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Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, to Commander Charles R. Train, United States Naval Attaché at Rome



30 November, 1918.               

From:     Chief of Naval Operations.

To  :     Naval Attaché, Rome, Italy.

SUBJECT:       Italian occupation Istria and Dalmatian Coast.

Reference: (a) Naval Attaché report I-724 of November 25, 1918.1

     1.   In view of the grave possibilities in the Adriatic situation I feel it my duty to inform you that despatches and reports, particularly above reference, have impressed me very strongly with the idea that you are too much influenced by the atmosphere in which you are living and too readily accept the views presented to you by the representatives of the Government where you are. While it is quite proper for you to consult the Chief of the Naval Staff2 and get all the information you possibly could, you must recognize that most of the subjects which you have discussed with him are all of a diplomatic nature and must be left for final consideration by the Peace Conference.

     2.   The points that we have to consider and should be careful about are that the naval terms of the armistice between the Allies and the United States and Austria-Hungary are strictly and properly carried out.

     3.   As I understand it there is not positive assurance that the terms of the London pact will be finally accepted by the Peace Conference. Even if they should be there is no reason why, in carrying out the terms of the armistice, Italy should be given too free a hand. You may not be aware of the fact, but at the very beginning of the action in regard to carrying out these terms the Chief of Naval Staff informed the British Admiralty that British ships could proceed to the Northern Adriatic provided American and French ships were not allowed to do so. I took a very positive stand on this matter as did the French. I have been informed by the Chief of the French Naval Staff3 that, when called upon for an explanation of this action, the Italians flatly denied that any such considerations were ever laid down, and yet the First Sea Lord of the British Admiralty read the despatch to me and to the Chief of the French Naval Staff.

     4.   Of course, this is strictly confidential and under no circumstances must it be repea ted or referred to by you. I am simply giving this information to you in order to show you how necessary it is to be particularly careful in all you do and say in connection with the situation in the Adriatic.

5.   I get the French reports and am in frequent communication with the French Minister of Marine4 and I do not believe that the Italians have any cause for anxiety so far as the French Government is concerned.

6.   I have also talked with the new Minister from Serbia to the United States, who has just come from that section of the country, and I believe that I have a fairly good idea of the situation.

7.   If you can get any information in regard to the forty-four Austrian merchant ships that are lying idle in Austrian ports and can ascertain the best means of getting them into service it would be a great help. Please let me have any information that you possess or can get in this subject at the earliest possible moment.

Source Note: LT, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 677. Identifier “I-L” appears in the top-left corner of the first page.

Footnote 1: This document has not been found.

Footnote 2: Adm. Paolo Thaon di Revel.

Footnote 3: VAdm. Ferdinand De Bon.

Footnote 4: Georges Leygues.

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