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Post Remembering David Pike; the "Race to Trieste"
Created by John Eipper on 06/27/20 5:32 AM

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Remembering David Pike; the "Race to Trieste" (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 06/27/20 5:32 am)

Let me begin by paying homage to the great David Pike. I was for a short time in contact with him off-Forum and I came to appreciate his great historical knowledge. I had the pleasure and privilege of sending him a book with the short autobiography of a 16-year-old Italian volunteer in the Repubblica Sociale Italiana, who reached the rank of Sergeant and obtained a German Cross for his valor. He fought until the very last day of the war. Such a book apparently was of his interest. Although his great books were not related to Italy, David wanted to give his authoritative word also on this nation.

Five years ago I wanted to respond to David's essay on Trieste, which John E recently republished:


David called the Allied Government of Trieste a mission of goodwill. It may have been so for him, but for the two governments it was a cynical geopolitical operation to simultaneously win both Italy and Tito to their side.

After 1940 the UK promised Istria to Yugoslavia, according to the talks with their Ambassadors in Moscow.

In the final phase of WWII, the collaborationist Italian government of the South in a secret accord with the Forces of the Republica Sociale Italiana in Istria proposed a plan for an Italian-Allied landing in Istria to save the Italian population of the region, but the UK vetoed this plan.

Then after the War, the Free Territory of Trieste was divided in Zones A and B. This was a bargaining chip to keep Italy in the West. See the Tripartite declaration of the UK, US, and France to return the whole Free Territory to Italy on 20 March 1948, just a few days prior to the elections of 18 April 1948 when a communist victory could have been possible with a corresponding drift toward Stalin. For Tito, having all the territory or at least part of it could have been a means to lure him away from Stalin.

Only when Italy had a government under the strong Giuseppe Pella, even ready for war, was Trieste given back to Italy. However later Italy with other (little) men in charge, was pushed to let Tito officially annex Zone B. displacing more Italians from their homes--many thanks, Allies!

David was correct when stating that the police were made up of Italians and Slovenians. But they were hired by the British. The only Italians hired were those with non-irredentist beliefs. They were under the direct orders of the British. The Americans were not really detested by the Triestini, for them (though perhaps they were wrong), the Americans were the "good cops" while the British were the "bad cops" and were detested. This does not mean personally detested, and David certainly made local friends and the single person is not the institution. Please do not think that the Triestini were embarrassed by the "riots." They were expressions of dignity and popular will. The murdered youths became the last martyrs for the unity of Italy.

The Axis forces officially surrendered on May 2nd, 1945. This could have happened earlier, but the Allies possibly wanted the 2nd of May in order to give the Yugoslavs the time to arrive in Trieste.

On 30 April most Germans left Trieste, a few remained in the Castle of San Giusto surrendering later to the New Zealanders. The Italian resistance took over the town under its leaders Colonel A. Fonda and the priest Don E. Marzari.

The Yugoslavs arrived on May 1st (not 5th), and kicked out the Italian resistance and started the 40 days of terror and murder.

The New Zealanders arrived 24 hours later, completing the "race to Trieste." See the book The Race to Trieste by Geoffrey Cose, but their arrival was useless for the persecuted Italians. In any case, Churchill called their arrival "a foot in the door."

The delayed Axis surrender and the race to Trieste seemed to be contrasting events. Perhaps there was confusion on priorities between the military and politicians.

The official newspaper of the Movimento Sociale Italiano was not Il Messaggero but Il Secolo d'Italia, first published in Rome 1952. There was also Il Messaggero Veneto printed in Friuli after 1946, but it had nothing to do with the MSI. At first, the Allies did not permit any newspaper publication in Trieste except for the Giornale Alleato (sic). Only on 5 March 1947 was an Italian newspaper allowed to appear in Trieste called Il Giornale di Trieste. It took the place of the old Il Piccolo. Only when Trieste returned to the Motherland did it take its old name again Il Piccolo.

JE comments:  Alas, I know David Pike would have relished this discussion.  The democratic Allies probably had no good choices with their Trieste policy postwar, as they needed to keep Italy in the Western orbit but also not drive Tito into Stalin's arms.  Possibly--just for the sake of argument--the Zones A and B compromise was the "least bad" solution.

