740.00117 Pacific War/96

The Department of State to the Spanish Embassy


The Department of State refers further to memorandum no. 354 (Ex. 111.00) of December 20, 1943 from the Spanish Embassy20 in charge of Japanese interests in the continental United States regarding the alleged aerial bombardment and sinking by United States aircraft of the Japanese hospital ship Buenos Aires Maru.

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A detailed investigation by the United States Government concerning the alleged attack on the Buenos Aires Maru has disclosed that an attack was made against a ship which, at the time of bombing from an altitude of 7,000 feet, was believed to be a Japanese freight-passenger vessel and that hospital ship markings on the vessel were not apparent until after the attack had been made. The Japanese Government alleges that the attack was made in longitude 129 degrees, 20 minutes east, but it appears that this is an error and that the correct longitude was 149 degrees, 20 minutes east.

It has been determined that the attack was accidental and arose from the fact that the hospital ship markings were not discernible from the attacking aircraft overhead. In the circumstances, the United States Government is of the opinion that blame cannot be attached to the personnel of the attacking aircraft.

With respect to the alleged machine gunning on December 1, 1943 of drifting lifeboats from the Buenos Aires Maru, it has been established that the particular identity of the boats was again not apparent. The other circumstances of the attack were such that there was no basis for the attacking aircraft to presume that the boats were those of a hospital ship.

For these reasons, the United States Government rejects in its entirety the validity of the protest of the Japanese Government. If, however, the ship attacked was in fact the Buenos Aires Maru, the United States Government expresses its sincere regrets and emphasizes the accidental nature of the attack. It is stressed in this connection that the terms of the Hague Convention setting forth the markings, use and immunity of hospital ships, as well as the altered markings of certain Japanese hospital ships as described in the Embassy’s memorandum no. 329 (Ex. 111.00) of November 8, 1943,21 have been communicated to all concerned in the United States armed forces for their guidance. The United States Government is convinced that these instructions meet with full compliance. Repeated reports of the sighting of hospital ships by United States submarines and aircraft which were in a position to attack, but did not do so when hospital ship markings were recognized, demonstrate that members of the armed forces are familiar with, and make every effort to observe, accepted international usage concerning the immunity of hospital ships. The United States armed forces have molested no hospital ship when recognized as such.

The difficulty of recognizing hospital ships from the air is of deep concern to the United States Government and it believes that the avoidance of attacks on such vessels is desired by all belligerents. The Japanese Government is assured, moreover, that the United States [Page 1151] Government has every intention of continuing to respect the immunity of hospital ships in accordance with its assumed obligations and international practice.