841.857 Athenia/207: Telegram

The Chargé in Germany (Kirk) to the Secretary of State

1219. My 1189, September 11, 1 p.m. and 1202, September 12, 11 a.m.84 An official of the German Ministry of the Navy gave the Naval Attaché to this Embassy today the German texts of the exchange of telegrams between Von Wiegand and Grand Admiral Raeder of which the following are translations.

“Amsterdam September 7, 1939. To General Raeder, Berlin. As is historically known Grand Admiral von Tirpitz took me into his confidence at the time of the beginning of the submarine war. Indignation is surging through America because of the alleged torpedoing of the passenger liner Athenia by a German submarine. Could Your Excellency give me statement by telegram for my press. Where was nearest German submarine relative to the place of sinking? What is attitude of German Navy Department toward American steamer and orders to submarines relative thereto? Would be grateful to Your Excellency for answer. Von Wiegand, chief correspondent Carleton Hotel”.

“Berlin, September 8, 1939. Navy Department. To Mr. von Wiegand, Amsterdam, Carleton Hotel. I welcome your desire to clarify in the American press the attitude of the German Navy Department and to counter the abominable lie that the sinking of the British steamer Athenia which was bound from England to Canada was caused by torpedoing without warning by a German submarine. I refer you to the official statement of the Navy Department relative to the Athenia case published by me today. For reasons which will be readily understood I cannot give you the positions of the German submarines at the time of the sinking of the Athenia but I can assure you that the submarine nearest to the place of sinking was at the time 170 sea miles distant from it. Moreover, I reiterate that my submarine commanders as well as the entire armed forces of Germany have strictest instructions to conform absolutely to international law and treaties and to respect in every way the rights of neutral states. The treatment accorded all ships in the war on commerce is laid down in the German prize rules published by the Reich. It is self-evident that [Page 289] the merchant ships of the United States are in no danger whatsoever if they do not oppose the operations of the prize rules. Raeder Grand Admiral”.

Inform Navy.

  1. Neither printed.