May 7th, and the Tragic Birth of Modern Ultrasound

If you work in the medical ultrasound imaging field anywhere, consider pausing for a moment this day and remember what might be considered the spindle on which sonar technology’s major advance turned.

It was early afternoon, Friday, May 7th, 1915.  The HMS Lusitania, a passenger-packed British luxury liner (also of the Cunard line) was torpedoed on the starboard side as it approached port off the coast of Ireland, just eleven miles out—in full view of the shoreline.  A German U-Boat, operating under general military naval blockade orders, fired without warning and hit the hull below the water line in a single strike.  A secondary explosion—considered to be from the ship’s boilers exploding, drew in the ocean and brought the ship down in 34 feet of deadly, frigid water within eighteen minutes.  1,198 persons drowned.

The story is long as you’d suspect, but to the point is the fact that the USA had secretly packed on board the passenger ship over 4 million rounds of machine gun ammunition, 5,000 shrapnel shell casings, and over 3,000 percussion artillery fuses, destined to support the war in Europe.

The usual back and forth of brinksmanship between the USA and Germany went on for almost two years before the American President announced the nation’s formal declaration of war, thus entering World War I.

What you may not know—and need to appreciate—is the fact that before that fateful May weekend was over, the American Military had made the decision to dominate the seas with underwater and surface-based sonar, a technology the Germans excelled in already.

The rest is history and you hold a part of their Story in your hand every time you scan.


Coming up:

The technology tide—and the displayed ultrasound signal—is turned forever on its side after an early Sunday morning attack at Pearl Harbor, and the excuse to miniaturize bedside ultrasound by putting it first on the Space Shuttle, then the Battlefield… entering the stage: Trauma ultrasound and POCUS….

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