740.0011 European War 1939/6346: Telegram

The Ambassador in Turkey (MacMurray) to the Secretary of State

183. My telegram No. 180, October 28, 7 p.m.39

1.
The Secretary General of the Foreign Office informed me today that in the conversations in progress with the British, his Government has outlined its position (which has also been made clear to the Greeks and is fully understood by them) that Turkey will participate in the war only in the event of either (first) a direct threat to Turkey or (second) an intervention by Bulgaria—in either of which contingencies she should “go the limit”. As to the first, I inquired whether this Government contemplated the possibility of an offensive defense beyond its own borders: and he replied that if, for example, the Italians were to advance on Salonika the Turks would consider their own safety directly menaced and would act accordingly. With regard to the second possibility, he expressed the opinion that Bulgaria would not act unless provoked by Turkey or unless constrained to do so by Germany.
2.
In amplification of the Turkish viewpoint he expressed his conviction that Italy had counted upon it that Greece would yield to the ultimatum but now found herself compelled to undertake action against almost insuperable natural obstacles: if free to concentrate their forces along that line of defense, the Greeks had every prospect of successful resistance. He believed the Bulgarians had no intention of attacking Greece on her exposed Thracian flank so long as the Turks maintained an armed neutrality on their common frontier. If, on the other hand, Turkey were to undertake the military support of Greece on the relatively small scale that is geographically possible, he felt sure that Bulgaria would enter the melee and thus compel a distraction of the Greek forces besides spreading the conflict and creating new problems and causing a further dispersion of Allied effort.
3.
He recognized, however, that these provisions might be upset if it should prove that Germany (now overwhelmingly the controlling element of the Axis group) has other intentions not as yet evident. But although remarking that on first impression it would seem that [Page 554]Italy had acted without previous understanding with Germany he deprecated the assumption that the two powers would fail to coordinate their activities: it was of course to be assumed that Italy’s action would be if it had not already been fitted into some larger plan. In view of the tremendous difficulties (the certainty of Turkish resistance, the enormous distances involved, and the great difficulty of the terrain particularly for a winter campaign) he did not think it probable that an Axis push along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean was to be expected at any rate for the time being.
4.
With regard to Soviet Russia as a possible factor on the immediate situation he said that his Government had had no contacts whatsoever with Moscow in reference to the invasion of Greece and surmised that the Russians might be expected to hold aloof from the question.
5.
As regards the relations of this country with Russia he was considerably more optimistic than the Minister had been a fortnight ago (my telegram No. 171, October 18, 6 p.m.40) stating that they might at last be said to have been brought back to the degree of cordiality that existed formerly (that is before the Molotov–Ribbentrop agreement of August 193941).

Repeated to Athens.

MacMurray
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Signed at Moscow, August 23, 1939; Department of State, Nazi–Soviet Relations, 1939–1941, p. 76.