Up until now we only knew about the fact that throughout the Second World War, the British were intercepting and reading German radio dispatches ciphered with the help of “Enigma”, a machine Wehrmacht regarded as fully reliable. Now, we are learning that the British success was mediocre and that only a small part of German messages was decoded. With respect to the Balkans, the only decoded messages were those that favoured Churchill’s political agenda of abandoning the Yugoslav King, army and the government in favour of the armed forces of the illegal Communist Party of Yugoslavia. In other words, the reports that speak of the alleged great contribution of the Partizans to the Allied victory, but not those that pointed to a different state of affairs.
By Miloslav SAMARDZIC
This we learn from John Cripps’ article “Mihailovic or Tito: How the Codebreakers Helped Churchill Choose”. That article appeared in the anthology Action This Day (Micharl Smith, ed., Bantam Press, London, 2001).
Cripps begins his article with two false premises: that the Yugoslav army surrendered unconditionally on April 17, 1941, and that by the end of the same year “two resistance movements” were formed. To his credit, he does mention that the British government recognized as its Yugoslav counterpart tyhe movement with the Minister of Defense Draza Mihailovic at its head.
However, Cripps fails to disclose that we are dealing with legal institutions of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and that the “other resistance movement” is represented by the armed forces of the illegal Communist party of Yugoslavia (CPY). Thus we are left without an explanation as to why, by 1941, the British had placed the two on equal footing: legal institutions of a sovereign European state and a revolutionary group whose raison d’être ley in the destruction of the former. Also, why were they concerned who provided more resistance against the Germans when it is clear that supporting a revolution in the midst of a war diminishes the fighting ability of both the people and the state? Even though Cripps doesn’t write about it, it may prove helpful to remember that Camp X was established by the British in Canada in the spring of 1941. Among the recruiters there were communists from the Yugoslav Kingdom, mainly participants of the Spanish Civil War who were later sent back to Yugoslavia. It would have been more logical to have recruited and trained the 1500 Yugoslav soldiers, non-commisioned officers and officers who were at their disposal having taken refuge in Egypt following the April War, rather than communists. It is noteworthy that one of the instructors at Camp X was Colonel William Bailey, the head of the British Military Mission to the Supreme Command of the Yugoslav army, who from 1942 onwards systematically made life of general Mihailovic difficult.1
It is important to mention that while the British were gathering “the Spanish fighters”, the Germans were doing the same thing in occupied France, at Camp Grasse. The Gestapo was in charge of this operation, aided at that time by the Comintern. In the spring of 1941, the Gestapo returned a group of a few hundred communists back to Yugoslavia.2
There are consequences in accepting the term “two resistance movements”, as there were consequences for an early support of the Yugoslav communists. Cripps doesn’t only speak about the events that happened in the beginning of 1941, he also discusses the years of 1942 and 1943. For instance, he questions the accuracy of the events of June 1942 when Major Davidson, head of British Military Intelligence, informed Churchill that the Partizans were “extremists and thugs”. In the autumn of 1943 Churchill decided to transfer all support to the “thugs”, despite knowing that “Yugoslavia will become a communist state after the war”.
Cripps rejects the influence of the “incriminating report” made by a communications officer at the headquarters of the Partizan Commander – Fitzroy Maclean. Maclean was perhaps the only British “weasel officer” during the war. A politician by trade and Churchill’s comrade, Maclean was promoted overnight from a Captain in reserve directly to Brigadier general. Later he was sent to Broz’s camp that was buzzing with officers of that type. He accepted everything the communists had told him and soon, Churchill received a firsthand report with an exaggerated number of Partizan fighters (200,000) and their even more exaggerated successes. Maclean also never failed to write the contrary when the Chetniks were in question. Cripps insists that Churchill was aware of the falsity of these reports. However, the British Premier presented Maclean’s report as crucial evidence in order to mask the real source of information – ciphered German dispatches decoded by the Secret Service at Bletchley Park.
In the same manner, Cripps rejects the theory about Soviet officers present in the British ranks, especially in reference to the Cairo branch of SoE. However Churchill not only knew about it, he made sure that certain crucial information was never received and we can assume that the decoded German messages were most crucial in Churchill’s decisions. This was kept as a high priority secret until the year 2000 when deciphered messages became available at the British national archives and served as the basis for Cripps’ work.
Every morning Churchill received all of the vital German dispatches. These included daily reports of the Command for the Southeast to Berlin, the communications between certain German commands in the Balkans, communication reports between German and Italian commands, reports from the German air-force and German military intelligence Abwehr, and information on the Security Services in charge of the Gestapo. However, Cripps states that the British also received the “local traffic between the Chetnik, Partizan and Croatian units” and the German reports on the intercepted and decoded Chetnik and Partizan radio dispatches.
Cripps does not give any details about the Chetnik system of communication. On the basis of German documents, published by Ivan Avakumovic, as well as according to the Chetnik documents from the military archives in Belgrade, we know that the best German wiretapping unit “Vod Volni” successfully deciphered about 4% of Chetnik radio dispatches. More precisely, from July 1942 until July 1943 this unit intercepted 17,067 Chetnik radio messages, and successfully deciphered 731 of them.3
By all means there were more exchanged messages, since this was the basic means of communication among Mihailovic’ units. At the end of this period, in May 1943, Mihailovic made the use of double or English codes mandatory. There is no evidence of the Germans getting a hold of any of those messages.
For a long time the communists had only two radio stations for communication with Moscow and had no knowledge of ciphering, which made it easy for the Germans to decipher whatever they intercepted. Tito and the separatist Slovenian Communist Party maintained communications with their masters in Moscow and the Comintern.4
According to Cripps, this tie remained until the Comintern collapsed in June 1943. In other words, the British were always aware that the Yugoslav communists were Stalin’s supporters. Cripps cites that “the subservience of Tito to Dimitrov was confirmed.”
According to Cripps, in the summer of 1941, Abwehr reports referred to attacks on railway lines and confirmed that “…Serbs were being shot by the Croats”. This was confirmed by all Serbian sides; however the British always maintained the contrary. In early August the first reports about the insurrection, that is, about the killings of Germans were received. The reports continued throughout September and the Germans were prepared to deny them.
Cripps writes: “This report was sent to Churchill, who underlined these words in red.” However it remains unclear who were the insurgents, and who was their leader; but not for the Germans – they knew and needed no explanations. During the Summer they identified Colonel Mihailovic as the “band leader” and a typical sentence in their reports ran like this: “The command is in the hands of Serbian officers”.5
The British erroneously concluded that the “Germans used four divisions” in order to stifle the insurrection. In reality, following the April War, the Germans used four divisions in the Serbian provinces of the Kingdom and by September 1941, they brought additional two and a half divisions.
This is how Cripps ends the description of the first year of the war: “A letter from MI6 to MBb reveals that their view, probably formed from the decrypts, was that Mihailovic’s forces appeared to be fighting the communists rather than the Germans and that if that were true it was unlikely that the revolt could be maintained. The first doubts about Mihailovic were already setting in.”
Cripps begins the description of the year 1942 with “It seemed that for at least the foreseeable future there would be little resistance to the Axis from either the Chetniks or the Partizans. However, decrypts in early 1942 revealed that the Partizans were carrying on the fight.” The truth is that in the regions west of Drina River, to which this quote refers, the Germans were not worried about the Partizans throughout entire 1941 and the beginning of 1942, they were concerned about the Chetniks. “Chetnik movement is spreading throughout the entire sector between Sava River and the German/Italian demarcation line”, it is stated in the report dated November 4 by the German plenipotentiary in Zagreb, General von Horstenau.6
In December of 1941 the Germans issued a bounty for Mihailovic, offering 200,000 dinars. after German soldiers crossed the Drina River, they were provided with Mihailovic’ photos, with promises of additional rewards for his head. In the order for the attack on the insurgents in eastern Bosnia, the German command in 1941 made the following list of enemies: Mihailovic’ men, Dangic’ Chetniks, and the communists.7
The Germans believed that there were more Chetniks than the Partizans in that region (appr. 20,000 to 6000). In their documents, Mihailovic was mentioned more often than Major Jezdimir Dangic, the commander for East Bosnia or Captain Dragoslav Racic, who was the commander of Cer brigade, the strongest unit sent to aid Dangic.8
The Germans mentioned Racic when he was fighting on the east side of the Drina, along with some other Chetnik officers. For example, they put on their wanted list two tank drivers, sub-lieutenant Dragomir Topalovic and Zarko Borisic, who operated tanks confiscated from the Germans.9
On the other hand, German documents do not mention Broz or his commanders, making Cripps’ conclusion that it was the Partizans and not the Chetniks who continued to fight at the beginning of 1942 rather odd.
