17th August 1904

RMS Lusitania is laid down

Lusitania was once both the world’s largest passenger ship and the fastest way to cross the Atlantic. The 31,500 tonne, six-deck vessel, operated by Cunard, was built by John Barrow and Company at Clydebank.

She was designed to carry around 2,200 passengers across three classes – saloon, cabin and third – looked after by close to 900 crew. Almost half of the crew were exclusively employed to work the boilers and engines, which was a manual job requiring the constant shovelling of coal.

RMS Lusitania construction

Lusitania was ‘laid down’ – that is, her keel was laid – on 17 August 1904 and launched on 7 June 1906. Her maiden voyage was on 7 September the following year.

On 8 September 1907, the People carried an excited report about her first sailing, during which the intention was to set a record for crossing the Atlantic. “It is expected she will maintain a speed of 26 knots an hour, and that she will be able to exceed the contract pace. This will entail the consumption of a larger quantity of fuel, but as the Cunard Co. is eager to establish British supremacy, structural alterations have been secretly carried out in the Lusitania as she was lying in the Mersey to give more bunker space. She now carried supply to meet an estimated consumption of 1,200 tons of coal a day.”

World record breaker

The record for crossing the Atlantic in the shortest time was at that point held by the German ship Deutschland, which had completed the route in five days, seven hours and 36 minutes four years earlier. Lusitania comfortably beat it and, as a bonus, was more stable in the water.

The Mid Sussex Times reported on 17 September that “a great crowd met the Lusitania when she steamed into New York Harbour on the completion of her maiden voyage… her time from Queenstown to New York was 5 days and 54 minutes, and her average speed was 23.01 knots per hour.”

Lusitania sunk

Lusitania came to a very unfortunate end, when she was sunk by a German U-boat off the Irish coast in 1915. She was inside a declared war zone at the time and went down in less than 20 minutes with the loss of 1,198 lives. The Coventry Evening Telegraph of 7 May carried a report from the Press Association that she had been torpedoed at 2.32 in the afternoon.

The same day’s Dundee Evening Telegraph noted:

“previous to Lusitania’s last departure from New York considerable excitement was caused amongst passengers owing to a warning having been issued. Numerous telegrams were received by passengers advising them not to sail, as the liner would be torpedoed by German submarines… sending these messages is undoubtedly a part of the plan of terrorising travellers inaugurated by the German Embassy, which this morning inserted in all the principal papers of the country the following advertisement, which appeared among the regular announcements of Transatlantic sailings:- Travellers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her Allies and Great Britain and her Allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government vessels flying the flag of Great Britain or any of her Allies are liable to destruction in those waters; and that travellers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her Allies do so at their own risk.”



Other events that occured in August

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