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UK Official History • Trieste and Austrian Crises

[The document below, found at the Naval War College Library, Newport RI, is the most comprehensive, yet concise, analysis I have yet found of the situation facing the Allies at the Yugoslav border after World War II. All who served in Venezia Giulia and Trieste are urged to read at least down to the discussion of the Morgan mission to Belgrade on page 342. It helps to establish the context of your presence in that corner of Europe, the foot of the 'Iron Curtain'.
Pagination, footnotes, foreign words, and added comments appear in italic typeface, thus. A list of persons and abbreviations appears at the end.]


The Mediterranean and Middle East
Volume 6: Victory in the Mediterranean
Part III: November 1944 to May 1945
(iv): Trieste and Austrian Crises.

General Sir William Jackson, GBE, KCE, MC
Group Captain T P Gleve, CBE, FRHistS.
HMSO London 1988. • © 1988 Crown. • ISBN 0-11-630943-1.


|p. 336|

See Map 20. The Trieste crisis blew up with an intensity which at the time suggested that it might lead to the last battle of the Second World War or the first of the Third World War. It turned out to be the first Western success in the East/West struggle which had yet to be christened the 'Cold War'. It was a crisis which rose in a succession of awkward steps to its crescendo and then died away as if it had all been a great misunderstanding.

Winning the war in Italy, which was marked by the capitulation of Army Group C, was not the only task of Alexander [Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean] and his senior commanders in the spring and summer of 1945; they had also to win the peace, and, in this wider context, the major politico-military issue was the presence of Yugoslav forces in Venezia Giulia and Trieste.

It will be recalled that the 4th Yugoslav Army with British Air, Naval and some logistic support had begun to attack Fiume on 20th April.
Footnote: See p. 256-7.
They were opposed by 97th Corps with 237th Infantry and 188th Mountain Divisions. Progress was unlikely to be very rapid but the Yugoslavs were much nearer to Trieste when the Allies brought through on the Po than had been anticipated when Alexander met Tito in Belgrade. On that occasion a verbal agreement had been reached which would allow the Allies control of the Lines of Communication from Trieste to the British Occupation Zone of Austria through Venezia Giulia.
Footnote: The term Venezia Giulia embraced the provinces on Gorizia, Trieste, Istria (Pola), Carnaro (Fiume) and Zadar (or Zara) on the Dalmatian Coast.

|p. 337|

On 6th April, before 'Grapeshot' began, Alexander had expressed to the C.I.G.S. his urgent need for a clear declaration of policy on Venezia Giulia by the three Powers. None was forthcoming and so on 26th April, with the agreement of the Supreme Allied Commanders' Conference and in order to prize out further directions, he informed the Combined Chiefs of Staff that, subject to their agreement, he proposed to use an Anglo-American task force to seize areas of military importance in Venezia Giulia. These would include Trieste, its Lines of Communication northward to Austria, and Pola. Allied Military Government (A.M.G.) would be set up which would work through suitable local people, Italian or Yugoslav. He would inform Tito of his intentions and explain that any Yugoslav forces remaining in the area would be expected to come under his command.

The British Foreign Office were by now prepared to accept the more ambitious American proposal which favoured the occupation of the whole of Venezia Giulia - provided, and this was particularly stressed in the résumé sent to Mr. Eden [Foreign Secretary] who was then in Washington - that the American Government would be prepared to back their plan by force if necessary. Accordingly on 28th April Alexander was directed by the C.C.S. to establish Allied Military Government in the whole of Venezia Giulia except for Zadar, and also in Tarvisio and its surrounding area, which, before 1919, had been part of the Austrian province of Carinthia. Forces to back the plan were to be provided by the British and American Governments.

Even a cursory examination of this policy showed that it was becoming impractical to implement. Tito's Partisan Forces were already established in most of Istria and Gorizia, and 4th Yugoslav Army had a firm grip on Fiume. Some Yugoslav regular troops were reported fighting in Trieste itself on 1st May. After repeating this information to the Prime Minister, Alexander commented:

If I am ordered by the Combined Chiefs of Staff to occupy the whole of Venezia Giulia by force if necessary, we shall certainly be committed to a fight with the Yugoslav Army, who will have the moral backing at least of the Russians.'

