The British Government and Cunard began talks
about building two large liners in 1902. By 1903,
they had reached an agreement the government would
loan Cunard £2,600,000 to build the two ships.
Part of the agreement was both liners would be
capable of 24 - 25 knots, fast enough to win back the
Blue Riband for Britain, and, had to be larger than
the 24,581-ton Kaiserin Auguste Victoria that entered
service for the Hamburg Amerika Line in May 1906.
Their design also had to allow them to be easily
converted to armed merchant cruisers in times of war.
Lusitania’s seven passenger decks were
designed to carry 563 1st, 464 2nd and 1,138 3rd
class passengers. After completing her sea trials in
the Firth of Clyde, she set out from Liverpool -
Queenstown / Ireland and New York September 7th
Lusitania took the Blue Riband from the
Hamburg Amerika Line’s Deutschland on
her second westbound voyage from Liverpool - New York
by crossing between Queenstown and Sandy Hook (east
coast of America) in 4 days, 19 hours and 52 minutes,
increasing the average speed from 23.15 to 23.99
knots. She took the eastbound record from
Kaiser Wilhelm in October of that year
by increasing that average from 23.58 to 23.61 knots.
Lusitania was returned to John Brown’s
in 1909 to be fitted with new four blade propellers
and broke her last westbound speed record between
Liverpool and New York in August of that year by
averaging 25.65 knots.
Although the British Admiralty decided against
using Lusitania as an armed merchant cruiser
at the outbreak of World War One, they retained her
at Liverpool for their convenience. The Admiralty
allowed Lusitania to be used on two trips as a
passenger ship between Liverpool and New York in
October 1914. With German submarines not targeting
passenger ships at that time, Lusitania was
then allowed to provide a monthly service on the
Liverpool - New York route.
After setting out from Liverpool bound for New
York January 16th 1915, she encountered heavy seas
between Liverpool and Queenstown. Her captain raised
the American Stars & Stripes flag at that time as
he had concerns about being attacked by submarines in
the treacherous conditions. As America was not
involved in the war at that time, he knew submarines
were less likely to attack an American flagged
The use of the American flag soon made world news.
This led to the German Embassy in Washington sending
a warning to New York newspapers in April 1915
stating “passengers traveling on Allied ships
would be doing so at their own risk”.
On May 1st 1915, Lusitania set out from New
York’s pier 54 with 1,959 passengers on board.
It is thought she could also have been carrying a
cargo of ammunition supplies. On May 7th, when
approximately 10 to15 miles off the Old Head of
Kinsale/Ireland, Lusitania was attack by the
German submarine U-20. After one torpedo
slammed into her side, a second mysterious explosion,
inside the ship, caused so much damage she sank
within 20 minutes.
Many of the 1,198 lives lost with the ship were
American. This outraged the American public so much,
many people believe it had an influence on the United
States decision to join the war against Germany in
Lusitania Memorial Queenstown (now Cobh)