RMS Lusitania Medal Karl Goetz
Author: Brandon Frei - Friday June 09, 2017
On May 07, 1915, the German Navy committed arguably Germany’s biggest strategic failures in WWI: the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. International outrage grew as word spread that the ship was sank without warning, killing 1,198 passengers and crew, 128 of which were Americans. To add to this, Karl Goetz, German medalist and sculpture, created a satirical medal in August 1915. His intent was to embarrass the Cunard Line and British Government for allowing a passenger ship to cross hostile waters. The intended effect backfired and the medal inspired other nations to join the war effort in support of Great Britain.
On the obverse: Up top we see "Keine Bann Ware" or "No contraband/banned goods" echoing the expectation the Germans had that no one could bring ammunition or weapons to Great Britain. The Lusitania sinks as cannons, cars and planes spill overboard crashing into the Celtic Sea. The ship was remade on the medal to appear much more like a warship than a steamship for passengers. It reads "Der Grossdampfer Lusitania durch ein deutsches Tauchboot versenkt 5 Mai 1915". The translation reads "The large steamer Lusitania by way of a German diving boat is sunk 5 May 1915".
On the reverse: Up top we see “Geschaft uber Alles” or business above all. Death sells tickets at the ticket booth or “Fahrkarten Ausgabe” for the Cunard Line. Men flock to the booth to get their tickets before boarding. One man reads a newspaper that threatens of U-boat danger or U Boo[t] Gefah[r] his fingers covering the T and R. The Germans had published warnings to the British that the waters they traveled through were hostile and that any ships passing through there would be sunk without warning. At the bottom are the initials K.G. for Karl Goetz, the models’ creator.
The German U-20 Commander ordered the Lusitania to be fired upon without first attempting to alert the crew and passengers. The reasoning for this is dispersed among theories that it was smuggling ammunition, that providing prior warning would have put the submarine in danger of being attacked, and because the Commander did not want to let the ship reach British ports. There are conflicting reports that the Lusitania was carrying everything from small arms ammunition to artillery rounds. There was a report of a secondary explosion that was blamed on a second torpedo by the Allies and by ammunition from the Central Powers. The most recent speculation, following a 1993 dive to the wreckage, is that the coal powder in the boiler room ignited and exploded. Some of you may notice the date printed on the medal is incorrect as the Lusitania was actually sunk on May 7, 1915. Karl Goetz eventually struck a new medal with the correct “7 MAI 1915” on it but the damage had already been done. The inconsistency in the dates led many to believe this was premeditated. Japan, Great Britain, and the United States all produced copies of this medal, some with “MAI” but most with “MAY” as the date. These pieces were used as propaganda against Germany.
Box cover text.
The medals sold in Great Britain were placed in a commemorative box with the actual image of the Lusitania on the cover. The boxes were distributed with the intention of promoting the idea that the Germans were warmongers who were encouraged to kill civilians.
Inside the box the text reads:
These medals were tangible pieces that allowed those who were not present to imagine the horror of it. Karl Goetz’s Lusitania medal is a beautiful yet tragic relic that has timelessly captured a moment in time that forever changed the world.