Finest Hour 153, Winter 2011-12
What Maclean Really Told Churchill
It affronts the memory of Sir Fitzroy Maclean to suggest that he misled Churchill with deceitful reports. The following are Sir Fitzroy’s remarks to Churchill Centre members during their tour of “Churchill’s Scotland” at Strachur, Argyll, 12 September 1987. From Proceedings of the International Churchill Society 1987 (published 1989):
In 1942 the Prime Minister began to doubt the rightness of our policy in yugoslavia.We had been backing general Mihailovic’s Chetniks, but now, from intercepted enemy signals, it began to look as if Tito’s Partisans might be a better bet. he wanted me to go in as a brigadier, commanding a british military mission, and as his personal representative, to find out, as he put it rather brutally, “Who was killing the most germans, and how we could help them to kill more.” My mission was to be first and foremost military; political considerations were to be secondary.
I found Tito to be a rough, alert, sensible man of about fifty, at the head of a far more formidable resistance movement than anyone outside yugoslavia could possibly have imagined. by his skill as a guerrilla leader he was containing a score or more of enemy divisions and thus making a major contribution to the Allied war effort. he made no bones about being a communist, but for a communist (and I’d just spent three years in Moscow so I knew all about them), he showed a surprising independence of mind and, above all, an intense national pride which did not at all fit in with my idea of a Russian dupe.
All this I reported to Mr. Churchill, first by radio and then, once I could get out of the country, in person in Cairo. On the strength of my reports a decision had been taken to give all-out support to Tito and the Partisans.
I thought it right to remind him that the Partisans were communist-led. “Do you intend to make your home in yugoslavia after the war?” he asked. “No,” I replied. “Neither do I,” he said. “That being so, don’t you think we had better leave it to the yugoslavs to work out their own form of government? What concerns us most now is who is doing the most damage to the germans.”
Thinking our conversation over afterwards, I felt convinced, and still feel convinced, that this was the right decision.