740.00119 European War 1939/318: Telegram

Mr. Myron C. Taylor, Personal Representative of the President to Pope Pius XII, to President Roosevelt 20

Continuing my telegrams sent from Rome. The Pope, pledging us to secrecy, advised me on Friday last21 that he had fulfilled his duty of parallel action by direct handwritten message to Mussolini aimed at non-belligerency for Italy. My communications to you were latterly aimed at this feature and not at the question of general peace negotiations first explored. The greatest present service to humanity seems to be to circumscribe the area of the war. The fact that for the first time and as late as Friday last the Pope has addressed Mussolini indicates how uncertain the situation continues to be and this, in part at least, because the value of surprise action has been amply demonstrated through the activities of the dictators.

Summarizing information from many sources it does not appear at all certain that Mussolini has not already made his decision to take [Page 693] independent action in Yugoslavia and elsewhere in the near future, while Hitler occupies himself further east in the Balkans and elsewhere. Yugoslav copper and bauxite are essential to both Germany and Italy. It may appear that both will await the progress of the crops. In these parts there has until the past week been no rain and consequent deterioration of crops. According to one authority Mussolini and Hitler had agreed upon the above plan and its timing at the Brenner meeting22 but which has been at least temporarily postponed by the opposition Mussolini encountered from the King, Grandi,23 Balbo, Badoglio, Graziani,24 and Papal influences representing the church and the prevailing popular opinion in Italy. However regarding the public as well as the army it is believed that they will move with the Duce if orders are given to march.

Lord Halifax through the British Minister to the Vatican suggested that if we thought it advisable the King would address a similar non-belligerency message to the King of Italy. My reply after consideration was that it might be best to postpone it because in the present state of tension over blockade activities and Mussolini’s hatred of England such a message might only serve to irritate him further. Both the British and the French including François-Poncet25 whom I met at luncheon have mentioned to me possible terms of compromise with Italy, but they were quite vague.

I was told that at the crisis of a fortnight ago Ciano had resigned; that Balbo had been ordered back to Libya; that Graziani heretofore supporting Mussolini had discouraged the venture; and that messages between Hitler and Mussolini had led to some misinterpretation necessitating a visit to Berlin by the German Ambassador.

As I was cautioned not to telegraph this particular message from Italy I have asked Tittmann who is returning to Switzerland to have it sent from Geneva.

  1. Transmitted to the Department by the Consul at Geneva as telegram No. 47.
  2. April 26.
  3. Meeting of Hitler and Mussolini on March 18, 1940.
  4. Count Grandi di Mordano of the Italian Council of Ministers.
  5. Italian military officials.
  6. André François-Poncet, French Ambassador in Italy.