The Ambassador to the Yugoslav Government in Exile (Biddle) to the Secretary of State

No. 38

Sir: Supplementing my despatch Yugoslav Series No. 37, December 28, 1942,2 I have the honor to report that in the background of the present Cabinet crisis there has been an increasing conflict of opinion over the past few months regarding the Government’s attitude towards civil strife in Yugoslavia. The Croat, Slovene, and Serb-Democratic elements hold that the Government should have at the outset given General Mihailović3 a clear political directive: the necessity of consolidating the forces of resistance. Furthermore, they believe, and claim they have reason to believe, that Foreign Minister Nincić, as the spokesman for the Pan-Serb element, sent the General instructions in April and again in September of the current year, through Ankara, to pursue the Pan-Serb line of policy. Although Nincić stoutly denies this, one of my informants (Croat) states that Nincić recently, when taken unawares by an accusation on this score, attempted to defend any action he might have taken in the past along these lines, on grounds that it was to prevent extermination of the Serbs by the Ustashi.4 (Under present circumstances it would be difficult to ascertain the actual facts as to the stated grounds for this accusation).

At any rate it is interesting to note that throughout the present crisis, the elements which favor a consolidation of the forces of resistance have gained ground; that their collective voice has become more than hitherto effective.

[Page 963]

As regards the British Government’s attitude towards General Mihailović’s position, a Croat member of the Cabinet informs me that Mr. Churchill5 was recently afforded an opportunity to voice his Government’s concern to King Peter.6 It seems that the King handed Mr. Churchill a confidential memorandum stating that General Mihailović had at his disposal a potential force of 200,000* upon whom he could count to join in a general uprising at the proper moment; that the General was now in urgent need of 30,000 suits of clothes and 30,000 pairs of boots. Mr. Churchill, according to my informant, took occasion to emphasize to the King his Government’s view as to the importance of uniting the resistance forces, adding that he did not want to place his Government in a position of supplying arms to Mihailović to conduct a civil conflict.

In this connection a Croat member of the Government informs me in strictest confidence that the following reports received from Yugoslavia concerning the activities of General Mihailović’s “Lieutenants” are largely responsible for the British Government’s concern in the matter: (a) that General Bias Djukanović (the “Quisling” of Montenegro) was the main liaison between Mihailović and the Italians, resulting in groups of Mihailović’s forces raiding through the Croatian Littoral and through Dalmatia and Herzegovina; (b) that Mihailović’s “Lieutenants” were cooperating with the Italian military authorities in forming battalions to fight the Croats who were engaged in fighting the Italians and the Partisans; Jevdjević (former leader of the pro-Fascist organization in Bosnia and Belgrade) and Colonel Mihić (General Staff Officer) were operating at Abbazia; Bircanin (former President of “National Defence”, “Narodna Odbrana”) was operating at Split; Grdjić (Secretary General of “Narodna Odbrana”) was living at Divisional Headquarters at Mostar.

In disclosing the foregoing information, my informant said that Foreign Minister Nincić, when confronted with this report, had stoutly defended General Mihailović on the grounds that he was not aware of these activities on part of his “Lieutenants”. While my informant was willing to allow for this possibility, he held that these reports bore ample proof as to how mistaken the Government had been in not having given General Mihailović a clear directive; that conditions such as reported were all the more reason why a strong clear political directive should be sent the General at the earliest moment. My informant [Page 964]went on to say that underlying his and his other Croat and Slovene associates’ concern over the implications of General Mihailović’s reported cooperation with the Italians was their recollection of the former close ties between both Foreign Minister Nincić and Minister of Justice Gavrilovic and the late M. Pasić (former Foreign Minister who had signed the Pact with Mussolini in about 19248). When M. Pasić had been Prime Minister and Foreign Minister during the last war, Gavrilovic had been his Chief of Cabinet and Nincić his “right hand man”. At that time M. Pasić had directed a policy envisaging close ties between the Serbs, Italians and Hungarians with a view to offsetting the Croats and Slovenes. My informant was, moreover, aware that when Nincić was in New York some months ago, he had significantly called on Sforza,9 who had served as Italian Minister to Serbia about 1917–1918, and who, as a result of the strong friendship which had grown up between himself and M. Pasic, had written a book on the latter. My informant subsequently learned that Sforza told Nincić that he now favored a Yugoslav policy, emphasizing that the application of Pasić’s former policy now would only result in bringing the Germans on to the Adriatic. While Sforza had thus given Nincić no encouragement, it was not comforting to feel that Nincić was still harking back to the policy of his former chief. These thoughts in the mind of my informant and his associates had therefore made them apprehensive lest Mihailović’s reported cooperation with the Italians reflected a practical application of Pasić’s policy as perhaps directed by Nincić.

In concluding his remarks, my informant gave me the most recent information as to the activities of the various resistance groups in Yugoslavia. I have accordingly blocked out this information on the attached chart.10

Respectfully yours,

A. J. Drexel Biddle, Jr.
  1. Foreign Relations, 1942, Vol. iii, p. 836.
  2. Gen. Draža Mihailović, Yugoslav Minister for Defense.
  3. A Fascist Croatian society of which Ante Pavelich was the leader.
  4. Winston S. Churchill, British Prime Minister.
  5. King Peter II of Yugoslavia, residing with Yugoslav Government in Exile at London.
  6. King Peter recently told me that his reports indicate that General Mihailović may be expected to serve as the pivot for an eventual general uprising in the Balkans; that the General had already established contacts with the “Patriots” in Albania, with the “Agrarians” in Bulgaria, also with certain forces in Rumania. [Footnote in the original.]
  7. Apparently reference is to the Treaty of Friendship and Cordial Cooperation between Italy and the Serb-Croat-Slovene State, signed at Rome January 12, 1924; for text, see British and Foreign State Papers, Vol. cxx, p. 683.
  8. Count Carlo Sforza, anti-Fascist leader.
  9. Not printed.