What was the Lusitania

Fatalities on the Lusitania in World War I, 1915

Published by Bernhard Weidenbach, 01/13/2021
On May 7, 1915, the passenger steamer Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine during the First World War. 1,198 of the almost 2,000 passengers drowned. 128 American citizens were among the dead.

Submarines in World War I

The Central Powers were restricted in their own war efforts in the First World War by the states of the Entente, in particular by Great Britain, with the help of a sea blockade. The aim was to economically isolate the Central Powers from essential import raw materials such as oil and rubber. The Royal Navy was traditionally the strongest navy of the world powers and was only recently challenged in this position by the German Reich in the form of an arms race. Submarines played only a limited role in addition to the large surface fleets, but the effectiveness of submarines was particularly evident in the fight against merchant ships. For its part, the German Reich tried to cut off the British from overseas supplies. The submarine war took place in phases of varying intensity.

The sinking of the Lusitania

The German Reich declared the waters around Great Britain to be a combat zone in which all ships flying the British flag would possibly be sunk. This contradicted current international law, as this provided for a prior examination of existing war-essential goods before sinking. In addition, the attacker had to ensure that the crew of the merchant ship was brought to safety. However, this approach would make the fighting style of the submarines completely impossible, so these guidelines were often ignored.
The Lusitania was sunk by the German submarine U20 in the Irish Sea without warning. This attack, although the Lusitania had actually loaded ammunition and thus material essential for the war effort, outraged the American public considerably. In order to prevent the USA from entering the war, the German Reich officially apologized and again restricted its submarine operations.

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Number of fatalities in the sinking of the Lusitania in World War I on May 7, 1915