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Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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

AEJ

CABLEGRAM RECEIVED <March 16, 1918.>    09117

Origin  Washington D.C.  (SECNAV)             Serial No. 3942

Ref’d to   Date      Action, Notes and Initials

CS        17/3/18

                HIGHLY SECRET

Simsadus London

3942. Your 5151 5146 5147 5163 and cables from Bliss to War Department 14 March.1 For your information sufficient portions Bliss cable are quoted to give you trend of opinion of Supreme War Council. “Requisitioning of idle Dutch tonnage approved by permanent military representatives on Supreme War Council from military point of view alone,also approved by Inter-Allied Shipping Council, disapproved by Inter-Allied Naval Council, there are evidently desires on part of British and Italian representatives to recommend this requisitioning. At request of the French representatives action was postponed until a meeting tomorrow 15 March.” Discrepancy in recommendations of various bodies whose opinions are expressed in those cables, especially those recommendations relating to that most delicate matter the taking over of Dutch ships is most confusing to the department. For that reason it desires immediate answer to the following questions.

     First was portion your 5151 relating to requisitioning of Dutch tonnage considered jointly with Supreme War Council and does opinion therein expressed express the views of that body.

     Second does the Supreme War Council regard question of war on part of Holland as inevitable and if so from their point of view what are advantages or disadvantages of having <Holland enter war on either side.>

     Third from the Allied Naval Council point of veiw what are disadvantages or advantages of having Holland enter war on either side.

     Fourth have Naval Council seriously considered matter of meeting Impending shortage in ships by a method other than of requisitioning Dutch ships immediately namely that of allocating many of armed merchantmen now used as cruisers to trade purposes and has this matter been considered jointly with War Council and other interested bodies. An immediate reply requested to above.2  18016  3942

Benson.

9.10 A. M.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. The date was handwritten at the top of the page and is confirmed by the time stamp at the end of the copy.

Footnote 1: For cables 5146, 5151, and 5163 see: Sims to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 14 March 1918, Sims to Benson, 14 March 1918, and Sims to Opnav, 15 March 1918. Cable 5147 from Gen. Tasker H. Bliss, the American representative to the Supreme War Council, has not been found.

Footnote 2: See: Sims to Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 18 March 1918. Despite the misgivings of the Allied Naval Council, on 20 March 1918, the United States exercised the right of angaria - the seizure by a belligerent of the shipping belong to a neutral state lying at ports within its territoral waters. Under international law, angaria can only be exercised in an extreme emergency and the owners of the tonnage seized must be compensated. Using this as justification, the U.S. seized more than 500,000 tons of Dutch shipping. Although the Dutch expressed outrage, they did not declare war. Crowell and Wilson, The Road to France: 353-54. Also, see: Franklin D. Roosevelt to Naval District Commandants, 17 March 1918.

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