America at War: World War I
|Digital History ID 3475|
On May 7, 1915, the Lusitania, the "fastest vessel afloat," was sunk by a torpedo from a German submarine. The ship sank off the Irish coast in under 20 minutes. A total of 1,198 passengers and crew members lost their lives; only 861 people survived.
The German Embassy had issued a warning that appeared in New York newspapers:
Travelers intended to embark for an Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies.... Vessels flying the flag of Great Britain or any of her allies are liable to destruction.
The Lusitania had previously made a half dozen Atlantic round trips without incident. Few believed that a civilian passenger ship would be deliberately targeted.
Following the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, Germany would institute a moratorium on unrestricted submarine warfare. However, pressure on the German high command to resume unrestricted submarine warfare was great. It was viewed as the only way to starve Britain and France into submission. This resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare would ultimately bring the United States into the war.