Lieutenant Colonel James C. Breckinridge, U.S.M.C., Naval Attaché at Stockholm, to Office of Naval Intelligence
June 12th, 1918.
From: Lieutn. Col. James C. Breckinridge, U.S.M.C.
To: Navy Dept. (Office of Naval Intelligence)
Subject: German restrictions on Norwegian vessels plying to the United States
1. The Norwegian American Steamship “Bergensfjord”sailed from Christiania for New York at about one P.M., on the 9th. inst.
2. On the 10th. inst. Mr. Schmede<ma>n, the American Minister in Christiania,1 called me to a consultation in his office, where Mr. Dye,2 the local representative of the War Trade Board, was present. Mr. Schmedeman stated that the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Mr. Iglen,3 had sent for him the day before and stated that the German Legation (Admiral Von Hintze, German Minister)4 had communicated with his office to the effect that the German Government would hereafter require a copy of the passenger and crew lists of all Norwegian vessels sailing for the United States; and that it would also be necessary for the Norwegian Government to guarantee the return to Norway, of any vessels so sailing, without intermediate trips or unnecessary delay: and also that it would be necessary to guarantee that no vessel returning to Norway would carry any cargo which would be destined for export from Norway under any guise whatsoever, or be instrumental in the production of manufacture of any Norwegian product which it was intended to subsequently export to any other country, and in order to insure the foregoing, it would be necessary for the Steamship Company to put up a bond of 1000 Crowns per ton for every vessel leaving Norway.
3. The Norwegian Foreign Minister had also stated that the German Naval Attache had informed his office that he would not give a safe passage certificate to any Norwegian vessel until the foregoing stipulations had been complied with, and when asked if he would then give safe passage, and whether such safe passage would actually be a guarantee of safety, he had replied “I hope so.”
4. Mr. Schmedeman requesting my opinion as to the foregoing I replied to the following effect. There is a difference between a Steamship Company unofficially giving to a foreign legation or consulate such information as to the passengers and crews of its vessels as may be desired, and a country making a formal guarantee as to the movement of its vessels and their crews.5 In the first place, it is not a matter of any particular moment whether the Steamship Company furnish a German Legation with a list of passengers and crews or not; as a matter of surmise it is assumed that such a list has always been furnished to the Germans and this becomes of importance only should German officials attempt to scrutinize it with a view to exercising jurisdiction or control over the persons in question; for example, should a safe passage be refused to a Norwegian vessel because it declined to remove some person who was objectionable to the German Government, or should the line decline to transport some person to the United States who had been passed by the American Officials, this immediately places a control in the hands of the Germans equal to that in the hands of the Ameri<c>ans, and as the ship is bound for an American Port, such control would be too offensive to be tolerated. Neverhteless [i.e., Nevertheless], should failure to remove such a person from a ship necessitate the withholding of guarantee for free passage, it is readily seen that the Steamship Company is placed in a most embarrassing predicament, and the only solution seen in this connection is to discontinue all passenger traffic; otherwise such traffic would appear to be conduc<ive> to a German benefit equal to our own.
5. With reference to the importation of such cargoes as might be necessary in the production of certain articles destined ultimately for export from Norway to England and France, Mr. Schmedeman informed me that the foreign Minister had stated that Norway could not make any such guarantees to the German Legation. In so far as the German Legation threatened, under these circumstances, to deny free passage, I informed Mr/. Schmedeman that the only solution at this time appears to be to afford Norwegian vessels carrying such cargoes a protection on the high seas similar to that accorded to vessels of belligerent Nations, and to neutral Nations as well, when travelling between British and Norwegian ports; that, should free passage be denied, it might be necessary for Norwegian Vessels to avail themselves of such escort facilities as the Allied Governments might be able to render. In this connection, I suggested that should such steps be taken, it might be well to bring to the attention of the Norwegian Government the necessity for placing the most important of its harbors in a position of defence, as the violation of Norwegian Neutrality would not be a deterring factor in German operations, should they consider it necessary to hinder the arrival of goods destined to be advantageous to ourselves.
6. My personal opinion of this situation is that the German Government has not serious intention of damaging Norwegian vessels or of doing anything which would at this time force Norway into the war, for manifest military reasons which are self-evident and need not be discussed in this letter/. I believe the German Legation is primarily trying to save its face before the Norwegian Government for the comparative failure of its diplomacy. In the negotiations with the United States and the Allies recently concluded, Norway was restricted in her exports to Germany, which was a considerable blow to that country’s expectations; and I further believe that the German Legation is merely trying to intimidate the Norwegian Government, and through threats, cause it to endeavour to open further negotiations with the Allies, protesting that it is not in a position to carry out the agreement with reference to the importation of such articles as are destined to Allied advantage. I am further of the opinion that the Steamship “Bergensfjord” now at sea, and probably other vessels from time to time, may be spoken, held up, or probably searched, but I think this will be the limit of Germany’s activities in the matter, as that country fears having Norway enter the war upon any pretext.6
7. Since arriving in Sweden, I learn that approximately the same conditions have arisen in this Country, and they should be dealt with in the manner above outlined.
(sgd) J. C. BRECKINRIDGE.
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.
Footnote 1: United States Ambassador to Norway Albert G. Schmedeman.
Footnote 2: Alexander V. Dye, War Trade Board representative at Christiania, Norway.
Footnote 3: Nils Claus Ihlen, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Footnote 4: German ambassador to Norway RAdm. Paul von Hintze.
Footnote 5: By 1918, Norway signed a trade agreement with the United States in which Norway agreed to substantially reduce its trade with Germany in return for imports from the United States. Germany’s actions were a retaliation for this agreement. WWI Encyclopedia, Vol. 3: 859.
Footnote 6: As Breckinridge anticipated, Germany did not force war with Norway, which remained neutral until war’s end. Ibid.