File No. 841.85/15

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

No. 2013]

Sir: I have the honor to inform the Department that the Embassy is now in receipt of a note verbale from the Imperial Foreign Office, dated December 9, 1915, stating that among the ship’s papers of [Page 653] some English ships that were sunk by German naval forces were found English secret orders concerning the use of false flags and distinguishing marks. I enclose herewith two copies of such orders which have been received by the Imperial Foreign Office.

I have [etc.]

James W. Gerard

Photographic copies of confidential Admiralty instructions to British merchant vessels

Instructions for Owners and Masters of British Merchant Ships Issued with Reference to the Operations of German Submarines against British Shipping

Section 2.—Prooecdure if an enemy submarine is sighted

A. No British merchant vessel should ever tamely surrender to a submarine, but should do her utmost to escape. A vessel which surrenders is certain to be sunk, and the crew cast adrift in their boats. A vessel which makes a determined attempt to escape has an excellent chance of doing so. Even should she fail, and be unlucky enough to be struck by one of the enemy’s torpedoes, the crew will, in most cases, have ample time to man their boats.

B. If a submarine is seen at a distance and on the surface, or if a periscope is sighted, alter course to bring the boat astern and proceed at full speed. If the boat follows you on the surface, make for the nearest land or shallow water, always keeping your stern towards her. If the boat opens fire with a gun continue on your course at all costs—if you stop you will certainly be torpedoed. Gunfire from most submarines is not dangerous. When under fire the crew should go below, and be ready to plug any shot holes near the water line. If the submarine does not fire you may assume she has no gun, and in this case she cannot injure you if you keep your stern towards her and keep a sharp lookout for any torpedo. With the submarine in this position a touch of the helm will enable you to avoid the torpedo, the trail of which can be seen by a line of bubbles on the water.

C. If a submarine comes up suddenly close ahead of you with obvious hostile intention, steer straight for her at your utmost speed, altering course as necessary to keep her ahead. She will probably then dive, in which case you will have ensured your safety, as she will be compelled to come up astern of you....

Section 4.—Lighting, colours, etc.

A. At night it is important that British ships should as closely resemble neutrals as possible. Navigation lights should not exceed the brilliancy prescribed by statute. No bright lights should show about the ship, but in most cases it will not be advisable to darken ships completely. Should neutral ships adopt any particular system of lighting this should be copied by British vessels.

B. The use of false colours and disguises by merchant vessels attempting to escape capture is a well-established custom in the history of naval war. It is not in any way dishonourable. Owners and masters will therefore be within their rights if they use every device to mislead the enemy and induce him to confuse British vessels with neutrals. Exceptional methods of painting and conspicuous funnel marks, not resembling those of neutrals, should be avoided....

Addendum No. 1 to Instructions Respecting Hostile Submarines (to be Attached to Instructions Dated February 10, 1915)

5. Liners and other fast ships can considerably reduce the chance of a successful torpedo attack by zigzagging, that is to say, altering course at short and irregular intervals. This procedure is most disconcerting to a submerged submarine, and prevents her getting into position to deliver a surprise attack....

[Page 654]

7. The guns fitted in the latest submarines, though short, are of comparatively large bore, and fire a shell which, at short range, is effective against merchant ships. The practice of the submarines when they are able to over-take a ship appears to be to close right up under her quarter and fire at a range at which it is impossible to miss.

These tactics necessitate a change in the advice hitherto given. It is considered that every ship on sighting a submarine should first endeavour to escape. The submarine may be a slow one, or the state of the sea may make it difficult for her to steam fast. Should it become apparent to the master of the ship pursued that the submarine is rapidly gaining on him, then, unless help is at hand, it will generally be best to turn bow to the enemy before he gets too close, and make straight at him. This will compel him to risk being rammed or dive. If he dives he at once loses speed and drops astern so that the manoeuvre can be repeated. If he does not dive then there is a fair chance of ramming him, and in any case he is in the worst possible position to use gun or torpedo....