Primary Documents - German Submarine Deutschland's Atlantic Crossing, 9 July 1916

Captain Paul Koenig On 9 July 1916 the captain of the German submarine Deutschland, Paul Koenig, docked in the U.S.  A merchantmen, and therefore carrying no munitions, the newfound ability of the Germans to despatch submarines across the Atlantic was duly acknowledged by the governments of all belligerent nations as significant.

While the U.S. government allowed merchant vessels from all warring nations to dock at U.S. ports and to freely trade, in practice Britain's dominance of the seas ensured that Germany was effectively excluded from the U.S. market.  Thus the arrival of the Deutschland threatened to challenge Britain's naval blockade, at least so far as trade with the U.S. was concerned.

Britain, in a joint statement with the other Allied governments, promptly despatched a note of protest to the U.S. government arguing that submarines should not be regarded as merchant vessels.  In support of this argument the Allies suggested that as a submarine could not be stopped and inspected for munitions in the same manner as other vessels, her real intentions could not be verified.

The U.S. government - under constant pressure from the German government on account of suspected favouritism granted to the Allied nations - responded at the close of August 1916 with a rejection of the Allies' arguments; unarmed submarines, from whatever nation, were to be regarded as merchant vessels and accordingly permitted to trade.

Reproduced below is Captain Koenig's initial announcement upon arrival in the U.S. with the Deutschland on 9 July 1916.

Click here to read the text of the Allies' protest to the U.S. government.  Click here to read the reply of the U.S., written by Secretary of State Robert Lansing.

German Submarine Deutschland's Atlantic Crossing by Captain Paul Koenig

The submarine Deutschland, which I have the honour to command, is the first of several submarines built to the order of the Deutsche Ozean Rhederei G.M.B.H., Bremen.  She will be followed by the Bremen shortly.

The idea of the building of this submarine emanated from Alfred Lohmann, then President of the Bremen Chamber of Commerce.  He brought his idea in the fall of last year confidentially before a small circle of friends, and the idea was taken up at once.  A company was formed under the name of "Deutsche Ozean Rhederei G. M. B. H.," and the Germaniawerft, Kiel, was entrusted with the building of the submarines.

The Board of Directors is composed of Alfred Lohmann, President of the Board; Philipp Heineken, General Manager of the Nord Lloyd, and Kommerzienrat P. M. Herrman, Manager of the Deutsche Bank.  Carl Stapelfeldt, Manager of the Nord Lloyd, has taken over the management of the company.

We have brought a most valuable cargo of dyestuffs to our American friends, dyestuffs which have been so much needed for months in America and which the ruler of the seas has not allowed the great American Republic to import.  While England will not allow anybody the same right on the ocean because she rules the waves, we have, by means of the submarine, commenced to break this rule.

Great Britain cannot hinder boats such as ours to go and come as we please.  Our trip passing Dover across the ocean was an uneventful one.  When danger approached we went below the surface, and here we are, safely in an American port, ready to return in due course.

I am not in a position to give you full details regarding our trip across the ocean, in view of our enemies.  Our boat has a displacement of about 2,000 tons and a speed of more than fourteen knots.  Needless to say that we are quite unarmed and only a peaceful merchantman.

Our boats will carry across the Atlantic the mails and save them from British interruption.  We trust that the old friendly relationship with the United States, going back to the days of Washington, when it was Prussia who was the first to help America in its fight for freedom from British rule, will awake afresh in your beautiful and powerful country.

The house flag of the Deutsche Ozean Rhederei is the old Bremen flag-red and white stripes, with the coat of arms of the town, the key in the corner.  This key is the sign that we have opened the gates which Great Britain tried to shut up on us and the trade of the world.  The gates which we opened with this key will not be shut again.  Open door to the trade of the world and freedom of the oceans and equal rights to all nations on the oceans will be guaranteed by Germany's victory in this struggle for our existence.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. IV, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

A 'Gearsman' was a tank crew member responsible for managing the gears.

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