From Eastern Approaches
by Fitzroy Maclean
I was to fly to London forthwith and report to the Prime Minister himself, who would tell me what was required of me.
Once I reached London, I was soon put in the picture. Information reaching the British government from a variety of sources had caused them to doubt whether the resistance of General Mihajlović and his Ćetniks to the enemy was all that it was made out to be. There were indications that at least as much was being done by armed bands bearing the name of Partisans and led by a shadowy figure known as Tito. Hitherto such support as we had been able to give had gone exclusively to Mihajlović. Now doubts as to the wisdom of this policy were beginning to creep in, and the task which I had been allotted was to form an estimate on the spot of the relative value of the Partisans’ contribution to the Allied cause and the best means of helping them to increase it. For this purpose I was to be dropped into Jugoslavia by parachute as head of a Military Mission accredited to Tito, or whoever I found to be in command of the Partisans.
My inquiries revealed that in fact little or nothing was known of the Partisans in Whitehall. Three or four British officers had been dropped in to them by parachute a few weeks before, but there had been fierce fighting in Jugoslavia since their arrival and, through no fault of theirs, no comprehensive report of the situation from them had reached London. It was, however, believed that the Partisans were under Communist leadership and that they were causing the Germans considerable inconvenience (an impression that was principally derived from German sources). Their principal sphere of activity was thought to be in Bosnia, and it was there that I was to be dropped.
As to Tito, there were various theories concerning his identity. One school of thought refused to believe that he existed at all. The name, they said, stood for Tajna Internacionalna Teroristička Organizacija, or Secret International Terrorist Organisation, and not for any individual leader. Another theory was that it was simply an appointment, and that a new Tito was nominated at frequent intervals. Finally, the more romantically inclined claimed that Tito was not a man, but a young woman of startling beauty and great force of character.
A day or two after I arrived in England I was rung up from No 10 Downing Street and told that Mr Churchill wanted me to come down to Chequers for the weekend so that he could explain to me what he had in mind.
Towards midnight, in the middle of a Mickey Mouse cartoon, a memorable interruption took place. A message was brought in to Mr Churchill, who gave an exclamation of surprise. Then there was a scuffle and the film was stopped. As the squawking of Donald Duck and the baying of Pluto died away, the Prime Minister rose to his feet. ‘I have just,’ he said, ‘received some vey important news. Signor Mussolini has resigned.’ Then the film was switched on again.
As we went downstairs, I reflected that in view of this startling new development it was now more unlikely than ever that the Prime Minister would find time to attend to my affairs. But I was mistaken. ‘This,’ he said, turning to me, ‘makes your job more important than ever. The German position in Italy is crumbling. We must now put all the pressure we can on them on the other side of the Adriatic. You must go in without delay.’ Mr Churchill then went on to give me a splendidly lucid and at the same time vivid account of the strategic situation and of what he wanted me to try and do in Jugoslavia. I was amazed, as so often afterwards I was to be amazed, by his extraordinary grasp of detail in regard to what was, after all, only one of the innumerable problems confronting him.
After he had finished, there was only one point which, it seemed to me, still required clearing up. The years that I had spent in the Soviet Union had made me deeply and lastingly conscious of the expansionist tendencies of international Communism and of its immediate connection with Soviet foreign policy … If, as I had been told, the Partisans were under Communist leadership, they might easily be fighting very well for the Allied cause, but their ultimate aim would undoubtedly be to establish in Jugoslavia a Communist regime closely linked to Moscow. How did His Majesty’s Government view such an eventuality? Was it at this stage their policy to obstruct Soviet expansion in the Balkans? If so, my task looked like being a ticklish one.
Mr Churchill’s reply left me in no doubt as to the answer to my problem. So long, he said, as the whole of Western civilisation was threatened by the Nazi menace, we could not afford to let our attention be diverted from the immediate issue by considerations of long-term policy. We were as loyal to our Soviet Allies as we hoped they were to us. My task was simply to help find out who was killing the most Germans and suggest means by which we could help them to kill more. Politics must be a secondary consideration.
I was relieved at this. Although, as a Conservative, I had no liking for Communists or Communism, I had not fancied the idea of having to intrigue politically against men with whom I was co-operating militarily. Now, in the light of what the Prime Minister had told me, my position was clear.