File No. 865.857An2/76a

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Austria-Hungary ( Penfield )


1011. Please deliver a note to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, textually as follows:

Reliable information obtained from American and other survivors who were passengers on the steamship Ancona shows that on November [Page 624] 7 a submarine flying the Austro-Hungarian flag fired a solid shot toward the steamship; that thereupon the Ancona attempted to escape, but being overhauled by the submarine she stopped; that after a brief period and before the crew and passengers were all able to take to the boats the submarine fired a number of shells at the vessel and finally torpedoed and sank her while there were yet many persons on board; and that by gunfire and foundering of the vessel a large number of persons lost their lives or were seriously injured, among whom were citizens of the United States.

The public statement of the Austro-Hungarian Admiralty has been brought to the attention of the Government of the United States and received careful consideration. This statement substantially confirms the principal declaration of the survivors, as it admits that the Ancona after being shelled was torpedoed and sunk while persons were still on board.

The Austro-Hungarian Government has been advised, through the correspondence which has passed between the United States and Germany, of the attitude of the Government of the United States as to the use of submarines in attacking vessels of commerce, and the acquiescence of Germany in that attitude, yet with full knowledge on the part of the Austro-Hungarian Government of the views of the Government of the United States as expressed in no uncertain terms to the ally of Austria-Hungary, the commander of the submarine which attacked the Ancona failed to put in a place of safety the crew and passengers of the vessel which they purposed to destroy because, it is presumed, of the impossibility of taking it into port as a prize of war.

The Government of the United States considers that the commander violated the principles of international law and of humanity by shelling and torpedoing the Ancona before the persons on board had been put in a place of safety or even given sufficient time to leave the vessel. The conduct of the commander can only be characterized as wanton slaughter of defenseless non-combatants since at the time when the vessel was shelled and torpedoed she was not, it appears, resisting or attempting to escape, and no other reason is sufficient to excuse such an attack, not even the possibility of rescue.

The Government of the United States is forced, therefore, to conclude either that the commander of the submarine acted in violation of his instructions or that the Imperial and Royal Government failed to issue instructions to the commanders of its submarines in accordance with the law of nations and the principles of humanity. The Government of the United States is unwilling to believe the latter alternative and to credit the Austro-Hungarian Government with an intention to permit its submarines to destroy the lives of helpless men, women, and children. It prefers to believe that the commander of the submarine committed this outrage without authority and contrary to the general or special instructions which he had received.

As the good relations of the two countries must rest upon a common regard for law and humanity, the Government of the United States can not be expected to do otherwise than to demand that the Imperial and Royal Government denounce the sinking of the Ancona as an illegal and indefensible act; that the officer who perpetrated the deed be punished; and that reparation by the payment of an [Page 625] indemnity be made for the citizens of the United States who were killed or injured by the attack on the vessel.

The Government of the United States expects that the Austro-Hungarian Government, appreciating the gravity of the case, will accede to its demand promptly; and its rests this expectation on the belief that the Austro-Hungarian Government will not sanction or defend an act which is condemned by the world as inhumane and barbarous, which is abhorrent to all civilized nations, and which has caused the death of innocent American citizens.