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Current time:0:00Total duration:12:04

Blockades, u-boats and sinking of the Lusitania

KC‑7.3.II.A (KC)
Unit 7: Learning Objective F
WOR (Theme)

Video transcript

entering into World War one the British had the world's dominant Navy and they use it immediately to their advantage you might remember from previous videos Britain declared war on Germany because of their invasion into Belgium in early August of 1914 and it was in November of 1914 that the British that the British declare British declare the entire North Sea area a war zone declare North Sea a war zone which essentially is telling any ship come here at your own risk you might be destroyed and you especially you're not allowed to carry any contraband but they included food as a contraband so this essentially began the blockade of Germany and austria-hungary so this is the blockade blockade of central of the Central Powers and this had major implications for the Lord continued throughout the entire war it essentially caused the Germans of the Central Powers especially the Germans and the US and the Austrians to have to ration food we're talking about a thousand calories a day you could look at the number of calories in your average Big Mac and think about how little food that was and there's many estimates of what that caused that obviously made it hard for the Central Powers to get war munitions and things like that but it also made it very difficult for them to get food and there are estimates that this war this rationing this inability to get food led to malnutrition even led to starvation and there's estimates that this might have led to in excess so we're talking about in excess of 400,000 civilian deaths either directly or indirectly due to malnutrition or starvation civilians dead in the amongst the Central Powers so this was a pretty serious tactic that was undertaken now the Germans did not have as dominant of the Navy most of their Navy was actually focused right off of the coast of Germany right around there in the North Sea but they also want to disrupt trade with the British they recognized the British Isles there their Islands they dependent on trade for food and for supplies so in 1915 in 1915 in February the Germans decay declared the seas around the British Isles they declared this whole area a war zone so seas around around the British Isles British Isles similarly they declare that a war zone a war zone as well and because their surface fleet was concentrated right over here the way that they would enforce that they would essentially try to keep people from trading with the with the British Isles is through submarine warfare and World War one is the first time that submarine warfare becomes a significant factor we're talking about very primitive submarines but we are talking about these vessels that could go underwater and essentially send torpedoes in to boats now thinking about that as a backdrop we now forward to May of 1915 so let's go to may May of 1915 you have the passenger liner the RMS Lusitania and RMS literary stands for Royal Mail ship because it carried some mail it's a big ship if you've ever seen the movie Titanic think of a ship like that and it was setting sail from New York to Liverpool Liverpool in England and it was it was apparently a passenger ship but it was also carrying cargo but the Germans they said look this could be fair game for us especially if it's carrying munitions especially if it's a British ship and in the advertisement that was in in New York for the Lusitania that was going to leave on May 1st May 1st let me put this right over here May 1st 20 May 1st 1915 the German embassy actually placed an advertisement this is worth reading they wrote notice travelers 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 water 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 if any of her allies are liable to destruction in those waters that trip in those waters and that traveller sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk from the Imperial German Embassy and this is dated April 1915 so that's the backdrop the loose Lusitania set sail May 1st May 1st 1915 on may 15th as iron May 7th 1915 the number 15 keeps jumping in my brain into my brain on may May 7th 1915 it's almost reached its destination of Liverpool that's Liverpool right over here Liverpool right over here it's around 10 or 15 miles off the coast of Ireland and right there it encounters a German u-boat so this right over here is a German u-boat and that German u-boat sends a torpedo into the Lusitania now the torpedo as intricate majid rams into the ship and then shortly after the torpedo hits you have this huge explosion that huge explosion is actually one of those question marks of history now the ship goes down taking down with it most of its passengers so there were 1959 total passengers and crew passengers and crew and a let and 1195 of them actually died now there are many there are other ships that that went down due to German u-boats but what was famous about this one are is or at least from an American history point of view is that there were 128 Americans Americans who also died on board and so you can imagine this led to a lot of a lot of I guess a lot of people were concerned on the American side why did this happen these were American civilians and it essentially led to a harsh reprimand from Woodrow Woodrow Wilson and just as a little bit of context once War broke out and war bruh had broken out not even a year before the sinking of the Lusitania the Americans position was to be neutral it did not want to enter into this European conflict with that said the Americans were disproportionately trading with the Allies not the central power they were providing supplies just a minimum and a trading level and they were providing monetary support they were providing loans to the Allies disproportional to the central power so even though there was this kind of strong this formal neutrality there was kind of more implicit connection to the Allies so Woodrow Wilson he still wants to keep America out of the war at this point so this is we're talking about May 1915 and so he essentially just sends a stern warning to the to the German Empire says you must apologize you must take action to prevent this type of thing happening in the future and the German Empire actually complies on September 9th on September we write this on the timeline so right over here so on May you have Lusitania sunk Lusitania Lusitania sunk and then in September in September the Germans Germans agree to not attack passenger ships not attack agree to not attack attack passenger passenger ships and so even though the sinking of the Lusitania and especially in a lot of American history classes is often given as a trigger for America entrance into war this whole thing happened in America stayed neutral throughout this entire period in America wouldn't actually enter the war in - until April 1917 so the Lusitania was just one of many things that happen in the in the years running up to the war and if we fast forward a little bit in 1916 the next presidential election where Wilson run won re-election he ran on a platform of he kept us out of war so kept us out of war so the sinking of the Lusitania was a significant event it was one could argue because the Germans did not want the u.s. to enter on the side of the Allies it was why the Germans agreed to to loosen up at least for a couple of years on their u-boat campaigns as we'll see once we get into 1917 the Germans out of desperation start to become more aggressive on their u-boat attacks again which is one of the catalysts that drive the u.s. in or that the u.s. claims drove them into World War one but with that said just as a little bit of context and you know oftentimes when we look at back at history we always make it seems very cut and dry it seems obvious oh yes you know we had to go to war etc etc I have a few quotes here from from William Jennings Bryan who was Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of State and a few of these are pretty pretty telling so his first this first one is September 1914 this was before any of the stuff happened with Lusitania but war had broken out in Europe and he had this this message that he wrote to Woodrow Wilson to essentially advocate why we should stay out of the war and why there should be some type of mediation to try to get the war to end as opposed to just letting it run its course and he wrote to Wilson it is not likely that either side will win so complete a victory as to be able to dictate terms and if either and this is the interesting side this is interesting and strangely strangely foreshadowing and if either side does win such a victory it will probably be it will probably mean preparation for another war it would seem better to look for more rationale for a more rational basis for peace now the other quotes here and this is this is kind of the question mark around that second explosion Williams Jenning Bryan Jennings Bryan wrote ships carrying contraband should be prohibited from carrying passengers it would be like putting women and children in front of an army and so this is one of those big questions of history it was known that the Lucid Lusitania was carrying light ammunition so it was carrying light light munitions now the Germans claimed that it was actually carrying heavy munitions and to some degree that second explosion tends to back that up and there was all sorts of shady things about a lot of the cargo that the Lusitania was carrying even though they claimed and was kind of these perishable goods it wasn't being kind of stored and are in a refrigerated part of the ship and so there was reason to believe that for that it was carrying actually heavy munitions and that second explosion seems to point in that direction as well and then even after World War one the British Navy actually spent multiple times trying to destroy the wreck of the Lusitania and some people say in order to maybe maybe get rid of some evidence that it was actually carrying far more munitions and maybe was from the Germans point of view a fairer target then then was actually made out so regardless it's a very interesting incident not necessarily directly tied to America's entrance into World War one but it is one of many events and this whole idea of blockades and German u-boats against civilians this was something that that was a cause of repeated concern for the Americans