It was on 14 May that General Robertson showed Kirk the draft of the order approved by Macmillan, which provided for the handover of all Yugoslav prisoners held in Austria. 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. During the third week of May arrangements were made for all Croats in Corps custody to be transported into the hands of Tito, so that he might extend his genocidal policy to those Croats who believed themselves safe from return to Yugoslavia. Had Macmillan thought it necessary to advise Keightley in person there can be little doubt that he would have planned to fly to Austria at the outset of his expedition.
This suggestion may be imperfectly understood by many of the large number of Croats and sympathisers of other nationalities who attend each year at the commemorative service on the site. It is an exceptionally difficult history to explore, largely because of the unusual obstacles placed in the path of anyone attempting to investigate it. However I believe that as historical awareness advances, it will be increasingly appreciated that the annual obsequies are observed in memory of all those Croatian victims who died at the hands of the British and their Communist allies during the dark days of , and not just those who fell in the immediate vicinity.
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However they had no sooner made themselves known to Scott, than the Yugoslav General Milan Basta arrived on the scene and insisted on joining the talks. Gorana Benic - Hudin Printed by: Alexander accordingly requests directions from the Combined Chiefs of Staff for the disposal of Yugoslavs in Austria. While the Domobran forces were surely capable of fending off the Titoist irregulars, British artillery, armour, and air power presented a formidable obstacle.
That is the distinction which should be drawn between the tragedy of the Croats driven back to Tito at Bleiburg on 12 May , and the subsequent fate of the smaller body of Croats who remained in Austria following the Bleiburg tragedy. The British Government was responsible for the protection and humane treatment of prisoners-of-war under the terms of the Geneva Convention. At the same time it may be questioned whether British troops would have continued for long shooting at a mass of panic-stricken and largely defenceless fugitives. The authors of the Cowgill Report assert that Macmillan flew to meet Keightley in order to explain to him the need for extreme tact in dealing with the Yugoslavs, since three days earlier Keightley had requested permission from McCreery to be permitted to shoot at Yugoslavs who disobeyed British commanders. Thus, as might be expected, Keightley tabulated the major problems facing him in Austria, to which Macmillan responded with appropriate advice or directions. The Cowgill Committee was at pains to scout the idea of any conspiratorial activity on the part of Macmillan or Keightley, on general grounds of implausibility.
It was this Machiavellian procedure which enabled the Robertson order to remain dormant, awaiting reactivation when required. Since Brigadier Tryon-Wilson was himself a member of the 'Cowgill Committee', the authors must have been aware of the validity of my conjecture. Any decision as to the ultimate fate of all these captured troops of Yugoslav nationality now rested with the Combined Chiefs of Staff, to whom Alexander had referred the question on 16 May.
However analysis reveals some curious anomalies. Thereafter a radical shift in policy occurred, which required extensive deception of the Allied command, to say nothing of the unfortunate prisoners. General McCreery instructs Keightley: Instead of flying back to Naples as originally intended, he unexpectedly flew north over the mountains into Austria.
Why in that case did he not alert Alexander to the discrepancy? More than two months were to pass before Kirk discovered that both he and Alexander had been victims of an elaborate deception practised by their own colleagues. How many died in the fields beside Bleiburg I have been unable as yet to establish with any precision. In the present context, however, the content of the signal is of secondary concern to the manner of its transmission.
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. We also asked General Robertson what definition he proposed to give to Chetnicks and he was very vague on this point. The English historian Herbert Butterfield once wrote: Moreover this does not explain why he subsequently concealed the decision to repatriate the Cossacks and Yugoslavs from the Foreign Office. 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.
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II Among great numbers of surrendered enemy forces, 5 Corps held 40, surrendered Cossacks and White Russians, whose return was claimed by the Soviets. In the case of the Yugoslavs, however, the position was unclear. The English historian Herbert Butterfield once wrote:
Arrangements for the handover will be co-ordinated by HQ in conjunction with Yugoslav forces. Since it was clearly unnecessary to guard people who were desperate to remain in British custody, the fugitives were either directed to large camps improvised for their reception, or simply told to stay put where they found themselves. Over the years I have obtained many accounts by eyewitnesses of what occurred. The English historian Herbert Butterfield once wrote: Moreover this does not explain why he subsequently concealed the decision to repatriate the Cossacks and Yugoslavs from the Foreign Office. As the War Diaries make clear, what daunted the Allied command was the enormous number of fleeing troops and refugees reported to be advancing into Carinthia, at a time when 5 Corps had barely established its presence in the region, and when relations with Tito were dangerously inflammatory.
This omission appears the more curious the closer it is considered. 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. If the Croats were regarded as part of the German armed forces, they should have been treated as such and held as prisoners-of-war of the power to which they surrendered, i. I am taking all possible steps to prevent their movement along roads, but this will NOT completely prevent them as they are short of food and are being harassed. The omission is curious, in that so far as the Cossacks were concerned Keightley had already received precise instructions how to treat captured Russians, in the form of a carefully-worded directive issued by 8 Army on 13 March.
Tryon-Wilson recalled in that during the Italian campaign,. 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. These have been part of German armed forces and fighting against Allies.
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Going on to describe the problems facing 5 Corps in Austria, the Brigadier recalled a visit he made on 10 or 11 May to red Army Headquarters at Voitsberg. Such were the circumstances of the Communist capture of the half-million or more Croats fleeing from slaughter at the hands of the Communists. The Report of an Inquiry London, , pp. However I believe that as historical awareness advances, it will be increasingly appreciated that the annual obsequies are observed in memory of all those Croatian victims who died at the hands of the British and their Communist allies during the dark days of , and not just those who fell in the immediate vicinity. The alternative course would have been to advance further into Austria, provoking Partisan attacks on their flanks and British military resistance ahead.