Wednesday, 7 November 2018

It wasn't the sinking of the Lusitania

As the one hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day in Europe approaches...

There is a common misconception that it was the torpedoing and sinking of the S.S. Lusitania on May 7th 1915 led to the American intervention in the Great War.

'Twas no so.  The only U.S. response to that sinking was this:

On May 13, 1915, the U.S. government sent a note to Berlin expressing an indictment of the principles on which the submarine war was being fought, but this note and two following ones constituted the immediate limit of U.S. reaction to the Lusitania incident.  


"The U.S. was officially neutral until April 1917 when the United States declared war on Germany. Earlier in that year the German Ambassador  Bernstorff presented [...] Germany's response to (President)Wilson's recent 'peace without victory' plea [...]: his nation was about to launch an unrestricted submarine campaign, thereby declaring total maritime war against all neutrals. After February 1, the communique noted, German U-boats would sink without warning belligerent and neutral ships found in a designated zone comprising waters around Great Britain, France, and Italy, and in the eastern Mediterranean. The (German) Admiralty made one minor exception: it would permit one American steamer a week to sail between New York and Falmouth [...]. Initially Germany would grant a period of grace, during which its submarines would not harm neutral ships that either were en route to the war zone or had already arrived".  (via Prof. Justus Doeneke)


American maritime trade was thus formally at risk. The new German policy, together with a quite ghastly anti-German propaganda campaign in the U.S. precipitated Pres. Wilson's appeal to Congress,  and the American entry into the fray.

Wilson had strengthened the U.S. Navy but not the Army.  So it was not until the summer of 1918  that American soldiers began to appear on the Western Front, at the rate of 10,000 per day.


Serious readers of America's entry into the Great War should read this. It is a tour de force by Justus Doeneke a former New College, Sarasota professor. The peer reviews of this book are entirely positive!

Transparency.  I know Prof.  Doeneke and respect him greatly.

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