WW2 timeline – Yugoslavia
By Miloslav Samardzic
March 25, 1941
Prime Minister Dragisha Cvetkovic and German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop are shown signing the accession of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia to the Tripartite Pact in Vienna.
March 27, 1941
The Tripartite Pact with the Axis powers was short-lived and the regency government in Belgrade was deposed; Prince Pavle was replaced on the throne by the 17 year old King Petar II Karadjordjevic, the son of King Alexander I.
April 6, 1941
Germany attacks Yugoslavia. German “Stuka“ bombers devastate Belgrade.
April 10, 1941
The Independent State of Croatia, NDH, was declared. The new Croatian state soon begins a wave of unprecedented atrocities. Even the Germans, operating concentration camps for years, were appalled by the crimes against Serbs.
April 17, 1941
Axis powers announce Yugoslavia’s surrender. This was not true. After the front lines collapsed, the Yugoslav Army’s Supreme Command authorized Gen. Danilo Kalafatovic to “negotiate an armistice.”
Captured Croat, Albanian, Hungarian and Bulgarian officers and soldiers in the Yugoslav Army are released by Axis forces. Captured Serbs, Slovenes, Jews and members of other communities are sent to POW camps.
Before the superior forces of the Axis Powers, the monarchs, presidents and governments of the occupied European countries were escaping to Britain. Had Germany invaded Britain all these statesmen would have found refuge in Canada.
In the second half of April 1941, Yugoslav King Peter II Karadjordjevic and the Yugoslav Government joined the exiled sovereigns. Whilst in Athens, Greece on April 16th 1941, King Petar stated:
“Forced to leave National Hearth before the stronger enemy, I do not intend to leave the fight. The Honor of the National Flag has been saved, but National Freedom is in danger. I call my dear People not to droop under the hits of fate but to preserve the faith in the future… Believing that God will defend our right cause, I acclaim: Long Live Yugoslavia and its Freedom!”
Тhe same day, British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden informed the Yugoslav Ambassador in London that he hoped the “Yugoslav Government, although out of the country, will continue the struggle with the Allies” and remained “in the eyes of the English Government the legitimate representative of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.” Minister Eden also hoped “Yugoslavia would participate in the final victory”.
Occupation of Yugoslavia by Germany, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria. Other territories divided between “Independent State of Croatia,” and Italian-run Albania and Montenegro. Romania refused to occupy parts of northern Serbia (“Serbs are our friends,“ they told Hitler). Italy occupies the Adriatic coast.
May 7, 1941
Оver 100,000 Serbs from Dalmatia and Lika asking to join Italy.
May 11, 1941
Serbian uprising against the Axis begins. The senior officer who avoided capture in the April War was Col. Dragoljub-Draža Mihailović of the 2nd Yugoslav Royal Army. Prior to the war, Mihailović had drawn up a plan of guerrilla (Chetnik) warfare in case the major fronts collapsed; with the King and the government declaring the country would continue the war on the side of the Allies, Mihailović put his plan into effect, establishing his HQ at Ravna Gora, a mountain between Valjevo and Čačak on May 11, 1941.
May 18, 1941
The Rome Agreement between Mussolini and Pavelic. A mass exodus of Serbs and Jews towards the sea began as early as May 19.
By the end of May 1941, Italians report: “We have confirmation that Serbs are organizing an uprising in the entire zone.” The first acts of resistance were on May 31 in Trebinje, when several Ustasha posts were attacked. Italian documents show the Serbs of Dalmatia and Herzegovina rising by the end of May 1941. Ustasha posts are under attack in Nevesinje, Rankovci near Ljubinje, Gacko, Livno, Bosanska Krupa – where the Ustasha request Italian assistance, but do not receive it.
Following the Axis attack on the USSR, Communists begin their own insurrection, using armed groups called “Partisans”.According to their leader, J. B. Tito, their goal was not to fight the Germans, but “to destroy the old state apparatus of Yugoslavia”. The Communists quickly took over towns where no occupation troops were present, and imposed their own authority through “People’s Courts”, executing all “enemies of the people”. During 1941, just in German-occupied Serbia the Communists killed over 1000 civilians.
