File No. 763.72/2830

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


4273. Department’s 3296,1 August 16, 5 p. m. Foreign Office in a note dated August 26, which was received to-day, replies as follows in regard to American steamer Owego:

As established by the Admiralty Staff of the Imperial Navy, a German submarine at 2.40 afternoon, on August 3, with very clear weather and smooth sea, sighted a slow-going steamer of an old type and stood by. At a distance of 6,000 meters the submarine made the steamer a signal to stop and gave two warning shots. As nothing happened on the steamer, whose flag was not recognizable but which nevertheless continued to proceed on its way, three further warning shots were fired. As the steamer neither made an “understood” signal nor stood by, fire was opened on it. After 6 shots (11 shots in all) it hoisted American flag on the forestay and stopped. The distance was now 2,000 meters. The submarine signaled “send immediately boat with the papers,” to which the captain of the steamer answered by hoisting his designation signal but did nothing more. When, after a further 17 minutes, no preparations were made to launch a boat, the commander of the submarine fired a shot across the steamer’s bow. After 10 minutes the first officer came on board the submarine and stated that the captain had not observed the submarine until then. The Imperial Government can not give any credence to this evasive excuse, since the note of August 18 mentions 10 shots fired at the steamer, from which it is undeniably clear that the warning shots were heard by the captain of the Owego, but that no attention was paid to them.

Under these circumstances the Imperial Government finds itself under the necessity of emphasizing the fact that while the conduct of the commander of the submarine was in every respect correct, the behavior of the steamer Owego was not in accordance with the rules of international law. The captain would therefore have had only himself to blame had his conduct brought about unpleasant results.

  1. Ante, p. 283.