740.00119 Control (Italy)/5–145: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Italy (Kirk)

417. For PolAd. The following exchange of telegrams took place between the President and the Prime Minister yesterday with regard to the Combined Chiefs of Staff telegram, Fan 536, which agreed to the establishment of Allied Military Government in the disputed area of Venezia Giulia. I discussed this question with the President yesterday and we prepared the draft reply in accordance with his instructions. In carrying out the operational phase Field Marshal Alexander has informed us of his intention to occupy Trieste and Pola for the maintenance of his line of communication to Austria. As regards the extension of Allied Military Government we still feel that we should endeavor to secure both Soviet and Yugoslav cooperation although the latter may be difficult if not impossible to obtain. Should this be the case we cannot contemplate the use of American troops to enforce this policy. (Your 1808 April 29 and 1834 April 30).98

“From the Prime Minister to President Truman.

1. Combined Chiefs of Staff telegram Fan 536.

The military part seems to me very good; but it is surely a delusion to suppose the Yugoslav Government, with the Soviet Government behind them, would agree to our entering or taking control of Venezia Giulia including Fiume etc. They will undoubtedly try to overrun all this territory and will claim and occupy the ports of Trieste, Pola and Fiume, and once they get there I do not think they will go. No one is more keen than I to play absolutely fair with the Soviet on matters of the surrender of the German armies, and as you see the messages we have both sent to Stalin have completely restored his confidence [Page 1131] in this respect. On the other hand we have never undertaken to be limited in our advances to clear Italy, including these Adriatic Provinces, of the Germans by the approval either of the Yugoslavs or of the Russians, nor to report to them the military movements our commanders think it right to make. I shall be agreeably but extremely surprised if, for instance, paragraph 4 of the Fan 53699 receives anything but a stubborn refusal coupled with a renewed effort of the Yugoslav Partisans to arrive at Trieste before us. We are as much entitled to move freely into Trieste, if we can get there, as were the Russians to win their way into Vienna. We ought if possible to get there first and then talk about the rest of the Province. After all the basic principle on which we have been working is that territorial changes must be left for the peace or armistice settlement.

2. I therefore hope that Alexander will be left to carry out the plan, which the Chiefs of the Combined Staffs have approved, as quickly and as secretly as possible and that above all we shall try to take possession of Trieste from the sea before informing the Russians or Yugoslavs, assuming of course that the Supreme Commander considers that it can be successfully accomplished with the amphibious and other forces at his disposal.

3. In conclusion it would seem that while the Allied forces will arrive in Trieste as liberators laying no claim to territorial gains, the Yugoslavs will arrive as conquerors laying their hands on territory which they vehemently covet. It has seemed to me, in view of the United States friendly sentiments towards Italy, some defence of Italian rights at the head the Adriatic might be the means of harmonious combination between the United States, the British and the Italian Governments and would split or render ineffective the Communist movement in Italy and especially in northern Italy. There will be a great shock to public opinion in many countries when the American armies of the north withdraw, as they have to do under the occupational zone scheme, on a front of several hundred miles to a distance of upwards of 120 miles to the west, and when the Soviet advance overflows all those vast areas of central Germany which the Americans had conquered. If at the same time the whole of the northern Adriatic is occupied by Yugoslavs, who are the Russian tools and beneficiaries, this shock will be emphasized in a most intense degree. I beg you will consider these matters before allowing any disclosure of plans, which remain entirely within our accredited zone of action, to the Russians or the Yugoslavs. Postscript:—Just as I was sending off the above I received your number 171 for which I thank you very much. My remarks are in no way out of harmony with your decision except that I think we are entitled to act first and explain afterwards in this particular case.

I have also heard that Ustachi2 bands pro-German in character are being moved into these regions in order to embroil us with the Yugoslavs. They are said to number 20,000 men apart from those gathered [Page 1132] further east by Mihailovic.3 All this accentuates the need for speed provided that Alexander and Mark Clark4 think they can get [apparent omission]. All this Italian business is a grand victory for our armies and will probably mean the greatest mass surrender yet achieved. All my good wishes. End”

“From the President to the Prime Minister.

Your number 22, April 30.

It seems to me that Field Marshal Alexander has all the guidance he needs in Fan No. 536 from the Combined Chiefs of Staff. I agree that in the operational phase when he is endeavoring to establish his lines of communication to Austria and to establish his control over Trieste and Pola, there is no need for obtaining prior Russian consent. I note from Naf 932 that before his task force enters Venezia Giulia Alexander will inform Marshal Tito of his intentions and explain to Tito that if any of his forces remain in that area they must necessarily come under Alexander’s command. Fan 536 directs Alexander to communicate with the Combined Chiefs of Staff before taking further action in the area in question if the Yugoslav forces there fail to cooperate. I think this is important for I wish to avoid having American forces used to fight Yugoslav forces or being used in combat in the Balkan political arena.”

  1. Neither printed.
  2. Paragraph 4 stated that Soviet concurrence would be sought to join in requesting Yugoslav Government to withdraw all Yugoslav forces from compartment of Venezia Giulia.
  3. Dated April 29, p. 1126.
  4. Pro-Axis Croatian Society.
  5. Gen. Draza Mihailović, Leader of the Yugoslav Nationalist Guerilla Forces.
  6. Commanding General, Fifteenth Army Group.