As the year was progressing the Germans kept recording confrontations with “Dangic’ Chetniks” and the collaboration between the Ustashe and the Partizans. According to Cripps’ article, the British codebreakers also missed these German reports. Here are a few radiograms of general Paul Bader, commander of Serbia and East Bosnia, to the commander of the Southeast.
– 20, april 1942: “It seems that an agreement has been reached between Croatian Communists, the Ustashe and the advancing parts of the proletarian brigade from Montenegro, according to which these groups are not fighting each other.”10
– 31, March 1942: “The Ustashe, local Partizans and the gangs from Montenegro are fighting alongside each other against the forces under Dangic’ command.”11
– 10, april 1942: “It appears that the Chetnik group under Dangic’s command is completely defeated in the battles against the Croatian army and the Ustashe in collaboration with Communists, so that now Dangic can only achieve local successes.”12
The Germans recorded the outcome of this collaboration: “Croatian Ustashe and Muslim units slaughtered a large number of refugees who were hurrying towards Drina, throwing some in the river.”13
The British were unaware of the communist documentation because their messages were carried by couriers. “We think that the brigades are needed urgently, not to be engaged in the fight against the Ustashe, but against Racic’s officers and their gendarmes”, wrote the commander of the Birchanski Partizan unit and Broz’s assistant in March of 1942. Broz wrote to his commanders of the 1st and 2nd Proletarian brigades on March 29, that their arrival in eastern Bosnia had “negative effects, since it took place at the time when the Chetnik units fought the Ustashe beside Han Pijesak.”14
Cripps only states the following: “With the onset of Spring, the Partizans continued their resistance.” The summer of 1942 he describes in the following way: “Von Horstenau also reported that by August the Partizans had seized control of a large area of Croatia, centered on the town of Livno (at its largest, the area they controlled was about the size of Switzerland), and that the Croats would be unable to retake it.”
Although not revealed by decrypts, Tito was present and in charge of the area. Reports were received of continued sabotage and clashes between the Partizans and the Axis. On 23 August, General Davidson wrote that the bulk of resistance activity was being carried out by the Partizans, but that, in his view, Mihailovic was preserving his forces “to do their part when a general uprising could be staged”.
Cripps does not say that Livno is located in Bosnia, or that Hitler awarded Bosnia to Croatia. It is also unusual that he uncritically uses the data about the comparison of the Partizan territory to Switzerland. Only by the end of that year, the “Bihac republic,” at its zenith expanded to 22,500 square kilometers, which is only half the size of Switzerland. This fact was brought up in the report of December 26, 1942 by General Fortner, commander of the German 718th Division, the unit which bordered Partizan-held territory at that time.15
By the Summer of that year, “Bihac republic” was much smaller.
Contrary to documentation that Cripps was presented with at the British national archives, General Fortner reported that the Partizans were, in fact, avoiding confrontations with the Germans whenever possible. Instead they concentrated on the newly formed Independent State of Croatia (NDH), but did not have any significant confrontations with them either. According to Cripps, there was only one massive battle initiated by some resistance movement in the summer of 1942 in Foca, where the Chetniks, after a long struggle, overpowered the Axis garrison (Croatian and Muslim). However, this series of German reports was missed by the British code-breakers.16
In orders to his commanders, Broz uses the term “feigned clashes” when referring to arranged battles between Croatians and the Partizans, where the Croatians would formally fire their weapons and then allow the Partizans to occupy the abandoned towns.17
That is why the statement that the Croatians were not able to recover some of their territory, is only partially true. Fortner’s reports however seem to be much more reliable. For example, here is an extract from his report dated October 12, 1942:
“The organization and the arming of various brigades of this Soviet republic have made aweinspiring advances. The main suppliers of weapons are the Croatian armed forces and the Ustashe, whose crews regularly permit disarming without any resistance if attacked with force. When they flee they leave behind both their heavy equipment and sometimes even their rifles.”18
The fact that British code-breakers, as we have seen, did not intercept German reports about the collaboration between the Partizans and the Ustashe in the beginning of 1942, nor that British agents had any clue about the pre-war collaboration between these groups does not benefit Cripps’ view.
Therefore, we can say that Cripps’ descriptions of the events he refers to at the end of 1942 seem to be completely at odds with the transcripts of decoded German messages. As a result of presumed Partizan resistance, the British decided to send Colonel William Bailey to assist Bill Hudson, their officer at Mihailovic’s supreme command. Bailey was expected to give advice on “whom to support”, along with information “on the differences between Mihailovic and Tito”. Thus, long before the decisive year of 1943, the British were only formally in a dilemma as to whether to collaborate with the Kingdom of Yugoslavia or to bring the “thugs” to power.
One of the reasons for such a major change in direction in British policy were defficiencies in tapping German signals from a particular region in western Yugoslav provinces. The absence of any information from the other regions caused an even greater breach. In fact, the British only deciphered a small portion of German reports from a single western region, where a German division remained until the end of 1942 – 718th Division. To the east they had 704th, 714th, and 717th divisions. Now for the first time a new German formation was introduced in the Yugoslav theater – an elite anti-guerilla unit, the Brandenburg Regiment. This regiment, together with 714th and 717th Divisions conducted operation “Forstat” against Mihailovic’s units in May and June of 1942 in southwestern Serbia. The operation’s task was to execute Action 800, “aiming to capture Mihailovic”.19
However the operation failed, and it is odd that Cripps seems to be unaware of it, the more so because in spite of defficiencies in the British wiretapping effort, the Germans did manage to capture a British officer who was at Mihailovic’s headquarters at that time. Amidst the numerous missed German reports, there is one that stands out in particular. This was General Löhr’s directive sent to General Bader on July 10, 1942. Löhr wrote about “the expansion of Mihailovic’s organization from South Serbia into Montenegro and Bosnia, and perhaps to Slovenia and Croatia, north of the river Sava”. Noting that even in Serbia “there is news about destructive organizational activity on the part of Mihailovic,” Löhr concluded: “Mihailovic is the most dangerous opponent”.20
This directive has a further significance despite erroneous British conclusions drawn due to a series of tapping misses. The most significant fact is that the Germans managed to detect Mihailovic’s organization even from across the river Drina. It sounds absurd, but it is a fact even though the British have always denied it. Ever since they first heard of Mihailovic, they tried to limit him to the region east of Drina. Interestingly enough, these are precisely the borders of pre-World War I Serbia (the River Drina) that the communists sought to reestablish. In fact, they tried to erase the borders of three western Serbian provinces (or banovinas, as pre-World War II administrative units were called) – Vrbas, Drina, and Zeta.
This is an interesting topic, similar to that of the striking resemblance of Camp X to Camp Grasse. Here we need to shift our focus to the unbelievable examples of numerous flaws in the British wiretapping service starting from the Summer of 1942. Among the top ten there is undoubtedly the order from one of the most important men in Hitler’s circle, Heinrich Himmler, addressed to “Gestapo – Miller” on July 17, 1942: “The basis of all success in Serbia and all of southeastern Europe lies in the destruction of Mihailovic. Use all available forces to locate him and his headquarters in order to destroy him. Anything that helps to achieve this goal is appropriate. I expect closest collaboration of all institutions concerned, from the Security Police to SS and the police itself. The head of SS and the police (in occupied Serbia), [August von] Meyszner, already has my orders. let me know what kind of information we already possess regarding Mihailovic’s whereabouts. Have weekly reports sent to me with information about the progress of this operation”.21
It is relevant to mention that every time these weekly reports were wired, Bletchley Park operatives were either busy having “5 o’clock tea” or occupied with other things. How else would they miss each and every one of those dispatches? They neglected the report from the two day conference of German commands in Belgrade on August 28 and 29, 1942, chaired by Löhr personally, where the main topic of discussion was Mihailovic’s organization and its annihilation. In the same manner, the British failed to notice smaller operations, such as the dispatching of 714th Division in pursuit of the Chetniks on Ravna Gora.22
However, the most amazing fact is that the British failed to register the second visit paid by one of the highest ranking German functionaries to occupied Yugoslavia.
