No. 196  NAI DFA Secretary's Files P12/8

Confidential report from Michael MacWhite to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
'Sidelights on conditions in Germany, Italy and the Balkans'1

ROME, 31 March 1942

According to the Italian press the economic situation in Germany continues to deteriorate. From April 6th the food ration is to be diminished in some of the main items by from 10% to 25%. Already, it was considered insufficient for the vital needs of the average healthy person. The penalties for breaches of the rationing laws have also been augmented due to the increasing tendency on the part of the general public to have recourse to the 'Black Market' which high officials stated some time ago to be nonexistent.

Father O'Shaughnessy of the African Missions has returned here after spending six months in Prisoner of War camps in various parts of the Reich. He enjoyed the same food as the German officers in whose Mess he ate. In the morning there were always four slices of bread with an occasional pat of butter or a spoonful of jam. The other meals consisted of soup with cabbage or turnips which was not always palatable. Only on Sundays a small piece of meat was served. Sometimes cheese was supplied which on more than one occasion was so bad that it was thrown in the garbage bins. Even so the soldiers employed in the camp picked it up for their own use.

If it were not that he was able to supplement his daily fare from a personal stock he carried the Chaplain said he could not carry on. In Berlin and other cities he had witnessed that working men, on entering the trams or trains, partially collapsed from fatigue accelerated by undernourishment. The clothes worn by apparently well to do people are thread bare and cannot easily be replaced as many textile factories have been obliged to close down due, in some cases, to the shortage of raw material; in others, because of the transfer of workers to more urgent war employment. The soldiers guarding the camps were poorly clad; only very few of them wore shirts. In a certain camp there was only one good pair of shoes which the sentinel going off duty had to pass on to his successor who relieved him. A camp interpreter who was wounded in the early days of the war and rendered unfit for active service went to Berlin on a visit, wearing high riding boots which were his own property. On leaving the Railway station he was arrested and taken to the nearest barracks where the boots were confiscated as they were wanted in Russia.

The British prisoners of war who are Catholic numbered, according to Fr. O'Shaughnessy, only about 400 about half of whom were Irish. Some of these were in reprisal camps in Poland, others in Austria but the majority were stationed in the neighbourhood of Berlin. He had occasion to speak, during his visits to these places, to the inhabitants, to foreign workers and prisoners of war from various countries. In Poland and Austria he found the people longing for an opportunity to revolt. The Italian agricultural workers were treated worse than the prisoners of war. They got no beds to sleep on but had to shift as best they could with a handful of straw or hay. They cannot escape as if captured they are treated as deserters in time of war. There were comparatively few Russian soldiers amongst the Prisoners of war. All the Russians capable of working were however rounded up in the territories overrun by the Germans. A few were sent to Germany but the majority were set to work behind the lines repairing roads, bridges, railways, airfields, etc. In the early days of the Eastern campaign the Germans wished to terrorise the Russians by employing atrocious methods but the latter soon retaliated carrying brutality even a stage further. Many German soldiers are said to have been mutilated and the corpses of others were frequently disfigured so as to be unrecognisable. In the open country both sides seem agreed that it is a waste of time to take prisoners unless for information purposes. The machine gun is more effective. Due mainly to this the German soldier fears being sent to the Russian front but, once there, he fights like a tiger to avoid falling into Bolshevik hands.

Since the Führer took over the Supreme command nearly five months ago the German people are looking anxiously for the promised victory. Instead the list of dead lengthens apace, having long since topped the million mark. They are now beginning to ask 'Why the war with Russia'. With that country as an ally they felt certain of victory. To-day, they are hungry, dejected and cheerless and leave a stranger under the impression that their faith in ultimate success is severely shaken. It appears to be dawning on them that something is amiss as the war drags along with an ever increasing category of privations and of unfulfilled promises.

