The Ambassador in Japan (Grew) to the Secretary of State, [Telegram], TOKYO, December 14, 1937-6 p. m., [Received December 14-10 a. m.]

630. 1. At 5 o'clock this afternoon Yoshizawa [37] called on me upon instructions from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and handed me a note of which the following is an informal translation made by the Foreign Office. The translation is accurate in point of substance and corresponds closely to the original Japanese text.

"December 14, 1937.

Monsieur l'Ambassadeur: Regarding the incident of the 12th December in which the United States gunboat Panay and three steamers belonging to the Standard Oil Company were sunk by the bombing of the Japanese naval aircraft on the Yangtze River at a point about twenty-six miles above Nanking, I had the honor, as soon as unofficial information of the incident was brought to my knowledge, to request Your Excellency to transmit to the Government of the United States the apologies of the Japanese Government. From the reports subseuently received from our representatives in China, it has been established that the Japanese naval air force, acting upon information that the Chinese troops fleeing from Nanking were going up the river in steamers, took off to pursue them, and discovered such vessels at the above-mentioned point. Owing to poor visibility, however, the aircraft, although they descended to fairly low altitudes, were unable to discern any mark to show that any one of them was an American ship or man-of-war. Consequently, the United States gunboat Panay and the vessels of the Standard Oil Company, being taken for Chinese vessels carrying the fleeing Chinese troops, were bombed and sunk.
While it is clear, in the light of the above circumstances, that the present incident was entirely due to a mistake, the Japanese Government regret most profoundly that it has caused damages to the United States man-of-war and ships and casualties among those on board, and desire to present hereby sincere apologies. The Japanese Government will make indemnifications for all the losses and will deal appropriately with those responsible for the incident. Furthermore, they have already issued strict orders to the authorities on the spot with a view to preventing the recurrence of a similar incident.

The Japanese Government, in the fervent hope that the friendly relations between Japan and the United States will not be affected by this unfortunate affair, have frankly stated as above their sincere attitude which I beg Your Excellency to make known to your Government.

I avail myself, etc., signed Koki Hirota."

2. Yoshizawa then read to me portions of the official Japanese naval report on the disaster the purport of which is that the disaster was not caused by deliberate intention to bomb American vessels but was due to the inability of the aviators to distinguish the nationality of the vessels bombed. I informed Yoshizawa that his explanation does not cover the fact that, notwithstanding information in Japanese hands that foreign vessels were in the neighborhood of Nanking, bombarding and shelling operations by both naval and military forces were carried out without any precautions taken against attack upon foreign vessels. I also pointed out that the bombing and shelling was carried out in the face of repeated assurances that measures had been taken to safeguard against attacks upon American nationals and property.

3. I also stated to Yoshizawa that I had just received instructions to present to the Minister for Foreign Affairs a note from the American Government. I added that, although I appreciated the action of the Japanese Government in delivering to me its note, I would proceed with the instructions which had been given to me.

4. I am still waiting for an appointment to call on Hirota which I asked for at 4 o'clock.

Repeated to Peiping for Hankow.


[37] Director of the American Bureau of the Japanese Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Source: U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943, pp. 396-397.

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