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The German Ambassador to the Secretary of State.
German Embassy, New York, September 10, 1914. Mr. Secretary Of State:
By direction of my Government I have the honor respectfully to bring the following to Your Excellency's knowledge.
No foundation for idea prevalent among neutrals abroad that because of the blockade of German ports sea trade with Germany is tied up. No port is blockaded and nothing stands in the way of neutral states' sea trade with Germany.
The assertions from England that the North Sea has been infested with mines by Germany are wrong.
Neutral vessels bound for German ports in the North Sea must steer by day for a point 10 nautical miles N.W. off Helgoland. There will German pilots be found in readiness to pilot the ships into port.
Neutral vessels must sail direct for Baltic sea ports, every one of which has pilots.
The prohibition of coal export does not include bunker coal and coaling is assured.
Accept, etc., J. Bernstorff.
Ambassador W. H. Page to the Secretary of State.
No. 476.] American Embassy,
London, September 28, 1914. Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith a protest made by the British Government against the methods pursued by the German Navy in laying mines in the North Sea.
This protest was inclosed to me by his Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in a communication requesting that it be forwarded to the Government of the United States.
I have, etc., Walter Hines Page.
His Majesty's Government consider it their duty to bring before the notice of the United States Government the practice which is being pursued by the German naval authorities in laying mines on the high seas on the trade routes, not only to British but to neutral ports, and in furtherance of no definite military operation. His Majesty's Government have reason to think that fishing vessels, possibly disguised as neutral, are employed for the purpose, and lay these mines under the pretense of following the ordinary avocations of fishing. Mines have been found in several cases as much as 50 miles from the coast.
This practice has already resulted, since the commencement of the war, in the destruction of eight neutral and seven British merchant and fishing vessels, so far as at present ascertained, with the loss of some sixty lives of neutral and noncombatant persons.
The practice of laying mines indiscriminately and in large numbers on the high seas, entirely regardless of the dangers to peaceful shipping, is in flagrant violation of the accepted principles of international law and contrary to the primary dictates of humanity. It is also in direct contradiction with the language of Baron Marschall von Bieberstein, who, as First German delegate at the Peace Conference of 1907, spoke as follows: "We do not intend, if I may employ an expression used by the British delegate, 'to sow mines in profusion on every Bea.' . . . We do not hold the opinion that everything which is not expressly forbidden is permitted."
The freedom of the seas for peaceful trading is an established and universally accepted principle; this fact has never been more clearly recognized than in the words of the report of the third Committee of the Second Peace Conference, which dealt with the question of submarine contact mines: "Even apart from any written stipulation it can never fail to be present in the minds of all that the principle of the liberty of the seas, with the obligations which it implies on behalf of those who make use of this way of communication open to the nations, is the indisputable prerogative of the human race."
This principle received further recognition in the 3rd article of the Convention relating to the laying of submarine contact mines:—
"When anchored automatic contact mines are employed, every possible precaution must be taken for the security of peaceful shipping.
"The belligerents undertake to do their utmost to render these mines harmless after a limited time has elapsed, and, should the mines cease to be under observation, to notify the danger zones as soon as military exigencies permit, by a notice to mariners, which must also be communicated to the Governments through the diplomatic channel.''
Not only have the German Government neglected to take every possible precaution for the safety of neutral shipping, but they have, on the contrary, deliberately and successfully contrived to sow danger in its track. The mined zones have not been kept under observation nor has any notification of their locality ever been made. The provisions of this article, which the German Government are pledged to observe, have therefore been violated in three distinct ways.
Article 1, Section 2, of the same Convention has equally been violated by the German Government, for the mines which they have laid have in numerous instances been found adrift from their moorings without having become harmless. Yet the German Government made no reservation respecting this article either when signing or ratifying the Convention.