Even before June 22, 1941 the Comintern and Gestapo brought to Serbia 400 revolutionaries, mainly “Spanish Fighters”, of various nationalities, who were initially in charge for “carrying out the revolution”.
August 16, 1941
All the insurgent leaders left of the Drina were united by Major Jezdimir Dangic, appointed commander of all the Chetnik units in eastern Bosnia by Mihailovich on August 16, 1941. By the end of summer of 1941, Dangic’s Chetniks had liberated most of Eastern Bosnia, including Bratunac, Srebrenica, Vlasenica, Olovo, Rogatica, Foca, Gorazde, Cajnice…
Pro-German politician Dimitrije Ljotić finds out that the commander of the Gendarmerie, Col. Jovan Trišić, has secretly visited Ravna Gora on two occasions. Ljotić and his cousin, Gen. Milan Nedić, inform the Germans of this. As a result, Col. Trišić is arrested, the Gendarmerie dissolved, and Nedić appointed head of the “Government of National Salvation.” Both Nedić and Ljotić organize their own armed formations – Nedić’s “Serbian State Guard” and Ljotić’s „Serbian Volunteer Corps“.
August 31, 1941
With the Gendarmerie dissolved, the Communists rapidly extended their influence. To forestall Communist repression, Mihailovic accelerated his plans for a wider uprising. Royalist guerrillas – Chetniks – attack the German garrison in Loznica and take the town on August 31. It was the first liberated town in German-occupied Europe.
To counter the uprising, the Germans order horrific reprisals against the Serbian civilian population: 100 Serbs to be shot dead for every German soldier killed, and 50 Serbs for every German wounded. German records show that from September 1941 to October 1942, the Germans executed 49,724 Serb hostages. Another 10,000 die to the Albanian occupiers in Kosovo and Metohija.
In late September, the 342nd German division attacked the Chetniks on Mt. Cer. For a full month, the Cer Corps of Capt. Dragoslav Račić and Jadar Corps of Maj. Vojislav Pantelić slowed down the division’s advance from Šabac to Valjevo for a full month.
October 31, 1941
Communists begin attacking the Chetniks, while publicly advocating against “fratricidal fighting.”
November 29, 1941
German operation ‘’Uzhitse’’. After being held up for a month by Chetnik resistance, the 342nd Division breaks the Communists in Užice without suffering any casualties. Tito’s men retreat to the Italian occupation zone.
December 6, 1941
Germans attack Ravna Gora, looking for Mihailovic. Mihailovic’s men evade encirclement by splitting up. After the Communists’ escape, Mihailovic’s organization becomes the dominant force in occupied Serbia. Germans and their collaborators still hold major towns and cities.
Germans place a bounty on Mihailovic: “Rebel Leader Drazha Mihailovic – reward 200,000 dinars“.
Communists create Soviet republics in Eastern Herzegovina and Montenegro. Tito orders: „Be energetic and merciless. Shoot all who defect to the Chetniks“ and “Eliminate all spies, saboteurs and enemies of the people.“ As a result, Communists go on a killing spree, murdering some 2000 civilians in Eastern Bosnia, Herzegovina and Montenegro by the spring of 1942. On Christmas eve (January 6, 1942) they killed 240 civilians near Kolašin, threw them into a mass grave, and marked the place with a crucified corpse of a dog.
Italians back the Serb resistance in „Croatia“, officially in the guise of “Anti-communist Volunteer Militia” – to avoid antagonizing the Germans – but in practice against the Croatian Ustasha.
June 12, 1942
The first known German broadsheet announcing the executions of Serbs due to railway sabotage. On this day, the Germans shot three railway workers in Smederevo, claiming they had destroyed the brakes on a train.
June 25, 1942
King Petar II addresses the United States Congress.
Mihailovic’s original Chetnik Command of the Yugoslav Army was subsequently renamed the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland. In June 1942, it became the Supreme Command of the Yugoslav Army. Mihailovic is promoted to the rank of general and appointed Minister of War in the exiled government. He assumes the post of Chief of Staff of the Supreme Command, as the Supreme Commander was King Petar II.
The Communists proclaim the “Bihać Republic” in western Bosnia. German reports indicate the Communists are backed by the “Independent State of Croatia”.
