Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Secretary of War Newton D. Baker to Colonel Edward M. House, United States Delegation to Armistice Negotiations

Recd Opnav 5857     Rush for SIMS AND BENSON1       

27 November <26,> 1918

The following cable from the War Department is quoted for your information and guide. It is desired that you get in touch with General Pershing2 in order to arrive at a solution of the problem along the lines indicated QUOTE The Secretary of War directs that the following cable be sent to the Honorable Edward House American Embassy Paris. SUBQUOTE The President has asked me to reply to your number 140 addressed to the Secretary of State|3| on the matter of transporting some 590,000 released French, British, American, Italian and Rou<ma>nian prisoners of war now at German Ports. The United States Government will immediately direct General Pershing to confer with Admiral Sims and provide the necessary transportation for whatever Americans may be included in the prisoners referred to. The problem of returning our own force from France, with the transportation we have available under American Control, practically precludes the assignments of any large number of American Transports as suggested by Mr. Tardieu.4 Great Britain will no doubt be able to fully take care of all the British prisoners and it would seem in view of the recent withdrawal of Italian vessels with a troop capacity of 1,200, and Russian transports with a capacity of 4,400 from American convoys, that Italy should be able to take care of the Italian and Roumanian prisoners of war. At present we have assigned to us French transports with an aggregate troop carrying capacity of 11,500 which are operating in our convoys and so long as these vessels remain in that service I feel that we should undertake to assist the French to an equal extent, along the line suggested by Mr. Tardieu, but only <at> such intervals as our vessels can be spared from the greater task of returning our forces from abroad. I am informed that German vessels interned in German ports have an aggregate troop capacity of 72,000. Also that certain Holland American liners with a capacity of approximately 11,000 might be made available for carrying troops. We appreciate that the necessity for the transportation of the released prisoners referred to by Mr. Tardieu is immediate, and if our Allies will agree to the assignment of a certain amount of the German passenger vessels above referred to, the United States will undertake to lend its assistance in the transportation of the released prisoners of war with the understanding that the German vessels so assigned will first be used for the purpose of returning these prisoners and then be assigned for the transportation of American Troops from France to the United States. While I feel that our Government should lend every assistance possible to the Allies in relieving the task imposed upon General Pershing in caring for the large American Forces now abroad is such as to require that our first and greatest effort be made in the early return of such forces no longer needed abroad. BAKER UNQUOTE 20726 5787

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. The handwritten date is confirmed by the time/date notation at the end of the cable.

Footnote 1: VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, and Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 2: Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing, Commander-in-Chief, American Expeditionary Forces.

Footnote 3: Robert Lansing. House’s cable 140 to Lansing has not been found.

Footnote 4: André Tardieu, Commissioner of Franco-American War Cooperation.

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