Heinrich Himmler visited Kraljevo on 15-18 October 1942 (the first visit was Hitler’s short escapade to Maribor). It appears that the entire team at Bletchley Park was on a holiday not only between October 15-18, but at least a week before and after that. That is how the British were shortchanged about information concerning the introduction of an extra division into the battlefield east of the “Bihac Republic”: the 7th Mountain SS division Prince Eugen. Himmler himself went there and was present during the operation under the code name Kopaonik, executed against the Rasina Corps, Mihailovic’s strongest unit in this region.23
It is important to point out that this was one of over thirty German operations directed against Mihailovic’s forces between 1941 and 1945. Since all of them were described in reports from German units and commands, is it even necessary to ask how many of these operations were registered by the British? The answer is evident – none.
A certain politician once said that small countries commit small follies; great countries commit greater one. Perhaps he had Great Britain in mind, as it is the only country that has the word “great” in its title and yet its follies tend to multiply. Is that why at some point the British failed to discern who was fighting against whom? They knew, at least unless and until the contrary was demonstrated, perhaps in one of Cripps’ future publications, that during World War I they were allied with the Serbs against the Germans, Croatians, Muslims and Albanians who fought under German command or supported the Central Powers. They also knew that the coup d’etat on March 27, 1941, against the government that signed the Tripartite agreement with the Germans was carried out by the Serbs. In any case, only the were encouraged, and even coerced, to stage the coup. They well knew that any money spent on the Croatian Peasant Party would be wasted and therefore they chose to finance the Serbian National Defense (a patriotic, nationalist organization) to organize the revolt against the government’s pro-German policy. In the event, the SND exercised no practical influence on the staging of the anti-German coup.
However, as soon as the war broke out, the British were overtaken by an unusual “blackout”. First of all they failed to decipher Hitler’s order to attack the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, known as ‘Plan 25’. Hitler emphasized that his only enemies in Yugoslavia are the Serbs, and that the German army comes as a friend and a liberator of all other ethnic groups.
Later, the British failed to notice that the Germans were welcomed to Croatia and greeted in Zagreb with flowers. They did not register that the Germans were executing Serbs while recruiting Croats, Muslims and Albanians for their SS troops and legions. Throughout the war the British code-breakers failed to intercept German radio messages where the Serbs were labeled as enemies. That was yet another catastrophic oversight, for whenever the Germans named an enemy in Yugoslavia, they always meant the Serbs; Croats, Muslims and Albanians were always referred to as allies. Whenever they carried out executions, and they did that abundantly and frequently, they mentioned only one nation – the Serbs (of course, they always mentioned the Jews as well, but our topic is focused on the German view of the Serbs). Whenever they threatened, they always threatened the Serbs: “Serbs! You have already experienced the might, the speed and the severity of the German military power… a necessary and unavoidable punishment has befallen the villages of Kopaonik. Let that be your last warning.” These were the words of general Arthur Phleps, commander of the SS division Prince Eugen, elaborating on the beastly murders of hundreds of Serbian civilians during operation Kopaonik.24
The British code-breakers not only failed to intercept every single German report concerning the reprisals against the Serbs, they also refused to believe Serbian testimonies about the magnitude of the suffering inflicted upon them. The prime minister of the Yugoslav government-in-exile, Slobodan Jovanovic, informed the British government about German atrocities in Kopaonik. Unfortunately, Cripps did not see that letter, nor did he see the note on the margins left by the functionary of the foreign office, Orm Sargent: “Do not believe a word of it!”25
Who did the British believe then? Just like Hitler’s Germans and Stalin’s Soviets, they believed the Croats. They welcomed the news that a Croat, Tito, was the leader of the ‘thugs’ in Yugoslavia. From then on Churchill used the terms ‘Croat Tito’ and ‘Mihailovic the Serb’, ‘Croatian Partizans’ and ‘Serbian Chetniks’. Right away he started searching for another Croat, whom he could utilize outside of Yugoslavia. He found one in the person of Ivan Subasic, governor of the Croatian Province within the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Afterwards, he expelled Serbs from the government-in-exile based in London, and established a provisional Yugoslav government led by Subasic, who also became Prime Minister. Having accomplished that, Churchill “expressed his hope” that these two Croats will successfully solve the “question of the Serbian King”, meaning the King of Yugoslavia, Peter II, whom he had the privilege of welcoming in London earlier.26
And they truly solved this question. The icing on the cake came a half century later, when Margaret Thatcher arrived in Zagreb and spoke about the collaboration of the British and the Croatians against the Germans during World War II. We can only imagine how the Croatians laughed behind her back, as they sang their newly composed quasi-anthem ‘Danke Deutschland’, together with pro-Ustashe hit songs by Marko Perkovich Thompson.
Mrs. Thatcher’s remarks, replete with anti-Serbian sentiments, were a logical complement to Britain’s World War II policy.27
In the second half of 1942 and in the beginning of 1943, Britain paid particularly close attention to Yugoslavia, as Allied armies were waging decisive battles in Africa against Hitler’s best commander, Fieldmarshal Erwin Romel. History has recorded these battles under the name “Battles for Supplies”. African sand was barren and hence the victory belonged to the best supplied army. The shortest route for German supplies went through Yugoslavia, more precisely through Serbia. Britain acted not by seeking help from the ‘thugs’, as they were still referring to the Communists at that time, but by soliciting the assistance of the field representatives of the legitimate Yugoslav government. A plan of action was quickly agreed on and the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland (the Chetniks) initiated a series of sabotage operations and diversions along the railroads. As a result, German priorities were also changed. Löhr’s report to the Supreme Command of Wehrmacht for November 29, 1942 stated the following: “For Croatia, as well as for Serbia, the main task remains constant security of transported supplies towards Greece”. Here is where Löhr saw the greatest threat: “Guard posts are being erected for the protection of railroads and other important buildings:
On Serbian territory: 177 completed, 58 in construction, 6 in preparation.
On Croatian territory: 29 completed, 67 in construction, 34 in preparation.”28
By Serbian territory Löhr meant Nedic’ Serbia and under Croatian territory he understood the ‘Independent State of Croatia’ (NDH), which was at least three times the size of the former. Both the Partizans and the Chetniks operated in NDH, while in Nedic’ Serbia there were no Partizan units that were even worth mentioning. Numerous German reports were associated with these events, including those on the executions of thousands of Serbs. At this point the Germans introduced a new reprisal standard: 100 civilians were executed for each German soldier killed and 200 for every bridge destroyed.
There is probably no need to mention that none of these reports were detected by the British listening post at Bletchley Park and this is exactly why Cripps was unaware of the report from the German group Wineke, which investigated the case of a Chetnik sabotage group known as the “Gordon Group” and its activities in the Nis region. The Germans captured 733 saboteurs from the Gordon Group; following interrogations, 396 of them were executed while 35 were killed in action. According to the report from Wineke, the Gordon Group was able to execute an unbelievable amount of 1499 acts of sabotages, making it the greatest documented success of a single group of saboteurs in any theater during World War II. Please keep in mind that this number only states the amount of officially recorded acts. There were presumably more of them as the Gordon Group was not assigned to the destruction of bridges.
This was the task of the other units that were sabotaging the German war effort. The Wineke group was of the opinion that the Chetnik units from Lapovo, and especially those from Kraljevo and Krusevac, were very successful. However, these units were outside of their purview.29
Cripps begins the year 1943 with the description of two German plans: one for the destruction of the Partizans called Weis, and the other one for the annihilation of the Chetniks called Schwartz. Cripps says: “Churchill must have been excited when he learnt about these plans. At the time, he saw Bill Deakin, his pre-war research assistant who was then working for the SoE in Cairo. The operational head of SoE Cairo, Brigadier Keble, had previously worked for military intelligence in Cairo and was still receiving a limited number of Abwehr decrypts, which were analyzed by Deakin and his superior officer Basil Davidson. Churchill demanded a report from Keble, who advocated that the Partizans should be contacted”. “It is now indeed clear from the decrypts,” Cripps writes, “that the Prime Minister was well aware of what was happening before he saw Deakin and Keble in Cairo and, while interested in what they had to say, was not manoeuvred into ultimate support for the Partisans by anything that emanated from SOE Cairo (…)
“The decrypts reveal in detail the course of the operation Weiss. The Partizans put up such strong resistance to the German land troops that the Luftwaffe had to be deployed. By February 16, 1943 the first phase of the operation was announced to have been completed, but in the reports it was pointed out that some Partizans had escaped the perimeter by moving towards the Bauxite region and the rest by resurfacing on the free zones (…)
“Following Keble’s report to Churchill, the Chiefs of Staff, who had been sent a copy, decided not to change policy and contact the Partisans, but not before Colonel Bateman of the Directorate of Military Operations had recommended that it was right to support the ‘active and vigorous Partisans’ rather than the ‘dormant and sluggish’ Chetniks (…)
“The second stage of Weiss was now implemented. Decrypts provided evidence that the Partisans from the Livno area and local Partisans were advancing on the bauxite area.”
