841.857 Athenia/292: Telegram

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

1349. My 1275, September 16, 3 p.m.85 As alleged proof of the preparations made by the British for the sinking of one of their own ships in order to influence American public opinion against Germany this morning’s DAZ86 publishes on its front page a facsimile of an instruction issued under date of August 29, 1939 by the Berlin headquarters of the Cunard White Star Company directing the branch office in Frankfurt to suspend German bookings on a number of ships including in particular the Athenia. The instruction of which copies were also apparently sent to branch offices in Cologne, Munich, Stuttgart and Leipzig first lists the sailings of the Athenia on September 2, the Aurania on September 2, the Andania on September 8 and the Ascania on September 9, and then states as follows:

“We have been instructed by our central office due to changes in the schedules for the above sailings [not] to make bookings and also to refrain from transporting to the port of embarkation any passengers who [are] already booked. Kindly inform us what bookings if any you have made for the above sailings—so that we may inform you to what other steamers they may be transferred. Yours faithfully, Cunard White Star Travel Agency GMBH.”

The following conclusions are drawn from an appended commentary published in the DAZ.

The statement made that bookings should be suspended owing to an alleged change in sailing schedules is merely a pretext inasmuch as the Athenia sailed on September 2 according to plan.
Inasmuch as the instruction is dated August 29 Churchill and his comrades therefore on August 27 at the latest, that is to say at the time when the British Government was allegedly doing everything to meet the Fuehrer’s generous peace proposals, had already formed the plan to start off the war against Germany which they had prepared long ago in advance with a new Lusitania case.87
Churchill wished to have no German witnesses on board the Athenia for his criminal maneuver to stir up American public opinion. A contributory factor may have been the wish to hold open as many places as possible for American citizens in order that American reaction would be all the greater over the sinking.
The fact that a number of other ships were mentioned in the instruction shows that Churchill was keeping other ships in reserve in case the Athenia plot miscarried.
The question arises as to whether the Athenia ever had a regular passenger list or as to whether “the supernumeraries in this ship owe their part of the adventure to the stage management of the First Lord of the British Admiralty.”

The commentary concludes [“]we counsel the world and in particular the responsible statesmen of the United States to read with the greatest attention the document reproduced herewith, for, we are convinced that it is a political document of the greatest importance which furnishes irrefutable evidence that one man Churchill is responsible for arranging the sinking of the Athenia with countless Americans aboard. [”]

  1. Not printed.
  2. Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung.
  3. For correspondence regarding the sinking of the Lusitania, May 7, 1915, see Foreign Relations, 1915, supp., pp. 384 ff. passim.