July 13, 1942
Preparing for an Allied landing, Gen. Mihailovic goes to Herzegovina and meets with Chetnik commanders in western areas. His organization at this point extends to Moravice, in north-west Lika.
August 31, 1942
The German command in Serbia refers to a possible Allied landing in the Adriatic in a report:
“Military movement of Draza Mihailovic is available at any moment for the opening of a ‘second front’ in the Balkans… Mihailovic gets his orders from London, the Communists from Moscow. The Mihailovic movement, whose propaganda insists on loyalty to the king, is favored by majority of the Serbs.”
September 20, 1942
British diplomats arrange for all Anglican churches around the world to hold a “Prayer for Yugoslavia”. At the service in Westminster Abbey in London, attended by King Petar, the Yugoslav government and Minister Emery, Bishop Bell says that, “under Gen. Mihailovich, the Yugoslavs are once again reviving the spirit of their ancestors from the time of Karageorge.”
September 24, 1942
UK Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden attends the opening of the Yugoslav House in London. In his speech to a select audience, praised the following day by the British press, Eden said: “Well-regulated Yugoslav armies are fighting the enemy on their own soil under the courageous leadership of Gen. Mihailovic. It is an important military fact.”
September 26, 1942
Yugoslav Prime Minister Slobodan Jovanovic sends a radio message to Gen. Mihailovich: “The British government informed me their supreme commander in the Middle East, Gen. Alexander, personally asked you to attack enemy communications as much as possible.” Mihailovich responds on September 30: “Received Gen. Alexander’s message asking to continue attacks on enemy traffic in Yugoslavia. Sabotage underway even before message arrived. Results very good so far, many traffic disruptions… I ask our acts of sabotage be kept quiet, no mention on the radio.”
October 15-18, 1942
Reichsfuehrer SS Himmler visits Kraljevo, the highest-ranking Nazi official to visit Serbia during the war. He inspected the Headquarters of the newly formed 7th SS Mountain Division “Prinz Eugen”. The Division then undertakes Operation “Kopaonik”, against the Rasina Corps of Maj. Dragutin Keserović. The Chetniks manage to slip out of the siege, but the Germans and Bulgarians kill about 700 civilians.
October 28, 1942
The Germans launch a second series of mass executions in Serbia, following the Chetnik sabotage of railroad traffic at British request. General Loehr issues the order to execute „not only persons caught with weapons, but anyone that can be proven to be actively supporting Mihailovic or anyone at his service“. Loehr explained the severity of the order by the importance of getting supplies to the North African front: „Everything is at stake, and there can be no half-measures.“
November 1, 1942
The White House asks King Petar and Gen. Mihailovich to send a message to the American people and the U.S. military, to be broadcast at a specific date on all U.S. radio stations worldwide. The message was: “Chetniks under my command are convinced, today more than ever, that Russia, Great Britain and America would do everything to help our people in this bloody struggle in which we do not count the cost and spare no sacrifice. We are filled with hope that America will not only contribute to Europe’s liberation once again, but do everything to help and support the pillaged and starved peoples of Europe after the liberation.”
US and British film studios make two movies about Mihailovic’s forces. “Chetniks! The Fighting Guerrillas” by 20th Century Fox was a major release in 1943, while “Underground Guerilla” by Ealing Studios was released by Columbia Pictures in the United States in 1944.
In 1942 and 1943, the Chetnik sabotage command codenamed „Group Gordon“ carried out 1499 acts of sabotage and diversion – that the Germans could track. This was the largest documented success of any one sabotage command during the war; the actual number of successful operations by „Gordon“ was much greater.
January 17, 1943
“Radio Free Yugoslavia,” broadcasting from the USSR, reports: “If the Anglo-American army lands in the Balkans intent on restoring the unpopular regime in London, the peoples of Yugoslavia will resist it by force.”
Nikola Rušinović, personal envoy of Croatia’s Nazi leader Ante Pavelić, secretly meets with Communist leader Tito, seeking to “prevent Serbian domination“ in Yugoslavia after the war.
German and Croatian “Operation Weiss” against the Communists results in 8,500 Partisan casualties, according to German sources. The Germans had 335 dead.