Furthermore, he was doubtful about the reaction of Allied troops; they had formed

'a profound admiration for Tito's Partisan Army and a great deal of sympathy for them in their struggle for freedom. We must be very careful therefore before we ask them to turn away from the common enemy to fight an ally.'

Alexander compromised by issuing orders on 1st May for 'initial objectives' for 8th Army. these were:

'(a) Secure Trieste and Lines of Communication through Italy to it.
(b) Secure Lines of Communication from Trieste to Austria through Gorizia and Tarvisio.
(c) Secure Pola, anchorages between Trieste and Pola, and the Lines of Communication between those ports.'
|p. 338|

Operations would be continued until Venezia Giulia was cleared or a link-up with the regular Yugoslav forces was achieved. Great care would be exercised to avoid armed clashes with the Yugoslavs. In order to reduce misunderstandings Alexander had informed Tito earlier that day that his forces were nearing Venezia Giulia. He proposed to implement the plans discussed at Belgrade, namely the orders quoted directly above.

The Prime Minister replied on 2nd May agreeing that 'Tito will not withdraw his troops if ordered to do so, and the Russians will never tell him to'. He then gave instructions:

'Should unco-operative contact be made, no violence should occur except in self defence. There should be a pause and a halt. The matter can only be settled by the three major Governments ... A quarrel with the Yugoslavs should be a matter for the peace table and not for the field. I have the greatest confidence in the way you will judge the difficult situation into which victory is leading us.'

Tito's reply to Alexander's letter, informing the Field-Marshal of his intention of occupying the area agreed at Belgrade, was received on 2nd May. It had an ominous ring about it. Tito was quick to point out that things had changed since the Belgrade meeting. His troops had occupied virtually all Venezia Giulia and his civil administration of this area was already operating. He was, however, prepared to honour the Belgrade agreement by allowing Alexander full use of the port of Trieste and the routes of supply into Austria for the supply of British occupation forces.

By the following evening the Yugoslav position had hardened as Tito became aware of the extent of British penetration of Venezia Giulia. He sent Alexander a sharply worded protest demanding an immediate explanation why British forces had entered the region which had been liberated by the Yugoslav Army. A copy of the message was delivered to General Freyberg [GOC 2nd New Zealand Division] by Tito's Chief of Staff with the additional demand that all British troops must withdraw behind the Isonzo forthwith.
Footnote: 4th Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff was even ruder at a lower level conference, stating that unless the British Army complied he would not be responsible for the consequences.
Neither side could take these messages at face value because neither was militarily on balance and capable of backing its threats with force.

|p. 339|

The British were still operationally and logistically over-stretched; and the main body of the Yugoslav Army was snapping at the heels of the retreating Army Group E, the bulk of which was withdrawing into positions on the northern borders of Croatia. Alexander was thus able to reply on 3rd May in firm but courteous terms. He expressed astonishment that Tito had apparently failed to honour the Belgrade agreement by allowing his troops to occupy territory up to the Isonzo. He reminded Tito of all the aid which he had given him and was continuing to give and of the valuable Air and Naval support which the Allies had supplied. Then he said:

'I have thus fully kept my promise to you and I still believe that you will keep yours to me.'

He concluded by suggesting that their two Chiefs of Staff should meet at Bari to iron out their problems.

Tito's reply of 5th May was conciliatory. He maintained that he had kept to the Belgrade agreement by allowing Alexander the full use of the ports of Trieste and Pola and running rights over the routes into Austria. He thanked Alexander for his continuing help and agreed that a meeting of their two Chiefs of Staff would be useful.

This exchange brought about a flimsy modus vivendi which, though plausible at higher levels of command, were almost unworkable on the ground, given the basic superstitions of the Yugoslavs, the language barrier and the obduracy of low level officialdom. When the New Zealanders had crossed the Isonzo they had found a rudimentary Yugoslav administration, which had been built up clandestinely during the early months of 1945, already in charge. In Trieste Yugoslav acquisition of power was more recent, but they quickly established civil control and proceeded to act in a high handed manner. Prominent Italian citizen were arrested, banks were forced to hand over securities, Italian manpower was conscripted for forced labour and the requisition of grain and other supplies was carried out on a large scale, and even extended west of the Isonzo. In these circumstances Alexander judged it unwise to establish any form of Allied Military Government. Opening up the port of Trieste was going ahead but the use of both it and the railway would clearly depend on Yugoslav goodwill.

On 5th May Alexander assessed the situation as he saw it for the Prime Minister:

If Tito is getting accurate information given him then I think he is behaving badly. He now finds himself in a much stronger military position than he foresaw when I was in Belgrade and wants to cash in on it. Then he hoped to step into Trieste when finally I stepped out. Now he wants to be installed there and only allow me user rights. We must bear in mind that since our meeting he has been in Moscow. I believe that he will hold to our original agreement if he can be assured that when I no longer require Trieste as a base for my forces in Austria he will be allowed to incorporate it in his new Yugoslavia.'

|p. 340|

Churchill's reply next day was unambiguous.

'There is no question of your making any agreement with him (Tito) about incorporating Istria, or any part of the pre-war Italy in "his new Yugoslavia". The destiny of this part of the world is reserved for the peace table, and you should certainly make him aware of this.'
'In order to avoid leading Tito or his Yugoslav commanders into any temptation, it would be wise to have a solid mass of troops in this area ...'

Churchill added in an immediate follow-up cable:

'It is evidently not repeat not much use arguing with him. We should also consider whether our officers and Missions in Yugoslavia may not get into danger as time passes and whether, apart from the Diplomatic Mission representative in Belgrade, they should not gradually fade away and come home'
Footnote: In fact 4th Yugoslav Army had already demanded, 4th May, that all forward Allied Missions should be withdrawn. As for the withdrawal of Air units at Zadar, Alexander feared that this might be taken as a sign of weakness but decided that it was included in the terms of his original agreement with Tito. The withdrawal was completed by 17th May.

Next day, 7th May, Churchill enquired anxiously:

'Let me know what you are doing in massing forces against this Muscovite tentacle of which Tito is crook.'

Meanwhile Alexander had continued with his policy of quietly pushing ahead to occupy the militarily important areas of Venezia Giulia. 8th Army had two corps (each of three divisions) forward. 13th Corps on the right was responsible for Venezia Giulia with the New Zealanders in Trieste, 91st U.S. Division in Gorizia and 56th Division protecting the Lines of Communication between the two. 5th Corps on the left was assembling around Udine and Cividale for its advance into Austria. The German troops of Army Group E facing 5th Corps, who had been blocking the two roads into Tarvisio, finally withdrew on the 7th. Next day 6th Armoured Division followed by 78th Division, began the advance into Austria with the important road centres of Villach and Klagenfurt as their objectives. Contact was also sought with the Russians at Graz. 5th Corps' third division, 46th Division, was not expected to be concentrated forward until 13th May.

To demonstrate the Allied complexion of the Trieste garrison one battalion from 91st U.S. Division and a battalion from 56th Division were placed under New Zealand command in the city. Such a force was adequate for occupational duties but not for confrontation with the Yugoslav Army as well. Alexander estimated on 6th May that 4th Yugoslav Army had 60,000 troops in Venezia Giulia. Every day saw them strengthening their hold up to and even west of the Isonzo. The general capitulation of the Wehrmacht could not be far off and this would free even more Yugoslav forces.

