File No. 865.857An2/71

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

[Telegram]

1027. Department’s 1011, December 6, 6 p. m.1

Following note received from Minister for Foreign Affairs noon to-day:

[Page 639]

In reply to the much-esteemed note No. 4167, which his excellency Mr. Frederic Courtland Penfield, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America, directed to him in the name of the American Government under date of the 9th instant in the matter of the sinking of the Italian steamer Ancona, the undersigned, preliminary to a thorough, meritorious treatment of the demand, has the honor to observe that the sharpness with which the Government of the United States considers it necessary to blame the commanding officer of the submarine concerned in the affair and the firmness in which the demands addressed to the Imperial and Royal Government appear to be expressed might well have warranted the expectation that the Government of the United States should precisely specify the actual circumstances of the affair upon which it bases its case. As is not difficult to perceive, the presentation of the facts in the case in the aforesaid note leaves room for many doubts; and even if this presentation were correct in all points and the most rigorous legal conception were applied to the judgment of the case, it does not in any way sufficiently warrant attaching blame to the commanding officer of the war vessel or to the Imperial and Royal Government.

The Government of the United States has also failed to designate the persons upon whose testimony it relies and to whom it apparently believes it may attribute a higher degree of credibility than to the commander of the Imperial and Royal Fleet. The note also fails to give any information whatsoever as to the number, names, and more precise fate of the American citizens who were on board of the said steamer at the critical moment.

However, in view of the fact that the Washington Cabinet has now made a positive statement to the effect that citizens of the United States of America came to grief in the incident in question, the Imperial and Royal Government is in principle ready to enter into an exchange of views in the affair with the Government of the United States. It must, however, in the first place, raise the question why that Government failed to give juridical reasons for the demands set forth in its note with reference to the special circumstances of the incriminating events upon which it itself lays stress, and why, in lieu thereof, it referred to an exchange of correspondence which it has conducted with another government in other cases. The Imperial and Royal Government is the less able to follow the Washington Cabinet on this unusual path, since it by no means possesses authentic knowledge of all of the pertinent correspondence of the Government of the United States, nor is it of the opinion that such knowledge might be sufficient for it in the present case, which, in so far as it is informed, is in essential points of another nature than the case or cases to which the Government of the United States seems to allude. The Imperial and Royal Government may therefore leave it to the Washington Cabinet to formulate the particular points of law against which the commanding officer of the submarine is alleged to have offended on the occasion of the sinking of the Ancona.

The Government of the United States has also seen fit to refer to the attitude which the Berlin Cabinet assumed in the above-mentioned correspondence. The Imperial and Royal Government finds in the much-esteemed note no indication whatever of the intent with which this reference was made. Should, however, the Government of the United States thereby have intended to express an opinion to the effect that a precedent of whatever nature existed for the Imperial and Royal Government with respect to the juridical consideration of the affair in question this Government must, in order to preclude possible misunderstandings, declare that as a matter of course it reserves to itself full freedom of maintaining its own legal views in the discussion of the case of the Ancona.

In having the honor to have recourse to the kindness of his excellency the Ambassador of the United States of America, with the most respectful request to be good enough to communicate the foregoing to the American Government, and on this occasion to state that the Imperial and Royal Government, in no less degree than the American Government and under all circumstances, most sincerely deplores the fate of the innocent victims of the incident in question, the undersigned at the same time avails himself [etc.]

Burian

Penfield
  1. Ante, p. 623.