File No. 862.85/160

The Swiss Minister ( Sulzer ) to the Secretary of State

Memorandum

The Minister of Switzerland representing German interests in the United States presents his compliments to the Secretary of State, and has the honor to enclose copy and translation of a note verbale addressed by the Imperial German Foreign Office to the Swiss Legation in Berlin, requesting to be informed of the intentions of the Government of the United States with regard to the question of ownership of German merchant vessels recently taken over by the Government of the United States and with regard to the question of compensation.1

[Page 1261]
[Enclosure—Translation]

The German Foreign Office to the Swiss Legation at Berlin

III. a. 13486. 106390

Note Verbale

According to the note verbale of the Swiss Legation of May 30, 1917, No. A. VII. 3./3974, the Government of the United States informed the Swiss Legation in Washington on March 10, 1917, that the seizure of certain German merchant vessels lying in several American harbors was done merely for the protection of American life and property and that this seizure in no sense represented a transfer of ownership.

On the other hand, it appears from the telegram of the Swiss Legation in Washington to the Political Department in Berne, dated April 6, 1917, and transmitted to the Foreign Office by note verbale of April 9, 1917, No. A. VII 3./1600, that all of the German vessels lying in American harbors had been seized. Furthermore, according to The Official Bulletin, Washington, June 4, 1917, transmitted to the Foreign Office by note verbale of July 6, 1917, No. A. VII 3./5770, the American Navy Department has given new names to fourteen of the German vessels seized.

It appears from this, that the American Government has proceeded actually to seize the German ships lying in American harbors for the purpose of appropriating them. The Imperial Government desires to know what, according to the views of the American Government, is the significance of this seizure and particularly whether the Government has in fact requisitioned the German vessels with the intention of acquiring title or merely for a temporary use, and in either case how the Government purposes to regulate the question of compensation.

The Foreign Office would be indebted to the Swiss Legation if it could obtain information with reference to this matter, from the Government of the United States through the medium of the Swiss Legation in Washington.

  1. This memorandum bears the following annotation by Bert L. Hunt, Assistant Solicitor: “1–16–18. This was shown to the Secretary on or about Sept. 27, 1917, and he said we ‘should not discuss the matter’ with the German Government at that time. B.L.H.”