740.00119 Control (Italy)/5–345
Memorandum of Telephone Conversation, by the Acting Secretary of State
Secretary Stimson telephoned me this morning with respect to the Trieste matter. He said he wished to see whether his feeling regarding the military procedure to be followed corresponded with mine. The Secretary stated that he had read Tito’s answer to Alexander7 and that he was familiar, from the preceding messages, with Alexander’s original conception and the War Department’s telegram Fan 536 of April 28 which gave the policy of the Department and now [Page 1134] he had read Tito’s answer to Alexander which showed that Tito claimed the right of operating the area which, under the State Department’s directive, we were told to hold during the war and until the peace conference. Tito’s telegram says that in all of the operations of the troops our military and civil authorities were naturally due to function in a very dangerous situation as far as contact was concerned. He said that they were in actual touch and there was one commander under one general directive faced with the warning of the other that he proposes that his military and civil authorities shall continue to function, where Alexander is told that he must prepare for ours. The Secretary said that, in the meantime, he understood we had tried to get Harriman to make a joint appeal to the Russians with the British and that he hadn’t yet even got the British to join with him, and suggested, from the letter I had showed him to the President yesterday, that there was some likelihood that the British would hold back on that a little. I said to Secretary Stimson that that might be true. The Secretary stated that Tito had admitted that Alexander would be free to send troops in and to protect their lines of communication. Secretary Stimson went on to say that that is, of course, strictly military as distinguished from the political problem. He added that so far as the military position was concerned he thought it ought to be clear that Alexander could act in his discretion under the general directive not to get into a row, adding that it was in his discretion to see how far he could get into occupied territory. He said that this was not, of course, a safe situation but a very explosive one.
Mr. Stimson stated that the question then was what we were going to do as to this general directive, which still stands. He said he assumed we were working on that. He said we had either to gracefully [apparent omission] decline to get into a fight. I replied that we were working on that now—Phillips and Matthews—and added that we would prepare a letter to Secretary Stimson in which the whole situation would be made clear up to date. I said I didn’t know just how it was going to work out but that I agreed with the Secretary that it was a potentially bad situation and inquired what he thought we ought to do. Secretary Stimson replied that that was a pretty big question. We had already taken the position that the American people would not back up a contest with the Balkan peoples even when we were trying to get around the Germans. We had drawn the line—Italy was as far as we thought we could safely go with American troops in fighting the Germans. Now that Germany was conquered and it was just a question of Balkan boundaries and Balkan interests, the Secretary felt very strongly that the American people would say that American [Page 1135] soldiers should not be lost in the Balkans. I interjected to say that the President had given a directive to that effect. The Secretary continued that we then came to the question of what our chances were of carrying out the original plan or of gracefully retiring from it. I said I was going into the whole thing, and as soon as our people here had explored the situation I would let Secretary Stimson know right away.
I stated that I thought it would be difficult to avoid unexpected clashes. The Secretary said that at present our troops were not right up at the front. He left the telephone for a moment and when he returned he told me they were not sure exactly where our troops were. He stated that it was his understanding that the New Zealand-British Division was in Trieste, but that they had no news that our American troops had crossed the Isonzo, the river running up from Trieste Bay. They thought the troops were some miles back from there. He stated that the general expedition was formed on a 50–50 basis—the troops handled by Alexander were composed of 50 percent of ours and 50 percent of the British. I repeated that we were going into the whole situation right now and would send him a letter as soon as possible.
I telephoned Secretary Stimson about half an hour later and said that it seemed evident that the danger of a clash between our forces and those of Marshal Tito was very real. I said that the Secretary had doubtless issued instructions to avoid hostilities, fighting only in self-defense, and should clashes occur, they should be reported promptly to the Combined Chiefs of Staff. I said that that seemed to put things in the proper perspective for the moment. The Secretary replied that it did so far as words could do it, but that when men of different races were wandering around with different ideas and one of the races was Yugoslav, then the situation was explosive.
I referred to the point Mr. Stimson had raised about the British being reluctant to go ahead, and said I thought that was overcome by Churchill’s last telegram to the President8 stating that he was very anxious to go ahead. I said I would send a copy of the telegram over to Mr. Stimson, and added that Churchill was very definitely urging that we had a duty to perform there, that there was no hanging back on his part. Mr. Stimson said he was very much interested in that, since the other telegram was so much the other way. I promised to get the telegram over to him today.