The passenger liner Lusitania is torpedoed and sunk ten miles off the Old Head of Kinsale, Co Cork by German U-boat U-20 under the command of Captain Walter Schweiger, resulting in the death of 1,198 of the ship’s passengers and crew. Only 761 people survived what was perceived by Britain as a flagrant breach of international law. The death of 124 US citizens turned much US opinion against Germany.
A debate has raged since as to whether the ship was a legitimate target. Although denied by Britain at the time, the ship almost certainly was carrying munitions which the passengers would not have been aware of. A second explosion occurred within seconds of the ship being hit by a single torpedo. Lusitania sunk in 18 minutes.
It was in the interests of the British to keep US passions inflamed, and a fabricated story was circulated that in some regions of Germany, schoolchildren were given a holiday to celebrate the sinking of the Lusitania. This story was so effective that James W. Gerard, the US ambassador to Germany, recounted it in his memoir of his time in Germany, Face to Face with Kaiserism (1918), though without substantiating its validity.
The sinking of the Lusitania was a tragedy for those who died. For Germany, it was a PR disaster and hastened the entry of the U.S. into the WWI.
Photo: The Lusitania Monument by sculptor Jerome Connor, Cobh, Co Cork