Sinking of the Lusitania

7 May 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Lusitania. To commemorate the occasion, Cunard's MS Queen Victoria is undertaking a voyage in May 2015 to Cork, Ireland. Also on 3 May a flotilla set sail from the Isle of Man to mark the anniversary. This is because 7 Manx fishermen in The Wanderer, rescued 150 people from the sinking ship. Two of the bravery medals awarded to the crew members are held at the Leece Museum in Peel, IOM.

On 7 May 1915 Lusitania was nearing the end of her 202nd crossing from New York, and was scheduled to dock in her home port of Liverpool later that afternoon. On board were 1266 passengers and a crew of 696, [Total 1962]. She was running parallel to the south coast of Ireland, and was roughly 11 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale when, when the liner crossed in front of U-20 at 14:10. This was thought to be a coincidence, as U-20 could hardly have caught the fast vessel otherwise. Schwieger, the commanding officer of the U-boat, gave the order to fire one torpedo, which struck Lusitania on the starboard bow, just beneath the wheelhouse. Moments later, a 2nd explosion erupted from within Lusitania's hull where the torpedo had struck, and the ship began to founder in a much more rapid procession, with a prominent list to starboard.

Almost immediately, the crew scrambled to launch the lifeboats but the severe list of the ship made their usage extremely difficult, if not impossible. Only 6 out of 48 lifeboats were launched successfully, with several more overturning, splintering to pieces and breaking apart. 18 minutes after the torpedo struck, the bow struck the seabed while the stern was still above the surface, and in a manner similar to the sinking of Titanic 3 years earlier, the stern rose into the air and slid beneath the waves.

Of the 1,962 passengers and crew aboard Lusitania at the time of the sinking, 1,191 lost their lives. As in the sinking of Titanic, most of the casualties were from drowning or hypothermia. In the hours after the sinking, acts of heroism among both the survivors of the sinking and the Irish rescuers who had heard word of Lusitania's distress signals brought the survivor count to 764, 3 of whom later died from injuries sustained during the sinking. A British cruiser HMS Juno who had heard of the sinking only a short time after the Lusitania was struck, left her anchorage in Cork Harbour to render assistance, But at the mouth of the harbour only an hour from the Lusitania , she seems to of been commanded back to port. By the following morning, news of the disaster had spread around the world. While most of those lost in the sinking were either British or Canadians. the sinking caused an international outcry, especially in Britain and across the British Empire, as well as in the United States, considering that 128 of 139 U.S. citizens aboard the ship lost their lives.

On board was one Lewisham resident Dennis Murphy (1891 – 1979), aged 23 he was born in Deptford on 31 August 1891. In 1901 he was living with his parents Morris [a dockyard Labourer] and Sarah at 42, Griffin Street, Deptford. In 1915, Murphy had just finished service on the Ultonia which departed Liverpool on 11 January and he was discharged on 28 April in New York City, United States. His logbook was stamped and the next entry was for the Lusitania on 1 May of that year and discharged 8 May with the notice in the book “Vessel sunk”. Dennis Murphy survived the sinking and died in Wellingborough, England, 16 April 1979.

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