On the afternoon of May 7, 1915, the British ocean liner Lusitania was torpedoed without warning by a German submarine off the south coast of Ireland. Here are five things you probably didn't know about the sinking of the Lusitania...
The Lusitania Was Briefly the World's Largest Passenger Ship The Lusitania was around for a long time before her sinking; her maiden voyage was actually in 1907, so people knew her as a fast and tough ship that could get people across the sea efficiently. When she was initially launched, she was also the largest passenger ship in the world. That didn't last long; the Mauretania, her "running mate" or paired ship that offered similar travel schedules, was soon launched, taking that title away from the Lusitania.
The German Embassy (in the U.S.) Printed a Warning a Month Before the Ship Set off on Its Last Journey The German embassy took an unusual step a month before the Lusitania's last voyage. It placed newspaper ads reminding the U.S. public that a war was on in Europe and that trans-Atlantic voyages could be subject to danger. The ad specifically named the waters around the UK as a danger zone and basically threatened any ship in that area.
The Ship Was Gone in Less Than 18 Minutes The ship was hit in just the right way to make it list severely to one side, preventing lifeboats from launching. Adding to the problem, the ship's boilers exploded after the attack, leading to a very fast sinking. While the ship was yet another that people had considered invincible, the list to one side and the damaged boilers affected the ship so badly that the ship took on too much water, too quickly. It took only 18 minutes for the entire boat to sink.
The Attack on the Ship Was a Major Factor in Getting the U.S. to Join the War Almost 1,200 people died as a result of the attack, including 128 Americans. You can imagine the outcry over the sinking of a passenger ship, despite Germany's claims that it was acting as more than just a passenger ship. While the sinking of the Lusitania didn't lead immediately to the U.S. joining -- and in fact, it led to Germany reducing attacks in the zone (not eliminating them; another liner was sunk later that year) -- it did make the U.S. public angry with Germany and began the slow march toward the U.S. joining the war in 1917 after the Germans sank yet another liner, the Housatonic.
The Ship Was the Subject of a Pretty Nasty Conspiracy Theory By now it's not unusual to hear about conspiracy theories surrounding a disaster. In the case of the Lusitania, however, the theories were rather nasty given the surrounding situation: They focused on the possibility that the ship might have been deliberately put in harm's way and sabotaged to make it sink faster, all to get the U.S. to join the war. The main theory states that the British wanted to get the heavily isolationist U.S. to finally join their side in the devastating conflict and rigged the ship to sink fast. The quick demise, the fact that it took only one torpedo to cause such damage, and even the fact that the ship took such a dangerous route all bolstered the theory. But historians have been quick to note that the ship was, at the time, considered so fast and modern that the thinking was that it could outrun trouble.