|p. 341|

Meanwhile the two German divisions of 97th Corps had failed to check the Yugoslav advance of Fiume. General Löhr, now OB Südost, had been warned of their growing encirclement, but insisted that the port and its environs must be held for the sake of his troops in Croatia. When it was at last authorised, on 1st May, to break out to the north, 97th Corps was too weak to do so, and its remnants surrendered to the Yugoslavs a week later. The capitulation of Army Group C came as a great shock to Löhr, whose western flank was thus completely exposed. Late on 2nd May he signaled Dönitz, whom Hitler had appointed to succeed him as Head of State and Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht; he told the Grand Admiral that he hoped to withdraw from Croatia to the Austrian frontier and begged that negotiations be opened with Alexander. Kesselring supported the plea, but Western commanders refused to consider any separate deals for Army Groups facing the Russians or Yugoslavs. While Dönitz's emissaries dragged out the surrender talks in an attempt to gain time, some two-thirds of Army Group E crossed the Austrian frontier. According to Löhr's Chief of Staff about 150,000 officers and men were south of it when the Instrument for unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht as a whole was signed at Rheims on 8th May; in accordance with its provisions, all troops were ordered to stand fast from midnight of 8th/9th May. Löhr himself insisted on joining his troops south of the border and conducted surrender negotiations with the Yugoslavs. He was brought to trial in 1946 and executed for shooting Partisans.

The surrender of 97th Corps around Fiume enabled Tito to begin shifting his forces westward. By 10th May it appeared to 13th Corps that the centre of gravity of 4th Yugoslav Army lay between Trieste and the Isonzo. In 5th Corps' sector, regular Yugoslav units followed 6th Armoured Division as it entered Klagenfurt and Villach, and their Partisans were found already established in the area. Working in conditions that, at times, bordered on the chaotic the Division sought to round up the thousands of surrendered personnel, hampered by continued clashes between Yugoslav and German troops. The reported Yugoslav objective was to occupy all ground up to the River Drava, the so-called 'language frontier'. The port of Trieste was sufficiently clear by 10th May to receive landing craft, but the Yugoslav port commander remained un-cooperative. General Harding [GOC 13th Corps]informed McCreery [GOC 8th Army] that day that he no longer considered the L. of C. secure and that military control could only be regained by 'full scale military operations' if the Yugoslavs resisted.

|p. 342|

Bearing in mind the results of Morgan's [Chief of Staff Mediterranean] mission (described below), on 10th May Alexander also reviewed the overall situation and decided that the port of Venice should be opened and developed. Work at Trieste was also to continue as Venice would only take ships of limited draught and was not militarily as satisfactory a port.

Two days earlier, on 8th May, Morgan had set off for Belgrade with a draft agreement drawn up by Alexander and approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, which he was to present to Tito. Alexander required the use of Trieste and the railways and roads from the city via Gorizia to Villach. There must be a demarcation line some distance east of the road and rail links, and all territory west of this line would be under command of 15th Army Group [U.S. General Mark Clark commanding] and administered by Allied Military Government. All Yugoslav troops were to withdraw to the east of this line. Thus the Combined Chiefs of Staff had come to accept Alexander's concept of a 'purely military and temporary agreement'.

Tito turned down these proposals immediately, arguing that since he had liberated the territory he intended to claim it and more at the peace conference. He believed that the Yugoslav Army, as an Allied Army, had every right to occupy it. He made counter-proposals which, like Alexander's, were little different from his original ones: the Allies could have running rights controlled by a Joint Commission but the administration of Trieste would remain in Yugoslav hands. This in turn was militarily unacceptable to Alexander who had to have his L. of C. under his own control. It was evident that neither side was prepared to compromise. On 10th May he informed Tito that he had referred the whole question to the American and British Governments as it had become a political issue.

Churchill, while awaiting the outcome of the Belgrade negotiations, was the recipient of varied advice. On 9th May Macmillan [British Resident Minister at Allied Force Headquarters] cabled from Caserta that the situation in Austria was very embarrassing for the British commanders. It seemed undesirable to use force at the moment, but incidents could occur or be provoked. Some clear instructions should be issued soon as to whether Alexander should order 8th Army to close the Austrian frontier to the Yugoslavs and eject them from the positions into which they had infiltrated. The British Chiefs of Staff, reviewing the situation on 11th May, also pressed for the issue of new instructions to Alexander, which, they pointed out, would require the agreement of the American Government. To close the Austrian frontier would be incompatible with Alexander's current orders that his troops were not to shoot except in self-defence.

|p. 343|

The American position was changing. As recently as 30th April President Truman had emphasised in a cable to the Prime Minister:

'... I wish to avoid having American forces used to fight Yugoslav forces or being used in combat in the Balkan political arena.'

