Wilson Arms Merchant Vessels and Authorizes Them to Fire on U-Boats
An American passenger vessel with dazzle paint and a deck gun, pictured in November 1917.
March 13 1917, Washington–Wilson was very disappointed by the failure of the Armed Ships Bill in the Senate to a last-minute filibuster. He was determined to go forward with the policy of armed neutrality regardless, as the best course to maintain peace with Germany. Having decided that Congressional approval was not strictly necessary, he implemented most of the provisions of the Armed Ships Bill by executive order.
Any American-flagged vessel which desired them could request a naval gun, which would be manned by trained officers and sailors of the US Navy. On March 13, these crews were authorized to fire upon any U-boats in range if deemed necessary. Given the German government’s announcement that U-boats would be attacking neutral shipping without warning, any U-boat in torpedo range could be deemed an immediate threat; the Americans would not have to wait for the Germans to fire first. The decision to fire would rest entirely upon the gun crews, absolving the civilian captains of any responsibility.
Wilson hoped that this measure would deter attacks on American ships and prevent loss of American life. This was becoming increasingly important; the cargo ship Algonquin had been torpedoed without warning in the approaches to the English Channel just the day before, although without loss of life. How effective this measure would be was unclear; it seems unlikely that it would do anything to prevent the sorts of attacks that sank the Algonquin. If there were an engagement on the surface between a German U-boat and a US Navy crew, would that be tantamount to war? What if the American crew were captured after such an engagement; many worried that they would be considered illegal combatants and would be executed like Captain Fryatt.
The steamer Christopher Columbus, the only whaleback passenger vessel, after colliding with the Yahr-Lang Drug Company water tower in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Maneuvering away from her dock in the Milwaukee River, the current caused her bow to swing around and hit the tower, which flooded the ship with 25,000 gallons of water, killing 16 passengers.
DID YOU KNOW: the last survivor of the Titanic died on the 97th anniversary of the ship’s launch? Millvina Dean, who was just barely two months old when her family boarded the Titanic in Southampton as Third Class Passengers, died on May 31, 2009 - the 97th anniversary of the launch of the Titanic. Dean also had the distinction of being the youngest passenger aboard the vessel. Prior to her death, Millvina Dean had long been one of the most public Titanic survivors - willingly telling the stories her mother had told her of the doomed vessel to anyone who asked her, appearing in documentaries about the ship, and frequently attending gatherings of enthusiasts of the ship called “Titanic Conventions.” As she grew older, her health deteriorated, and she was forced to sell off her possessions relating to Titanic to afford to stay in an assisted living home. The Millvina Fund was established to help pay her healthcare costs, with $20,000 being donated jointly by Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio; and $10,000 each donated by director James Cameron and singer Celine Dion.
INDONESIA, KUALA LANGSA : A Rohingya child from Myanmar walks near a
pile of donated clothes in the new confinement area in the fishing town
of Kuala Langsa in Aceh province on May 16, 2015 where hundreds of
migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh mostly Rohingyas are taking shelter
after they were rescued by Indonesian fishermen. Washington raised the
pressure on Southeast Asia to open its ports to boatpeople May 16 after
migrants described a terrifying battle for survival between Rohingya and
Bangladeshi passengers as their shunned vessel sank off Indonesia.
AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD