Memorandum by the State–War–Navy Coordinating Committee to the Secretary of State
Reference is made to your letter, SWP 740.00117 P.W./1–1845 of 31 January 1945,52 enclosing a memorandum from the Spanish Embassy53 [Page 456] in charge of Japanese interests in the United States concerning a protest against an alleged attack on the Japanese hospital ship Tatibana Maru at about 1245 local time, 5 November 1944.
A thorough investigation of the alleged incident reveals the following:
One of the flight leaders participating in a shipping strike in the Manila Bay area reported that on 5 November 1944 the carrier air group under his command attacked a Nachi class cruiser inside the bay. On completion of this attack he observed three aircraft approaching a Japanese hospital ship at low level. One of these aircraft fired a short burst at the hospital ship, whereupon the flight leader immediately ordered “cease firing.” The attack was at once broken off, although the pilot replied to the flight leader that the hospital ship had opened fire on him. All pilots in the group had been repeatedly briefed on the necessity of refraining from attacking enemy hospital ships.
It is the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that if the Tatibana Maru, which the hospital ship in question is assumed to have been, was in fact armed and opened fire, her immunity was thereby invalidated and she was a legitimate object of attack. Article VIII of the X Hague Convention of 1907 reads in part as follows:
“Hospital-ships and sick-wards of vessels are no longer entitled to protection if they are employed for the purpose of injuring the enemy.”
If the hospital ship was not armed, the antiaircraft fire must have been directed at the aircraft from shore batteries or other ships in the bay, which created the impression that the aircraft was being fired on by the hospital ship. If this was the case, the incident is regretted.
Inasmuch as the pilot involved in this incident was killed in action over Ormoc Bay on 11 November 1944, no disciplinary action can be taken.