The food situation in Italy grows worse from month to month and, even, good harvest weather this year is unlikely to improve it. Last year, the harvest was poor but with the reserves brought over from previous years and the severe rationing restrictions the country was able to get along somehow. The soil of Italy is, at best, only mediocre and average crops are only produced by the extensive employment of fertilisers of which there is now a complete absence. Last season's grape crop was also below average as the quantity of sulphate of copper for spraying was inadequate. There will be no vine spraying this year so the outlook is far from bright. Although wine is not rationed the sale is restricted to one or two bottles at the time. An extra four lire is charged for the bottle as the manufacture of glass, unless for war purposes, has been suspended. Italian brandies which are very inferior to French are now sold at ten times the pre war price. Labels of well known brands of Scotch whisky and French cognac are placed on bottles containing native concoctions and sold for 200 to 300 lire. The real articles are unobtainable at any price.

A few weeks ago the bread ration was reduced to 5 ozs. per week for the general public. Workers in heavy industries, however, receive from 12 to 15ozs. Vegetables are almost impossible to obtain. Potatoes appear on the market in small quantities only once or twice a month, the monthly ration being 2lbs. Seed potatoes distributed by the Administration, some weeks ago, were in many cases used for food. When this got to be known, further supplies were steeped in a tar and petrol preparation to make them unfit for either human or animal consumption. In the 'Black Market' meat and some other foods may be obtained at fabulous prices by those willing to risk the consequences of capture. My chauffeur told me, a few days ago, of an offer of an Italian cured ham at 120 lire per kilogramme, the equivalent of fifteen shillings per 1lb.

All Textiles in the hands of manufacturers and wholesale dealers have been blocked, so, in the course of a month or two, it will only be possible to purchase the single type war material for suiting. A first class tailor now charges from 2,500 lire to 3,000 lire for a suit. The single type shoe with a wooden sole has been on the market for some time. The price fixed for half-soling a pair of leather shoes is 60 lire. Woollen, cotton, silk and leather goods have tripled and quadrupled in price since the outbreak of war. It is the same with foodstuffs if we exclude a few standardised items such as macaroni, rice, bread, sugar and oil.

The supervision of foodstuff sales is now very stringent. Special Tribunals have been set up to deal with hoarders and grafters some of whom are threatened with the death penalty. Domestics returning from the market are held up by the police and if they happen to have anything over and above that pro-vided for in their ration cards they are marched off to gaol.

The train services in Italy have now been reduced to skeleton proportions. Sleeping, Dining and First Class cars have been suppressed on all but the International lines going from Rome and Milan to Berlin, Munich and Vienna. This suspension is due, mainly, to the coal shortage. Germany had agreed to furnish Italy with twelve million tons of coal annually. Since the beginning of the Russian campaign, however, this agreement has not been fully implemented. While discussing the fuel situation in Ireland the other day with the Foreign Office Trade Counsellor he said 'Due to the penury of miners and of transport facilities we have only received five of the twelve million tons promised by Germany in 1941. Fortunately, Spring is at hand so we will not have to worry about the cold until October but then' and he made a gesture as if he were freezing. Italy, in 1938, imported about 14,000,000 tons of English coal.

There is still an abundance of young men of military age in this country for whom neither arms nor equipment exist. Whatever enthusiasm existed in the early days of the war has completely vanished and, even, in the army, there are no longer volunteers for any front. Notwithstanding, the average Italian who reads his daily paper or listens to the Radio is under the impression that, thanks to Japan, the war will soon end in an Axis victory. In official circles where information of a different kind is available the situation is not regarded with so much equanimity. Although the popularity of the principal Fascist leaders is at a low ebb there is no sign of any active or organised opposition. They control everybody and everything and will, in all likelihood, maintain their predominant position as long as economic collapse can be averted.

For some months now the Balkan countries have been causing anxiety to both Italy and Germany. Disorder prevails in Croatia to such an extent that it has been thought inadvisable, because of the danger involved, for the Duke of Spoletoto2 visit his Kingdom. He seems to have discarded the Royal title of Tomislav II3 and is no longer referred to in the Court Circular as such. From this and other signs it may be inferred that, in case of an Axis victory, Croatia will not figure as an independent state in the New Order. Should the Allies be victorious a like fate awaits her.