However, on 10th May Lord Halifax [British Ambassador in the United States] had reported from Washington that the U.S. Government was now taking a very serious view of the Yugoslav attitude, which they felt reflected an assurance (rightly or wrongly) of tacit Soviet support. They were, therefore, prepared to take 'a very much stronger line than had hitherto seemed likely'.

In an appreciation of 11th May, sent to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, Alexander suggested that he had two courses open to him: he could sign the agreement offered him by Tito which would probably result in disturbances in Italy, where it would be held that the Allies had virtually acknowledged Tito's claims on Italian territory; or he could continue with the present highly unsatisfactory position while action was taken at political level. If, however, the British and U.S. Governments decided to use force, it must be assumed that the Yugoslavs would be heavily re-equipped with weapons taken from Army Group E. Even if the Russians did not give material support Alexander estimated that he would have to deploy 11 Allied divisions against the Yugoslavs: five in Venezia Giulia, three in Austria and three on the Austro-Yugoslav border. He had 18 divisions of which eight would not be available (four were needed for work in Italy, two were controlling the vast numbers of prisoners of war, and two were Indian division destined for the Far East). He needed to know what troops he could depend upon for operations against the Yugoslavs. Use of the New Zealand, South African, Indian, Polish, and Brazilian divisions would doubtless need clearance from their respective governments; in addition, under his present directive, the seven United States divisions could not be used in the Balkans. Finally he repeated his warning that British and American troops might be reluctant to start a new war against Yugoslavia after all the favourable publicity given to Tito's war time operations.

The Combined Chiefs of Staff replied next day. While governmental action was being pursued Alexander was to adopt the second course he had proposed, that of maintaining the status quo. They again stressed that 'hostilities involving your forces and those of Yugoslavia can only occur through result of attack on your forces by the Yugoslavs'. As far as possible troops in contact with Yugoslav forces should be either U.S. or British.
Footnote: The same day the P.M. gave authority for Indian troops to be used and the New Zealand Government agreed on 14th May to their troops being used as well.

|p. 344|

This amounted to little more than a military holding operation which did not advance the political issues much further. The final decision rested with the two heads of state in London and Washington. Their cables crossed on 12th May. Churchill did not make a special case for Trieste but a general one for United States' support in halting Soviet ambitions.

'An Iron Curtain is being drawn down upon their front. We do not know what is going on behind. There seems little doubt that the whole of the regions east of the line Lubeck-Trieste-Corfu will soon be completely in their hands ...' [This, 12th May 1945, is the earliest use yet seen of the term 'Iron Curtain'.]

The President's cable was to prove of equal historic importance, but its immediate value lay in his willingness to concert action with the Prime Minister in Balkan affairs. After acknowledging his increasing concern over the implication of Tito's activities he came to the nub of the problem:

'I have come to the conclusion that we must decide now whether we shall uphold the fundamental principles of territorial settlement by orderly process against force, intimidation or blackmail.'

He then recommended that:

'Field-Marshal Alexander should be given complete and exclusive control of Trieste and Pola, the Line of Communication through Gorizia and Monfalcone, and an area sufficiently to the east of this line to permit proper administrative control.'

Alexander's proposals, in fact, were to become the minimum Anglo-American requirement. The U.S. and British Ambassadors in Belgrade were to demand acceptance of these terms as Yugoslav acknowledgement of the principle of territorial settlement by negotiation. The President also suggested that Marshal Stalin be informed, to which Churchill readily agreed.

Churchill gave his full support to the Ambassadorial approach. Under the impression that, in the event of a rejection by Tito, Truman was now ready to allow British and American troops to move in and occupy the disputed areas, he cabled Alexander on 12th May telling him to assume that all 18 divisions in Italy (eight Commonwealth, seven United States, one Brazilian, and two Polish) would be available in emergency.

|p. 345|

He ended:

'You must indeed rejoice at the prospects of so much help being given by our great Allies and by the new President. [Truman had then been in office only one month.] This action if pursued with firmness may well prevent a renewal of World War.'

He also cabled Truman, asking him to put a standstill, if only briefly, on the much-publicised withdrawal of American Army and Air force formations from Europe for the Far East, and to confirm what forces Alexander could deploy in event of hostilities. But he had pressed the President too hard. Replying on the 14th, Truman declined to take any further decisions before knowing the result of diplomatic action in Belgrade, ending: 'Unless Tito's forces should attack, it is impossible for me to involve this country in another war'.

Churchill laid much of the blame for Truman's refusal on Alexander's shoulders because of his warning that hostilities with Yugoslav troops might affect the morale of British and American forces. Churchill's anxieties about American intentions were heightened, if not directly inspired, by a report from Mr. Eden, who had had a long discussion with the President. From this it appeared that the American Government had been almost ready to accept that force would have to be used as a last resort, but that its resolution was shaken by Alexander's views on morale. (Similar warnings by Mr. Macmillan had also been forwarded by the United States political adviser at Caserta). In an unusually critical cable to Alexander on 14th May Mr Churchill said:

'I hope that in the changed circumstances produced by the President's telegram No. [figure corrupt] you will find it possible to give me the assurance that the Army you command will obey your orders [with] its customary sense of duty and discipline.'

On the copy of this telegram in Alexander's papers can be found the latter's manuscript notes - one of the rare occasions they occur in his files - explaining why he had to take the problem of morale into account. There were four points: it was his duty to point out the morale problems in his appreciation; it applied to all troops, General McNarney [American, his Deputy] having said the same thing about United States troops; he was sure his soldiers would do their duty but not with the same enthusiasm as against the Germans; and he was doing what he could by publicity to keep his troops informed. The last point was perhaps the most important, but remembering no doubt the attitude of the Press in Greece, he gave it a different twist in his actual reply to the Prime Minister on 15th May:

'I hope and trust that guidance at home will be given to the Press and Radio to present our case in the right light.'

|p. 346|

The British Ambassador to Belgrade, Mr. R. S. Stevenson, made the first approach to Tito on 12th May, requesting withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from the British Zone of Austria. No immediate crisis occurred because Tito merely requested that they should stay, on condition that they be put under Alexander's command. The joint presentation of the notes by the British and U.S. Ambassadors, which incorporated almost unchanged President Truman's terms on Venezia Giulia, took place on 15th May. Tito replied on the 17th with a point-blank refusal and a repetition of the counter-proposals made to General Morgan. In the interval between the presentation of notes and Tito's reply much was to happen in the field where both sides continued to strengthen their positions.

The situation in Venezia Giulia eased slightly after the Yugoslavs began, on 15th May, to withdraw their troops from west of the Isonzo. The opposite was happening in Austria. Over the next three days, as Alexander reported to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, 16,000 troops of 1st, 2nd and 3rd Yugoslav Armies moved into south-east Carinthia, where they were issuing proclamations, commandeering house and requisitioning food and other goods. Another 25,000 men were assembling south of the border and 4th Army was reported to be pushing two or three divisions toward Villach.

On 16th May Alexander directed General Clark to prepare to occupy the disputed territory by force if this should become necessary. 5th and 8th Army were alerted and planning went ahead quickly. Two days later Clark reported that 8th Army would be ready to advance for certain by 1st June, but possibly by the target date of 26th May. On 19th May Alexander, with the agreement of the American commanders, and his political advisors, issued an order of the day to tell the forces why it might be become necessary for them to fight:

'Our policy, as has been publicly proclaimed, is that territorial changes should be made only after further study and after full consultation and deliberation between the various Governments concerned.
It is however Marshal Tito's apparent intention to establish his claims by force [of] arms, and military occupation. Action of this kind would be all too reminiscent of Hitler, Mussolini and Japan. It is to prevent such actions that we have been fighting this war. ... It is our duty to hold these territories as trustees until their ultimate disposal is settled at the Peace Conference.'

In gathering resources for operations against the Yugoslavs there was now no shortage of troops or air support. Logistics were quite another matter. It was hoped that Venice would be opened for supply within a week.
Footnote: In fact the first coasters did not begin to unload at the port until 28th May.

|p. 347|

Meanwhile as much as possible was being done by air and 1,200 tons per day were being shipped in by landing craft to Trieste. Austria itself presented daunting problems. 5th Corps had signalled on 14th May that there were 300,000 prisoners, surrendered personnel and refugees in the Corps area while a further 600,000 (later amended to 500,000) were reported moving north to Austria from Yugoslavia.
Footnote: The revised figure reported came from Chief of Staff Army Group E, whose headquarters was established in Austria, south-west of Bleiburg and the road up which this force was trying to advance. Estimated roughly at 300,000 Germans and 200,000 Croats, the troops had food for only two days. The Croats themselves claimed to represent 'a whole Croat nation' accompanied as they were by 500,000 women and children. This ethnic group was persuaded, as we explain, to return to Yugoslavia. Figures quoted for P.O.W. and surrendered personnel inside Austria are confused and conflicting. To illustrate the size of the problem, those given by Alexander to General Eisenhower on 17th May totalled about 220,000, including 100,000 Germans, 46,000 Cossacks, 15,000 Hungarians, 25,000 Croats and 24,000 Slovenes.
If these numbers did arrive, provision of food and guards would become critical and 5th Corps, thus encumbered, would be at a grave disadvantage should hostilities break out with Yugoslavia.

This brings us to one of the unhappy aftermaths of the war, which is only touched on here because of the possible influence it may have had upon Marshal Tito.
Footnote: The senior officer of 4th Yugoslav Army in Austria zealously sought to reclaim from 5th Corps' P.O.W. camps the members of those German divisions which had surrendered to the Yugoslavs, along with their Croat allies or 'Yugoslav Quislings' as he called them.
General Keightley [GOC 5th Corps] in his signal of 14th May suggested to McCreery that all surrendered personnel in his Corps' area should be moved to northern Italy or sent to 'their homes'. Allied Force Headquarters, giving its ruling the same day, could not agree to accept them in Italy. Food stocks there were already severely strained by the presence of 425,000 prisoners and other surrendered personnel, and the movement of such a mass of humanity southward would have blocked the British L. of C. at the very moment when everything was being done to speed up the flow of military supplies northwards.

In the chaotic conditions prevailing at the time, simple rules of thumb had to be used to free 5th Corps for action. As it was known that the return of Soviet nationals, including the Cossacks, had been agreed at Yalta, General McCreery suggested on 14th May that the Croats be made the affair of Marshal Tito. In its reply on the same day, A.F.H.Q. directed that 'All Russians should be handed over to the Soviet forces at agreed point of contact'; also 'that all surrendered personnel of established Yugoslav nationality, who were serving in German forces, should be disarmed and handed over to Yugoslav forces.'
Footnote: It may be worth noting that 'Allied PW' held in the Russian area should be transferred 'in exchange at the same time'.

|p. 348|

The threatened influx at Bleiburg, which had sparked off the train of orders, was quickly resolved by the mediation of an experienced British brigade commander, who persuaded the Croats to surrender voluntarily to their Yugoslav pursuers in return for guarantees of humane treatment and orderly trials of any accused of war crimes.
Footnote: Brigadier Scott of 38th Brigade, operating under the command of 46th Division H.Q., mainly to the order of General Keightley.
The evacuation by rail to Yugoslavia of all Yugoslav nationals who were already in Austria began early on 19th May and continued into June.
Footnote: Among formations which actually handled the return of surrendered personnel, 1st Guards Brigade found 'the whole business ... most unsavoury' whereas 36th Brigade, in which all ranks had the reasons governing Allied policy explained to them, regarded the task as unpleasant but inevitable.

