CHAPTER V, continued

4. Unrestricted Submarine Warfare. February-April 1917

In spite of the fact that as a result of the "Lusitania" and "Sussex" controversies with America the Germans did not launch the proposed unrestricted U-boat campaign in 1916, eleven of the Commission's vessels were sunk or badly damaged by torpedoes or mines during that year. These losses(134) occurred despite the German safe-conduct passes and detailed instructions from the British Admiralty with which all relief ships were provided. Moreover although the Allies did not adopt the principle of unified shipping control until late in 1917, the growing insufficiency of tonnage had forced the authorities---notably the British---to extend the policy of requisition, until by the end of 1916 practically all vessels under Allied flags were in the government service. This condition bore heavily on the Commission forcing it to rely mainly on its Belgian vessels, which were too few for its needs, and on neutral charters, which were increasingly difficult to obtain.

The commencement of the German unrestricted U-boat campaign on the 1st February 1917 brought disaster, sudden and complete, to the Commission's shipping program. Neutral shipping was promptly withdrawn from the Commission's service, the owners preferring to hold their vessels idle in safe harbors to exposing them and their crews to the hazards of torpedo and mine. There remained for the Commission only its Belgian ships. But even these could not be used, for though the German announcement had specified a "safe lane," no such "safe lane" existed, since the German danger zone and British mine fields off Heligoland and the Danish and Dutch coasts overlapped, making Rotterdam inaccessible. On the 1st February 1917 the Commission had seventeen oversea cargoes en route to Rotterdam. Of these but two reached the Dutch port safely; two were sunk by torpedoes; and the Commission ordered the remaining thirteen to English ports pending assurances from the Germans that they would be free from attack. Further sailings from America and elsewhere were halted for the same cause. Despite every effort on the part of the Commission, the Germans refused to permit relief vessels to pass through the English Channel or to grant immunity to relief vessels which called at English ports for coal, inspection, or orders. After extended negotiations, which are given in the following documents, the Germans announced a safe lane for oversea relief vessels, the route passing north of the Shetland Islands, thence along the Norwegian coast, and through an extremely narrow lane in the North Sea to Rotterdam. The Commission made persistent efforts to move the thirteen oversea cargoes held in English ports, and though the Germans agreed in principle to this they nevertheless made restrictions which made the operation impossible. Eventually the Commission unloaded the cargoes of these impounded vessels in England, and the vessels themselves returned to the United States. No scheme could be devised for moving these provisions to Rotterdam, and together with the large stocks of food owned by the Commission in England and France---a total of nearly 100,000 tons---they were sold on government orders to prevent deterioration. This forced sale did not mean an absolute loss, but it deprived the people of Belgium and Northern France of supplies of which they were in acute need.

On the 24th February 1917 relief vessels began to move again, though the northern route was not declared absolutely safe by the Germans until the 15th March.(135) The German safe-conduct passes, now issued through the Swiss diplomatic offices in America, stipulated the northern route, and in addition British sailing certificates required that each relief vessel sailing from America call at Halifax for British inspection. The consequence was that the voyage to Rotterdam was greatly lengthened. Henceforth, too, since its ships could not touch at English ports, the Commission was forced to bunker for the round trip in America, losing cargo space in consequence, or take on inferior coal at Rotterdam. The Commission was in worse straits than ever as the few vessels left in its service were necessarily less effective in delivering the required program.

From February to May 1917 was a period of reorganization for the Commission. America severed diplomatic relations with Germany on the 3d February and declared war on the 6th April, and Americans were no longer neutral. The reorganization of the Commission in the occupied territories, as described in chapter xii, did not relieve Hoover and his associates of any of their responsibilities in the vital matters of shipping, finance, or procurement of relief supplies.



GERMAN AMBASSADOR AT WASHINGTON TO THE COMMISSION, NEW YORK, Stating regulations for C.R.B. shipping under the German unrestricted submarine policy

2 February 1917

Commission for Relief in Belgium, New York City


Enclosing herewith a memorandum regarding the details of the military measures at sea, I beg to inform you that safe-conduct only comprises the navigation routes outside the blockade around Great Britain and France proclaimed by the German Government on February 1st 1917.

Yours truly

For the German Ambassador

(Signed) HANIEL
Minister Plenipotentiary


From February 1, 1917, sea traffic will be stopped with every available weapon and without further notice in the following blockade zones around Great Britain and France, Italy, and in the Eastern Mediterranean:

In the North:

The zone is confined by a line at a distance of twenty sea miles along the Dutch coast to Terschelling fire-ship, the degree of longitude from Terschelling fire-ship to Udsire, a line from there across the points 62 degrees north 0 degrees longitude, to 62 degrees north 5 degrees west; further to a point three sea miles south of the southern point of the Faroe Islands, from there across point 62 degrees north 10 degrees west, to 61 degrees north 15 degrees west; then 57 degrees north 20 degrees west, to 47 degrees north 20 degrees west; further to 43 degrees north 15 degrees west, then along the degree of latitude 43 degrees north to 20 sea miles from Cape Finisterre and at a distance of 20 sea miles along the north coast of Spain to the French boundary.

In the South:

The Mediterranean: for neutral ships remains open: The sea west of the line Pt. des Espiquette to 38 degrees 20 minutes north and 6 degrees east, also north and west of zone 61 sea miles wide along North African coast beginning at 2 degrees longitude west. For the connection of this sea zone with Greece there is provided a zone of a width of 20 sea miles north and east of the following line: 38 degrees north and 6 degrees east, to 38 degrees north and 10 degrees west, to 37 degrees north and 11 degrees 30 minutes east, to 34 degrees north and 11 degrees 30 minutes east, to 34 degrees north and 22 degrees 30 minutes east.

From there leads a zone twenty sea miles wide west of 22 degrees 30 minutes eastern longitude into Greek territorial waters.

Neutral ships navigating these blockade zones do so at their own risk. Although care has been taken that neutral ships which are on their way toward ports of the blockade zones February 1, 1917 and have come in the vicinity of the latter, will be spared during a sufficiently long period, it is strongly advised to warn them with all available means in order to cause their return.

Neutral ships which February 1, 1917 are in ports of the blockade zones can with the same safety leave them.

The instructions given to the commanders of German submarines provide for a sufficiently long period during which the safety of passengers on unarmed enemy passenger ships is guaranteed.

Americans en route to the blockade zone on enemy freight steamers are not endangered, as the enemy shipping firms can prevent such ships in time from entering the zone.

Sailing of regular American passenger steamers may continue undisturbed after February 1, 1917, if:

a) The port of destination is Falmouth.

b) Sailing to or coming from that port, course is taken via the Scilly Islands and a point 50 degrees north 20 degrees west.

c) The steamers are marked in the following way, which must not be allowed to other vessels in American ports: On ship's hull and superstructure three vertical stripes one meter wide, each to be painted alternately, white and red. Each mast should show a large flag, checkered white and red, and the stern the American national flag. Care should be taken that during dark the national flag and painted marks are easily recognizable from a distance and that the boats are well lighted throughout.

d) One steamer a week sails in each direction, with arrival at Falmouth Sunday and departures from Falmouth about Wednesday.

e) United States Government guarantees that no contraband (according to German contraband list) is carried by those steamers.



C.R.B. LONDON TO C.R.B. ROTTERDAM, regarding request that German Government exempt C.R.B. ships from certain restrictions resulting from unrestricted submarine campaign

LONDON, 2 February 1917


After conference with British Foreign Office and Ambassador Page, Ambassador will communicate Berlin reference German regulations relief shipping calling attention that prohibited German zone prevents arrival of ships by north as well as south of England. One-fifth our tonnage originates in English ports by purchases in United Kingdom. German regulations totally eliminate this tonnage, which cannot be obtained overseas under present conditions. Also number of ships have sailed destined for British ports, which will arrive within next few weeks and cargo of which together with those already arrived will be excluded, which would break down ravitaillement. Also necessary vessels touch English ports for coal. For these reasons German authorities earnestly petitioned to allow to continue present guarantees of safety to vessels protected by marks and German safe-conducts from and to United Kingdom ports, Rotterdam, and overseas. Meanwhile ship in all available foodstuffs into occupied territories particularly Dutch products up to full quantity obtainable. Assure people of Belgium and France that Foreign Office expects ravitaillement to continue without serious interruption and that they must not be unduly alarmed. Call upon Legation Brussels, The Hague, for additional information.




AMERICAN CHARGÉ D'AFFAIRES AT THE HAGUE TO AMERICAN EMBASSY AT LONDON, giving status of C.R.B. supplies in Belgium and necessity of making arrangements as promptly as possible to permit continuation of shipments

THE HAGUE, 2 February 1917


It is requested by Gregory that you be good enough to advise the Commission for Relief in Belgium that the present wheat situation is reported by Brussels as follows:

"Including Rotterdam stock for Belgium, native wheat 146,000 tons, exotic wheat 65,000 tons, total 210,000 tons. This would last until about May 1st at present ration. Until October 1st no new crop would be available. It is urged by the Commission that all endeavors be made to allow cargoes for it to enter through the free zone into Dutch ports, the British authorities to make inspection in Holland or at port of departure. That Germany be asked as a condition to allow the export of coal either from Germany or Belgium to Holland to coal Commission's ships for return trips, and that in order to move this coal, ample transport facilities be furnished."




C.R.B. LONDON TO HOOVER (NEW YORK), announcing British decision that C.R.B. ships need not touch at United Kingdom ports and outlining request for modification of German regulations

LONDON, 9 February 1917


British Government has agreed that Commission ships in or outbound need not touch at United Kingdom ports, but for your confidential information must touch at British ports elsewhere such as Halifax or Bermuda or West African Coast. Merry del Val through Spanish Ambassador Berlin and our Rotterdam office through German Legation Hague and Brussels office and British Foreign Office through King of Spain are asking German Government on basis concession British Government that boats not required touch United Kingdom to modify German regulations as follows:

1. All relief vessels clearing overseas ports or Rotterdam subsequent to February 1st and which do not touch at United Kingdom ports shall be furnished safe-conduct passes by German authorities and when protected with Commission signs and marks shall be allowed to approach or leave Rotterdam by either north or south routes through German danger zones and overseas without molestation.

2. Relief steamers now in U.K. and steamers which cleared overseas ports before February 2d and which may arrive later furnished safe-conduct passes and unmolested to Rotterdam or overseas.

