Royal Mail Ship Lusitania was a British ocean liner that entered passenger service with the Cunard Line in1907; the year Professor Angelo Colosi and his daughter came to America. The ship’s main route was between Liverpool, England and New York City. During the First World War, on May 7, 1915, the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank in eighteen minutes. The vessel went down eleven miles off the coast of Ireland, killing 1,198 of the 1,959 people aboard. The sinking turned public opinion in many countries against Germany.
The SS Deutschland that the Colosi family traveled on in 1907 had just lost its status of the Blue Riband to the Lusitania. The Blue Riband speed record for a transatlantic crossing was held by both Lusitania and her sister ship, Mauretania, at different times in their careers and, in their day, they were the largest ships ever built. They had 50% greater passenger space than their rivals and allowed luxury never before seen for Saloon, Cabin, and Steerage passengers.
When Lusitania was built, her expenses were subsidized by the British government with the provision she could be converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser if the need arose. When the First World War began, she was considered for requisition and was put on the official list of AMCs. But the decision to use her as an AMC was canceled mostly due to fuel costs. However, her name remained on the list.
A group of German–Americans who were hoping to avoid controversy if Lusitania were attacked, discussed their concerns with the German embassy who in turn decided to warn passengers. The Imperial German Embassy placed a warning advertisement in 50 American newspapers, but most people ignored it.
On May 1, 1915, when the Lusitania departed Pier 54 in New York, it had a large number of illustrious and renowned passengers on board, including 200 Americans. Lusitania also carried a cargo of munitions destined for the British war effort. On May 7, toward the end of her trip and very near the coast of Ireland, a German sub spotted the ship and a torpedo was fired. It hit the Lusitania and soon after there was a second explosion. Lusitania’s wireless operator sent out an immediate SOS. Moments later the electrical power failed. Electric lifts, that were closed, trapped passengers and crew.
Captain William Turner gave the order to abandon ship, but Lusitania‘s severe starboard list complicated the launch of lifeboats on the starboard side. Lifeboats on the port side faced problems with being damaged by the riveted hull plates while being lowered. Many lifeboats overturned while being loaded or lowered. Lusitania was equipped with 48 lifeboats, but only six were successfully lowered into the water.
Captain Turner remained on the bridge until the water washed him overboard. He took the ship’s logbook and charts with him, and managed to escape the sinking Lusitania and find a floating chair which he clung to. Though he became unconscious, he was pulled alive from the water three hours later.
After Lusitania’s bow sank completely, her stern rose out of the water, enough for her propellers to be seen, and went down. Lusitania’s bow slammed into the bottom about 330 ft below at a shallow angle. It took several hours for help to arrive from the Irish coast, but by that time, many in the water had died from the cold. Turner’s last navigational fix had been only two minutes before the torpedoing, and he was able to remember the ship’s speed and bearing accurately enough for the ship to be located after the war.
The German government tried to justify the sinking by claiming the ship had been armed with guns, and had “large quantities of war material” in her cargo. They also stated that since she was classed as an auxiliary cruiser, Germany had a right to destroy her regardless of any passengers aboard, and that the warnings issued by the German Embassy relieved Germany of any responsibility for the deaths of American citizens.
It’s true that Lusitania had been fitted with gun mounts, but the guns were never fitted. However, she was listed officially as an AMC and her cargo had included armament, though not officially classed as ammunition by the Cunard Line. Experts agree these were not to blame for the second explosion, and expeditions to the wreck have shown that Lusitania’s cargo holds remain intact. Allegations that the ship was carrying more controversial cargo have never been proven.
In 2007, investigators became convinced an explosion in the ship’s steam-generating plant is a more plausible explanation for the second explosion. In February 2009, the Discovery Channel TV series Treasure Quest aired an episode titled “Lusitania Revealed”, in which a team of shipwreck experts explore the wreck.
America had not yet entered the war at the time of the sinking of the Lusitania, although many feel it was a contributing factor. America entered the war in 1917, and it was that year or the next that Lucia Colosi’s second husband, Albert Colosi, was killed. Lucia referred to Albert as a sea captain and said he died in the big war.