United States Consul-General, Genoa, David F. Wilber, to Rear Admiral Albert P. Niblack, Commander, United States Patrol Squadron Based at Gibraltar
AMERICAN CONSULAR SERVICE
Genoa, Italy, March 22, 1918.
Rear Admiral Niblack,
I am very much pleased to receive your note of the 5th ultimo. I wish to call to your attention what I consider a serious situation here at this port. I have reported on the matter from time to time to Comm. Train, our Naval Attaché, at Rome, who is thoroughly cognizant of the conditions here and alive to the necessity.
I am enclosing a copy of a report which I made to him on this subject. When he was here two weeks ago he told me that he hoped to have a commissioned Naval Officer here and for several reasons I think it highly important that one be sent without delay. As a matter of international courtesy owing to the fact that the British and French both have Naval Officers at this port and also on account of the control over the Armed Guards and the masters and crews of American Merchant vessels, I consider it most important. I, of course, have done everything which I could to impress upon them the importance of avoiding or saying anything which would give information to the enemy, but I do not see how this can be effectively accomplished on our part without a commissioned officer of the Navy being stationed here and I consider it most important that strenuous measures be taken at this port in the way of control.
The Port of Genoa has been used as a store-house, so to speak, as well as a distributing center and goods are piled up here being held for months, contributing to the congestion of the port, as you will note from the reference made to the same in the enclosed copy of letter. I consider this port of vital importance to the Allied cause and the conditions should be such and maintained so that vessels could be promptly discharged and proper precautions taken for the protection of the port, not only against fire, but also that it may be used to the best advantage possible for the benefit of the Allied cause.
Again we have many questions arising at this Consulate-General in connection with our shipping Department, which require technical assistance. A naval officer would be a great help in this connection, as well as in connection with the proper instructions to masters of American vessels regarding their convoy duties and also, as above stated, control of the armed guards and officers and crews of American merchantmen.
There are enemy spies in this port seeking information regarding shipping, and obtaining the same from the officers and crews of our American vessels and also from the members of the armed guard and it is high time that something was done to place these men under proper control and put the fear of God into their hearts. A Naval Officer with authority here would go much farther in this connection than anything that I or my staff can do. If I had the instructions and authority I would impress upon all masters and officers of American vessels the fact that any leakage of any kind must be avoided, under penalty of the loss of their licenses.
I want you to thoroughly understand that I am heart and soul endeavoring to do all in my power for the good of the common cause, at any or all times, night or day, but in dealing with armed guards and officers and crews of vessels, I have no absolute authority to take definite action.
Commander McCullough of the LYDONIA can explain to you in person the situation and conditions and also Comm. Train’s views in regard to this important matter.
I have the honor to be, Sir,
Most respectfully yours,