195.7 Jean Nicolet/1–1745

The Acting Secretary of State to the Secretary of the Navy (Forrestal)

My Dear Mr. Secretary: I acknowledge the receipt of your letter of January 17, 1945 referring to the Department’s letter of December 13, 19441 with which there was transmitted to the Navy Department the text of a protest addressed by the United States Government to the Japanese Government2 regarding an attack on July 2, 1944 by a Japanese submarine upon the United States merchant vessel Jean Nicolet and the treatment which was subsequently accorded the survivors of that ship by the officers and crew of the Japanese vessel.

[Page 427]

I have now been informed that the United States protest with respect to this matter was delivered on January 5, 1945 to Minister Suzuki, Chief of the Enemy Interests Section, Japanese Foreign Office, by one of the assistants of Mr. Gorgé, Swiss Minister at Tokyo, under cover of a letter from the Minister.

It is noted that views of the Department of State are requested on the proposal that a broadcast be made in plain language to the Pacific Fleet of the cruelties to which the crew of the Jean Nicolet was subjected by the Japanese. In the opinion of the Department there do not seem to be any justifiable grounds on which the Japanese Government could raise objections to a broadcast to our own fleet.

The Department has also given consideration to the proposal that the story be broadcast to the people of Japan from the radio station at Saipan. The Department does not wish to do anything at this time which might endanger the successful conclusion of an exchange whereby we could bring our people home.3 A communication from the Japanese Government has been recently forwarded to the Department of State by the Spanish Embassy at Washington4 in charge of Japanese interests in the continental United States stating that the Japanese Government is carefully considering an exchange of nationals between Japan and the United States and expects to carry out the exchange within this year.

The efforts put forth by the Department of State for the repatriation of American nationals in Japanese custody have been many and continuous but without much response from the Japanese Government. This is the first indication that the Department’s efforts to overcome the indifference of the Japanese Government may be bearing fruit and that after long delay, Japan may now be ready to enter negotiations for the repatriation of American nationals. It is believed that a broadcast to the Japanese people giving the story of the savage behavior of the Japanese submarine personnel toward the crew of the Jean Nicolet might be considered by the Japanese Government an “Atrocity Campaign”. From the manner in which the Japanese Government has reacted in the past to such publicity it is not at all unlikely that the Japanese Government would use what they term our “Atrocity Campaign” as a pretext for not entering into negotiations for the proposed exchange.

I also note that the Japanese Government appears to be giving the United States protest regarding the Jean Nicolet detailed consideration. Evidence of this is a recent communication received through the Swiss Government according to which the Japanese Government [Page 428] requests further information regarding the latitude of the attack.5 This Department is of the view that it would be undesirable to emphasize the attack on the Jean Nicolet in such a way as to cause the Japanese Government to give an unsatisfactory response to the protest. For these reasons the Department of State is of the opinion that it would be better not to make the broadcast to Japan at this time.

With reference to your request that the Navy Department be informed regarding what action, if any, has been taken, or is being taken, by the British Government with respect to similar atrocities committed against the crews of British ships by what appear to be the same submarine commander and crew, this Department is addressing a communication to the British Embassy at Washington6 and I shall inform you promptly regarding the nature of the reply received.7

Sincerely yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. Neither printed.
  2. See telegram 4184, December 12, 1944, to Bern, Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. v, p. 1176.
  3. For documentation on efforts to arrange a third exchange of American and Japanese nationals, see pp. 419 ff.
  4. See footnote 86, p. 419.
  5. Telegram 451, January 22, 9 a.m., from Bern, not printed. The Department’s reply, in telegram 550, February 2, 4 p.m., stated that the position given in the protest represented the considered consensus of the survivors and was “sufficiently exact so that, with the conclusive evidence of the attack given in the protest, the responsible Japanese submarine and crew can be fully identified”. (195.7 Jean Nicolet/1–2245)
  6. Letter of February 2, not printed.
  7. The British Embassy’s reply of April 10 stated: “His Majesty’s Government protested to the Japanese Government through the Protecting Power regarding the treatment accorded by the Japanese to survivors of merchant ships torpedoed in the Indian Ocean, and the Japanese Government replied that their submarines had nothing to do with the incidents complained of. The Foreign Office have under consideration the question of a further protest on the subject.” A copy of the British Embassy’s letter was transmitted to the Secretary of the Navy on April 25. (195.7 Jean Nicolet/4–1045)