Nevertheless, Cripps does not provide any details on the operation Weiss, and therefore the basis for the conclusion drawn by the British about “solid resistance” put up by the Partizans remains a mystery. If we take a look at German documents from this operation, such a conclusion seems highly improbable. On the contrary, a day after the first and the most important phase of the operation, February 17, 1943, general Arthur Phleps, the Commander of the main German unit, the 7th Mountain SS division Prince Eugen, wrote: “It may be expected that the enemy will offer its initial resistance”.30
On the basis of the documents from communist sources it is clear that Phleps was not exaggerating as he spoke about the split within the movement and about a quick fall of the Bihac republic. Even the Partizans themselves did not regard their retreat as an advance; it seems Cripps was alone in holding that view.
Even more interesting is the fact that the British failed to notice that the Partizans, at the onset of operation Weiss, did not send their best units against the Germans and the Ustashe, but against the Chetniks in the Knin region. Since the British code-breakers again overlooked key documents, their analysts were not able to put two and two together.
This is what they missed. Three days prior to the beginning of operation Weiss, on January 17, 1943, Broz received a report from his chief of staff, stating the following: “We ought to make these Ustashe negotiators – parliamentarians aware, that it is mandatory for them to bring original – official permission from the Pavelic government, and not from various delegates.”31
The Croatian leader, Ante Pavelic, gets the message and immediately dispatches Nikola Rushinovich, government minister and envoy to the Vatican. On January 18th, the Commander of the 4th zone of the “People’s Liberation Army of Croatia” (Croatian Partizans), Vicko Krstulovic, wrote about the arrival of the minister at the Supreme Headquarters: “… Pavelic has sent his minister with the sole purpose of establishing contact with the Partizans; we ought to prevent this action (operation Weiss) and the killing of the Partizans and the Croatian army in any way possible. In order to do that, negotiations and agreement with the Partizans must absolutely be kept secret from the Germans and Italians. They (Pavelic and his government) hold the view that a government without people is not worth much. The minister and the district prefect (N. Leutic, the prefect in Omis), expressed their confidence towards the Partizans, but also fear that the Serbs will regain leadership among them and that the future Yugoslavia will fall under their command.”32
After receiving the letter from Krstulovic, Tito personally met with Pavelic’s envoy. That was a meeting at the the highest level between two warring sides during World War II: on one side was a minister and a personal envoy of one of the supreme commanders, while the other side was represented by its supreme commander in person. This was similar to Churchill sending his minister to meet with Hitler, betraying Roosevelt and Stalin.
The Italians were the first ones to find out about the meeting that was held in a Roman Catholic monastery.33
Earlier in his work, Cripps mentioned that the British code-breakers were catching both Italian and Croatian messages, but now it seems those messages eluded them. Nevertheless, there is a shift of focus here: for both Weiss and Schwartz operations, the Germans concentrated considerable forces near the Adriatic Sea. The reason for that lies not in their fear of the Partizans and Chetniks, but in the confidence that the Allies would soon be landing their invasion troops in that area. That was the opinion of all parties concerned. That is why the Partizan commissars broadcast such slogans as: “If those fat Englishmen arrive, they will be met with our machine guns” and “Partizans, prepare your machine guns to greet the King and the British.” On January 17, 1943 communist-controlled Radio Free Yugoslavia emitted a broadcast from the USSR, issuing the following threatening statements:
“If a single soldier from the Anglo-American army lands in the Balkans with the intent of establishing the anti-popular Yugoslav government in London, the Yugoslav people will resist them with all of their might.”34
This radio program was not encrypted of course, but it still went unnoticed by the British. On the one hand, they still did not believe Mihailovic who contacted them on February 26, 1943 with the following message: “According to the latest reports from Serbia, the communists are spreading propaganda and recruiting people to fight against the British and the Americans if they were to land in the Balkans. They are doing the same in Slovenia and Istria. However, the people are of a different disposition.”35
On the other hand, the British never seemed to be able to catch the key messages that Broz intended to be received by the Comintern. For example: “There are still about 25 British officers dressed in Serbian traditional costumes at Mihailovic’s headquarters…The British are delaying the opening of the second front in Europe and hatred for them is escalating not only amongst us but among other people in Yugoslavia…”36
The Comintern’s reply, where the Partizan Supreme Command is alerted about “the possibility of the opening of the second front in the Balkans and the arrival of the Anglo-American troops with the intent of eliminating the Partizans,” went unnoticed as well.37
This is what Cripps had to say about ensuing truce between the Partizans and the Germans: “During the month of March the Germans did not make any advance against the Partizans, nor did they take any action against the Chetniks.” Many years later it became clear that there really was an armistice between the Partizans and the Germans. In the beginning this truce consisted of an exchange of prisoners, but later the Partizans demanded of the Germans to recognize them as a legitimate army with a view to joint operations against the Chetniks. However, Hitler put an end to those negotiations. Two Abwehr transcripts have revealed that one of the agents, a German who reported under the name of Dr. Bauks, was really negotiating with the Partizans, but the exact subject of negotiations remained unclear. Later, the transcripts did reveal that his real name was Hans Ott.
This seems quite logical, for only two out of dozens of German radio messages for the months of March, April and May of 1943 were successfully deciphered by the British listening post. Otherwise, it would have become clear to them that the Partizans wanted to unite their forces with the Germans against the British. However even if initially the Germans had agreed to the communist offer, they would have refused it a couple months later, in line with orders received from Berlin.
Here are some of the German reports that went unnoticed by the British:
March 9, 1943, Commander of the 717th division to the German Command for NDH: “NOV [the Partizans] will fight against the English in the event of their landing here; the Chetniks, on the contrary will not, they eagerly await such a sequence of events.”38
March 9, 1943, Lieutenant Colonel Pfaffenrot, Chief of Staff of the Command for NDH, to general von Horstenau concerning the Partizans: “They proclaim that they do not fight against the Croatian State or the Germans, but solely against the Chetniks. They are ready to take arms against any German enemy, including the British when they land here.”39
March 17, 1943, Broz’s general Velebit to Hans Ott in Zagreb: “In case of the British troops landing on our territory without our consent, we will be ready to put up resistance and utilize armed force if necessary.” (Ott delivered the message to ambassador Kasche, and Kasche to the German Minister of Foreign Affairs – von Ribbentrop).40
March 30, 1943, Kasche to von Ribbentrop: “These current events have proven the reliability of Tito’s promises.”41
April 17, 1943, Kasche to von Ribbentrop: “Since we are at all times well informed about the happenings in Tito’s camp, there is no chance of us being disappointed”.42
May 10, 1943, Ott to Kasche: “When I received the letter [from Broz, inviting Ott to come to his headquarters] I tried to establish contact with the Partizans via Gorazde, the latter having tried to form a defense system around the bridge south of Foca but failed due to the Chetniks’ presence. That is why the conversation with Tito never took place and we never took over the propaganda material.” [Reference to Chetnik anti-Germans propaganda tracts that were captured by the Communists.]43
After May 28, 1943, following visits by the Germans and the Ustashe, the British also began to arrive at the Partizan headquarters. When the chief of the British army, general Maclean, asked Tito what he thought about the allied landing in the Adriatic, Tito’s response was to contact Moscow on October 12 with the following statement: “We will not permit such a landing without our approval and we are ready to resist it.”44
Relying on reports gleaned from the German transcripts, Cripps says that the Partizans recaptured Herzegovina and Montenegro from the Chetniks, but what he fails to mention is that this was only a temporary state of events. At this stage, it is most interesting to mention the report prepared by Captain Maclean from MI3b, advising that “Mihailovic had gravely prejudiced his long-term position by mobilizing his men for the campaign against the Partizans…” In other words, the British were, in effect, taking the position that Mihailovic had no right to oppose the communists, despite his legal obligation to do just that. At the same time, the communists’ attacks on Mihailovic had their approval.
