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Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations

Subject Copy.                               File No. <30/3/6>

Cablegram Sent   March 1, 1918.

To  Opnav, Washington                       Serial No. 4549

Prep. by CS                  NCT1   D.R.

          24 D                    

4549. My 4048.2 The following is substance of letter received from Admiralty:

          “After consulting with the <Army> Council in regard to this matter Their Lordships have come to the conclusion that the most satisfactory course will be to regard such prisoners of war as entrusted to British custody temporarily, in order that it may be possible at any time to transfer them to the United States if such a course is considered advisable.

          If this arrangement be adopted, any prisoners who may be handed over to the British Authorities by the United States Naval Forces will receive the same treatment and privileges as other prisoners of war in British hands, but will not be entitled to benefit by any agreements concluded by H. M. Government and enemy Governments for the repatriation, exchange or internment in a neutral country of prisoners of war. Further, as such prisoners will be accounted as captures made <by> the United States Naval Forces by whom they are entrusted for the time being to the British Authorities, it would appear necessary that the notification of their capture to the enemy, prescribed by article fourteen of the Fourth Hague Convention,3 should be made by the original captor and not by H. M. Government. Arrangements could then be made at any time subsequently to transfer such prisoners to the United States should a request to that effect be received.

          As it appears to Their Lordships to be of importance to obtain the concurrence of the United States Government in any arrangement respecting the custody and disposal of prisoners of war captured by the United States Naval Forces, they are causing a copy of the correspondence in regard to this matter to be communicated to the “Prisoners of War Department” with the request that steps may be taken to ascertain through the diplomatic channel whether the United States Government are in agreement with the procedure which it is proposed to adopt.”

          With respect to notification, I am orally informed by the Admiralty that the German Government was furnished list of names of these prisoners by British Authorities shortly after capture. In transmitting the list no mention was made as to nationality of forces making capture, or details thereof. Omission of such mention is in accord with general practice. 06101.


Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 1: “CS” and “NCT” both refer to Sims’ chief of staff, Capt. Nathan C. Twining.

Footnote 3: Held in 1907, this convention extended protections to prisoners of war that had been established in the Hague Convention of 1899. Yale Law, Accessed on 8 February 2018, The issue of the prisoners was complicated by the fact that the United States did not enter the war as an Allied Power but as an Associated one.