Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain Robert L. Russell, Commandant, Philadelphia Navy Yard, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations


Telephone conversation        PHILA

3:30 p.m.      Captain Russell, Phila.

March 28th     Admiral Benson, Operations

               Subject: Interned German ships.

Captain Russell said that as a result of the inspection so far of the two German ships KRONPRINZ WILHELM and PRINZ EITEL FRIEDERICK, it has been found that the engines of both ships have been recently disabled. Small arm ammunition has been found on both ships, not in large quantities and not especially hidden away. A number of automatic revolvers – about 50 – have been found on the EITEL FRIEDERICK and a new breech block was found in a barrel on the KRONPRINZ WILHELM. Ammunition found on the KRONPRINZ WILHELM was so badly broken that samples were taken of it. Samples of small arm ammunition also were taken from the PRINZ EITEL FRIEDERICK. There are a number of cases on each ship of larger caliber where larger caliber ammunition has been carried, but it has not been practicable so far to examine all of these cases because of the pile on them.

The distribution of inflammable material about both vessels in close proximity to cans of kerosene varying in size form from one to five gallons and the fact that small open cans have been distributed at the different points indicate without question that complete arrangements had been made to destroy both ships by fire. The damage that might have resulted to the navy yard by the possible burning of these ships and the loss of millions of dollars of property in the loss of the ships themselves brings up the question as to whether or not we should take these people off immediately.

Admiral Benson: I’ll tell who you what to do at once. Send a sufficient guard on board each ship and muster every single soul on board on the upper deck and hold them under guard until you hear get further orders. Let me know when you have done this.1

Captain Russell: Aye, Aye, Sir.


Source Note: DS, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels, Special Correspondence, Roll 42. Russell was commandant of the Philadelphia Navy Yard and of the Fourth Naval District.

Footnote 1: The day before this exchange, President Woodrow Wilson decided not to implement a policy of removing German seamen from their interned ships to protect those ships against sabotage. See: Diary of Josephus Daniels, 27 March 1917, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diaries, Roll 1.