The Department of State to the Spanish Embassy
The Department of State refers to memorandum no. 259 (Ex. 160.000) from the Spanish Embassy46 in charge of Japanese interests in the continental United States and to the Department’s preliminary reply of January 8, 194547 concerning the reported attack on the Japanese hospital ship Muro Maru by United States aircraft on November 13, 1944 outside the port of Manila. The vessel is stated to have sunk following this attack.
The appropriate United States authorities have thoroughly investigated the reported attack on the Muro Maru. This investigation has established that two hospital ships were seen in the Manila [Page 452] Bay area on November 13, 1944. Flight leaders repeatedly broadcast warning of the presence of each of the hospital ships and injunctions to refrain from attacking them. Though several attacks were initiated they were discontinued when the character of the ships was determined.
One of the two above-mentioned hospital ships was observed to be under way in the vicinity of Corregidor. The majority of the pilots who participated in the strike commented on the ease with which its distinguishing marks could be identified at a distance. With regard to the second vessel, however, considerable difference of opinion was expressed regarding the effectiveness of its marking as seen from the air. It is presumed that this second vessel was the Muro Maru. As a result of the attack by the first wave of aircraft, visibility at bombing level was quickly reduced by a pall of smoke, from burning ships and installations, which formed at a height of 1000 to 6000 feet.
In view of the circumstances mentioned above, the apparent ineffectiveness of the markings of one of the hospital ships and the smoke pall, it is possible that the Muro Maru may have inadvertently been struck and damaged by bombs launched at legitimate targets or at what, under existing conditions, were believed to have been legitimate targets. As indicated above it is apparent, however, that no pilot consciously bombed or strafed a ship recognized as a hospital ship.
It is regretted that this incident occurred despite precautions taken to prevent it. The United States Government reiterates, however, that though visibility at sea level was good the restricted visibility at bombing altitude made the identification of individual ships in the congested harbor extremely difficult. This condition, coupled with the presence of the Muro Maru among legitimate targets, constituted a jeopardy to the ship; in contrast the fact that the clearly identifiable hospital ship off Corregidor was not molested is further evidence that the armed forces of the United States endeavor to respect the immunity of hospital ships.