3. All vessels in No. 2 allowed touch U.K. ports unmolested.

4. All relief ships carrying U.K. purchases protected between Rotterdam and U.K. both directions.

5. German Government to arrange for coal for relief ships at Rotterdam.




HOOVER TO SPANISH MINISTER AT BRUSSELS, requesting him to ask German Government to permit C.R.B. ships to proceed by the Channel to Rotterdam

NEW YORK, 14 February 1917


I have received a wireless from Marquis Villalobar direct from Berlin. I have replied as follows: Will you please see if you can get this message delivered to him:

"Am extremely glad to receive your cable. Under present situation I cannot leave here, but we are unceasing in our labor to obtain the re-establishment of the Relief. I am convinced that this can only be accomplished if the German authorities are prepared, first, to allow our staff to remain as before or accept some other neutral body in Belgium and Northern France on the same basis of freedom of movement and relations to distribution as hitherto enjoyed by our staff. In this particular I would suggest to you that a group of neutral army officers should be the most agreeable to both sides, and if by cooperation of Dutch Government this could be obtained, it should effect many facilities which are highly desirable. Furthermore we must have a safe lane opened to our ships into Rotterdam. At present moment our ships lie loaded in a dozen ports. Seventy thousand tons of food are in the United Kingdom, hundred thousand tons will be loaded here within the next ten days, and thirty thousand tons are afloat. The whole of our service is paralyzed until we can guarantee the immunity of these ships, and our resources are being consumed in enormous penalties and demurrages right and left. The only logical lane is via Falmouth and the Channel to Rotterdam, and if German submarines are able to distinguish Dutch ships en route from Flushing to Southwold and American ships en route New York to Falmouth there should be no difficulty in continuing this lane by distinguishing our ships between Falmouth and Southwold. This is the most practical lane safe from mines and most possible of insurance and charter. The responsibility for the continuation of the Relief rests squarely upon the shoulders of the Central Empires, for our ships are prepared to sail and a staff can be quickly re-established under your patronage in Belgium."




ZIMMERMANN TO SPANISH AMBASSADOR IN BERLIN, stating conditions under which C.R.B. vessels may proceed to Rotterdam

BERLIN, 18 February 1917

To His Excellency Monsieur Luis Polo de Bernabé
Ambassador of Spain in Berlin


In reply to the letter of the 8th and 13th of this month---Nr. Reg. 2328, 2368, and 2369---which Your Excellency was good enough to address to me, I have the honor to assure you that the Imperial Government is profoundly grateful for the great interest which His Majesty the King deigns to manifest in the humanitarian enterprise of the Commission for Relief in Belgium and does not fail to appreciate the great value of his precious support. Also the Government attaches particular importance to the continuation without interruption of the work of ravitaillement of Belgium and the occupied territory of France. However, this desired continuation is in no way hindered by the proclamation of the war zone of January 31st.

1. Actually a note was attached to this proclamation giving a respite extending to the 13th of February for those neutral boats traversing the war zone in the Atlantic and in the Channel, and the vessels of the Commission which were en route would have had, consequently, plenty of time to arrive at their ports of destination, or else they should have known of the proclamation of the war zone before their departure. The vessels still on the high seas will be obliged to take the course to the north of the Shetlands outside the war zone. Free transit across this zone, especially by the Channel, will not be conceded, to my deep regret, for reasons of a military nature, especially as the Allies might abuse this concession for their own ends.

2. As regards vessels still in English ports, they would have been able to leave these ports during the respite up to the 5th of February, had they not been hindered by the British Government. In the meantime, the Imperial Government begs you to furnish them with a detailed list of the vessels in question and the ports in which they are at present.

3. Safe-conducts cannot be delivered in the future except on the condition that the vessels take the course north of the Shetland islands outside the war zone where no danger from the operations of the German Navy will threaten them.

4. Foodstuffs purchased by the Commission in England can only be sent to Flushing by the paddle-wheel boats of the Dutch Line to which a special permission has been granted.

5. To make bunkering possible to the vessels of the Commission, Belgian pit-coal will be furnished to them at Rotterdam.

The Imperial Government is persuaded that it will not escape the perspicacity of the Royal Government that further concession to the wishes of the Relief Commission would be incompatible with the German military measures dictated by present circumstances. They depend on the eminent military judgment of His Majesty the King, which certainly will not refuse to recognize the justice of the views expressed above. The Imperial Government therefore hopes that Your August Sovereign and His Royal Government will continue to lend their efficient aid to the humanitarian enterprise under the conditions created by the state of war.

I take this opportunity to renew to Your Excellency the assurances of my highest consideration.






LONDON, 22 February 1917

His Excellency Señor Don Alfonso Merry del Val
Ambassador of Spain in London


I beg to attach a communication which has just been received from the Swiss Legation, conveying a reply from the German Government, through the Spanish Ambassador at Berlin, on February 21st 1917, to the request which you were good enough to make concerning the modification of sailing regulations, and which I afterward requested His Excellency Monsieur Carlin to repeat. May I offer you certain observations in regard to several points which present themselves in connection with this memorandum? (The numbers used herein refer to the numbers used in the German communication.)

1. All vessels in port when the German edict concerning Relief ships was issued, were held. Vessels on the high seas, either not being equipped with wireless or not being allowed to use their wireless if they had it, could not be communicated with and, of course, arrived at their ports of call in accordance with their sailing orders. The statement, therefore, that these vessels could be communicated with, cannot be accepted and they should be allowed to proceed to their destinations without interference.

2. As to vessels then in U.K. ports, their sailing orders, insurance policies, etc., precluded their taking the northern route, which had at that time been declared unsafe and hazardous and continues to be so to the present, so far as we know. Had these ships taken this route and been lost, their insurance policies would not have covered either hulls or cargoes. Among these vessels also were included a number of ships loaded with produce purchased in U.K. ports, whose insurance policies and German safe-conducts provided only for their transfer direct to Rotterdam from the Thames via Flushing. All these vessels should therefore be allowed to proceed to Rotterdam without molestation.

3. We have been absolutely unable to get neutral vessels to accept charters to Rotterdam via the northern route because of the fact that, at the best, it consists of but a narrow free passage between the danger zones of the belligerent governments---if indeed such a way exists at all---and this route lies through the section made particularly dangerous by floating mines. We therefore beg that an exception be made in the case of our Relief ships and that they be allowed to approach Rotterdam as heretofore by the southern route.

4. Foodstuffs purchased by the Commission in England are only allowed to be forwarded to Flushing by the paddle boats of the Dutch Line. These boats are not in a position to carry more than the smallest quantity of cargo; indeed we understand that they actually carry no cargo at all. It is evidently quite impracticable for them to transport the 20,000 to 25,000 tons of provisions which we purchase in the U.K. and send to Rotterdam monthly. Persistence in this regulation simply means that the German Government effectually prohibits and cuts off from the people of France and Belgium the supplies which have hitherto been obtained from this source, and it is a fact that the conditions are such that we cannot make up this quantity from overseas shipments. These shipments should therefore be handled as heretofore, in C.R.B. vessels with German safe-conduct passes, direct from the Thames to Rotterdam.

5. The action of the German Government in making this arrangement is appreciated. But if the Imperial Government really wishes, as it states, to assist the work of ravitaillement we feel that it should indicate this desire by attempting to meet the modifications which have been asked for by us. These requests for modification of the German regulations have been made only after a careful study of the regulations and in the belief that if the German Government insist on the original regulations being carried out they will, to all intents and purposes, render the transportation so hazardous and difficult that it will be impossible for us to obtain charters and that, therefore, the German Government will themselves break down and end the great humanitarian work which they state they wish to continue.

May we ask Your Excellency once more to present to the German Government the very serious aspect of the situation?

Yours very faithfully

(Signed) W. B. POLAND, Director



POLAND TO PERCY, protesting against unofficial British proposal to unload C.R.B. cargoes detained in United Kingdom ports

LONDON, 27 February 1917

Lord Eustace Percy
Foreign Office, London


The proposal which you have unofficially presented, that the Relief vessels now detained in United Kingdom ports by reason of lack of German safe-conducts, shall commence to be unloaded on Friday, March 2d, under the auspices of the British authorities, has been informally considered by the Commission.

In the event of indications of serious deterioration of cargoes, or evidence that the German authorities do not intend to arrange safe-conduct passes carrying immunity from submarine attack, it seems evident that some radical action will have to be taken by the Commission, but we do not believe that this time has yet been reached. Action of this nature by the British authorities, under these circumstances, might be followed by most serious consequences to the whole ravitaillement service. Even the color of precedent so established by the British Government, for the seizure of supplies imported by the Commission, might be taken advantage of by the German authorities in Belgium and France or made a plausible excuse for otherwise interfering with the Relief.

Dr. Kellogg is proceeding to Holland and Belgium for the purpose of presenting the whole question of the sailing of Relief ships to the German authorities and getting action from them.

The entire subject of the Commission's action in regard to these cargoes tied up in the United Kingdom ports, including the question of unloading, has been referred to our Chairman in New York and to the State Department, from whom we have not yet heard.

We therefore request that no action with regard to unloading be actually taken by the British authorities until we advise that we consider negotiations with the Germans have been exhausted.

Yours faithfully

(Signed) W. B. POLAND,



of conference at Foreign Office regarding Relief vessels detained in United Kingdom ports due to submarine warfare

LONDON, 28 February 1917


Present: Monsieur Chevrillon, Lord Eustace Percy, Mr. Poland.

1. Insurance.---Neutral cargoes and hulls. The Commission is to endeavor to get full insurance on cargoes, at market rates, and in the event of failure, the Government will make up the amount lacking.

As to hulls, the Foreign Office has submitted to the Treasury a proposition that insurance on the basis of the same rate be agreed upon, but this has not yet been put in order.

As to Belgian vessels, the Government is prepared to take over all insurance.

In the case of neutral vessels which may be ordered, on account of lack of bunkerage at Rotterdam to United Kingdom ports for coal, the Government is considering assuming full insurance of hulls and cargoes within the danger zone, but this has not yet been put in order.

2. Action of the British authorities in regard to Relief vessels detained in the United Kingdom.---The British take the position that it is absolutely necessary to discharge these vessels in the United Kingdom because no reliance can be placed on the German safe-conducts that they will effectually protect in the danger zone. Further, they would not offer the same guarantees as a safe-conduct by the northern route, for several reasons:

1. The submarines might not be advised that they must protect the boats of the Commission.

2. It might be difficult for a submarine in these danger zones to make a distinction as to which boats they should protect and which not.

3. The Germans may be inclined to sink all boats of the Commission in the hope that they will force the Allies to replace them.

4. One boat of the Commission has just been sunk in the danger zone (probably by a mine) and another has undoubtedly been torpedoed, whether in the danger zone or not is for the moment uncertain.

The British Government considers that it would be a crime on their part to venture cargoes of foodstuffs which are needed in England and submit them to such danger of being destroyed, at a moment when the country might itself be in danger of running short of supplies.

The British Government therefore considers that it is absolutely necessary to unload these foodstuffs and that it is very unlikely that the Germans will produce such safe-conducts as the British Government will consider a sufficient protection to warrant the dispatch of foodstuffs from the United Kingdom to Rotterdam. Nevertheless, the British Government will consider these foodstuffs as belonging to the C.R.B. and will undertake not to requisition them or use them for consumption unless it should be absolutely necessary. The British Government cannot be bound in this respect by any period of time.

On the other hand, Mr. Chevrillon and Mr. Poland, for the Commission, called attention to the fact that while it might be necessary, as a matter involving the release of tonnage or the protection of foodstuffs against deterioration, to immediately unload the vessels in U.K. ports, if there were a suggestion of confiscation by the Government, it would involve the whole principle of the ravitaillement work and should seriously endanger its continuance. Therefore, in accordance with the letter to Lord Eustace Percy on this subject, of February 27th, the Commission could only agree to unload on the understanding that the cargoes would be considered exclusively the property of the Commission for Relief and not subject to levy or requisition by the Food Control or other British authority, and the matter was left on this basis for the time being. It was further pointed out that unloading on any other basis might be taken by the Germans as an excuse for interrupting the work. Attention was likewise called to the circumstance that the withholding of this food supply of 60,000 odd tons from Belgium and France, in connection with the other serious interruption of practically one month, might result in such a critical condition as would have grave political consequences.

