’s head, with a piece of wreckage under her chin and with her hair streaming out. She was so jammed in she couldn’t even get her arms out, and with it all she had a half smile on her face and was placidly chewing gum.” Lauriat told her “that if she’d keep cool,” he’d come for her. She replied that “it was not at all necessary, just hand her an oar and she’d hang on.” He managed to maneuver around to her and pull her in. They started to row for the shore, making for the lighthouse on the Old Head of Kinsale [more than ten miles away]. After about a quarter of a mile Lauriat was astonished to see a lone man floating around by himself. He yelled when he saw them. Although the boat, with some 32 crammed in, was full, Lauriat felt “you couldn’t go off and leave that one more soul floating around.” He picked up the man.

Many owed their lives to crew members. First Officer Arthur Jones managed to transfer some of the passengers from his heavily loaded lifeboat into another boat and ordered both back to pick up more survivors. Captain Turner was saved by a crewman. As the waters had risen around him on the ship’s bridge, he had felt his way along the mast and jumped, managing to clear the radio wires and swim to the surface. He clung first to an oar, then a chair. But as the hours passed, he found himself “constantly fighting off attacks by seagulls.” Weakening from cold and exposure, he “flung up a gold-braided arm” to attract attention. Jack Roper, a crewman, saw him and helped support him in the water until a rescue craft picked him up. Turner apparently remarked, “What bad luck. . . . What have I done to deserve this?” Margaret Mackworth was dimly aware of people “praying aloud in a curious, unemotional monotone” and shouting for help “in the same slow, impersonal way, calling, ‘Bo-at . . . boat . . . bo-at.’” She tried swimming but gave up after only a few strokes, reluctant to abandon the board she still held onto. Bellboy Robert Clark survived by clinging for four hours to bits of wreckage. At last the exhausted lad was picked up by a boat but was almost instantly ordered out again to make space for women. Chilled and frightened, he was allowed to hang onto the side. Radio Officer Bob Leith, who had leaped into one lifeboat from another to escape the ship’s falling stacks, gazed toward the land that seemed so ludicrously close. Where were the ships that should have been responding to his SOS call? He could see nothing.

U.S. Consul Wesley Frost was working quietly in his office above O’Reilly’s bar in Queenstown, when his agitated vice consul, Lewis Thompson, came running up the stairs and told Frost that there was “a wildfire rumor about town that the Lusitania had been attacked.” Moving quickly to the window, the two men saw “the harbor’s ‘mosquito fleet’ of tugs, tenders and trawlers, some two dozen in all, begin to steam past the town toward the harbor-mouth.” Frost immediately rang the Cunard office, which “admitted that it appeared probable that the vessel was sunk or sinking.” Now thoroughly alarmed, Frost telephoned British naval headquarters. The lieutenant who answered told him somberly, “It’s true. We fear she has gone.” Throughout the town the cry “the Lusy’s gone” went up.

The fishing boat Peel 12 was among the first to reach the scene. Her crew of seven had just landed a catch of 800 mackerel when they saw the Lusitaniasinking about three miles southeast of them. They met the first lifeboats some 400 yards from where the ship had gone down. Elizabeth Duckworth, a 52-yearold widow from Taftville, Connecticut, was resolutely determined to save lives, and was rowing hard in one of the lifeboats. The fishermen helped the battered, exhausted survivors aboard. As she climbed in, Duckworth was surprised to spot another lifeboat “tossing about in the water” with only three aboard. A man stood up and shouted that he and his two companions were the only survivors out of an entire boatload. He begged for help to row back and rescue “some of the drowning.” The captain of the fishing boat refused, saying he could not spare the men. Duckworth was appalled. Before anyone could stop her, the wiry widow leaped the gap between the Peel 12 and the lifeboat and seized an oar. She and her three male companions rescued “about forty of those struggling in the water” and brought them back to the Peel 12. The fishermen cheered as they helped her on board.

Meanwhile Lauriat and James Brooks, in a lifeboat laden with people, had struggled to propel the craft toward the Peel 12. Margaret Gwyer, still thoroughly coated in oil and soot, was one of the passengers. As the lifeboat approached the fishing boat, she was ecstatic to see the tall figure of her husband standing at the rail with “a perfectly blank expression on his face.” At first he did not recognize her.

Lauriat landed his catch of 33 survivors on the Peel 12 with enormous relief. Although “it was slippery with fish scales and the usual dirt of fishermen, the deck of that boat under our feet felt as good as the front hall of our own homes,” he would later write. The fishermen rushed to provide the shivering, stricken people with what help they could. They improvised bandages and pulled woolen blankets from their bunks. Lauriat gave his sweater to a near-naked young man and his jacket to a woman clad only in a nightgown. The crew brewed hot tea. When that ran out, they passed around mugs of hot water. Sips from the boat’s one bottle of whiskey were rationed out to those most in need.