Tito organizes his best men into a strike force of about 15,000 and retreats southwest, toward Chetnik-held territory. Mihailovic mobilizes around 20,000 men from eastern Bosnia, Montenegro and Herzegovina, and sends them to fight the Parisans on the river Neretva. In late February 1943, three major battles take place at Konjic, and the Partisans are defeated. Panicked, Broz orders the demolition of all three bridges on the Neretva and a retreat to the other side.
The Communists renew their contacts with the Germans, and arrange a truce that lasted till May 17. In that period, they planned and coordinated activities against the Chetniks and planned to jointly fight the expected British landing on the Adriatic coast.
March 12, 1943
As requested by London, the Yugoslav government submits a plan for an Anglo-American landing on the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia. It envisions an Allied landing between the rivers Bojana and Neretva, backed by Yugoslav Army operations.
March 31, 1943
One of Hitler’s closest advisors, Gen. Jodl, signs the approval for “Operation Schwartz”: “We must destroy the organized and armed Serbdom under Mihailovic, in order to secure the inland areas in case of an enemy landing.”
Receiving reports of massive German transports headed for the coast – in expectation of an Allied landing – Mihailovic orders the demolition of the main railway Brod-Sarajevo, heavily used by German supply trains. The railway is cut in many places, but the Germans launch “Operation Teuffel” against the Ozren Corps.
“Operation Schwartz” strikes at the Chetniks as they are engaged in heavy fighting with the Partisans. German reports note that, while most of the Chetniks managed to retreat and avoid capture and destruction, the “the main body of Communist bandits was surrounded and destroyed between Piva and Tara.” The Germans counted 7,483 dead Partisans, estimating another 4-5,000 dead from starvation and typhoid. German reports also list 17 killed and 3,764 captured Chetniks.
Via its ambassador in Portugal, Italy offers surrender to the UK, and says its forces in the Balkans would immediately join the Chetniks in fighting the Germans. Receiving the dispatch from Lisbon, Foreign Secretary Eden writes to PM Churchill: “Offer to aid Mihailovic does not appear to be a major contribution to military operations, and would lead to significant political complications.”
Churchill then writes Roosevelt: “Any cooperation between the Italian forces in the Balkans and various patriotic forces on the ground in resisting the Germans would be welcome.”
However, Radio London made it clear every day the British considered “patriotic forces” to mean exclusively the Partisans. Italian commanders are ordered to collaborate with Communists only.
Following the Italian surrender, Mihailovic launched multiple offensive operations: in the valleys of Drina and Lim and from Herzegovina toward the Adriatic. Royalist forces liberate Banja Koviljača, Zvornik, Bajina Bašta, Prijepolje, Bijelo Polje… Along the coast, from Dubrovnik to Kotor, Italians and Mihailovic’s forces jointly fight the Germans.
September 10, 1943:
Josip Broz Tito: “Directive: disrupt and dismantle Chetnik mobilization. Fill ranks, expand. Allied landing expected in October. Primary mission: mobilization and strengthening forces. Do not yet engage the Germans.”
Britain switches its support from the Royal Yugoslav government and its military, to the illegal Communist Partisans. In just ten weeks, the Partisans receive weapons and equipment enough for 50,000 men. Several Croatian Nazi units (“Zdrug Ante Pavelic” and the “Hajj Efendic Legion”) defect to the Communists.
October 5, 1943
Višegrad is liberated after two days of fierce fighting. Chetnik forces ambush the retreating Germans and Croats at Semeć Field, killing 162.
October 13, 1943.
Chetnik forces break through the defensive line Јabuka-Mesići-Rogatica, held by 7000-8000 Germans, Croats and Muslim militia, and advance on Sarajevo.
October 21, 1943.
As about 18,500 Chetnik troops advance on Sarajevo, the Germans take numerous civilian hostages, fearing an uprising within the city. A day before the Chetnik attack was to commence, the Partisans come to the aid of the German garrison, attacking the Chetniks from the rear. This halts the largest anti-German offensive in the Balkans during the war.
