The race was on to gain dominance of the Atlantic crossing. The Late 1890s saw four new ships from Germany that threatened to put an end to the British dominance of the Atlantic. The ships produced by Germany were fast and luxurious.

Britain tried to retaliate by planning the commission of two ships in 1902. The ships would have to be the largest, fastest and most luxurious than ever built before. The Cunard Line decided (after serious negotiations) to let John Brown & Co. of Clydebank, Scotland build the Lusitania and Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson on the River Tyne to build the Mauretania.

Before construction could begin there was a small problem of finance. £2,600,000 would be needed to build the ships. Negotiations started between the Cunard Line and the British Government. The Cunard Line wanted to secure a loan repayable over 20 years at low interest. The British Government agreed to grant the loan on the basis that the ships would be built to Admiralty specifications and that the ships could be called into active military service whenever the need arose. This would mean that the ships would have to be fast especially in active service because neither ship could be a sitting duck for enemy gunfire.

In fact in the Spring of 1909 her three bladed propellers were replaced with four bladed ones to give her extra speed.

Bearing this in mind, Lord Inverclyde discussed the Cunard Agreement with a committee of experienced engineers in the September of 1903 to calculate what was needed to fulfil the contract.

Leonard Paskett produced the early designs for the two ships. Careful consideration was given to the layout of the ship. Most of the machinery was installed beneath the waterline. Her original plans gave the ships three funnels but the final plans gave them four.



Her construction was divided into two sections: Front and stern. Her forward end was almost completed before the stern had started. This allowed the designers extra time to arrange machinery in the engine rooms.

By the end of Spring 1905, the Lusitania's double bottom was in place.

The work continued, paying particular attention to the stern of the ship. As a Naval Rescue Ship she would have to be quick as well as elegant.

The Lusitania was launched by Lady Inverclyde on the 7th June 1906 at 12.30 p.m. The occasion was marked with 600 VIP guests.

The ship took only 86 seconds to launch. Work had taken 17 months so far. Her hull weighed 16,000 tons but once she was fitted with her boilers, engines, panelling etc, she would weigh 41,000 tons.

Once completed Britain would have the grandest ships afloat. There was hope to regain the Blue Ribband.

It took just under one year to fit the ship out. Hundreds of workers worked around the clock trying to keep up with the strict deadlines placed on them by the British Admiralty.

Once completed the Lusitania left the Clyde to commence her sea trials. No record has survived relating to what turned up during the trials but many alterations were made following the conclusion of the trials. Most of them were made to the stern section.



Like the Titanic to come, the Lusitania looked to many different historical ages and styles to decorate the different compartments and staterooms etc.

Her first class lounge and Music room on the boat deck was completed in Georgian style with a yellow and green colour scheme top complement the mahogany panelling. There was a stain glass skylight overlooking the room. It was a delightful setting. A fireplace sat across the length of the room. Each room was fitted with magnificent enamels. The plaster work was surpassed.

As can be imagined, the first class dinning room resembled kings' palace ballroom. It echoed the splendour of the French King Louis Seize. There was a dome at the top of the balcony. The dome contained segments depicting the four seasons re-enacted by Cherubim.

The sleeping quarters were also of fine fitting. The Lusitania had six standard size suites that had three rooms within each suite. She also had two "Regal Suites" which had two bedrooms, a sitting room, dinning room, private bath, lavatory and pantry. Again different periodic styles were used to decorate the rooms. Most rooms were French based design resembling some of the rooms in the Palace of Versailles. This gave the impression that all the rooms were different and individual. If you were a passenger, you were not actually on a ship, but staying in a very exclusive grand hotel.

The ensuite crooms were situated on the Promenade Deck. Each had their own bath and toilet. They were not as large as the Regal Suites but a first class passenger could not even consider complaining.

Like the Titanic, the Lusitania followed the tradition of having a smoking room for the gentlemen to use after dinner to be parted from their respective partners to discuss the meaning of life. The rooms had an Italian 18th Century style. There was a stained glass barrel vaulted dome. There were two fires in the room actually burned coal. There were eight fires on the ship in total but six of them were electric.

There were many little luxurious aspects to her design. A first class elevator, double door to keep the heat in, reading rooms and of course the Verandah Café located on the boat deck.