That kind of scenario is what occurred in this particular case: while retreating from the “Bihac Republic”, the Partizans attacked in eastern Herzegovina, which at that time was under Chetnik control.
It seems absurd, but the assertion that the Chetniks lost Herzegovina and Montenegro to the Partizans is the only way Cripps’ readers could find out that the Chetniks controlled any territories at all.
Cripps writes that the Germans kept plans of operation Schwartz secret from the Italians, fearing that they would reveal them to the Chetniks. He fails to point out the anti-German, anti-Croatian and pro-British background and nature of contacts between so-called legalized Chetniks and the Italians. In a similar fashion Cripps failed to note how the Germans unsuccessfully tried to conceal the plan of operation Weiss from the Croatians, fearing that they would reveal it to the Partizans.
Mihailovic managed to escape entrapment during operation Weiss by only two hours; Broz, on the other hand, was less fortunate. He believed that the German-Partizan agreement was still in force, and that the Germans would attack only the Chetniks (his staff celebrated the commencement of the assault). But yet again, all that seemed to have escaped British code-breakers. Cripps goes on to say: “Decrypts revealed that for the first time the Partizans were effectively surrounded and were at real risk of being wiped out. Abwehr and German army decrypts referred to bitter fighting and repeated bombing of the Partizans. The battle was over by 14 June but it soon became clear, from the decrypts, that once again a substantial body of the Partizans had escaped and that Tito had given orders that they should disperse and reform near Jajce in Bosnia. a decrypted report from Löhr on 22 June reported to the German High Command that 583 German soldiers and 7,489 Partizans had been killed, with the probability that the Partizans had lost another 4,000 men. Chetnik losses were put at 17, with nearly 4,000 taken prisoner. The contrast between the two resistance movements was stark. “
Adding to the confusion, we now encounter problems with translation nuances. More to the point, Löhr did not engage in estimates, but as in the rest of the reports, he spoke about the actual number of counted corpses and additional estimated losses. During operation Weiss the Germans counted 7,489 Partizan casualties and were afraid to go any further, fearing the outbreak of typhoid fever.
When various sources are compared, it is clear that they did not count the 4,000 wounded and sick Partizans, who were killed too. After the war Löhr was sentenced to death in Belgrade, and this killing of the wounded and the sick was taken as his gravest crime. 45
As a rule, British code-breakers were casual with data pertaining to numbers, and consequently they missed the opportunity to ask the the most important questions: what was the total number of the remaining Partizans? How many members did that “important group” really have? It consisted of only 4,500 Partizans. According to their documents, in the summer of 1943 the total number of all Partizans across country was around 25,000.46
This number agrees with the data possessed by American intelligence. As there were no Americans in the country at the time, it is safe to say that the British secretly passed this information on to them. Officially, though, they talked of 200,000 Partizans.47
Is it even necessary to comment on the fact that the considerable losses suffered by the Partizans were basically overlooked, while minor losses by Chetniks were blown out of proportion? Further on, Cripps cites the following conclusion of the British War Cabinet: “…as the strongest anti-Axis element outside of Serbia, the Partizans deserve the strongest support.” Such a conclusion is not in agreement with the real numbers of Partizans and Chetniks in the field. This fabrication about the Partizans being the strongest element outside of Serbia raises a whole series of questions.
Why look for the “strongest” force outside of Serbia?
Why not focus on the strongest force outside of Croatia? Why not support them?
Is it not clear that Serbia was strategically the most important region?
Were the Serbs not well established as allies of the British?
Why was Serbia referred to in British reports as “Nedic Serbia”, instead of pre-war Serbia, or simply the Serbian provinces?
Does not all of this reveal partiality not just to the communists, but indirectly the Croats as well? And doesn’t it seem that this was being done at the expense of the Serbs? In fact, with whom was Britain at war exactly: the Independent State of Croatia or Serbia?
The following lines, relating to the year 1943, allude to Churchill but are very characteristic of Cripps’ approach: “While he had not finally made up his mind whether to withdraw support from the Chetniks, it was clear that he was set on a course to provide the Partizans with the maximum support possible, whatever the political consequences for postwar Yugoslavia.”
The following sentence referring to the time of the Italian capitulation in September of 1943 stands out particuularly in Cripps’ volume: “Some Chetniks, seeing the way the wind was blowing, sought to collaborate with the Germans. Intercepted reports from Dr Baux detailed the negotiations that he was having with the Chetnik leader in Herzegovina, Jevdjevic, who was offering to deploy 5,000-6,000 Chetniks in coperation with the Germans against the Partizans.”
The truth is that at that time Vojvoda Jevdjevic was in Rome and remained an Italian captive from June 1943 until Italy’s capitulation.48
It is curious how Cripps failed to realize how perfectly two of the statements that he makes dovetailed: “In the meantime, a message from Dimitrov to Tito in early July advised the Partizan leader to conserve his forces for future decisive fighting – a clear indication of the level of control exercised over him by Moscow“ and “A Sicherheitsdienst report confirmed what the British also thought from their intelligence, that Mihailovic would only act if and when the Allies invaded the Balkans.” Both of these statements come to essentially the same conclusion, that the conflicting parties were saving their energy for a future confrontation.
Yet, someone backed away. According to Cripps, it is understood that it was the Partizans. He omits mentioning the fact that the Chetniks also fought together with the Italians against the Germans in the region of Dubrovnik. Moreover, they succeeded in forming a bridgehead over the Adriatic, hoping for the landing of Western allies. Cripps writes: “But decrypts also revealed that the Germans had largely dealt with the Italian problem by mid-october, when a report revealed that over 10,000 Italian officers and a quarter of a million men were being removed from Yugoslavia. There were no reports of Chetnik activity.”
According to Cripps: “The British knew from their liaison officers that Mihailovic had told his men not to carry out sabotage or engage the Germans.” And further on: “Maclean arrived to join Deakin on September 18, 1943… By the end of September Talbot Rice prepared a detailed assessment. He confirmed that there had been only isolated anti-German activity by Mihailovic, but that ‘the heroes of the hour are undoubtedly the Partizans’, who had seized large stretches of the coast He advised that the Partizans were successfully embarrassing the Germans and that their “military efforts deserve all the support we can give them”… “Churchill was still very much interested in what was happening in Yugoslavia”. One of the transcripts from the German commander for the Southeast related to the “forceful and strong resistance from communist bandits”.
Cripps continues: “At the end of october, Churchill was sent a further assessment by MI3b, advising him in detail on the situation and concluding that ‘the The Partizans had been able to take over the initiative over practically all of Yugoslavia’. Mihailovic was not mentioned except for the fact that in Montenegro some of his supporters had deserted to the Partizans as ‘the more active body’”.
An uninformed reader might conclude that the Partizans fought bloody battles for Split. Perhaps, he might even be puzzled by those suggestions considering the fact that the Italians had already surrendered their weapons. The truth is that the Italians capitulated and the Partizans were able to enter Split without firing a single shot. The question is why did the Italians surrender their weapons and ammunition? For a very simple reason: as provided by their conditions of capitulation, they were following the orders issued to them by the British.49
And what is the exact meaning behind these euphemisms, “great quantities of weapons” and “many Italians joining the Partizans”? In the German documents there is no mention of these events taking place. On the contrary, the Germans reported that they successfully disarmed the Italians, as can be concluded from the number of officers and soldiers “removed” from Yugoslavia.
The heart of the matter eluded Cripps one more time. The plan was not to remove the Italians – those were German intentions – but for them to remain and to engage them in the battle against Hitler. The Italians themselves suggested this to the British command, naming general Mihailovic as their new comrade-in-arms. At that moment, it appeared as if Mihailovic’s game with legalized Chetniks had all the chances of achieving success. Combined, the Italians and the Chetniks formed a substantial armed force of about 400,000, outnumbering the Germans significantly. The Balkans could have been liberated by the end of 1943, with nothing more than a symbolic fusion of allied forces.
