Saturday, May 21, 2016

ADSS 1.178 Borgongini Duca to Maglione: situation in Italy

ADSS 1.78 Francesco Borgongini Duca, Italy, to Luigi Maglione, Sec State

Reference: Report number 7147/39, (AES 6032/39)

Location and date: Rome, 01.09.1939

Summary statement: Reports meetings with Guido Buffarini – Italy will not enter the war; US Ambassador – Italy will remain neutral and eventually join the Allies; and For Min Galeazzo Ciano and Mussolini are working for peace.

Language: Italian


1.  Last Tuesday, 29 August, I had an audience with His Excellency Buffarini (1), as I said I had the honour to relate in my other reports. (2) I was able to learn from him that for the moment Italy has no intention whatsoever of entering the war, even if it breaks out, between Germany and Poland.  He agreed with me that war is won by those who keep out of out; he then added these exact words: “This time, before we enter the war, we shall ask for firm guarantees”; these words made me think that they might intend joining the war, at a later date, on the same side as in the first world war.

He added, and I do not know if that was his own thought or whether it emanated from a higher source, that Hitler did not believe in Britain and France’s intervention but that he anticipated that he would defeat Poland in three weeks.

Buffarini extolled the Holy Father saying: “He is exactly the Pope we need”.

He also expressed his satisfaction with the recent measures regarding Catholic Action, a solution which corresponded in every way with his personal thoughts, because the Bishops are completely trusted by the State.

2. I could only see Ambassador Philips of the United States at 15.00hrs yesterday as he was out to luncheon. (3) I gave him Your Eminence’s note according to your orders just received from you. (4) The Ambassador thanked me for the interest taken by the Holy See in approaching him and promised me he would immediately send a telegram to Washington.  He then added the following details which I relate, although I am sure that Your Eminence has been acquainted with them by various other sources.

He told me that the previous evening, 30 August, Ciano (5) told him that all was finished. “The poor chap” continued Phillips, “was depressed”; Hitler’s ultimatum to Poland was expiring in fact that very evening; that is, the order was to send a plenipotentiary to Berlin before the evening of the 30th.  To this ultimatum Poland had in the meantime replied with a general mobilisation.  During the conversation, Ciano phoned to Attolico (6) to ask if this plenipotentiary had arrived or not, and Attolico replied “Up to now nobody has arrived”, to which Ciano said by way of a conclusion: “There is nothing else to do”. Ambassador Phillips was saying to me that he had been agitated the entire night and the next morning he tried anxiously to find out if war had broken out; and when informed that hostilities had not started, he saw a new ray of hope, which was growing in his heart from hour to hour, “because one can see Hitler is beginning to hesitate”.

I asked him if, in his opinion, Italy would enter the war.  He replied, with certainty, in the negative and that Italy would lose no time in declaring her neutrality.  He told me also in confidence that, later on, Italy would join Britain and France.  This decision would come about as a consequence of a future ultimatum by Britain and France to Italy.  I begged to point out that this would not be a good way to reach this end, because persuasion and not violence should be used.  He relied: “I expressed myself badly in saying ‘ultimatum’, I could not find the right word”.  According to him, however, Italy will not fight for Germany.

In the end I asked him who would be in charge of the Palazzo Farnese in case of war with France, and he said: “The United States”; and that he knew this, having had the information from Ambassador Poncet (7), although the United States had not yet sent him direct instructions.

A last work. He told me confidentially that up to noon Poncet was still a pessimist.

3. Yesterday evening at 18.00hrs, I was a last received by Ciano, whom I found very depressed and tired.  He had been at the Ministry that morning since 07.00hrs and had not even gone out for lunch. (8) “I have eaten a plate of spaghetti on this table”, he said.  I enquired about the ultimatum to Poland and how it was that Hitler had not yet started hostilities.  He replied that he as well as Mussolini were fighting as lions to precent the conflict and in the morning (Thursday 31.08.1939) Italy had exerted a strong influence on Germany. (9)

I spoke to him about the last earnest appeal of the Holy Father made that very day.  He knew about it having already having spoken with Count Pignatti (10) and he told me: “Italy, of course, supports these interventions with all her power”, and he begged me to tell His Holiness that “since Salzburg [Ciano] does nothing but fight for peace”.

He explained to me also that the various measures taken in Italy did not mean a willingness to go to war and he stated that they had been taken to show that something was being done.

I asked him for how long we should remain in the tremendous suspense.  He replied: “Between today and tomorrow.”

On my way out I said: “Whatever happens I hope that Italy will not make a move”.  The Minister replied with a smile, “That is another matter; before making a move Italy will think about it very carefully, calmly and with great attention”, and he continued to smile.

(1) Guido Buffarini (1895-1945), Undersecretary of the Interior Ministry 1940-43.
(2) Not published in ADSS.
(3) William Phillips (1878-1968), United States Ambassador to Italy 1936-41.
(4) ADSS 1.160. Borgongini Duca had been instructed to give Phillips a copy of the Pope’s appeal.  Phillips sent it to President Roosevelt.
(5) Galeazzo Ciano (1903-1944), Italian Foreign Minister 1936-43.
(6) Bernardo Attolico (1880-1942), Italian Ambassador to Germany 1935-39.
(7) Andre Francois-Poncet (1887-1978), French Ambassador to Italy 1938-40.
(8) According to his Diary (Diario I, pp 154-55) Ciano spent the day of 31.08.1939 in fear of war breaking out between Italy and the Western Powers.
(9) This most likely refers to the communication made by the Italian Ambassador in Berlin, saying that Mussolini had got into contact with London to say that nothing could save the peace except an offer of Danzig to Germany.  Mussolini then pressed Hitler to leave time for a meeting of the interested powers.

(10) Bonifacio Pignatti (1877-1957), Italian Ambassador to the Holy See 1935-39.

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