On May 1st, 1915, crowds lined New York’s harbor to bid farewell to nearly 2,000 family, friends and crew aboard the world’s fastest civilian liner — the Lusitania. The luxurious British ship was bound for Liverpool, England, more than 3,000 miles away. World War I was entering its 10th month, but civilian ships and their passengers were widely considered off-limits from enemy assault. Although the great liner would pass through waters patrolled by German U-boats off the coast of Britain, few worried about the dangers.
Just six days later, on calm seas, the Lusitania was hit by a single torpedo. The ship sank to the ocean floor in just 18 minutes, taking with her 1,198 people, including 128 Americans. How this could happen, despite a wealth of intelligence pinpointing the whereabouts of an enemy submarine, has been the topic of speculation and discussion for a century.
Today’s guest, Erik Larson, unravels the many forces that led to this disaster in his book, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. Mr. Larson is the author of five New York Times bestsellers, including In the Garden of Beasts, which he discussed on our show in 2013.