Grimmer-Solem Remembers the Sinking of the Lusitania

Erik Grimmer-Solem

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem

The Hartford Courant turned to Erik Grimmer-Solem, associate professor of history, tutor in the College of Social Studies, for perspective on the sinking of the ocean liner R.M.S. Lusitania, one century later.

“The British were very effective in using the sinking of the Lusitania as a propaganda tool, portraying the Germans as beastly and dastardly,” he told the Courant. “But [Woodrow] Wilson was in a tough spot. The United States had a significant German population, who were certainly not in favor of war.”

Grimmer-Solem said the German government naturally viewed the horror of the Lusitania quite differently. He said the British had imposed a crippling blockade of the North Sea, including food, in violation of international conventions.

Also, maritime prize rules of the day required submarines to surface before carrying out searches of suspected vessels — a risky maneuver as the British were known to use decoy vessels to coax U-Boats into firing rage. The situation pushed the Germans toward a policy of “unrestricted” submarine warfare, he said.

“The Lusitania was seen by the Germans as a legitimate military target,” the professor said. “We know it was chock full of munitions, which the Germans had suspected. They were listed on the manifest. There were many tons aboard the vessel. The English were ruthless about [using passenger vessels for ferrying arms.] They did this in the Boer War.”