File No. 865.857An2/22

The Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs ( Sonnino ) to the Italian Embassy at Washington


I beg your excellency kindly to read to the Minister of Foreign Affairs the following communication of which you may give him a copy:

The Government of the United States is doubtless aware of the particulars reported by the press in connection with the outrage perpetrated by the enemy upon Italian shipping on November 7.

More than once the destruction of Italian merchantmen had taken place under circumstances which permitted no other explanation than that there was behind the procedure a ruthless purpose to use brutish force against private property of innocent persons. Non-combatant passengers and crews already have been the victims of these methods, but never has there been an instance of such unparalleled atrocity as in the case of the sinking of the Ancona. The unarmed liner, en route to New York, was steaming westward between the coasts of Sardinia and Tunis, carrying passengers and cargo destined for America. It was out of the question that the vessel could have been suspected of carrying arms or contraband, or persons in the service of any of the belligerents. In fact, none of the circumstances alleged in other cases, in an attempt to justify actions described by their authors as a necessity of war or as a reprisal, were present in the case of the Ancona. There are principles that no state ought to disregard and no private individual could violate with impunity. Respect for the lives of persons in no way participants in a war is among these fundamental rules of humanity and international law. This rule imposes upon belligerents the strict obligation to do all in their power in every circumstance to protect the lives of such passengers.

Without any warning whatsoever, without even a blank shot, without observing any of the formalities accompanying the right of search, the submarine encountered by the Ancona in the aforesaid circumstances, opened fire upon the unarmed passenger liner, relentlessly shelling not only the wireless apparatus, sides, and decks of the ship while she was at a stop, but even the lifeboats in which the terrorized passengers were seeking refuge. Many of the passengers were killed outright or wounded. Some who approached the submarine in the hope of rescue were driven off with jeers. As a result of this inhuman procedure more than two hundred men, women, and children lost their lives.

The Royal Government regards it as a duty to denounce solemnly to all nations the circumstances described above. Their sentiments of justice and humanity will cause them without doubt to judge, as it deserves, the conduct of an enemy which is obviously contrary to the dictates of civilization and the recognized principles of international law.