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U-Boats: The Sinking of the Lusitania

On May 7th 1915 one of the World’s largest cruise ships, The Lusitania, was approaching the coast of Ireland. There were 1,959 passengers on board, including 159 Americans.

Lusitania painting

The ship was very nearly docked when it came under attack from a German U-boat. A torpedo was spotted by a lookout on the ship, but it was too late. Within twenty minutes, the Lusitania had sunk.

The sinking of the ship was a great tragedy, as only 761 people survived and 1,198 were killed. Everyone around the world was in uproar over the Germans attacking American and European civilians.

german flag

This attack caused international outrage, and it encouraged America to join the war.

Warnings in New York

Germany put out a warning that they would attack before The Lusitania left New York on  May 1st 1915 to go to Liverpool, England.

Lusitania sinking

The German embassy even advertised this in the American newspapers, but all the passengers still boarded. Nobody really thought the Germans would carry out their threat of attack.

Perhaps they thought that the Germans would not attack a luxury cruise ship with so many ordinary people on board.


Believe it or not, the sinking of this ship was one of the most important events in World War One.

Why was the sinking of the Lusitania important?

The sinking of the Lusitania was a turning point in World War One, which means it changed the course of events of the war.

Map of Allied Powers WW1

Until 1915, Britain had managed to keep control of their seas to stop the German navy advancing too far.

This was important because Britain kept control of the shipping lanes which maintained the movement of supplies moving in and out country, and also of troops who were fighting on the Western Front.

German battleship

However, German submarine technologies were improving, and the situation on the seas changed in 1915.

Before the Lusitania sank, the Germans had developed very clever “Unterseeboots”, meaning “undersea boats” (submarines). These were nicknamed “U-boats”.

German U-boat with crew

The Germans declared the sea surrounding Britain a warzone, and threatened to attack any Allied ship in those seas.

The sinking of the Lusitania showed that Germany could sink ships with their submarines and cut off vital supplies for the Allied troops.

Why did the United States join the war?

Before the Lusitania sank in 1915, the United States was not involved in the War.

They did not have much of a reason to join and the public did not really want to send soldiers to fight in a war in Europe. However, the sinking of the Lusitania changed all this.

New York WWI Troops Fight to get into the Fight
Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment man a trench in France during World War I. The Signal Corps photograph collection includes every major aspect of the United States (U.S.) Army involvement in WWI.

The public in America were outraged and this motivated America to fight with the Allies against Germany.

By the time the United States came to help Britain, France and Russia in the war, they really needed the support. They were losing many battles against Germany, and their soldiers were tired from the long war effort.


Countries were also running out of money and supplies to keep fighting. The United States sent extra troops and provided weapons and supplies when they joined in after the sinking of the Lusitania.

Many say this help came just in time and was one of the main reasons the Allies defeated Germany and the Axis powers to win the war.

world war 1 tank

Quiz Time!

When did the Lusitania sink?

What were “Unterseeboots”?

How many American passengers were on board The Lusitania? How many in total?


Why did the American public change their minds and support the war effort in 1915?

Why did the Allies need the support of the United States during the war?

World War 1

world war 1 solider sleeping

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