The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1978, Volume 24, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor

By Donald H. Estes
Instructor of History and Political Science
at San Diego City College

Images from the article

IT HAD been raining steadily in San Diego for more than a week. The San Diego Union reported that the area’s rainfall was already eight-tenths of an inch greater than the previous year’s entire total, and it was now only February 3rd. City officials were estimating that the community’s water system had impounded over 131 million gallons of water, and that the Dulzura Conduit would continue to pour over forty million gallons of water into Lower Otay Reservoir every day the storm continued.

San Diego readers were also told that this same storm had ripped the roofs off houses in Los Angeles, and caused dangerous flooding on the Sacramento and Feather rivers. The steamer Harvard was reported overdue in San Pedro from San Francisco, and a number of other ships were reported to be in distress in an area ranging from the Oregon border to Cape San Lucas in Baja California.1

The storm was still blowing on the morning of February 5, 1915 when the San Diego Union headlined a page one report of the grounding six days earlier of the 9000 ton Japanese armored cruiser Asama at Puerto San Bartolome, Baja California.2 Puerto San Bartolome, situated some three hundred miles south of San Diego in one of the most desolate and isolated parts of the peninsula, is generally conceded to be one of the best natural harbors on the West Coast. Only the bay’s remote location and almost total lack of fresh water has kept it from becoming a major Mexican port.3

The grounding of a foreign man-of-war in another country normally generates little, if any, interest in the American press. 1915, however, was not a normal year for either the United States or for California, and the Asama was not an ordinary warship—it was a Japanese warship. So it was that the time, the place, and events all coalesced to keep the Asama’s story not only current in the American press for over seven months, but under the closest scrutiny by high officials of the United States government.

Why should the grounding of a Japanese cruiser cause such a stir? What circumstances had placed a vessel of the Imperial Navy in these isolated Mexican coastal waters? What was it about the ship’s activities that has caused Barbara Tuchman, a major American historian to remark:

Just at this moment in April 1915, Americans were swept up in a first class genuine war scare by the news that a Japanese battle cruiser the Asama was mysteriously maneuvering in Turtle Bay [Puerto San Bartolome] on the coast of Mexican Lower California.4

Subsequently, Tuchman presents a view both she and other American historians seem to adhere to which is represented by her observation that:

Japan’s real intentions in Mexico at this time were probably opportunistic; she was ready to take advantage of favorable circumstances but not ready for open aggression. Whatever the purpose of the Asama’s mission to Mexico, it is unlikely that she ran aground in Turtle Bay by accident or through careless seamanship, and the possibility of a Japanese reappearance in Mexico remained wide open. In the same month—April 1915—that the Asama lay stuck in the mud, surrounded by Japanese fleet units so unaccountably awkward in their attempts to pull her off, two other visitors arrived on the opposite coast of the American Continent. They too had a secret mission in Mexico.5

For Tuchman then, the Asama represents prima facie evidence of Japanese military adventurism in Mexico. It’s not a new view, but one which has grown and achieved additional credence by appearing in her celebrated book, The Zimmerman Telegram.

To understand the basis for these interpretations of Japanese activities in Mexico, and the actual role played by the Asama, it is first necessary to take several factors into consideration. Perhaps the most immediate of these is the nature of American-Japanese relations as they existed in 1915.

Relations between the two nations had initially been both friendly and mutually beneficial. The posture of the United States vis-a-vis Japan was unquestionably sympathetic until Japan’s victory over Russia in 1905. From that period onward the growing international stature of the Japanese caused the benign attitude of the United States to shift gradually to a position marked by both fear and anxiety, which developed along two separate, but mutually supportive planes.6

The first of these planes evolved on a national level. The United States had annexed Hawaii outright in July 1898, and later emerged from the Spanish-American War in possession of the Philippine Islands. Almost at once the United States began to demonstrate that it was a Pacific power with every intention of playing a dominant role in the economics and politics of the Western Pacific. These openly stated and more than amply demonstrated intentions quickly brought the United States into direct competition for markets and influence with a likewise rapidly developing Japan.

The second plane was of a domestic nature, and was a continuing irritant between the two nations. Here problems emanated almost exclusively from the western United States, and while these disputes tended to be localized, with increasing frequency they began to result in actions which had international ramifications. At the heart of these domestic troubles lay the dual questions of Japanese immigration and the racial attitudes of white westerners. By 1907 over 30,000 Japanese had settled in the western United States.7 To stem this rising tide of Japanese immigrants, and to calm growing fears of a Japanese takeover by virtue of their very numbers, the two governments signed a so-called “Gentlemen’s Agreement” in December 1907 designed to severely restrict Japanese immigration. In spite of the agreement, substantial numbers of Japanese immigrants continued to arrive, and discrimination against them, especially in California, continued to grow unabated.

Perhaps the American diplomatic historian Thomas A. Bailey best capsulized the meaning of this period when he wrote:

In retrospect it also becomes clear that the [Theodore] Roosevelt era marked a transition in the relations between the United States and Japan. The interests of both nations came increasingly into conflict; suspicion and jealousy, not un-mingled with fear were bound to be the unhappy result of changed status. It was the price both Japan and America had to pay for becoming world powers. 8

These two planes were by no means the only elements shaping America’s view of Japan. Shortly before the Russo-Japanese War a number of books concentrating on the general theme of an armed conflict to be fought at some future date between the United States and Japan began to appear in American bookstores.9 Inevitably, these accounts involved either Japanese or a combination of Sino-Japanese military forces which were pictured as blood-thirsty militarists whose sole mission in life was the total subjugation of the United States. The yellow hordes described by these authors were the very personification of the anti-Christ.

At the same time the American public was also exposed to an almost daily barrage of anti-Japanese agitation provided by our own unique brand of “Yellow Journalism”, perhaps best exemplified by the”. . . vociferously anti-Japanese…” Hearst press.10 Beginning in 1907 publisher William Randolph Hearst, speaking through his San Francisco Examiner, taking unto himself the mantle of a clarion, warned the American people of the grave danger facing them in the person of the Japanese—the Yellow Peril.11 One possible reason for his concern may have been that Hearst publications had long been advocating the acquisition of Magdalena Bay in Baja California as a United States naval base. Hearst argued editorially that the bay was absolutely vital for the defense of both the West Coast and the newly acquired Panama Canal, then under construction.

In 1911 the Hearst papers broke a story indicating that Japanese interests were at that moment negotiating with Mexico for the outright purchase of Magdalena Bay.12 Here, then, was apparent vindication for all the charges that the Hearst press had been making since 1907. The “Yellow Peril” was not only exposed, it was ready to strike right on the very doorstep of America. After an initial flurry in the press the Magdalena Bay story passed from public interest only to be revived by an article appearing in the April 3, 1912 issue of the San Francisco Examiner which headlined the presence of seventy-five thousand Japanese, most of whom were reportedly soldiers, garrisoned at the bay.13

The Hearst-inspired story of the Japanese negotiations and occupation was immediately denied by Japan’s premier, Saionji Kimmochi; Mexico’s president, Francisco Madero; and his foreign minister, Manuel Calero. The difference between this report of Japanese subterfuge and the previous scare stories appearing in the Hearst papers was that the Magdalena Bay story was not allowed to wither and die. In fact, the story achieved such a degree of credibility that it finally resulted in a modification of the Monroe Doctrine when Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts introduced a resolution into the United States Senate stating:

Resolved: That when any harbor or other place on the American continents is so situated that occupation thereof for naval or military purposes might threaten the communication or safety of the United States, the Government of the United States could not see without grave concern the possession of such harbor, or other place by any corporation or association which has a relation to another government, not American, as to give that government practical control for naval or military purposes.14

Thus, through the courtesy of the Hearst press, a growing fear of Japan, and a fifty-one to four vote in the United States Senate, the Lodge Corollary became an integral part of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. As a result the corollary extended the existing provisions of the doctrine to Asiatic powers and foreign (non-American) companies, as distinguished from foreign governments. Japan, of course, was not mentioned by name, but the intent of the Senate’s action was perfectly clear. In retrospect it has been noted that the Lodge Corollary has been applied at least four times since 1912, and in each case the United States Department of State was attempting to discourage Americans from selling property in Mexico to Japanese.15

The reaction of the Japanese government to the passage of the Lodge resolution was somewhat mollified by the death of the Emperor Meiji on July 30, 1912. The period of national mourning declared by Japan allowed President William Howard Taft and Secretary of State Philander Knox time to assure the Japanese that the President did not share the views of the Senate. President Taft’s assurances notwithstanding, a considerable residue of Japanese bitterness remained.16

To exacerbate the already deteriorating American-Japanese relations further, the California Legislature passed an Alien Land Law in March 1913. Known as the Webb Act (for California’s Attorney General, Ulysses S. Webb), the legislation denied the right to purchase or own agricultural property to “Aliens Ineligible for Citizenship,” a legal euphemism for the Japanese.17 As soon as the act was passed there were sharp cries from the Japanese public and press, including calls for war with the United States over this racist insult to Japan’s national honor.18 The Japanese government lodged a formal protest with the State Department as the outcry in Japan assumed major proportions, but all these actions had little effect on the position of the California Legislature.

