File No. 763.72/1532

The Minister in the Netherlands (Van Dyke) to the Secretary of State

No. 210]

Sir: The situation created in the Netherlands by the German naval declaration of February 4,1 proclaiming a naval war zone around the British Isles, including the whole of the Channel, and announcing danger to all neutral merchantmen entering that zone, is extremely serious.

The two countries to suffer most severely by the execution of this announced policy, would be the United States and the Netherlands. Already the service of the Dutch mail line between Flushing and Folkestone has been suspended. The boats of the Batavier Line, from Rotterdam to London, and of the Rotterdamsche Lloyd, from Rotterdam to Havre, likewise are no longer sailing. Other shipping companies declared yesterday that they intended to dispatch their ships at the usual time and by the regular route but I understand that the carrying out of this intention has already become uncertain, and that there will be difficulties in regard to the willingness of the crews to sail and the insurance upon life and property. The Netherlands thug finds herself faced with the practical consequences of what amounts to a blockade of her peaceful commerce, and this affects her trade in all directions.

I have had several long conversations with the Foreign Minister upon this subject, as well as upon the connected subject or the alleged: British orders in regard to the use of a neutral flag upon her merchantmen. The Foreign Minister showed me the drafts of the Netherlands notes both to Germany and Great Britain. The text of these notes has not yet been published. But I enclose herewith a copy of the leading article in one of the Dutch papers, which gives sufficiently well the substance of those notes, and which expresses by way of comment upon them the general opinion of the Dutch people. I enclose also an English translation of a letter sent by the German Consul General at Rotterdam to the Chamber of Commerce of that city on February 15.2

It seems to me of the utmost importance for the interest of both countries that the United States and the Netherlands should pursuer if possible, a common line of action, as their interests are so closely allied. The closing of the ports and waters of the Netherlands would be a serious injury to us, and the discontinuance of their shipping lines would affect us very unfavorably. Moreover, there are many American citizens who travel upon Dutch ships and the sinking of one of those ships through a mistaken and unwarranted attack by a German war vessel would probably involve the destruction of American lives.

The same thing applies to some of the other neutral countries, such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, and Italy. It would in my judgment be very desirable if a certain unity of attitude and action [Page 132] among all these neutral countries could be attained in regard to this particular subject of the protection of our commerce and the lives of our citizens at sea. Whether this unity of action should take the form of the presentation of joint notes and remonstrances or not, I respectfully suggest that it should at least insure as far as possible a consolidated moral support for such measures as may be necessary to safeguard common rights and interests, now threatened by this new and unheard-of development of naval warfare.

I have [etc.]

Henry van Dyke
  1. Ante, p. 94.
  2. Enclosures not printed. Copies of the notes referred to were sent to the Department by the Netherland Minister on March 4, post, p. 134.