As a point of interest, the designers originally wanted a gymnasium instead of the verandah café but this did not happen.

The second class rooms were not as luxurious as the first class ones but were still remarkable.

The second class dining room was one of the grandest rooms afloat of its day. Huge pillars had been placed in the dining room to add stability to the rooms.

The policy of the Cunard Line was to pride both the first and second class passengers with rooms not dissimilar to those they would find in the hotel rooms they would frequent. The different styles used throughout the ship certainly achieved this.

A smoking room was also included for the second class gentlemen. They enjoyed sitting under a barrel vaulted stained glass skyline.

The drawing room on the Promenade deck was furnished in the style of Louis Seize of France. The different shades of grey and rose complimented the satinwood furniture.

The second class accommodation was fine as well. Their cabins were very spacious. Some were bigger than those of the first class were.

The third class cabins and rooms were almost standard compared to the first and second class. However, when they are compared to other transatlantic ships of the day, they would be seen to be very luxurious indeed - almost first class.

Most of their sleeping quarters were designed to hold between two and eight people.

Life onboard would have been very different but the third class knew this and perhaps just accepted it.



As per the Regulations of her day, the Lusitania carried 16 wooden lifeboats. By 1910 society had placed the building of liners so superior that they had become practically unsinkable. Basically the same reason why the Titanic only carried the number of boats it did.

However, following the loss of the Titanic, the Lusitania was fitted with 48 boats (22 wooden and 26 collapsible). Every boat was fitted with 2 chains to anchor them to the deck. This would prove disastrous when the ship sank because the chains would have to be released before the boats could be swung clear of the ship. When the Lusitania was sinking many of the chains were not released and thus preventing the boats from being launched successfully. Many boats went down with the ship.



On the 7th September 1907 under the command of Captain James B. Watt, the RMS Lusitania sailed on her maiden voyage to New York. She carried over 3,000 passengers and crew. Her passengers were delighted with the new ship. The standards of accommodation and services were well documented. Most third class passengers enjoyed the voyage. Dinning on her was like eating in the best restaurants or hotel anywhere.


She arrived in New York on the 13th September 1907. Her voyage lasted 5 days and 54 minutes. She did not recapture the Blue Ribband on this occasion, which was a great disappointment of the authorities and owners.

Her second voyage was quicker. She averaged 23.993 knots crossing the Atlantic in less than 5 days. She recaptured the Blue Ribband. The British held the record for the next 22 years until the German liner Bremen earned it in 1929.



In August 1914 World War One broke out. The day of anticipation finally arrived when the British Navy needed the ship for wartime service.

The Lusitania had to be refitted for the purpose. Her four funnels were fully painted black to conceal her identity from enemy ships.

The Lusitania left New York on 1st May 1915.

The German authorities warned her that she would inevitably cross the war zone to reach Liverpool. Despite warnings, she left New York after several delays just after 12.30 p.m. Passengers from the RMS Cameronia were transferred to the Lusitania when it was requisitioned early that morning.

Lusitania's new Captain William Turner sailed her for five days without the need for alarm.

It was now Friday 7th May 1915. She had reached the War Zone. The usual precautions of blackening out the portholes and doubling the watch were obeyed.

The lookouts were tentatively at their posts. At about 1.30 p.m. Leslie Morton saw the torpedo heading towards the Starboard side travelling at about 22 knots. He gave the alarm stating "Torpedo coming in the Starboard side". The Bridge was slow in reacting to his warnings.

Another lookout, Thomas Quinn also said that the torpedo and sounded the alarm. It was too late. The torpedo struck the ship and detonated before Turner could do anything. Power was suddenly lost. The watertight door could not be closed. Radio distress signals had to be sent using battery power.

At 2.10 p.m. after lunch the passengers were eagerly waiting for their desserts when they heard

"the sound of an arrow entering the canvas and straw of a target magnified a thousand times" or and "a pearl of thunder" and "the slamming of a door".

A second explosion came within seconds. Suddenly the ship took a 15º list to Starboard, which began to sharpen to 16º then 17º etc until the list reached 25º - a point at which the ship could not survive. The list had become so severe that the Officers could not swing the lifeboats clear of the ship.

