860H.01/478: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United, Kingdom (Winant) to the Secretary of State

3341. We inquired of Sir Orme Sargent50 this afternoon whether there had been any further developments with regard to the Yugoslav situation since Ambassador Biddle’s telegram No. 3, March 30, midnight, Yugoslav Series. (The Foreign Office had indicated, incidentally, that this question had been taken up through Ambassador Biddle rather than this Mission through error.) Sargent said that unfortunately little progress had been made, that Mihailović had replied in vague general terms and had given no indication either of closer cooperation with the Allies and severance of his relations with the Italians or of his willingness to try to come to terms with Partisans and other Yugoslav groups at present engaged in fighting the Axis. Furthermore, it was often difficult for Colonel Bailey51 to see the General. Sargent went on to say that Mihailović’s obvious reply to any British pressure would have been to the effect that the British had furnished but negligible material aid and that until they could prove of real assistance they could hardly protest at his methods of fending for himself. Now, however, additional airplanes are being made available to supply Yugoslav resistance forces and consequently the British are in a position to offer him something tangible. With this in mind the following note was addressed to Yovanovitch on May 7:

“His Majesty’s Government have now seen the reply which General Mihailović has addressed to your telegram DVK 33, of which a copy was enclosed in your note of the 6th April to Mr. Churchill. They are glad to note that the General expresses himself so strongly against the Axis but in order that there should be no further cause for misunderstanding [Page 1008]between His Majesty’s Government and the General they feel they must ask you to transmit to him the following communication from them.

“(Begins)

(1)
His Majesty’s Government hope shortly to be in a position to send General Mihailović material support on a more considerable scale than in the past. Before, however, they can make any progress in the direction either of working out plans for cooperation with him or for supplying him with more material, His Majesty’s Government must he satisfied that there is complete understanding with him on the following points.
(a)
The primary object of General Mihailović’s movement must be resistance to the Axis. For this purpose it is obviously necessary that he should concentrate upon building up an organization which can give the maximum aid to the Allied cause and not allow himself to be distracted from this by any internal differences. His enemies are the Axis and if there are elements of resistance with whom he cannot cooperate he must try and avoid conflict with them.
(b)
There must be the closest and most constant collaboration between General Mihailović and the British Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, through Colonel Bailey, who has been entrusted with the task of representing the British Command and of acting as interpreter of its views and intentions with General Mihailović’s general staff. Coordination of plans must be made through him. His Majesty’s Government attach particular importance to this point.
(c)
All collaboration must now cease with the Italians; nor must there be any contact or collaboration with General Nedić52 himself. Any derogation from this principle could only be agreed to after consultation with the British Commander-in-Chief through Colonel Bailey and with the approval of the British and Yugoslav Governments.
(d)
Special efforts must be made to cooperate with guerrilla groups in Croatia and Slovenia against the Axis and in any case no operations must be undertaken against the Croats or Slovenes other than against those actively cooperating with the Axis. Assistance should be given to any British officers who may be delegated to contact Croat and Slovene groups with the idea of unifying all Yugoslav resistance.
(e)
The difficulty of suddenly interrupting the struggle with the Partisans as distinct from Croat and Slovene guerrillas is appreciated, but Allied action could not be expected to meet with full or prompt success in a territory where civil war is raging between forces which are both opposed to the Axis. Every effort must, therefore, be made by all concerned to reach a peaceful settlement with the Partisans and in any case no operations against them should be carried out by General Mihailović; except in self defence.
(f)
General Mihailović should undertake as soon as possible discussions on the ways and means of carrying out the above policy with Colonel Bailey, to whom a copy of this communication is being telegraphed and who is receiving appropriate instructions from the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, and from His Majesty’s Government. These discussions should have as their object the working out of details of an agreed program of resistance and should also cover the planning of the number and locations of the other British Missions under Colonel Bailey’s authority which will have to be established as soon as possible in order to help organize the resistance movement as a whole in Yugoslavia.
(2)
British Military Command is primarily concerned with the contribution which resistance movements in occupied countries can reasonably be expected to make to the prosecution of the war. Provided therefore that General Mihailović accepts the understanding set out in paragraph (1) above, and is prepared to make his contribution to the common cause on the lines laid down therein, his movement will receive the maximum moral and material support which His Majesty’s Government can make available for it. In that case His Majesty’s Government would propose to strengthen Colonel Bailey’s Mission by the addition of further British Military, Air Force and Naval officers. His Majesty’s Government are also prepared to send to General Mihailović a number of Yugoslav officers in accordance with the arrangements already discussed between them and the Yugoslav Government as soon as General Mihailović has given his consent. (Ends)”

[Page 1009]

We inquired whether the Russians have shown any further interest in British intimations that they were prepared to establish contact with Partisan groups (Embassy’s telegram No. 2041, March 23, 10 p.m.) and were told that nothing further has happened. The Russian attitude is negative: They have shown no opposition to such a move.

As to the Partisans, Sargent remarked that while some of the leaders “might be Communists” he could not believe that the vast majority of their followers were not solely interested in freeing their country.

He also said as indicated above that the British feel the time has come when some British officers, and American officers if we so desire, should be sent to Yugoslavia to endeavor to organize resistance on a more effective scale.

While we were there Acting Prime Minister Attlee telephoned Sargent to find out if there had as yet been any reaction from Mihailović to the above note and to indicate that the matter is one of some urgency.

Winant
  1. British Deputy Under Secretary of State.
  2. British liaison officer with General Mihailović in Yugoslavia.
  3. Gen. Milan Nedić Yugoslav officer, Premier of a puppet regime set up by Germany in Serbia.