Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Charles H. Allen to Secretary of State William R. Day

NAVY DEPARTMENT

Washington,   June 8th 1898.

Sir:-

     Your letter of yesterday, relative to the Austrian gunboat “Maria Teresa”, and the representations of the Austrian Legation, has been received.1

     A telegram has been sent to Admiral Sampson,2 notifying him in accordance with the request of the Austrian Legation. It is to be hoped, however, that the vessel in question may, as far as possible, avoid coming within the lines of operation and of blockade, lest some unfortunate accident occur. Officers charged with blockade duty cannot be expected, in cases of doubt, to run the risk of their blockade being violated, and our large experience of blockading during the civil war was productive of frequent instances of the inconvenience and danger resulting from the approach of neutral ships of war.

     The danger of mistake is undoubtedly much enhanced in this instance, by the resemblance between the Austrian and Spanish flags. It will be remembered that the “Donau” was recently reported as a Spanish vessel, off the Banks of Newfoundland, to the no small anxiety of our community. Should any unfortunate mistake occur, our government would of course be compelled, in judging its officer, to consider the responsibility of maintaining the blockade resting upon him, as well as the obligation to use all due care towards neutral ships of war.3

Very respectfully,     

Chaz H. Allen          

Acting Secretary.   

Source Note: CbCyS, DNA, RG45, Entry 372, vol. 1. Addressed before opening: “The Honorable,/The Secretary of State.” The document is on Secretary of the Navy John D. Long’s stationery.

Footnote 1: The vessel was the Austro-Hungarian navy’s small armored cruiser Kaiserin und Königin Maria Theresia, Capt. Julius von Ripper. It was sent to safeguard Austrian interests in the West Indies and, if necessary, evacuate consular personnel and other Habsburg subjects from the war zone. Lawrence Sondhaus, The Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 1867-1918: Navalism, Industrial Development and the Politics of Dualism. (Purdue University Press: West Lafayette, IN, 1994), 138-39.

Footnote 2: RAdm. William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet.

Footnote 3: Kaiserin und Königin Maria Theresia arrived off Santiago de Cuba the same day the Spanish fleet attempted to break out and was nearly fired on by the battleship Indiana because of the similarity of the Spanish and Austrian flags. Ibid. As a result, the U.S. State Department on 15 July addressed a note to all representatives of foreign governments informing them that it was “advisable” for commanders of neutral warships desiring to enter or depart a blockaded Cuban port to notify the “senior officer of the blockading force” beforehand. FRUS, 1159-60. Also, see: Capt. Henry C. Taylor to Sampson, 6 July 1898.

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