A century ago, the Lusitania was the greatest, fastest, most luxurious liner afloat. Its sinking in 1915 after being torpedoed by a German U-boat, with a loss of 1,198 lives, also helped speed the United States' entrance in the fighting of World War I.
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan
Deck plans for RMS Lusitania. Constructed at John Brown & Co, Clydebank, Scotland.
Ready for Launch
The Lusitania ready for launch.
Gross tonnage: 31,550.
Length: 787 feet.
Beam: 87 feet.
Height: 60 feet to boat deck; 165 ft to aerials.
Nine passenger decks.
Four steam turbines produced 76,000 hp.
Speed: 25 knots. Achieved 26.7 knots top speed in March 1914.
First Class Dining
First class dining saloons and dome on the Lusitania.
First Class Lounge
The first class lounge on the Lusitania.
First Class Bedroom
A first class bedroom on the Lusitania.
First Class Upper Dining Saloon
The first class upper dining saloon on the Lusitania.
Promenade deck on the Lusitania.
A crowd standing on barrels watches the RMS Lusitania arrive in New York City on her maiden voyage in September 1907.
The New York Times wrote, as the ship approached Sandy Hook, "The first view those on the waiting vessels got of her was an enormous hull, magnified by the mist until her high sides and stacks gave her the appearance of a skyscraper office building adrift."
A panoramic view of the Lusitania at a New York City pier.
"Greyhound of the Seas"
A 1908 photograph of the Lusitania in New York Harbor, visible from the Singer Building (at that time the tallest building in the world.)
The Cunard liner was nicknamed the "Greyhound of the Seas" because of her speed, being capable of maintaining an average speed of 25 knots. She could make the trans-Atlantic crossing in five days (a record held until her sister ship, the Mauritania, made it in four).
New York Harbor
The 1913-14 World Tour baseball team returns from Europe on board the Lusitania.
Arrival in New York
Passengers are seen on the deck of the Lusitania in New York City, March 6, 1914.
The mail chute of the RMS Lusitania.
Captain W.T. Turner
Captain William Thomas Turner (1856-1933) was commander of the RMS Lusitania when it sank in May 1915.
U-20, the submarine which launched the attack upon the Lusitania, is pictured after running aground in Denmark in November 1916.
Commander Walter Schwieger
U-boat Commander Walter Schwieger ordered the torpedo strike against the Lusitania. After watching the ship lower its lifeboats, he noted in his diary, "Many people must have lost their heads; several boats loaded with people rushed downward, struck the water bow or stern first and filled at once."
Only six of her 48 lifeboats were deployed before the Lusitania sank beneath the waves.
Schwieger sunk 49 ships before his U-boat struck a mine in September 1917, killing him and his entire crew.
The Torpedo Hits
An illustration created for the New York Herald and London Sphere newspapers depicting the torpedo attack on the Lusitania. Shortly after the explosion rocked the hull of the ship, a second explosion sent the liner to the bottom.
Historians have debated whether the second explosion was the result of ignited coal or aluminum dust, or unregistered munitions being secretly carried in the ship's hold. The presence of large munitions has never been acknowledged by Britain, although a 1982 salvage operation prompted internal memos at Whitehall about "a large amount of ammunition in the wreck, some of which is highly dangerous." The memo noted that informing the salvage company of the danger "would be the first acknowledgement of the facts by Her Majesty's Government."
A supplementary, unpublished manifest of the Lusitania, obtained by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and subsequently placed in his presidential archive, was recently released. In addition to the previously-revealed small munitions on board, the supplementary manifest alludes to the presence of hundreds of cases of shrapnel shells and fuses, and nearly 90 tons of unrefrigerated "butter" and "cheese," that were to be shipped to a Royal Navy weapons testing facility.
Historians have suggested that unregistered munitions caused the second explosion that sealed the ship's fate.
Survivors of the Lusitania disaster.
The body of a victim of the Lusitania disaster, draped with an American flag, is carried on a stretcher.
Of the nearly 2,000 people on board, 1,198 died -- more than 120 of them Americans.
A procession for the victims of the Lusitania disaster, in Queenstown (later renamed Cobh), County Cork, Ireland.
A mass burial of victims of the sinking of the Lusitania.
The body of a Lusitania victim is repatriated to New York.
In this New York Herald editorial cartoon published on May 8, 1915, the German Ambassador to the U.S., Johann von Bernstorff, is pictured with an announcement of the sinking of the Lusitania.
"Take Up the Sword of Justice"
A British WWI recruitment poster by artist Bernard Partridge.
"There's a man after my own heart!"
The Devil is best buddies with Kaiser Wilhelm II in this WWI propaganda poster.
Fred Spear created this WWI recruitment poster with a simple, heart-rending image.
"Avenge the Lusitania - Join an Irish regiment today," cries this 1915 recruitment poster.
In 1993 oceanographer Robert Ballad conducted an analysis of the wreck, which had been depth-charged by the Royal Navy several years after the disaster and picked apart by salvagers ever since. He hypothesized that coal dust ignited the second explosion.
In 2009 Ballard told "60 Minutes" his team almost lost three people while exploring the wreck of the Lusitania, when their sub's propeller got trapped in fishing nets that had been snagged on the wreck.
For more info:
Cobh Heritage Center, Cobh, Ireland
The Lusitania Resource (rmslusitania.info)
The Lusitania Disaster (Library of Congress)