The RMS Lusitania, a British ocean liner was owned by the Cunard Steamship Line Shipping Company. It was a competitor of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, commonly known as the White Star Line. White Star was famous for it’s luxury flagship, the RMS Titanic. The Cunard ships were not as fast as the White Star ships which could make a transatlantic trip fast enough to provide weekly service between Liverpool & New York. As a result, Cunard had three ships to provide a competing schedule. One of them was the Lusitania, launched June 7, 1906.
When World War I began, the Lusitania maintained a regular service with monthly sailings between Liverpool and New York. Submarine warfare resulted in the sinking of ships including passenger ships suspected of carrying supplies and munitions to the Brittish. The Germans published an advertisement in American newspapers warning Americans not to sail on British ships because they were subject to being sunk. The ads first appeared on the very morning the Lusitania was sailing from New York.
On May 7, 1915 as the Luisitania was sailing off the coast of Ireland a German U boat, U-20 torpedoed her without warning. Two explosions occurred. The first was the torpedo, but the second has been a subject of controversy since the sinking. The Germans maintained that the passenger liner was carrying munitions for the war and that was the cause of the second explosion.
The ship sank in only 18 minutes. Some one thousand one hundred ninety eight people died and only seven hundred sixty one were rescued. A number of Americans on board lost their lives in the sinking. Up to this time there had been substantial sympathy in the U.S. for the German position in the war. After the sinking, the tide of public opinion turned against Germany and there were demands for the U.S. to declare war on Germany. President Woodrow Wilson demanded reparation. Germany refused to accept responsibility, but ordered it’s submarines to adopt a new policy of warning passenger ships before attacking them. The sinking played a major role in the United States entering the war two years later. Recruitment posters urged enlistment and to "Remember the Lusitania."
Sometime after the sinking newspapers reported the finding of a bottle with a message inside from a passenger on the Lusitania. They reported the note read:
"Still on deck with a few people. The last boats have left. We are sinking fast. Some men near me are praying with a priest. The end is near. Maybe this note will…" and the note abruptly ended.
The speculation was the writer had to rush to stuff the note in the bottle as the ship sank.
The story of this ship and it’s sinking is one of the great tragedies about the horror of war.