The precipitous action of the California Legislature did, however, have a very real impact on the national government in Washington, D. C., and may be illustrated by the fact that the Alien Land Law and the Japanese reaction were the major topics of discussion at President Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet meetings for more than a month.19 In fact, the Japanese response was considered so serious that Rear Admiral Bradley A. Fiske, the United States Navy’s Aide for Operations, forwarded two long memorandums to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels warning of the distinct possibility of war with Japan.20 At least one restraining factor during this crisis was represented by the editorial policies of the major Eastern newspapers which were almost all uniformly unsympathetic towards the position of the California Legislature. A representative comment of the time was that made by the Hartford, Connecticut, Times which observed that: “.. .of the two it might be cheaper to go to war with California than with Japan.”21 The matter was finally put into perspective by the energetic actions of men like Secretary Daniels who counseled a policy of moderation. Daniels’ restraining role in this crisis was later recognized by President Wilson, who personally thanked the Navy Secretary for his help.22

So it was that on the eve of World War I, American-Japanese relations, aggravated by international political and commercial competition, immigration problems, state-sponsored anti-Japanese legislation, all compounded by a growing hostility towards Japan in the press, began slowly down the path that would finally end on a Sunday morning in December 1941 at Pearl Harbor.

Considering the nature of American-Japanese relations, and their eventual outcome, it is not surprising that historian Tuchman arrived at her conclusion that the Asama was participating in a covert mission, and was deliberately grounded at Puerto San Bartolome by the Japanese. Nevertheless, the evidence does not support her suppositions and conclusions.

To challenge the assumptions presented in The Zimmermann Telegram it is necessary to review the circumstances and events which surrounded the Asama’s activities from the time Japan entered World War I to December 18, 1915 when the cruiser returned to the Yokosuka Naval Station in Japan.

The conflict that broke out in the summer of 1914 was not between Japan and the United States, but was initially between the great European powers. Japan, however, was committed by treaty to support Great Britain; so shortly after the outbreak of hostilities the British Admiralty formally requested that the Japanese Government provide naval assistance “. . . to hunt down and, if possible, destroy the armed German merchant cruisers which were in the Far East attacking British commerce.”23 Honoring her obligations, Japan formally declared war on Germany at noon on Sunday, August 23, 1914.24 The Japanese Navy immediately put to sea in an attempt to trap the Imperial German East Asian Squadron in its base at Tsingtao on China’s Shantung Peninsula.25 The German squadron however, had already sailed for the southwest Pacific.

In the summer of 1914 German naval strength in the Pacific was not inconsequential, and has been described by the British naval historian Barrie Pitt as “. . .a naval unit of compact strength, excellent morale and high efficiency, officered and led by sailors of character and experience.” 26 The ships and men of the Imperial German East Asian Squadron were under the command of a competent, vigorous, and able leader Vice Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee. The high quality of the German ships and the excellence of their crews is not surprising when one considers that Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Pacific possessions were many and far flung. 27

At the heart of Admiral von Spee’s force were five new, fast cruisers with which the German commander expected to implement his navy’s policy of Kreuzerkrieg (Cruiser War) if hostilities broke out. In addition the admiral had available to his force the converted 9000 ton Auxiliary Merchant Cruiser SMS Prinz Eitel Friedrich,28 and three gunboats then assigned to the German-held islands in the southwest Pacific. On the eve of war Admiral von Spee had detached the cruiser Emden and ordered its captain to operate as an independent merchant raider in the Indian Ocean. The Emden immediately proceeded to carry out its mission by sinking over twenty Allied merchant ships in three months, paralyzing enemy commerce in the area, and “… thoroughly frightening business interests from Singapore to Ceylon.”29 A strategic measure of the Emden’s successful implementation of Germany’s policy of Kreuzerkrieg can be demonstrated by the fact that over forty-eight Allied warships were either tied up by the search for the raider, or forced to alter their assignments because of the cruiser’s activities.30 Another concern for the Royal Navy and British maritime circles in 1914 was the exact locations and missions of the German cruisers Dresden and Leipzig, and the Auxiliary Merchant Cruiser Kronprinz Wilhelm, and the distinct possibility that they, too, would be operating in the Pacific as raiders.

With the coming of war the first problem facing both the British and Japanese navies was their total lack of military intelligence relative to the exact mission, location, and strength of Admiral von Spee’s forces operating in the Pacific. Compounding this question was the fact that the British were urgently and insistently requesting that Japan provide convoy protection for the men and supplies scheduled to be shipped to Europe from ports in Australia and New Zealand.31 As a result of these solicitations the Japanese navy quickly found itself divided into a number of small units performing a variety of missions ranging from convoy protection, to searching for Admiral von Spee’s forces, to the military reduction of the German islands in the southwest Pacific.32

It was under these conditions that the Asama, commanded by Captain Yoshioka Hansaku, received orders to sail from the Yokosuka Naval Station on September 14, 1914 for the southwest Pacific as part of the First Southern Detached Squadron consisting of three first-class battle cruisers and two destroyers.33 From mid-September to early October the Asama supported the occupation of the German-held Marshall and Caroline Islands, and then on October 25, 1914 the cruiser was detached from the Squadron and ordered to Hawaii where the German gunboat Grier had put into Honolulu. Captain Yoshioka’s orders were to remain outside American territorial waters and to destroy or capture the German warship should it attempt to put to sea. The Asama remained on station off Honolulu and was later joined by the Japanese cruiser Hizen. Both warships were in Hawaiian waters until November 8th when the United States interned the Grier.

In the interim Admiral von Spee had moved his ships from the southwest Pacific to the coast of South America. The German admiral and his officers believed they could interdict the vital British, French, and Japanese trade with neutral countries ranging from Panama to Argentina.34 South America was also an appealing choice because of the large German communities found there, particularly in Chile. The influence and help of these extensive German settlements were vital if the Squadron was to be re-coaled and re-supplied. As the British Admiralty attempted to assess Admiral von Spee’s intentions they were plagued by the fear that the German men-of-war might at any moment sail around Cape Horn, and disrupt the essential flow of war materials and foodstuffs coming from the Rio de la Plata region. At this point in the war British planners were working on the assumption that England could be brought to the point of starvation and collapse in six weeks if their overseas trade was brought to a standstill.35 This meant that the German squadron had to be found and destroyed or neutralized before it could bring on such a perilous situation. The problem for the Royal Navy as Barrie Pitt sees it was “… how—and by whom? For Britain’s forces in the area were very inadequate.” 36

Under these conditions the British once again called upon their Japanese ally for assistance. This time the request was for additional naval support to bolster the virtually non-existent Allied forces deployed along the west coast of the Americas. Japan already had one first-class battle cruiser in the area—the Idzumo.37 This warship had been ordered to Mexico early in 1914, well before the outbreak of the war, to protect the lives and property of Japanese nationals jeopardized by the revolutionary activity then sweeping the country.38

In 1914 the Japanese were not the only nation with warships off the Mexican coast looking out for national interests. Both the British and French had cruisers in the area, not to mention a large naval contingent representing the United States. The Germans were likewise amply represented by two new cruisers, the Leipzig and its sister ship the Nurenburg. Just before the outbreak of the war the Nurenburg had sailed from San Francisco to Honolulu, and on July 27th had slipped out of the Hawaiian port for an unannounced destination. The Leipzig was still in Mexican waters when war was declared, and the prevailing opinion at the British Admiralty was that both German cruisers would operate off the coast of North America, and attempt to disrupt the northern trade routes, “. . .a situation causing no little anxiety.” 39

In reality, the Nurenburg had rendezvoused with Admiral von Spee’s force off the west coast of South America, while the Leipzig had been ordered by the admiral to “… capture and sink enemy ships along the North American coast—with particular attention to the big ships of the Canadian Pacific Line, which sailed up and down the coast, and to the Far East.” 40 On November 1, 1914, the Royal Navy found the East Asian Squadron sixty miles off the coast of Chile. In a stunning German victory, the British lost two cruisers, and their commander, Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock.

