Government, which expressed regret, promised indemnity, and declared that orders had been issued to submarines that were so rigorous that the recurrence of such incidents was considered impossible.
The protests of the United States against lawless submarine attacks were not confined to Germany alone. The Italian liner “Ancona” was destroyed by an Austrian submarine in the Mediterranean Sea, Nov. 7, 1915. Of 507 persons on board, 308 were lost, of whom 9 were Americans. The submarine shelled the helpless passengers, as they were trying to get away in the lifeboats. Correspondence ensued with the Austrian Government, which finally, on Dec. 29, announced that the commander of the submarine had been punished, and promised, with some reservations, to indemnify the families of the victims.
Another item in the account with Austria was an attack by an Austrian submarine, Dec. 5, 1915, on the American oil steamer “Petrolite,” off the coast of Tripoli. A sailor was wounded, and the submarine still kept on firing, even after the “Petrolite” had swung broadside to, so that the submarine commander could see her name printed on her side and the American flag flying at her mast. Stores were also taken from the vessel before she was allowed to proceed. Representations made by this Government were met by a flat denial of the facts. An attack was made on the British passenger liner “Persia” by a submarine in the Mediterranean southeast of Crete, Dec. 30, 1915. 335 lives were lost, including two Americans, of whom one was an American consul on his way to his post at Aden. The wake of the torpedo that destroyed the ship was clearly seen, but as the submarine itself was not visible, Germany, Austria, and Turkey denied responsibility.
The winter of 1915-1916 was comparatively quiet, but with the coming of spring there was a revival of submarine outrages. March 1, 1916, the French liner “Patria” with Americans on board was attacked without warning, but escaped. On March 9, a Norwegian ship, the “Silius” was sunk in Havre Roads, and one American in the crew was injured. The Dutch steamer “Tubantia” was torpedoed on the night of March 15, 1916, in the North Sea. Americans were on board but were saved. On March 18, the “Berwindvale” with four Americans on board was torpedoed off Bantry, Ireland, but no lives were lost.
A wanton attack, and one that provoked a new crisis, was that on the French Channel steamer “Sussex” on its way from Folkestone to Dieppe, March 24, 1916. Eighty passengers, including some Americans were killed or wounded. This flagrant case brought this country to the very edge of hostilities. The German authorities declared that the “Sussex” must have struck a British mine. It was admitted that a long, black steamer was torpedoed in the Channel by one of their submarines, but it was declared that it was a British warship or mine layer. Irrefutable proofs were furnished by this Government of the falsity of these statements. On April 18, Secretary Lansing despatched a note to the German Government, which expressed regret that that Government did not understand the gravity of the situation resulting not only from the “Sussex” attack, but from the whole German method of submarine warfare. The note recalled Germany's promise to respect passenger ships, and asserted that the commanders of her submarines had violated that promise, with the result that the list of Americans who had thus lost their lives had been steadily lengthening until it had now reached 100. The patience of the United States Government was adverted to, and the note went on to say that it had now “become painfully evident that the position that the American Government took at the very outset had been justified, namely, that the use of submarines for the destruction of an enemy's commerce was, of necessity, because of the very character of the vessels employed and the very methods of attack which their employment of course involved, utterly incompatible with the principles of humanity, the long-established and incontrovertible rights of neutrals and the sacred immunities of non-combatants.” At the end of the note, Germany is warned that if it was still her purpose to persist in prosecuting relentless and indiscriminate warfare, the American Government would have no choice but to sever diplomatic relations.
The German reply, though delayed until May 4, showed that the Imperial Government was beginning to recognize that American patience had nearly reached the breaking point. It still protested that many of the offenses charged against her commanders were due to mistakes, such as occurred in all wars, and it was also contended that the German submarine warfare was only a response to British violations of international law that virtually condemned millions of women and children to starvation. But a pregnant concession was made in the following announcement: “German naval forces have received