“Ship Commanders Will Fire at U-Boats on Sight,” from the Hickory Daily Record, March 10, 1917. Americans had voted to give Pres. Woodrow Wilson a second term, and Wilson had promised to keep the U.S. out of the European war, but public opinion changed as German submarines sank U.S. ships. President Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany on April 2, 1917, and Congress did so on April 6.
State Department Issues Instructions to Commanders That They Can Protect Ships Regardless---No White Book to be Issued by United States
Washington, March 10, Associated Press—The mere appearance of a German submarine or its periscope in the presence of an American merchant vessel would entitle that ship, in the opinion of the state department today, to take all measures under the presumption that the ship was about to be attacked.
Under this ruling an American merchant ship could fire on a German submarine without waiting to be attacked.
This view is based on Germany’s declared intention to sink on sight within certain zones all vessels, neutral as well as belligerent, and whether passenger vessels, freighters or contraband carriers.
The United States was said to stand flatly no its armed merchantmen warning in which it recognized the right to prevent capture. The immediate presence of a German submarine is declared grounds of hostile intent, because of the statement by Germany that all vessels are to be sunk on sight.
Denial by Germany of the old rule of visit and search makes all its submarines actually hostile.
Whether the government will issue and general rules of the guidance of American armed chip commanders is not decided. Opposition to this is based on the ground that the commander must depend on his judgment and that the government does not wish to take any steps that might be construed as deliberately hostile act.
Reports that the state department was preparing a white book on Germany’s plots and intrigues in this country either for the press or the senate was denied by Secretary Lansing. He said the government had no intention of issuing such a book.
Guns, gun crews and ammunition will be placed aboard American merchant ships immediately and they will be sent to sea under orders to fire on German submarines which attack them illegally.
Navy yards were ordered today to equip the vessels as fast as possible and this will put the United States into armed neutrality, the next step following the severing of relations and nearer, it is believed in some quarters, actual hostilities.
What ships are to be armed and when they sail will be kept secret in order to prevent any information from reaching the Germans and to protect so far as possible American lives.
In official circles today confidence was expressed that Secretary Daniels’ appeal to newspapers not to seek or publish specific news of the arming and sailing of American merchantmen would be observed. A similar appeal was made to the cable companies.