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Western Animation / The Sinking of the Lusitania

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"The man who fired the shot was decorated for it by the Kaiser! AND YET THEY TELL US NOT TO HATE THE HUN."

The Sinking of the Lusitania is a 1918 animated short film (12 minutes) by Winsor McCay.

It is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, depicting the sinking of RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915, a turning point of World War I. The Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat, having entered the maritime exclusion zone in which Germany had declared British shipping to be subject to attack. It sank in only 18 minutes. Although the sinking did not cause American entry into the war (the U.S. declaration of war came two years later), the loss of 1,198 lives, including 128 Americans, turned American opinion against the Germans and for the Allies.

Winsor McCay was a newspaper cartoonist and a pioneer of animation, having previously made the animated shorts Little Nemo and Gertie the Dinosaur. McCay, who was outraged by the sinking, spent his own money making an animated short that took two years of work. The animated portion of the short, 9 1/2 minutes after a live-action prologue, was the longest piece of animation ever created at the time. It was the first use of cel animation by McCay, who had done his previous cartoons completely by hand.


  • Creator Cameo: As with his earlier animated shorts, McCay included a live-action prologue with himself in which the creation of the film is shown. It takes up about the first 2 1/2 minutes.
  • Dated History: The film has the Germans torpedoing the Lusitania twice. This was a widely believed version of the story, due to a second, massive explosion after the first torpedo hit that sent the ship to the bottom. It was also the version advanced by the British government, which sought to maximize propaganda value. However, all primary evidence—testimony from the submarine crew, intercepted communications from the submarine, testimony from Lusitania survivors—indicates that the ship was only torpedoed once. The second explosion has never been fully explained but is now believed to have been a massive steam explosion due to damage from the torpedo.
  • The Dead Have Names: The short names four "men of worldwide prominence" who went down with the Lusitania: theater producer Charles Frohman, writer Elbert Hubbard, playwright Charles Klein, and Alfred Vanderbilt of the super-rich Vanderbilt family.
  • Death of a Child: The last shot of the film shows a mother and child drowning.
  • Face Death with Dignity: American theatrical producer Charles Frohman, killed in the sinking, is said to have "faced death smiling" and is quoted as saying right before the ship went down that "Death is but a beautiful adventure of life."
  • Medium Blending: A live-action prologue followed by an animated short.
  • The X of Y: The Sinking of the Lusitania
  • Wartime Cartoon: The first ever, actually started before American entry into the war, but certainly appropriate by the time it was released in 1918.


Video Example(s):


Victims of the RMS Lusitania

The earliest known cartoon to cover a serious topic, "The Sinking of the Lusitania" reflects Winsor McCay's fury about the attack. After the U-boat's torpedo hits, the names and photographs of some of the people who were about to drown are put onscreen.

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Main / TheDeadHaveNames

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