740.00119 E.A.C./4–1744

Memorandum Prepared in the British Foreign Office48

(U 2769/491/G)

British Interests in South-Eastern Europe

I. Introduction.

In the Moscow Four-Power Declaration His Majesty’s Government agreed to take a share in united action for the organisation and maintenance of peace and security and for the enforcement of surrender terms on enemy states. The fulfilment of this pledge will involve British action in South Eastern Europe. This area contains four enemy states, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Roumania. The many political and economic problems of this area, if left unresolved, may present [prevent?] the establishment of peace and security and threaten their maintenance in the future.

Great Britain’s interest in South Eastern Europe is first her general interest in world peace and prosperity. As a world power dependent for her own prosperity on international trade and with possessions in every continent she cannot disinterest herself from disorders in any part of the world. Many recent wars have started in the Balkans and, if pre-war antagonisms are not removed, South-Eastern Europe will remain a potential storm centre. By abdicating our responsibilities for the general settlement of this region we may moreover encourage the growth of zones of influence leading to the division of Europe into rival camps under the leadership respectively of the United Kingdom and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which in the long run is bound to be detrimental to Anglo-Soviet relations. Alternatively prolonged chaos in South-East Europe or the establishment of regimes imposed against the wishes of the populations may soon give Germany the opportunity of reasserting her [Page 597] political and economic influence in these regions either in the guise of “Champion against Bolshevism” or as the guardian of law and order.
South-Eastern Europe has moreover particular historical and geographical significance for this country. It is the road to the Middle East. Unrest in the Balkans may spread to adjacent areas which are of vital importance to the British Empire because of our lines of communication through the Mediterranean and Red Sea and the oil supplies in Iraq and Persia, while the effective domination of South-Eastern Europe by a rival Great Power would constitute a direct threat to these vital interests.
Against this background the following table of probable or possible commitments has been drafted in an order of priority, with the supporting reasons. It assumes:
That the Russians will claim sole occupation of Roumania, with or without the part of Transylvania transferred to Hungary by the 1940 Vienna Award,49
That Germany (apart from Austria) is outside the scope of the desired appreciation.

II. Inescapable Commitments.

(1). Austria. The establishment of a free and independent Austria was agreed upon at the Moscow Conference. In view of the present complete integration of Austrian administration with that of Germany it will be necessary to set up an interim Allied administration to carry on the business of government until local organs of self-government can be restored. Otherwise there will be chaos. Tasks such as demobilisation and military and economic disarmament will have to be carried out under the orders of the Allied High Commission at Berlin as part of the military control of Germany.

The Russians have put before the European Advisory Commission a suggestion for the joint occupation of Austria, and it is recommended that we should bear an equal share in such occupation. The combatant forces required should not be very great since the tasks of occupation would be mainly political and administrative. There would no doubt have to be a joint Allied central authority at Vienna and the remainder of the country would be divided geographically into zones of occupation.

As a corollary it would be necessary to station Allied forces in the Trieste area in order to provide a secure base and lines of communication for Allied troops and agencies in Austria and Central Europe (see also under (4) below).

(2). The Dodecanese. Occupation of these islands seems essential to prevent a Greek-Turkish-Italian conflict. His Majesty’s Government have already informed both the Greek and Turkish Governments [Page 598] that they propose to occupy the Dodecanese until a final decision is taken as to their ownership. The Russians have so far not expressed any interest in this area and we should be ready to accept this occupation, like the stationing of troops in Greece, as a purely British commitment.

(3). Greece. It is suggested that the commitment on the mainland and the islands should be limited to the despatch of a military mission, to supervise relief and to restore lines of communications in the initial phase. Plans are being prepared and will be submitted through S.A.C. Mediterranean.50 A small combatant force to guard supply dumps etc. may be required.

If troops are available, it may be desirable to consider in addition the despatch of a small combatant force, not more than two brigades, temporarily to Athens to support the interim Greek administration which it is hoped may be set up there as a prelude to the restoration of constitutional Government in Greece.

In the event of our assuming any military commitments in Greece it is suggested that these might best be met from some force stationed in Salonika, which would be able to provide, in addition, for any commitment in Bulgaria (q.v. in paragraph 5 below) and would also be capable of safeguarding rail communications with Yugoslavia.

III. Desirable Commitments.

Items (1) and (2) and (3) above represent therefore inescapable British commitments. Items (4) to (7) below are arranged in order of suggested importance:

(4) North East Italian Frontier. Over and above the commitment for the maintenance of communications with Austria (see (1) above), additional forces may be required in Venezia Giulia and Istria in order to prevent an Italo-Yugoslav conflict, to supervise the frontier settlement between Italy and the new Yugoslav and Austrian states, and to maintain any interim administration set up by the Allies.

(5) Bulgaria. If Bulgaria comes to terms with the Allies before the end of the war there may be no question of military occupation during the post-war period. If she does not, however, it seems inevitable that the Russians will claim at least a large share in the occupation though they are not at present at war with Bulgaria. Our interest lies in preventing the extension of Soviet influence towards the Straits and the Mediterranean. It is therefore suggested that, in addition to British membership of any Allied control machinery in Bulgaria, a British force should be sent to Bulgaria in order (a) to “show the flag” by participating in any military occupation there may be; (b) to demonstrate British interest in that part of Europe; and (c) to [Page 599] ensure if necessary that Bulgarian forces evacuate and do not re-occupy Greek and Yugoslav territory of which they are now in possession. There can be no question of any British occupation except in agreement with the Russians.

(6) Albania. His Majesty’s Government’s desire for the restoration of an independent Albanian State was expressed by Mr. Eden in the House of Commons on the 17th December, 1942, as follows:

“His Majesty’s Government wish to see Albania freed from the Italian yoke and restored to her independence . . . . What I have said does not in any way prejudge the question of Albania’s position in relation to such future arrangements as may be reached between the various Balkan States. His Majesty’s Government regard the question of the frontiers of the Albanian State after the war as a question which will have to be considered at the peace settlement.”

To give effect to this policy it may be necessary to station troops in the country, particularly on the frontiers with Greece and Yugoslavia. This task could perhaps be linked with that of maintaining forces in Italy, which does not come within the scope of the present survey. At the same time the troops required for Albania might well be based on Bari.

(7) Hungary. Similar considerations as under (5) above apply. There are political reasons for at least “showing the flag” in Hungary though this might in practice be accomplished by the despatch of a “token” force.

  1. Handed by Sir Orme Sargent, British Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, to the Deputy Director of the Office of European Affairs (Matthews) at a meeting in London, April 18, in connection with the mission of Under Secretary of State Stettinius.
  2. August 30, 1940; Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918–1945, series D, vol. x, p. 582.
  3. Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean (SACMED), Gen. Sir Henry Maitland Wilson.