File No. 763.72/1519

The German Ambassador (Bernstorff) to the Secretary of State

J. Nr. A 1062]

Mr. Secretary of State: By direction of my Government I have the honor to make the following communication to your excellency:

According to trustworthy reports, English merchant vessels intend to offer armed resistance to the German naval forces in the naval war zone designated by the German Admiralty. While previously some of these vessels were armed with naval guns, all measures will now be taken to carry out the armament of the remaining ships. Furthermore, merchant vessels have been urged to sail in groups and to ram German submarines while undergoing search, or to throw bombs upon them if they come alongside, and also to attempt to overpower the searching parties which come aboard. Finally, a very high prize has been offered for the destruction of the first German submarine by an English merchant ship. English merchant vessels in the designated waters are therefore no longer to be regarded as undefended, and so may be attacked by the Germans without previous warning or visit.

In the meanwhile, the British Government has already admitted its directions regarding the misuse of neutral flags. Their execution warrants the assumption that English merchant ships will resort to every means of rendering themselves unrecognizable as such. Thereby, in turn, the recognition of neutral merchant vessels is made practically impossible, unless they sail by day under convoy, since even the painting of the hull in national colors and similar methods of identification contemplated by neutrals can be straightway copied by English merchant ships. Visit and search are put out of the question by reason of the attacks to be expected from disguised [Page 105] English merchant ships, since the same would expose the boarding party and the submarine itself to destruction. In such a state of affairs there can be no further assurance for the safety of neutral shipping in the English naval war zone. In addition, account must be taken of an increased danger from mines, since it is intended to make the most extensive use of mines in all parts of the war area. Neutral vessels must therefore again be most earnestly warned against venturing into this area; they may, on the other hand, when the case arises, unhesitatingly choose the route north of Scotland recommended by the German Admiralty.

The new German method of naval warfare is imposed and justified by the murderous character of the English method of naval warfare, which seeks to condemn the German people to death by starvation through the destruction of legitimate trade with neutral foreign countries.

Germany will therefore adhere to the announced method of warfare until England decides for her part to observe also the recognized rules of naval warfare as laid down in the Declaration of Paris and the Declaration of London, or until she is compelled to do so by the neutral powers.

Accept [etc.]

J. Bernstorff