At the beginning of the First World War RMS Laconia of the Cunard Line was one of the many vessels brought into military service. Converted from her role as a cruise liner on the Liverpool – Boston and New York – Mediterranean services, she was armed with 8 six-inch guns and carried two seaplanes.
The Laconia saw active service in the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. In this time she patrolled and took part in actions against German East Africa. In April 1915, the Laconia was moved to Zanzibar to act as a Headquarters ship.
The Laconia returned to England in June of 1916 and was returned to Cunard, her time as a military vessel being over. Having resumed her intended purpose as a liner in September of 1916, she was struck by torpedos on her way from the United States to England.
Onboard were 75 passengers and 217 crew. The torpedos hit whilst the Laconia was some 300 kilometres to the west of the Irish Coast.
The Laconia was actually hit by two torpedos, 20 minutes apart. The first caused damage but the ship did not appear to be sinking. The second did lead to her sinking, at around 10.20 pm.
12 people died as a result of the attack. 2 of the people killed were US citizens, Mrs Mary Hoy and her daughter, Elizabeth. Their deaths and reporting from onboard the Laconia by Floyd Gibbons of the Chicago Tribune were contributory factors in the United States declaring war on Germany.