However, the Italians had no intention of being placed under communist command, and that is why they boycotted the British orders.
Cripps’ words that follow are iconic and ought to be repeated:
“There were no reports of Chetnik activity. The British knew from their liaison officers that Mihailovic had told his men not to carry out sabotage or engage the Germans…”
To begin with, these liaison officers reported quite the opposite: “September 12-13th: Having received the news about the surrender of general Badoglio (following the Allied invasion of Italy on September 3rd, 1943), general Mihailovic ordered all of his commanders to attack the German and the Italian occupational forces, believing that the Allied invasion on the Adriatic coast was soon to come. This witness has personally read many of those orders before they were dispatched over the radio.”50
The witness was Colonel Bailey himself, a figure who was very indisposed towards Mihailovic.
Secondly, in this period, British officers, of whom more than 50 were with the Chetniks’ units, sent hundreds of reports about Chetnik battles against the Axis formations. Colonel Bailey said that during the liberation of Prijepolje from the Germans on September 12, the Chetniks killed “more than 200 Germans”.51
On the same day, the British informed their command in Cairo that a detachment of the Chetniks had overpowered parts of the German 118th Division, which was attempting to disarm the Italians in Priboj. The information regarding the battles for Zvornik was communicated to Cairo by the British military mission in the following message:
“From rapir (174): On September 17, Mihailovic’s forces recaptured Zvornik from the Huns [colloquial for Germans] and repelled all counter-attacks. Robyn”.52
The British military mission reported to Cairo on September 29:
“Completed destruction of four bridges in 15 hours, near Mokra Gora. Bridge #1 three separate arches, one triple arched, all coated with steel. Two attempts to derail the train in the tunnel failed, the train jumped gaps.”53
Later on, on October 3rd, the British mission reported that the Germans had rounded up 200 hostages in Uzice. By October 5th British officers sent a telegram to their command about a new Chetnik operation, informing that the railroad near Dobrun is “destroyed in many places” and that “for now the Germans have given up using it between Uzice and Sarajevo.”54
Here are ten British reports taken at random:
“September 23: From rapir (point 20) on the 23rd of Sept. Mihailovic destroys a train full of Huns and explosives in the tunnel 20 km east of Pec. The train derailed in the tunnel noe (?) Mills (?)”
“September 26-27: from Angelique (89): Station master at Mitrovica reporting the following sabotages: A. Collision of Vucitrn trains 19:45 hours 26 Sept. # 4876. (?) Eight wagons destroyed, including two with fuel that exploded. 29 Huns hospitalized in Mitrovica. B. a single wagon jumped tracks Zvecan 27th Sept. C. 2 km of tracks destroyed 30 kilometers north of Raska, the line nP (?) (out of use?) 48 hours.”
“October 1: from Angelique (95): the following was prepared by the Mitrovica station master 4:30 hours, 1st October Vucitrn. Collision between train 5874 carrying coal for Salunar (?), and train 4851 carrying prisoners to Belgrade. Both locomotives, seven wagons, totally destroyed, the line interrupted 14 hours. Field.”
“From Enamel (84): October 14 the Chetniks executed a successful unexpected attack on Germans between Planinac [Village of Planinica near the town of Boljevac] and Leskov [Village of Leskovac, near the town of Zajecar] approx. 15 kilometers south and southwest of Zajecar. Later Germans received Bulgarian reinforcements from Zajecar and the Chetniks retreated; German casualties 20, a Bulgarian lieutenant died later in the hospital. Believe to be true, investigated witnesses.”
“October 5: from rapir (174): forces under Djuri destroyed t. [train] full of trp. [troops] and explosives in the tunnel 20 km east of Pec.”
“October 6: from Cavern 2 (97): The track (blown up) … 2500 meters near station Polumir in the Ibar valley near Raska.”
“October 6: from Cavern 2 (97): railroad [blown up] between Leskovac and Vranje.”
“October 7: 32 rafshod 58 (Yours 58 from 4): (1) fjug right now destroyed one kilometer of railroad. Out of use for probably 10 days. Expect reprisals and ask for 5 packages right away and 5 later in the month. Delegated a task to the local commander…”
“October 8: from Angelique (96): a train derailed on the line Pristina-Pec, 400 laborers worked for 15 days before it was operative. The Huns did not release the number of killed and wounded Huns. Field.”
“October 10: from Neronian (14: Berd via Neronian 222): With Shenton and facefull, 6 greeks, 9 Serbs, attacked the rail line north of Leskovac. unsuccessful but 3 Bulgarians killed, 3 wounded. One Greek wounded in the legs with hand grenade…”55
Since the subject of Cripps’ essay are decrypted German reports from the Yugoslav theatre during World War II, we will now take a look at some of the German documents from the same period. As a prelude to that examination, the following refrain from Cripps’ essay merits reiteration: “There were no reports of any Chetnik activities.”
After copious research at the Bundesarchiv (the main archival depository of the Federal Republic of Germany) I obtained 640 pages of German documents relating to the month of October 1943 which I used as data for my book “Serbs against the Wehrmacht – Unknown German Documents”.
We can commence with the following report: at 21:50, october 4, 1943, the Command of the 15th German Mountain Corps informs the 369th division via radio about the exact moment of the planned attack on Visegrad by the Chetniks: “October 5, at 04:00 hours the attack of Racic units, from the north along the right bank of Drina. They are assumed to be about 2,000 strong. They are accompanied by an English general and Major Ostojic”.56
The following are the German documents from October 5, 1943:
09:35: Operative section (369th division) to the commander of 15th Mountain Army Corps over the field line: “The attack on Visegrad from 04:00 hours from north and south. From 07:00 hours attack escalated. Northeastern part of Visegrad is taken by the Chetniks. Help from air.”
09:40: 3rd battalion of the 370th Grenadines Regiment reporting over the radio: “04:00 hours strong attack with heavy weapons. Attack grew stronger from 07:00 hours. Northeastern Visegrad taken by Chetniks. Beg for reinforcements from Rogatica. Plead for air help.”
10:00: Supreme Croatian Command announcing: “2nd Mountain Brigade reports: Visegrad surrounded. Northeastern part of the city is taken by the enemy. 6th Mountain Regiment demands air support. The militia has fled, locals followed them. Manpower engaged in fighting needs reinforcements.”
10:05: 3rd battalion of the 370th Grenadier Regiment announcing over the radio: “Pressure from the east so strong the home guards and gendarmes fled. Please, send the air force immediate.”
10:45: Operative section to the15th Mountain Army Corps by radio: “Operative section demands urgent decision whether to abandon Visegrad and the bridge on the Lim [River]. The message to army Headquarters concerning this decision is on the way. We advise the decision be taken right away, there is a possibility the battalion might be destroyed. Send urgent help because the division has no available forces…”
12:35: General in command to the division command by radio: “The general is of the opinion that the bridge was abandoned without a fight. Order for the 3rd battalion of the 370th regiment is to retake the bridge. The division command warns that the bridge is located in the gorge and that the surrounding hills are occupied by strong Chetnik forces. The battalion is not able to execute the order. The general insists it be done and says that if that order is not carried out, he will he will keep that in mind …The general orders an attack on the Lim bridge…”57
The order of the commander of the 15th Mountain Army Corps was not executed. With great losses to the Axis forces, Visegrad was freed, and the Lim bridge was destroyed. That was the biggest bridge brought down since the April war on the territory of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The detonators were activated by an elite company of British Major Archie Jack. All of the battles were monitored by British General Charles Armstrong and Colonel Bailey, as well as by American Colonel Albert Seitz. The reports were sent on a daily basis.
However, the allied officers did not accompany the Chetniks as they continued their advance towards Sarajevo. We only have German documents to support this further deveopment. Here are some of the excerpts from those documents:
Telegram of the operative section of the 369th division to the 15th Corps, sent on October 8, 1943, at 12 hours and 15 minutes: “Taking over Rogatica, the next Chetnik task”, and “Division suggests: bringing forth of the regiment in order to hold the Sokolac-Rogatica-Mesici-Gorazde line in order to prevent further penetration to the west and advance towards the Lim bridge”.58
The same day, at 14 hours and 20 minutes, the Headquarters for Croatia announced to the Command of the 369th division: “The situation between Rogatica and Visegrad worsened due to the arrival of strong forces to this region.”59
The operations section of the 379th division, October 10, at 12:15, informed the command of the 15th Mountain Corps about further developments: “Strong Chetnik groups slowly penetrating from Visegrad and the Lim bridge towards Jabuka-Sedlo-Rogatica. Most units at Strmac-Kopijevici – Dub railway station are exposed. Rogatica is under a threat.”60
At 18 hours and 30 minutes the 3rd Croatian Corps informed the 369th division that the Croatian air force bombarded five Chetnik locations in the region. The Chetniks were bombarded whenever weather was clear; they attacked when it was overcast.
