File No. 763.72/1534

The Ambassador in Germany (Gerard) to the Secretary of State 2


1717. Following is translation of the German reply:3

The undersigned has the honor to inform his excellency, Mr. James W. Gerard, Ambassador of the United States of America, in reply to the note of the 22d instant that the Imperial German Government have taken note with great interest of the suggestion of the American Government that certain principles for the conduct of maritime war on the part of Germany and England be agreed upon for the protection of neutral shipping. They see therein new evidence of the friendly feelings of the American Government towards the German Government which are fully reciprocated by Germany.

It is in accordance with Germany’s wishes also to have maritime war conducted according to rules which without discriminately restricting one or the other of the belligerent powers in the use of their means of warfare are equally [Page 130] considerate of the interests of neutrals and the dictates of humanity. Consequently it was intimated in the German note of the 16th instant that observation of the Declaration of London on the part of Germany’s adversaries would create a new situation from which the German Government would gladly draw the proper conclusions.

Proceeding from this view, the German Government have carefully examined the suggestion of the American Government and believe that they can actually see in it a suitable basis for the practical solution of the questions which have arisen.

With regard to the various points of the American note they beg to make the following remarks:

With regard to the sowing of mines, the German Government would be willing to agree as suggested not to use floating mines and to have anchored mines [constructed] as indicated. Moreover, they agree to put the stamp of the Government on all mines to be planted. On the other hand, it does not appear to them to be feasible for the belligerents wholly to forego the use of anchored mines for offensive purposes.
The German Government would undertake not to use their submarines to attack mercantile of any flag except when necessary to enforce the right of visit and search. Should the enemy nationality of the vessel or the presence of contraband be ascertained submarine would proceed in accordance with the general rules of international law.
As provided in the American note, this restriction of the use of the submarines is contingent on the fact that enemy mercantile abstain from the use of the neutral flag and other neutral distinctive marks. It would appear to be a matter of course that such mercantile also abstain from arming themselves and from all resistance by force, since such procedure contrary to international law would render impossible any action of the submarines in accordance with international law.
The regulation of legitimate importations of food into Germany suggested by the American Government appears to be in general acceptable. Such regulation would, of course, be confined to importations by sea, but [would] on the other hand include indirect importations by way of neutral ports. The German Government would, therefore, be willing to make the declarations of the nature provided in the American note so that the use of the imported food and foodstuffs solely by the non-combatant population would be guaranteed. The Imperial Government must, however, in addition [attach importance to] having the importation of other raw material used by the economic system of non-combatants including forage permitted. To that end the enemy Governments would have to permit the free entry into Germany of the raw material mentioned, in the free list of the Declaration of London and to treat materials included in the list of conditional contraband according to the same principles as food and foodstuffs.

The German Government venture to hope that the agreement for which the American Government have paved the way may be reached after due consideration of the remarks made above, and that in this way peaceable neutral shipping and trade will not have to suffer any more than is absolutely necessary from the unavoidable effects of maritime war. These effects could be still further reduced if, as was pointed out in the German note of the 16th instant, some way could be found to exclude the shipping of munitions of War from neutral countries to belligerents on ships of any nationality.

The German Government must, of course, reserve a definite statement of their position until such time as they may receive further information from the American Government enabling them to see what obligations the British Government are on their part willing to assume.

The undersigned avails himself [etc.]

Foreign Office,
Berlin , February 28, 1915.

Von Jagow

  1. Repeated to the Ambassador in Great Britain March 4, No. 1224.
  2. See identical note No. 1169 of February 20, ante, p. 119.