File No. 855.48/239

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Germany ( Gerard )


1527. From London:1

The Commission for Relief of Belgium informs me that their investigation made in Holland seems to leave no doubt that the ship Harpalyce was torpedoed by a German submarine.

She carried a safe-conduct pass from the German Minister at The Hague, was displaying the conspicuous markings and the flag of the commission, and had complied in every particular with the formal agreements between our Government and the German Government. She was sunk in daylight without warning just off the Dutch coast. She was en route for Norfolk, Virginia, intending to call at Newcastle for coal.

Hoover, chairman of the commission, informs me German Minister at The Hague now refuses to grant any further safe-conduct passes to commission’s ships unless they proceed direct to United States for further cargoes for the commission without calling at United Kingdom ports. This is a direct contravention of the German agreement to safe-conduct all the commission’s ships whether going to or coming from Rotterdam. Most of their ships are chartered for a single voyage and leave the service of the commission when they have returned in ballast to a United Kingdom port after discharging cargo in Rotterdam. In any event all the ships which intend to make a second voyage for the commission must call at English ports for coal.

This action of the German Minister, following the sinking of the Harpalyce, both in violation of the agreement, brings the commission’s operations to a practical end since their insurance and charters are based on the assurances which they have given of non-interference with shipping by the Germans. Two ships which have already discharged commission’s cargoes will not leave Rotterdam with German passes and they insist that cost of detention must be paid by commission. Other ships are on their way. Presently there will be a detained fleet of them at Rotterdam if they risk passage thereto.

The commission therefore now squarely faces the question whether the Germans mean thus to break down its work. They request me to ask whether the German Government wishes them to discontinue to feed the Belgian and French civil population within their occupied zone; and they hope that in the interest of the ten million non-combatants dependent on the commission for their daily bread you will use your good offices to ascertain whether they must abruptly give up the whole undertaking.

Please communicate at once to Foreign Office.

  1. Despatch No. 1948 of April 16, 1915 (File No. 855.48/245).