The threat now facing London was Admiral von Spee’s next move. The German force was ideally situated either to round Cape Horn and break into the Atlantic shipping lanes, or to steam north and attack Canadian territory or the Japanese trade routes with North America. In an attempt to counter any northward move by the Germans, the British Admiralty, which exercised tactical control over all Allied ships in the area, ordered the Idzumo, then off San Francisco, and the British cruiser Newcastle to sail as far south as San Clemente Island, off the coast of Southern California, where they were to join the battle cruiser Australia, flying the flag of their new commander, Admiral Sir George Patey. Also ordered to join Admiral Patey’s force were the Japanese cruisers Asama and Hizen which were—still on station off Honolulu. When the Grier was interned by the United States both Japanese vessels sailed for San Clemente Island, only to find that Admiral Patey had already moved his ships south. The two Japanese cruisers finally caught up with their squadron on November 22nd at Magdalena Bay, Baja California.41 The three Japanese cruisers then formed the American Detachment under the command of Rear Admiral Moriyama Keizaburo, whose flag flew in Idzutno. Admiral Patey, however, remained in overall command of the force.

The five Allied cruisers then moved south searching the Galapagos Islands and the Gulf of Panama for any sign of German naval activity. On December 11th while the cruisers were off the coast of Ecuador, they received news of a British victory at the Falkland Islands, and the death of Admiral von Spee. While the East Asia Squadron had been badly damaged in the fight, it had by no means been totally destroyed, and still represented a threat to Allied commerce. The most immediate concern for Admiral Patey’s force was the location of the German cruiser Dresden which had escaped the disaster, and the auxiliary cruiser Prinz Eitel Friedrich, which had been reported most recently raiding off Valparaiso, Chile.

The day after receiving word of the British victory, Admiral Patey was ordered to proceed with the Australia to take up a new station off Jamaica, and to turn command of the remainder of his force over to Admiral Moriyama. However, Patey was to retain tactical authority over the Pacific Squadron. Admiral Moriyama’s orders were to remain in radio contact with Admiral Patey at Jamaica and to continue the search for the Dresden, Prinz Eitel Friedrich, and the German supply ships upon which the raiders were dependent for survival. After seven days of fruitless search in Central American waters, Admiral Moriyama signaled Admiral Patey:

I cannot agree that the Dresden and the auxiliary cruiser [Prinz Eitel Friedrích] which separated from the main force [von Spee’s Squadron] are still operating off the coast of Chili [sic]. It will be necessary to send my ships North to important points to search for the enemy as well as protect the commercial routes.42

On January 9, 1915 Admiral Moriyama again signaled Jamaica his belief that “… the enemy must have enfered the Atlantic Ocean, or else gone to the Northern Pacific. The Detachment will leave in a few days to reconnoiter the vicinity of San Diego.”43 Accordingly, the Idzumo, Hizen, Asama and their accompanying British colliers began an independent northward search for the missing German warships, arriving at Magdalena Bay on January 23, 1915.

Over a month had now passed since the Dresden had escaped the disaster at the Falklands, and the Prinz Eitel Friedrich had sailed from Valparaiso. Up and down the Pacific coast British and Japanese consular officers scoured the waterfronts for any information on the German ships, passing whatever had been gleaned on to Allied naval authorities. On January 14th Admiral Moriyama received a radio message stating:

. . .rumors run that the Dresden should shortly arrive in San Francisco. The following facts show that the rumor is not without foundation:

1. The von Korr [a German merchant vessel] has arrived in San Francisco.

2. It is known that the German Consul was at San Diego, and that that person is interested in making connections with the steamer [San] Sacramento and has made arrangements for material to be taken aboard.

Five days later, on January 19th, the Japanese admiral was apprised:

It is rumored that the Germans are contemplating purchasing american [sic] steamers for the purpose of supplying the Dresden, and to send them to [The port of] Mazatlan. It is rumored that the Germans intend loading [The steamship] Mazatlan, which is at present at Ensenada, with coal for the purpose of coaling the Dresden. 45

Because of this new intelligence Admiral Moriyama decided to move his ships closer to the United States to facilitate the surveillance of the neutral American ports. His new base of operations was to be an isolated bay, half way up the Baja California peninsula, known as Puerto San Bartolome. Consequently, the British colliers were ordered to proceed immediately to the new station, and Captain Yoshioka was ordered to take the Asama and

. . . patrol the West Coast of North America making the vicinity of San Bartolome Bay as the base of operations.. . . to protect the routes of Japanese merchant ships, and to destroy the remainder of the enemy by joint effort with the British ships in the South.46

As the Idzumo sailed northward it stopped at the port of Ensenada where the Japanese found the merchant steamer Mazatlan, which was indeed loaded with military supplies. After a search by Japanese sailors it was determined that the steamer was under charter to the revolutionary forces of Venustiano Carranza who were then fighting in Mexico, and was not serving as a re-supply vessel for the Dresden.47 The Idziimo departed at eleven in the morning and proceeded on its mission to protect commerce between San Francisco and Hawaii.48 Another reason for the Idzumo’s shift north was apparently Admiral Moriyama’s concern for the safety of Admiral Baron Dewa Shigoto, scheduled to arrive in San Francisco in early March, to represent the Emperor at the ceremonies opening the Panama Canal.49

The Asama had likewise set a northward course for Magdalena Bay, conducting an extensive search for German ships along the way. On January 28th, Captain Yoshioka searched the port of Mazatlan without tangible results, and then sailed for Puerto San Bartolome. It was the Japanese captain’s intention to make for the bay and re-coal from the British collier Lena which had accompanied the cruiser from Mazatlan, after which the two ships would continue the northward search for the Dresden and the Prinz Eitel Friedrich.

