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RMS Lusitania

Born out of a collaboration between Cunard and the British government, the Lusitania was the first response to the large and fast four funneled German liners, SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, SS Kronprinz Wilhelm, and the SS Deutschland.

Cunard set out to crush the competition. With a dream of having two fast liners and a third larger opulent liner servicing the transatlantic market, plans were made. Designed with speed in mind, the RMS Lusitania utilized several iconic design cues and technology.

After several successful years with the sister ship RMS Mauretania, the Lusitania continued to steam between Britain and the United States providing nearly weekly service.

At the outbreak of WWI, the Lusitania remained in merchant marine duty maintaining her route until tragedy struck. Chased by a German U-Boat, the Lusitania was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland, sinking in under twenty minutes with a great loss of life.

To learn more about the RMS Lusitania shipwreck, go to the Great Ocean Liners Shipwrecks page.

RMS Lusitania steamship ocean liner painting
RMS Lusitania steam ship ocean liner sailing into port

Speed of Steam Turbines

One of the objectives of Cunard was speed. As a financing partner, the British government's objectives was speed as well. Due to increased competition of the International Mercantile Marine, a conglomerate owned by America's JP Morgan, Cunard the the British government came to agreement to modernize Cunard's fleet.

Built to admiralty specifications, the RMS Lusitania and sister ship RMS Mauretania, utilize a high strength steel hull, wireless telegraph installed, and revolutionary turbine engine design. The launch of the Lusitania was first time a turbine had been used in transatlantic travel. Causing tremendous vibrations, the aft of the Lusitania at full speed remained a relatively unpleasant space, a sacrifice for the speed provided.

Blue Riband Runs, Traveling in Style

Utilizing a design aesthetic of historic design styles, such as Georgian, Queen Anne, and neoclassical King Louis XVI motifs. These all created a level of opulence and scale not seen before.

Winning the Blue Riband on her second trip, the Lusitania was bred for speed. With four propellers and four steam turbines, two high pressure turbines and two low pressure turbines.

Fitted with lifts, indoor plumbing, heating and air conditioning, the Lusitania was a ship to showcase the upcoming ocean liner race.

RMS Lusitania steam ship ocean liner sailing into port
RMS Lusitania steam ship ocean liner docked port
Lusitania During WWI

During the outbreak of WWI, the shipping industry was hit hard. The often used Cruiser Rules to define naval warfare seemed slightly out of date with the new contingent of liners and submarines.

During the war, the Lusitania was one of few ships to maintain civilian service. Painted a dark grey color scheme at the beginning, the British Admiralty gave instructions of intercepting ships to be rammed, lessening the chance of capture or destruction.

At the beginning of 1915, the Lusitania's funnels were painted the distinctive solid black and allegedly began transporting munitions from the then neutral United States to the Allied front.

Disaster of War

In May of 1915, the Imperial German Embassy issued a warning notice to papers in the United States warning that British ships are traveling through a war zone and are subject to sinking. Even with warning, the Lusitania sailed on.

May 7, 1915 the Lusitania, sailing from New York to Liverpool, entered into waters south of Ireland. With the Lusitania's impressive speed, many believed if in trouble, the ship could simply outrun an enemy ships. Although this was the case, not in confined spaces. German U-Boat U20 fired upon the Lusitania in open waters and struck. 

Minutes after the initial impact, there was a second and larger explosion. Once this occurred, the sinking increased and in a matter of minutes, the Lusitania sat at the bottom of the sea. Only six lifeboats were able to be launched successfully. Of the 1,962 Passengers and Crew aboard, 1,196 lost their lives. Of those lost, 128 were Americans, causing a backlash that forced the US to eventually enter the War as an Allied force.

RMS Lusitania steam ship ocean liner sinking

RMS Lusitania Ship Facts

31,550 GRT
33' - 6"
Number of Decks:
Cruising Speed:
25 Knots (29 mph or 46 km/hr)
Max Speed:
28 Knots (32mph or 52km/h)
Port of Registry:
Maiden Voyage:
September 7, 1907
Years in Service:
Current Status:
Torpedoed and sunk by a German U-Boat in WWI
RMS Lusitania Ocean Liner Ship Boat Elevation Drawing Schematic Profile.png

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RMS Lusitania

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RMS Lusitania Frequently Asked Questions

  • How fast could the RMS Lusitania travel, and what was its top speed? Answer: The RMS Lusitania could travel at a maximum speed of around 25 knots (29 miles per hour), making it one of the fastest ocean liners of its time.

  • How long did it take to build the RMS Lusitania, and where was it built? Answer: The RMS Lusitania was built by the shipbuilding company John Brown & Co. in Clydebank, Scotland. Construction began in 1904 and the ship was launched in 1906, taking a total of approximately two years to build.

  • What was the overall size of the RMS Lusitania, and how much did it weigh? Answer: The RMS Lusitania was approximately 790 feet long and 88 feet wide, with a displacement of around 44,000 tons. It weighed approximately 31,550 tons when fully loaded.

  • What happened to the wreckage of the RMS Lusitania, and is it possible to visit the site? Answer: The wreckage of the RMS Lusitania is located off the coast of Ireland and is considered a war grave, with the remains of many of the ship's passengers and crew still inside. It is not generally accessible to divers or other visitors due to its protected status.

  • When and where did the RMS Lusitania sink, and how many people were killed? Answer: The RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland on May 7, 1915, during World War I. Of the approximately 1,959 people aboard the ship, 1,198 were killed in the attack.

  • Why did the Germans sink the RMS Lusitania, and was it a surprise attack? Answer: The Germans sank the RMS Lusitania because they believed it was carrying war materials, despite the fact that it was primarily a passenger liner. While warnings had been issued that the ship was at risk of attack, many passengers were still surprised by the suddenness of the attack. In 1982 it was ackowledged that potent war materials were aboard and pose a risk to anyone visiting the shipwreck.

  • How did the sinking of the RMS Lusitania impact public opinion of Germany and the war effort? Answer: The sinking of the RMS Lusitania was widely reported in the media and contributed to a shift in public opinion against Germany, both in the United States and in other countries. Many people saw the attack as an example of Germany's disregard for civilian life and the rules of war.

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