The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Lusitania (liner)

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LUSITANIA, British Cunard liner, torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine 10 miles off Old Head of Kinsale, on the southwestern coast of Ireland, at 2.05 P.M. on Friday, 7 May 1915. The Lusitania was built by the firm of John Brown and Company and launched on 7 June 1906, at Clydebank. The length of the vessel was 785 feet; breadth, 88 feet; depth to the boat-deck, 80 feet; maximum draught, 37 feet, and a height to the mast-head of 216 feet; gross tonnage, 40,000. She was fitted to carry 2,800 passengers, besides the crew. The Lusitania and her sister ship the Mauretania were built by the Cunard Steamship Company under special agreement with — and subsidized by — the British government. The fundamental condition of that agreement was that the vessel should be “capable of maintaining a minimum average ocean speed of from 24 to 25 knots in moderate weather.” Fulfilment of that condition restored to the British that supremacy of speed on the Transatlantic service (“the blue ribbon”) which had passed to the Germans some years before. Fitted with turbine engines, at her speed test the vessel averaged 25.35 knots over a 24-hour run. The maiden voyage, from Liverpool to New York, was made in September 1907, and in November the vessel established a record by making the journey from Fastnet to New York in 4 days, 18 hours, 40 minutes. The cost of the Luisitania was about $9,000,000; depreciation, maintenance and other charges were estimated at about $150,000 a month, and the expenses of each voyage to New York and back was approximately $150,000. During the first nine months of the war the vessel crossed the ocean with almost her accustomed regularity. On 6 Feb. 1915 the Lusitania arrived at Liverpool flying the American flag and with a number of American passengers aboard. The German submarine “blockade” of the British Isles opened on 18 Feb. 1915. On 1 May, the day the Lusitania was scheduled to sail from New York, an advertisement appeared in the leading journals of the United States emanating from the German embassy at Washington warning Americans against traveling on British ships. The Lusitania left New York on that day, commanded by Captain W. H. Turner, with a crew of over 600 and 1,250 passengers, among them 188 Americans. Her cargo was valued at $740,000, and consisted of copper articles, brass, furs and small-arms cartridges, but no guns, high explosives nor loaded shells. The vessel was not armed. She sank in about 21 minutes after being struck by the first torpedo. The total death roll amounted to 1,154 (755 of them being passengers, of whom 114 were Americans, and in addition there were 35 infants). The German claim that the Lusitania carried guns was disproved by American officials of the port of New York who inspected the ship before her departure. The Federal District Court of New York, in a decision written by Judge J. M. Mayer and filed 24 Aug. 1918, held that the vessel was unarmed and carried no explosives of any kind (Current History, New York, October 1918). As a result of the tragedy, a diplomatic controversy developed between the United States and Germany. See War, European.