17:20, October 13, operative section of the 369th division informed the Command of the 15th Mountain Corps: “A rather strong Chetnik attack, with mortrars and 105 mm guns on Jabucko, Mesici and Rogatica. Rogatica attacked from all sides. The division is retreating towards the line Pale – Mokro – Sokolac.”61
9:15: october 14, 3rd Battalion has reported the retreat of Domobrans [Croatian home guards]: “The Domobrans received an order to march toward Pale. Croatian battalions cannot hold their positions”. In response to this report, the command of the 369th Division ordered: “It is necessary that the resistance be intensified. As a last resort, shoot the retreating Croatians.”62
That same day at 13:20 a final decision was made concerning the retreat by the 3rd Croatian Corps: “Due to strong Chetnik pressure on Rogatica, a withdrawal has been ordered of the Rogatica units to the line Sokolac-Mokro-Pale”.63
This was the last attempt to defend Sarajevo.
On October 10, at 12:15, the operative section of the 369th Division, for the first time, alerts the command of the 15th Corps about a possible Chetnik uprising erupting within Sarajevo itself: “Arrival of new troops is urgently required for the area east of Sarajevo. Retreat of Battalion B of Special Regiment 1 and of certain units from Sarajevo is impossible, for at any given moment a rebellion can break out in the region.”64
The operative section of the 369th Division in the report dated October 14, at 18:40, for the first time, describes the Chetnik encirclement of Sarajevo: “Very strong forces of Chetnik bandits in the direction of Kula-Praca-East Sarajevo, so that after joining forces with the 1st Bosnian Chetnik Corps north, south and west of Sarajevo (Visoko), the Chetniks might capture the city [Sarajevo] …92nd regiment and the SS battalion has not arrived yet… request for precise orders for the 92nd regiment and accelerated transfer of troops to Sarajevo in order to repel the Chetniks.”65
German documents from October 21, 1943 recorded intensified Chetnik activity not only in the region of Sarajevo, but in the city’s suburbs as well.
“At 05:20 Chetnik assault on the Stambolichi was repelled with the help of an armored train”, states the first from a series of reports.
“The Chetniks captured hill 1037 in the Vitez region. A detachment of Germans has broken through out of Galesh toward northeast, but was attacked on all sides at hill 914. Succeeded in getting through to Vitez.”
“According to the reports of scattered Domobrans, there were 2-3000 Chetniks at Sjetlina”, it is recorded in the diary of the 369th Division.
“On October 21, the base Pracko Vrelo was attacked and set ablaze, in addition there were mortar projectiles and machine guns were heard”, it is stated in the report of the 1st Light Infantry Regiment. “Podbukovica occupied by 3-400 Chetniks”, reported the 3rd Croatian Corps. There were still some elements of the 1st Ustashe Brigade stationed at Podbukovica.
At 19:00 hours 100 Chetniks attacked elements of the 1st Ustashe Brigade at Pohovac. Chetnik artillery was attacking the remaining positions of the 1st Ustashe Brigade at Sokolac from south-southeast. Around 22:00 Chetniks attacked railroad stations of Ilijash, Vogosca and Semizovac, northwest of Sarajevo.66
This is what German documents have to say about Chetnik activities in the period under review.
When we pay closer attention to British documents which deal with Partizan battles, we cannot help but notice that as a general rule they only talk about defensive battles and retreats from the Germans. There is no mention in British reports of any cities or villages that Partizans captured from Germans. Neither is that mentioned in German reports. Communist reports are also silent on this subject. Most likely that is because such offensive activity never occurred. Conversely, British and Chetnik documents do refer to Chetnik offensive activity against Axis troops and mention a number of locales seized by the Chetniks from the Germans in the course of battle.
At that time these offensives were taking place in the area stretching from Zvornik, Zlatibor, Prijepolje, and the Adriatic Sea coast east of Dubrovnik, to the outskirts of Sarajevo. According to Cripps, territorially this is roughly half the land mass of Switzerland.
However, the point of the story is hidden somewhere else. We might get to it by asking the following questions: what were the Partizans doing in the meantime? Whom did they attack? The answer is clear: the Chetniks, of course.
All of the available mobile units – around 9,000 soldiers – were sent to attack the Chetniks from behind during the assault on Sarajevo. That is what saved the Axis troops in Sarajevo.67
Without offering any specific reference to actual events in the field, Cripps writes: “More reports were received of Chetnik collaboration, the most significant of which was the full text of a treaty signed by one of Mihailovic’s principal commanders, Lukacevic, and the German Commander for the Southeast. Lukacevic agreed to a cessation of hostilities in his area of southern Serbia and joint action against the Partizans. A full copy of the treaty was sent to Churchill.”
This is a distinct topic that merits thorough discussion and I elaborated on it in the fourth volume of “General Draza Mihailovic and the General History of the Chetnik Movement”. In short, there was no agreement. It was a German hoax as a way of waging psychological warfare. Leaflets with the text of the treaty were distributed from their planes throughout Serbia. But as far as Cripps’ assertion is concerned, suffice it to say that copies of documents that are revealing of Partizan ties with the Germans and Ustashe were never sent to Churchill. This is how Cripps describes the denouement:
“Maclean delivered his report to Anthony Eden on 7 November, recommending all-out support for the Partizans. This had been the view of military intelligence since at least the end of September, when Talbot Rice’s report backed the Partizans, and had also very probably been the view of MI6 for some time. The Chiefs of Staff advised Churchill on 11 November that measures to support the Partizans should be intensified. The question of what to do about Mihailovic had still to be decided. Churchill took the decision to abandon him and his movement.”
Cripps goes on: “The existence of the principal source of Churchill’s intelligence could not be revealed – hence the publicity given to Maclean’s report – although it told Churchill nothing he did not already know. In fact, the Prime Minister was better informed than Maclean, who knew little of the detail of events over a wide area of Yugoslavia or of the Lukacevic treaty. In order to justify the decision to Parliament, to Allied governments, particularly those in exile, and to the press, Mihailovic was told to blow up two important bridges in Serbia or lose British support. As expected, he failed to act and British liaison officers were withdrawn from the Chetniks.”
Further on: “Churchill addressed the House of Commons for the first time in six months on 22 February 1944. He dealt with the situation in Yugoslavia at length. He was unable to justify the decision by reference to the decrypt and the advice he had received based on them, and therefore referred to reports received from Deakin and Maclean. In his peroration he advised that:
“Our feelings, here, as elsewhere, I should like the House to see, follow the principle of keeping good faith with those who keep good faith with us, and of striving, without prejudice or regard for political affections, to aid those who strike for freedom against Nazi rule and thus inflict the greatest injury on the enemy.”
Cripps concludes: “With these few words, Churchill publicly dismissed Mihailovic and the Chetniks, and embraced Tito and the Partizans.”
Clearly Churchill was not concerned with specific details as to where exactly the Partizans were launching their attacks on the Nazis. Cripps does not raise this question, either. However, he suddenly in his narrative begins to refer to Partizan attacks as “harrying,” without explaining how an army of presumably two, three, four hundred thousand soldiers – enormous numbers were used – was capable of nothing more but successfully “harrying” the enemy. Cripps’ writes: “The Partizans continued to harry the enemy, although the Germans were able to keep the bauxite flowing and to keep major communications routes open, allowing their forces in greece to complete an orderly withdrawal in 1945. The Partizans won the civil war and seized power in the immediate aftermath of German surrender.”
It is noteworthy that at the end of his work Cripps finally does provide the reader with some correct information.
To reach a general conclusion would be difficult without asking a simple question: who is John Cripps? Even the omnicient Google has no answer to that question. There really is no answer. He is perhaps a fiction, he does not exist. The name “Cripps,” most likely, is nothing more than a pseudonym.
