The Chargé in the United Kingdom (Matthews) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 25—4:28 a.m.]
1397. In view of reports circulating in London that rather irritated exchanges between the Soviet and Yugoslav Governments are continuing [Page 976]on the thorny question of Mihailovitch versus the Partisans, I inquired at the Foreign Office today as to the present situation. The Foreign Office feels that fundamentally the difference between the Soviet and Yugoslav Governments is largely one of “post-war ideology” and is consequently difficult to solve. The British have from the beginning supported Mihailovitch as he was the first one in Yugoslavia to take up arms against the Axis and he is Minister of War in the Yugoslav Government. The amount of practical aid given him, the Foreign Office admits, has unfortunately not been great because of the difficulties of getting supplies in by air and the uncertainty of the identity of their eventual recipients. The British have likewise furnished Mihailovitch money and I was told in confidence that there are two British liaison officers with him at the present time. The Foreign Office will continue to support Mihailovitch but they feel that the time has come likewise to get into touch with the Partisans. There are apparently various scattered groups of the latter, some but not all of whom “are under Communist influence” and these seem to be mostly located in Herzegovina. Whenever the British discuss the attitude of the Partisans and their position to Mihailovitch with Soviet representatives, the Foreign Office tells me, the Russians always deny any knowledge of or contact with the Partisan groups in question. This contention, the Foreign Office says, is absurd: The Russians must be in touch with them and are obviously giving them full support on the Moscow radio in the hope of having a post-war regime in Yugoslavia which will be entirely sympathetic to Russia. The Soviet for its part claims that Mihailovitch is not fighting the Axis but is merely using the arms given him to fight the Partisans, and further that he is collaborating with German and Italian units. The British have found (in reports from their liaison officers) that Mihailovitch has at no time been in touch with the Germans though apparently in one instance his forces and Italians were simultaneously attacking the Partisans. However, for the moment the situation is relatively quiet and they think Mihailovitch is quite properly conserving his meagre resources for a more opportune time rather than conducting any large scale attack against Axis occupying forces at this moment.
As indicated, however, the British have reached the conclusion that the time has come to get in contact with the Partisans. They are fearful, however, of arousing Russia’s suspicions as to British long view intentions. Clark Kerr28 has therefore been instructed to approach the Moscow Government with the suggestion that the British in pursuit of their “policy of supporting any group which is willing to fight the Axis,” (it was put to me in that form which seems to be somewhat inconsistent with their attitude toward the Darlan High Commissariat29) [Page 977]would like to establish contact with the Partisans: That he is to make it clear that they have no thought to influence those groups in any post-war ideological sense. This proposed approach I was asked to keep in strict confidence since the Yugoslav Government has not yet been informed. “There is no use presenting a bitter pill if in the end they are not going to have to swallow it”, I was told, indicating that should the Russians raise objections the British may desist from their purpose. The Foreign Office emphasized that in any event there is no thought of withdrawing British support from Mihailovitch and his gallant army.