At 1:52 p.m. on January 31, 1915 while making a straight run into the harbor of Puerto San Bartolome in moderately heavy seas, the Asamastruck a submerged rock. According to Captain Yoshioka:

It was one-half mile from the shore, at the mouth of San Bartolome Bay where we struck the sunken rock. [At that time] We were directly on the course indicated on the British-American Waterway Directory. The rock we hit was not indicated on the charts and was at the very mouth of the bay. Our ship was preparing to enter at low tide. We were proceeding at half speed [Six knots] on a course of twenty degrees North by East. We ran aground on the center bottom of the ship—from the boiler room to the engine room. The rock [We hit] was brittle and of an uneven surface. 50

The cruiser’s Vice Commander (Executive Officer), Commander Nengo Jiro reported that: “We felt three distinct shocks, and after the third shock we were completely aground. The ship sat as if in a drydock, with the bow thrust seven or eight feet into the rock.” 51

All the captain’s attempts to extricate the warship were unsuccessful, and by 4:00 p.m. the ship’s boiler room was completely flooded, with an additional four feet of water standing in the engine room. With his boilders flooded and the corresponding loss of power, it had been impossible to stem the flooding. After a quick personal inspection, the captain noted that the major damage was a hole in the bottom of the hull fifteen meters long. By late afternoon, it was apparent that any further attempts to dislodge the cruiser would quite probably cause the ship to sink.52

As the sea began to turn rough, the crew had to fight long surges to secure the crippled warship and to prevent further damage or increased flooding. What was was left of the afternoon was spent by the men putting out kedge anchors to stabilize the Asama and to keep the ship from slipping off the rock. Then the captain observed:

We prepared for the worst. We transferred the hospitalized men, provisions, fresh water and other emergency materials to the British collier Lena, which we asked to moor near us. As a precautionary measure for possible enemy attack we set the aft battery ready. We then temporarily moved ammunition from the magazine before it was flooded to the upper decks. During the night we posted sentries and picket boats.53

While the officers and men of the Asama were struggling to keep their ship afloat, the Idzumo was patrolling off San Francisco unaware of Captain Yoshioka’s plight. The major cause of this ignorance was the inability of the disabled man-of-war to utilize its radio transmitter due to the flooded engine room, and to the fact that the Lena was not equipped with a wireless transmitter. Another concern to the wrecked Japanese was the virtual absence of fresh water at the bay. As Commander Nengo observed:

The matter that worried me the most as the ship’s Vice Commander was how to keep a crew of seven hundred alive starting the next day. The reason [for this concern] was that we were in an arid area where not a drop of fresh water was available.54

Providentially, the British collier Boyne arrived on the evening of the 31st and was immediately dispatched to San Diego with orders to notify Admiral Moriyama and Japanese naval authorities of the accident. By sailing the same evening the Boyne arrived off Point Loma at 5:00 p.m. on February 2nd.

The news of the warship became public on the morning of February 5th, apparently as a result of a leak by a member of the Boyne’s crew. The San Diego Union then proceeded to run the report on page one.55 In part, the article stated that:

. . .Admiral Howard 56 aboard the armored cruiser San Diego was not apprised of the warship’s fate until nearly seventy-two hours after it struck. He then informed the navy department. 57

By the time Admiral Howard received word of the accident the news was already on its way to Washington, D. C. On the same day that the Asama struck the sunken rock, the American Vice Consul at Mazatlan dispatched a telegram to acting Secretary of State Robert Lansing stating that the cruiser was aground in Turtle Bay [Puerto San Bartolome] and “.. .that she is lying with a hole rammed in her bottom. The rock upon which she struck was not marked on the chart.” 58

The Boyne, as a belligerent ship in a neutral United States port, was required to sail within twenty-four hours of its arrival and subsequently put to sea at 3:00 p.m. on February 3rd. The local press was told that the collier’s destination was the British naval station at Esquimalt, British Columbia, but the San Diego Union noted wryly that “Lookouts at Point Loma say that the Boyne steered a southerly course after passing over the bar.”59

As San Diego awaited more news from Baja California, the United States Government was rapidly being drawn into the affair over the question of neutral rights and responsibilities. On February 5th, A. J. Peters, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, requested instructions from acting Secretary of State Lansing as to the propriety of allowing the Japanese Consul General at San Francisco, Mr. Y. Numano, to charter a relief ship for the Asama in an American port. Peters’ communication with Lansing contained a copy of a telegram from the Collector of Customs at San Francisco stating:

Japanese Consul informs me that the Japanese cruiser Asama is ashore and breaking up on the coast of Lower California with approximately six hundred men including officers and crew and he applies for permission to charter a vessel in United States port for the purposes of relief and rescue for the men aboard the Cruiser [sic] period Please advise what conditions if any to be imposed if Japanese government allowed to charter vessel period Immediate reply is important as officers and crew are in imminent peril stop 60

Later that same day, Lansing informed Secretary of the Treasury William McAdoo that Admiral Howard had already been dispatched from San Diego with instructions to render all practicable assistance to the Japanese. Lansing went on to point out that if the consul still wished to charter a vessel that “. . .the Government sees no objection so long as it [The charter vessel] is not used to transport naval equipment.” 61 The acting Secretary of State further warned that “… if, for example, officers and men from the cruiser are brought within American jurisdiction, the Government will be obliged to have them interned.” 62

By Saturday, February 6th, the Asama story had slipped to page six of the San Diego Union. That morning’s edition noted, with considerable accuracy, that the warship had struck a submerged rock while making about ten knots, opening a fifteen-foot hole in the bottom of the ship. Also contained in the story was a charge that “… Japanese warships in the Pacific have long used lower coast harbors as bases is shown by statements of commanders of British naval colliers calling.” 63

The same day the San Diego Union article appeared, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels noted in his cabinet diary:

Japanese cruiser aground near Lower California. Sent radio message to Admiral Howard to go and render assistance in the name of humanity, but to inform Japanese captain that if ship were saved we must bring it into port to be interned. Awful to think what this war compels—cannot save a belligerent ship without imposing conditions. Lansing [Acting Secretary of State] and Fiske [Admiral Bradley A. Fiske, United States Navy Aide for Operations] advised saying, “Do not save unless” &c [sic].64

Meanwhile, three thousand miles to the west Admiral Howard was preparing the first of two memorandums he would dispatch to the Secretary of the Navy. The Commander of the Pacific Fleet reported that he had ordered the cruiser Raleigh to Puerto San Bartolome on February 3rd, and that he had followed in the flagship San Diego within two hours of receiving Daniels’ message of February 5th. Admiral Howard further noted that he had given strict orders to the Fleet that no information on the Asama was to be made public because of the Japanése cruiser’s belligerent status. He added that much was already known about the accident, reports having appeared in the San Diego papers. The admiral concluded his initial dispatch with a copy of a message he had received from the commanding officer of the U.S.S. Cleveland at Mazatlan, who reported: “9:00 A.M. Saturday period Japanese Cruiser Asama on not charted rock entrance Turtle Bay [Puerto San Bartolome] period Machinery space flooded period British collier there Stop Williams”.65

When the Raleigh arrived at Puerto San Bartolome at 6:00 p.m. on February 5th, the Americans found two British colliers and a Japanese schooner assisting the stricken cruiser. The following morning there was an exchange of courtesy calls by the various commanders, and the Japanese provided the Americans with chart tracings made after the Asama went aground. Captain Yoshioka also allowed the navigator of the Raleigh to plot the location of the Japanese cruiser by taking cross-bearings. The San Diego, carrying Admiral Howard, arrived at 11:00 a.m., and again salutes were made and courtesy calls exchanged. Captain Yoshioka thanked the Americans for their concern, but indicated that no neutral services were needed or desired. 66

Admiral Howard’s personal assessment of the Asama’s damage was included in the second dispatch he encoded to the Navy Department. In this message, the American admiral observed:

It is difficult to state how badly the Asama is damaged. I believe that the fire-rooms and probably the engine room compartments are full of water. They are discharging [The Asama’s] stores to the colliers. The dynamos of the ship are not running and none of the ships in the harbor showed lights at night. From all information obtainable, it is believed that if this vessel is ever floated it will require the assistance of a wrecking company. Apparently from close observations, arrangements are being made to dismount the battery.

The presence of American ships in this harbor, showing lights by night and smoke by day, betrayed the position of the disabled belligenents, and as soon as practicable the San Diego and the Raleigh departed.67

Admiral Howard was apparently still worried about the amount of information on the Japanese cruiser’s situation becoming public and so requested that Washington inform the Japanese Embassy that all reports emanating from the Pacific Fleet were being sent in code.68

The admiral’s concerns were no doubt compounded when the Associated Press (AP) in San Francisco credited a reporter aboard the San Diego with an account of a three-hundred word, coded telegram which had been sent to the Navy Department after the admiral left Puerto San Bartolome. The AP dispatch further noted:

. . . Owing to neutrality regulations no mention of the Asama could be made by the correspondent in a radiogram. Reports from Washington that the Asama is in no danger are generally not credited here [San Francisco], as it is known positively that the cruiser’s hull forward was pierced to a length of fifteen feet, and that she was pounded for forty hours as great seas washed over her. 69

At that same moment the sea was again washing over the stranded cruiser, while Captain Yoshioka and his crew struggled to keep the Asama from slipping off the rock and sinking. While this life and death struggle was taking place in Mexico, the first of the scare stories began to appear in the American press.

