One hundred years ago today, one of the world’s greatest ocean liners was approaching the coast of Ireland after a transatlantic crossing from New York. Old Head of Kinsale was visible to anyone standing on her forward decks, looking out ahead of the ship. Anyone looking out on the starboard side of the ship would have seen something more ominous: the tell-tale wake of a torpedo.
On May 7, 1915, just as lunch was finishing up onboard, a torpedo fired by German U-boat U-20 slammed into the starboard side of Cunard’s RMS Lusitania and exploded. The force of the impact caused the entire ship to shudder so violently that it threw most of those on the navigation bridge, including Captain William Turner, onto the floor.
Immediately, the ship began to list heavily to starboard. The lifeboats, which had been swung out as a precaution during the crossing that had begun on May 1, 1915 now hung well clear of the starboard side of the ship. On the port side, the boats crashed against their davits and the hull of the ship.
Almost immediately, the ship started to head downward. As the prow went under and water rushed aft towards the ship’s navigation bridge and her open promenade decks, some passengers must surely have recalled the advertisement that ran in the papers in advance of Lusitania’s 201st Transatlantic Crossing:
Travellers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the s