The degree of respect with which the German Government treat their written pledges, and the pledges given verbally in their name by their representatives, is sufficiently apparent from what is stated above. It is brought into yet higher relief in the light of the following statement made by Baron Marschall before the third Committee of the last Peace Conference, and repeated by him in full, and with added emphasis, at the 8th plenary meeting of the Conference:
'' A belligerent who lays mines assumes a very heavy responsibility toward neutrals and peaceful shipping. ... No one will resort to such means unless for military reasons of an absolutely urgent character. But military acts are not governed solely by principles of international law. There are other factors: conscience, good sense, and the sentiment of duty imposed by principles of humanity will be the surest guides for the conduct of sailors, and will constitute the most effective guarantee against abuses. The officers of the German Navy, I emphatically affirm, will always fulfil, in the strictest fashion, the duties which emanate from the unwritten law of humanity and civilisation."
His Majesty's Government desire to place on record their strong protest against the illegitimate means of conducting warfare which has been resorted to by their adversaries. They feel that its manifest inhumanity must call down upon its authors the censure and reprobation of all civilised peoples.
Foreign Office, September 26, 1914.
Memorandum from the British Embassy.
TELEGRAM FROM SIR EDWARD GREY TO SIR CECIL SPRING RICE,
The German policy of minelaying combined with their submarine activities makes it necessary on military grounds for Admiralty to adopt countermeasures. His Majesty's Government have therefore authorized a minelaying policy in certain areas and a system of minefields has been established and is being developed upon a considerable scale. In order to reduce risks to noncombatants the Admiralty announce that it is dangerous henceforward for ships to cross area between Latitude fifty-one degrees fifteen minutes north and fiftyone degrees forty minutes north and Longitude one degree thirty-five minutes east and three degrees east. In this connection it must be remembered that the southern limit of the German minefield is latitude fifty-two degrees north. Although these limits are assigned to the danger area it must not be supposed that navigation is safe in any part of the southern waters of the North Sea. Instructions have been issued to His Majesty's ships to warn east-going vessels of the presence of this new minefield. You should inform Government to which you are accredited without delay.
Ambassador Herrick to the Secretary of State.
No. 704.] American Embassy,
Paris, October 9, 1914.
Sir: Confirming my telegram No. 184 of this date, relative to the placing of submarine mines in the Adriatic Sea, I have the honor to transmit herewith a copy and translation, together with its inclosure, of a note from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, giving the text of the advice inserted in the Journal Officiel in regard thereto.
I have, etc., Myron T. Herrick.
Ministry For Foreign Affairs,
The Minister for Foreign Affairs has the honor to transmit to His Excellency the Ambassador of the United States, the accompanying notification made in conformity with the stipulation of Article 3, Par. 2 of the 8th Convention of The Hague 1907 relative to the use of submarine mines.
Bordeaux, October 6. 1914.
[ Sub-inclosure—Translation. ]
Published in the Journal Officiel Official part.
Automatic mines having been sown in the Adriatic sea by the Austro-Hungarian navy, the French naval forces have been obliged to resort to similar measures in the said sea.
However, in order to avoid that inoffensive neutral ships should suffer harm such as has been unjustly caused by the Austro-Hungarian mines, the mines laid down by the French navy are in conformity with the provisions stipulated by the 8th Convention of the Hague, 1907.
The zone that is dangerous to navigation, comprises the territorial waters of the Austro-Hungarian kingdom and the channels between the islands along the coast of Dalmatia.
Notice is hereby given to all whom it may concern, in conformity with Article 3, Par. 2 of the aforesaid Convention.
The Minister for Marine.
(Signed) Victor Augagneur.
The Vice-Admiral Chief of Staff.
Ambassador W. H. Page to the Secretary of State.
American Embassy, London, October 28, 1914. Referring to my 926,1 October twenty-seventh. A German mine field has been discovered off the north coast of Ireland and the British Admiralty warns shipping not to pass within sixty miles of Tory Island. One British ship bound from Manchester to Montreal struck a mine there and went down. This mine field is in a location which suggests that it was meant rather for merchant than naval ships. Part of channels of the Thames have been closed by Admiralty.
1 Not printed.