File No. 300.115 N27/17

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


2573. Following memorandum just received from the Foreign Office:

Memorandum relative to the damaging of the American steamer Nebraskan by a German submarine:

The German Government received from newspaper reports the intelligence that the American steamer Nebraskan had been damaged by a mine or torpedo on the southwest coast of Ireland. It therefore started a thorough investigation of the case without delay, and from the results of the investigation it has become convinced that the damage to the Nebraskan was caused by an attack by a submarine.

On the evening of May 25 last the submarine met a steamer bound westward, without a flag and with no neutral markings on her freeboard, about 35 nautical miles west of Fastnet Rock; no appliance of any kind for the illumination of the flag or markings was to be seen. In the twilight, which had already set in, the name of the steamer was not visible from the submarine. Since the commander of the submarine was obliged to assume, from his wide experience in [Page 469] the area of maritime war, that only English steamers, and no neutral steamers, traversed this war area without flag and markings, he attacked the vessel with a torpedo in the conviction that he had an enemy vessel before him. Some time after the shot the commander saw that the vessel had in the meantime hoisted the American flag. As a consequence he of course refrained from any further attack. Since the vessel remained afloat he had no occasion to concern himself further with the boats which had been launched.

It results from this, without a doubt, that attack on the steamer Nebraskan was not meant for the American flag; nor is it traceable to any fault on the part of the commander of the German submarine, but is to be considered an unfortunate accident. The German Government expresses its regret at the occurrence to the Government of the United States of America and declares its readiness to make compensation for the damage thereby sustained by American citizens.

As in the case of the steamer Gulflight, the German Government begs to suggest that the American Government submit to it a detailed statement of such damage, or, if doubt might arise as to certain points, to designate an expert to fix the amount of compensation, acting in conjunction with a German expert.