File No. 763.72112/964

The Ambassador in France ( Sharp ) to the Secretary of State

No. 334]

Sir: In regard to my telegram No. 622 of the 16th instant1 I have the honor to enclose herewith in copy and translation the decree of March 13 to which the above-mentioned telegram referred.

In this decree the application of the declaration of March 1 concerning the treatment to be accorded to shipping bound to or from German ports is set forth. I understand that a copy of the declaration [Page 150] was submitted to the Department of State by the French Ambassador in Washington on March 1.1

I have [etc.]

W. G. Sharp
[Enclosure 1—Translation]

Report to the President of the French Republic

Mr. President: The German Government has decreed certain measures which, in violation of the usages of war, are aimed at declaring the waters which encircle northern France and the United Kingdom a military zone, in which all Allied merchant vessels shall be destroyed without regard for the lives of the crew and the non-combatant passengers and in which neutral shipping will be exposed to the same dangers.

In a memorandum accompanying the publication of the aforesaid measures neutrals are warned not to embark sailors, passengers, or cargoes on ships belonging to the Allies.

Such pretensions on the part of the enemy give to the Allied Governments the right to respond by preventing every kind of merchandise from reaching or leaving Germany. However, the Allied Governments never intend to follow their enemy in the cruel and barbarous methods of which he habitually makes use, and the measures to which they have been obliged to have recourse shall not in their intention carry any risk for neutral vessels or for the lives of neutrals or non-combatants and shall be applied in strict conformity with the laws of humanity.

It is under these conditions and in this spirit that the joint declaration hereto annexed, notified to the Allied Governments on March 1, 1915, has been conceived, and in which are drafted the terms of the decree which we have the honor to submit for your high approval.

We beg you to accept, Mr. President, the assurances of our profound respect.

The Minister of Finance: A. Ribot
The Minister of Marine: Victor Augagneur
The Minister for Foreign Affairs: Delcassé
The Minister of War: A. Millerand

[Enclosure 2—Translation]

Decree of March 13, 1915

The President of the French Republic, upon the report of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of War, and the Minister of Marine, decrees:

Article 1. All goods belonging to subjects of the German Empire, either shipped from or to Germany and having taken the sea since the promulgation of this present decree shall be stopped by the cruisers of the Republic.

All territory occupied by the German armed forces is assimilated to German territory.

Article 2. All articles and goods either of German brand or manufacture or made in Germany, the products of German soil, as well as all articles and merchandise whatsoever, the point of departure of which, either direct or in transit, is in German territory, shall be considered as merchandise coming from Germany.

However, the present stipulation shall not apply to articles or merchandise which the subject of a neutral country may prove to have brought lawfully into a neutral country prior to the promulgation of the present decree or of which he may prove that he was in regular and lawful possession prior to the said promulgation.

Article 3. All articles and merchandise whatsoever shipped either direct or in transit to Germany or to a country close to Germany, whenever the documents accompanying said articles or merchandise shall not show proof that [Page 151] their ultimate and true destination is in a neutral country, shall be considered as merchandise destined for Germany.

Article 4. Neutral vessels on board of which shall be found merchandise falling within Article 1, shall be conducted to a French or Allied port. In the event of the vessel being brought to a French port, the merchandise shall be unloaded unless otherwise provided as hereinafter stipulated. The vessel shall afterwards be liberated.

All merchandise recognized as belonging to German subjects shall be placed under sequestration or sold, the proceeds thereof being deposited at the Caissedes Dépôts et Consignations until the conclusion of peace to the account of the persons entitled thereto.

All merchandise belonging to neutrals and coming from Germany shall be held at the disposal of their neutral owners to be reshipped to their port of departure within a delay which shall be determined. After expiration of the said delay the said merchandise shall be subject to requisition or sold for the account and at the expense and risk of the owners.

Merchandise belonging to neutrals and bound for Germany shall be held at the disposal of the neutral owners, either to be returned to the port of’ departure or to be sent to any other French, Allied, or neutral port as may be authorized. In either case a period of time shall be fixed, at the expiration of which the merchandise shall be subject to requisition or sold for the account and at the expense and risk of the owner.

Article 5. In exceptional cases, at the suggestion of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, approved by the Minister of War, the Minister of Marine may grant authorization for the passage of a specified cargo, or a certain special category of merchandise, destined to or coming from a specified neutral country.

Goods coming from Germany shall only be authorized to pass when they shall have been loaded in a neutral port after having paid the customs duty of the neutral country.

Article 6. Nothing in this decree shall be deemed to affect the provisions decreed regarding merchandise declared absolute or conditional contraband of war.

Article 7. The question as to whether the captured merchandise belongs to German subjects, or is bound to or from Germany, shall be decided before a prize court as hereinafter provided.

Within two days from the arrival of the captured ship, the ship’s papers and other documents justifying the capture shall be sent by the prize service of the port through the Minister of Marine to the commissioner representing the-Government at the prize court, who will immediately notify the president of the said court.

The president shall convene the court which shall declare sentence upon the said documents within eight days of the registration of the dossier at the court. Notwithstanding the said delay, the court shall always be entitled to order any investigation which may appear to it advisable and to grant, if necessary, to the parties who may so demand, sufficient time to justify their rights.

The decision of the prize court shall be transmitted to the Minister of Marine, who shall be directed to execute same.

Article 8. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of War, and the Minister of Marine shall be directed, in so far as they are respectively concerned, to execute the present degree.


R. Poincaré

By the President of the Republic:

The Minister for Foreign Affairs: Delcassé
The Minister of Finance: A. Ribot
The Minister of War: A. Millerand
The Minister of Marine: Victor Augagneur

  1. Not printed.
  2. See footnote, ante, p. 127.