740.00117 Pacific War/103: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Minister in Switzerland (Harrison)

1457. Department’s 416, February 8th.24 Following for immediate delivery to Japanese Government:

“An amplification of the preliminary report received by the United States Government from its forces in the Pacific Theater of Operations concerning the accidental attack upon a hospital ship, presumably Japanese, about 30 miles north of Rabaul during the night of January 25 to 26 which was referred to in the previous communication to the Japanese Government pertaining to this matter25 discloses that at about 0410 local time on January 26 a single aircraft while on a scheduled night patrol made contact with a vessel in position approximately 3 degrees 51 minutes south latitude and 151 degrees 43 minutes east longitude. The weather at the time of the attack consisted of 40 to 60 percent cloud coverage with scattered showers.

The attack was conducted from an altitude of about 1200 feet. Under the prevailing visibility conditions the illumination of the ship was indistinct, and on the approach the vessel appeared to be on fire. Just prior to reaching the release point the navigator was able to distinguish three illuminated crosses on the top deck of the vessel and identified it as a hospital ship. No lights were observed on the side. The navigator immediately announced over the inter-phone system of the aircraft that the vessel was a hospital ship, whereupon the bombardier made an unsuccesful attempt to lock the bomb racks, and the pilot kicked left rudder in an effort to turn the bombs clear of the target.

Three bombs were dropped and the nearest landed in the vessel’s wake about 100 feet from the stern. No apparent damage was sustained by the ship.

It has been established that this attack was clearly unintentional and was the result of inability to distinguish the hospital ship markings in sufficient time to break off the attack before the bombs were released. Prompt action by the pilot, however, prevented damage to the ship. While the United States Government regrets this accidental attack, the investigation has revealed that the hospital ship was not illuminated in accordance with established international practice which provides for the hull, as well as the upper deck, to be illuminated at night to show the Red Crosses, white paint and green band.”

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Please request Swiss Legation Tokyo to telegraph date this message is delivered to Japanese Government.26

  1. Not printed.
  2. Telegram 416.
  3. Telegram 2957, May 30, from Bern, reported delivery of the message on May 5.