740.00117 P.W./111

The Department of State to the Spanish Embassy


The Department of State refers to its memorandum of May 16, 194433 and to memorandum no. 97 (Ex. 111.00) of May 11, 1944 from the Spanish Embassy in charge of Japanese interests in the continental United States which transmitted the text of a message dated May 10, 1944 from the Japanese Government regarding the reply made by the United States Government to a protest from the Japanese Government concerning the Japanese hospital ship Buenos Aires Maru.

Upon receipt of the Embassy’s memorandum under reference the circumstances surrounding the attack upon a vessel alleged to have been the Buenos Aires Maru were subjected to a thorough re-examination during the course of which photographs were examined which were unavailable when the Department’s previous communication on this subject was formulated. An analysis of these photographs which were taken from the bombing plane substantiates the United States Government’s previously stated position regarding this matter.

The Japanese Government in its rebuttal memorandum of May 10, alleges that the “sky was clear” at the time of the attack upon the ship but in the same statement admits that there were both stratus and cumulus clouds. Each of the two protests state that the bombing plane disappeared into clouds, and photographs taken during the attack show patches of stratus cloud formations below the plane.

The original allegations of the Japanese Government claim that the bombing was done from an altitude of about 1,000 meters, and it is later estimated that the altitude was approximately 1,200 meters. From the photographs taken during the attack, knowing the length of the ship and the focal length of the camera, it is proven that the bombing took place at an altitude of slightly higher than 7,000 feet.

The Japanese Government alleges in its recent memorandum that the white painting and green band, characteristics of hospital ships, must have been discernible at a glance from the attacking plane. However, the original protest of the Japanese Government admits that the bombing plane approached from the ship’s stern, and the [Page 1163] photographs in the possession of the United States Government prove that the bombing run was made approaching from the stern and on a course only slightly divergent from that of the ship’s course, the plane passing directly over the ship. In approaching the ship from the stern neither the hull painting nor the green band would likely have been discernible. These photographs also show a narrow dark band extending lengthwise along the topworks amidships and distinctly broken in at least three places into segments of irregular length. Only one athwartship band is in evidence and this crosses at the funnel, is about four times the width of the longitudinal segments, and is distinctly of a different shade from the latter. The total impression is not of a Geneva cross but of lines, shadows and upper works such as might appear on a merchant vessel under certain light conditions. Furthermore, the point of bomb release was more than a mile astern of the ship and it is evident that at that point the alleged markings would have been even less indicative.

The second protest of the Japanese Government alleges that there was a red cross over the poop deck with bars 11 meters long and 1.2 meters wide, and a red cross on the stern facing aft whose bars were 6 meters long and .6 meters wide. The aforementioned photographs disclose no evidence of any such crosses.

In reference to the alleged machine gunning on December 1, 1943 of drifting lifeboats from the Buenos Aires Maru, supplementary information received since the reply of the United States Government on February 5, 1944 establishes that a motor launch and about 20 small boats were strafed at a position 3 degrees south, 149 degrees east. The only identification visible from the attacking plane was a Japanese flag carried on one of the small boats. The motor launch carried a weapon or weapons of a nature permitting effective use against the aircraft which is proven by the fact that the plane was hit and its nose damaged. The fact that the launch carried such weapons and fired on the plane was sufficient in itself to confirm the pilot’s identification of the boats as legitimate targets.

For these reasons the United States Government disclaims all responsibility for the alleged attack on the Buenos Aires Maru and on lifeboats from the Buenos Aires Maru and rejects the protests of the Japanese Government as being entirely without validity.

The records of the United States military and naval authorities show moreover, that hundreds of contacts with Japanese hospital ships have been made by American submarine and aircraft which were thus in a position to attack but refrained from doing so in view of the immunity enjoyed by hospital ships.

  1. Not printed; it acknowledged memorandum No. 97 from the Spanish Embassy.