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War with Tito?

by edward dudley

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Contributed by 
edward dudley
People in story: 
Edward Dudley
Location of story: 
Italy and Slovenia (Yugoslavia) May 1945
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A6185522
Contributed on: 
18 October 2005

In May 1945 and before VE day my battalion (2/7 Queen's, 56 London Div, 8th Army) was moved hurriedly from Venice to Trieste where Tito's Partisan Army was chasing the Germans into Austria. We passed them on the way, including women carrying heavy mortars and MGs. Tito's move worried Allied Governments and we were there to try to discourage them. Initially we took up trenches left from WW1 and then moved into Yugoslavia. At a Company Orders Group we were told what we were there for and when as platoon commander I reported back to my platoon, a Corporal said " **** [army expletive] for a lark - last week Tito was on our side". My company was in a small village on one side of a central square with a Sherman tank. On the other side was A Tito company with horses and in the morning we would go over to them, salute and look at their positions and they would then visit our positions. On or two occasions we played football with our presumed adversaries. This farce was settled amicably and we became more or less friendly military guests of the local population. If it had come to actual shooting, there might have been something more serious among British soldiers than a lack of enthusiasm, some of whom had been in action for three years from the Western Desert in 1942 onwards. There is a short account of this military and diplomatic hoo-hah in the UK Official History of the Second World War, but otherwise it is now seldom mentioned except by a few historians.
Two months later I was responsible for organising the voting for my company in the general election of 1945. To get around I was offered a horse (which I could not ride) or a 500cc motor cycle (which I could just about ride). I declined both as a month later I was due to go home to the UK after four years in the Mediterranean without home leave on a scheme called Python. I flew home from Southern Italy in a patched and beat up Lancaster bomber - journey time 9 hours. On the way South by train we passed a train going North full of RAF to be driven home across Europe in Army trucks. General comment was MMFU - "Major Military **** Up". US Army equivalent was SNAFU.
But that was 60 years ago and now instead of being called ex-servicemen we are veterans and they have given us a lapel badge to prove it.

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Message 1 - War with Tito?

Posted on: 18 October 2005 by Ron Goldstein

Dear Edward

I also have strong memories of Trieste
see A2166130

and other articles.
My 'mob' didn't arrive on the scene until October 1945 but we were to stay in the Venezia Giulia area until 1947.
During my Italian service I managed to float around in various Divs including the 6th Armoured, the 78th and finally the 56th Div.

Ex-serviceman Cpl.Ron Goldstein
nowadays, like yourself, referred to as a veteran !

Best wishes

Ron

 

Message 2 - War with Tito?

Posted on: 18 October 2005 by edward dudley

Dear Ron
In April 45 we may have been within rifle shot distance, for after the amphibious landing we did at Lake Commachio, we had Sherman support and I think it was the 4th H. My platoon had one in support, but it came under nasty A/Tk fire from about 600 metres and quite properly backed off.

I'm a bit older than you (86+) and just beginning to feel my age You remember that old story about two Chelsea Pensioners talking. One said to the other "You know that stuff they used to put in our tea during the war? I think it's just beginning to work ...". Went to a battalion reunion last month here in London and was agreeably surprised at the number of ancients.
Best wishes
Edward

 

Message 3 - War with Tito?

Posted on: 18 October 2005 by Ron Goldstein

Dear Edward

After reading you last posting I trawled through some of my articles to see if I could find reference to the Queens but no joy.
The nearest I could find are some Regimental Diary entries that mention Fantails and Kangaroos that were used in the Comachio area.
See: A2310003

I note that Peter has also written a response to your article on Trieste.

If you havn't already come across Peter on the site may introduce him to you as our researcher par excellence and I kid you not!

We usually call on him to help out on any subject relating to WW2 and in particular any item that involves Italy. If you see his Personal Page you will soon see why.

I also quite often make use of his super website Weborama 2005 A2310003

which is mind boggling in it's coverage of the internet.

Please let's have some more tales and don't forget the photos.

Keep well

Ron

 

Message 4 - War with Tito?

Posted on: 18 October 2005 by Ron Goldstein

Hi Edward
Ron here again
I stupidly pasted the wrong link in my last posting.
Peter G's Weborama can be found here:

http://www.petergh.f2s.com/About links

Regards
Ron

Message 1 - Re: War with Tito?

Posted on: 18 October 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Mr Dudley

Your story regarding the end of the war in Italy is very interesting; you were caught in a very fluid and confused situation.

