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The sinking of Lusitania

One hundred and three years ago Monday, a German submarine sunk the luxury cruise ship Lusitania and set into motion the events that dragged the United States into World War I.

In a book called “Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania,” author Erik Larson takes readers on that doomed voyage. The cast of characters includes the Lusitania’s fabled captain, William Thomas Turner, and U-Boat 20’s ambitious commander, Capt. Walther Schwieger.

The book details President Woodrow Wilson’s steely determination to stay out of the European war. It also raises the rather harrowing question of whether a British intelligence unit reporting to Winston Churchill knew enough about U-20’s location to warn Lusitania in advance of the attack — but chose not to.

Lusitania left New York on May 1, 1915, en route to Liverpool. The Germans had warned in newspaper advertisements that they considered any ship entering British waters a legitimate target. Few believed, though, that Germany would actually sink a civilian passenger ship.

Schwieger and his crew proved that belief wrong. At around 2 p.m. on May 7, 1915, U-20 fired an exploding torpedo at the Lusitania as it cruised about a dozen miles off the coast of Ireland. It scored a direct hit and 1,198 men, women and children lost their lives. Included in that total were 128 Americans.

While Wilson fought hard to keep the country out of the war, German brutality turned the tide of public opinion. Almost two years after the sinking of the Lusitania, the United States declared war against Germany in April 1917.

We’d recommend “Dead Wake” for those who would like to learn more about the Lusitania’s final voyage.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.

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