Panic had set in amongst the passengers. Some jumped into the water trying to flee for their lives. Captain Turner jumped into the water when the Bridge was flooding. He swam for three hours before finding a lifeboat to climb into.

Within 18 minutes the ship had rolled over and sunk with 1,195 passengers. Only 289 bodies were recovered. 764 people survived.



May had proved to be a busy month for the Germans. In particular for a German Submarine U20 commanded by Captain Schwieger. His mission was to seek and destroy enemy vessels. He had already torpedoed and sank three ships: The Earl of Lathom, the Candidate and the Centurion.

Fuel was running low on the U-boat and Schwieger decided not to head for Liverpool as was originally planned but to head back. It was inevitable that the U20 and the Lusitania would pass each other at some point in the Irish Channel.

On the 7th May 1915, the U20 was still patrolling the Irish Channel. At 1.20 p.m. the Captain of the Submarine wrote in his log.

"Starboard ahead four funnels and two masts of a steamer with course at right angles"

When the Lusitania was in firing range he fired a torpedo which ultimately hit the ship.



Only eight of the 22 wooden boats aboard were launched. Some made it to Queenstown, Ireland. The rest of the boats were either damaged during the rapid sinking or were not lowered at all because the chains prevented easy release and went down with the ship.



On 10th May 1915 Winston Churchill made a statement to the House of Commons regarding the sinking of the Lusitania. The Admiralty had been criticised because of its failure to safeguard the vessel. Lewellyn Williams introduced charges against the Germans that he wanted to have referred to the signatories of the Hague Convention. [what is the hague convention]

Questions which were raised by the House were:

What was the Lusitania's speed?

Was Old Head of Kintale patrolled?

Had the Admiralty received warnings issued from the German Embassy in America?

Was it not known that submarines were patrolling?

Should the Admiralty have sent a convoy to safeguard the Lusitania?

Most of these questions were referred to the Mersey Comission.

Winston Churchill stated that "the Admiralty had general knowledge of the german warning issued in America and from that knowledge and other information concerning submarine movements, it sent warnings to the Lusitania and directions as to her course. He did not want to expound explanation until a full investigation had been made, and especially did not want to throw blame on the captain of the Lusitania.

Survivors of the Lusitania testified that the crew of the Lusitania were incompetent. According to the Richmond Evening Journal a passenger named Baker testified that Naval Commander Anderson had announced when lowering one of the boats "The ship isn't going to sink - Stop lowering the boat!" Some passengers had heard Captain Turner tell other passengers to leave the boats. Captain Turner admitted when on oath again that he did not realize for ten minutes that the ship was actually sinking.

The investigation turned to the speed at which Lusitania was sailing. If the Lusitania had been fitted with four propellers the vessel was quicker than sailed.

Alfred A Booth, Chairman of the board of the Cunard Steamship Company was asked by the attorney general, Sir Edward Carson, why Lusitania sailed at 19 knots instead of full power 25 knots. Mr Booth explained that to a submarine there would be no difference in speed between 19 and 25 knots. Traveling at periscope depth a submarine commander would have ample time to aim fire and destroy a ship of Lusitania's size and length. Able Seaman Quinn supported the view.

Safety of the ship was also questionable.

Captain Turner was recalled to the stand and asked why the collapsible boats were not released and used. He testified that he feared that the boats would slide about when the ship listed and force passengers overboard. He also admitted that some boats were strapped on top of others.

Baron Mersey examined the percentages of those saved.

41% of the male crew members were saved

36% of the female crew members were saved

38.8% of male passengers were saved

38.6% of female passengers saved

27.1% of children saved

It was suggested by B A Thomas, a coal operator, that some of the crew disobeyed Captains Turner's orders and they looked after themselves before attending to women and children. Baron Mersey found it difficult to refute the evidence of Mr Thomas.

The Enquiry ended on the 17 July 1915 in London. It concluded that "Torpedoes fired by a submarine of German nationality" caused the loss of the steamship Lusitania and its passengers".

