No. 284  NAI DFA Secretary's Files P12/8

Letter from Michael MacWhite to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(Personal and Confidential)

ROME, 15 May 1943

The disaster that has overtaken Axis arms in Tunisia is regarded in military and diplomatic circles here to be far more serious than the capitulation of Stalingrad.1 Its repercussions are more far reaching. The suddenness with which this advanced bastion of the European fortress collapsed exposed the whole of the Mediterranean seaboard to invasion and, at the same time, shattered the belief in the invincibility of German arms which like a fata morgana lured so many of the smaller European States into the Axis orbit. In Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran and throughout India and the Far East the anti British elements some of which were financed by Axis agents will be discouraged and disheartened while the people of occupied countries are given a further incentive to resistance in their struggle for liberation.

With the passing of Italy's African Empire under Allied control the free passage of convoys from Gibraltar to Suez becomes a possibility and hundreds of Allied ships are thereby released for more pressing operations. The Sicilian and Sardinian airports have already been put out of action and there is scarcely a harbour in either of these islands capable of sheltering a ship at the moment. The superiority of the Allied air force is overwhelming and is believed to be in the ratio of five to one. It is no secret that the Duce has sent an urgent message to the Führer demanding aerial reinforcements and anti aircraft guns. Promises of them do not seem to materialise. When Civitta Vecchia was attacked two days ago the American planes which flew in from Sardinia at a low altitude ignored the anti aircraft defences altogether and got away without injury. German papers say the Wehrmacht will defend every inch of Italy as if it were German soil but the weakness of the Italian defences leaves room for doubt.

The authorities here expect invasion within a fortnight. From what direction nobody knows but the peninsula itself is not excluded while Sicily, Sardinia are already considered as good as lost. Corsica, too, is a probability as for some time back allied submarines are said to be in regular contact with the resistance groups of the island. Many Italians in outstanding positions are asking why the country should be exposed to invasion when the means of defence are lacking. Only yesterday I heard an Italian Senator (all Senators are nominated by the Duce) violently denounce the Axis leaders as monomaniacs who had plunged the world into war to satisfy their vanity. Notwithstanding, there appears to be no figure in Italy with sufficient initiative to call an opposition party into being. The Fascist militia is to prevent such an eventuality although, at the moment, the Fascist Party seems to have collapsed in Sicily and Southern Italy and signs of disintegration are not wanting elsewhere. Last week, a member of the Italian Senate who is Rector of a University was drummed out of the Party for showing kindness to Jews and half a dozen high officials including two Members of the Fascist Chamber were sent to prison for passing contracts to friends and otherwise feathering their own nests.

There is no doubt in my mind that Franco's plea for a negotiated peace has been inspired by the Axis. Vatican wires are also being pulled by Italy. In a conversation with the Under Secretary of State, a couple of days ago, he asked if I had any contacts with the Vatican or if I had any news from there. He was subdued under the weight of the Tunis news but it was apparent that his mind was fixed on the Vatican.

[initialled] M. M.

[Postscript added 17 May 1943]
Enemy aircraft paid a visit to the suburbs of Rome between midnight and 1.30 a.m. The defence put up by the Anti-aerial batteries only proved their inefficiency. They did more damage to local property than to the visitors. It is not yet known what damage was done but the airports around the city are rumoured to have suffered.

[initialled] M. M.

1 After the fall of Tunis, German and Italian forces in North Africa finally surrendered on 13 May 1943. German forces surrendered at Stalingrad on 2 February 1943.

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