On this day in 1915, the British passenger liner Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-Boat as part of the unrestricted submarine warfare campaign that took place during WWI. The Lusitania was attacked while on route from Liverpool, England to New York City. It is unclear whether German forces intentionally sank the Lusitania or if they mistook it for a military ship, but due to the German policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, submarine pilots could well have attacked even knowing that it was a civilian passenger ship. The tragedy inflicted 1,198 deaths, and the attack may well have changed the course of the war by encouraging the US to intervene in the European conflict. Before the attack, the United States had chosen to stay out of the war, but when the news broke that 128 Americans had died in the sinking of the Lusitania, many Americans began to advocate involvement in the war. While the US would not officially enter the conflict until two years later in 1917, the sinking of the Lusitania was one of the first events that began to make the war more of a global conflict and not a strictly European one.
However, the story of the Lusitania might not be so simple. According to some accounts, after the initial attack, the liner was rocked by a second explosion, possibly from within the ship. This might explain why the Lusitania sank completely in only 18 minutes, much faster than other ships that fell victim to U-Boat attacks. Some historians have suggested that the Lusitania may have been secretly carrying weapons in its hold, likely without the knowledge of its passengers, which could have caused the second explosion if they had caught on fire. There is no evidence to prove this however, and the mystery is not likely to be solved any time soon.
The wreck of the Lusitania has been privately owned by retired American millionaire Gregg Bemis since 1982, despite the fact that it is in Irish waters. While Bemis has public plans to explore the wreck and determine if there was a second explosion, he has repeatedly clashed with the Irish government over alleged mishandling of the ship’s artifacts. In 2016, Bemis’s divers tried to raise the Lusitania‘s main telegraph, an attempt that ended in failure when a dive bag containing the telegraph burst and the artifact was lost to the ocean’s depths. Divers were not able to locate the lost telegraph until mid-2017, at which point it was raised again with the help of the Irish government, this time successfully. Until the world can agree on exactly who should be exploring the Lusitania, we are unlikely to find out what really happened. Regardless of what exactly happened, the sinking of the Lusitania remains an important day in history.