How the Sinking of RMS Lusitania Changed World War I
How the Sinking of RMS Lusitania Changed World War I

How the Sinking of RMS Lusitania Changed World War I

Larry Holzwarth - December 19, 2019

How the Sinking of RMS Lusitania Changed World War I
The Bryce Report gave propaganda about atrocities an offical government air. Wikimedia

23. The Bryce Report followed the Lusitania disaster by a few days

The Committee on Alleged German Outrages issued its report, generally known as the Bryce Report, on May 12, 1915, less than a week after the Lusitania sinking. It displaced the latter from the front pages of newspapers in the United States. The Bryce report was allegedly based on depositions which were first-hand accounts from witnesses to German atrocities in Belgium and France. One finding was, “That there were in many parts of Belgium deliberate and systematically organized massacres of the civil population, accompanied by many isolated murders and other outrages.” It accused the Germans of using civilians as human shields, systematic looting and pillaging, and the officers of the German Army of being complicit.

By the end of May, every newspaper in New York had reprinted the report. The British Propaganda Bureau shipped over 40,000 copies to the United States for distribution. Following the war, the depositions upon which the report had been based could not be found. The authors of the report, the committee, had based it (allegedly) entirely on the depositions, it had not actually questioned any of the supposed witnesses. In 1942 the depositions were located, but before they could be examined independently, they were destroyed, allegedly by a German rocket. The Bryce Report is now broadly dismissed as a piece of wartime propaganda, without basis of fact.

How the Sinking of RMS Lusitania Changed World War I
British propaganda was used to generate support for the war in the United States. Wikimedia

24. The Germans returned to unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917

Britain’s naval blockade continued after the sinking of Lusitania, and among the items, it listed as contraband were foodstuffs. International law did not support the British view, but neutral nations – including the United States – were prevented from shipping food to Germany and its allies. Protests over the British position were drowned out in the United States by those desirous of war with Germany and the British propaganda, which grew in intensity following the loss of Lusitania and the Bryce Report. The voices calling for peace negotiations in Europe, and denouncing British violations of international law, were not heard over the cries for war.

When the Germans returned to the policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in February 1917, the event combined with the Zimmerman telegram caused America to enter the war on the side of the Allies. American destroyers joined with the Royal Navy to suppress the U-Boat campaign for the rest of the war. By then most of the public had all but forgotten Lusitania and Arabic, and their sinking by the Germans. It was necessary to remind them, as Americans went to war to end all wars, of the inhumanity of the enemy they would encounter over there. American propaganda throughout the war followed the example of the British.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Last Voyage of the Lusitania”. Adolph A. Hoehling, Mary Duprey Hoehling. 1956

“Lusitania: Saga and Myth”. David Ramsay. 2002

“Lusitania: An Illustrated Biography”. J. Kent Layton. 2010

“The Only Way to Cross”. John Maxtone-Graham. 1972

“Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea”. Robert K. Massie. 2004

“Lusitania”. Colin Simpson. 1972

“Room 40: British Naval Intelligence, 1914-1918”. Patrick Beesly. 1982

“Willful Murder: The Sinking of the Lusitania”. Diana Preston. 2002

“The Conning of America: The Great War and American Popular Literature”. Patrick J. Quinn. 2001

“The Sinking of the Lusitania”. Thomas A. Bailey, American Historical Review. October, 1935

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania”. Erik Larsen. 2015

“A Liner, a U-boat…and history”. Oscar Handlin, American Heritage Magazine. June, 1955

“Was There a Cover Up After the Sinking of the Lusitania?” Simon Worrall, National Geographic. March 15, 2015

“Ignored Warnings, Conspiracy Theories Define Lusitania’s Legacy 100 Years After Sinking”. Ryan Chatelain, CBS News. May 6, 2015. Online

“The Lusitania: Unraveling the Mysteries”. Patrick O’Sullivan. 2002

“The Historian Who Sold Out (The Bryce Report)”. Thomas Fleming, History News Network. Online