File No. 300.115G95/31

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


2346. Following note received 9 p. m., from German Government. Foreign Office asked me this afternoon to make special effort to send it to-night. No answer yet to Frye note.

With reference to the note of May 28,1 the undersigned has the honor to inform his excellency, the Ambassador of the United States of America, Mr. James W. Gerard, that the examination undertaken on the part of the German Government concerning the cases of the American steamers Gulflight and Cushing has led to the following conclusions:

In regard to the attack on the steamer Gulflight: The commander of a German submarine saw on the afternoon of May 1, in the vicinity of the Scilly Islands, a large merchant steamer coming towards him, which was accompanied by two small vessels. These latter took up such a position in relation to the steamer that they formed a regulation safeguard against submarines; one of them, moreover, had a wireless apparatus, which is not as a rule usual with small vessels. From this it was evidently a case of English convoy vessels. Since such vessels are regularly armed, the submarine could not approach the steamer on the surface of the water without running the danger of destruction. On the other hand, it was to be assumed that the steamer was of considerable value to the British Government since it was so particularly guarded. The commander could see no neutral markings on it of any kind, that is, distinctive marks painted on the freeboard, recognizable at a distance, such as are now usual on neutral ships in the English zone of naval warfare. In consequence, he arrived at the conclusion from all the circumstances that he had to deal with an English steamer and attacked submerged. The torpedo came in the immediate neighborhood of one of the convoy ships, which at once rapidly approached the point of firing, so that the submarine was forced to go to a great depth to avoid being rammed; the conclusion of the commander that an English convoy ship was concerned was in this way confirmed. That the attacked steamer carried the American flag was first observed at the moment of firing the shot. The fact that the steamship was pursuing a course which led neither to nor from America was a further reason why it did not occur to the commander of the submarine that he had to deal with an American steamship.

Upon scrutiny of the time and place of the occurrence described, the German Government has become convinced that the attacked steamship was actually the American S. S. Gulflight. According to the attendant circumstances there can be no doubt that the attack is not to be attributed to the fault of the commander, but to an unfortunate accident. The German Government expresses its regrets to the Government of the United States concerning this incident and declares itself ready to furnish full recompense for the damage thereby sustained by American citizens. It begs to leave it to the discretion of the American Government to present a statement of this damage, or, if doubts may arise over individual points, to designate an expert, who would have to determine, together with a German expert, the amount of the damage.

It has not yet been possible by means of an inquiry fully to clear up the case of the American S. S. Cushing. According to the official reports available, only one merchant steamship was attacked by a German flying machine in the vicinity of Nordhind Lightship. The German aviator considered the vessel as hostile, and was forced to consider it as such, because it carried no flag and also because of no further recognizable neutral markings. The attack, which was carried into effect by means of four bombs, was of course not aimed at any American ship.

That, however, the ship attacked was the American steamer Cushing is not impossible, considering the time and place of the occurrence; nevertheless the German Government accordingly requests the American Government to communicate to it the material which has been submitted for judgment, in order that, with this as a basis, it can take a further position in regard to the matter.

[Page 432]

While the undersigned leaves it to the Ambassador to bring the foregoing to the immediate attention of his Government, he takes this opportunity [etc.]

June 1, 1915.

Von Jagow

  1. Ante, p. 419.