Author: Christian Jennings Publisher: Osprey Price: £20 THE FIRST FLASHPOINT OF THE COLD WAR BETWEEN EAST AND WEST IS EXPLORED
Trieste has always held a strategically important position, with its crucial deep-water port forming an outlet into the Adriatic Sea from landlocked Austria, Hungary and southern Germany. The city is the gateway to the Balkans from the north and, above all, southeastern and south-central Europe. Its hinterland stretches from Bavaria and the former Czechoslovakia to upper Silesia and western Galicia in Poland. In short, in 1945 it meant far more to the world than it did to Italy or Yugoslavia.
When World War II ended, the fear uppermost in the minds of the British and Americans was that if Trieste fell into the hands of Yugoslavia, it would by default go to the Soviet Union. That in turn would bring about a radical shift in the balance of power in Europe, to the benefit of the Eastern powers. The Western Allies were therefore adamant that Trieste be kept in friendly hands to avoid it drifting into the Russian orbit.
This is the backdrop to the tale of high intrigue and power politics, “the first battle of the Cold War”, as the subtitle states, brought to light in the lively and well-documented narrative of Christian Jennings. The author is a seasoned foreign correspondent who has been based in key spots in this region and now lives in Italy. He brings an impeccable set of credentials to the true story of what reads like a Cold War thriller.
The drama opens in mid-april 1945, when the Red Army had taken Vienna and Budapest and was fighting outside Berlin. “Yugoslavia was under the control of Marshal Josip Broz Tito and his communist partisans,” Jennings said. “If these proxy allies could annex parts of Austria and northeastern Italy, including the key port of Trieste, Stalin could command the Adriatic. He would establish a stranglehold on access from Central Europe to vital Mediterranean shipping lanes leading to Egypt, Greece, the Suez Canal and India.”
In mid-april Tito came out and boldly announced Yugoslavia’s claims to Trieste. The fact that his statement was made on a visit to Moscow was taken as a clear indication of at least tacit Soviet support. The Italian government had advocated a compromise that would leave Trieste in Italy. This at the time was regarded as the single most important problem of Italy’s foreign affairs. With the exception of the Communists and, to a lesser extent the Socialists, all Italian political parties were vehement in their support of the government’s claims to Trieste.
By May, Tito’s Partisans had occupied Trieste. 24 hours later, the British Eighth Army announced that the town had been captured by New Zealand units. The Partisans released a menacing communiqué of their own, warning that the entry of Allied units into Trieste could have “unwished-for consequences”. The first salvo of the Cold War had been fired. The political events and outcome of this story are brought to life through the lives and actions of 12 men and women from seven countries, thrown together on a strategically vital frontier between East and West.
“IN MID-APRIL, TITO CAME OUT AND BOLDLY ANNOUNCED YUGOSLAVIA’S CLAIMS TO TRIESTE. THE FACT THAT HIS STATEMENT WAS MADE ON A VISIT TO MOSCOW WAS TAKEN AS A CLEAR INDICATION OF AT LEAST TACIT SOVIET SUPPORT”
A US Navy ship sits in port at Trieste, in one of the most contentious and strategically important sites in world politics at the time