Captain Turner was exonerated. Although the Admiralty fully advised him as to the best course of action Baron Mersey found that in certain aspects Captain Turner did not always follow the advice. However, the Admiralty allowed Captain Turner to use his own judgment in matters. Therefore he cannot be blamed for not following all of the Admiralty advices. The Commission found no reason to doubt the integrity of Captain Turner's evidence. He had remained at his post on the bridge until he was swept into the sea. Likewise Captain Anderson was working on deck when he was swept overboard and drowned.

The court also found that the ship was unarmed and that her cargo was a general one, the ammunition onboard consisted of only 5000 cases of cartridges. When the torpedoed hit the Lusitania the cartridges did not explode.


Captain Turners Testimony 11 May 1915 Kinsale Mersey Commission

The coroner asked Captain Turner if he had received "any special instructions as to the voyage". He replied that he had but was not at liberty to divulge what they were.

"Did you carry them out?" asked the coroner

"Yes, to the best of my ability"

"Tell us in your own words what happened after passing Fastnet."

"The weather was clear, we were going at a speed of eighteen knots. I was on the port side and heard Second Officer Hefford call out "Here's a torpedo". I ran to the other side and saw clearly the wake of a torpedo. Smoke and steam came up between the last two funnels. There was a slight shock. Immediately after the first explosion there was another report, but than may possibly have been internal".

"I at once gave the order to lower the boats down to the rails, and I directed that women and children should get into them. I also gave orders to stop the ship but we could not stop the ship as the engines were out of commission. it was not safe to lower boats until the speed was off the vessel."

"When she was struck she listed to starboard. I stood on the bridge when she sank and the Lusitania went down under me. She floated about eighteen minutes after the torpedo struck her. I was picked up from among the wreckage and afterwards brought aboard a trawler."

"No warship was convoying us, I saw no warship and none was reported to me as having been seen. At the time I was picked up i noticed bodies floating on the surface, but saw no living persons".

"Eighteen knots was not the normal speed of the Lusitania, was it?"

"At ordinary times she would make 25 knots, but in war times her speed was reduced to 21 knots. My reason for going 18 knots was that I wanted to arrive at Liverpool bar without stopping and within two or three hours of high waters."

"Was a lookout kept for submarines, having regard to previous warnings?"

"yes, we had double lookouts."

"Where you going a zigzag course at the moment the torpedo took place?"

"No, it was bright weather and land was clearly visible".

"Was it possible for a submarine to approach without being seen?"

"Oh yes, quite possible."

"Something has been said regarding the impossibility of launching the boats on the port side."

"Yes - owing to the listing of the ship."

"How many boats were launched safely?"

"I cannot say"

"Where any launched safely?"

"Yes and one or two on the port side"

"Where your orders promptly carried out?"


"Was there any panic?"

"No, there was no panic at all. It was almost clam"

"How many persons were on board?"

"There were 1500 passengers and about 600 crew"

By the foreman of the jury: "In the face of the warnings at New York that the Lusitania would be torpedoed, did you make application to the Admiralty for an escort?"

"No I left that to them. It is their business, not mine. I simply had to carry out my orders to go - and I would do it again.

"I am very glad to hear you say so, captain"

By a juryman: "Did you get a wireless to steer your vessel in a northern direction?"


"Was the course of the vessel altered after the torpedo struck her?"

"I headed straight for land, but it was useless. Previous to this the watertight bulkheads were closed. I suppose the explosion forced them open. I don't know the exact extent to which the Lusitania was damaged".

"There must have been serious damage done to the watertight bulkheads?"

"There certainly was, without doubt"

"Were the passengers supplied with lifeboats?"


"Were there any special orders given that morning that life belts be put on?"


"Was any warning given to you before you were torpedoed?"

"None whatsoever. It was suddenly done and finished."

"If there had been a patrol boat about might it have been of assistance?"

"It might, but it is one of those things one never knows."

"was a warning given to the lower decks after the ship had been struck?"

"All the passengers must have heard the explosion"





Should a passenger liner carry war material?

The Lusitania had been accustomed by the British Government and used by the Admiralty. Indeed the Cunard line had no control over the daily running of the ship.

It has been suggested by many sources that such ships should not carry passengers as they would undoubtedly become targets to enemies during War times. The Lusitania was no exception.

