A British steamship, sunken by a German submarine in May 7, 1915, off the Irish coast. Eight years earlier the steamer had established new speed records on her first transatlantic crossing.
The Lusitania had then been the largest ship afloat. Now there was a different kind of excitement, for Great Britain was embroiled in war with Germany, and the German government had just issued a terse warning to Americans that British ships were subject to attack. Out of 1,258 persons booked for the crossing to Liverpool, England, only one — an American clergyman — heeded the warning and canceled his passage. With the doomed ship sailed 159 Americans.
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Shortly after 2:00 PM the ship changed course slightly, swinging northward toward the Irish Sea. The coast of Ireland had already come into view. Many of the passengers were strolling on deck. Suddenly, from the bridge, came a startled cry, "There is a torpedo coming, Sir!" The warning was followed by a violent explosion as the deadly missile ripped into the Lusitania's hull. It was a direct hit, fired from a German submarine some 700 yards away. Mortally stricken, the great ship began to heel. Within 18 minutes only an oil slick, floating debris, and a few scattered lifeboats indicated where the liner had gone down.
The captain of the submarine, Lieut. Comdr. Walter Schweiger, must have been astonished that the Lusitania had ventured into these waters. Only the day before, he had sunk two other British steamers in the same area. Watching the stricken Lusitania through his periscope, Schweiger recorded in his log, "The ship stops immediately and quickly heels to starboard. Great confusion.... Lifeboats being cleared and lowered to water. Many boats crowded... immediately fill and sink." Later he wrote, "It would have been impossible for me to fire a second torpedo into this crowd of people struggling to save their lives."
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