File No. 862.85/1664

The Assistant Commissioner of Customs ( Dow ) to the Deputy Commissioner of Accounts and Deposits of the Treasury ( Bell )1

No. 102574

Dear Mr. Bell : Reference is made to your telephone call asking for copies of circular telegrams to collectors of customs during April, 1917, in regard to the taking over of German ships.

We have been unable to locate copies of the circular telegrams themselves, but there is quoted below part of an office memorandum dated May 28, 1920, which contains the information desired:

There was no public notice ever given by the Treasury Department as disclosed by the office files, relative to the taking over of the German and Austrian vessels, the instructions to collectors issued by Secretary McAdoo in this connection having been given in code. On April 3, 1917, in anticipation of the declaration of war on Germany, the following telegram was sent by Secretary McAdoo to collectors of customs of districts located along the seaboard, including Porto Rico and Hawaii, viz.:

Strictly confidential. In the event that German vessels your port should be requisitioned for use of the Government you are hereby instructed to be prepared upon receipt of telegram take possession of said vessels and put on board as many men as may be necessary and to hold until further instructions. Telegraphic notice to take necessary action will be conveyed by the word Namreg in a telegram signed by Secretary of the Treasury. Department of Justice and Department of Labor will be instructed to cooperate with you. You are not to act until you receive telegram with word Namreg and then you will act promptly. These instructions must be kept confidential. How many available men have you for the purpose referred to.

The various collectors having reported to the Secretary of the Treasury the number of men available in their districts for handling the situation, a further telegram in code was sent them by Secretary McAdoo on April 4, 1917, as follows:

Referring confidential telegram consult immediately with nearest commanding officer Army or Navy or both and request that they furnish assistance if necessary. Put guards on German vessels when you receive instructions to take such action. If Army or Navy force not available call upon U.S. marshal for assistance and if this is impracticable arrange to have sworn in temporary inspectors or guards. Consult with immigration officials and arrange for close cooperation. Do not act until you receive code word contained in confidential telegram but make all arrangements. Instructions do not apply to Austrian vessels. Keep these plans strictly confidential.

On April 5, 1917, the following telegram was sent in code:

Referring confidential telegrams April 3 and April 4, be prepared to receive and execute instructions at any hour day or night.

[Page 1246]

On the morning of April 6, 1917 (3.14 a.m.), the code word “Namreg” was sent to the various collectors of customs by the Secretary in accordance with the prearranged plan, and replies were received from them that the instructions had been carried out.

With respect to the taking over of the Austrian vessels, Secretary McAdoo on April 8, 1917, dispatched the following telegram in code to collectors of customs at ports where Austrian vessels were lying, viz.:

Strictly confidential. You are instructed to be prepared upon receipt of telegram containing word Nartusa take possession of Austrian merchant vessels in like manner as you proceeded with respect to German vessels.

On April 9, 1917, Secretary McAdoo telegraphed the coded word “Nartusa” to collectors at New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Norfolk, Tampa, New Orleans and Galveston, and the Austrian vessels were accordingly taken over by the customs authorities.

Very truly yours,

Frank Dow
  1. Transmitted to the Secretary of State, Oct. 25, 1928, by the Under Secretary of the Treasury. (File No. 841.51/874.)