740.00119 EW/3–945: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Harriman)

564. Please communicate immediately to the Soviet Government the substance of the following paraphrase of message received from Allied Force Headquarters Caserta by the Combined Chiefs of Staff:39

  • “1. On March 8 through the OSS in this theatre word was received that General Karl Wolff, ranking SS officer in Italy, accompanied by Dollmann and Simmer and a representative of the OKW presumed to be from General Kesselring’s staff, were expected to arrive at Lugano, Switzerland, in order to discuss the surrender of the German forces in Italy. The arrival of General Wolff and his willingness to attempt the development of a program to take the Germans in North Italy out of the war has been confirmed by information received on March 9.40
  • 2. It is Wolff’s opinion that mere military surrender would be difficult and he prefers, therefore, that the German leaders in Italy should make a statement to the German people prior to capitulation that there is no further hope and that a continuation of the struggle is needlessly causing the shedding of German blood. He considers Kesselring’s adherence essential to the plan, but states that he has not yet been won over. Rahn, however, who is German Ambassador to the Fascist Italian Government, he says is in agreement with him. According to Wolff, Himmler knows nothing of his activities. Wolff will endeavor immediately to inform Kesselring of the plan and will maintain contact with the representatives of the OSS.
  • 3. As evidence of their good faith and ability to act, Dollmann had promised prior to meeting in Switzerland to produce Parri, the recently captured CLNAI leader.41 Information has been received that on March 9 Parri was in fact delivered in Switzerland unconditionally and is in good health. In view of further discussions now being held with Wolff by OSS, it is suggested that representatives of my headquarters be prepared to go to Switzerland in order to handle the situation if it develops favorably.
  • 4. In the event that further negotiations reveal that the German representatives seem genuine and have definite proposals to make, I propose to act on the following lines:
    The representatives of the Germans must have written evidence from Kesselring that they are authorized to treat, and must come to Bern.
    A meeting place to be arranged by OSS either at the British or the American Legations at night, or at another place if the Legations are too difficult.
    General Lemnitzer, my American Deputy Chief of Staff, and General Airey, my British Chief Intelligence Officer, to be sent to Bern.
    Their instructions will be to tell the German representatives:
    That only a method of surrender on a purely military basis will be dealt with in the discussion and not on a governmental or political basis.
    That for detailed military discussions they must come to AFHQ.42
    That a method of communication with Kesselring must be arranged by them.
  • 5. Although it is wise to be prepared, the fact that two of the leaders are Himmler and SS men makes me suspicious.”

The Combined Chiefs of Staff have agreed to the proposals of Field Marshal Alexander with the condition that none of his representatives are to be sent to Bern until the Soviet Government has been informed [Page 725] through the Department of State and through the Foreign Office.

Please telegraph urgently any Soviet comment.43

  1. A paraphrase of the message quoted below was received by the Department on March 11 as an enclosure to a letter from the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy to the Secretary of State, not printed. In the letter the Secretary of State was informed:

    “The Combined Chiefs of Staff have agreed to Field Marshal Alexander’s proposals with the proviso that his representatives are not to be dispatched to Berne until the Russians have been informed through the Department of State and the Foreign Office.

    “The Joint Chiefs of Staff therefore recommend, and we concur, that the substance of the attached paraphrase be telegraphed to Moscow and communicated to the Russians at once and that the Joint Chiefs of Staff be informed at the earliest possible moment when this has been done.

    “The British Chiefs of Staff are making a similar recommendation to the Foreign Office.” (740.00119 EW/3–1145)

    For information on the consideration of Field Marshal Alexander’s proposals by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, see: William D. Leahy, I Was There (New York, Whittlesey House, 1950), p. 330.

  2. Under cover of a letter from General William J. Donovan, Director of the Office of Strategic Services, to the Secretary of State, March 10, not printed, the Department received a memorandum which gave further details of the discussions in Bern. This memorandum, based on reports from the agent in Bern, said in part:

    “Wolff is a distinctive personality, and evidence indicates that he represents the more moderate element in Waffen SS combined with a measure of romanticism. He is probably the most dynamic personality in North Italy and, next to Kesselring, the most powerful.

    “Wolff stated that the time had come when some German with power to act should lead Germany out of the war in order to end useless human and material destruction. He says he is willing to act and feels he can persuade Kesselring to cooperate, and that the two control the situation in North Italy. As far as the SS is concerned, Wolff states that he also controls Western Austria, since his authority includes the Vorarlberg, Tyrol, and the Brenner Pass with both its northern and southern approaches. Wolff declares that joint action by Kesselring and himself would leave Hitler and Himmler powerless to take effective counter-measures like the ones they employed in the 20 July crisis. Also Wolff feels that joint action by Kesselring and himself would have a vital repercussion on the German Army, particularly on the Western Front, since many Generals are only waiting for someone to take the lead. Wolff made no request concerning his personal safety or privileged treatment from the war criminal viewpoint.” (740.0011EW/3–1045)

  3. Ferruccio Parri, chief of the unified command of the Committee of National Liberation for North Italy.
  4. Allied Force Headquarters.
  5. In telegram 716, March 12, 11 a.m., from Moscow, Ambassador Harriman reported: “I have delivered this morning a letter addressed to Mr. Molotov containing the information referred to in Department’s 564, March 11, 6 p.m. regarding the proposals of Field Marshal Alexander.” (740.00119 EW/3–1245) Mr. Harriman’s report was then transmitted to Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to the President, in a memorandum by Charles E. Bohlen, Assistant to the Secretary of State for White House Liaison, March 12, not printed.