File No. 763.72111/1919

The British Ambassador ( Spring Rice ) to the Secretary of State

No. 135]

Sir: I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your notes of March 13 and March 27 in which you are good enough to reply to my note of March 9 relative to the German steamships now lying in the continental ports of the United States and in which you inform me that the investigation has resulted in satisfying the United. States Government that it has fully carried out its duties and obligations as a neutral in respect of vessels of belligerent nationality in its ports.2

In thanking you for your communication and expressing my appreciation of the prompt action taken by the United States authorities [Page 860] I would observe that it was in no sense my intention to suggest that those obligations had not been fully carried out. Information had reached me which has since been confirmed by facts that it was the intention of some of these ships to leave the neutral ports in which they had taken refuge, either for the purpose of supplying warships, or of themselves conducting belligerent operations. Following the precedents established by the United States Government I considered it my duty to direct my observations to the possibility of such an occurrence, which if it had happened would have given rise to a serious question of dispute between our two Governments.

It is from this point of view that I have the honour to refer to the case of the Odenwald which would appear to prove that an urgent summons had been received by the captain to proceed to sea in order to supply a belligerent cruiser. The ship herself was not fast nor capable like the President (who has taken refuge in the same port as the Odenwald) of acting as a cruiser. It would thus appear that the German ships now in United States ports could leave on what would appear to be a commercial voyage, and yet act as tenders. The United States Government is of course the sole judge asto what steps are to be taken to preserve their neutrality but it is plainly incumbent on this Embassy, and an act of simple fairness, to submit in advance to your Department any information which may have reached it, of a nature to arouse a suspicion, which if justified would lead to complaint or remonstrance.

I have [etc.]

Cecil Spring Rice
  1. Ante, pp. 855., p. 858., and p. 852.