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From the Archives, 1915: The Lusitania is sunk by German torpedoes in WWI




Mr. Alfred Vanderbilt a Victim


German submarine sinks the Lusitania, 1915.

German submarine sinks the Lusitania, 1915.

In pursuance of Germany’s policy of piratical warfare, in attacking unarmed merchant ships and sinking them without warning, a German submarine has sank the Cunard liner Lusitania, 30,396 tons, during a voyage from New York to Liverpool. The liner was off the Old Head of Kinsale, less than twenty miles from the entrance to Cork Harbor, about 2 p.m., on Friday, when she was torpedoed without warning and sank within half an hour.

The weather at the time was perfect, with a hot sun and gentle southerly breeze.

The loss of life is believed to total 1502.

The Official Press Bureau makes the following announcement:

Total on Board: 2,160

Survivors: 658

Perished: 1502

The Lusitania carried 1313 passengers. They comprised:

First class: 290

Second Class: 662

Third Class: 361

Already 145 bodies have been brought in. Nearly all of the first class passengers perished. Of these 106 were Americans. It is stated that the American passengers totaled 187. A message from Washington, however, sets down the total number of Americans on board at 600.

Of the first class passengers, 179 were British subjects. Other Britishers on board totaled 723.

Between 500 and 600 survivors landed at Queenstown. Several, who were wounded, died. Eleven survivors are at Kinsale, and others are scattered along the coast.

Five of the boats reached Queenstown late on Friday night. Pitiable scenes were witnessed as the survivors landed. They consisted of barefooted men and women, thinly clad, their clothing soaked with sea water.

Twenty-two of the rescued passengers have died.

The captain and first and second officers and 67 of the crew, including four stewardesses, have been saved.

Immediately after the liner was struck she took a heavy list. Those who made for the port side had very little chance. The first class passengers were having lunch at the time of the disaster.

Before the vessel made the final plunge the stern rose high in the air, and remained there several minutes.

Many of the passengers were stupefied by the fumes of the torpedo.

The passengers generally believed that although the liner had been torpedoed she would float. She however sank in less than 30 minutes.




Scarcely any scene in the war has made the same profound impression in London. The threats made prior to sailing were lightly dismissed. Even the submarine activity off Kinsale during the last few days did not cause anxiety, the public pinning its faith in the liner’s speed.

The first rumors of disaster were frankly discredited, but the official confirmation of the news produced a shock. Most people were unable to realise a great disaster had happened. Slowly the facts were accepted. The one question asked was, how many were saved? The absence of information on this point deepened the anxiety.

Distressed inquirers, including many Americans, besieged Cunard company’s offices. Heartrending scenes were witnessed, as the officials were for some hours without information. A lady fainted at the counter whilst asking for news of her brother and sister. The crowds in Cockspur-street increased hourly, and offices of the company remained open all night.




According to the best available information, the Lusitania was torpedoed about 2 o’clock. The signalmen at Kinsale Head observed the liner in difficulties at 2.12 p.m. Apparently the first wireless call for help was picked up at Queenstown, three minutes late, and Kinsale reported that at 2.33 that the vessel had disappeared. Twenty boats were counted on the scene immediately afterwards. All the Lusitania’s boats were capable of carrying from 50 to 60 people each. The liner carried more than sufficient boats to accommodate the passengers and crew.

Meanwhile Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Coke had ordered four naval vessels and all the available tugs, trawlers and lifeboats from Queenstown to help in the rescue work, and summoned all the neighboring stations. Many motor boats were prominent in the rescue work. A Greek steamer was among the first at the scene, and she towed the boats towards the harbor.

A motor boat rescued 50 people, transferred them to the Admiralty tug Stormcock, and, returning to the scene, towed several boats. Soon the fleet of the Lusitania’s boats were being slowly moved shoreward. A fleet of motors was dispatched from Cork to meet the survivors. Those who were wounded were soon placed in a hospital, where several of them died.

The survivors landing at various ports caused confusion in arriving at estimates of the number rescued.

A Greek lady, who is an expert swimmer, swam for a long time before she was rescued.


A later message states that up to Friday afternoon the voyage had been pleasant and uneventful. Nobody on board believed Germany would dare to outrage civilisation by the destruction of a liner full of non-combatants, many of them citizens of nations with which Germany is at peace. After passing Fastnet rock, on the extreme south of the Irish Coast, the Lusitania slowed down. The boats were swung out as a precaution, and a sharp lookout kept. Full speed was ordered off Kinsale.

The first torpedo entered the stokehold causing a terrible explosion. It was followed by another. The second torpedo sent great columns of water and huge quantities of wood splinters on to the deck.

Boats containing 30 passengers tilted into the sea owing to a rope sticking. Altogether ten boats were successfully launched.

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