On Tuesday morning, February 9th, the San Diego Union carried a front-page story, datelined New York and quoting the New York Sun as reporting that it had confirmed that the Asama had been so badly damaged in a fight with a German warship that the cruiser had been beached in Baja California to keep it from sinking. The article continued:

. . . the full details of the stranding of the Japanese armored cruiser Asama and the purpose of its presence in the waters of Lower California, if divulged, would create an international incident and probably lead to a serious exchange of views between Washington and Tokyo…. 70

As a measure of the accuracy of the New York report, the story indicated that the Asama was carrying Rear Admiral Teojiro Kuroi, and that the vessel’s commanding officer was one Hinoshi Turukawa.71

On the morning of February 12th the Idzumo, which had been alerted to the Asama’s plight, arrived at Puerto San Bartolome with Admiral Moriyama on board. After personally inspecting the damage he radioed Tokyo requesting the immediate dispatch of a repair and salvage ship to Mexico. Within hours the Navy Ministry informed Admiral Moriyama  that the repair ship Kanto and the Kamakura Maruwere already underway.

By February 15th the San Diego Union was reporting that the Asama would be stripped of its heavy armament and equipment in an attempt to re-float the cruiser. The San Diego paper again, with an accuracy standing in marked contrast to the misinformed accounts appearing in other papers, reported that two wrecking steamers had been dispatched from the Sasebo Naval Station for Puerto San Bartolome.72

Three days later the San Diego Union stated that a veteran Pacific Coast wrecker, Captain T. P. H. Whitelaw, had been retained by the Japanese government to assist in the salvage of the cruiser. At that time, Captain Whitelaw was directing the salvage of the Danish motorship Malakka off Natividad Island, Baja California. The Malakka had been driven onto Red Rock by the same storm that swept over the Asama. 73 On February 22nd the San Diego Union carried a denial by Captain Whitelaw that he had been retained by the Japanese government, and then reported that the British Columbia Salvage Company had been contracted to take on the job salvaging the Asama.74

As these articles appeared in the San Diego paper, the Japanese presence at Puerto San Bartolome was being reinforced by the arrival of the cruiser Chitose, and the supply ship Konan Maru. On March 19th, the cruiser Tokiwa and the fleet repair ship Kamakura Maru arrived. The Tokiwa carried Vice Admiral Tochinai Shojiro, who had orders to relieve Admiral Moriyama who was due to return to Japan on normal command rotation. 75

Shortly after his arrival at Puerto San Bartolome, Admiral Tochinai received his operational orders from the Chief of the Naval General Staff. In part his orders stated:

As the whereabouts of the enemy vessels in South America is still unknown, the Fourth Division will be charged with the protection of the merchant commerce of the Empire and the Allies in North America, using Esquimalt, British Columbia, as a base.

The new North American commander was further ordered:

The commandant of the detachment sent to America will assume the protection of the Asama and will proceed with all possible haste, with the Fourth Division to relieve the commandant of the detachment now in North America. All assistance will be given to the Asama.77

Although Admiral Tochinai’s orders expressed concern about the location and activities of German warships, by the time he had arrived in Mexico the tactical situation relative to the enemy had improved considerably. On February 14th, British cruisers had located the Dresden in the Pacific as the Japanese had suspected, and forced the last German survivor of the Battle of the Falklands to surrender. Within a month of the Dresden’s surrender the two remaining merchant raiders still at large, the Prinz Eitel Friedrich and the Kronprínz Wilhelm, were forced by the Royal Navy to put into United States ports on the Atlantic Coast. Finding it impossible to escape the watching British warships, both German captains allowed their vessels to be interned by the Americans for the duration of the war.

With the arrival of the repair ship Kanto on March 24th, the task of refloating the Asama began in earnest. Aboard the Kanto were Commander Iwano Chokuei, Superintendent of the Yokosuka Naval Shipyard; Lieutenant Hashiguchi Yasutaka, the yard’s Chief Engineer; and 250 workers. This force went to work on the cruiser on March 26th and by April 14th had removed 1200 tons of equipment from the disabled vessel. 78

Meanwhile in Washington, D. C., the German Ambassador, Count Johann H. von Bernstorff, forwarded a sharp note of protest to Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan on the fitting out of two barges by the British Columbia Salvage Company in the neutral port of San Francisco, for the avowed purpose of rescuing the Asama. In his protest of March 26th, Count von Bernstorff requested that the United States Government halt the sailing of the barges for Baja California as their activities clearly represented a breach of American neutrality. The German minister further expressed concern at what appeared to his government as a distinct lack of cooperation on the part of American officials in San Francisco, since the tug Sea Rover and its two barges had been allowed to sail after the question of neutral responsibilities had been brought to the attention of the port’s Collector of Customs by the German Vice Consul, Herr von Shock.79

The Sea Rover and the two barges in question did not get far, however. Just south of San Francisco one of the barges became disabled, forcing the tug to put into Monterey. Immediately upon receiving word of the tug’s problems, the Collector of Customs at San Francisco restricted the vessel to Monterey Bay, and wishing no doubt to avoid a diplomatic incident, telegraphed the Treasury Department for instruction. On March 30th the Treasury Department requested that the State Department rule on the neutrality question that had been raised by Count von Bernstorff. 80 Robert Lansing, who had by this time returned to his regular post of Counselor for the Department of State, in turn referred the entire matter to Dr. James Brown Scott, chairman of the Neutrality Board which had been established by the Wilson administration at the outset of the war in Europe to handle just such situations.

The priority of Lansing’s request was such that the board met at once and returned its opinion to the Counselor on April Ist. Speaking for the board, Dr. Scott stated in part:

The Asama is in foreign jurisdiction. Ordinarily the control and responsibility for her. . . would rest entirely with the State where the salvage took place. Under ordinary circumstances the board does not consider the use of salvage appliances coming from the United States could be regarded as involving our government in any justifiable charge of failing to observe neutrality, because the foreign state would be the one to assume control as soon as the salvage had been effected. 81

While this portion of the opinion seems straightforward enough the Neutrality Board added a caveat for the State Department’s consideration:

The circumstances of this case are not ordinary, however. Turtle Bay is in a sparsely settled part of Lower California; and even if the Mexican Government was strong, that Government would have difficulty in performing its neutral duty at Turtle Bay. But Mexico is in such a state of disorder that there is no government acknowledged by the United States. Moreover, the maintenance of the Monroe Doctrine is held by foreign nations to impose upon the United States a certain degree of responsibility for the actions of weaker American governments. 82

As if this warning were not pointed enough, Dr. Scott continued:

It therefore seems proper to act with unusual care in this particular instance, and the board believes that the Japanese Government might properly be approached and asked, under these peculiar circumstances, to agree that if salved with the aid of appliances from this country,. . . that she [The Asama] not be used in a military way during the continuance of the war; and that if the ship cannot be salved, any material recovered shall be brought to the United States and here sequestered during the continuance of the war. 83

Counselor Lansing approved the board’s major findings and then passed the recommendation along to the Treasury Department for relay to the Collector of Customs at San Francisco.84

With the question of American neutrality apparently resolved and the arrival of the Japanese support vessels at Puerto San Bartolome, the saga of the Asama began slowly to drift from the public’s notice. Drift, that is, until the morning of Wednesday, April 14, 1915. On that morning, the Los Angeles Times carried a page one expose written by Albert F. Nathan, and opened with a headline demanding to know, “What Is Japan ‘Driving’ At With Fleet In Turtle Bay?” and the further invocation, “Times Man Sent Down To Investigate Rumors Sees Sixty Tons of Ammunition The Harbor Mined, And An Armed Force Apparently Preparing To Establish Itself in Strategic Position.” 85 Lo, the Yellow Peril had reappeared, once again in Mexico, on America’s very doorstep.

