Bernstorff and the Arabic Crisis

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WWI Document Archive > 1915 Documents > Bernstorff and the Arabic Crisis


5 October, 1915


The torpedoing of the Lustania first brought the United States close to joining in the Great War. An exchange of diplomatic notes, concluding in the final Lusitania 'Note' of 21 July 1915, represented the U.S. position, and the German Government was specifically asked to express its disapproval of Lusitania's destruction. The Germans were informed that any further destruction involving neutral US citizens would be regarded, as the diplomatic language had it, as a 'deliberately unfriendly action.' But even as negotiations to avoid entering the war continued, the passenger British steamer Arabic was sunk on 19 August and a number of Americans were drowned.

On 5 October 1915, the German Ambassador, von Bernstorff, sent the following message to the US Secretary of State, Lansing:

The German Ambassador to the Secretary of State

Washington, October 5, 1915.

Mr. Dear Mr. Secretary:

Prompted by the desire to reach a satisfactory agreement with regard to the Arabic incident, my Government has given me the following instructions:

The orders issued by His Majesty the Emperor to the commanders of the German submarines -- of which I notified you on a previous occasion -- have been made so stringent that the recurrence of incidents similar to the Arabic case is considered out of the question.

According to the report of Commander Schneider of the submarine that sank the Arabic , and his affidavit as well as those of his men, Commander Schneider was convinced that the Arabic intended to ram the submarine. On the other hand, the Imperial Government does not doubt the good faith of the affidavits of the British officers of the Arabic , according to which the Arabic did not intend to ram the submarine. The attack of the submarine, therefore, was undertaken against the instructions issued to the commander. The Imperial Government regrets and disavows this act and has notified Commander Schneider accordingly.

Under these circumstances my Government is prepared to pay an indemnity for the American lives which, to its deep regret, have been lost on the Arabic. I am authorized to negotiate with you about the amount of this indemnity.

I remain [etc.]
J. von Bernstorff


WWI Document Archive > 1915 Documents > Bernstorff and the Arabic Crisis


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