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Navy Department Instructions Concerning the Disposition of Prisoners of War Captured by Naval Forces in Foreign Waters


     1.        The Government of the United States holds that the several Conventions of the Hague are not, as such, operative during the existing war,1 but in general accepts the guiding principles upon which the provisions of those Conventions are founded.

     2.        The Government of the United States considers that in so far as German prisoners of war are concerned, the provisions of Article XXIV of the Treaty of Prussia of 1799 as revived by the Treaty of 1828,2 persist during war and are therefore binding upon this Government in the current conflict.

     3.        Prisoners of war captured by U.S. Naval Forces operating in European, or other foreign waters, are to be considered as prisoners of war of the United States Government.

     4.        They will be transferred at the first convenient opportunity to the continental territory of the United States for internment until exchange or repatriation.

     5.        Pending such transfer they may be temporarily held in the custody of a co-belligerent Government by agreement with that Government, subject to the provisions of Article XXIV of treaty of 1799 with Prussia, above mentioned.

     6.        Their maintenance will be the charge and responsibility of the United States Government.

     7.        Until the consummation of an agreement concerning reciprocal treatment of prisoners of war, which agreement is now in process of diplomatic negotiation with the Imperial German Government, officer prisoners will receive no pay; they will, however, be subsisted and maintained in accordance with their official rank.

     8.        As promptly as may be convenient after capture the Department will be notified by telegraph of the date of capture, number of officers, number of men, and vessel from which taken; and by mail a full statement of names, ranks, and other pertinent details will be transmitted.

Navy Department,

May 9, 1918.



Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Note below close: “All Ships & Stations” and “FILE” which is stamped. Identifying numbers in top left-hand corner: “28573-42, I33.”

Footnote 1: These are the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.

Footnote 2: The treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States and Prussia of 1799, which confirmed and expanded an earlier treaty of 1785 and was in turn confirmed and expanded in 1828. Article XXIV of the treaty of 1799 reads:

And to prevent the destruction of prisoners of war, by sending them into distant and inclement countries, or by crowding them into close and noxious places, the two contracting parties solemnly pledge themselves to the world and to each other that they will not adopt any such practice; that neither will send the prisoners whom them may take from the other into the East Indies or any other parts of Asia or Africa, but that they shall be placed in some parts of their dominions in Europe or America, in wholesome situations; that they shall not be confined in dungeons, prison-ships, nor prisons, not be put into irons, nor bound, nor otherwise restrained in the use of their limbs; that the officers shall be enlarged on their paroles within convenient districts, and have comfortable quarters, and the common men be disposed in cantonments open and extensive enough for air and exercise, and lodged in barracks as roomly and good as are provided by the party in whose power they are for their own troops; that the officers shall also be daily furnished by the party in whole power they are with as many rations, and of the same articles and quality as are allowed by them, either in kind or by commutation, to officers of equal rank in their own army; and all others shall be daily furnished by them with such rations as they shall allow to a common soldier in their own service; the value whereof shall be paid by the other party on a mutual adjustment of accounts for the subsistence of prisoners at the close of the war; and the said accounts shall not be mingled with or set off against any others, nor the balances due on them be withheld as a satisfaction or reprisal for any other article or for any other cause, real or pretended, whatever. That each party shall be allowed to keep a commissary of prisoners of their own appointment, with every separate cantonment of prisoners in possession of the other, which commissary shall see the prisoners as often as he pleases, shall be allowed to receive and distribute whatever comforts may be sent to them by their friends, and shall be free to make his reports in open letters to those who employ him; but if any officer shall break his parole, or any other prisoner shall escape from the limits of his cantonment after they shall have been designated to him, such individual officer or other prisoner shall forfeit so much of the benefit of this article as provides for his enlargement on parole or cantonment. And it is declared, that neither the pretence that war dissolves all treaties, nor any other whatever, shall be considered as annulling or suspending this and the next preceeding article; but on the contrary, that the state of war is precisely that for which they are provided, and during which they are to be as sacredly observed as the most acknowledged articles in the law of nature and nations. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, The Treaties of 1785, 1799, and 1828 between the United States and Prussia, as Interpreted in Opinions of Attorneys General, Decisions of Courts, and Diplomatic Correspondence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1918), 45-47.

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