The Times man went on to expose the presence of five Japanese cruisers and six colliers at Puerto San Bartolome which he described as “. . .the best [Harbor] north of Magdalena Bay. . . .,” and further as a body of water which could easily serve as”.. . a base of operations against the United States or Mexico, in which half the Japanese navy could anchor, Turtle Bay today would be a hard place for American warships to enter if the Japanese wished to keep them out.”86 In his report, Nathan described the Asama as simply “.. .having her nose stuck in a soft mud bank near the mouth of the harbor since December [sic] 31.”87 The same article also related that Captain Whitelaw of the steamer Greenwood was at the bay, and quoted the veteran salvager as stating that the Asama could not have been badly damaged, and that “… with a good try the boat could be pulled clear in a few hours.”88 The narrative continued that the harbor was heavily mined, that a radio station was operating from shore and that four thousand Japanese sailors and marines had been landed. The danger was so serious that the reporter felt constrained to warn the paper’s readers that the Japanese now had a naval base within easy striking distance of the United States, and only a short voyage would allow them to reach the Panama Canal. “. . .the Mikado’s men could not have picked a better location for their operation,” Nathan wrote. 89 Readers were likewise reminded of the “Japanese attempt to secure Magdalena in 1912,” and again repeated the charge that by “Running the Asama ashore on a soft mud bank near the entrance of the harbor through which any captain could take a ship, they [the Japanese] had obtained an excuse to send ships and men to the lonely bay.”90

Nathan closed his article with a personal note:

That the Japanese gave Admiral Nakayama in command of the Asama orders to ground the ship near the entrance of the bay and thus make an excuse for the presence of the Japanese fleet and a large body of Japanese sailors ashore with the intention of seizing Turtle Bay as a base for the Pacific Fleet, is what I believe basing my opinion on what I saw and overheard during my investigation of the bay.91

The Los Angeles Times story was put on the news wire and was subsequently picked up and printed by the New York Times, thus providing a considerable audience for the charges leveled by Mr. Nathan.92

On the same day that the Los Angeles Times story appeared, Captain Yoshioka, still the Asama’s commander, was reporting to the Chief of the Naval General Staff in Tokyo that by utilizing thirteen pumps the repair crews had been able to remove over 6,764 tons of water from the ship. Even at that the cruiser was taking on more water than the pumps could remove.93 Also present and noting the progress of the salvage was Captain Inutsuka Sukejiro, the commanding officer of the Kanto, who described the damage:

A visible hole exists relative to the forward boiler room extending twenty-five and a half feet, with a width of three feet. . . .In the after boiler room there is a hole seven feet in length and four inches wide.94

Nathan’s article in the Los Angeles Times generated an almost immediate rebuttal the following day in the San Diego Union. In a front page story refuting the Los Angeles Times, Rear Admiral Charles F. Pond, Commander of the Pacific Reserve Fleet, was quoted: ” ‘There is absolutely no occasion for the Japanese to mine Turtle Bay/ declared Admiral Pond as he laughingly commented on a story published in a northern newspaper.”95 The San Diego paper also pointed out that a number of local ships had been in the bay “. . . without being blown up,” and that the Asama’s crew was ashore because “. . .the cruiser has settled so heavily on the pinnacled rock that her berth deck is submerged forward.” 96

Directly below Admiral Pond’s demurrer, the San Diego Union carried a dispatch from San Francisco dated April 14th, reporting that the tug Sea Rover and two barges which had left on a salvage expedition to Turtle Bay had returned to San Francisco for new instructions after being held at Monterey for an alleged breach of neutrality.97 The following day brought a statement from the Japanese Embassy in Washington characterizing the Los Angeles Times story as being “preposterous.”98

By Friday, April 22nd, the San Diego Weekly Union apparently felt secure enough of its facts to label the Nathan report a “fabrication,” and to support its contention the San Diego paper cited statements made by Captain H. E. Hendrickson, the master of the American steamer Alwin, who had just arrived in San Diego after a forty-eight hour voyage from Puerto San Bartolome. The San Diego Weekly Union initiated its rejection by stating:

An authoritative account of the true conditions prevailing at Turtle bay [sic] Lower California, and one which exonerates the Japanese government from and [sic] intention to establish an armed base in Lower California was made here yesterday. . . . “99

In the article, Captain Hendrickson denied both the existence of an armed camp ashore and that the Asama was simply stuck on a mud bank. The steamer captain stated that the cruiser was “… pinnacled on a submerged rock almost in the center of the channel.”100Finally, Captain Hendrickson stated flatly that the bay was not mined and that he had freely cruised its length without any damage.

On the same morning that the San Diego Weekly Union refuted the Nathan story, the Los Angeles Times quoted Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels as declaring that he did not believe there was any basis or foundation for Mr. Nathan’s account.101 An accompanying AP dispatch carried in the same issue noted that the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, did not consider it unusual if the Japanese beached men in connection with the salvaging.102 This article concluded, “Dispatches from Los Angeles telling of the gathering of foreign warships in the secluded Mexican haven, of a large camp ashore, and of mines in the harbor, created no sensation among Washington officials.”103

Finally, on April 29th, the last piece of hard evidence supporting Mr. Nathan’s report was destroyed when the San Diego Weekly Union carried an exclusive interview with Captain T. P. H. Whitelaw, master of the salvage steamer Greenwood, who had been quoted in the original Los Angeles Times article. Captain Whitelaw stated flatly:

Turtle bay, [sic] lower california [sic] is not mined, nor have the Japanese established an armed camp there. Instead they are doing everything possible to salvage the cruiser Asama from the pinnacle rock, at the entrance to the harbor, upon which she is impaled. 104

With this final refutation of the Los Angeles Times experiment with Japanese scare stories, the Asama again quietly slipped from the American public’s notice, displaced by more immediate events like the sinking of the Cunard Line’s Lusitania on May 7, 1915.

The day after Kapitanleutnant Walther Schwieger of the submarine U-20 loosed his single torpedo into the Cunard liner, the Japanese at Puerto San Bartolome were ready to try to re-float the Asama. Temporary repairs had been made inside the hull and collision mats had been placed outside the ship, over the major holes, in the hope that suction would keep them in place. This arrangement allowed the pumps which had been installed to keep ahead of the incoming water, and at 5:00 p.m., using a high tide and long sea surges, the cruiser came off the rock. As Commander Nengo described the scene:

I was actually watching her refloat, but the fact was that I was not sure if she could indeed float….

. . . .To tell the truth it is more appropriate to say she dropped off the rock rather than lifted off….

…. Had we failed at that moment the Asama would never have been seen again.105

It had been ninety-eight days since the ship had gone aground. 106

The Asama was promptly moored next to the repair ship Kanto, and work was begun to patch the holes in the vessel’s bottom. The largest opening, just below the engine room, required a twenty-four square foot steel sheet as a patch. In all, twelve temporary patches were placed on the cruiser’s hull. In addition, two hundred and fifty tons of cement were required to further insure the watertight integrity of the ship. Since only half the Asama’s boilers were operable, the ship’s speed was cut to six knots.107

Exactly three months later the San Diego Union reported that the Asama had been re-floated and was preparing to return to Japan.108 On August 21st the cruiser attempted its first test run outside the confines of the bay. Finding the ship seaworthy, Captain Yoshioka departed Puerto San Bartolome on August 23rd, escorted by the Kanto and the cruiser Chitose, for the British naval station at Esquimalt, British Columbia, 1200 nautical miles to the north. During the voyage north, the ship’s pumps were in constant use, removing 700 to 800 tons of water an hour from the ruptured hull. On September 4th, the Asama and her escorts entered the naval dockyard at Esquimalt.109

With the assistance of both Canadian and Japanese dockyard crews, forty-three metal plates were attached to the ship’s bottom, and on October 23rd, still escorted by the Kanto, the Asama started the long trans-Pacific voyage for Japan still pumping over 100 tons of water per hour, arriving at the Yokosuka Naval Station on December 18, 1915. Two days later, Captain Yoshioka and the ship’s officers were received by the Emperor Taisho, while the non-commissioned officers and men were received at the Imperial Palace on December 23rd.110

Captain Yoshioka closed his report to the Chief of the Naval General Staff by noting that one diver had died in an accident and two stokers of illness while the ship was stranded at Puerto San Bartolome. Another diver had been killed while working on the cruiser at Esquimalt. The captain’s final reflection was, “It is my great regret that these men were unable to share our victorious return.” 111

In the meantime, the San Diego Weekly Union had reported on September 9, 1915, that Turtle Bay was empty.112 The Imperial Japanese Navy had departed.