Lauriat rejoiced to see a 1-year-old baby pulled on board with his grateful mother and father. In all, the Peel 12 took on some 160 survivors. She was so crowded that Brooks was forced to dangle his legs over the side. Realizing that his own boat was now in some danger of sinking, the Peel 12’s captain took two more boats in tow and set out for Queenstown.

Belle Naish, looking anxiously around in her lifeboat, felt overwhelmed to see the rescue force finally appear: “Smoke, then, in several places ahead on the horizon, finally the smokestacks, and then the bows of the vessels seemed suddenly to come to view. . . . The sea was so smooth we could see the spray on the bows and swells behind each boat coming to our rescue.” Belle was taken on board the Julia [a British tug]. The sailors revived her with tea and gave her a hot brick. One man passed around a box of cakes his wife had made for him. Meanwhile, Belle was trying to comfort a despairing 7-year-old boy, Robert Kay, who not only had lost his mother but was feverishly in the throes of measles. Suddenly she saw an unconscious Theodate Pope pulled in from the sea with boat hooks and laid among the dead “like a sack of cement.” Luckily for Theodate, Belle hesitantly touched her stiff body, then pleaded with the sailors to give her artificial respiration. They cut off her fashionable clothing with a carving knife brought up from the galley and went to work. To their amazement, she came around. Gazing confusedly around her, Theodate gradually realized she was lying on the floor wrapped in a blanket and staring into a small open-grate fire.

Captain Turner was taken aboard the fishing boat Bluebell. The trawler’s skipper wrapped a blanket around him and took him down to the mess room, where he sat by the stove “with his head in his arms.” In a “low rather monotonous voice” a woman began to describe the loss of her baby. She berated Turner that her child’s death had been unnecessary, blaming the “lack of organization and discipline on board.” A sailor whispered to Margaret Mackworth, also picked up by the Bluebell that the woman was hysterical; Margaret thought the reverse: the poor bereft mother appeared to her “to be the one person on board who was not.”

The Bluebell reached Queenstown at about 11 p.m. Margaret Mackworth shuffled ashore in a khaki army greatcoat borrowed from a soldier over a blanket tucked around her waist and with the captain’s carpet slippers on her feet. She was too weak to step up onto the gangway and crawled onto it on her hands and knees. Captain Turner disembarked last. One observer thought he looked “terribly broken down.” He apparently remarked, “Well, it is the fortune of war.”

Charles Lauriat finally reached Queenstown at 9:30 p.m. After seeing the injured taken care of, he bought himself some pajamas of the thickest wool he had ever put on, had a drink in the Imperial Hotel bar and found himself a bed. Another survivor, though not a drinking man, tossed down six whiskeys and sodas that a soldier held out to him on a tray as he disembarked. He was convinced the drinks saved his life. Theodate Pope was carried ashore from the Julia by two sailors who made a chair with their hands and lifted her up. She was taken by car to a hotel where she tried to stand but immediately crumpled in a heap. A stream of men kept coming into her room, “snapping on the lights, bringing children for us to identify, taking telegrams, getting our names for the list of survivors.” Each time she scanned their faces, and each time she was disappointed. That night Pope, like some other survivors, found that her hair was beginning to fall out from the effects of shock.

Of 1,257 registered passengers, 785, including 128 Americans, died, as did 413 members of the 702-strong crew and three stowaways. Of 129 children on board, 94 lost their lives, including 35 of 39 infants.

Over the next few days a howl of outrage arose from the American and British press. “German Pirates Sink the Lusitania” proclaimed the Daily Sketch. “What Women and Children Endured When Murderers Sent the Lusitania to her Doom” was the headline in the Daily Mirror. The New York Nation called the sinking “A Deed for Which a Hun Would Blush, a Turk Be Ashamed, and a Barbary Pirate Apologize.”

Within a day of the sinking the local Irish coroner opened an inquest. Within two days the coroner and his jury reached their verdict. It was “wilful and wholesale murder” by the submarine officer sand “the Emperor and Government of Germany under whose orders they acted.”

Anti-German rioting broke out in British cities. Businesses with Germansounding names were looted. In Liverpool, mobs of 2,000 to 3,000 roamed the streets. On May 13, Prime Minister Asquith announced the internment of all military-aged enemy aliens.

The French joined the British in declaring the sinking an act of barbarity. One paper proclaimed that the atrocity “arouses the whole world to a feeling of horror.” The Dutch Telegraaf declared “Criminal is too mild a word to be applied to this outrage; it is devilish.”

When the United States joined the war two years later, in April 1917, American doughboys advanced into battle with the cry, “Remember the Lusitania!” In 1937, with war again on the horizon, Winston Churchill wrote that he regarded “the sinking of the Lusitania as an event most important and favorable to the Allies. . . . The poor babies who perished in the ocean struck a blow at German power more deadly than could have been achieved by the sacrifice of a hundred thousand fighting men.”

Tags

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus