Memorandum by Mr. Charles E. Bohlen, Assistant to the Secretary of State, to the Secretary of State

The following are the latest developments in the matter that came up on Sunday46 in regard to certain German proposals involving their Italian forces.

As you recall, at 6:00 p.m., March 11, we sent out the message requested by the Joint Chiefs of Staff47 which was delivered to the Soviet Government before 7:00 a.m., Washington time, March 12, and the Secretary of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Admiral Leahy were informed immediately upon receipt about 9:45 a.m. Last night a telegram was received from Ambassador Harriman stating that the Russians consider this offer very important and have no opposition to what Field Marshal Alexander proposed and added that they would like to have Soviet officers participate in the discussions.48 I immediately called Colonel Wise49 who came down and obtained the substance of the message for General Hull of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Early this morning a second message was received from Ambassador Harriman50 in which General Deane concurred expressing the opinion that there was no justification for the Soviet request for participation since it was a matter of purely military surrender in an Anglo-American theater. That message was made available at 8:00 a.m. to Colonel Wise.

This morning after talking with Mr. Matthews51 and Mr. Dunn I told Colonel Wise that we felt that while nothing should be allowed to delay even for one hour the possibility of surrender, we nevertheless, felt it would be a mistake to give a flat refusal to the Russian request because of possible consequences on other matters affecting German surrender52 and suggested that the Russians be allowed to [Page 727] come as observers but with the clear understanding that the decision on any surrender on the purely military level would be made by the Commander-in-Chief of the theater. Furthermore, in order that there should be no delay the Russian observers should come in on the second phase, namely, when the Germans had come to AFHQ, but that the contact in Bern should be made without their participation. I later talked with Admiral Leahy on this and he expressed general agreement and emphasized the importance of no delay. He later talked to the President who seemed to be dubious as to the effect of the presence of Soviet officers on the willingness of the Germans to surrender. I repeated to Admiral Leahy that the State Department did not wish to make any suggestion which would mean the slightest delay in this matter but that if it were possible to avoid any delay and at the same time not give the Russians precedent for independent action, that would be desirable.

Colonel Wise called me from the War Department and said that the thinking over there in the Staff was very much along our lines but that no one yet knew the opinion of Secretary Stimson who was on his way to see the President.

We will be kept fully informed on any development and the reply when agreed upon by the military and the President will come to us for concurrence and dispatch through Harriman or possibly General Deane to the Soviet military authorities in order to keep it on the military level.

Charles E. Bohlen
  1. March 11, 1945.
  2. Telegram 564, March 11, 6 p.m., to Moscow, p. 723.
  3. Telegram 723, March 12, 5 p.m., from Moscow, p. 725.
  4. Col. John S. Wise, USA, Staff Officer, Theater (Operations) Group, Operations Division, War Department General Staff.
  5. Telegram 728, March 13, 1 p.m., from Moscow, not printed.
  6. H. Freeman Matthews, Director of the Office of European Affairs.
  7. In another memorandum, of March 13, approved by Assistant Secretary of State Dunn, Mr. Bohlen expressed the fear that a flat refusal of the Russian request would “obviously open up the possibility of a ‘surrender race’ in regard to Germany. It is of vital importance that the principle of Allied as against individual positions vis-à-vis Germany is maintained.” (740.00119 EW/3–1345)