3. Coal supplies.---The British take the positive position that they will not send coal to Rotterdam to supply C.R.B. boats or to make good to the Dutch Government coal that might be given to C.R.B. boats from Dutch supplies. They argue that the Germans are merely blackmailing and holding up the British Government. Further, vessels left in Rotterdam without coal, may be sent out by the British in defiance of German regulations to South Wales for coaling, without safe-conduct passes, the British Government agreeing, as before stated, to assume insurance for hulls from Rotterdam to South Wales and from South Wales out of the danger zone.




Extract of letter,
POLAND TO HOOVER, describing the situation as result of attitude of German and British Governments respecting safe-conducts for C.R.B. ships in United Kingdom ports; also regarding the effect of these developments on insurance and chartering

LONDON, 2 March 1917

H. C. Hoover, Esq., New York


Our great concern at the moment is the adjustment of the issue of safe-conduct passes so that vessels may proceed from the States; this is being urged in every way. When we attempted to despatch vessels from Rotterdam the German authorities refused to give absolute guarantees against submarine attack until March 5th, indicating very clearly that our position was correct in considering the north-about route unsafe.

The situation as to United Kingdom cargoes is very grave. I call your attention to my letter to Lord Eustace Percy under date February 27th, under separate cover. By messages received today, the Germans are proposing methods by which these vessels may be moved across, but the British Government, we are sure because of the pinch for food, finds objection to the details proposed by the Germans and insists that at least some of our vessels be unloaded. We regard this as grave and that it may be taken as an excuse by the Germans for interfering with the ravitaillement, but hope that this action in unloading may be defended on the basis of depreciation of cargoes and necessity for releasing vessels to get additional tonnage. The Foreign Office have practically demanded the unloading of the "Samland," the "Vaarli," loaded with grain from the Argentine, and the "Vergotti," also loaded with grain from the Argentine; and this will be put in order on the distinct understanding that these cargoes are the property of the Commission and will remain so.

Our next great difficulty is in regard to insurance. Lloyds and the Companies have cancelled their arrangements effective March 4th, and despite every endeavor which we have made with the Government, we have not been able to make an arrangement yet for their taking over insurance on hulls and cargoes of neutral vessels. We do not know what we may have to pay, but I have told Nash, Guthrie, and Harvey that we will go ahead up to 8 per cent on neutral cargoes and after that will not insure at all; but as to hulls it will be necessary for us to assume extra war insurance over 2 per cent in order to be able to make contracts. This I have authorized, but notwithstanding everything I do in this respect I anticipate the gravest difficulty in obtaining any neutral charters for Rotterdam, as shipowners consider it very much more hazardous than trips to the United Kingdom; in addition to which, owing to the very serious lack of tonnage for the Allies, we are finding many open and more concealed obstacles put in the way of our charters, which we are endeavoring to combat in every manner possible, although they will be vital factors in the near future.

Yours faithfully

(Signed) W. B. POLAND,



Memorandum of meeting,
FOREIGN OFFICE, ADMIRALTY, FOOD CONTROL, AND C.R.B. REPRESENTATIVES, regarding the unloading of C.R.B. vessels in the United Kingdom

LONDON, 3 March 1917

Present: Lord Eustace Percy, representing the Foreign Office; Commander Wyatt, representing the Admiralty; The Wheat Commission, representing the Food Control Board; Mr. W. B. Poland, representing the C.R.B.

After some questions regarding the position of C.R.B. ships, etc., Mr. Poland said that, before going on with the meeting, he would like to inquire its object. The Wheat Commission (the names of whose members were not understood) showed surprise that there was doubt in regard to the objects; they being---as understood by the Wheat Commission---to arrange for the unloading of all grain held by the C.R.B. Mr. Poland thereupon stated that the cargoes in C.R.B. ships belonged to the peoples of Northern France and Belgium; that the C.R.B. was their trustee and was obligated to forward the cargoes to the people, who were approaching a point of starvation; that if it was the intention of the British Government to seize or confiscate these cargoes, the Commission for Relief was prepared to enter an immediate protest which would be carried to the highest authorities. It was therefore necessary, before carrying on any further discussion, that the position of the Government in this respect should be clearly stated.

After some informal discussion, Lord Eustace Percy said that the meeting was solely for the purpose of discussing the best manner in which the cargoes of vessels could be handled provided it was necessary to unload them; that the Government agreed it was distinctly understood the cargoes remained the property of the Commission and were unloaded for their account in order to relieve ships; that they were subject to C.R.B. demand at any time.

Mr. Poland stated if it was clearly understood by all the gentlemen present that these cargoes should remain without question the exclusive property of the C.R.B. (and they thereupon acknowledged that it was so understood), then he was prepared to discuss the unloading of certain cargoes. This for the reason that the delay in putting the German safe-conducts in order made it desirable to relieve the shipowners from the loss of the use of their vessels and also to provide additional tonnage.

Lord Eustace Percy reiterated that the British authorities considered the proposals made by the German authorities to be insincere and that the British authorities did not propose to concede the unreasonable demands made by the Germans.

After further discussion it was decided to unload S.S. "Samland" at Bristol, S.S. "Vergotti," S.S. "Einar Jarl," S.S. "Vaarli," and S.S. "Fridtjof Nansen," all loaded with wheat, at London. S.S. "0. A. Knudsen," loaded with wheat, was not to be unloaded, at least until after the others.

Mr. Poland agreed to give to the Secretary of the Wheat Commission details of the cargoes of above steamers. The C.R.B. was also to have an inspector present to represent them at the unloading of the vessels.

The meeting then adjourned.



POLAND TO MERRY DEL VAL, protesting against German restrictions and explanations presented in Zimmermann's letter of 18 February 1917

LONDON, 15 March 1917

His Excellency Señor Don Alfonso Merry del Val
Spanish Ambassador, London


I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter of March 12th, stating that the German authorities have expressed their readiness to place coal at Rotterdam for the bunkering of Relief Commission's steamers as soon as they receive an authentic communication to the effect that the work of the Commission will be continued on the lines laid down in a proposal made the 18th February last by the Governor-General in Belgium. I find no reference in previous correspondence to proposals made by the Governor-General, but this morning we received text of a communication which you were good enough to send us, signed "Zimmermann" dated Berlin, February 18th, which contains the following:

"With a view to settling this question, negotiations have been set on foot by the General Government in Belgium directly with the Protecting Ministers of the Commission. These negotiations have had as a result that the Americans will remain at their posts until further orders, the question of the introduction of other neutral agents into the Commission, in the first place to assist the Americans and subsequently to replace them, being reserved for the present."

Is this the communication referred to? If so, will Your Excellency be so good as to transmit to the German authorities the statement that, as they know, since they have been furnishing safe-conduct passes, we are and have been despatching vessels from overseas to Rotterdam via the northern route outside the German prescribed danger zone.

As to the transfer of produce and vessels between United Kingdom ports and Rotterdam, this is entirely suspended owing to the failure to receive any definite undertaking of safe-conduct on the part of the German authorities covering this service, their communications to date stating merely that in principle they are agreed to such a transfer. This we are informed by the British Government is not sufficient.

As to the continuance of relief, the Commission will, as in the past, do its utmost in every way to import supplies into Belgium and the North of France and will also maintain its representatives in those countries just as long as it is possible for them to carry on their activities and fulfill their guarantees to the interested governments.

It is to be pointed out, however, that from the 1st of February to the middle of March, on account of the German submarine regulations, instead of delivering 100,000 tons of produce into Rotterdam, as should have been done, we have been able to deliver only 12,000 tons. On the other hand, as soon as German safe-conduct passes were again issued, all vessels in United States ports were despatched to Rotterdam and we now have en route sixteen vessels, containing 55,000 tons of food.

In the German communication received today, the statement appears in (1) that to the proclamation of January 31st, establishing the war zone, a note was attached giving a respite extending to February 13th for those neutral boats traversing the danger zone in the Atlantic and in the Channel. Such a note was not conveyed to us, and this is the first intimation we have had of it.

We have understood from the communications from the German Legation at The Hague to our Rotterdam office, that the question of providing 20,000 tons of coal per month for outward-bound Relief steamers was only dependent upon our agreeing to transport a similar amount of Belgian coal by our returning barges into Holland, which arrangement was concurred in by the Rotterdam office. Are we now to understand that this arrangement is brought into question? Are we also to understand that the reply of the Imperial German Government, that coal would be provided at Rotterdam, as expressed in its communication to the Spanish Embassy in Berlin, communicated to us in your letter of February 23d, is now made conditional?

It is very necessary that the attention of the Imperial Government be called to the likelihood that if outbound Relief steamers are detained in Rotterdam by inability to obtain coal, the British Government will prohibit the entry of C.R.B. vessels to Rotterdam, with the result that the Relief service will again be interrupted.

We trust that the German Government will not reverse its undertaking in regard to providing bunkers at Rotterdam, upon the strength of which we have been despatching our vessels to that port; and we request that we be immediately advised as to the final position of the German Government in this respect.

We renew the expression of our thanks to Your Excellency for the highly valued attention you are so generously giving to these affairs.

Yours very truly

(Signed) W. B. POLAND,



HOOVER TO VILLALOBAR, announcing the sinking of five C.R.B. vessels and requesting that the German Government be asked to give reliable guarantees for the safety of these ships

LONDON, 5 April 1917


The torpedoing within last two days of "Feistein" and "Trevier" carrying 10,000 tons wheat having German safe-conducts and markings, pursuing supposed safe route laid down by German authorities again jeopardizes whole relief. This makes five ships torpedoed since February carrying 23,000 tons grain, and unless we can get some definite and believable assurance we cannot induce a single ship, much less the crews, to pursue this work and I have serious doubts whether Allied Governments will allow us to go on sacrificing ship after ship in constant violation of every sacred undertaking made by German authorities. We are doing our best to prevent this becoming point at which relief breaks and we are depending wholly upon your good self to see if you cannot find some solution that will again give reassurance that our ships can be protected and that we can continue.




HOOVER TO MERRY DEL VAL, enclosing memorandum describing the situation of C.R.B. activities resulting from the unrestricted submarine campaign

LONDON, 8 April 1917

His Excellency Señor Don Merry del Val
Spanish Ambassador, London


I enclose herewith a memorandum reviewing the incidents and perils in which the whole Relief Commission is now plunged.

In view of this situation, we can only hope to succeed if: first, our Atlantic shipping is respected on the northern lane; and, second, in view of the shortage of shipping and food supplies, if we are provided at once with safe-conducts and a re-established service from the United Kingdom with which to move the stocks which we have accumulated here.

The position is one of extreme gravity for the whole enterprise and I am wondering if you will again exert yourself to bring this matter and if possible the memorandum enclosed, to the attention of the German authorities.