During the past nine months there has been a Croatian Minister to the Quirinal but he has not informed the Chiefs of Mission of neutral countries of the presentation of his Credentials. From inquiries made at the time it was learned that the Nuncio, the Turkish Ambassador, the Swedish, Swiss and Portuguese Ministers would ignore such a communication. Some weeks ago the Danish Minister was instructed to discuss Trade affairs with him but soon learned that any such discussions could only be conducted through the Italian Foreign Office. In reply to a recent protest against his being shadowed by the Italian police he was informed that it was necessary for his protection. An Italian officer informed me that Italian soldiers in Croatia who go out alone rarely return. The Croats who are divided amongst themselves apparently unite, he said, in their antagonism to the troops in occupation and rarely miss an opportunity of ambushing or assassinating them.

In Serbia and Montenegro the situation is understood to be much more serious than in Croatia. The Administrations set up by the Axis have been unable to assert their authority only in those parts where their troops are in sufficient strength. Even then, war conditions prevail. A secret Report which was recently made by a German military attaché and which was seen by a colleague of mine related that there are actually 80,000 Yugoslavians under arms. A superior officer had pencilled on the Report that this figure was probably exaggerated and that 50,000 would be more correct. Even such a number of courageous and desperate men with nothing to risk beyond a life that is miserable make a formidable force. In massed battalions it could easily be wiped out but small guerrilla units, in a wild and mountainous country, where they are befriended by all the inhabitants, present a different problem.

A Yugoslav submarine has made the Adriatic very uncomfortable for the Italians. It is commanded by an Admiral who is reputed to know every rock along the Dalmatian coast and who is said to be in regular contact with the land forces. Two Italian ships have recently been sunk in Pola harbour,4supposedly by this craft and it is a matter known to all that navigation on the Adriatic is frequently suspended because of it and a Greek submarine that is also operating in these waters. The Railway line along the Dalmatian coast is frequently torn up. An officer home on leave said it took him six days by rail to travel 150 miles. Railway communication between Trieste and Belgrade and Sofia is also frequently interrupted.

In the second week of March the naked bodies of forty German soldiers with their eyes gouged out were found in the Sarajevo district where they had established an outpost. Their tents, arms and munitions had disappeared. Incidents of this nature are of frequent occurrence. The occupying troops find it difficult to get supplies and they must not supplement their meagre fare by the green vegetables that are available because of the precautions against typhus which is prevalent.

Shortly after the collapse of Yugoslavia the Italian newspapers announced the names of four Montenegrins who were said to be designated to invite the King of Italy to nominate a Regent for their country. They failed to arrive at Rome and the press maintained a discreet silence as to the cause of their absence. It was learned later that, on the morning fixed for their departure, they were found dead with their throats slit from ear to ear.

The condition of the Greek people is indescribable. As many as one hundred corpses have been collected off the streets of Athens in a single morning. Famine and pestilence which usually go hand in hand are decimating the population. It appears that before handing over all but the key cities to the Italians the Germans collected and took away whatever foodstuff was available. American officials have reported that they also took a small shipment of rice sent by the Italian Red Cross for the starving inhabitants. The Turkish Red Crescent has, with money furnished by the American Red Cross, sent several small cargoes of supplies and, now, the International Red Cross has sent two large ship loads of grain and flour. Unless something more substantial is done for them the whole population will disappear. A former Greek Minister to Italy who was recently interviewed by a Swiss Red Cross representative had the appearance of a walking skeleton. In ten months he had lost 25 lbs. in weight. In the mountainous districts and in Epirus there are well-armed bands of guerrillas who keep the Italians constantly on the qui vive and, from time to time, inflict on them serious losses. Typhus is raging in Greece, not only in the cities and towns but also in the country districts where the habitations and the cowhouses are usually under one roof and are frequently separated only by a partition.

