Wednesday, 7 January 2009


Pier 54 at the end of W 13th. Street - The Lusitanias's last port of call

Lusitania departed Pier 54, in New York on 1st May 1915. RMS Lusitania was a British luxury ocean liner owned by the Cunard Line, christened and launched in June 1906. At the outset of World War I, the British Admiralty considered Lusitania for requisition as an armed merchant ship but was considered to consume too much coal. She continued in her service as a luxury liner conveying people to and fro between England and the United States, but to reduce costs and save coal, transatlantic crossings were reduced to one monthly.

On 4th. February 1915 Germany declared the seas around the British Isles a war zone and that from 18th February Allied ships in the area would be sunk without warning.

Pier 54 today with only the steel outline of its original facade remaining

A few days before Lusitania was due to make her 201st. return to Liverpool, the German Embassy in Washington issued this warning, which was published in the press:-


Travellers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.


Washington D.C. 22 April 1915

This warning was printed right next to an advertisement for Lusitania's return voyage and led to some agitation in the press and worried the ship's passengers and crew. However, despite this warning the liner steamed out of New York at noon, on 1st May, two hours behind schedule due to a transfer of passengers and crew from the recently requisitioned Cameronia.

1915 painting depicting the sinking of the Lusitania by U-Boat U20

On 7th May 1915, Lusitania met a disastrous end as a casualty of the First World War when she was torpedoed by the German submarine U20. The great ship sank in just 18 minutes, eight miles of the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland killing 1,198 of the people on board. The sinking turned public opinion in many countries against Germany, and was probably a major factor in the eventual decision of the United States to join the war in 1917. The recent discovery of munitions in the wreck indicates it may have been a blockade runner, and thus a legitimate target.

As an ironic and sad footnote, shortly after the vessel had pulled away from Pier 54, three blind stowaways had been found on board but as the vessel was a little late, were not put ashore but detained below decks.

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