The Secretary of State to the British Ambassador ( Halifax )

The Secretary of State presents his compliments to His Excellency the British Ambassador and has the honor to refer to the Embassy’s aide-mémoire of November 30, 194443 and to other correspondence relative to the recent interception of the German hospital ships Tuebingen and Gradisca when en route between Trieste and Salonika in order to evacuate German sick and wounded.

The Department is now informed that the Gradisca was intercepted by British naval authorities on January 20, 1945, when traveling between Crete and Trieste for the purpose of evacuating German sick and wounded from the former.

The United States Government fully appreciates that the decisions of the British naval authorities in intercepting the hospital ships referred to appear to be defensible in the light of existing international law and in the light of the particular interests of the British Government as measured against the situation prevailing in European waters. It is further recognized that the actions referred to represent independent policies of the British Government in which the [Page 447] United States Government has not associated itself or been asked to associate itself. Nevertheless the United States Government is not without misgivings regarding the effect of the execution of these policies upon the general protection and immunities which may in the future be accorded hospital ships either in other theaters of the present conflict or in any other wars which may unfortunately occur. In particular the United States Government feels that the effect upon the Japanese Government of such policies respecting German hospital ships is a proper subject for speculation since the impact of any Japanese reaction may be felt largely by United States hospital ships. In the event that the Japanese were to decide to follow the British policy manifested in the interception of the Gradisca and the Tuebingen there is no assurance that they would feel a compulsion to distinguish between vessels evacuating the sick and wounded of beleaguered garrisons and those evacuating other sick and wounded.

In view of the foregoing it is the considered view of the United States Government that an endeavor should be made to establish a common understanding between the United States and British Governments with a view to achieving a standard of practice such as to minimize the likelihood that the enemy may endeavor to bring retaliation upon British and United States hospital ships upon the pretext of treatment accorded their corresponding vessels.

Pending an exchange of views regarding the considerations set forth in the above paragraph, the United States Government suggests, with respect to the German sick and wounded aboard the Gradisca and in the event that they are taken to an Allied port, that a Mixed Medical Commission should be established at that place which would determine which of the individuals aboard the Gradisca are not repatriable and thus should be taken into custody as prisoners of war.

  1. Not printed.