FREEDOM OF THE SEAS
On May 21, an unarmed U.S. freighter, the Robin Moor, became the first of many U.S. merchant ships to be sunk by a German U-boat (submarine). The Robin Moor was stopped about 700 miles off Africa’s west coast and the crew ordered to disembark into lifeboats; then torpedoes and gunfire brought the ship down. The crew and passengers ultimately were rescued by friendly craft or made it to the African coast after three harrowing weeks in lifeboats.
The sinking of the Robin Moor was seen as an open act of aggression by Germany against the U.S. and led Roosevelt to declare an unlimited state of emergency and order the transfer of some U.S. Naval ships from the Pacific Fleet to the Atlantic.
On September 4, the USS Greer, patrolling in the North Atlantic, became the first U.S. Navy ship to fire on a German ship, a submarine, three months before the U.S. officially entered the war.
Roosevelt gave a number of “Freedom of the Seas” speeches during the spring, summer and fall of 1941. In a message to Congress on June 20 regarding the Robin Moor, Roosevelt said:
“We must take it that notice has now been served upon us that no American ship or cargo on any of the seven seas can consider itself immune from acts of piracy. Notice is served on us, in effect, that the German Reich proposes so to intimidate the United States that we would be dissuaded from carrying out our chosen policy of helping Britain to survive.
“In brief, we must take the sinking of the Robin Moor as a warning to the United States not to resist the Nazi movement of world conquest. It is a warning that the United States may use the high seas of the world only with Nazi consent.
“Were we to yield on this we would inevitably submit to world domination at the hands of the present leaders of the German Reich. “We are not yielding and we do not propose to yield.”