File No. 768.72111/411
The British Ambassador (Spring Rice) to the Secretary of State
In a memorandum of to-day’s date the British Ambassador has set forth the grounds upon which His Majesty’s Government hold that British merchant vessels which are armed for defensive purposes only are entitled to be treated as peaceful trading vessels. In urging this view upon the consideration of the United States Government the British Ambassador is instructed to state that it is believed that German merchant vessels with offensive armament have [Page 609]escaped from American ports, especially from ports in South America, to prey upon British commerce in spite of all the precautions taken. German cruisers in the Atlantic continue by one means or another to obtain ample supplies of coal shipped to them from neutral ports, and if the United States Government take the view that British merchant vessels which are bona fide engaged in commerce and carry guns at the stern only are not permitted purely defensive armament, unavoidable injury may ensue to British interests and indirectly also to United States trade which will be deplorable.