You say that "Initially we took up trenches left from WW1 and then moved into Yugoslavia". However, no Allied troops ever set foot in Yugoslavia (other than small special liaison groups during the war). What you were in was Italian territory which Tito was claiming for Yugoslavia, partly using the spurious argument that since Venezia Giulia (prior to WW1 part of Carinthia) was occupied by Austria and formed part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, it now ipso facto belonged to Yugoslavia, but mainly insisting that any territory 'liberated' by his forces belonged to Yugoslavia by conquest.

From 1919 the term 'Venezia Giulia' embraced the Italian provinces of Gorizia, Trieste, Istria (Pola), Carnaro (Fiume), and Zara (Zadar) on the Dalmatian coast. As the Germans retreated from Italy, the 4th Yugoslav Army (the partisans had considerably expanded by April 1945, supplied by the Red Army), poured into Italy occupying most of Venezia Giulia and in particular Fiume. At this point the Italian Partisan movement in Venezia Giulia split with a faction of ultra left wing Italian Communists siding with Tito, on orders from Moscow, and severing their allegiance to the Partisan National Liberation Committee in Milan.

Thus, when the Allies arrived in Venezia Giulia they found it almost completely occupied by Tito's forces, and what would now be called 'ethnic cleansing' was well under way. Not only were Italian fascists being shot but also Italian Partisans, including some Italian Communist Partisans who objected to Italian territory being swallowed up by Yugoslavia.

General Alexander had met Tito in Belgrade on two separate plenary meetings held on 21 and 24 February 1945 ostensibly to discuss Allied support for Tito's spring offensive. At the meetings Alexander stressed the coming need for a secure Line of Communication for the Western Allies from Trieste to Austria and tentatively saying that it looked to him that this would entail "the occupation of all territory west of the 1939 frontier between Italy and Yugoslavia", stressing that he had no authority to agree to changes to national boundaries and that this was a matter for a future Peace Conference. On his part Tito said that he did not see why the Allies had to occupy the whole of Istria just to protect their Line of Communication to Austria, and he offered the Ljubljana route through Yugoslav territory to Austria for Allied use, but in return he wanted an occupation zone in Austria. Although he side-stepped this, Alexander was really out of his depth politically in dealing with Tito and he could only get a verbal agreement about the whole issue which he thought was binding.

In April 1945 when Alexander raised the 'Belgrade Agreement', Tito simply pointed out that conditions had changed since, what he now dismissed as, 'non-binding discussions' in Belgrade; even the offered Ljubljana route through Yugoslav territory to Austria forgotten. At most he was now ready to accept Allied Military Government in Venezia Giulia 'provided' (and here was the rub) that the Tito's Partisan administration, already established in the area, continued to function under its overall command. By then Tito's partisan forces were firmly established in most of Istria and Gorizia, and the 4th Yugoslav Army had a firm grip on Fiume.

On 2 May Tito upped the ante. He sent a sharp note to Alexander demanding to know why British forces had entered a region which had been liberated by the Yugoslav Army. A footnote in the official history says "4th Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff was even ruder at a lower level conference, stating that unless the British complied he would not be responsible for the consequences" ('The Mediterranean and Middle East', Volume 6, Part III, page 338).

Matters then escalated to government level with Churchill, Truman, Eisenhower, and behind the scenes, Stalin involved and on 19th May Yugoslav intransigence suddenly broke. Negotiations then continued at a calmer level until 9 June, but considerable Italian territory was lost to Yugoslavia.

The fact that you thought you were in Yugoslavia when you went beyond the WW1 trenches is very interesting and clearly shows the extent to which Tito's forces had already 'cleansed' the area. I knew that signs were changed from Italian to Serbo-Croat, but I hadn't realised that the changes were made so quickly.

We can only speculate what might have happened had Tito, then spurred on by Stalin, got his way. With the route to Austria closed, the whole of that country would have been occupied by the Red Army and the knock-on effect incalculable.

Kind regards,
Peter Ghiringhelli

 

Message 2 - Re: War with Tito?

Posted on: 15 December 2005 by edward dudley

Dear Mr Ghiringelli
Apologies for this very tardy reply to your nicely detailed letter. I did have brought up from its reserve stock my local public library's relevant volumes of the UK official history of WW2 to get an historical bearing on my recollections.
It was indeed a confused situation which as I noted confused the soldiers in my platoon who expressed themselves appropriately. We did sometime in May 1945 cross into Slovenia and my company was in a village called Dutovlje (Italian Duttogliano) where in July I was the Returning Officer for the General Election with a very high turnout for my company. The villagers had bitter memories of the Italian occupation.
And it's all six decades ago
With thanks and best wishes
Edward Dudley

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