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What actually happened to the Lusitania and her passenger on the afternoon of May 7, 1915? The first reports of the sinking to reach America were confused and sketchy. Americans, particularly those who had friends or relatives on board, were eager for more information on the fate of their loved ones. Below you will find several different accounts of the sinking of the Lusitania.
Newspaper account: New York World on May 8, 1915.
The Cunard Liner Lusitania was torpedoed, supposedly by German submarines shortly after 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon, ten miles off the Old Head of Kinsale, near Munster, Ireland. She sank fifteen minutes later. The company states that no warning was given her. The Lusitania carried 2,104 persons when she sailed from New York. The meager, confused reports so far received make it uncertain how many of these have been saved. A steward of the first boat that reached Queenstown with survivors from the liner said he feared that 900 lives had been lost.
Newspaper reports account: Queenstown, Ireland on May 9, 1915:
“The tugboat StormShuttle has returned here, bringing about 150 survivors of the Lusitania, among whom were many women, several of the crew, and one steward. Describing the experience of the Lusitania the steward said:
‘The passengers were at lunch when a submarine came up and fired two torpedoes which hit the Lusitania on the starboard side, one forward and the other in the engine room. They caused several explosions. Captain Turner immediately ordered the boats out. The ship began to tilt badly. Ten boats were put into the water, and between 400 and 500 passengers entered the lifeboats. I fear that few of the officers were saved. They acted bravely. There was only fifteen minutes from the time the ship was struck until she foundered and sank, bow first. It was a dreadful sight.’”
Official ship diary of Captain Schwieger, Commander of the U-boat that sunk the Lusitania:
May 6, 1915
...The voyage to the St. George’s Channel had consumed so much of our fuel oil that it would be impossible for us to return (to German) around the southern end of Ireland if we had now continued to Liverpool. I intended to return as soon as two-fifths of our fuel is used up. I intend to avoid, if at all possible, the trip through the North Channel on account of the type of service which U-20 encounter there on her last trip. Only three torpedoes are still available, of which I wish to save two, if possible, for the return trip.
May 7, 1915
3:10 p.m. Ahead to starboard four funnels and two masts of a steamer with course perpendicular to us came into sight. Ship is made out to be large passenger steamer.
Submerged to a depth of 11 meters and went ahead at full speed, taking a course converging with the one of the steamer, hoping it might change its course to starboard along the Irish coast.
The steamer turns to starboard, takes course to Queenstown, thus making possible an approach for a shot. Until 3:00 p.m., we ran high speed in order to gain position directly ahead.
Clean bow shot at a distance of 700 meters (G-torpedo, 3 meters depth adjustment); angle 90, estimated speed 22 knots. Torpedo hits starboard side right behind the bridge.
An unusually heavy detonation takes place with a very strong explosion cloud. The explosion of the torpedo must have been followed by a second on board (boiler, coal, or gun powder). The super-structure above the point of impact and bridge are torn apart, fire breaks out, and smoke envelopes the high bridge.
The ship stops immediately and keels over to starboard very quickly, immersing simultaneously at the bow. It appears as if the ship were going to capsize very shortly. Great confusion ensures on board; the lifeboats are released and they are lowered into the water. In doing so, a great panic must have reigned; some boats, full to capacity, are rushed and sink immediately.
3:25 The ship blows off its excess steam; on the bow the name Lusitania becomes visible in golden letters. Ship was running 22 knots. Since it seems as if the steamer will keep above the water only a short time, we dived to a depth of 24 meters and ran out to sea. It would have been impossible for me to fire a second torpedo into this crowd of people struggling to save their lives.
Newspaper reports account: London Times on May 9, 1915
“Seven torpedoes were fired by the attacking German craft, one of them striking the Lusitania midship. This would indicate that at least two submarines were waiting for the ship, since the newest types of undersea boats carry but six torpedo tubes...”
Excerpts from three interviews with survivors of the Lusitania.
Oliver P. Bernard (passenger)
“I think I can say I was one of the few people who really saw a torpedo discharges at the Lusitania. Coming on deck from the dining salon, I was leaning against the starboard rail of the ship when I saw the periscope of a submarine about 200 yards away. Then I noticed a long, white streak of foam. It gave me the impression of frothy, sizzling water. Almost immediately there was a terrific impact, followed by an explosion.”
Dr. Carl E. Foss (passenger)
“I was traveling second class, and on May 7th, I was leaning against the port side of the ship, looking off towards the Irish coast. It was just at 1:30 that I noticed something low in the water about a mile away.”
Ernest Cowper (passenger)
“I was chatting with a friend at the rail about 2:00 when suddenly I caught a glimpse of the conning tower of a submarine about 1000 yards distant. I immediately called my friend’s attention to it. We both saw the track of a torpedo...”