860S.00/7–1349: Telegram

The United States Political Adviser at Trieste (Baldwin) to the Secretary of State


485. R. J. Routledge ea [E.M.?] British Royal Army Service Corps killed by gunfire from Yugoslav border guards at 2240 July 10. Yugoslav Army personnel refused release body until AMG commission made inquiry. Major General Hoge Acting Zone Commander authorized appointment commission comprising British military personnel. Commission conducted inquiry from 2000 to 2115 hours July 11 from 800 to 1200 hours July 10. Statements by Yugoslav military personnel indicate British soldier shot inside Yugoslavia after refusing recognize challenge and attempting cross border into Zone A. Yugoslavs admit firing two bursts; first wounded soldier who fell and second was apparently fired very close to soldier’s head. Yugoslavs deny recognizing soldier who was in British uniform. Commission discovered body located approximately 60 meters inside Yugoslavia. When report of commission shown Yugoslav border guard officers they refused release body until certain changes made in report effect of which would have been to partially exonerate Yugoslavs from responsibility. They insisted report indicate commission had established as fact Yugoslav version of incident. Senior officer inquiry commission refused alter report and again unsuccessfully demanded body. Later after consultation with General Hoge he returned to scene of incident and again demanded body in name of Acting Zone Commissioner. Meanwhile Hoge made strong protest to Yugoslav mission here terming Yugoslav refusal release body inhuman, unreasonable, unnecessary and demanding immediate release. Oral reply from mission blamed delay on fact that “report could not be signed owing to reasons not essential being put forward by Allied commission” and said that body would be handed over when report was signed.

In second note to Yugoslav mission July 13, Hoge stated Yugoslav oral reply contains no satisfactory explanation and expressed amazement at Yugoslav officers’ insistence that Allied inquiry report be worded in manner acceptable to them before body could be released, an act which Hoge termed a form of duress. Hoge again protested strongly against Yugoslav action and said matter was being fully reported to Washington, London.

Incident has aroused considerable interest here. Local papers playing up story asserting British soldier shot in back by Yugoslavs. Brief AMG press release merely gives identity soldier and refers to Yugoslavs version of incident but does not mention fact that body still in Yugoslavia although this presumably well known by local press.

[Page 514]

So far as can be determined Yugoslav guards probably within rights in wounding fleeing soldier for purpose detaining him. British doctor on inquiry commission unable determine whether first wounds would have caused death; however, second possibly third firing at close range obviously brutal act completely lacking justification. Yugoslavs persistent refusal release body unless assured inquiry report would virtually exonerate them from all responsibility indicates their anxiety over results more exhaustive investigation which will soon be impossible because of decomposition of body.

As further efforts here obtain body obviously futile Hoge considers that any further action should be taken by Washington, London, Belgrade.

British PolAd telegraphing Foreign Office, British Embassy, Washington.

Sent Department 485; repeated Belgrade 55.1

  1. In telegram 495 of July 19, not printed, Baldwin reported from Trieste that the British soldier’s body had been delivered to British officers on July 18 (860S.00/7–1949).

    In the Department’s telegram 436 of August 5 to Belgrade, not printed, the Ambassador was informed that his British colleague had been instructed to accept the apologies of the Yugoslav Foreign Office but also to advise that the British Government expected the Yugoslav Government to pay compensation and to take all possible action to prevent unnecessary firing on Allied soldiers on the FTT frontiers. (860S.00/7–1349)