841.857 Athenia/651: Telegram
The Secretary of State to the Chargé in the United Kingdom (Johnson)
21. Your 7, January 2, 5 p.m.93 In its 1309, October 27,93 Department requested a copy of “British Admiralty report on sinking, including testimony of officers and crew”. Your 2583, December 11, 5 p.m.93 states “Strictly Confidential” that Naval Attaché has received information that the First Lord of the Admiralty has refused to issue an official report that had been prepared by the officers of the Admiralty since he contended world opinion agreed as to who sank the vessel. Your despatch 4124, December 14,93 repeats the earlier information that the Admiralty will issue no report and that the testimony of officers and crew is not available.
It is evident from the foregoing that a report by the officers and crew is in existence although not formally issued.
Department desires that you confer with the Naval Attaché and, without compromising his informal contacts, endeavor discreetly to obtain if possible a copy of the report for the Department’s use, on the understanding that it will not be made public without prior consent of the British Government. You may state that in the note of October 30, 1939, the British Embassy informed the Department that
“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.”
Evidence in support of this latter statement is important to this Government in view of the fact that 31 American lives and the personal property of over 200 American nationals were lost. The Department assumes, in view of the Admiralty’s statement (your 7, January 2) [Page 294] that “it will gladly supply any information on anything and everything in connection with the Athenia which it has in its possession”, no difficulty should be experienced in obtaining a copy of the abovementioned report, together with any additional information tending to fix the responsibility for the sinking of the vessel.