File No. 763.72/9817
The Ambassador in Italy ( Page) to the Secretary of State
[Received 8.29 p.m.]
1570. For information sending report received yesterday and telegram received this morning by military attaché from American military mission at Italian front on the Austrian and Jugo-Slav situation.
Polish, Czech and Jugo-Slav Movement in its Relationship to the Italian Front
[1.] By fostering the aims of the Czechs and the Jugo-Slavs, the Allies are attempting to cause internal trouble in Austria, to cause disaffection among Austrian troops, and to obtain troops to fight in the Allied ranks against Austria. The Allied activity is chiefly in the nature of organized propaganda.
[2.] Representatives of the Czechs and Jugo-Slavs met in London some time ago with official representatives of the British, French and Italian Governments and a policy was drawn up and officially approved by the three Allied Governments mentioned recognizing the rights of the Czechs and Jugo-Slavs. Following this the “Council of the Oppressed Races of Austria Hungary” was held in Rome and of which meeting we received reports from our military attaché at Rome.[Page 800]
3. There is located in this city an Allied central committee on propaganda in Austria. This committee consists of a British, a French and an Italian officer together with officially designated representatives of Czechs, Jugo-Slavs, etc. The British representative is Lieutenant Colonel Baker, British cavalry officer. The French officer is Major Gruss of the French mission.
4. Concrete results to date:
- There is being formed in Italy now, a Czech division composed chiefly of deserters from the Austrian Army and of volunteers from among the Austrian prisoners. This division has not as yet been armed but will be armed in the near future I understand. Col. M. R. Štefánik of the French Army is commanding this division. There is another division being formed in France now of Czech volunteers coming from the United States. In addition there is said to be a considerable body of Czechs and Jugo-Slavs already organized and composed of former deserters from the Austrian Army on the Russian front who are now marching in Siberia toward Vladivostok. It is expected that [upon] the arrival of these bands at Vladivostok they will be transported to Europe via the United States. They are expected to arrive at Vladivostok before the end of May.
- There is evidence that the movement is causing trouble in Austria as reports have been received by the Italian Commando Supremo that Czech regiments have been withdrawn from this front. Other reports are to the effect that some of these organizations have been totally disbanded. Numerous reports are to the effect that the expected Austrian offensive is to be made by Hungarian and German troops.
- Serious revolts have been reported recently among the naval crews at Pola and Cattaro in which the Czech and Jugo-Slav elements are said to have joined in with self-styled Austrian Bolsheviks.
5. America’s relation to this movement. Although America was not officially represented at the conference in London mentioned in paragraph 2 above, it is understood that an unofficial representative was present. Colonel Štefánik stated that this matter had been likewise brought to the attention of Colonel House, President Wilson’s representative in Europe. Colonel Baker states that there are about two million Czechs, Jugo-Slavs, etc., in America and that when the United States declared war, large numbers of the men voluntarily enlisted in the American Army. Reports from the Servian mission here state that an appreciable number of Servians are now returning from the United States and are being formed into separate organizations. Colonel Štefánik states that the subject of propaganda among these people in America had been taken up as early as last autumn and he cited a meeting in New York City which was addressed by former Mayor Mitchell and himself. The example was cited of the Polish Legion with which Paderewski is associated. That Austria herself considers the influence of the United States as important is evidenced, according to Colonel Štefánik, by circulars now being scattered throughout the Austrian Army stating that the United States does not favor the aims of the Czechs and Jugo-Slavs.[Page 801]
6. How America could aid this movement (suggestions made by Colonel Baker and Colonel Štefánik):
- By a public announcement by the Government that the movement was approved of by the American Government;
- By the appointing of an American representative to the propaganda committee located here;
- By a vigorous propaganda in the United States among the Czechs, Jugo-Slavs, Poles, and Servians now in the United States Army;
- By the formation in the United States of special legions of these nationalities and sending these legions to join the Czech forces now being organized on this front;
- By the appointing in due course of time of an American liaison officer to duty with the Czech troops here;
- By an enthusiastic reception in the United States of the Czech, Jugo-Slav units who are supposed to be en route now in Siberia.
Signed, Paules, Major Engineers.
Following is the telegram referred to above:
Report received by British Secret Service indicates a general feeling of disapproval in Bohemia among Czechs on account of the fact that United States Government has not openly approved of proceedings of the Congress of Oppressed Races of Austria-Hungary held in Rome early last month. Such proceedings are reported by British mission to have been openly approved by Italian and British Government. British Secret Service reports show internal conditions in Austria-Hungary to be very critical and a serious railroad strike possible especially if present German offensive continues unsuccessful. A central revolutionary committee appears to have been organized. Numerous mutinies have occurred among Austrian troops and in the Navy and the morale of a great part of the Austrian organization is said to be very poor. There are, however, Austrian divisions that are undoubtedly still unaffected. The general impression here is that Austria-Hungary does not desire to make an offensive on this front but that they will be forced by Germany to do so. Preparations appear to be practically complete and offensive expected to start between May 15 and June 1. British mission here attaches great importance to the United States recognizing the Czech-Slav movement and remarks [recommends?] that the action taken by the United States Government to approve of this movement be taken if possible within the next few weeks. Colonel Stefanik, French officer now at Foligno, whose address is care of Grand Hotel, is familiar with all details of the movement. I will send officer posted on British information as to internal conditions if you deem it necessary. British very desirous you consult with Štefánik before you cable. Signed, Swift.
In a conversation with Baron Sonnino I got his views of Jugo-Slav situation as follows: That whatever tends to create disaster in Austria-Hungary and weaken her military power is advantageous; [Page 802] and that this propaganda commission on the Italian front is, to the extent of their ability to subserve this purpose, a good thing and he would be glad to have an American representative on the commission; but he does not believe it wise to add at this time new items to the program of peace such as declarations in favor of independence of a new Jugo-Slav state with the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary which would make the latter fight desperately and would bring about possible amalgamation of Austria with Germany greatly strengthening latter. He says that the recent Jugo-Slav Congress here was not recognized officially by the Italian Government but its members were received informally by Orlando evidencing the fact that Italians are not hostile to Jugo-Slavs as charged by German-Austrian propagandists.