Between 15th and 17th May Alexander exchanged signals with Eisenhower asking for his help in freeing 5th Corps' three divisions for active operations to clear southern Austria. Eisenhower's response, with the consent of President Truman and the Combined Chiefs of Staff, was prompt. On 21st May 12th U.S. Army Group began preparations to deploy a corps of five divisions in southern Austria, supported by U.S. Ninth Air Force. In the event a sudden change in Yugoslav attitudes led 5th Corps to suggest that American forces should confine their moves to reconnaissance parties only.

The first sign of a break in Yugoslav intransigence had come on 19th May, when the British Ambassador in Belgrade was informed by the Yugoslav Foreign Ministry that orders had been issued to their forces in Austria to withdraw to the pre-war boundary. (An emissary carrying the same message in fact visited 5th Corps Headquarters that evening.) Overtures regarding Italian territory ere made on the morning of the 21st, this time in a note to the U.S. Ambassador in Belgrade. Tito was now ready to accept the demarcation line in Istria proposed by Alexander, subject to certain conditions: Yugoslav military units were to be allowed to remain in the area, under Alexander's command, and their representatives were to be included in Allied Military Government, which would work through the existing Yugoslav administration.

Alexander refused to consider the inclusion of Yugoslav representatives in A.M.G., nor would he agree to regular Yugoslav forces of any size remaining in the area. To maintain pressure and to give further protection to the Trieste-Tarvisio railway, he ordered General Clark to advance eastward several miles all along the front. (By this time 2nd U.S. Corps had come into the line near Gorizia.) The advance was made on 22nd May and caused little reaction.

|p. 349|

Negotiations went on with the Yugoslavs until 9th June but we need not follow their tortuous course. The outcome was entirely satisfactory to the Allied side, the Yugoslavs withdrawing from Austria and behind the demarcation line in Venezia Giulia. Few students of the record would disagree with 6th Armoured Division's verdict that May 1945 was a most unusual and exacting month:

'The infantry brigades with their supporting troops, acting on difficult orders and sometimes on no orders at all, had handled all relations with Tito forces tactfully and sensibly. In the face of irritating provocation the contrived to act with such restrain that not a single unfortunate incident was reported.'

The Italian Campaign had finally ended and the first battle of the Cold War had been won by well staged deterrence.


Supplemental Material, not in the original

Named Persons:

Field-Marshal Sir Harold Alexander, Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean (AFHQ)
Marshal Tito, Yugoslav Head of State
Mr. Anthony Eden. British Foreign Secretary
Lt-Gen Bernard Freyberg, GOC, 2nd New Zealand Division
Mr. Winston Churchill, British Prime Minster
Gen Löhr, Oberbefehlshaber Südost
Grand Admiral Dönitz, German Head of State
Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, Oberbefehlshaber Süd
Lt-Gen Sir John Harding, GOC, 13th Corps
Lt-Gen Sir Richard McCreery, GOC, 8th Army
Lt-Gen W. D. Morgan, Chief of Staff, AFHQ
Gen Mark Clark, CG, 15th Army Group
Mr. Harold Macmillan, British Resident Minister at AFHQ; Acting President, Allied Commission
Mr. Harry Truman, American President
Lord Halifax, British Ambassador in the United States
Marshal Stalin, Russian Premier
Gen Joseph McNarney, (American) Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, AFHQ
Mr. R. S. Stevenson, British Ambassador in Belgrade
General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander Europe
Lt-Gen C. F. Keightley, GOC, 5th Corps
Brig T. P. D. Scott, 38th Infantry Brigade

Abbreviations and Acronyms:

A.F.H.Q.: Allied Force Headquarters
A.M.G.: Allied Military Government
C.C.S.: Combined Chiefs of Staff
C.G.: Commanding General (American phrasing)
C.I.G.S.: Chief of the Imperial General Staff
GOC: General Officer Commanding (British phrasing)
L. of C.: Line of Communications


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