So the case of the Asama rested for forty-three years until Barbara Tuchman resurrected the charges against the Japanese and the Asama. Exactly how she came to her conclusions is beyond the scope of this paper, although there are sources cited in the appendices of The Zimmermann Telegram to support her suppositions.113 The nature and use of these sources provides one of the mysteries surrounding the third chapter of her book, since even the most cursory scrutiny of those references, most of which are available for inspection in the National Archives, is sufficient to demolish totally the New York Times article of April 14, 1915, which she likewise cites—the selfsame New York Times article that was taken off the news wire from Los Angeles and based on the original story written by Albert F. Nathan. It can only be assumed that Tuchman was either lax in her research or simply ignored those sources which were not consistent with the “Yellow Peril” hypothesis found in her third chapter of The Zimmermann Telegram.

Taken as a whole, American, Japanese, and British sources, as well as most contemporary press reports, consistently agree on the major elements of the Asama’s story.

The Japanese cruiser was in Mexican waters as part of a joint Allied force whose mission it was to destroy very real and proven dangerous enemy warships. The British, Japanese and the Germans, not to mention the United States Navy, all made use of remote Mexican and other harbors for re-coaling and re-supplying their naval vessels during this period. The Japanese North American Squadron was under the direct tactical command of Admiral Patey at Jamaica throughout this period, and British ships were constantly with the Japanese Squadron during the entire operation. The Asama did, by virtually every official and unofficial account available, hit an uncharted rock at the mouth of Puerto San Bartolome Bay, which so badly damaged the cruiser that it very nearly sank. The newspaper accounts from San Diego, the closest American port, all initially report this fact, and describe the vessel as an almost total loss.114 American authorities were fully aware of the extent of the ship’s damages and status because of reports made by American naval vessels which regularly called at the bay. Civilian reports arriving in San Diego never once supported the allegations that appeared in the Los Angeles Times article by Nathan. In fact, the San Diego Union was instrumental in exposing the rank fallacies which appeared in the Los Angeles paper. Official Japanese naval reports are totally consistent with both official and unofficial American and British sources cited herein, and at direct odds with Tuchman’s version of the Asama’s mishap. Finally, she has failed to present a single piece of verifiable evidence to support her contention that the Asama was on a secret mission for the Japanese Government.

It is unfortunate that American historians must still deal with myths like the “Yellow Peril,” which are best exemplified by purported Japanese attempts to seize Mexican territory. In each specific instance, as in the 1912 Magdalena Bay crisis, after careful inquiry, the issue comes back to limited historical research and America’s “Yellow Press.” It would be a boon if we could finally lay this type of irresponsible journalism to rest, once and for all, but so long as researchers uncritically, or selectively apply the fabrications of a racist-inspired press—so long then must American historiography suffer ,from the inevitable product of such research.


1. San Diego Union, February 1 to 5, 1915 passim. The author is indebted to Mr. Alan Witty for the loan of his excellent  collection of bound San Diego newspapers.

2. Ibid., February 5, 1915, p. 1.

3. Puerto San Bartolome is in fact two bays, with the smaller shown on the charts as Turtle Bay. West Coast maritime circles refer to the whole area as Turtle Bay, rather than the correct Puerto San Bartolome.

4. Barbara W. Tuchman, The Zimmermann Telegram (New York: Laurel Publishing Co., 1958; Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1965), p. 60.

5. Ibid., p. 63. Also see E. David Cronon, ed., The Cabinet Diaries of Josephus Daniels 1913-1921 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1963), p. 98.

6. Morinosuke Kajima, A Brief Diplomatic History of Modern Japan (Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1965), p. 41.

7. Mikiso Hane, Japan: A Historical Survey (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972), p. 400. This figure is exclusive of the Japanese then in Hawaii.

8. Thomas A. Bailey, A Diplomatic History of The American People, 4th ed. (New York: Appleton-Century Crofts, Inc., 1950), pp. 575-76.

9. Several examples of this apocalyptic prophecy are: Marsden Manson, The Yellow Peril in Action (San Francisco: By the Author, 1907), H. G. Wells, War in the Air (London: n.p., 1908); Homer Lea, The Valor of Ignorance (Harpers Publishing Co., 1912); Frederick Robinson, The War of the Worlds (n.p.: By the Author, 1914); Hector C. Baywater, The Great Pacific War (Boston: n.p., 1925).

10. Bailey, A Diplomatic History of the American People, p. 589.

11. The exact origin of the term is obscure, but appears to be drawn from the dire predictions pontificated by the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, warning of a mass of yellow humanity sweeping over Europe. First used in the late 19th century, the term “Yellow Peril” [Gelber Gefahr] was in wide use in the United States by 1905.

12. For a detailed analysis of the Magdalena Bay “crisis” see: Eugene Keith Chamberlin, “The Japanese Scare at Magdalena Bay,” The Pacific Historical Review, XXIV (November, 1955).

13. San Francisco Examiner, April 3, 1915, p. 1.

14. U. S., Congress, Senate, Congressional Record, 62d Congress, 2d sess., 1912, pp. 10045-46.

15. Thomas A. Bailey, “The Lodge Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine,” Political Science Quarterly, XLVIII (1933), pp. 235-36.

16. Chamberlin, “The Japanese Scare at Magdalena Bay,” p. 359.

17. The California Alien Land Law quickly became the model for similar legislation in at least fourteen other states between 1913 and 1921. An excellent discussion of this topic can be found in Roger Daniels, Politics of Prejudice (Gloucester, Massachusetts: Peter Smith, 1966).

18. George Gleason, What Shall I Think of Japan? (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1921), p. 206. Also see: Bailey, A Diplomatic History of the American People, 4th ed., p. 599.

19. Cronon ed., The Cabinet Diaries of Josephus Daniels 19131921, p. 48-66. Cronon also discusses the Japanese reaction to the California Alien Land Law on pp. 64-65.

20. Ibid., pp. 54-58.

21. The Hartford Connecticut Times, quoted in Bailey, A Diplomatic History of the American People, 4th ed., p. 599.

22. Cronon, ed., The Cabinet Diaries of Josephus Daniels 1913 – 1921, p. 66.

23. Quoted in Kajima, A Brief Diplomatic History of Modern Japan, p. 63. The Anglo-Japanese Treaty had originally been concluded in 1902, and consisted of a preamble and six articles. The principal clause required that should either of the signatories become involved in a war the other power would remain “. . .strictly neutral,” but should any third power enter the conflict the neutral power was obligated to come to the aid of its ally. Needless to say, this agreement caused no small amount of consternation in the United States where problems with Japan were beginning to increase in intensity. The treaty was renewed with modifications in 1905 and 1911.

24. Japan, The Japan Year Book Office, The Japan Year Book – 1915 (Tokyo: The Japan Year Book Office, 1915), pp. 770-71.

25. Also rendered: Tsing Tau and Ch’ing-tao.

26. Barrie Pitt, Revenge at Sea (New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1960). p. x.

27. In 1914 the Imperial German possessions in the Pacific included: the Marianas, the Carolines, the Marshalls, Bougainville in the Solomons, German New Guinea, and the islands now known as New Ireland and New Britain.

28. Imperial German Warships were designated by the prefix Seine Majestate Schiffe or SMS just as naval vessels of the United States use USS. The designation has been omitted in this paper.

