FLASH­POINT TRI­ESTE

Au­thor: Chris­tian Jen­nings Pub­lisher: Osprey Price: £20 THE FIRST FLASH­POINT OF THE COLD WAR BE­TWEEN EAST AND WEST IS EX­PLORED

History of War - - REVIEWS -

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

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