841.857 Athenia/442

The British Ambassador (Lothian) to the Secretary of State

No. 461

Sir: The attention of His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom has been drawn to various allegations published in this country regarding the circumstances in which the British steamship Athenia was sunk on September 3rd last, and in particular to a statement made by Mr. Gustav Anderson88 of Evanston, Illinois, and printed in the New York Times of October 23rd. In this statement Mr. Anderson alleged that as a result of his conversations with the Chief Officer of the Athenia, Mr. B. M. Copland, he had reason to believe that the ship’s cargo included a certain number of guns and that it was intended to fit the ship out as a raider on the return journey and that for this purpose her decks had been strengthened. Mr. Anderson furthermore implied in his statement that the Athenia had finally been sunk by gunfire from one of His Majesty’s ships to prevent her becoming a danger to navigation.

I have been instructed by His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to convey to you on behalf of His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom a formal assurance that the S.S. Athenia, on the voyage in the course of which she was sunk, carried [Page 291] no guns, munitions of war or explosives, either as cargo or stores; nor did she carry either bullion or securities. At the time of her sinking the Athenia was neither armed nor stiffened to receive armament of any kind, and it was not intended to use the vessel as an armed raider, armed merchant cruiser or in any other offensive capacity at the end of the voyage on which she was sunk. The Athenia was not sunk by contact with a British mine, by a British submarine, by gunfire from one of His Majesty’s ships or by internal explosion; according to the evidence in the possession of His Majesty’s Government she was sunk by a submarine.

I am furthermore instructed to inform you that Chief Officer Copland has sworn in an affidavit that he never discussed with Mr. Gustav Anderson the question whether or not there were guns on board the Athenia. Mr. Copland’s affidavit also contains a sworn statement that there were in point of fact no guns or other munitions carried as cargo in the ship on the voyage in question.

I have [etc.]

  1. One of the survivors from the sinking of the Athenia.