Roosevelt Papers: Telegram

President Roosevelt to Prime Minister Churchill 1


For the Former Naval Person from the President personal and secret Number 331.

Your message No. 383 dated 26 July 19432 expresses generally my thoughts of today on prospects and methods of handling the Italian situation with which we are now confronted.

In the following draft I have suggested for consideration certain minor changes, the reasons for which if they are not obvious we can discuss at our next meeting.

It seems highly probable that the fall of Mussolini will involve the overthrow of the Fascist régime and that the new government of the King and Badoglio will seek to negotiate a separate arrangement with the Allies for an armistice. Should this prove to be the case it will be necessary for us to make up our minds first of all upon what we want and secondly upon the measures and conditions required to gain it for us.
At this moment above all others our thoughts must be concentrated upon the supreme aim namely the destruction of Hitler and Hitlerism. Every military advantage arising out of the surrender of Italy (should that occur) must be sought for this purpose.
The first of these is the control of all Italian territory and transportation against the Germans in the north and against the whole Balkan peninsula as well as the use of airfields of all kinds. This must include the surrender to our garrisons of Sardinia, the Dodecanese and Corfu as well as of all the naval and air bases in the Italian mainland as soon as they can be taken over.
Secondly and of equal importance the immediate surrender to the Allies of the Italian Fleet, or at least its effective demobilization and the disarmament of the Italian air and ground forces to whatever extent we find needful and useful. The surrender of the fleet will liberate powerful British naval forces for service in the Indian Ocean against Japan and will be most agreeable to the United States.
Also of equal consequence the immediate surrender or withdrawal to Italy of all Italian forces wherever they may be outside of Italy proper.
Another objective of the highest importance about which there will be passionate feeling in this country and Britain is the immediate liberation of all United Nations prisoners of war in Italian hands and the prevention which can in the first instance only be by the Italians of their being transported northwards to Germany. We regard it as a matter of honor and humanity to get our own flesh and blood back as soon as possible and spare them the measureless horrors of incarceration in Germany during the final stages of the war.
The fate of the German troops in Italy and particularly of those south of Rome will probably lead to fighting between the Germans and the Italian army and population.
When we see how this process goes we can take a further view about action to be taken north of Rome. We should however try to get possession at the earliest moment of a safe and friendly area on. which we can base the whole forward air attack upon south and central Germany and of points on both the west coast and east coast railways of Italy as far north as we dare. This is a time to dare.
In our struggle with Hitler and the German army we cannot afford to deny ourselves any assistance that will kill Germans. The fury of the Italian population may now be turned against the German intruders who have, as they will feel, brought these miseries upon Italy and then come so scantily and grudgingly to her aid. We should stimulate this process in order that the new liberated Anti-Fascist Italy shall afford us at the earliest moment a safe and friendly area on which we can base the whole forward air attack upon south and central Germany.
This air attack is a new advantage of the first order as it brings the whole of the Mediterranean Air Forces into action from a direction which turns the entire line of air defenses in the west and which furthermore exposes all those centers of war production which have been increasingly developed to escape air attack from Great Britain. It will become urgent in the highest degree to get agents commandos and supplies by sea across the Adriatic into Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia. It must be remembered that there are fifteen German divisions in the Balkan Peninsula of which ten are mobile. Nevertheless once we have control of the Italian Peninsula and of the Adriatic and the Italian armies in the Balkans withdraw or lay down their arms it is by no means unlikely that the Hun will be forced to withdraw northwards to the line of the Save and Danube thus liberating Greece and other tortured countries.
We cannot yet measure the effects of Mussolini’s fall and of Italian capitulation upon Bulgaria, Roumania and Hungary. They may be profound. In connection with this situation the collapse of Italy should fix the moment for putting the strongest pressure on Turkey to act in accordance with the spirit of the alliance and in this Britain and the United States should if possible be joined or at least supported by Russia. I believe that in any important negotiations affecting the Balkans the concurrence of Russia should be obtained if practicable.
It is my opinion that an effort to seize the “head devil” in the early future would prejudice our primary objective which is to get [Page 519] Italy out of the war. We can endeavor to secure the person of the “head devil” and his assistants in due time, and to then determine their individual degrees of guilt for which “the punishment should fit the crime”.
  1. Sent to the United States Naval Attaché, London, via Navy channels. A paraphrase was sent to Hull by the White House Map Room on August 1, 1943, with the following notation:

    “The President desires comments and advice in regard to this matter by the Secretary of State at the earliest practicable date.

    “The President wishes to inform the Secretary of State that the message No. 331 of July 30 was arrived at after several exchanges of messages between the Prime Minister and the President. The President states that it appears to him to be entirely satisfactory.” (740.0011 EW/8–143)

  2. See Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. ii, pp. 332335.