November 29-30, 1943
Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin meet in Tehran. Decide to aid “all the guerrillas” in Yugoslavia
November 29, 1943
A Communist-dominated Congress in Jajce forbids King Peter to return to Yugoslavia, abolishes the democratic order and partitions Serb territories so the Serbian Socialist Republic is barely half of prewar Serbian lands.
In a series of operations during the winter of 1943-44, the Germans inflict major casualties on the Partisans, reducing them from 100,000 to about 60,000 men.
Imprisoned by the Germans at Vojlovica Monastery, Patriarch Gavrilo managed to smuggle out messages to Gen. Mihailovic: “With blessings of the Lord’s shepherd and true brotherly greetings, with the deepest respect and admiration, to Čiča and his heroic fighters, Patriarch Gavrilo.”
Expecting the Red Army arrival, the Communists attack the Chetniks in Serbia.
April 3, 1944.
Maj. Simeon Ocokoljić reports that the Mlava Corps is down to 30 bullets per rifle.
April 15, 1944.
The Kosovo Partisan Detachment reports: “Fully equipped the troops with new English uniforms, and have enough for another battalion as soon as we raise it. We don’t know what to do with weapons and equipment, the Allies airdrop more than we can use.”
April 16-17, 1944.
British and American bombers attack Belgrade, killing 1,161 and injuring 1,469 civilians. German losses negligible.
April 29, 1944
From Gen. Mihailovic’s Easter message: “Heroes! You have awed the world with your long and difficult struggle. I hope, and justly expect, that you will continue to merit admiration and respect. Our people expect freedom. Future generations count on you.”
On Mt. Zlatibor, strong Partisan forces attack the Chetniks.The Chetniks win.
May 25, 1944
German airborne attack on Drvar. Tito’s escape is kept secret by the British, because a day before the Drvar raid Churchill had given a speech in the Parliament praising the Partisans and their leader. After nine days on the run, the tired and fearful Tito begs the British to airlift him to Italy. As a compromise, Tito is moved to the island of Vis, far from the mainland and held by a strong British garrison.
May 27, 1944
Maj. Dimitrije Antonović reports the Resava Corps had five bullets per man.
Battle on Mt. Bukovik. Following his defeat, Communist Division commander Radovan Petrović writes on July 24: “We seek to avoid their concentrations, but our intelligence is nil, so we hit what we run into. Biggest problem are the wounded, since we can’t stay anywhere for long. Chetniks are in front and behind us at all times.”
General Mihailovic: “Our movement has two main objectives: first, to preserve out people’s freedom to choose our internal political and social order; second, to unite the Serbs within a new Yugoslavia, not allowing our enemies to draw borders on the Drina, Sava and Ristovac.”
At the village of Pranjani, below Ravna Gora, an improvised airfield was built so the Western Allies could evacuate their downed airmen. The Chetniks would rescue these airmen from Germans and Bulgarians, bring them to Pranjani, and secure their evacuation. In just one night, between August 9 and 10, 237 rescued Allied airmen were airlifted from Pranjani. This was the biggest behind-enemy-lines rescue in WW2. Altogether, the Chetniks rescued about 700 Allied airmen, mostly Americans (Halyard Mission).
August 7, 1944
Commander of the Ras-Toplica Corps Group, Lt. Col. Dragutin Keserović: “In close combat, the Communists rout. They have the upper hand at range, when they can mortar us from a distance.”
Battle on Mt. Kopaonik. On August 6-9, some 5,000 Partisans clash with 8,000 Chetniks in thick fog. Unable to estimate enemy strength and facing superior firepower, Maj. Račić orders the retreat to Western Morava. After receiving intelligence and reinforcements – Col. Keserović’s Rasin-Toplica Corps Group – Račić orders the counterattack on August 26. The Communists are defeated and pushed back, but Račić again orders a retreat, because his units have run out of ammunition.
August 28, 1944
Josip Broz Tito: “It is futile to bleed and waste time on some fortified town. What matters now is to smash the main Chetnik body and create conditions for mobilizing more men.”
September 5, 1944
Tito: “Remember that the objective of this entire operation is the destruction of Draza Mihailovic’s Chetniks and Nedic’s apparatus.”
Red Army enters Serbia, backing Tito.
Translation: Nebojsa Malic