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During the last week the Germans have scattered mines indiscriminately in the open sea on main trade route from America to Liverpool via North of Ireland. Peaceful merchant ships have already been blown up with loss of life by this agency. The White Star liner Olympic escaped disaster by pure good luck and but for warnings given by British cruisers other British and neutral merchant and passenger vessels would have been destroyed.
These mines can not have been laid by any German ship of war. They have been laid by some merchant vessels flying neutral flag which have come along the trade route as if for purposes of peaceful commerce and while profiting to the full by immunity enjoyed by neutral merchant ships have wantonly and recklessly endangered the lives of all who travel on the sea regardless of whether they are friend or foe, civilian or military in character.
Minelaying under neutral flag and reconnaissance conducted by trawlers, hospital ships, and neutral vessels are the ordinary features of German naval warfare.
In these circumstances, having regard to the great interests entrusted to the British Navy, to the safety of peaceful commerce on high seas, and to the maintenance within limits of international law of trade between neutral countries, the Admiralty feel it necessary to adopt exceptional measures appropriate to the novel conditions under which this war is being waged.
They therefore give notice that the whole of the North Sea must be considered a military area. Within this area merchant shipping of all kinds, traders of all countries, fishing craft, and all other vessels will be exposed to the gravest dangers from mines which it has been necessary to lay and from warships searching vigilantly by night and day for suspicious craft.
All merchant and fishing vessels of every description are hereby warned of the dangers they encounter by entering this area except in strict accordance with Admiralty directions. Every effort will be made to convey this warning to neutral countries and to vessels on the sea, but from the 5th of November onwards the Admiralty announce that all ships passing a line drawn from the northern point of the Hebrides through Faroe Islands to Iceland do so at their own peril.
Ships of all countries wishing to trade to and from Norway, the Baltic, Denmark, and Holland are advised to come, if inward bound, by the English channel and Straits of Dover. There they will be given sailing directions which will pass them safely so far as Great Britain is concerned up the East Coast of England to Farne Island, whence safe route will, if possible, be given to Lindesnaes Lightship. From this point they should turn North or South according to their destination, keeping as near the coast as possible. Converse applies to vessels outward bound.
By strict adherence to these routes the commerce of all countries
will be able to reach its destination in safety so far as Great Britain is concerned, but any straying even for a few miles from the course thus indicated may be followed by serious consequences. BRITISH EMBASSY,
Ambassador Marye to the Secretary of State.
Petrograd, November 5, 1914. Russian Government officially notifies Embassy that it has placed mines in zone from fifty-eight fifty north latitude and to east of twenty-first meridian also at entrance of Gulf of Riga and around Aland Islands and consequently entrance and exit of Finnish and Riga Gulfs forbidden.
Ambassador Gerard to the Secretary of State.
Berlin, November 13, 1914. SIR: With reference to my cipher telegram No. 823, dated November 12, 1914,1 I have the honor to transmit to you herewith a copy in translation of the reply of the German Government to the protest of the British Government against the laying of German mines. I have, etc.,
JAMES W. GERARD.
REPLY OF THE GERMAN GOVERNMENT TO THE PROTEST OF THE BRITISH
GOVERNMENT AGAINST THE LAYING OF GERMAN MINES.
It has been brought to the knowledge of the German Government that the British Government addressed a Note to the neutral Powers
* Not printed; gives purport of inclosure herewith.
under date September 20, 1914, protesting against the laying of German mines. It is asserted in the protest that the mines were laid in a way contrary to international law and in forbidden localities; that they were not sufficiently anchored or under proper observance; and were not notified to the neutrals in accordance with rule. Furthermore attention is called to the declarations of the first German delegate at the Second Hague Peace Conference which are in contradiction with such practice and likewise to the deliberate injury to neutral trade which Germany's action on the open sea is alleged to involve.
The German Government makes the following reply to this protest:
In condemning the alleged German practice the British Government relies on the 8th Hague Convention of October 18, 1907, relative to the laying of automatic submarine contact mines. It overlooks the fact that under Article 7 of this Convention its provisions do not apply unless all the belligerents are parties to the Convention. Now Russia, which is allied with England, has not ratified the Agreement; it is therefore not binding by international law on any of the participants in the present war.
