Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

Tito, Klugmann and SOE

From Lady Maclean of Dunconnel

Sir: I have only just returned from a long visit to ex-Yugoslavia, so am late in joining in the Mihailovic/Tito controversy, once more revived in your journal by Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia ('King's move', 31 July) and Sir Ian Fraser (Letters, 14 August).

I had thought that with the release of British and German records this ghost had been laid to rest. But, as it concerns my late husband's reputation, as well as that of Sir William Deakin and many other courageous British liaison officers, including Jasper Rootham, whose evidence formed the basis of the Maclean Report, I feel it is once more necessary to correct the myth that has bedevilled this particular period of Balkan history: 'that Churchill and Fitzroy Maclean were misled as to what was really happening in the Yugoslav Resistance'.

When, in late July 1943, Winston sent for Fitzroy to give him the mission of finding out more about Tito's Partisans, very little concrete information about them or their leader had reached London from our observers in the field. By the time Fitzroy was dropped by parachute into Tito's headquarters in Bosnia in September 1943, things had moved on. Intercepted German signals, together with the reports of Hudson and Bailey (British liaison officers with Mihailovic), were painting an ever clearer picture of the overall resistance to the Wehrmacht - enormous activity and aggression on the Partisan front, and very little and accommodations on the Chetnik one. So much so that British High Command had already decided to back Tito and to gradually withdraw aid from Mihailovic before they received my husband's report in November, which only confirmed what the intercepted airwaves had already told them. Fitzroy's summing-up of Tito's Communist/Patriot character and the Marxist aims of the national revolution was only of secondary interest to a government whose primary aim was the defeat of Germany.

In his letter, my much loved but deluded cousin, Ian Fraser, uses Hugh Thomas's rightly cautious interview with Prince Alexander (one hasn't heard much about a restored monarchy in the recent events in Belgrade!) as a peg on which to hang his anti-Tito prejudice, but to suggest that Jasper Rootham's very real contribution to Deakin and Maclean's fact-gathering was invalidated by Klugmann's (the communist mole in SOE) tampering is sheer nonsense.

His report was made personally to Deakin before he was invalided out to Italy, and by September 1943 the internal rows and questionable security of SOE in Cairo were well known to the Foreign Office.

Until June 1943, as your correspondent David Turner points out (Letters, 21 August), Klugmann was a lowly corporal in the intelligence corps of SOE, Cairo, but Fitzroy, then in the SAS, had been in Cairo long enough to have grave doubts about SOE security. It was the reason why he insisted that all his signals from Yugoslavia should go directly to General 'Jumbo' Maitland-Wilson's headquarters. It was the reason why Hermione Ranfurly had earlier on crashed a dinner party and told Anthony Eden and other VIPs that SOE, Cairo, was not secure.

That after all this Klugmann was promoted and ended up in Bari as a lieutenant-- colonel only goes to show that SOE always looked after their own. That Klugmann was sent to Italy is indisputable, but I cannot quite understand Ian Fraser's timing of events.

Churchill could not possibly have been influenced by any Klugmann-doctored reports from Rootham sent from Bari. The headquarters of Balkan sea and air operations and of Fitzroy's mission in Bari were not established until after the decision to back Tito had been made. Tito was not 'skulking on an Adriatic island' in October 1943 but was transported to Vis by two destroyers of the Royal Navy in May 1944 to establish a new HQ after his Drvar base was captured by German paratroop attack.

The book that Ian Fraser was never sent by Jasper Rootham is called Miss fire and was published by Chatto & Windus in 1946. …

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