Some years ago I took my father to the Old Head of Kinsale in Ireland where we stayed in a remote hotel with superb views over the Irish Sea. Underneath the choppy, sunlit waters lay the twisted wreck of the Lusitania. Dad felt particularly sad because one of his earliest memories was seeing a mob attack a German baker’s shop in Liverpool after the sinking.
The destruction of the Cunard luxury liner by a German U-boat submarine sent shock waves around the world.
The disaster was one of the most horrific incidents at sea during the First World War (1914 – 18) and came as the ship was heading for Liverpool, a port where she was much-loved.
She was sent to the bottom on a bright sunny day. Early that year the German government declared that all Allied ships would be in danger of attack in British waters. Lusitania sailed from New York on 1 May 1915 with 1,962 people of board.
At 2.10 pm on 7 May the liner was struck by a torpedo fired by U-20. It blew a massive hole in Lusitania’s side and she sank in less than 20 minutes with the loss of 1,201 lives.
The sinking of this unarmed passenger ship caused international outrage and there were riots in Liverpool, London and other cities around the world.
The German government claimed that Lusitania was carrying military supplies and there is some evidence to support this. However, British and American inquiries later declared the sinking to be unlawful.
This event devastated the tightly-knit dockland communities in north Liverpool where most of Lusitania’s crew lived. A total of 404 crew members died, including many Liverpool Irish seamen.
A photo on display (pictured) shows Staff Captain James Clarke Anderson, the most senior Lusitania officer to die in the sinking. His body was returned to Liverpool and buried in Longmoor Lane Cemetery, Fazakerley.
The fascinating exhibition Titanic, Lusitania and the Forgotten Empress at Merseyside Maritime Museum looks at the tragedy. There are a number of items from the ship with stories behind them
There is a lifebuoy from the Lusitania – a rare survivor of the sinking.
Captain William Turner, from Crosby, survived after struggling for three hours in the sea. The British government tried to blame him for loss of his ship but he was cleared of any wrong-doing by the official inquiry. A picture on display shows him on deck.
A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).