Thus far, Bulgaria has succeeded in maintaining a status of non-belligerency. After the collapse of Greece and Yugoslavia she obtained some stretches of territory in Macedonia but not enough to satisfy her avarice. Her ambition was to possess Salonika but it is unlikely that Germany will, if it can be avoided, abandon that outlet to the Mediterranean. Italy also laid claim to this important Aegean city but her hopes have also waned. Three months ago, the German forces in occupation were sent to the Russian front and, significantly enough, were replaced by Hungarians.

Owing to renewed German pressure it is unlikely that Bulgaria will retain her privileged non-belligerent position much longer. Last year, she declined to send her army to fight the Soviets because of the fear of mass desertions and, to a lesser extent, of the Turks. This year, she must make an effort and will probably furnish, for the Spring offensive, a couple of well combed Divisions of the regular army as the reservists are believed to be unreliable. About 10% of the people are said to have Communistic tendencies and, consequently, favour the Bolsheviks and the remainder, without being Communists, are pro-Russian because of the age-old friendship of the two peoples. About 40,000 Germans are scattered throughout the country some of whom are occupied in extending the fortifications and in establishing Naval bases on the Black Sea; others are technicians and experts in transport and aviation which is under their effective control.

In case of an Axis attack on Turkey, Bulgaria would, naturally, become the base of operations. The Bulgarian soldier could be counted upon to fight the Turk if Constantinople were the assured reward of the successful outcome of such a conflict but the example of Salonika is not very encouraging. Many of the Bulgarian troops who recently lined the Turkish frontier have been withdrawn while, on the other hand, the Italian and German garrisons in Crete and the Aegean Islands have been reinforced as the attitude of Turkey is a matter of much speculation. They have been offered, by all accounts, Syria, Irak and part of Iran if they would permit the passage of Axis warships into the Black Sea and facilitate the transport of troops through Asia Minor. Their help in these matters might give the Axis all the petrol they desire and bring the campaign to a close.

On the other hand, the possibility of a Russo-Turkish-British invasion of the Balkans is not to be excluded in case the Spring offensive fritters out prematurely. The Turks have already some 300,000 soldiers on European soil. They are weak in tanks and aviation but this deficiency might be supplied by their allies. There are many points in favour of such an invasion which, if successul, would necessitate the withdrawal of the German forces from the Ukraine. A couple of hundred thousand Greek and Yugoslav partisans could be counted on to disrupt Axis communications and, in other ways, give active assistance to the invaders. It is, however, unlikely that Turkey will abandon her neutral status, if at all, until she is convinced that she will be on the winning side.

The relations between Hungary and Romania have, for some time, been far from friendly. The former has contributed only two or three divisions to the war against Bolshevism whereas the latter has given an army of 450,000 men almost half of whom have been killed or wounded. It may with truth be said that this country has been despoiled of the flower of her manhood while her rival to the North has made no appreciable sacrifice. As a result, there is gnashing of teeth at Bucharest where it is realised too late that, whether they like it or not, the Romanians must dance to the Nazi tune. The food situation in these countries, although they are mainly agricultural, leaves much to be desired. Bread and meat, amongst other items, are strictly rationed and imports from abroad are at a standstill. The transport situation in the Balkans because of sabotage and wear and tear and inadequate rolling stock is a matter of considerable concern to the Axis leaders who may well ask themselves, at this juncture, whether their domination of the peninsula is not more of a liability than an asset.

[signed] M. MACWHITE

1 The cover note to this report contains a handwritten annotation by Walshe that it was seen by Eamon de Valera.

2 The former Duchy of Spoleto, located in central Italy 126 kilometres north-east of Rome.

3 Prince Aimone of Savoy-Aosta, Duke of Aosta (1900-48), an Italian prince of the House of Savoy, granted the title Duke of Spoleto in 1904. In May 1941 he was nominated by King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy to assume the kingship of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), established as a German puppet kingdom in occupied Yugoslavia, as King Tomislav II and was the nominal head of the NDH to October 1943.

4 Pola (Pula), Croatia, a port city on the southern tip of the Istrian peninsula.

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