Macmillan was at the time Minister Resident in the Mediterranean, a post which was effectively that of political adviser to Field-Marshal Alexander. I feel sure it was useful and helpful all round. There the Headquarters of the British 38th Infantry Brigade had been established a few days earlier within the massive walls of Bleiburg Castle overlooking the town on the edge of the adjacent forest.
Before attempting my own explanation, an important matter needs to be emphasised. I turn now from the grim but historically relatively straightforward succession of events at Bleiburg to the vexed and convoluted question of British responsibility for crimes against the Croatian people. The accepted interpretation of the Geneva Convention is that uniform determines citizenship. We then stated we could not concur without referring the matter to our Government. He would have to send his telegram in spite of our non-concurrence.
IV. File Formats
It was this Machiavellian procedure which enabled the Robertson order to remain dormant, awaiting reactivation when required. By 15 May 5 Corps reported to 8 Army that they held some 25, Croats. Again, it is inconceivable that he would have done this had he been aware of the existence of the Robertson order, which already provided for them. The pattern of events shows clearly that the decisive intervention occurred on 13 May, when Harold Macmillan unexpectedly arrived at Corps Headquarters. British apologists for mass murder gleefully seized upon this signal to ascribe responsibility to Alexander for the repatriation operations, and so to absolve the Conservative prime Minister Macmillan.
And we suggest that you go straight to General Tolbukhin and sort the thing out. They comprised the vanguard of what was effectively a fleeing nation. The Croats could not be quartered alongside their inveterate enemies, and so it was necessary to retain them for the time being in Austria.
However it was not long before the implications of this order registered with 6 Armoured Division Headquarters, which half an hour later issued this qualifying rider: This omission appears the more curious the closer it is considered. The Croats could not be quartered alongside their inveterate enemies, and so it was necessary to retain them for the time being in Austria. The alternative course would have been to advance further into Austria, provoking Partisan attacks on their flanks and British military resistance ahead.
I feel sure it was useful and helpful all round. If that was the fate anticipated for the Serbs and Slovenes, how much worse was it likely to be for the Croats! I intend here to concentrate attention on one aspect of the greater event, which to this day remains a strange and sinister mystery: We asked whether the Russians had requested that these Cossacks be turned over to them, and Robertson replied in the negative and added But they probably will soon. The British Government permitted me to inspect a few carefully-selected drawers, while the remainder were kept firmly closed.
The reference betrays the manner in which the American Political Adviser was duped. We then stated we could not concur without referring the matter to our Government. Between them they devised the order despatched that day to 5 Corps, which flouted Allied policy by requiring the handover of Yugoslav prisoners to Tito. In his diary, which was probably compiled the next day, Macmillan expatiated at some length on what was evidently one of the more important issues laid before him by Keightley: It is an exceptionally difficult history to explore, largely because of the unusual obstacles placed in the path of anyone attempting to investigate it. To which it is sufficient to respond i that the text emanated from Alexander, and was merely transmitted by Robertson; ii by no possible interpretation can it be interpreted as 'seeking political cover' for an order to which it makes no reference, whose provisions were in direct conflict with those indicated in Alexander's signal.
II Among great numbers of surrendered enemy forces, 5 Corps held 40, surrendered Cossacks and White Russians, whose return was claimed by the Soviets. General Basta assured Brigadier Scott that everyone returned to Yugoslavia would be treated humanely and decently, and that the Croats consequently had nothing to fear. I The Yugoslavs had openly declared their intention of annexing Southern Carinthia, where their troops were behaving with increasing truculence. Commentaire de la convention du 27 juillet relative au traitement des prisonniers de guerre Copenhagen, , p. Scott made it bluntly clear to the General that he would not under any circumstances permit the Croatian exodus to advance further into British-occupied Austria, and that he would deploy all forces he could muster to assist Basta in compelling submission if required.
It may perhaps be questioned whether a such a deception was possible within the tightly-knit framework of a military headquarters. In the present context, however, the content of the signal is of secondary concern to the manner of its transmission. Aldington at 5 Corps issues the following order, extending the category of those required to be repatriated, and taking care not to transmit a copy to higher command:. It was probably on the morning of 14 May that he approached the General, explaining the problem as he saw it of the Russian and Yugoslav prisoners whose surrender has been accepted by 5 Corps. Had Herencic ordered a peaceful advance and dispersal into the British zone, it is certain that British troops would have opened fire, inflicting casualties on the dense crowd of Croats whose likely extent is impossible to estimate. This omission appears the more curious the closer it is considered.
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Macmillan spent the evening of the 12th visiting McCreery and Lieutenant-General Harding, whose 13 Corps faced the Yugoslavs along the line of the Isonzo. General Basta assured Brigadier Scott that everyone returned to Yugoslavia would be treated humanely and decently, and that the Croats consequently had nothing to fear. At that time the Department of State and the British Foreign Office agreed that alternative c was the only possible solution. It was not until August that Kirk came to learn of the deception which had been practised on him. Since Brigadier Tryon-Wilson was himself a member of the 'Cowgill Committee', the authors must have been aware of the validity of my conjecture.
It was not until August that Kirk came to learn of the deception which had been practised on him. Prior to this, from 12 May onwards, numerous smaller bodies of Croatian soldiers and civilians had succeeded either in arranging a formal surrender to British forces, or in infiltrating undetected into their zone of occupation. Fortunately it is unnecessary to rely on inference and general grounds of plausibility, since evidence of extensive deception is further to be detected in the contemporary records.
Clearly Alexander felt that this influx was more than the British occupying force in Austria, which consisted of a Corps comprising some 25, men, could be expected to look after. On 8 January , for example, he noted in his diary: The English historian Herbert Butterfield once wrote: We asked whether the Russians had requested that these Cossacks be turned over to them, and Robertson replied in the negative and added But they probably will soon.
In his diary, which was probably compiled the next day, Macmillan expatiated at some length on what was evidently one of the more important issues laid before him by Keightley:. At present I a, concerned with the fate of the Croats rather than that of the Cossacks. In fact Aldington made no attempt to determine the citizenship or status of any of the Russian and Yugoslav prisoners in 5 Corps hands, and sent them to be killed indiscriminately. It is surely significant that each of the issues raised was governed by political factors, which Macmillan was pre-eminently qualified to address. My impression is that the number of fatalities at Bleiburg itself was not great by comparison with what was happening elsewhere at the time, and may not have amounted to more than a few score.
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How many died in the fields beside Bleiburg I have been unable as yet to establish with any precision. They comprised the vanguard of what was effectively a fleeing nation. On that day Macmillan spent some time with Offie, advising him on signals to be sent to the State Department, after which: General Keightley had prior to that I think - my journey - he had I think, rightly he had already had contact with General - with Harold Macmillan. Having decided to proceed without his approval, Macmillan and Robertson seized the opportunity of extending the order.