740.00119 Control (Italy)/3–245: Telegram

Mr. Alexander C. Kirk, Political Adviser to the Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean Theater, to the Secretary of State

786. ReDeptel 179, February 28, 6 p.m. At SAC’s political committee meeting this morning he said that in his conversations with Tito he had brought up subject of Venezia Giulia by stating that when Allied troops were operating in or near Austrian border he would require use of Trieste and railway and road communications leading into Austria from Trieste. He added he felt he should be fully responsible for his own communications and consequently should garrison the area with his own troops and install his own military government. He said he had then suggested to Tito that best solution would be to establish military government over whole of Venezia Giulia up to 1939 boundary leaving all frontier questions to be settled at end of hostilities. Alexander said Tito had agreed to take this suggestion as far as areas containing essential communications were concerned but had pointed out that as his troops were already in these areas and had established civil administration and his organization could not be withdrawn without chaos resulting and had indicated further that he intended eventually when American and British forces pulled out to take over all northeastern Italy east of the Isonzo. Tito added that in areas containing communications necessary to Allied troops he would be willing to place his forces under SAC’s command and his civil administration under AMG which Alexander would impose.

Tito could not understand, however, why it would be necessary to establish AMG in whole of Istria as control of entire area was not essential for military communications. In addition he had offered to make communications routes through Ljubljana available to SAC.

Field Marshal Alexander went on to say that from his conversations with Tito on this subject he felt certain that in order to obtain Tito’s agreement for any proposed arrangement in Venezia Giulia it would be necessary to obtain Russian approval for such an arrangement before presentation to the Yugoslavs.

When we questioned SAC more in detail on this matter he stated that without Russian agreement Tito would not agree to place his troops and civil administration under Allied control in areas in eastern Venezia Giulia which did not contain essential military communications. British Resident Minister who was present said that in his opinion best hope of a solution would be along lines suggested by Air Marshal Slessor at SAC’s last meeting (see my 609, February 20, [Page 1112] 11 p.m.). Macmillan stated that essential point seemed to him to be that Yugoslav administration in area should not remain a separate organization acting as agent of Allied administration, but should be merged in AMG. This objective could be obtained if on occupation of area the whole of Venezia Giulia was made AMG region under British or United States military governor who might have Yugoslav deputy. There could be two provinces under these officers. Full Allied military control could be established in western Venezia Giulia under British or American provincial governor and there would be merged in the organization certain persons of Tito’s civil administration. These two provinces might be under Yugoslav provincial governor and Tito’s administration would form basis of government majority with certain United States and British officers. Macmillan pointed out that Royal Yugoslav Government were already represented on Advisory Council for Italy and this representation would pass to joint provincial government when recognized. Suggestion was also made by British Resident Minister that this government might be offered representation on Allied Commission in Rome and Yugoslav officer nominated to this post might be made responsible for planning of military government of Venezia Giulia in conjunction with Allies. We pointed out we did not consider Yugoslav representation on Allied Commission for Italy desirable and General McNarney supported us with statement that he would not consider it proper to offer participation in Allied Commission (which was in effect governing Italy today) to Tito when latter was proposing in fact to seize certain portions of Italian territory. Serious repercussions in Italy would ensue and Italian government might fall. He therefore objected to this step because of military consequences.

We informed Field Marshal Alexander and those present at meeting we felt Tito might agree to accept SAC’s full control over Venezia Giulia. We added that we failed to see why special facilities should be offered to Tito in the control of AMG. We pointed out that prestige and other advantages which Tito would acquire from AMG would be considerable. We then informed meeting in detail of sense of first four paragraphs of Department’s 179, February 28, 6 p.m. and added that we believed the United States Government would probably inform the Soviet and British Governments of our position. We concluded with statement that we were not satisfied that Tito’s Partisans in fact possessed strength in northeastern Italy which they claim.

Macmillan reacted promptly to our comments and stated that he proposed that Tito’s administration ought not only to be prevented from dominating Italian areas but should be completely merged in the AMG setup. He then agreed that it was not essential to have a [Page 1113] Yugoslav representative accredited to AC63 but that it would be important to have some authorized Yugoslav official to cooperate in necessary planning. During the course of the meeting, Field Marshal Alexander seemed a bit impatient with the political objections which were raised to his desire to establish the provisional military line referred to in my 609 of February 20, which he has now labelled the Robertson line. (This line was drawn by Lt. General Lord Robertson, SAC’s chief administrative officer at AFHQ, who prepared plans for occupation of the area west of this line in accordance with SAC’s directions.) We made it clear that we did not approve of the proposed provisional line.

We have been shown in strictest secrecy a copy of the minutes prepared on SAC’s first conference with Tito on the evening of his arrival at Belgrade. There were present at this meeting besides Tito and Alexander only Velebit64 and Maclean65 who acted as interpreters. During this meeting, according to transcript of the minutes, SAC made the inquiry referred to in first paragraph of this message and stated to Tito “At first sight, it looked as if this would involve the occupation of all territory west of the 1939 frontier between Italy and Yugoslavia, and the establishment of AMG in the areas in question. First, he accepted the idea of Allied military government, provided that he was allowed to retain the civil administration which he had already established in the areas in question. At the same time he was prepared to agree that his civil authorities should be responsible to AMG. Et cetera. Et cetera.”

During the course of SAC’s meeting we asked Alexander three times whether Tito had not definitely agreed to accept AMG for all territory west of 1939 Italian frontier and to place his forces under SAC as military governor. SAC evaded a direct reply and said twice that Tito had stated flatly “I intend to annex what I want in Istria after you withdraw.”

A telegram is being sent to the Combined Chiefs of Staff on this subject this evening and is not at all what Alexander wished to propose in the first draft which he tabled at the meeting under discussion.

It has been difficult to bring SAC around to our point of view on this question and while we may not have succeeded entirely we have prevented Alexander and his Chief of Staff from making the proposals they originally intended to make. We have persistently urged them that instead of asking Tito what he would like we should tell Tito what we intended to do in that area and state that we expected his cooperation.

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I can only say that I consider that any action which would mark a deviation from the maintenance of the 1939 boundary pending final settlement by due process would constitute a repudiation of the principles for which we are supposed to be fighting.

  1. Allied Commission.
  2. Gen. Vladimir Velebit, Yugoslav Assistant Foreign Minister.
  3. Brig. Fitzroy H. Maclean, Head of British Military Mission to Yugoslavia.