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KS4 History: TB - Lusitania Day (1916)

The newsreel and anti-German propaganda.

Main image of KS4 History: TB - Lusitania Day (1916)
Author Rakesh Pathak, Felsted School
TopicSinking of the Lusitania, WWI propaganda
Key WordsU-boats, Q-ships, unrestricted submarine warfare
Show full lesson spec

Protesters, including survivors of the passenger liner, Lusitania, which was sunk by a German U-boat, march through London.

A useful film for looking at how the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 was used by the British government and media to stir up anti-German propaganda as well as an introduction to the nature of propaganda itself and how it can be used to manipulate an audience.

This lesson idea uses the newreel as a stimulus to begin debating the nature, origin and purpose of propaganda by producing and analysing their own anti-German propaganda scripts to accompany the silent footage. Students are also asked to write a rebuttal from the German ambassador in Washington to the claims made by British propaganda about the sinking of the Lusitania. This lesson will work best if students already have some contextual knowledge about the sinking of the ocean liner.

Lesson Objective

  • To understand the nature, origin and purpose of propaganda; and how its aims are achieved.
  • To understand how the sinking of the Lusitania was manipulated by the British government and media.


If unfamiliar with the term, students are introduced to propaganda as a historical concept before watching the newsreel. Discuss:

  • Where would this newsreel have been seen?
  • Why might the Topical Budget Company have chosen to film this procession?
  • What can students see and infer from the newsreel and how is the sinking of the Lusitania being portrayed?

Ask a spokesperson from each student group to briefly report back to the class in the context of a brief discussion around the questions above.


Main Attraction

Place your students in the role of an employee of the Cinema Division of the British Government's Department of Information. Their task is to produce a script to accompany the silent footage when it is shown in cinemas. They need to think carefully about how they will encourage anti-German feeling and should apply their knowledge of other examples of German actions that can be used to stir up public resentment.

It might be useful to show the class a selection of propaganda posters that used the Lusitania incident, to help students think about the type of language and imagery they might use.

Once students have prepared their short scripts, hear a selection as the newsreel plays. What are the similarities between the different scripts in terms of vocabulary, content etc.? How does this help students to identify examples of propaganda?

This can be followed by a discussion exploring how a 1916 cinema goer might have responded to this newsreel and how different types of propaganda (print, poster, newsreel etc.) might have worked together to influence public opinion.

Finally, it is worth looking at the role of the newsreel during the war in a little more detail. Ask students to read Topical Budget: War and Propaganda (link on the right), which explains how the newsreel became the main outlet for official war films from early 1917.


End Credits

Finish off the lesson by challenging students to write rebuttal to this piece of British propaganda by the German ambassador to Washington. They will need to think carefully about the ambassador's aims - at this point, the US had yet to send troops to support the allies. Zimmerman would have wanted to combat US public outrage by highlighting the British use of Q-ships and other decoys and justify the German's decision to launch unrestricted submarine warfare.

This could also work as a homework task.


External Links
Examples of British propaganda posters
The story of the Lusitania

Video Clips
Complete film (0:56)
Downloadable Teaching Resources

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Topical Budget 211-1: Lusitania Survivor's Appeal (1915)Topical Budget 211-1: Lusitania Survivor's Appeal (1915)

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Thumbnail image of Topical Budget 246-1: Lusitania Day (1916)Topical Budget 246-1: Lusitania Day (1916)

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See also

Thumbnail image of KS3/4 History: TB - Indians at Arras (1915)KS3/4 History: TB - Indians at Arras (1915)

Use a WWI newsreel to investigate different perspectives of war.

Thumbnail image of Topical Budget: War and PropagandaTopical Budget: War and Propaganda

During WWI, TB gained access denied to their rivals