File No. 841.857Ar1/61

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


2855. Foreign Office sends me the following report of the sinking of the Arabic, with the request that it be brought to the knowledge of the American Government:

On the 19th of August a German submarine stopped the English steamer Dunsley about 60 nautical miles south of Kinsale and was on the point of sinking the prize by gunfire after the crew had left the vessel. At this moment the commander saw a large steamer making directly towards him. This steamer, which, as developed later, was identical with the Arabic, was recognized as an enemy vessel, as she did not fly any flag and bore no neutral markings. When she approached she altered her original course, but then again pointed directly toward the submarine. From this the commander became convinced that the steamer had the intention of attacking and ramming him. In order to anticipate this attack he gave orders to have the submarine submerge and fired a torpedo at the steamer. After firing he convinced himself that the people on board were being rescued in 15 boats.

According to his instructions the commander was not allowed to attack the Arabic without warning and without saving lives unless the ship attempted to escape or offered resistance. He was forced, however, to conclude from the attendant circumstances that the Arabic planned a violent attack on the submarine. This conclusion was all the more obvious, as he had been fired upon at a great distance in the Irish Sea on August 14, that is, a few days before, by a large passenger steamer apparently belonging to the British Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, which he had neither attacked nor stopped.

The German Government most deeply regrets that lives were lost through the action of the commander. It particularly expresses this regret to the Government of the United States on account of the death of American citizens. The German Government is unable, however, to acknowledge any obligation to grant indemnity in the matter, even if the commander should have been mistaken as to the aggressive intentions of the Arabic. If it should prove to be the case that it is impossible for the German and the American Government to reach a harmonious opinion on this point, the German Government would be prepared to submit the difference of opinion as being a question of international law to the Hague tribunals, pursuant to Article 38 of the Hague convention for the pacific settlement of international disputes. In so doing it assumes that as a matter of course the arbitral decision shall not be admitted to have the importance [Page 540] of a general decision on the permissibility or the converse under international law of German submarine warfare.

Berlin, September 7, 1915.

Respectfully suggest that if Arabic was bow on toward submarine, torpedo would not have hit Arabic on side, and am convinced that situation here is such that if demands are not made quickly there is little chance of a favorable settlement.