Study Claims Ammunition Not a Factor in Lusitania Sinking
A recent study of the wreck of the Cunard liner RMS Lusitania claims to disprove the theory that the ship was carrying a secret cargo of ammunition which exploded and accelerated its sinking. Torpedoed by a German submarine off the Irish coast on May 7, 1915, the Lusitania sank in just eighteen minutes, with the loss of 1,198 lives.
Researchers surveyed the ship with a submarine and remote camera and conducted forensics tests in a California laboratory, and concluded that the explosion which survivors witnessed was caused by one of the ship’s boilers, not ammunition. The sinking, which killed over a hundred Americans, is widely seen as drawing the U.S. into World War 1. Carrying undeclared munitions aboard a passenger liner would make it a legitimate military target in wartime, and thus the controversy has been kept alive since the ship’s sinking. A diver in the 1990s reported that the ship had been heavily damaged by WW2-era depth charges, which some claim was an attempt by the British Royal Navy to destroy evidence.
The Lusitania was laid down in 1904 at John Brown Co. in Clydebank, Scotland and launched two years later. She measured 31,550 GRT and carried 2,198 passengers in three classes, and a crew of 850. She and her running-mate Mauretania each held the Blue Riband, the speed record. Lusitania was part of an agreement that the military could use the ship as an armed cruiser in wartime, which came with a corresponding subsidy. However, this proved quickly ineffective and she was returned to passenger service, although still carrying some wartime cargo. Passengers were warned via newspaper ads from the German Embassy that British ships were subject to attack since the two countries were at war.