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

No. 54

Sir: Referring to my Cable Yugoslav Series No. 3, March 30, midnight, I have the honor to report the following developments in connection with the Yugoslav Government’s receipt of the British Government’s Note of March 30, 1943:

Yugoslav Governments Reaction to British Note.

As regards the Yugoslav Government’s reaction thereto, preliminary confusion, irritation soon gave way to a more reasonable view of the problems involved. Premier Jovanović wrote a letter to the British Government in response to the aforementioned note, and enclosed a directive addressed to General Mihailović in clear, strong language.

Yugoslav Government’s Letter and Enclosed Directive to Mihailović in Response to British Note.

In his letter Jovanović assured the British Government that his Government shared its concern over General Mihailović’s recently reported address. He, moreover, requested that the directive be transmitted to the General through the usual British channels of communication.*

Referring to the British note’s further expression of concern over the lack of unity in the Yugoslav Cabinet, Jovanović stated that while this was for him equally a source of regret, this condition reflected, in part, difficulties not unlike those experienced by other exiled Governments based on a coalition; in part, the political growing-pains of a comparatively young nation, composed of varied elements, seeking to adjust their differences with a view to improving [Page 1000]the basis for future collaboration—and in part, the highly sensitive, disturbed state of exiled mentality.

Main Points of Directive.

The following are the main points of the aforementioned directive to General Mihailović:

he was to conduct his policy vis-à-vis the Italians and other Yugoslav resistance forces in such manner as not to subject himself to reproaches either from the British or Yugoslav Government;
as regards his recently reported speech, the British Government’s concern was engaged particularly by his statement concerning help from the Italians, and that his main enemies were the Partisans, the Croats, the Ustachi and the Moslems;
unless the General were prepared to revise his policy vis-à-vis the Italians and his fellow-countrymen in other resistance groups, the British Government might feel obliged to revise its present policy of favoring the General to the exclusion of other resistance movements in Yugoslavia;
as regards British supplies, difficulties of transportation and other factors, whereof the General was aware, had hitherto prevented the British from more fully supplying his needs. However, it was hoped that an early improvement in the Middle East situation would reflect itself in increased supplies to the General.

British Governments Reaction to Letter and Directive

In connection with the foregoing, I understand from my British colleague that his Government found the tone and substance both of the letter and directive satisfactory; that it now awaits with interest a response to the latter from General Mihailović.

Yugoslav Governments Previous Interrogation of Mihailović Re: Cooperation with Italians.

Of connected bearing, the Yugoslav Government had, several weeks previous to the despatch of the afore-described directive, sent a message to the General, asking him whether it was true:

that last year Jevdjević had concluded some form of agreement with the Italians;
that he, General Mihailović, had subsequently visited the Italian General Negri; and
that Jevdjević’s Chetniks, protected by the Italians, were annihilating Croat settlements in Dalmatia.

Mihailović’s Denial

About the time of the despatch of its recent directive, the Yugoslav Government received from the General a denial of reports which had been appearing in the Communist and Communist-inspired Press abroad (copies of a translation of the text of which are attached hereto45), that he was collaborating with the Italians; that Jevdjević [Page 1001]had come to any sort of agreement with the Italians. In this connection, the General stated that Jevdjević had no command and, therefore, had not the means of annihilating the Croat settlements. As regards the General’s alleged visit to Mostar, and conversations with Italian General Negri, the General stated: “I** did not go to Mostar at the time mentioned, nor at any time during the war. I** have had no meetings with Italians, nor with Italian generals. The Italians, as well as the Germans, have, on several occasions, attempted to arrange such meetings but they never took place, for I** always refused them with supreme contempt. The Germans made another attempt a few days ago, and I will send a separate report about this.[”]

Personal Observations

In preliminary examination of this part of General Mihailović’s denial, I found it difficult to reconcile it with confidential disclosures by a Croat member of the Government, concerning the activities of certain of the General’s “lieutenants’ “activities upon which I reported in my Despatch Yugoslav Series No. 38, January 2, 1943 (see Page 2, paragraph 3 thereof46).

Therefore, I re-examined the General’s denial against the background of these disclosures. As a result, the question raised itself in my mind as to whether, in denying the aforementioned allegations in the first person, he might not conceivably have naively hoped thus to sweep aside the question of cooperation by his “lieutenants” with the Italians.

