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Lusitania Medal (British Version)

Identifying number: 
CM Med1995.1060

Lusitania Medal (British Version)

In May 1915 a torpedo launched from a German U-boat struck the British luxury liner, the Lusitania. Germany had declared the waters around the British Isles a war zone in response to a British naval blockade of the North Sea and warned that any vessels carrying armaments within that area were liable to attack. Despite warnings against travel to Europe, nearly two thousand passengers and crew boarded the Lusitania in New York City bound for Liverpool, England. The ship also carried munitions for the war effort. Over one thousand passengers and crew died as a result of the torpedo strike, including nearly 200 Americans. The strike received strong condemnation from allied and neutral countries like the United States. The sinking of the Lusitania is considered to be one of the key factors that motivated America to join the First World War in 1917.

Karl Goetz, a prominent German medal and coin designer known for his satirical designs, was irritated that the Lusitania had been allowed to cross the Atlantic despite repeated warnings of U-boat activity along its route. Believing Germany had sent out sufficient warning of the travel risks and that the British Government and Cunard Steamship Company had acted irresponsibly by putting civilian passengers on the liner, Goetz set about designing a satirical medal. The medal mocked the allies’ insistence on ‘business as usual’ and questioned America’s impartiality. Unfortunately, Goetz put the wrong date on the medal claiming the ship sank on 5 May when it really went down on 7 May.

Goetz’s pro-German design was appropriated by allied and neutral countries for anti-German propaganda. The British struck their own version of the medal, as pictured here, and distributed it with plenty of anti-German propaganda leaflets. The Americans adopted a similar tactic, striking their own medal and printing their own leaflets condemning Germany’s actions. Karl Goetz struck a second set with the correct date but this did little to improve the German image.