Nevertheless the German Government has voluntarily held itself bound by its provisions, with the exception of Article 2, with regard to which France as well as Germany made express reservations. The assertion of the British Government that these provisions have been violated by Germany is emphatically denied.
To firstly the British Government finds it a breach of international law that the German mines were apparently laid by fishing vessels, possibly under neutral flag, under the pretense of following the ordinary peaceable avocations of fishing. This assertion is incorrect and an invention; the German mines were laid exclusively by German warships.
2. The British Government complains that German mines were laid as far as 50 miles from the British coast and not only on British but neutral trade routes. The Convention does not stipulate how far from the coast and ports of an enemy mines may be anchored, and there is no established practice in this respect in international law; moreover the English statement of the distance of the German mines from the menaced coast is much exaggerated. The mines have been laid as close as the conditions of the anchoring grounds and the character of the coast permitted. The assertion that neutral trade
routes have been blocked is untrue; no German mines have been laid in any trade route from the high seas to a neutral port.
3. The British Protest maintains further that in numerous cases German mines were found adrift without having become harmless. The anchoring of mines by Germany has been carried out with all possible precaution. If some have drifted from their moorings in consequence of currents or storms their number is certainly much smaller than that of mines laid by England which have drifted ashore on the Belgian and Dutch coasts and have caused damage there through their undiminished explosive power.
4. The obligation of keeping mines under surveillance which the British Government complains has been violated can naturally be enjoined upon a belligerent only as long as he retains command over that part of the seat of war where he has laid mines in a manner permitted by international law. As a rule, therefore, this obligation will apply only to defensive mines but not to offensive mines. When a belligerent has properly laid offensive mines and has duly notified their laying he is relieved of all further responsibility.
5. In the British protest the charge is made that the German Government never issued any proclamation as to the places where mines were laid. This charge is not founded in fact. On August 7, 1914, the German Government communicated to all the neutral powers that the trade routes to English ports would be closed by mines by Germany. Neutral shipping was therefore notified of the fact of the laying of the mines and the zones where it had to look out for German mines. If the German Government did not give the exact situation of the various mines this may well be understood from the conditions which forced the laying of the mines.
The volume of strong words and moral indignation with which the British protest denounces the German Government to the neutral powers is not, therefore, justified at all by Germany's practice. This protest is plainly nothing but a cloak to cover up the serious violations of existing international law laid down in the Declaration of London, indulged in by England and a pretext to prepare public opinion for the closing of the North Sea, contrary to international law, which has since taken place and is equivalent in its economic importance to a blockade of neutral coasts. In view of these facts it is doubly remarkable that the British Government constitutes itself the advocate of the “ established and generally accepted principle of the freedom of the seas for peaceful trade." Obviously in the eyes of England, which is at war, the only peaceful trade is that neutral trade which brings goods to England, but not that which carries or might carry goods to her opponents.
The German Government is convinced that the continual violation of neutral trade by England will everywhere place the British protest in its true light. The German Government is satisfied that for its part, in taking the measures required by military exigency, it has reduced as far as possible risk or injury to neutral shipping, and has strictly followed the rules hitherto applied by civilized nations to maritime warfare. On the other hand, the infringement of vital neutral interests by England is capable of justification by no military exigency, since it has no connection with any military operations and is merely intended to strike at the economic system of the adversary by crippling legitimate neutral trade. This fundamental disregard of the very freedom of the seas which it has invoked deprives the British Government of any right to appear as the advocate of this freedom in the question of the laying of mines, which is far less injurious to neutrals.
BERLIN, November 7, 1914.
Ambassador Gerard to the Secretary of State.
Berlin, November 17, 1914. SIR: With reference to your cable No. 598 1 of November 9, 1914, and my reply No. 850 2 of November 16, I have the honor to transmit to you herewith a copy in translation of a communication received from the Imperial Foreign Office, dated November 14, 1914, relative to the regulations for navigation in the German bay of the North Sea.
Two copies of the publication, entitled Nachrichten für Seefahrer, in which these regulations are printed, are likewise enclosed. I have, etc.,
JAMES W. GERARD.
The Foreign Office has the honor to inform the Embassy of the United States of America in reply to the Note Verbale of 12th instant,
2 Not printed; gives substance of inclosure herewith.