Europe was engulfed in war, while America was largely kept safe by its policy of isolation — so far.
But that was all going to change. A photo of the RMS Lusitania coming into port. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Germany had recently unveiled the military might of its new secret weapon, the U-boat, with devastating success.
No ship in British waters was safe.
Treading Dangerous Waters
Yet despite all of this, on May 7, 1915, a merchant ship named the Lusitania decided to make a run to the British Isles.
Aboard its decks were close to 2,000 people, most of whom would soon be dead.
Whether these passengers realized it or not, below decks were tons of ammunition bound for England, a trait that classified this ship as a legally justifiable war target.
Was there money to be made off the sale of munitions? An ally to be aided? Or perhaps it was something more? While the decision to board the ammo is still debatable, what happened next is not.
Despite knowing the danger and prior warnings to maneuver in a zigzag pattern through the seas, Captain William Thomas Turner chose to ignore this advice.
It was foggy outside that morning, so perhaps he thought the weather would veil him from prying eyes — but it wouldn’t.
A Target Acquired
The German U-boat, the U-20, had found the Lusitania and designated it as their next target.
A torpedo was launched. When it hit, there was not one but two explosions. The second explosion caused so much damage to the hull that the ship rapidly began to list to the side as passengers screamed and ran for the arms of their loved ones.
Not all of the lifeboats could be launched due to the tilting of the ship. Without enough lifeboats, that could only mean one thing; they were going to die, and they knew it.
The horror of the Titanic was still fresh in many minds. They’ve read the stories; they know what happens next.
Eighteen minutes later, the ship was underwater, having taken a great many lifeboats with it.
By the end of the day, 1,198 passengers succumbed to the ocean, 128 of them being Americans. Only 761 survived, haunted by what they had just escaped.
Isolated No More
Though long uninterested spectators of the war, the sinking of the Lusitania changed the American public’s mind. Stories of the dead and survivor accounts filled the newspapers and local conversations.
A sleeping giant has been awakened, and America began gearing up to enter the battlegrounds of World War I.
In the end, Germany would have wished they had let that ship pass, as the munitions found on board would have ultimately done less damage.
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