The SS Sussex was a French steamer ferry that made regular trips across the English Channel. On March 24th, 1916, at approximately 2:50pm, the Sussex was torpedoed by the German submarine UB-29. There were reportedly two torpedoes fired at the ship, and the first ripped off the bow of the ship, killing all the passengers there. The damaged ship drifted for nine hours before a French tug boat found it and dragged it back to the French port of Boulogne. Out of the 380 passengers on board, fifty were killed, and thirty others injured. Out of these thirty, twenty-five were Americans.
the Government of the United States is at last forced to the conclusion that there is but one course it can pursue; and that unless the Imperial German Government should now immediately declare and effect an abandonment of its present methods of warfare against passenger and freight carrying vessels this Government can have no choice but to sever diplomatic relations with the Government of the German Empire altogether”
- President Woodrow Wilson addressing Congress - Warning Germany
19 April 1916
On April 19th, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress, using this publicized event as a way to indirectly address Germany, threatening to sever all the United States’s diplomatic relations with Germany if they did not cease to attack passenger ships. In May of 1916, “under intense pressure from the United States, and in the face of mounting evidence including pieces of the torpedo along with testimony by survivors and others, the Germans admitted responsibility,” attributing the incident to mistaking the ship for a minelayer. On the fourteenth of that month, Germany made the Sussex Pledge, where they promised not to bomb neutral ships, and to search any ships suspected of carrying weapons before firing upon them.