863.00/870

Memorandum by the Under Secretary of State (Phillips)

I asked the Austrian Minister,10 when he called this morning, to give me a picture of the tragic situation as he viewed it in Austria today, and the following is a brief résumé of his conversation:

Dollfuss made his initial mistake in inviting the Fascist Party to cooperate with the Government forces in its fight against the Nazi [Page 12]influence. The Heimwehr, which are the storm troopers of the Fascists, were thereupon given arms and ammunition and machine guns by the Government. They had been very carefully trained over a period of ten years by Prince von Starhemberg, a young man of 34 years of age, who is at the head of one of the richest and most powerful families in Austria. Von Starhemberg had organized and financed the Fascist storm troopers out of his own funds; he has spent over a million dollars gold in this enterprise and is already heavily in debt. The Dollfuss forces were in the neighborhood of 22,000 men; the Fascist forces were about 20,000 strong. Dollfuss thus doubled his forces by inviting them to join with the Government. At once he armed them and gave them a substantial supply of machine guns.

The Socialist Party represents about sixty percent of the voting population of the country. The feeling between the Socialists and the Fascists is intense and, whenever a Socialist sees the cocked feathers in the hat of a Fascist storm trooper, his first impulse is to grapple with it. Dollfuss’ initial mistake was in his failure to foresee that the Socialists would take a stand against the combination of the Government and Fascist forces. His idea undoubtedly was that the Socialists, being without arms, would give up the struggle as hopeless and would make the best terms they could with the governing powers. This, however, did not happen and the Socialists had obtained sufficient arms to put up the resistance of the last few days. However, it is impossible for them to continue their resistance, and the Minister has no doubt that the Government forces will win all along the line within a few days.

The real problem would then present itself and the Minister would not venture to guess how events would turn out. He felt, however, that if Dollfuss could remain in power, the difficulties would gradually solve themselves. On the other hand, it was quite likely that the Fascist organization would insist upon forming a government, which would probably mean that Fey, the present Vice Chancellor, would become Chancellor. Any such event would in turn stir up the spirit of revenge among the Socialists, which would mean that many of them would probably go over to the Nazi organizations and in this manner the Nazi influence throughout the country would be immensely strengthened. A situation would then be created which would seriously alarm Italy and, as Mussolini has made up his mind definitely to preserve an independent Austria, it might well be that Italian armies would occupy Austria. If Italy took such a step, the Minister felt confident that Yugoslavia would act along the same lines and would have plenty of excuses for marching into Austria alongside of the Italian armies. Finally, everything seemed to depend on whether Dollfuss could remain in power or not. If the British, French and [Page 13]Italian governments could reach some understanding to the effect that the Dollfuss regime must be maintained and would present a solid front in this respect, probably the Fascist forces in Austria would abandon their ambition of dominating the country. Dollfuss would never invite foreign armies to come to his rescue, but it might well be that he would ask for the moral support of the British, French and Italian governments. The real crisis, according to the Minister, would occur after the present fighting is over, when a decision would have to be reached whether Dollfuss was to continue in power or whether the Fascist regime would insist upon replacing him.

William Phillips
  1. Edgar L. G. Prochnik.