File No. F.W.462.11T41

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

[Telegram]

2044. My 2039, April 13, 6 p. m.1 The following statement about sinking of Falaba was to-day given officially to Commander Gherardi of the Navy Department:

The submarine signaled to the steamer Falaba, “Lay to immediately or I shall shoot.” Without heeding this the steamer ran away and even made rocket signals calling for help and could not be rejoined until after a chase lasting a quarter of an hour. Although the submarine was in danger of being shot at by the steamer or attacked by approaching vessels, it nevertheless did not shoot immediately but when it had come within five hundred meters of the steamer megaphoned the order to leave the ship within ten minutes. This order was likewise signaled. The lowering of the boats had already begun on the steamer. While this took place in an unseamanlike manner in part so that several boats were damaged in the attempt, some of the crew of the vessel quickly saved themselves in boats and remained in the neighborhood without, however, lending assistance of any kind to the passengers struggling in the water although it would have been possible for them to do so. From the time of the command to leave the ship to the firing of their torpedo twenty-three minutes elapsed, not ten as at first allowed, and preceding this the chase had taken place which could have been utilized to clear the boats. The assertion that the time allowed was only five or even three minutes is untrue.

The torpedo was not discharged until the approach of suspicious vessels from which attacks had to be expected forced the commander to act more quickly. When the shot went off nobody else was to be seen on the ship but the captain who bravely stayed at his post. It was not until afterwards that some persons became visible who were trying to get a boat. Of the crew of the submarine the men required to handle the guns and for signaling were at their posts on deck. It was denied them to do any rescuing work because a submarine cannot take on any passengers. To defend our crew against the calumnious accusation of having laughed mockingly would be a waste of words. At the legal hearing in England no one of the witnesses who testified dared to make this charge.

It is likewise untrue that the submarine flew the English flag at any time.

During the whole occurrence the submarine displayed as much consideration as was at all compatible with its safety. It is regrettable that human lives were lost but the responsibility falls on England who arms her merchant vessels and makes them participate in operations of war and attacks on submarines.

Gerard
  1. Not printed.