The Washington Post on May 18 1915 expounded the case.

"The attention of The Post has been directed to the fact that this subject is already covered by existing law, and that the collector of the port of New York could have prevented the Lusitania from sailing - that it was, in fact, his duty to withhold clearance papers, in view of the fact that the Lusitania was carrying dangerous explosives and steerage passengers at the same time, in violation of law.."

The Post referred to the "act to regulate the carriage of passengers by sea," enacted in 1882 and amended in 1903, 1904 and 1908. Section 8 reads:

"That it shall not be lawful to take, carry, or have on board of any such steamship or other vessel any nitro-glycerine, dynamite, or other explosive article or compound, nor any vitriol or like acids, nor gunpowder, except for the ship's use, nor any article or number of articles, whether as cargo or ballast, which by REASON OF THE NATURE OR QUANTITY OR MODE OF STORAGE THEREOF, shall either singly or collectively, be LIKELY to endanger the health or the lives of passengers or the safety of the vessel. For every violation of any of the provisions of this section the master of the vessel shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be fined not exceeding one thousand dollars, and be imprisoned for a period not exceeding one year."

The Post points out that the Lusitania case indicated the the steamer was hot by a torpedo, the explosion of which caused another explosion of war material in the cargo, wrecking the vessel and causing it to sink in less than half an hour.

If the testimony was correct, the lives of the passenger liner could have been saved if the law had been enforced. The law makes it the duty of collectors of customs to direct the examination of steamers "by an inspector or other officer of the customs, who shall make the examination and report whether the provisions of this act have been complied with."

The Lusitania had been scheduled to depart at 10.00 AM but departure was delayed because the RMS Cameronia had been suddenly requisitioned by the British government. Passengers, mail and cargo were transferred from the RMS Cameronia to the Lusitania . The collectors of customs could have carried out their inspection during the delay. The Post asked the question why was the law not enforced.

The Imperial German Embassy (see picture ABOVE ) posted a warning reminding passengers crossing the Atlantic that they would inevitably cross a war zone. Ships flying enemy flags or colors would be targeted for destruction. The warning was clear and broadcast in both national and regional papers. Passengers who traveled on the Lusitania chose to ignore the warnings. The New York Times may 2nd 1915 wrote that the agents of the Cunard line that were on the ship until its departure had reassured passengers that there was no truth in the printed reports and that there was no danger.

Even Captain Turner was quoted as saying during the enquiry (see below)

"I wonder what the Germans will do next. Well it doesn't seem as if they had scared many people from going on the ship by the look of the Pier and the passenger list".

Did the Lusitania actually carry arms?

This is a very important question. Most vessels would have carried arms during passages. Riffles were certainly carried on board the Lusitania to use against submarines. The Cunard line admitted the fact. The American papers argued that the carrying of riffles made the vessel an armed vessel. The Lusitania carried American passengers who innocently were caught up in someone war. However, she was carrying English volunteer troops to the front line. The Admiralty and British Government were in total control of the ship. During Lusitania 's construction the architects decided that the keel just forward of the rudder would be cut away to form an arch between the two after propellers. The design was borrowed from the British Royal Navy. The amendments would lead to greater maneuverability and with a fourth propeller great speed would be achieved - perfect for times of war.

The ships manifest




Sheet brass, Ibs .



Copper, lbs.



Copper wire, lbs



Cheese, Ibs .



Beef, Ibs .



Butter, lbs



Lard, Ibs .



Bacon, Ibs



Casings, pkgs



Cd. meat, cases



Cd. vegetables, cases



Cutlery, pkgs .



Shoes, pkgs .



Tongues, plegs .



Oysters, bbls .



Lubricating oils, bbls .



Hardware, pkgs .



Leather, pkgs .



Reclaimed rubber, pkgs .



Furs, pkgs .



Notions, pkgs .



Confectionery, pkgs .



Silverware, plegs .



Precious stones, pkgs



Jewellery, pkgs



Belting, pkgs



Auto, vehicles and parts, pkgs .



Electrical material, pkgs



Machinery, pkgs .



Steel and infrs., pkgs .



Copper rnfrs., pkgs .



Aluminium mfrs., pkgs .