Yours faithfully



On the second of February 1917, we received from the Director of the Commission in Brussels telegraphic advice that the Imperial German Government insisted that the Commission should send its ships to Rotterdam by a route northward of the newly declared war zone, and that ships at that time in the war zone should proceed out of it by the most direct route, and could safely do so up to the evening of the 4th of February. At that time we had fourteen ships at sea carrying 76,000 tons of foodstuffs, either en route to or already inside the declared zone, and all but a few of them out of communication. Also at that moment we had stored in the United Kingdom 47,000 tons of foodstuffs awaiting shipment to Rotterdam. The notice given to us was entirely too short to make arrangements in all cases, either for the alteration of the route or the transportation of our stocks in the United Kingdom, and as a consequence eleven of the ships arrived in the United Kingdom ports in due course. In any event, we were advised by the Dutch and English Admiralties that the war zone declared by the German Government overlapped with the mine zone in the North Sea and there was no safe lane open on the route stated by the German authorities.

We were compelled to direct our New York office, not only to hold up all shipments abroad but also we were compelled to hold all arrivals and stocks in the United Kingdom until such time as a safe passage to Rotterdam could be agreed upon. The British authorities made no difficulty over the recession of the previous requirement to search in the United Kingdom ports, and ultimately the German war zone was minimized so as to establish a lane into Rotterdam through the North Sea which they declared safe. The German authorities agreed to again respect our markings and to furnish safe-conduct passes by this route from America. These arrangements we settled on the 28th of February, and our traffic was resumed from the Atlantic seaboard after a cessation of one month and the accumulation of large demurrage costs.

In the meantime we had made repeated appeals to the German authorities for safe-conducts for the steamers then in the United Kingdom ports to proceed to Rotterdam, but as we could obtain no satisfaction in this matter, we were compelled to discharge the cargoes in order to release the ships and to prevent the perishable supplies from spoiling. Ultimately, on April 3d, the German authorities conditionally promised to give passage to four steamers then remaining in United Kingdom ports undischarged, but these steamers were not to proceed until the 1st of May. As it was hopeless to preserve the foodstuffs over such a period, these steamers were discharged as well.

The net result is that today we have upwards of 96,000 tons of foodstuffs in the United Kingdom. We were only able to deliver 24,000 tons in Rotterdam during the month of February and 9,600 tons during the month of March, as against 120,000 tons required per month. Owing to the alarm arising out of the unrestricted submarine warfare and from the sinking of our ships mentioned later on, even when on the "safe" lane, we have not been able to secure sufficient charters to fully re-establish our service. During the month of April, assuming that we have no further losses of steamers, we shall deliver less than 55,000 tons into Rotterdam. During these three months the Belgian and French populations will have been deprived of over 270,000 tons of foodstuffs critically necessary to prevent the most intense suffering amongst the people. Nor is the outlook for the future at all improving.

Of equal importance, however, with the direct loss and suffering entailed by the shortage of deliveries as mentioned above, has been the entire failure of the German submarines to adhere to the previous or new undertaking entered into by the Imperial Government as to the safety of our ships.

On the 3rd of February we learned that the Belgian S.S. "Euphrates" of 4,250 tons, outward bound in ballast, provided with the Commission's markings and a safe-conduct pass from the German Minister in The Hague, had been torpedoed without warning and most of the crew drowned. This act occurred before the expiration of the period notified as safe to the 4th of February.

On February 6th, the Danish steamer "Lars Kruse," carrying 2,300 tons of maize, inward to Rotterdam, provided with the Commission's markings, was sunk and only one member of the crew saved. The German authorities assert that this ship struck a mine, but much evidence points the other way.

On March 8th the Norwegian steamer "Storstad," en route to the newly agreed "safe" lane, carrying 10,000 tons of maize, with Commission's marking and safe-conduct pass from the German authorities in the Argentine, was stopped by a submarine and subsequently torpedoed by it without examination of the ship's papers. One of the crew died of exposure and another was lost.

On March 16th the Belgian steamers "Haelen" and "Tunisie," outward bound on the "safe lane" from Rotterdam in ballast for New York, carrying all the Commission's markings together with safe-conduct from the German Minister at The Hague, were shelled by a German submarine, and six members of the "Haelen" crew were killed. They managed to escape, but the "Haelen" was so injured that she had to put into a Norwegian port for repairs.

On March 17th the Belgian steamer "Ministre de Smet de Naeyer" was shelled by a submarine in the North Sea, but managed to escape. She was outward bound in ballast and was provided with the Commission's markings and had as usual a safe-conduct pass from the German Minister at The Hague.

On March 31st the Norwegian steamer "Feistein," inward bound within the "safe" lane, carrying 4,650 tons of wheat, was torpedoed and sunk without warning in broad daylight off the Dutch coast near Terschelling. She carried all the Commission's markings and safe-conduct pass issued by the Swiss Minister, Washington, on behalf of the German Government.

On the 4th of April, the Belgian S.S. "Trevier," carrying 4,396 tons of wheat, was torpedoed in broad daylight without warning ten miles off the Dutch coast within the "safe" lane. She carried full markings and safe-conduct pass from the Swiss Minister, Washington, issued with the authority of the German Government, and six members of the crew were seriously wounded by shell fire after they had taken to the boats.

On April 2d the Norwegian steamer "Anna Fostenes," inward bound, loaded with 3,100 tons of wheat, was torpedoed near Rotterdam well within the "safe" lane. She carried full Commission's markings and safe-conduct pass issued by the Swiss Minister, Washington, on the authority of the German Government.

On April 8th we received word that the Norwegian steamer "Camilla," inward bound, with 2,600 tons of wheat, on the "safe" lane, had been torpedoed without warning. She carried as usual the Commission's markings and a safe-conduct pass issued by the Swiss Minister at Washington on the authority of the German Government.

Since resuming traffic on February 28th, three steamers have arrived safely and five have been sunk.

It is impossible to express the indignation which we rightly feel over these acts, and we are at a loss to know whether this continued sinking of steamers in violation of their undertakings is a settled policy of the Imperial Government or whether it is due to the reckless irresponsibility of submarine commanders. In any event the immediate peril and loss of life of innocent seamen continuing resolutely in the service of helpless people is transcended only by the tragedy of suffering imposed on those millions of men, women, and children we are trying to preserve.



BRITISH FOREIGN OFFICE TO C.R.B., regarding protests to the German Government and suggesting that the C.R.B. declare its inability to guarantee supplies for Belgium unless Germany make good the losses and provide against further sinkings

23 April 1917

The Commission for Relief in Belgium


I am directed by Lord Robert Cecil to inform you that the Spanish Government have not only transmitted to the German Government the protests recorded by the Governments of Great Britain and France regarding attacks by German submarines on your Relief vessels, but have added thereto an expression of their own reprobation of such outrages.

2. I am now to suggest for your consideration that the Commission, on their part, should move their Spanish and Dutch Patrons to make it known, in the name of the Commission, both at Berlin and at Brussels that, in view of these repeated attacks, which are in direct breach of the formal and solemn guarantees of the German Government, the Commission will be unable to assure the continuance of supplies, unless the German Government take immediate steps to provide that their engagements are respected by their naval officers, and not only replace the stores which have been lost, but also supply from their own merchant fleet a tonnage equivalent to that of the Belgian Relief vessels which have been torpedoed.

3. By adopting this course the Commission would free itself from any charge of interrupting the course of supplies and would place the responsibility of the due performance of this duty upon the German Government, who can hardly fail to appreciate the difficulties as to transport arising from the hesitation naturally felt by the Allies in providing vessels which run graver risks than those employed in their own service because they are navigated without armament and without special precautions.

I am, Sir,

Your most obedient, humble Servant

(Signed) EYRE A. CROWE



POLAND TO FOREIGN OFFICE, regarding the C.R.B. losses from submarines, and justifying the continuation of relief

LONDON, 30 April 1917

Sir Hugh Daly, The Foreign Office, London


I beg to acknowledge communication from the Foreign Office received April 26th concerning attacks on Relief vessels. I note particularly that for the moment the Foreign Office has taken the responsibility of holding up at Halifax all Relief ships destined to Rotterdam. The Foreign Office, furthermore, indicates that they do not consider themselves "justified in granting facilities for additional Relief vessels to proceed on their voyage unless and until reliable evidence had been adduced that the German Government have no intention of sinking such vessels." I do not, however, understand that the British Government is proposing by this communication to suspend the Relief service, but wishes a review of the entire situation concerning the sinking of our vessels.

It is desirable, therefore, to give the facts as far as we know them today, and we believe this should be kept quite confidential.

Since the new submarine activity was instituted by the Germans, the following vessels have been attacked by submarines or sunk by mines:

S.S. "Euphrates." January 22d. 4,250 tons. Southwest bound in ballast from Barry Roads. Torpedoed in daylight about 250 miles out, within the present danger zone, but before same had been established. Vessel provided with German safe-conducts and all markings, Evidence of sole survivor, who was below at the time, indicates that at least pennants and balls were being displayed. No explanation of this occurrence except individual turpitude of commander of submarine.

S.S. "Lars Kruse." February 4th. 2,300 tons of maize. This vessel was en route from the Argentine. She was sunk during the night a short distance off the French coast within the danger zone. There was but one survivor, who was below at the time of the explosion, The vessel was provided with Commission markings but had no German safe-conduct. No testimony as to submarine. Seems possibly to have been due to mines laid by submarine.

S.S. "Storstad." March 8th. 10,004 tons maize. Provided with C.R.B. flags and markings; cargo was billed to C.R.B. as certified by German consular visa; but carried no German safe-conduct. She was shelled, torpedoed, and sunk during daylight without examination of ship's papers, about eighty-five miles southwest of Ireland while within the danger zone. According to the captain's statements this vessel was instructed to proceed from Gibraltar to Rotterdam north about, but was not instructed to keep out of the danger zone.

S.S.'s "Haelen" and "Tunisie." These vessels were attacked by a submarine on March 16th, two or three days out from Rotterdam bound north about in ballast. It was broad daylight, and they were displaying all Commission flags and markings and were provided with safe-conducts. They were in the safe passage east of the German danger zone. There seems to have been no excuse for the attack unless it be put down to the stupidity of the submarine commander. After the vessels were abandoned by the crews the submarine approached, whereupon the captains showed their safe-conducts and explained that they were Relief vessels, whereupon the submarine commander instructed them to proceed, which they did without further interference. The "Haelen" was severely damaged by a shell and seven of the crew were killed.

S.S. "Ministre de Smet de Naeyer." March 28th. 4,000 tons of wheat. This vessel was en route to Rotterdam and, according to the captain's statements, was instructed to go north about but was not instructed to keep out of the danger zone. We have no means of ascertaining the truth of this statement. At all events on March 28th he was a short distance off Kirkwall, well in the danger zone, when the vessel was attacked by a submarine. He managed, however, to escape and got out of the danger zone, arriving safely in Rotterdam.

S.S. "Feistein." March 31st. 4,447 tons of wheat. Was provided with safe-conducts and markings. This vessel apparently got off the exact course and entered the British minefield area. There were three explosions between four and six o'clock in the evening. Two or three of the sailors claim to have seen bubbles of a torpedo, but the captain and officers saw no submarine or torpedo and did not appear to consider the evidence reliable. It does not seem likely that a German submarine would be cruising in the minefield area, and the probability is that the vessel did strike mines.

S.S. "Anna Fostenes." April 2nd. 3,062 tons of wheat. We have received no other definite information concerning this occurrence than the Admiralty's statement that she probably struck a mine in Lat. 54°N. 4°E., on the very edge of the danger zone.

