Friday, April 10, 2009

Tito, Mihailovic and the British

Reader "Suvorov" was curious:

How many Chetniks were there under Mihajlovic's command? How many were there in other factions? How many people were in Nedic's guard and other similar "German-inspired" formations? How many Partizans were there and what percent of them were Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, (of course there were also Bosniaks, Albanians, and other small numbers of ethnic groups living in Yugoslavia)?

[...] By the way, is there any book in English about Balkans during WWII which you would recommend? Thanks again.

The numbers varied throughout the war. The leading authority on the WW2 Royalists in Serbia, Miloslav Samardžić, says that in the spring of 1944 there were "over 100,000" Chetniks* under Mihailović's command. Nedić's gendarmerie numbered around 20,000, and there were about 8,000 or so men loyal to Dimitrije Ljotić, a fascist who eagerly collaborated with the Germans.

Samardžić also says that Serbs made up the vast majority of the Partisans. When you hear about "Croatian" partisans and "Croatian" brigades, he says, those were actually Serbs from territories called Croatia, not necessarily Croats.

The most commonly used figure for Partisan numbers is 800,000. It comes from official Communist history. Even if we assume its accuracy, the figure comes from late 1944, when many Chetniks as well as Domobrani (Croatian regulars called up by the Pavelić regime) and Italians had joined up. (According to the same source, the partisans had suffered over 300,000 casualties during the war, mostly in the open battles of late 1944 and early 1945.)

I have heard good things about Michael Lees' "The Rape of Serbia" (subtitled "The British Role in Tito's Grab for Power 1943-1944"), published in 1990. I haven't actually managed to obtain a copy, but I've been following a lot of work in Serbia about the intrigue and power games involving the British, Tito, Mihailović and the royal government in exile. The picture that emerges is that the Brits sidelined the royal government, cherry-picked one of its members (Ivan Šubašić, the pre-war ban of Croatia) to sign a treaty with Tito, then bullied the young king into issuing a radio endorsement of Tito as the supreme commander of the resistance.

It wasn't just the Serbs who were used then abandoned by the British. The Poles and Czechs who escaped to the West were similarly betrayed when all of Easter Europe was given to Stalin. And then there was Operation Keelhaul...

(* The proper name for this force was the "Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland")


Suvorov said...

Thanks a bunch! I think I know a person who owns a copy of "The Rape of Serbia". Speaking of Operation Keelhaus, this person's father nearly escaped extradition from Britain back to Yugoslavia after the war. He was a Chetnik but had to pose as a Partizan at the end of the war in order to flee Yugoslavia. I think he was interrogated in Britain by the person believed to have connections with Tito's government.
Oh, and thank you for adding the comments feature to your antiwar column.

Robstar said...

It wasn't just the Serbs who were used then abandoned by the British. The Poles and Czechs who escaped to the West were similarly betrayed when all of Easter Europe was given to Stalin.

Thats a very good point. Eastern Europeans which are for the most part Slavs were quickly ditched by the West when their well being conflicted with other priorities, yet these same peoples are the most enthusiastic with joining the West through NATO and the EU. Yet if there was ever any trouble i'm sure the West would be quick to ditch them again

Michael said...

"The Rape of Serbia" is obtainable here for about forty four bucks. (No connection other than a satisfied customer, etc., etc.)

Thanks as ever for your calm exposition of historical truth.

Johan said...

There was a distinction between Partisan Units of Yugoslavia (Partizanski odredi Jugoslavije, POJ) and People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (Narodno-oslobodilacka Vojska Jugoslavije, NOVJ), both under Tito's command. The former were the “elite” communist guerrilla units, that operated from 1941, while the latter, formed late in the war, comprised of general populace, that was rapidly joining the fight against Germans. My own recollection is that by the war's end there were on the order of fifty thousand Partisans, while NOVJ grew to well over half a million.

Many interesting details can be found in the book “Wartime” (in English, 1980) by Milovan Djilas, Tito's top deputy (who “recanted the faith” in 1954 and spent many years in Tito's prisons); an insider's poignant documentary account of WW2 in Yugoslavia.

Mladen said...

Check this out. British Commie 5th columnists spreading disinformation from Cairo to Churchill.

Thanx a lot MI6

Gray Falcon said...

Ahh, I knew I forgot something - yes, Martin's book is another one of those examining the British role in the rise of Tito.

However, I'm loath to praise anything that comes out of the Institute for Historical Review, for obvious reasons.

Johan said...

As Gray Falcon said:

“However, I'm loath to praise anything that comes out of the Institute for Historical Review, for obvious reasons.”

And rightly so.

The “review” provides appallingly false information. Indeed, one need not read beyond the beginning of the very first paragraph of the missive:

“In the weeks preceding Hitler's pre-emptive attack on Stalin, events in the Balkans took a turn for the worse. On March 25, 1941, Yugoslav Prime Minister Cvetkovic went to Vienna, where he signed the Tripartite Pact. Germany agreed to respect Yugoslav sovereignty and not demand right of passage for Axis troops. Two days later, a British and American engineered coup overthrew the Council of Regency and deposed Prince Paul. … ...”

Not so. The entire point of Yugoslavia's signing the pact was that __it did give permission for German troops' free passage through Yugoslavia__. Hitler had already made decision to attack USSR (certainly not “pre-emptively”), setting the time for start of operation “Barbarossa” early May 1941, and for that conquest he absolutely needed free passage for his divisions through Yugoslavia and Greece. Since the 27 March 1941 revolt in Belgrade now obstructed this plan, Hitler remedied the situation by invading Yugoslavia and Greece - at the cost of precious six weeks (and perhaps even of the entire war, as is sometimes freely speculated). Etc...

As for the “British and American engineered coup” gem, the learned author of the aforementioned review is obviously confusing 25 March 1941 with 5 October 2000.

Well, so much about “Institute For Historical Review”, Mr. Robert Clive, and “history” made (up) in U.S.A. for that matter.

Johan said...

Correction please:

"25 March 1941 with 5 October 2000"

"27 March 1941 with 5 October 2000"

Thank you.