The Sinking of the Lusitania

Medal struck to commemorate the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine. © Hull Museums.

The RMS ‘Lusitania’ was a British ocean liner. On 7 May 2015 it was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland while on its way from New York to Liverpool. 1,201 of the nearly 2000 passengers on board were drowned.

 

Recruitment poster from Hull calling on men of Hull and district to 'Avenge the "Lusitania" Massacre!'.

Recruitment poster issued by Central Recruiting Office, City Hall, Hull calling on men to join the Army to avenge the sinking of the Lusitania. View the image full size in the Image Gallery. © Hull Museums.

The sinking of the ‘Lusitania’ provoked public outrage across the world. The British propaganda campaign insisted that the ‘Lusitania’ was a civilian ship and emphasised the loss of civilian life. However German commentators blamed the British government and the Cunard Steamship Company for letting the ship sail when it was well known that U-boats were active in the North Sea – a few months earlier Germany had announced unrestricted submarine warfare in response to the British naval blockade that was preventing Germany from receiving imports of essential supplies.  Germany also claimed that the liner was carrying arms and munitions in support of the British war effort and was therefore a legitimate target (the liner was carrying rifle cartridges and shell cases).

Following pressure from America, Germany ended its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in September 1915, but American public opinion was already turning against Germany. Germany’s decision to renew submarine warfare early in 1917 contributed to America’s decision to join the war.

The Lusitania Medallion

The main image shows a British copy of a German medallion designed by Karl Goetz. Click on the picture in the Image Gallery to see it in full. Goetz created the medallion as a satirical comment mocking the Allied obsession with business. The image on the medallion shows a queue of people buying tickets from a skeleton, intended to represent the Cunard company, under the legend ‘business above all’.  A man to the left reads a newspaper with the headline ‘U-boat danger’. However. Goetz’s idea backfired. The British promoted the view that the medallion was made to celebrate the ship’s sinking and made copies of it, like this one, which were sold with Allied propaganda materials.

The impact in the Humber region

The sinking of the ‘Lusitania’ was particularly big news in maritime ports such as Hull and Grimsby. As a result, propaganda asking men to take revenge for the ‘Lusitania massacre’ by joining the Army to fight Germany was common.

Learning resources

For downloadable images, further information and teaching ideas on the sinking of the Luistania, go to www.mylearning.org/joiningupthehumberww1

For more on the Lusitania medal, see www.iwm.org.uk