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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume II

444 — The Prime Minister of New Zealand (San Francisco) to the acting Prime Minister

The Prime Minister of New Zealand (San Francisco) to the acting Prime Minister

14 May 1945

I have received a message from Mr. Churchill regarding the implications of Tito's occupation of Trieste, and he has sent me copies of the messages exchanged between President Truman and himself.1 I have asked that all these cables, which set out the issues quite clearly, should be sent on to you at once.

In my own mind, there is no doubt that these acts of encroachment for the purpose of snatching territory by force of arms before a peace conference can meet and adjust territorial claims are just that form of aggression against which the United Nations have fought for over five and a half years and are still fighting, and which, if unchecked, will nullify and destroy all that has been won. In that case, the heavy sacrifices of New Zealand, as well as of the United Nations generally, will be in vain. In my opinion, therefore, Tito or any other similar aggressor—Allied or otherwise—must be halted at the earliest possible stage. You will see from the telegrams that Field-Marshal Alexander is asking what part of his present troops will be at his disposal in the event of action which might develop into hostilities against Yugoslavia's deliberate aggression.

I do not see how we can do otherwise than agree to authorise the Commander-in-Chief to use our Division, which is actually on the

1 Not published. On 12 May the President sent a personal message to Mr. Churchill containing the text of a message which he proposed should be delivered to Marshal Tito by the United Kingdom and United States Ambassadors at Belgrade. ‘I have come to the conclusion that we must decide now whether we should uphold the fundamental principles of territorial settlement by orderly process against force, intimidation, or blackmail,’ his telegram ran ‘…. The problem is essentially one of deciding whether our two countries are going to permit our allies to engage in uncontrolled land-grabbing or tactics which are all too reminiscent of those of Hitler and Japan.’ He suggested that the United Kingdom and United States should insist that ‘Field-Marshal Alexander should obtain 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.’

Mr. Churchill replied: ‘I agree with every word you say and will work with all my strength on the line you propose…. If [the situation] is handled firmly before our strength is dispersed, Europe may be saved another bloodbath. Otherwise the whole fruits of our victory may be cast away and none of the purposes of World Organisation to prevent territorial aggression and future wars will be attained.’ He detailed the eighteen divisions available to Field-Marshal Alexander in the event of hostilities against Yugoslavia, adding that he would have to obtain permission from the New Zealand and South African Governments for the use of their two divisions.

page 416spot, in the hope and the belief that a firm stand now against Tito in this particular instance will not only deter him from taking similar action in other neighbouring territories but will prevent an extension of such dangerous and inadmissible actions, which clearly must lead either again to war in the future or to further disastrous concessions on our part.

I have discussed with a United Kingdom representative here the matters raised in Mr. Churchill's message, and I informed him that I would place my views before the New Zealand Government at once with the request that the question of the use of the Division for the purpose of stopping aggression on the part of the Tito Government and forces be given immediate and favourable consideration, and that the decision of War Cabinet and the Government Cabinet might be conveyed to Mr. Churchill. I am also informing Mr. Churchill that, in my opinion, the proposed action by the United Kingdom and the United States must only be taken when it has been demonstrated clearly and beyond dispute to the world that every effort to arrange a fair and reasonable agreement on the important matters in dispute, in strict accord with the principles for which the United Nations have fought and are still fighting, has failed through the obstinate and definitely aggressive attitude of the Government of Yugoslavia.1

I am also asking Mr. Churchill for an assurance that the proposed action by the British and United States will not involve interference in any way with the purely internal affairs of Yugoslavia, such as the restoration of the monarchy, and that our troops will not be used for that or similar purposes.

I am advising Freyberg in the above sense of my views and asking that he keep the Government and me informed as to his appreciation of the situation and of current developments.2

I deeply deplore this most regrettable development arising after the people of New Zealand believing, as everybody did everywhere else, that peace as well as victory had been won in Europe and that the war there had ended. I also very much regret that there should be any clash with the Government of Yugoslavia, as I have greatly admired the splendid fight put up by Tito and the Partisans against the Germans, which to the largest extent the United Kingdom and the United States made possible. It appears to me, however, that a prompt stand is inevitable at this moment if the principles for which so many of our men fought and died are not to be trampled underfoot and aggression again enthroned.

Would you please repeat your reply to me.