29. Pitt, Revenge at Sea.

30. Edwin P. Hoyt, Kreuzerkrieg (Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1968), p. 229.

31. [Sir] Julien Corbett, Official History of the Great War: Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: Longmans Green and Company, 1920-1925), 1 (1920): 305-12. Herein-after cited as Official History.

32. U.S., Department of the Navy, Office of Naval Intelligence, The Operations of Japanese Squadrons During the War 1914 – 1919, Washington, D. C., National Archives, Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, Subject File 1911-1922, WA-5 Japan, Record Group 45. Hereinafter cited as Operations of the Japanese Squadrons 1914 – 1919. According to a hand written preface to this document the original report was in Japanese and obtained via covert means. First translated into French and then to English it came into U.S. hands about 1922. The English version is cited herein.

33. U.S., Operations of Japanese Squadrons 1914 -1919, p. 98.

34. Hoyt, Kreuzerkrieg, pp. 86-88.

35. Pitt, Revenge at Sea, p. xi.

36. Ibid.

37. Also occasionally rendered as Izumo.

38. U.S., Operations of Japanese Squadrons 1914 – 1919.

39. Corbett, Official History, Vol. 1, p. 386.

40. Hoyt, Kreuzerkrieg, p. 71.

41. Japan, Kaigun Gunrei Bu Cho [Chief of the Naval General Staff], Gunkan Asama Shusseichu No Keika Hokoku [Report on the Progress of the Mission of the Warship Asama], p. 2. Hereinafter cited as Gunkan Asama. The author is indebted to Captain Jo Taiichiro of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force for providing a Xerox copy of the original after-action report of Captain Yoshioka Hansaku, commanding officer of the Asama during the period under consideration.

42. U.S., Operations of Japanese Squadrons 19141919, pp. 155-56.

43. Ibid., p. 159.

44. Ibid., p. 161.

45. Ibid.

46. Ibid.

47. The Mazatlan was owned by Jebsen and Company of San Francisco. Frederick Jebsen was a German national who had been using the Mexican flag steamer in defiance of U.S. neutrality regulations to supply the German cruisers Leipzig and Nurenburg since the outbreak of the war. It was simply luck that the Idzumo did not apprehend the Mazatlan in the act of re-supplying the Germans. See also: San Diego Weekly Union, February 12, 1915, p. 5., and Hoyt, Kreuzerkrieg, pp. 105, 121, 135-36. Jebsen was later reported to be in command of the German Submarine U-40 operating in the North Sea. See: San Diego Weekly Union, August 19, 1915, p. 7.

48. U.S., Operations of Japanese Squadrons 1914 -1919, p. 162.

49. [Admiral] Jiro Nengo, Kaikyu Roku [Reminiscences] (Tokyo: Yushukai, Suikusha, 1928), p. 194.

50. Japan, Gunkan Asatna, pp. 4-5.

51. Nengo, Kaikyu Roku, pp. 189-190.

52. Japan, Gunkan Asama, p. 5.

53. Ibid. A more detailed description appears in Kaikyu Roku, pp. 192-93.

54. Nengo, Kaikyu Roku, p. 193. The Japanese, while never in serious straits, did experience problems with shortages of fresh food. The collier Boyne was denied permission to purchase fresh food at San Diego for use by the Asama’s crew. See San Diego Weekly Union, April 8, 1915, p. 3. The local Japanese community in San Diego reported that U.S. authorities were likewise watching them closely for infractions of the neutrality laws. See: Nengo, Kaikyu Roku, p. 200.

55. Admiral Nengo states in his book that the news of the Asama’s grounding initially came from the crew of the British collier Boyne after it arrived at San Diego. See: Nengo, Kaikyu Roku, p. 194.

56. Rear Admiral Thomas Benton Howard, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, with headquarters at San Diego, California. During the time that the Asama was stranded in Mexico, Admiral Howard was promoted to full Admiral. See: San Diego Weekly Union, March 11, 1915, p. 5.

57. San Diego Union, February 5, 1915, p. 1.

58. Telegram, American Vice Consul, Mazatlan, Mexico, to Secretary of State, January 31, 1915, Washington, D. C., National Archives, Diplomatic Branch, Civil Archives Division, Record Group 59.

59. San Diego Union, February 5, 1915, p. 5.

60. A. J. Peters [Collector of Customs – Port of San Francisco] to Secretary of State, February 5, 1915, National Archives, Diplomatic Branch, Civil Archives Division, Record Group 59.

61. Robert Lansing [Acting Secretary of State] to Secretary of the Treasury, February 5, 1915, Washington, D. C., National Archives, Diplomatic Branch, Civil Archives Division, Record Group 59.

62. Ibid.

63. San Diego Union, February 6, 1915, p. 6. In addition this article appears to verify the Japanese belief that their British allies were the source of press reports on the Asama’s condition.

64. Cronon, ed., The Cabinet Diaries of Josephus Daniels 1913 -1921, p. 98.

65. Admiral Thomas B. Howard to Secretary of the Navy, February 6, 1915, Washington, D. C., National Archives, Diplomatic Branch, Civil Archives Division, Record Group 59.

66. Japan, Cunkan Asama, p. 7. Virtually identical accounts appear in: Admiral Thomas B. Howard to Secretary of the Navy, February 8, 1915, Washington, D. C., National Archives, Diplomatic Branch, Civil Archives Division, Record Group 59. Also: Nengo, Kaikyu Roku, p. 194.

67. Howard to Secretary of the Navy, February 8, 1915.

68. Ibid.

69. San Diego Union, February 8, 1915, p. 5.

70. San Diego Union, February 9, 1915, p. 1.

71. Ibid.

72. San Diego Union, February 15, 1915, p. 5.

73. San Diego Union, February 18, 1915, p. 14.

74. San Diego Union, February 22, 1915, p. 5.

75. U.S., Operations of Japanese Squadrons 1914 -1919, p. 164.

76. Ibid.

77. Ibid.

78. Japan, Asama Gunkan,p. 8.

79. Count J. H. von Bernstorff to Secretary of State, March 26, 1915, Washington, D.C., National Archives, Diplomatic Branch, Civil Archives Division, Record Group 59.

80. The text of the telegram from the Collector of Customs at San Francisco appears in A. J. Peters to Secretary of State, March 30, 1915, Washington, D. C., National Archives, Diplomatic Branch, Civil Archives Division, Record Group 59.

81. Memorandum, James Brown Scott to Secretary of State, April 1, 1915, Washington, D. C., National Archives, Diplomatic Branch, Civil Archives Division, Record Group 59.

82. Ibid.

83. Ibid.

84. Robert Lansing to Secretary of the Treasury, April 2, 1915, Washington, D. C., National Archives, Diplomatic Branch, Civil Archives Division, Record Group 59.

85. Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1915, pp. 1, 5. The author received a Xerox copy of the Times article appended to the Asama’s after-action report. Likewise appended was a copy of the San Diego Union of April 15, 1915, indicating an interest on the part of the Japanese navy in the American press reaction.

86. Ibid., p. 1.

87. Ibid.

88. Ibid., pp. 1, 5.

89. Ibid., p. 5.

90. Ibid.

91. Ibid.

92. Tuchman, The Zimmermann Telegram, p. 203.

93. Japan, Gunkan Asama, p. 9.

94. Ibid., p. 10.

95. San Diego Union, April 15, 1915, p. 5.

96. Ibid.

97. Ibid.

98. San Diego Weekly Union, April 22, 1915, p. 5.

99. Ibid.

100. Ibid.

101. Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1915, p. 1.

102. Ibid.

103. Ibid.

104. San Diego Weekly Union, April 29, 1915, p. 6.

105. Nengo, Kaikyu Roku, pp. 196, 198.

106. Japan, Asama Gunkan, p. 9.

107. Ibid., p. 10.

108. San Diego Weekly Union, August 8, 1915, p. 7.

109. Japan, Asama Gunkan, p. 11.

110. Ibid., p. 13.

111. Ibid., p. 13-14.

112. San Diego Weekly Union, September 9, 1915, p. 5.

113. Tuchman, Zimmermann Telegram, p. 203.

114. San Diego Union, February 5-15, 1915, passim.