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RMS Lusitania

The British ocean liner RMS Lusitania was operated by the Cunard Line in the early part of the 20th Century. When launched in 1906, RMS Lusitania was the largest passenger ship in the world. Fitted with a brand new type of turbine engine that allowed her to maintain a speed of 25 knots, RMS Lusitania became the holder of the coveted Blue Riband on her second voyage, and made a total of 202 crossings of the Atlantic Ocean. On May 7, 1915, while sailing from New York to Britain, RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat and, after a second unexplained, explosion sank off the south coast of Ireland. 1,198 passengers and crew went down with the ship, including 128 Americans. The sinking led to uproar in the United States.

Why was RMS Lusitania Built?
Towards the end of the 19th century Britain's Cunard was losing transatlantic passenger trade to other companies such as Germany’s Hamburg America Line and Norddeutscher Lloyd. Their ships were larger, more modern, more luxurious and faster than Cunard’s and between them had held the Blue Riband since capturing it from Cunard’s Campania in 1897. Cunard built Lusitania, and her sister ship Mauretania, in an effort to compete with these ocean liners.

How Was the Building of RMS Lusitania Funded?
Following a request from the Chairman of Cunard, Lord Inverclyde, the British Government agreed to loan Cunard £2.6 million to build RMS Lusitania and RMS Mauretania. The loan, with a low interest rate of 2.75% was repayable over 20 years. In return for building the ships to Admiralty specifications, with a view to using them as auxiliary cruisers in case of war, Cunard received an operating subsidy of £75,000 per annum as well as a £68,000 mail contract.

Who Designed RMS Lusitania?
RMS Lusitania was designed by Cunard’s Senior Naval Architect and Designer Leonard Peskett. Working from a large model of the proposed ship that he had built in 1902, Peskett made improvements such as increasing the number of propellers from three to four as well as adding a fourth funnel. The Admiralty experimental tank at Haslar, Gosport, was used to help refine the shape of the hull. The interiors of RMS Lusitania were designed by Scottish architect James Miller.

Where was RMS Lusitania Built?
RMS Lusitania’s Keel was laid down at the shipyard of John Brown and Company, Clydebank, Scotland, on June 16, 1904. The company had to make considerable adjustments to deal with the building of RMS Lusitania including: dredging the River Clyde, a new slipway, new gas and electrical plants, a dock extension, a new crane and other new equipment and machinery.

When was RMS Lusitania Launched?
After a delay of eight weeks, RMS Lusitania was launched on June 7, 1906. The naming of the ship was carried out by the widow of Lord Inverclyde, who had died eight months earlier. The propellers were fitted on launching and six tugs were used to capture RMS Lusitania and guide her to the berth where she would be fitted out.

How big was RMS Lusitania?
At the time of her Launch RMS Lusitania was the world’s largest passenger ship. She had nine decks, an overall length of 787ft with a beam of 87ft and a height (to her aerials) of 165ft. She had a draft of 33.6ft and displaced 44,767 tons of water. RMS Lusitania was fitted with twenty five Scotch Marine boilers, four Parsons steam turbines producing 76,000 hp and four propellers. She could reach a top speed of 28 knots. RMS Lusitania was able to carry 2,198 passengers and 827 crew. As part of the Government loan agreement, a secret compartment was included for carrying arms and ammunition.

RMS Lusitania Trials
RMS Lusitania’s engines were tested in June 1907 and the Builder’s trial began on July 27. RMS Lusitania reached a speed of 25.6 knots over a measured mile, however the high speed caused such bad vibrations in the stern that the second class accommodation became uninhabitable. The stern was remodelled to take in additional columns which stiffened the stern and reduced the vibrations which were being caused by the wake between the inner and outer propellers. This vibration was never fully corrected.

What Accommodation was Available on RMS Lusitania?
RMS Lusitania had six decks, from the top deck to the waterline, available for accommodation. The first class accommodation could hold 552 passengers and was situated between funnels one and four on the upper five decks, the second class accommodation could hold 460 passengers and was at the stern of RMS Lusitania behind the aft mast. Third class accommodation was spread over four decks at the front of the ship.

First Class on RMS Lusitania
The first class dining saloon was the most magnificent of the public rooms on RMS Lusitania and was decorated in the neoclassical Louis XVI style. It was laid out over two floors and in it's centre was an open circular well, topped with an intricate dome. The remaining public first class rooms consisted of the lounge, which was decorated in a Georgian style, a veranda cafe, a reading and writing room, and a smoking room. All the rooms were richly decorated with luxury carpets, curtains and furnishings. The six first class decks were linked by a grand staircase as well as two lifts. Cabins varied from one shared room to assorted en suite rooms and two regal suites.

Second Class on RMS Lusitania
The second class public rooms on RMS Lusitania consisted of a dining room, similar to first class but on one deck with a smaller balcony and dome. Other public second class rooms on RMS Lusitania consisted of a lounge, a smoking room and a ladies’ room. They were situated on segregated sections of the promenade and boat decks. Second class passengers were allocated comfortable, but shared, two and four berth cabins.

Third Class on RMS Lusitania
Third class on RMS Lusitania was far better than on most ships of the time. The third class public rooms on RMS Lusitania consisted of a dining room, in the ship’s bow on the saloon deck, a smoking room and a ladies’ room. Third class passengers were allocated berths in a two, four, six or eight berth cabin.

When did the Maiden Voyage of RMS Lusitania Take Place?
RMS Lusitania left Liverpool on September 7, 1907, to embark on her maiden voyage to New York. She anchored off Queenstown (Now Cobh) on the south coast of Ireland to take on additional passengers before continuing her voyage to New York, where she arrived on September 13, having been delayed by fog. RMS Lusitania remained in New York for a week during which time she was opened for guided tours. RMS Lusitania left New York for her return journey on September 21, arriving back in Liverpool on September 27, having been delayed by fog once again.

RMS Lusitania Captures the Blue Riband
RMS Lusitania captured the Blue Riband on her second voyage when she arrive in New York on October 11, 1907, in a record time of 4 days, 19 hours and 53 minutes at an average speed of 23.99 knots. RMS Lusitania held the record until December 1907 when it was captured by her sister ship RMS Mauretania. RMS Lusitania recaptured the Blue Riband in July 1907, but inly held it for a brief time as RMS Mauretania recaptured it in the same month.

RMS Lusitania and the Hudson-Fulton Celebration
RMS Lusitania was among the various modes of transport that were displayed as part of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, in New York, between Late September and Early October 1909. Wilbur Wright flew a Wright Flyer, which was also on display, over Lusitania several times during the celebration.

RMS Lusitania Requisitioned by the Admiralty
When WW1 began in 1914, RMS Lusitania was requisitioned by the Admiralty and listed as an armed merchant cruiser. With many ocean liners laid up during 1914 and 1915 because of a shortage of passengers and the risk of war damage, RMS Lusitania continued to make civilian transatlantic crossings. In an effort to disguise her and make her more difficult to see, RMS Lusitania was painted grey. During 1915 the threat was diminishing so RMS Lusitania was repainted in the Cunard livery.

RMS Lusitania and the German Declared War Zone
On February 4, 1915, In response to Britain declaring the North Sea to be a war zone, Germany declared the waters around the British Isles to be a war zone. This meant that every time RMS Lusitania arrived or left Britain she would be entering a war zone and was in danger from German ships and submarines.

The Imperial German Embassy Warns Against Travelling on RMS Lusitania
Following an enquiry from a group of German Americans, The Imperial German Embassy in Washington D.C. issued a warning, in fifty American newspapers, not to travel on RMS Lusitania. When RMS Lusitania left New York on May 1, 1915, some of the ship's crew and passengers were worried.

The Sinking of RMS Lusitania
Nearing the end of her voyage on May 7, 1915, RMS Lusitania was sailing off the south coast of Ireland when she crossed in front of of the German submarine U-20. U-20 fired one torpedo which hit RMS Lusitania on the starboard bow. Almost immediately after, a second unexplained explosion rocked RMS Lusitania and and she sank in less than 20 minutes. With assistance from Irish rescuers and the British cruiser HMS Juno, 764 were rescued while a further 1,198 were killed, mostly due to hypothermia and drowning.

Public Outcry at the Sinking of RMS Lusitania
With the loss of so many civilian lives, including 128 Americans, the sinking of RMS Lusitania caused a huge public outcry in America and across the British Empire. On May 8, a German spokesman, Bernhard Dernburg published a statement in which he said that Germany had the right to sink RMS Lusitania as she was classed as an auxiliary cruiser and carried ammunition and military goods.

The Military Cargo of RMS Lusitania
As the Germans had said, RMS Lusitania was classed as an auxiliary cruiser and her cargo manifest confirmed she was carrying 18 cases of non explosive fuses, 1,250 empty shell cases and 4.2 million rounds of rifle cartridges. In an additional manifest, submitted to U.S. Customs in the days after Lusitania had set sail, it was stated that the empty shell cases were each actually filled with 4 x 3in shells, giving a total of 103,000 pounds.

President Wilson Seeks an Apology for the Sinking of RMS Lusitania
American President Woodrow Wilson refused to declare war over the sinking of RMS Lusitania, however he requested an apology from Germany, compensation for the U.S. victims and reassurances that there would be no similar occurrences in the future. Germany continued to argue that RMS Lusitania was a legitimate target. On September 9, 1915, Germany stated that future attack could only be made on ships that were unquestionably British and that no attacks on passenger liners would be permitted. This lasted until January 1917 when Germany began unrestricted submarine warfare.

RMS Lusitania Conspiracy Theories
There are several conspiracy theories concerning the sinking of RMS Lusitania including the following: Winston Churchill was complicit in orchestrating the sinking of RMS Lusitania in an effort to bring the United States into WW1; RMS Lusitania was carrying far more munitions than has been admitted to and the Royal Navy bombed the wreck in an effort to hide the truth about RMS Lusitania.

The Wreck of RMS Lusitania
The wreck of RMS Lusitania is lying at a depth of 305ft approximately 11 miles south of the Kinsale lighthouse. She is lying on her starboard side and has collapsed where she landed. RMS Lusitania has deteriorated at a much faster rate than RMS Titanic, probably because of fishing nets, the damage from depth charges and the various salvage operations that have taken place.

RMS Lusitania in Film
The Sinking of the Lusitania was the title of the first animated documentary made in 1918. Winsor McCay, an American animation pioneer, spent almost two years making the 12 minute film which was the longest recorded animated film at that time. The 2007 docu-drama Sinking of the Lusitania:Terror at Sea starring John Hannah and Kenneth Cranham is a dramatized movie of the event.

Class and Type: Ocean Liner - Complement: Crew 850 - Passengers 2,198
44.767 tons - Length: 787ft - Beam: 87ft - Draft: 33.6ft
25 x Scotch marine boilers  - 4 x direct acting Parsons steam engines producing 76,000 hp - Propulsion: Four triple blade propellers (quadruple bladed installed in 1909) - Speed: 28 knots (max)

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Published 2018

Global Anchor Limited

Modified 2018

By James Drake

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