Background for Interrogation of the General: Reports re: contact between his “lieutenants” and Italians.

It may be recalled that in my aforementioned Despatch No. 38, January 2, 1943, 1 reported that my Croat informant stated that then recent reports from “inside” Yugoslavia definitely indicated:

that General Bias Djukanović (“the Quisling of Montenegro”) was the main liaison officer between Mihailović and the Italians;
that Mihailović’s “lieutenants” were cooperating with the Italian military authorities, in forming battalions to fight the Croats: that Jevdjević (former leader of the pro-Fascist organisation 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.

Further Reports Re: Chetnik-Italian Cooperation.

Later, my same informant told me that Colonel Bailey, British [Page 1002]liaison officer with General Mihailović, had established the fact that in mid-January, some of Mihailović’s Chetnik detachments had been transported in Italian motor trucks to a certain scene of battle between the Italian forces and the Partisans; that, in this case, the Chetniks were helping the Italians in part payment for arms.

Further Main Points in Mihailović’s Denial: Denouncement of “worthless movement” (Partisans) through whose promoters the Soviet Union hoped to achieve its ends without breaking its pledge of non-interference in Yugoslav internal affairs.

To revert to the main points of General Mihailović’s aforementioned denial, he went on to state that the object behind the aforementioned allegations was clear. Notwithstanding the Soviet Union’s oft-repeated pledge not to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations, it had secretly done everything possible to destroy the “National Movement”, and to strengthen a “worthless movement” which had been condemned, once and for all, by the people. The latter movement was promoted by foreign adventurers, through whom the Soviet Union hoped to achieve her ends without breaking her pledge of non-interference. The truth was that it was the agents of the Gestapo and the Communists, who had held meetings and concluded agreements, on the strength of which their present collaboration flourished “at our expense”. “In our difficult fight …47 it seems that our Allies side with our enemies, and that we are left to our own devices. But, in spite of everything, we still remain indomitably loyal to our Allies and to the interests of our own people …”47

Re: The General’s Military Situation.

As regards his military situation, the General stated that his Allies should understand it. The Yugoslav army had been left to shift for itself. Without air support or supplies from the Allies, it was necessary to employ special tactics. He could not attack all his external and internal enemies at the same time. Moreover, he had to adopt his method of fighting to the particular conditions prevailing in any given area. Besides the “Quisling” formations, there were the invaders: Italians, Germans, Bulgarians and Hungarians as well as the Ustashi. He could not attack them all simultaneously; he had to offer firm and speedy resistance, but was obliged to attack his enemies one by one, in such conditions as were favorable. This was one of the fundamental principles of warfare.

Immediately following the Yugoslav Government’s receipt of the aforementioned denial from General Mihailović, a report was received from the “Central National Committee” attached to General [Page 1003]Mihailović. (Copies of this report, which deals with the Communist campaign against the General are attached hereto48).

Respectfully yours,

A. J. Drexel Biddle, Jr.
  1. Premier Jovanović subsequently remarked to me that moments like this brought to light the importance of direct communication between his Government and the General. As it was now, he could only hope that, knowing that this as other messages had been transmitted through British communication channels, Mihailović would not treat it as a British Foreign Office directive in the name of the Yugoslav Government. [Footnote in the original.]
  2. Not printed.
  3. It is worth considering, to my mind, as to whether the General might not have resorted to the use of the first person pronoun in a naive attempt to sweep aside the question of his “lieutenants’” connections with the Italians. [Footnote in the original.]
  4. It is worth considering, to my mind, as to whether the General might not have resorted to the use of the first person pronoun in a naive attempt to sweep aside the question of his “lieutenants’” connections with the Italians. [Footnote in the original.]
  5. It is worth considering, to my mind, as to whether the General might not have resorted to the use of the first person pronoun in a naive attempt to sweep aside the question of his “lieutenants’” connections with the Italians. [Footnote in the original.]
  6. Paragraph beginning “In disclosing the foregoing”, p. 963.
  7. Omission indicated in the original despatch.
  8. Omission indicated in the original despatch.
  9. Not printed.