740.0011 European War, 1939/91: Telegram

The Ambassador in Italy (Phillips) to the Secretary of State

366. My telegram No. 362, September 2, noon. While both British and French Ambassadors have received Ciano’s assurances that the Italian Government does not wish to go to war with either of their countries, the situation here is nevertheless very delicate. As indicative of Ciano’s anxiety to prevent any such danger, he has begged the French Ambassador to do his utmost to keep the French press from attacks on Italy and from saying anything which might annoy the authorities here. Loraine feels that Ciano himself has undergone a change in his former pro-German attitude and it may well be that the tragic development[s] of the last few days have shocked and disturbed him as they have the whole of Italy. Perhaps we should not expect any official change in the Italian position, as already announced, until the respective positions among the belligerents is more clearly defined. But I have the impression that Italian public opinion, so [Page 417] hostile to war, is having a deciding influence on the Government’s present and future attitude and this perhaps for the first time in years.

It is too early to guess from this angle the steps which the British and French may take to preserve Italy’s neutrality. The question of blockade is uppermost in Loraine’s thoughts and he has confessed to me that in his opinion any move of the Allied Powers, such as a blockade in the Mediterranean which would result in the stopping and examination of Italian vessels, might swing Italian sentiment in the wrong direction. He argues that Italy and other Mediterranean countries have few supplies to give Germany and that few countries outside would be willing to do so, except on a cash basis, impossible for Italy. Nothing should be done, says Loraine, to antagonize Italy but on the contrary, everything should be done to take advantage of the present attitude of the public and of Ciano’s apparent revulsion of feeling against Germany in the hope that gradually Italy may be drawn into closer relations with the Allied Governments.