S.S. "Trevier." April 4th. 4,330 tons of wheat. This vessel was sunk by shell fire and torpedoed by a German submarine during daylight. She appears to have been just within the danger zone on account of the captain's not having definite instructions as to the position of the Terschelling lightship. The vessel was provided with all Relief ship flags and markings and safe-conduct. She stopped and gave ample opportunity to the submarine for inspection. The captain thought the inspection had been made and found satisfactory and was proceeding on his way when struck by a torpedo.

S.S. "Camilla." April 8th. Loaded with 2,651 tons of wheat. Provided with Commission flags and markings. Was attacked by submarine off coast of Norway. We have no accurate report on the position of this boat as to whether she was in the danger zone or not, or of the circumstances surrounding her loss. We note in a Danish paper a statement by the captain that his vessel was boarded by men from a submarine; that the crew were driven into the boats and that the men from the German submarine were preparing to sink the vessel with bombs. However, she was afloat when last seen. We know nothing more of this circumstance.

S.S. "Kongsli." April 20th. 7,800 tons of wheat. Vessel was struck by mine or torpedo at 10:00 p.m. when eighteen miles west of Ymuiden in free zone, and had all Commission flags, markings, and German safe-conduct. It is impossible to determine whether torpedoed or not. No one saw a submarine. The vessel did not sink and was towed into the Hook. Cargo only partially damaged.

Attention is called to the fact that while ten steamers have struck mines or been attacked by submarines during the time January 22d to date, during the same period vessels carrying 95,853 tons of provisions have arrived at Rotterdam from overseas, and that more particularly during the month of April eighteen overseas vessels carrying 58,652 tons have reached Rotterdam.

Taking all these facts together, it does appear that the Germans have some basis for the claim which they make to excuse their dastardly record; i.e., that all the vessels, which can be proved to have been torpedoed as far as present information goes, were in the danger zone.

On the part of the Commission, in view of the foregoing and in view of other communications of the German authorities through neutral ministers of which the British Foreign Office is advised, I am willing to take the responsibility of saying that these occurrences do not yet indicate a purpose on the part of the German authorities to break down the Relief, and that despite the losses of our ships, we are amply justified in going ahead with the Relief work; and that we should continue to send forward our vessels with the utmost dispatch to Rotterdam.

Attached is a copy of a communication received from Baron von der Lancken by His Excellency the Marquis de Villalobar dated Brussels, April 13th, which outlines the German position and reiterates the undertakings which the Germans have made, that Relief vessels will not be interfered with by the Germans if they keep outside the danger zone.

I also attach copy of a communication just received through His Excellency the Minister for Belgium presenting a picture of the very distressing situation now arising in the occupied territories. This is only one of many communications of a similar character which we have received. I feel sure that the British Foreign Office will concur with us, not only that the situation demands the release of the vessels at Halifax and that we continue to forward relief cargoes from America, but that the greatest possible efforts must be made to increase by every means in our power the shipments to the people of Belgium and Northern France, among certain sections of whom starvation has indeed already commenced.

Yours faithfully

(Signed) W. B. POLAND,


5. The Shipping Crisis. May-November 1917

From the first month of unrestricted U-boat warfare until the Allies and the United States had the convoy system effectively established,(136) the losses of British, Allied, and neutral merchant ships upon which the Allied cause was absolutely dependent were enormous. In January (before the unrestricted U-boat campaign was launched) acts of the enemy had caused the loss of 368,521 tons. In February the total was 540,006; March, 593,841; April (the peak), 881,027; May, 596,629; June, 687,507; July, 557,988; August, 511,730; September, 351,748. The true situation was not disclosed to the public, but Admiralty and shipping officials admitted that unless some means of successfully combatting the U-boats were promptly found the limit of endurance would be reached by November 1917. As late as the 29th June 1917 Admiral Sims reported that if losses continued at the rate of the last four months the Allies might be "forced into an unsatisfactory peace."(137) Naturally the Commission's operations suffered, as did all other shipping activities. In addition to the effects of the submarine blockade referred to on preceding pages the C.R.B. lost twenty-two vessels from mines or U-boats during 1917---twice as many as in 1916. During this period, likewise, the hard-pressed belligerents showed less and less hesitancy about requisitioning ships under charter to the Commission.

Under such circumstances it can easily be comprehended why during the four months following the institution of unrestricted submarine warfare a total of only 115,000 tons of food reached Rotterdam, compared to a minimum program to sustain life in Belgium and Northern France of 110,000 tons each month.(138) With the breakdown of its oversea service the Commission immediately increased its purchases in Holland, but this country had a serious food problem and hence permitted but little exportation. The Commission's cross-channel service, England to Rotterdam, which had in the first two years transported nearly 20 per cent of the total program was, after complete termination, slowly reinstated. This service, however, remained hazardous and limited, and furthermore Great Britain was getting short of food and there was but little to be obtained in the London market for Belgium. As the following documents indicate, these trying times led to some sharp controversies which did not make the Commission's burdens any lighter. Nor did they cause it to slacken its efforts to get food into Belgium. In America, which had become the main source of supply for Allies, European neutrals, and the C.R.B., Hoover fought to guard the interests of the people of occupied France and Belgium in the face of the enormous pressure of the harassed Governments of the Allies. As United States Food Administrator he was able to prevent the loss of such tonnage as the Commission possessed and, by suggesting the possibility of a food embargo, to secure for the Commission a few badly needed cargoes from the Swedish, Dutch, and Norwegian Governments.



HOOVER TO LANSING, suggesting participation of neutrals in assisting Commission's shipping

WASHINGTON, 26 May 1917

Hon. Robert Lansing,
Secretary of State, Washington, D.C.


As you are probably aware, the Belgium Relief Commission is delivering about 60,000 tons of foodstuffs per month and it requires shipping to handle an additional 40,000 tons per month.

I understand that you already have particulars from the British Embassy as to the amount of Swedish, Dutch, and Spanish shipping which is available over and above the needs of those countries, and that you have particulars of the draft agreement between the British Government and the Spanish Government which shows the proportion of ships which the Spanish Government, at the beginning of April, was prepared to allow the British Government to charter and the proportion which it stipulated should be reserved for Spanish use.

I understand that this information shows a vast surplus of tonnage of these three neutrals available for service. The tonnage which we have in use at present transporting the present food supply is Ally tonnage, which could be armed if employed in any other trade. I also understand that various neutrals are making inquiries here as to whether their food supply will be cut off under the embargo.

It seems to me that the time has arrived when we might consider some definite service from these people of a character which does not jeopardize their ships but which leads them into the path of a little humanity, and that we should say to them that they should undertake to provide the transport of 100,000 tons of foodstuffs for the Belgian Relief, and to transport the wheat involved, which will amount to 60,000 tons per month, from Australia; and that unless they are prepared to enter upon this path of decent dealing we shall reserve all the questions of the export of foodstuffs from this country to these neutrals until further notice.

It seems to me that if this hint were given at the present moment it probably would be as effective as direct action under embargo legislation. The Belgian Relief Commission is prepared to pay the same price which is made in this work for employment of ships for the Allies, or in setting a figure the price of foodstuffs exported from the United States will also be considered. I think it would be desirable to have these ferments working in the neutral mind as soon as possible.

Yours faithfully




HOOVER TO FRIDTJOF NANSEN OF THE NORWEGIAN SPECIAL MISSION TO THE UNITED STATES, outlining arrangements for providing supplies and ships for the C.R.B. and export licenses to Norway

WASHINGTON, 22 August 1917

His Excellency, Fridtjof Nansen,
The Norwegian Special Mission to the United States, Washington, D.C.


In order that we may come to a definite understanding of the fulfillment of our agreement concerning the division of the Norwegian grain supplies now in the United States, and the allocation of Norwegian shipping for the purpose of transporting these supplies to Rotterdam and Norway, I review below the agreement as I under stand it:

First: Your Government is to immediately transfer to the Commission for Relief in Belgium 16,000 tons of rye and 14,000 tons of wheat, now on the Atlantic seaboard, at original contract prices.

Second: The Norwegian Government will receive licenses for exporting 2,300 tons of wheat and 18,000 tons of barley.

Third: The Norwegian Government will charter to the Commission for Relief in Belgium the ships named below:

"Hermion" 7,000 tons cargo ins.
"Ramfos" 5,000 tons cargo ins.
"Olaf Kyrre 4,000 tons cargo ins.
"Folkvard" 4,400 tons cargo ins.
"Kapana" 2,300 tons cargo ins.
"Fram" 3,600 tons cargo ins.
making a total of 26,300 tons cargo ins.

Fourth: It is understood that the Commission for Relief in Belgium will effect hull and war insurance on the above ships from Atlantic ports to Rotterdam, as follows:

"Hermion" Kr. 5,267,000
"Ramfos" 4,054,000
"Olaf Kyrre" 2,000,750
"Folkvard" 4,000,000
"Kapana" 2,500,000
"Fram" 4,500,000

Fifth: It is understood that the charter rate will be Kr. 38 per quarter plus 25 per cent, which includes hull insurance, equivalent to the current rates between Atlantic ports and Norway. In view of the fact that the Commission for Relief in Belgium office will effect the insurance, the Norwegian Government will deduct from the total charter cost, the cost of the current hull insurance between Atlantic ports and Norway. Freight to be paid before departure in Kroner currency.

Sixth: It is understood that a steamer will be placed at the disposal of the Commission for Relief in Belgium immediately to lift the balance of the 30,000 tons, that is, 3,700.

Seventh: It is to be noted that the United States Government does not write insurance, and consequently the insurance offered by the Belgian Commission cannot be guaranteed by the United States Government.

We have already instituted inspection of the above named ships, and would be pleased to have your approval of this arrangement(139) at the earliest possible date in order that we may complete the program.

Yours very truly

Chairman, The Commission for Relief in Belgium

Accepted by

High Commissioner to the United States from the Norwegian Government



HOOVER TO POLAND, regarding shipping matters and stating the difficulties of finding a solution of shipping troubles

WASHINGTON, 29 August 1917

William B. Poland, Esq., London


I am greatly obliged for your letters of the 3d, 6th, and 14th of August, with various enclosures, which are just at hand.

I fully realize the Belgian necessities and we should, by all means in our power, get the total program increased to 115,000 tons a month. We have obviously several methods of attack:

First---our own fleet

Second---further charters

We are apparently to have two consigned by the French Government as a result of all of their wide promises to furnish us with some tonnage, and, in this matter, I think you should add to my strong statements at this end, all the pressure that you can to convince the French Government that it must find the tonnage for its own people. In addition to this, we are hoping to get, under pressure of a shipping board here, the seven Wagner boats, and I am hoping that you may be able to get something out of Swedish quarters as per your letter.

It is well to bear in mind that the American fleet is very small, and that it is practically all required to carry our troops and material along our coasts and to France, and that we are running short on our imports into this country of very vital foodstuffs because we have not the ships under our own flag to press into service.

I hope to effect some results by pressure on neutrals. We will be securing you the Norwegian tonnage which departs within the next few days, and we will get something out of the Dutch. This, of course, will only be the actual cargoes delivered and not continuing charters. A hint has been thrown out to these people here that it might be possible for them to arrange, subject to other international conditions, for a supply of wheat from Australia, if they would go, and get it; the condition to be that one-half of such wheat should be delivered to the Belgian Relief.

