File No. 763.72/2411

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

No. 2298]

Sir: With reference to the Department’s telegram No. 2491,1 of December 10, 1915, 5 p. m., regarding certain suggestions or instructions on the part of the German Government, applying to American ships of war in the Mediterranean, which were brought to your attention by the German Ambassador in Washington, I have the honor to inform you that I did not fail to bring the contents of the Department’s telegram to the attention of the Imperial Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on December 14, last, and that I am now in receipt of his reply, a copy in translation of which I enclose here-with. A résumé of this note has to-day been cabled to the Department in the Embassy’s telegram 3386.

I have [etc.]

James W. Gerard
[Page 1057]

The German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs ( Von Jagow ) to the American Ambassador ( Gerard )

No. A 760]

The undersigned has the honor to reply as follows to the esteemed note of his excellency, the American Ambassador, Mr. Gerard, of December 14, 1915, F. O. No. 6821.

If the Imperial Government proposed to the Government of the United States that the American warships in the Mediterranean be instructed to fly their national flags clearly visible during the day, and to provide sufficient illumination of vessel and flag at night, this merely represented a friendly suggestion, as is self-evident from the nature of the matter. It was by no means the intention of the Imperial Government to wish to issue instructions to the American Government in this regard. This suggestion had for its object in the first place to serve the interest of the American Government, but by no means to infringe upon its rights, as the American marine authorities erroneously appear to assume.

The Imperial Government is moreover not in the position to accept the point of view of the American marine authorities, that no state has a right to give friendly advice to another state. According to the conception of the Imperial Government, a belligerent power not only has the right, but even the duty to warn a neutral of dangers which may possibly menace him, in case he should get into unintended danger through operations of war about to take place.

In its reply of December 14, 1915, the American Government bases its point of view solely on formal instructions. In the opinion of the Imperial Government, the American Government does not sufficiently take into account the fact that these instructions were principally intended to safeguard shipping in normal times; that is, in times of peace. The particular requirements of war hardly render the appeal of a neutral power to such instructions permissible, if the one-sided disadvantage of one of the belligerents is thereby caused.

Even though no explicit regulations exist with regard to the German suggestion, the German Government would like to point out in this connection that it was the American Government itself which appealed on several occasions to the general principles of the right of neutrality. According to these, the neutral state is in duty bound, not intentionally to place difficulties in the way of the military operations of one of the belligerents, unless its own justified interests are violated. The point of view taken by the American Government would logically lead to the result that even in times of war, American warships, in appealing to the right valid in times of peace of free transit on the high seas could demand unhindered passage between two battling warships.

The foregoing considerations and urgent military interests, especially the exigencies of submarine warfare, concerning which the American Government itself admitted in the note of July 23, 1915, F. O. No. 4376, that it was prepared to take its special conditions into account, render it impossible for the Imperial Government, to its sincere regret, to accept the American point of view, which, in case of mistaking a vessel, wishes to place the blame solely and entirely on the German naval forces.

The Imperial Government cherishes the hope that the American Government, upon subjecting the German suggestion to a new and well-wishing examination, will not refrain from listening to the above arguments.

While requesting him to bring the foregoing to the attention of the American Government, the undersigned avails himself [etc.]

V. Jagow
  1. Not printed.