860H.24/111: Telegram

The Ambassador in France ( Bullitt ) to the Secretary of State

1004. The Minister of Yugoslavia called on me today and said that he had asked to see me because he had received a communication from Prince Paul14 ordering him to get in touch with me at once and to say the following.

The difficulties of Yugoslavia had been increased by the signature of the German-Italian alliance.15 Until the signature of the alliance [Page 888] he had been able to maneuver between Germany and Italy by playing one against the other. These tactics no longer appeared possible.

Yugoslavia was in desperate need of certain supplies:

  • First, cotton. He desired to know if I believed it would be possible for Yugoslavia to make a deal with the Government of the United States to trade American cotton for Yugoslav bauxite and cement. If the needs of the United States for bauxite and cement should not be sufficient in amount to balance Yugoslavia’s needs for cotton he desired to know if the Government of the United States could arrange to sell an additional amount of cotton to Yugoslavia on credit terms.
  • Second: The most urgent need of Yugoslavia was for airplanes, anti-aircraft guns, anti-tank guns and heavy cannon.

Yugoslavia had balances in Germany at the present moment and recently had asked the German Government in return for these balances to supply the above-mentioned weapons of war to Yugoslavia. The reply had been that the German Government would consider supplying these weapons only on one condition that the Yugoslav Government should sign an agreement with the German Government according Germany certain economic rights in Yugoslavia. When the Yugoslav Government had asked the German Government to specify what rights it desired the German Government had proposed a treaty which if accepted would place Yugoslavia in a position of even greater economic slavery vis-à-vis Germany than Rumania had been placed by the recently signed German-Rumanian economic agreement.16 Prince Paul had definitely refused to consider making any such agreement since the German terms if accepted would mean eventually the end of Yugoslav independence.

In view of these circumstances Prince Paul desired to know if I thought it might be possible for Yugoslavia to obtain from the Government of the United States loans or credits to cover purchases of airplanes, anti-aircraft guns, anti-tank guns and heavy cannon in the United States.

I replied that I did not understand why these questions should be asked me. We had an excellent Minister in Belgrade and the Yugoslav Government had I believed an excellent Minister in Washington. The Yugoslav Minister said that Prince Paul had sent him this communication not by telegram but by the hand of one of his most intimate collaborators because he knew that all telegrams to and from Belgrade were being deciphered by the German Government and he did not wish to have any telegrams leave Belgrade either in the Yugoslav codes or in the codes of our mission in Belgrade dealing with this subject. He wished to put these questions through channels not subject to German supervision.

[Page 889]

I said that I regretted that I knew so little about economic and other relations between Yugoslavia and the United States that I was entirely incompetent to express even a personal opinion of the questions he had asked.

The Yugoslav Minister replied that he had told Prince Paul that he was a close friend of mine and that he hoped I would not let him down by refusing to give at least some advice.

I then said that my personal opinion was that Prince Paul should instruct the Yugoslav Minister in Washington to put his questions to the Secretary of State.

I also pointed out that the Johnson Act would prevent any loan from the United States to Yugoslavia and I also expressed the personal opinion that it would be impossible for the Government of the United States to give credits to the Government of Yugoslavia for the purchase of weapons of war.

The Yugoslav Minister said that his Government had asked the British Government to extend credits amounting to one million pounds for purchase of war materials in England and to grant a loan of 50 million pounds for the maintenance of the stability of Yugoslav currency. The British Government was now considering these requests.

In discussing the general position of his country the Yugoslav Minister said that excellent fortifications had now been constructed on the German and Italian frontiers; but that the Yugoslav Government had not a single heavy cannon to place in these fortifications. The entire artillery equipment of the Yugoslav army consisted of field artillery.

He added that although Yugoslavia had 900 airplanes they were so antiquated that they could not possibly be used in war.

In case of Rumanian, German or Italian attack he was confident that the Yugoslav soldiers would fight courageously; but it would appear they could have no more success against tanks, airplanes, and gas than the Ethiopians had had. They could hold out for some time in their mountains but that was all.

He added that when Prince Paul had been in Rome the Italians had attempted to obtain the adhesion of Yugoslavia to the Anti-Comintern Pact17 and also had proposed military agreements between Germany, Italy and Yugoslavia. Prince Paul had replied that he intended to observe complete neutrality. That would continue to be his policy if war should break out until the Mediterranean and the Adriatic should [Page 890] be under the control of France and England. Then Yugoslavia would join France and England.

The Yugoslav Minister finally asked me if I would at least inform my Government of the communication from Prince Paul which he read to me and if I would ask the Secretary of State to have the requests of the Yugoslav Government which would presumably be presented to him in the course of the next weeks examined in the most friendly spirit. I replied that I was certain that without any urging from me any request from the Government of Yugoslavia would be examined with full sympathy.

I am sending a paraphrase of this message by hand to our Minister in Belgrade.

  1. Member of the Yugoslav Council of Regency.
  2. Pact of Friendship and Alliance, signed at Berlin, May 22, 1939. For text, see Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918–1945, Series D, vol vi, p. 561.
  3. League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. cxcix, p. 82.
  4. Signed between Germany and Japan November 25, 1936, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, p. 153; adhered to by Italy November 6, 1937, ibid., p. 159. For additional secret agreement, see Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918–1945, Series D, vol. i, p. 734. Several other countries also adhered.