Eugenio, could you give us more details on the Allied government in Rome's overture to the RSI for a joint operation in Trieste?  How and where did the parleys take place?

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  • The De Courten Plan: A Late-WWII Proposal to Keep Tito out of Istria (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/30/20 3:59 AM)
    Answering the question from our esteemed moderator, the so-called De Courten Plan to save Istria from Tito takes its name from the Minister of the Navy of the Kingdom of the South, Admiral Raffaele de Courten. In reality, the plan was originally devised by the Association "League of the Adriatics" in 1944.

    The Plan was a bold one but had three great obstacles:

    1) Secrecy was imperative.

    2) A charismatic leader was necessary, a new Condottiero Rinascimentale (Captain of the Renaissance) like Gabriele D'Annunzio, but he was dead or Prince Valerio Junio Borghese or Alessandro Pavolini, but they were in the North.

    3) Nobody wanted to or could take open responsibility. Approval would come only after the plan's success.

    The plan, originated in the South, was passed to Borghese, chief of the "X MAS" division of the RSI through secret contacts between the X Mas in the North and the one in the South.

    The pla consisted of landing a force of 5000 Italians, mostly from the San Marco division of the South (later fighting within the division "Folgore") transported by the Italian Navy with the cover support of the Allies, to the shores of Istria. As soon as this force arrived, all the RSI forces mostly X MAS located at Trieste, Pola, Cherso, Lussino, Curzola, Fiume, Brioni, Portorose plus Bersaglieri, Alpini, Milizia and the Italian national partisans of the Osoppo were to join them. Officially for the Allies, the goal was to free Istria and Fiume from the Nazis but in reality it was to prevent the entrance of Tito's Communist partisans into the Italian territories.

    We may say that the De Courten Plan was inspired also by Churchill's old idea to invade mainland Europe in the high Adriatic area to quickly reach Vienna, Prague, and Berlin prior to the Russians, instead of losing time in Sicily and then slowly going up the mountainous Italian peninsula.

    The men of the X MAS and other RSI forces believed in such a plan and fought until their last breath. In early May 1945 they suffered 95% losses. The very few taken prisoner were placed in Yugoslav concentration camps from where only a handful would return after years. The Yugoslav camps were even worse than the German ones, but it is not politically correct to say so.

    De Courten was in a difficult situation. He could not present his plan to all the so-called Italian government of the South, one of whose ministers was the Stalinist Russian citizen Palmiro Togliatti, who wanted to give Istria, Fiume and Dalmatia to his friend Tito. There were also other die-hard antifascists who would never have had anything to do with the RSI even if it meant saving Italian countrymen.

    Furthermore, De Courten did not understand the Allied Command, which was favorable but could not for geopolitical reasons admit this. It made it clear in secret conversations that it would give its support, but if the attack failed it would deny all association.

    So De Courten on 7 September 1944 went to meet Admiral Sir Charles Morgan to officially brief him on the full plan. Admiral Morgan already knew about it; he was just the last man to be officially contacted.

    The poor fool De Courten officially explained the plan but Morgan required a declaration which stated that the enterprise would not jeopardize the articles of the Unconditional Surrender of Italy.

    Admiral Morgan procrastinated with his answer, but after the Alexander-Tito accords of 27 February 1945, there was no more hope for Italy and De Courten.

    By the way, many of the partisans of the Osoppo were later killed in February 1945 by Communist partisans because they did not want to give Istria to the Titoists.

    JE comments:  We could do an entire series on the never-attempted plans of WWII.  Sea Lion, Hitler's stillborn invasion of Britain, would head the list.  The De Courten plan as described by Eugenio Battaglia may have had a great chance of success, although the political price could have been high:  wouldn't it have driven Tito and Stalin to war against the "Westerners"?  At the same time, the bitter divisions among the Italians may have led to an internecine bloodbath in Istria.

    Eugenio, what exactly was the WWII-era "League of the Adriatics"?  I gave it a Googling, but it led me to a basketball association in the former Yugoslavia.

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