I wish to assure you that there is absolutely nothing that my mind can invent that we haven't tried to do in the last month. It was hopeless to get anything done here prior to the 10th of August, at which time most of the powers under the Food Bill came into action, and certain powers came to the Shipping Board. Also, at the same time, Mr. Hurley became the head of the Shipping Board and is co-operating finely to help us.

There are some factors in this question that fill me with great anxiety. The United States has been over-exporting its pork products, and we must moderate shipments from here, or .... we shall have actual shortages through this country, and we cannot afford to allow our population to run short of such foodstuffs without creating more opposition to the war than now exists. We are doing everything in our power to reduce consumption, but you should not be too optimistic about increasing, or even maintaining, the present pork products supply from here.

As to Francqui's trouble in finance, the only solution is the one which I repeatedly proposed, and that is for the Société Générale to advance the money to the Secours,(140) and for us, in turn, to give them securities or advances in London. This, of course, must be done with the full approval of the British Government, which it has long since granted. If we can increase the program, it will no doubt remedy the situation to some extent.

Altogether, the Belgians should get it through their heads that the world is entering into a period of absolute desperation in regard to food supplies; that this program is no longer wholly a shipping problem, which is bad enough, but it is also a problem of the actual supply of food for all the parties concerned.

I received a very insulting telegram . . . . through the Belgian Government a few days since, and I replied in terms which produced from them an apology last night. I stated that none of us would stand for this sort of an attitude, and that they had better take over the business themselves . This attitude on the part of the various persons of this character has not done the Belgian cause and this Government any good. It must be borne in mind that we are supplying $7,500,000 a month(141) to the Relief here and doing all in our power even to the prejudice of our own people, by way of omitting from here absolutely essential imports, in order to give them shipping, and by way of sending foodstuffs which we can only secure by enforcing a reduction of consumption among our own people. It is about all they have a right to ask from any nation.

Yours faithfully




HOOVER TO HONNOLD, objecting to diversion of Belgian ships from relief

WASHINGTON, 15 October 1917


Inform Mali(142) that if the Belgian Government divert any single vessel from the Relief I will prevent the sailing of such vessel from American ports.

If the Belgian Government has no consideration for her own people the American Government has and will enforce it.




STATE DEPARTMENT TO AMERICAN LEGATION AT HAVRE, quoting the President's reply to King Albert's message relative to inadequacy of supplies imported into Belgium

WASHINGTON, 26 October 1917


For your information. The following cablegram has today been addressed by the President to the King of the Belgians in reply to a message(143) received on October eighteenth concerning the inadequacy of food imports into Belgium and expressing the hope that further measures will be taken to meet the situation:

Quote. I have given most careful consideration to Your Majesty's cablegram, and I need not assure Your Majesty of the deep solicitude which I feel for the civil population of Belgium as conditions become incessantly more difficult and the obstacles to be overcome increase in number.

While the Commission has delivered some 400,000 tons of foodstuffs since the submarine warfare began, it has shipped an additional 250,000 tons which have failed to reach their destination either because of sinkings or because of inability to complete delivery of goods in transit through the war zone, besides which the delays to steamers in transit have entailed the loss in carrying capacity of over 100,000 tons. The Commission has been powerless to prevent these losses and no one feels more deeply the suffering entailed than do its members.

Frankness in making a complete statement of the causes of the shortage compels me to say that even the Belgian authorities have from time to time increased the difficulty by requisitioning Belgian ships under charter to the Commission at critical periods.

The relief work requires the regular movement of 220,000 tons of shipping, and while the losses of ships and the failure of neutrals and of the Allies to supply shipping last June reduced their regular fleet to 120,000 tons, the Commission have by the addition of steamers furnished by this Government, and purchases of ships by the Government waived in their favor now built up their fleet to 160,000 tons.

Furthermore, with my approval, Mr. Hoover has obtained from various governments certain tonnage for this purpose in return for food supplies. This has been done with an insistence we have felt could be justified only by the duty of maintaining the lives of these helpless civilians. For no other purpose have we gone to such length. We now have the hope through these means of securing sufficient additional neutral shipping, and with success in the negotiations now pending, there may be available a fleet of sufficient size.

Your Majesty is doubtless familiar with the financial difficulties of the Commission, which arise out of the inability of this Government to provide funds for expenditures outside of the United States, and the necessity of securing financial assistance from the other Governments for expenditures abroad, in which matter I trust Your Majesty will interest yourself.

The foregoing is but a general survey of the situation, but I trust it will convey to Your Majesty some idea of the difficulties with which the Commission has to contend. I need hardly reiterate that we are determined to do everything this Government can to meet the requirements of the civilian population of Belgium which has such a claim upon our sympathy and friendship, and that if we are unable to render them the full measure of services to be desired, it will be through no lack of effort or sympathetic understanding on our part. Unquote.

It is desired that you take an opportunity to impress upon the Belgian Government the fact that this Government has not only done all that could reasonably be expected of it to provide food for the civilian population of Belgium, but has exacted from neutral nations additional foodstuffs for the Belgians in return for concessions as to food and supplies. This has been done by Mr. Hoover with an insistence and severity that we have not exercised on our own behalf, and has caused some resentment which we have willingly accepted in the interest of Belgium.

Furthermore, we have given Belgian food shipments from the United States priority over all the Allies.

Neither this Government nor Mr. Hoover has any obligation other than good will in the matter, and Mr. Hoover has repeatedly asked the Belgian Government to take over the purchase and transport of supplies.

For your confidential information, I may say that the tone of implied criticism in messages from Belgian sources and the apparent attempts to load responsibility on individuals and this Government are difficult for us to understand. It is hoped that by taking every occasion to create an understanding of the true situation, and the difficulties before the Commission, you will succeed in ending the influence of those who apparently are seeking to convey an impression that the inadequacy of the food supply in Belgium is in any way attributable to negligence or lack of sympathetic understanding on behalf of this Government or its officials.

While Hoover labored in America with neutrals for the allocation of relief cargoes, Poland, the director in the London office, struggled, but with discouraging results, to procure neutral charters in the open market and to keep the charters already secured from being taken over by the British shipping authorities. Most neutral owners did not care to risk the dangerous relief service, and furthermore the Allied Governments had set up an effective but unofficial "control" of neutral vessels through the Inter-Allied Chartering Executive.(144) Thus as Allied shipping control became more broadly effective, the difficulties of the Commission increased. It appeared that in a short time all available tonnage would be in government service and nothing would remain for relief. Poland, therefore, appealed directly to the heads of the Allied Governments to accept the principle of Allied responsibility for relief tonnage. Poland's efforts were crowned with success, when at the Inter-Allied Conference in Paris on the 29th November, before which he had pleaded the case of the Commission and its charges, the Allies declared that priority over all their own provisioning be given to the population of Belgium and Northern France. This was priority for food, but at the same time the decision guaranteed the necessary extra ships to the Commission to make possible the delivery of the agreed program. This was a decided triumph, but it was some time before the accepted principle was put into practice. As far as ships were concerned it was not until four months later, on the 25th April 1918, that the Allied Maritime Transport Council(145) was directed to find the necessary supplementary tonnage for the Commission.



BRITISH FOREIGN OFFICE TO POLAND, refusing to approve C.R.B. charters for more than one voyage

3 October 1917

The Director
Commission for Relief in Belgium, London


I am directed by Lord Robert Cecil to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of September 15th stating that the Commission for Relief in Belgium have chartered the Norwegian S.S. "Avona" for two and the Norwegian S.S. "Songa" for four consecutive voyages.

I am to state, in reply, that the owners of these vessels have already been informed through the usual channel that these charters cannot be approved. His Majesty's Government regret they cannot depart from the rule by which they have hitherto been guided that only charters for one voyage can be approved.

I am to ask you to be so good as to furnish a statement of the amount of tonnage now in the service of the Commission for Relief in Belgium or in sight for that service.

I am, Sir,

Your most obedient, humble Servant

(Signed) W. LANGLEY




LONDON, 17 October 1917

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
The Foreign Office, London


I refer to your No. 193,902/x/Coal.T.

First I would like to say that in regard to the "Avona" and the "Songa," these charters were submitted to the Allied Shipping Board before signature, and further that all charters for successive voyages contain a clause providing that each trip is subject to the approval of the Allied Board.

I note that in the case of the "Avona" and "Songa" the owners have been informed by the British Government that the charters which we effected cannot be approved.

You state that His Majesty's Government regret they cannot depart from the rule by which they have hitherto been guided that only charters for one voyage can be approved. I beg to say that no such rule has ever been applied to Relief charters. It has always been customary for us to charter ahead as far as possible, quite in accord with the Inter-Allied Chartering Executive. I think it possible that the effect of the application of such a new rule to the operations of the Relief has not been quite appreciated. You are of course well aware that the Belgian vessels, which are the only ones upon which we can count definitely in arranging our program from month to month, supply but about one-half of our required tonnage, and that the balance must be supplied from neutral or other charters. You will appreciate that in making provision for monthly shipments aggregating some 110,000 to 120,000 tons, which can be subject to no variation and upon which it depends whether the people of Belgium are or are not to starve, such arrangements cannot be made from month to month but must be determined far ahead.

In protecting our future imports we have therefore made the following charters ahead:

Norwegian Vessels

"Otta" 4 voyages
"Björnstjerne Björnson," to end of war, say 5 voyages
"Imo" 2 voyages
"Ivona" 2 voyages
"Songa" 4 voyages
Total Norwegian voyages ahead 17

Swedish Vessels

"Sandefjord" 3 voyages
"Fridland" 3 voyages
Total Swedish voyages ahead 6

Total voyages ahead


The application of the rule which you speak of would totally disarrange our shipping program and endanger the whole Relief.

Inasmuch as the British Government, in accord with the French Government, have in principle guaranteed to make up to the Relief the tonnage necessary to carry its approved program, any interference with these charters effected would make necessary additional allocations by the Inter-Allied Chartering Executive, the final effect being merely an interruption and disturbance of arrangements without altering in any way the shipping requirements. I therefore most respectfully but urgently request a reconsideration of your position in the light of the above.

In support of this request, I again call attention to the clause in our charters making each individual trip subject to the Chartering Executive, which would enable any emergency to be met at the time without, however, disarranging our whole program.

In accordance with the last paragraph of your letter, I beg to hand you a summary of our charter position month by month, up to and including December 25th, the end of our shipping month, also a recapitulation of same.

Our actual metric ton cargo requirements (allowing for case goods) for delivery in Rotterdam monthly on our present program amount to 111,000 tons, without any leeway or protection.

The experience of the past indicates that it is imperative, to insure delivery of this amount regularly, that we provide a shipping protection of not less than 20 per cent, which would make our provision for food delivery requirements Rotterdam each month 133,000 tons. You will see from the recapitulation herewith that for the three months ending December 25th we have so far provided but 102,000 per month, leaving us short on our present arrangements on the above basis 31,000 tons a month or on the basis of actual delivery of cargo 9,000 tons per month.

We are proposing to present this whole question of the protection of Relief charters and Relief cargoes to the Government within a few days, but meanwhile in the light of the above I think we are justified in asking that the charters of the "Songa" and "Avona" be not interfered with, and I hope that you will be able to advise us to this effect.