However, even if Cripps does not exist, his work does and it is rather substantial: a doctoral dissertation at a British university. More to the point, the article is a summary of that dissertation. The author did not publish anything under his own name, neither the dissertation, nor scholarly articles or anything else that we know of. Why? We can assume that he was not too proud of it. And he probably has valid reasons not to be if we consider that, in his case, the doctoral dissertation of a British scholar can be refuted by an average Serbian high school student. Why is that so? Let’s start by saying that we are not even concerned with “Cripps” here, so we will not even refer to him anymore. What we are dealing with here is a system which supplied its doctoral candidate with only a selected portion of documents from its archives to use in completing his research. He was given only those materials that corresponded with the official version of British history on the situation in Balkans during the Second World War.
I generally think very highly of the work of British historians, with some exceptions such as, for instance, where they tend to minimize Byzantium’s role as the most advanced and developed empire of its time (no British historian would admit that for centuries Constantinople was what New York was in the 20th century). However, when it comes to recent events, which cross over into modern politics, the British version of history is simply appalling.
- For more details, see: David Stafford, ”Camp X – SOE School for spies”.
- Among the communists the Gestapo transferred to Yugoslavia in the Spring of 1941 were Tito’s future division and army commanders, Peko Dapčević and Kosta Nadj [L. and Ž. Knežević, Sloboda ili smrt (Liberty or Death), Seattle 1981, p. 761; also, Ž. Djordjević, Istinom za Srbiju, Jagodina 2004]. About the camp at Grasse, the Serbian public learned of it mainly through photographs made by Aleksandar Stojanović and preserved by one of his comrades from Niš. There are four photographs, three shot in the camp, anhd the fourth showing Stojanović’s group crossing a border on its way to Yugoslavia [M. Samardžić, Saradnja partizana sa Nemcima, ustašama i Albancima (Partisan Collaboration with Germans, Ustashi, and Albanians) Kragujevac 2016; two of the four photographs are included in the aforementioned book.
- I. Avakumovic, Mihailovic in the Light of German Documents, London 1969, p. 66.
- For example, in December 1943 Mihailovic’s command in the Stari Ras sector sent to the Supreme Command deciphered dispatches of the 2nd Proletarian Division containing information about its planned operational activities (Military Archive, Belgrade, Chetnik Archive, К-279, рег. бр. 9/1).
- Sentence from the report of the commander of the German 717th Division on October 10, 1941 (Avakumovic, op. cit, p. 24)
- Collection of documents and facts about the national liberation war of the peoples of Yugoslavia, Vol. 12, Book 2, p. 1.047, Belgrade 1976.
- Ibid, p. 14.
- Ibid, p. 1.028.
- K. Nikolić, Istorija ravnogorskog pokreta, Vol. I, p. 160, Belgrade 1999.
- I. Avakumovic, op. cit., p. 44.
- I. Avakumovic, op. cit., p. 45.
- Collection, op. cit., Vol. 12, Book 2, p. 274-275, Belgrade 1976.
- For the letter of the commander of the Birčan detachment, see: S. Krakov, General Milan Nedić, Vol. II, p. 123, Munich 1968. Also, Collection, op. cit., Vol. 4, Book 4, pp. 69-70, Belgrade 1952. For Tito’s letter, see: S. Krakov, op. cit., p. 127. Also, Collection, op. cit., Vol. 4, Book 3, p. 258, Belgrade 1952.
- Collection, op. cit., Vol. 12, Book 2, p. 952, Belgrade 1976.
- I. Avakumovic, op. cit., p. 56.
- Collection, op. cit., Vol. 2, Book 2, p. 10, Beograd 1954. Tito’s “feigned attack” order of July 2, 1943.
- Collection, op. cit., Vol. 12, Book 2, p. 778.
- Ibid, p. 480.
- Ibid, p. 555-556.
- I. Avakumovic, op. cit., p. 55.
- Ibid, p. 53-54.
- Ibid, p. 58-59; Kraljevo 1941 – 1945, Краљево 2001, p. 54.
- M. Aćin Kosta, Draža Mihailović Čiča - apostol slobode, p. 194, Washington 1993.
- Ibid, p. 195-196.
- In his address to the House of Commons on May 24, 1994, preceding Šubašić’s appointment, Churchill stated: “Our goal is that all Yugoslav forces, united with those of Serbia, should somehow be persuaded to work together under the military leadership of Marshal Tito for a united and independent Yugoslavia” (L. and Ž. Knežević, op. cit., p. 315).
- Mrs. Thatcher’s Zagreb speech delivered in 1998, www.margaretthatcher.org/document/108378. In her not very diplomatic remarks (”President Tudjman rightly understood that there could be no future for Croatia within a Yugoslavia that had become a prison with brutal Serb jailers”), she mentions both Nazism and Communism as the “two evils” which never had anything to do with Croatia. Missing from the internet record is her statement to the media in Zagreb on the same occasion claiming an alliance of Britons and Croats against the Germans during World War II. I quote her words from memory.
- Collection, op. cit., Vol. 12, Book 2, p. 900.
- Report of the Vineke Group, Istorijski arhiv Niš, unregistered NOB (National liberation war) holdings for the South Serbia sector, box 21, unregistered document, 1981)
- Collection, op. cit., Vol. 12, Book 3, p. 105, Belgrade 1978.
- Collection, op. cit., Vol. 2, Book 7, p. 426, Belgrade 1959.
- Vojnoistorijski Glasnik, 1-2/2004, p. 141. See also, Vojni arhiv, Belgrade, Collection NOP, К-12, f. 6, doc. 1.
- S. Avramov, Genocid u Jugoslaviji u svetlosti medjunarodnog prava [Genocide in Yugoslavia in the Light of International Law] Belgrade 1992, p. 262.
- L. and Ž. Knežević, op. cit., p. 873.
- Ibid, p. 873.
- M. Leković, Martovski pregovori 1943, Belgrade 1985, p. 27.
- Ibid, p. 29.
- L. and Ž. Knežević, op. cit., p. 188.
- L. and Ž. Knežević, op. cit., p. 190. Такође, са небитном разликом у преводу: М. Лековић, н.д, p. 93.
- M. Leković, op. cit., p. 97.
- Ibid, pp. 144-147.
- Ibid, p. 169.
- Ibid, p. 202.
- Ibid, p. 32.
- German report of manpower losses in Operation Schwarz, see Collection, op. cit., Vol. 12, Book 3, p. 394-395.
- For Partizan manpower data for the Sukmmer of 1943, see Collection, op. cit., Vol. II.
- For OSS estimate of Partizan strength on the Summer of 1943, see V. Pavlović, Od monarhije do republike, Belgrade – Banja Luka 1998, p. 143.
- Mihailović found out on June 10, 1943, that the Italians had captured Jevdjević; see Military Archive, Belgrade, Chetnik Archive, K-292, Reg. no. 32/2.
- L. and Ž. Knežević, op. cit., p. 211.
- Rodoljub ili izdajnik: Slučaj djenerala Mihailovića [Patriot or Traitor: The Case of General Mihailovic], Belgrade 1990, p. 72, (translation of the Hoover Institute edition, ed. by David Martin).
- Ibid, 71.
- Ibid, 72.
- Ibid, 73-74.
- Ibid, 75.
- For details, see Rodoljub ili izdajnik: Slučaj djenerala Mihailovića, op. cit.
- Bundesarchiv, Military Archive, РХ 26-369-11, p. 1.048.
- Ibid, p. 1.050.
- Ibid, p. 1.075-1.076.
- Ibid, p. 1.078.
- Ibid, p. 1.092.
- Ibid, p. 1.122.
- Ibid, p. 1.128б.
- Ibid, p. 1.128ц.
- Ibid, p. 1.092.
- Ibid, p. 1.128г.
- Ibid, p. 1.178-1193.
- Ibid, p. 1.201. The Germans grasped onloy on October 24 that the Partizans were attackintg the Chetniks from the rear. Up until then, they were convinced that the Partizans were moving into the area in order to join forces with the Chetniks in the attack on Sarajevo. The reason for such a belief was that the Germans knew of the presence of British officers in both the Partizan and the Chetnik camps.
Translated by: Nenad Vojvodic
Edited by: Anastassia Pronsky-Stojanovic