File No. 659.119/160

The Chargé in Denmark ( Grant-Smith) to the Secretary of State


1759. Referring to the Legation’s telegram 1743 of 25th and 26th1 I venture to submit the following communication on the Danish Government’s reply relative to the embargo.

As forecast in my telegram 1566 of November 13,2 the Danish reply evidences a more intractable spirit than could have been expected before the recent successes of the Central powers. Aside from the generally unsatisfactory tone of the note, indications of German inspiration appear in almost every paragraph. It would seem hardly possible that many of their counter-proposals which are clearly impossible of acceptance could have been made seriously. The proposal of maximum terms for bargaining purposes such as the demand for the liberation of all goods already purchased, the protraction of the negotiations in anticipation of an early peace, or at German instigation, in the hope of obtaining in the meantime the return to Denmark of a considerable portion of their tonnage, may all have exercised their influence in the formulation of the Danish demands.

In group 1, subdivision 2, the assumption that goods imported in ships supplied with American coal or oil, preferably coal or oil of Allied origin, would not be interfered with might apparently be met by a provision that the amounts should not exceed the total ration proposed while not losing sight of the possible interpretation of “interfered with “to guarantee exemption from inspection or detention.

[Subdivision] 3: An endeavor is evidently made to interpret our demand that manufactured products not to exceed $2,000 in value should be exported to the Central Empires in any one month as applying to goods of American origin alone. No mention is made of oils with reference to use. It is suggested that the stipulations be made to include all petroleum and petroleum products of other than enemy origin.

Group 2, subdivision 1: Owing to the steadily decreasing [production, continued allowance] of 50 per cent of the surplus bacon and butter to Germany after the Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish markets have been fully supplied would seem preferable to the proposed 800 tons weekly. The introduction of cumulative provisions and the deliberate vagueness found in this and the following proposals [Page 1109] unmistakably show the hand of Germany endeavoring to insure increased imports during the months of her greatest need. It is recommended that the proposed increase in the number of cattle and horses to be exported be disallowed and that no tanning materials be licensed so long as hides are exported to Germany.

Subdivision 2: Advantage is taken of the difference in terminology to put forward the presumption that petroleum of American origin may be used for fishing boats now almost exclusively operated in the German [interest].

Group 3, subdivision 1: I have reason to believe, aside from the implication in the note, that the Danish Government have been warned that Germany would consider the placing of any tonnage at the disposal of an enemy of the latter as bordering on a breach of neutrality from which they endeavor to extricate themselves by declaring that any “cession of this kind would have to be voluntary” on the part of the shipowners.

Subdivision 2: The claim for the need of 450,000 [tons] of shipping for Danish domestic needs is based presumably on the 150,000 tons of coal monthly for which Great Britain has promised to issue licenses and the full complement of rations demanded. Germany has recently agreed to supply Denmark with 400,000 tons of coal distributed over four months and the British import has averaged 68,000 monthly since September last. In a recent letter one of the principal Danish financiers, especially well informed in this regard, states that by strict economy and the use of peat and wood “the Danish coal consumption may be reduced to about 200,000 tons per month.” Thus with the German contract fulfilled but 100,000 tons monthly would be needed from England which by speeding up the voyages could presumably be carried by 100,000 tons of shipping. The failure to impose conditions as to the employment of tonnage allotted for Danish use would make possible not only the accumulation and tying up of shipping in Danish ports but also its immediate availability for German service on the advent of peace. The contention that Denmark should always have at her disposal ships enough to meet her needs is in principle reasonable but an exaggeration of those needs may always be counted on.

Subdivision 6: By guaranteeing full bunkers out and back to Denmark we would surrender one of our most effective means of control. The delivery of stores and provisions in conformity with the wishes of the owners could hardly have been made seriously.

Subdivision 8: If on the plea of efficiency inspection harbors are to be avoided vessels sailing from a South American neutral port to Denmark would be immune from any but inspection at sea. The fortnight’s notice for termination would seem acceptable provided it applied even only to notice given by the United States Government.

[Page 1110]

Should it not be found possible to reach some grounds I should venture to suggest that the Danish tonnage now in our control might be made utilizable through bunker contracts and such vessels as might persist in lying idle forced into traffic through special harbor dues. The Danish Government would thus be relieved of their embarrassment vis à vis the Germans and the latter would not be able to avail themselves valuable propaganda material which would attend requisitioning. In order to prevent an accumulation of shipping in Danish ports and its probable detention in response to German pressure the suggestion is ventured that no Danish ship be permitted to sail from a United States port for Denmark until one of equal tonnage bound from Denmark to United States had passed west of the line of blockade.

American Legation
  1. Ante, p. 1102.
  2. Ante, p. 1064.