740.00117 PW/5–2645

The Acting Secretary of State to the British Ambassador (Halifax)

The Acting Secretary of State presents his compliments to His Excellency the British Ambassador and has the honor to refer to the Embassy’s note no. 118 (Ref. 705/9/45) of March 8, 1945 and to the Department’s note of January 31, 1945. These communications refer [Page 457] to certain matters relating to the interception of hospital ships, particularly speculation regarding the effect which the interception of certain German hospital ships in European waters may have upon the Japanese attitude toward hospital ships. It is noted that the British Government inquires regarding the nature of standing instructions, if any, which have been issued by the United States authorities concerning the treatment of Japanese hospital ships when encountered.

As stated in the Department’s communication under reference, the interception of hospital ships under specified conditions appears to be defensible in the light of existing international law. The United States Government recognizes that under the Hague Conventions of 189954 and 1907 it is lawful to intercept a hospital ship, to remove the sick and wounded, and make them prisoners of war. It is the current United States military policy with regard to Japanese hospital ships to observe the provisions of the Third Hague Convention of 1899 and the Tenth Hague Convention of 1907, regarding hospital ships, which have been ratified by this Government. It is, furthermore, the United States military policy to avoid any interference with the hospital ships of the enemy unless there is prima facie evidence of flagrant violation of international conventions.

There is no record, to date, of any instance of interception of hospital ships in the Pacific Ocean area. In view of the overwhelming Allied naval power in the Pacific, it is considered unlikely that the Japanese will resort to interference with Allied hospital ships except in retaliation for similar action by Allied surface forces against Japanese hospital ships. In as much as unrestricted passage of hospital ships is of greater importance to the Allies, due to the more extensive use of hospital ships by them, it does not appear desirable at this time to change the existing policy on this subject and thereby expose Allied hospital ships to the risk of retaliation by the Japanese.

  1. Signed July 29, 1899, Foreign Relations, 1899, p. 521.