This Day In History: February 12

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The Austrian submarine U-35 bombs and sinks the American schooner Lyman M. Law in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Cagliari, Sardinia. The Lyman M. Law, captained by S.W. McDonough, had embarked on its final journey from Stockton, Maine, with a crew of 10 on January 6, 1917, carrying a cargo of 60,000 bundles of lemon-box staves.

The schooner was traveling across the Atlantic bound for Palermo, Italy, when it was captured on the morning of February 12. The Austrians ordered the crew of eight Americans and two British sailors off the schooner before a bomb was detonated, setting fire to the 1,300-ton wooden vessel prior to its sinking. The crew was uninjured and transported to the coastal town of Cagliari, where they were released.

On February 26, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson referred to the unprovoked sinking of the Lyman M. Law and the February 3, 1917, sinking of the American steamship Housatonic by the German submarine U-35, in his request for Congressional authorization to arm U.S. merchant ships so that they could defend themselves against possible German attacks. In his address, Wilson insisted repeatedly that the American people did not desire war, but merely sought to “defend our commerce and the lives of our people in the midst of the present trying circumstances.” Less than two months later, however, angered by continued German submarine aggression against American interests at sea, Wilson would go before Congress again, this time to deliver his message of war. The U.S. would formally enter World War I on April 6, 1917.