Brass mfrs., pkgs .



Iron rnfrs., pkgs .



Old rubber, pkgs .



Military goods, pkgs .



Dry goods, pkgs .



I. R. goods, pkgs



Wire goods, pkgs



Staves, pkgs



Brushes, pkgs



Ammunition, cases



Salt, pkgs



Bronze powder, cases









Dental goods, pkgs .



Steel and mfrs., pkgs .









Engines and materials, pkgs









Notions, pkgs .









Liquid glue, pkgs









Books, pkgs .



Drugs, pkgs .



Wool yarn, pkgs.



Shoes, case



Bronze powder, cases



Motor cycles and parts, pkgs



Paintings, pkg .



Furs, pkg .



Printed matter, pkgs



Leather, cases



Cartridges and ammunition cases



Films, case



Machine patterns, pkgs .



Machinery, pkgs .



Electrical machinery, pkg .



Watch material, pkgs .



Electrical material, pkgs.



Auto, vehicle and parts, pkgs



Optical goods, pkg .



Dental goods, pkgs .









Sewing machines and parts, pkgs












Evening Post, May 8, 1915 .







The ships manifest clearly shows that the primary objective of the ship was to carry military supplies to the front line for the use of the British Army. Fares collected from passengers would help to finance the crossing. Therefore the passengers well being were not as important as the primary objective.

The Evening Post May 8 1915




The coroner's Jury returned the following verdict:

"The Jury find that this appalling crime was contrary to international law and the conventions of all civilized nations, and we therefore charge the officers of the submarine, and the German Emperor and the Government of germany, under whose orders they acted, with the crime of wilful and wholesale murder."


Following the sinking, like the HMHS Britannic, many questions were being asked.

a) Why did she sink so fast after her strong construction?

b) Why did the survivors recall two explosions when the German U boat log indicated only one torpedo was fired?

c) Did the ship carry munitions in its cargo hold that exploded?

Dr. Robert Ballard set out on a quest to locate the wreck, explore it and try to answer some of the questions left unanswered.

He believed strongly that "illegal high explosives in the ships magazine had probably caused the tragedy". To him it made perfect sense that the torpedo hit the starboard side of the ship - the explosion ignites the arms and explosives stacked in the ship's magazine and causes a second explosive.

He did however, have problems with the recalled position of the impact area. Eyewitness accounts stated that the torpedo hit below or just in front of the Bridge. If it did the magazine would have been too far away to have been hit (the bulkheads were in the way). Did the boilers explode? Often as ships sink, cold water pours over the extremely hot boilers making then explode. It seemed possible at least.

Ballard learned that the Lusitania lay along a bearing of about 230º. The great hull had been torn open during the sinking. A fracture was visible from the sonar running between the 3rd and 4th funnel. The structural damage seemed to bear a resemblance to where the Titanic's damage occurred where the huge dinning room and first class lounge were located.


With the help of Jason (see Discovery of the Titanic) and modern 3D imaging systems, they were able to superimpose a 3D image of the great ship in her prime and see the areas most affected by the sinking.

Jason was maneuvered to the Portside of the hull, where a previous diver, John Light had reported the main damage caused by the second explosion. Ballard could not see the hole.

Fishing nets made the exploration difficult. However, avoidance with the nets was impossible and the underwater subs did get caught in the nets.

The exploration continued. They came across some of the ship's distinctive vents, a boat winch, floor tiles and the ships whistle etc, a typical debris field.

As with the Britannic and Titanic, the bow is bent upward caused by the great impact when she hit the bottom.

The Foredeck is covered with fishing nets but windless brake, small crane and a section of the great anchor chain remains intact. There is even rope around a bollard.

Once Ballard had photographed the wreck he could turn his attention on what actually sank her.

Ballard explored the total area of the magazine. It was clear that it did not explode. It was still intact. The second explosion could not be attributable to the magazine exploding.

Ballard realized that if the torpedo had struck beneath the Bridge, the torpedo would have hit the coal bunkers so it could have been the sparks from the torpedo that set the bunkers on fire and coal dust caused a huge explosion. Within minutes of the coal dust explosion the ship would develop a list to starboard and then sank.




©Timothy PD Turner 2006