841.857 Athenia/742: Telegram
The Chargé in the United Kingdom (Johnson) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 22—7:07 a.m.]
435. Department’s 21, January 4; 303, February 17, noon;95 and my 427, February 20, 7 p.m.96 The Athenia case was again opened on January 2 by the Admiralty because of German propaganda (my 7, January 2, 5 p.m.96). The Admiralty then offered and still offer to place at our disposal the file of Athenia papers. The Naval Attaché had already extracted pertinent data from the Admiralty’s Athenia file and copies were forwarded to the Department (Embassy’s despatch 3852, November 14, 193996). Further documents were forwarded by the Foreign Office, transmitted to the Department under cover of Embassy’s despatch 4124 December 14, 1939.96 Following receipt of the Department’s 21, January 4, 9 p.m. the Naval Attaché again saw his Admiralty contacts and these latter gave informal assurances that a compilation would be made of evidence supporting the British Ambassador’s statement in the note of October 30, 1939 addressed to the Department that “there is every evidence in the possession of His Majesty’s Government she was sunk by a submarine”.
The Naval Attaché now informs me that in spite of these informal assurances, in fact no such compilation has been made in the Admiralty. The fact is, and it is very privately admitted in the Admiralty, there does not exist any legal “evidence” to support the claim made by the British Ambassador. Further the Naval Attaché informs me that no formal Court of Inquiry, Board of Investigation, Admiralty Court, Board of Trade inquiry or any other authoritative and legal body of the British Government have sat to take “evidence” concerning or to inquire into the loss of the Athenia. It is also a fact that no “report” of the Athenia case exists. In the Naval Attaché’s opinion, based upon the very confidential and informal information he has received from the Admiralty, nothing but “expert testimony” [Page 295] [will?] ever be available in this case; whatever “evidence” existed sank with the Athenia.
The Naval Attaché was given to understand at the Admiralty on February 19, very politely but definitely, that should we see fit to press more formally for “evidence” to support Lord Lothian’s note of October 30, 1939, the usual methods and channels of approaching the British Government should be used. It is quite apparent that the Admiralty now hopes that such a request will never be made.