Intelligence Section, Staff of Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Office of Naval Intelligence
4 November <2> 1918
Copies to_ O1
R2 <Ser. no>
INTELLIGENCE SECTION M4 <33>
Source: Naval Attache, Rome1
Subject: Jugo-Slav Nation-
and the Austrian Fleet.
<To: Naval Intelligence.>
<33.> The following radio message has been received:-
“Com-in-Chief U.S. Fleet.2 The Jugo-Slav nation after centuries of oppression has proclaimed its liberty. The National Jugo-Slav Council constituted on October 28 a provisional government which took possession of on October 31 entire Austrian fleet as well as arsenal of Pola.3 The existing fleet is to-day unarmed. The Italians have to-day destroyed by torpedo boat the VIRIBUS UNITIS and transport WIEN.4 In order to preserve fleet to Jugo-Slav nation, we beg you to take it immediately under the protection your Fleet or fleet disinterested power. Information has been requested by radio. Signed Provisional Jugo-Slav Government”.
To this the following reply was sent:
“For Senafloat Gibraltar. Following has been sent QUOTE To Admiral Niblack and Captain Nelson of the USS LEONIDAS5 Following instructions are issued by French British Italian and United States Governments QUOTES Commander-in-Chief or Senior Naval Officer present.6 Until further notice you are not to attack ships of Austria Hungarian fleet in port. Take measures to insure the passage of these ships which may come to Corfu under the white flag to place themselves at your disposal. You may expect to receive radio message from Pola advising you of their departure UNQUOTE. Clemenceau7 on behalf of the 4 Governments is to send the following reply to offer of Jugo-Slav committee to send fleet to Corfu QUOTE Reply to your telegram. With friendly greetings we invite you to come to Corfu under the white flag to put your ships at the disposal of the Chief Commander of the Allied Naval Forces.8 Let the Commander at Corfu know by telegram the time of your departure and arrival.9
(Signed) Colonel House, Lloyd George,
Orlando, Clemenceau,|10| 17502. 33
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. The handwritten date is confirmed by the time/date stamp just before Benson’s name at the foot of the copy.
Footnote 1: Cmdr. Charles R. Train.
Footnote 2: Presumably, this was intended for the United States commander at Gibraltar, RAdm. Albert P. Niblack.
Footnote 3: Modern-day Pula, Croatia.
Footnote 4: The battleship Viribus Unitis was sunk by two Italian officers who, using a torpedo-like, self-propelled mine, penetrated the harbor at Pola and attached explosives to the hull of the battleship. When the charges exploded, the battleship capsized and sank. They also sank the liner Wien, which had been used to house German U-boat crews, who were no longer there. There is a question if the Italians knew that the Austrians had turned over these ships to the Yugoslav state. Moreover, the Allies suspected that the incident was a ruse designed to prevent the Austrians from surrendering their ships. Halpern, Naval War in the Mediterranean, 567.
Footnote 5: Capt. Charles P. Nelson commanded the American submarine chaser detachment at Corfu.
Footnote 6: It is unclear to whom this was directed; it may have been RAdm. Heathcoat S. Grant, the officer in command at Gibraltar.
Footnote 7: Prime Minister of France Georges Clemenceau.
Footnote 8: Presumably, Adm. Sir Somerset A. Gough-Calthorpe.
Footnote 9: For a copy of the cable to Niblack and Nelson, see DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 679.
Footnote 10: Col. Edward M. House, President Woodrow Wilson’s representative; British Prime Minister David Lloyd George; and Prime Minister of Italy Vittorio Emmanuel Orlando.
Footnote 11: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, was then in Paris as a member of the House mission charged with negotiating the terms an armistice with Germany.