Yours faithfully

(Signed) W. B. POLAND
Director for Europe



POLAND TO UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE, reporting the failure of the Chartering Executive to provide promised tonnage

LONDON, 1 November 1917

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
The Foreign Office, London


Referring to my letter of the 29th October to the Under-Secretary of State, I have just returned from an interview with the Secretary of the Inter-Allied Chartering Executive, who informs me that although we can rely on them to extend every assistance possible to the Relief, and that in view of the arguments presented it may be possible for them to confirm the several trip charters of the "Songa" and "Avona" which we had arranged, and to confirm the chartering of other Swedish vessels, still it is impossible for them to definitely assign, to the Relief, ships to make up the shortage of 10,000 tons for December and 40,000 tons for January.

In view of the above and the absolute necessity of this tonnage to insure the minimum living ration to the people of Belgium and Northern France, we beg that the Foreign Office will indicate to us how, in accordance with the understanding between the British and French Governments, the Relief is to be protected.

Action must be taken at once to avoid grave consequences.

Yours faithfully

(Signed) W. B. POLAND
Director for Europe

Fig. 8. North Sea and Atlantic, showing danger zones.



Extracts of letter,
POLAND TO HOOVER, describing the results of his interviews in Paris with French officials and stating the decisions of the Inter-Allied Conference in reference to C.R.B. finances and shipping

LONDON, 7 December 1917


Shaler and I returned yesterday from a two weeks' trip to Belgium and France in which we were successful in accomplishing every object of the journey.

The first and most important was to provide for the financing of the European expenditure(146) along the lines indicated by your telegrams. Soundings of the British made it apparent that we could expect nothing from them until France had declared herself. We left London November 22d. Arriving in Havre we had a thorough understanding with Van de Vyvere as to the steps to be taken by the Belgian Government; arranged interview by wire with the French Minister of Finance; drove to Paris with Van de Vyvere, where we met Chevrillon; had a preliminary meeting with your friend Monsieur Homberg, who agreed to every proposition; presented to Minister Klotz a memorandum which had been drawn up. Van de Vyvere made an excellent argument. The Minister finally agreed that France should assume the entire European cost of the ravitaillement of her own people, and one-half the cost of the ravitaillement of Belgium, provided England would do the same. He also authorized me, in order to protect the guilder exchange, to effect a loan in Holland in guilders for an amount which has since been fixed at 60,000,000 guilders at the best terms obtainable: France to put up the necessary collateral; England being requested to join with France in the transaction; the loan to be guaranteed by England, France, and Belgium. This seems the most satisfactory way of meeting the very difficult question of guilder exchange, but I must say I foresee great difficulties and think there is about one chance in ten of success. However, I shall proceed to Holland immediately and hope for the best.

We have not yet heard of England's acceptance of the French demand, but I have no doubt whatever that it has been arranged before now.

Our second objective was to obtain the unequivocal guarantee of the French and British Governments---if possible joined by the United States---that the necessary tonnage and food for the ravitaillement of Belgium and Northern France should have priority over any other European provisions, whether for carrying on the war or sustaining the civil population.

To this end we first interviewed all of the principal Ministers of the new French Cabinet and, not without considerable opposition, finally obtained their enthusiastic support for the measure. We clinched this by a notable interview with Monsieur Clemenceau in which I forcibly presented the demands of the people of the invaded territories and asked his personal support for providing the necessary ships, food, and money. This he gave in the most positive way and assured us that the French Government would be behind every move we made. At the same time our objects were explained to several members of the American Mission,(147) and particularly we received the warm support of Dr. Taylor.

The French Government then, at the Allied Conference which followed on November 29th, demanded that shipping and food for the Relief should have priority over all the Allied requirements, and this was acceded to as expressed in the attached extract.

We impressed upon all the members of the French Government, and particularly upon Monsieur Clemenceau, that the mere agreement in principle to the above meant nothing, but it was necessary that officers should be designated to whom the Relief could present its demands and who would have authority forthwith to order them filled.

At an interview with Monsieur Clemenceau, he expressed a desire to have the same evening a memorandum of some of the facts which were presented to him in regard to the Commission. I dictated the memorandum attached [here omitted], which was sent in without an opportunity of revision and which I am rather ashamed of, since so much more might have been said and the whole subject better presented.

The question as to whether or not the Comité Hollandais(148) should be continued was again brought up and, upon our explaining that the provisions sent in by them were not supplementary but were included in our distributions to the French cities, the government officials seemed unwilling to make further appropriations to it.

We were told by various French officials that all of the évacués coming out of France---and there are some 300,000 of them now---were united in praise of the American Commission and continually made statements that without our efforts the population would have succumbed.

It would have been impossible for the government officials or any of the French persons whom we met to have been more appreciative or sincere in their expressions of thanks. The gratitude of everyone was touching to the point of being embarrassing. This we found not only in Paris but whenever it was mentioned along the French lines, where we afterwards went, that we were of the American Commission or as it was often called, the Hoover Commission, which had been feeding Northern France. The same was true with all the Belgians, whether of the Government in Havre or along the Belgian front .....

I am afraid you may have thought some of my telegrams were vigorous, but as a matter of fact we were in a perfectly desperate situation and for three or four days were absolutely bankrupt. We had to turn down an insurance cheque for £100,000 and had other payments of £90,000 and smaller amounts due which we were being urged to meet. In this emergency I could get no relief from the British, but fortunately Monsieur Klotz was in London and I appealed to them on the basis of the necessity of their protecting the reputation of the Commission on personal grounds and on the political grounds of what would happen to them in France if it were apparent that they had abandoned us at such a time. I imagine the last was the most effective, but in any event, they handed me direct a cheque for £1,000,000.(149)

Faithfully yours

(Signed) W. B. POLAND



Extract from a decision
of Inter-Allied Conference in Paris, 29 November 1917, giving C.R.B. priority in ships and food

The Allies declare that they give priority over all their own provisioning to the ravitaillement of the populations of Belgium and invaded Northern France on the basis of the C.R.B. program such as defined in the Conference held in London between the C.R.B. an I and the British Government. They guarantee the necessary tonnage for the execution of this program, taking into account the ships which the C.R.B. now has at its disposal and those which it may procure in the future either directly or with the help of the Allied Governments.



6. Shipping Problems of 1918

By the end of 1917 the convoy system and other measures against the U-boats adopted by the Allies and America had demonstrated their effectiveness. The German High Command, which now controlled the political as well as the military policies of the Central Powers, recognized that in spite of the Allied shipping losses the U-boat campaign had failed, since the power of Great Britain had not been broken and the entrance of the United States into the war had brought tremendous economic and moral strength to the Allies. Recognizing this and the certainty that within a few months the weight of American man power would begin to bear more heavily on the Western Front while the resources of materials, morale, and men of Germany and her allies diminished, the High Command decided on that last, desperate assault to gain a decision in France. The first of the five German offensives began on the 21st March 1918. The second came on the 9th April; the third on the 27th May; the fourth on the 9th June; and the final drive on the 15th July.

The first German successes on the Western Front reacted on the general shipping problem, for, while the U-boat losses had been checked, the tonnage available to the Allies was still dangerously low and new burdens were imposed by the necessity of accelerating the transport of American troops and supplies to France.(150) Thus in spite of the fact that the Belgian and French relief had been recognized as a "war measure" and the C.R.B. program of ravitaillement had been, in principle, given priority over Allied needs, the Commission did not get the ships to carry out its program.(151)

From January to the middle of May the disheartening struggle for ships went on. Hoover in Washington and Poland in London ceaselessly pressed the Allied authorities. to put the accepted principle into practice, and finally, as the documents which follow show, their appeals to the heads of the Entente Governments produced the so-called "fifty-fifty" agreement whereby the Allied Maritime Transport Council was directed to find one-half the supplementary tonnage for the Commission and the United States Shipping Board to find the other half.(152) As a result of this decision and in spite of the very real shipping shortage, the Commission was able, for the first time since October 1916, to meet its full program of deliveries in July, August, September, and October. This was a matter of very great importance to the people of occupied territories, who had been forced to go on cruelly short rations while the Commission was trying to break through the blockade that the U-boats had established.

Had the war continued, the shipping problem would unquestionably have been difficult throughout the winter of 1918-19, but with the Armistice came the release of considerable tonnage from war services. During the following seven months, therefore, the Commission moved practically 1,000,000 tons of provisions into Belgium and Northern France, supplying these territories with necessities during the first months of readjustment and reconstruction. The last oversea shipments of the Commission arrived in Belgium in August 1919.



STATE DEPARTMENT TO HOOVER, reporting that British and French Governments incline to the use of tonnage for military purposes rather than for C.R.B.

WASHINGTON, 15 April 1918


In Mr. Polk's absence I beg to refer again to your letter of the 10th instant to him with which you enclosed a copy of a letter that you had addressed to the President with reference to Belgian relief.

Pursuant to your request, cables were sent to the American Ambassadors at London and Paris and to the American Minister at Havre, requesting them to obtain the views of the governments to which they are accredited concerning the tonnage referred to in your letter.

The Department is in receipt this morning of cables from London and Paris, paraphrases of which I enclose herewith.

Faithfully yours


From Paris.

The Ambassador was informed by the Foreign Office on April 13th that a conference would be called on the 23d instant in Paris for the purpose of settling the whole subject of tonnage. The necessity for administering relief to Northern France and Belgium is fully appreciated, although a preference was expressed for the use of the sixty thousand tons of shipping referred to for the transportation of troops.

From London.

I have just been sent the following answer from the Foreign Office:

"The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs presents his compliments to the United States Ambassador, with reference to Mr. Page's memorandum number 514 of the 12th instant relative to a question of allocating 60,000 tons of shipping, either for the transportation of American troops and supplies to France or to the Belgian relief, has the honor to say that in the present circumstances it appears to His Majesty's Government to be of paramount importance that this tonnage should be devoted to military purposes. Two. There would be no objection on the part of His Majesty's Government to the Commission for Relief in Belgium being invited to charter further Swedish ships now in Sweden."



POLAND TO ALLIED MARITIME TRANSPORT COUNCIL, setting forth shortage of tonnage for relief in Belgium and Northern France

LONDON, 18 April 1918


The civil population of the occupied territories of Northern France and Belgium is approximately 9,600,000 people. Normally Belgium imports two-thirds of her food supply and France a large proportion. At the present time practically all the native food resources of Northern France and the military zone of the Étapes in Belgium (Flanders) have been wiped out, except for 190 grams per capita per day of potatoes from native production and 100 grams of indigenous flour, and the population of about 3,600,000 persons depends almost solely upon imported foodstuffs.

In the remaining territory of the General Government, including about 6,000,000 people, through lack of fertilizers, work animals, etc., the native crops, as in France, have diminished to about 40 per cent of pre-war production.

The Governments of France, Belgium, England, and the United States have given their solemn guarantees to the people of the invaded regions that they will be provided with at least sufficient foods to prevent starvation and the permanent physical deterioration of the race

The Commission for Relief in Belgium and Northern France have been entrusted by the Governments with the responsibility of providing this necessary food.

In carrying out their duties, the Commission have prepared a program of monthly imports based upon the absolutely minimum living ration necessary to feed the civil populations. This ration, which takes into account all the native resources of the country, has been approved by the respective Governments. The imported products which it provides produce 60 per cent of the entire food values of the people's monthly ration, and they cannot be reduced without incipient starvation resulting.

