On January 6, 1915 the Imperial German Admiralty requested that the military and naval attachés in Washington, Franz von Papen and Karl Boy-Ed respectively, initiate sabotage in the United States and Canada. This request only surfaced as a memorandum in the Imperial Foreign Office. Initially, the Admiralty envisioned the Irish nationalists to conduct sabotage operations in the U.S. This understanding resulted from an agreement between Sir Roger Casement and the German government. Berlin had agreed to support an Irish uprising against England with funding, arms, and ammunition. In addition, Germany had agreed to recognize an Irish state after the war. Casement in return committed to support German efforts of stopping munitions production and shipments in the United States. The Foreign Office subsequently sent a formal sabotage order to the Chief of the Political Section of the Imperial General Staff, Section IIIB, Rudolf Nadolny, for transmission to the United States on January 23.
This order specified three members of the Irish resistance movement in the United States as resources for contracting sabotage agents. The order reached Franz von Papen, the German military attaché in the United States, on January 24. This document, which surfaced after the war, would have grave consequences for Germany. In a mixed claims commission, that Germany and the United States set up after the war to settle claims resulting from Germany’s actions between 1914 and 1919, German lawyers desperately tried to deny the existence of a clandestine war before the American entry into the conflict. Nadolny, himself a lawyer and reserve officer who became German ambassador to Persia later in the war, would join his superiors as well as Franz von Papen for decades in the categorical denial that this directive dated January 24, 1915 was binding or had had any impact.
From the Acting General Staff of the Army, Section IIIB Berlin, January 24, 1915
To the Foreign Office, Berlin.
It is humbly requested that the following telegram is transmitted in code to the Imperial Embassy in Washington:
‘For military attaché. To find suitable personnel for sabotage in the United States and Canada inquire with the following persons:
1) Joseph Mac Garrity [sic], 5412 Springfield Philadelphia, Pa.,
2) John P. Keating, Maryland Avenue Chicago,
3) Jeremia [sic] O’Leary, Park row [sic], New York. No. 1 and 2 completely reliable and discreet, No. 3 reliable, not always discreet. Persons have been named by Sir Roger Casement.
In the United States sabotage can cover all kinds of factories for military supplies; railroads, dams, bridges there cannot be touched. Embassy can under no circumstances be compromised, neither can Irish-German propaganda.
Assistant chief of the General Staff
If there were any doubts as to the authenticity and meaning of the directive, these can quickly be dispelled with periodic reports from von Papen back to Nadolny. Bearing Nadolny’s signature as the recipient the military attaché provided updates to his efforts. Von Papen wrote in a secret telegram on March 17, 1915, “Sabotage against factories over here is making little progress, since all factories are guarded by hundreds of secret agents and all German-American and Irish workers have been fired… Steamer Touraine has regrettably arrived with munitions and 335 machine guns. Signed Papen” The head of the American section of the Imperial Foreign Office, Adolf Count Montgelas, scribbled on the telegram document numbers of three other related reports. Heinrich Albert, the chief of the Secret War Council in New York, transmitted a cable to Secretary of the Interior Clemens von Delbrück on April 20 1915, in which he clearly referred to the implementation of the sabotage order:
As your Excellency knows, I have supported the military attaché, Mr. von Papen, in the handling of munitions questions. Upon submitting our last proposal via telegraph (cable No. 479) we received the order to proceed with respect to preventing or restricting of the exportation of munitions from the United States. The order said: ‘Fully agree with your proposal’ and has been interpreted by us [the Secret War Council], that we are not only to tie up production through contracts in a specific sense, but also take all other [emphasis by author] necessary measures to reach the envisioned goal. With respect to the latter I have undertaken a series of steps under the guidance of Exzellenz [Excellency] Dernburg, which for understandable reasons I cannot put into writing.
Thus the sabotage order was neither a loose directive nor anything that the officials in New York simply ignored, as Nadolny and von Papen’s testimony before the Mixed Claims Commission wanted to spin it in later years. At least three departments, War (where the order originated), Interior (where it was funded in the United States), and the Foreign Office (as Count Montgelas’ signature documents) had knowledge of the order. In extension, Chancellor von Bethmann Hollweg and the Kaiser must have known about it, even if they did not specifically approve it. Ringing the bell for a new round of relations between the United States and Germany, the order was immediately implemented, funded, and acted upon. Different from orders to injure Canada from U.S. soil or to supply the German fleet from U.S. harbors under false manifests, by all international standards, the sabotage order of January 24 constituted the authorization of deliberate acts of war against the United States.