Today marks the 102nd Anniversary of Lusitania's sinking. The 787ft long Cunard Liner was built between 1904-1906. Her construction/operating expenses were subsidised by the British government, with the proviso that she could be converted to an armed merchant cruiser if need be. When World War 1 broke out, her hull and funnels were painted in a dark grey color sheme to make her more difficult to detect visually, but she remained in commercial service. By early 1915 a new threat began to materialise: submarines. At first they were used by the Germans to attack naval vessels. In February 1915, Germany declared the seas around the British Isles as a war zone. On April 17, the German Embassy decided to warn passengers before the next crossing not to sail on the Lusitania. But on 1st May at 12:20, she left New York with 1,962 people aboard. On May 7, Lusitania was running parallel to the southcoast of Ireland when she crossed in front of the submarine U-20. It fired one torpedo which struck the ships starboard side at 14:10. Moments later a second explosion erupted from her hull. The ship began to founder much more rapidly, with a prominent starboard list. The conditions made it extremly difficult to launch the lifeboats. Only 6 out of 48 boats were succesfully launched. 18 minutes after the struck, the ship slid beneath the waves. It took several hours for help to arrive from the Irish coast. By the days end, 764 passengers and crew had been rescued and landed in Queenstown. 1,195 had been lost. 128 of the 139 US citizens lost their lives and there was a massive outrage in Britain and America. Lusitania was indeed officially listed as an auxiliary war ship. Her cargo had included an estimated 4,200,000 rounds of catridges and 1,250 empty shell cases. While the American public and leadership weren't ready for war, the path to an eventual declaration had been set as a result of the sinking. Two years later, in April 1917, the US finally declared war on Germany.
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