General Conditions

The overseas importations required to provide the ration amount to 120,000 gross tons of cargo (Annex A) 120,000 tons

Allowance of 15 per cent to obtain ship deadweight 18,000 tons

Total monthly deadweight ship requirements

138,000 tons
Belgian requisitioned Relief tonnage (D.W.) monthly 50,000 tons

Shortage to be made up by neutral charters or otherwise, monthly

88,000 tons
Permanent deadweight fleet requirements @ 66 days per round trip (138,000 tons monthly) 303,600 tons
20 per cent allowance for protection 60,700 tons

Total deadweight permanent fleet requirements

364,300 tons
Less permanent Belgian Relief fleet 110,000 tons

Shortage to be made up by neutral vessels or otherwise

254,300 tons

The Commission have been able to arrange additional neutral charters as per list attached (Annex B) for one or two voyages, which nevertheless leave us short for the monthly periods ending:

15th June 55,000 tons
15th July 70,000 tons
15th August 60,000 tons

as shown in Annex A.

Owing to the Commission's inability, in spite of appeals to the Governments, to secure charters during February and March, there is at present due to lack of importations, a shortage of bread grains in the occupied territories equivalent to a complete deprivation of bread from overseas grain for twenty days. The situation confronting the people of Belgium and France is the most serious since the war began.

By a decision of the Inter-Allied Council which met in Paris December 5th last, it was established that the relief requirements of Belgium and France, both as to food and ships, should have priority over all other Allied requirements. This has been put into practice as to foodstuffs but in regard to shipping, while the principle has been acknowledged, the respective shipping executives have not given effect to the decision.

It is, therefore, proposed at this meeting that the necessary steps be taken to render the decision practically operative.

To this end, on the first of each month the Commission will be requested to furnish to the Allied Maritime Transport Council, London, a statement showing its requirements, shipping arrangements, and deficiencies in tonnage and steamers for the succeeding three periods of thirty days, beginning with the 15th of the month.

The Allied Maritime Council will thereupon indicate to the Relief the steamers which may be used to complete its program, by name, place, and date of loading.



Extract, from minutes of meeting
of Allied Maritime Transport Council, Paris, 25 April 1918, relative to supply for the C.R.B.

PARIS, April 25, 1918


The Transport Council decides that all the articles necessary for revictualing the occupied districts in Belgium and Northern France shall be included in the program of the Wheat Executive if that body consents and shall be given the priority promised to them by the resolution of the Allied Conference of December 1917.

The C.R.B. should carry out the greatest amount of the necessary transportation possible with its own tonnage and that of the Belgian Government. Any further tonnage necessary will be allocated by the Wheat- Executive from the tonnage provided by the Associated Governments. The permanent organization of the Transport Council is directed to arrange for such further tonnage as is necessary in order to assure the carrying out of this decision, subject to the assent of the Associated Governments.



HOOVER TO POLAND, regarding failure of the Allied authorities to make good the tonnage promised

WASHINGTON, 8 May 1918


British authorities in London telegraphed British authorities here to help out Belgian Relief, and, as has been invariably case heretofore, this help consists in advising the American Government to do something when it is clearly obvious American Government has insufficient shipping to handle its own prime necessities. If the authorities really intend to carry out provisions Paris Conference the British authorities must instruct Guthrie to turn over to Belgian Relief instantly specific neutral ships; otherwise you may take it that all expressions of priority or interest are absolutely valueless and give no indication of sincerity. We require 40,000 tons deadweight shipping for May loading. As Swedes have considerable unemployed tonnage, I cabled the King of Belgium telling him fate Relief hangs absolutely on his personal intervention the King of Sweden and that Allies will guarantee that any boats in employment of Relief may return to Swedish ports at the end of service without molestation.




POLAND TO HOOVER, stating the necessity that British, French, and United States Governments regard relief as war measure to prevent starvation in Belgium

LONDON, 11 May 1918


Referring to our 96 this date we understand on excellent authority that United States Shipping Board inquired of British War Office if they concurred in furnishing 60,000 tons required to fulfill relief program in order to give effect to the Resolution of Priority, which tonnage must be allocated at expense of shipment of men and munitions, and the British War Office replied they did not concur in this action.

It appears to us that this is the dividing of the ways and that the United States Government together with Great Britain has now to make the decision as to whether or not the people in Belgium and Northern France are to be fed. Purely as a war measure and independent of all considerations of humanity and the debt owed to our own Allies, we are sure the feeding of the people of the occupied territories is equally as important as the shipment of troops and food to Britain and France. We are sure that if this question were left to the decision of the public of Great Britain and the United States, Belgium and France would be fed. Do you not believe the time has come to lay the situation before the public? And also will you not take this up personally with the President as we are taking it up with Monsieur Clemenceau and the Prime Minister. As a temporary measure to meet the May requirements we urge you to secure the concurrence of United States with the British proposal as outlined in our 96, as we feel sure this is all they will do at this time and at least establishes joint governmental responsibility.




POLAND TO HOOVER, regarding the plan for British and Americans to furnish tonnage on a fifty-fifty basis

LONDON, 13 May 1918


Our 96 was misleading in describing proposal as British that United States and England furnish each half the shortage of tonnage to fulfill the necessary program. British first insisted that entire tonnage must come from United States, but finally on urgent request of Maritime Transport Council they agreed to the other basis as a compromise measure, which we believe is all that can be secured at the present time. If the above is definitely agreed to by the American Government Stevens(153) can secure conformity with it by the British authorities. The principle assuring C.R.B. ship requirements would then be established and it would only be necessary to prove our needs. There are many considerations at this end which seem to make American approval of this measure vital to securing our tonnage. I cannot too strongly urge you to do everything possible to obtain concurrence of the Shipping Board to Stevens' proposal of eleventh April. Relief Commission.



HOOVER TO LLOYD GEORGE, urging the latter's assistance in providing tonnage for the C.R.B

WASHINGTON, 16 May 1918


Would like you to present the following with the British National Committee to Mr. Lloyd George as from me as head of the Relief, not as a Government official:

"As Chairman of the Belgian Relief, I wish to again ask your personal intervention upon behalf of these suffering people. Three years ago, upon my personal appeal, you intervened to save the Relief and established it firmly as an unparalleled enterprise in humanity, with the full sympathy and generous financial support of the British peoples. That action, which cost much in sacrifice to the British people in its demonstration of their true and broad humane objectives in the war, became one of the most potent forces in the conviction of the American people of the Allies' just cause. At our adherence to the Allied cause our Government considered its obligations included a participation in the maintenance of these peoples who have suffered first and continue to suffer most from barbarism, and in so doing we have not only taken our share of a burden and humane duty but we have all of us, in the midst of the freezing flood of war, contributed to keep alive in the hearts of our people its higher aims. The problem today is ships. Our people have stripped to the bone to furnish transport of supplies and men for Allied support. We can furnish no tonnage unless sacrifice is made somewhere in these directions. The tonnage required is so pitiable, either in transport of men or supplies, in the vast totals, as to seem to justify the risk. Today to consign the Belgian people to starvation after three and one-half years of almost unendurable suffering and steadfast loyalty and service in the Allied cause, is indeed a terrible fate, and it will destroy an invisible but great spiritual force among our two peoples worse than the loss of a great battle. I feel that without Your Excellency's intervention and positive instruction the Relief cannot be saved and a direction from yourself to your authorities and a communication of your approval of necessary diversions to our President would yield solution by our joint shipping authorities."




LLOYD GEORGE TO HOOVER, answering the preceding

LONDON, 23 May 1918


I have received through Mr. Poland and the British National Committee for Relief in Belgium your cable of May 16th. I had already conferred personally with the Belgian Prime Minister, Mr. Poland, and British officials, and I understand that you have since learned through the Allied Maritime Transport Council of our willingness to provide one-half of the tonnage necessary to make up the monthly shortages of the Commission for Relief. I am gratified to hear today that the United States Government have agreed to take similar action and that, therefore, there is now no necessity for me to communicate with President Wilson as suggested in your cablegram. Details of the measures which we purpose to take are being cabled to Lord Reading through the Ministry of Shipping, and emergency arrangements are being made for ten thousand tons of flour to be shipped from the United Kingdom.

His Majesty's Government maintain their deep solicitude for the people in occupied Belgium, and will spare no effort to relieve the privations they so gallantly endure. I am entirely in accord with the decision of the Inter-Allied Council that the relief requirements of Belgium and Northern France, both as regards food and ships, shall have priority over other Allied requirements, and I trust that the present joint action will assure the continuity of essential supplies.

I take this opportunity of saying how much I appreciate the lasting services you have rendered to all the Allies by your unfailing and effective efforts on behalf of the people of Belgium.




HOOVER TO POLAND, announcing the agreement of U.S. Shipping Control to the fifty-fifty proposal

WASHINGTON, 21 May 1918


American Shipping Control in conformity with British 50-50 agreement have allotted steamers "Harold" 5,100, "Talbot" 11,700, "Storviken" 7,500, "Dicto" 6,000, and "Senta" 5,800. Also accept obligation additional 18,000 June-July loading, which will complete American quota. This sufficiently concrete evidence that British offer has been accepted. A ghastly situation in Belgium has thus been averted by the individual efforts of the C.R.B.




HOOVER TO POLAND, stating President's directions to the U.S. Shipping Board to supply fifty per cent of tonnage shortage to the C.R.B.

WASHINGTON, 22 May 1918


The President today confirmed the directions to Shipping Board here that it should find at once one-half deficit tonnage for Belgian Relief and in accordance therewith ships have been assigned during the last few days to us by Shipping Board. I wish you would express my own personal thanks to Stevens for his assistance in this matter and inform him that Mr. Hurley will be confirming the American undertaking to find its half of the shipping.

I would also like to congratulate you on the sterling and predominant service that you have given in this, one of the most difficult crises through which the Relief Commission has passed.



From the beginning of 1918 to the Armistice the Commission lost thirteen vessels,(154) bringing the total casualties of this character to fifty-two.(155) A majority of ships lost were provided with both German safe-conduct passes and C.R.B. markings, but in some cases the ships were undoubtedly off the prescribed course when attacked. The Commission entered vigorous protests in every instance where torpedoing was suspected and whenever the Germans admitted that the Relief ships had observed all German regulations, they made good the loss by replacing the cargo or paying for the damage. Although numbers of vessels lost were outward bound in ballast, the actual food cargo sunk amounted to 114,000 tons. Add this to the 95,000 tons of foodstuffs sold in England and in France in the summer of 1917 because of the submarine blockade on cross-channel movement and we have a total of over 200,000 tons of relief supplies sunk or sold en route and lost to the relief. This amount lost was the equivalent of two months' rations for the people of Belgium and Northern France.

During the four and a half years, ships flying the Commission's flag carried across the two blockades over 5,000,000 tons of relief provisions. Transatlantic vessels to the number of 993, and 1,320 smaller steamers discharged their relief cargoes at the Commission's transshipment ports. Seventy vessels, on an average, were steaming in the service of the Commission at all times. The technical management(156) of such a fleet was no little task in itself, but as the preceding documents show the struggle to get ships and to keep those that had been chartered made all other problems in comparison unimportant.

Chapter 6

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