|Participant in World War II in Yugoslavia|
inscription reads: "For king and fatherland; freedom or death"
|Area of operations||Occupied Yugoslavia|
|Originated as||Royal Yugoslav Army|
|Battles and wars||
Uprising in Montenegro
The Chetnik Detachments of the Yugoslav Army, also known as the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland or The Ravna Gora Movement, commonly known as the Chetniks (Serbo-Croatian: Četnici, Четници, pronounced [tʃɛ̂tniːtsi]; Slovene: Četniki), was a Yugoslav royalist and Serbian nationalist movement in Yugoslavia led by Draža Mihailović, which was anti-Axis in its long-term goals, and engaged in marginal resistance activities for limited periods. They also engaged in tactical or selective collaboration with the occupying forces for almost all of the war. The Mihailović Chetniks were not a homogeneous movement. The Chetnik movement adopted a policy of collaboration with regard to the Axis, and engaged in cooperation to one degree or another by establishing modus vivendi or operating as "legalised" auxiliary forces under Axis control. Over a period of time, and in different parts of the country, the Chetnik movement was progressively drawn into collaboration agreements: first with the Nedić forces in the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia, then with the Italians in occupied Dalmatia and Montenegro, with some of the Ustaše forces in northern Bosnia, and after the Italian capitulation also with the Germans directly.
The Chetniks were active in uprising against the Axis occupiers throughout 1941. Following the success of the Battle of Loznica, Mihailović's Chetniks liberated the first city in Europe from Axis control. Following this, German occupiers enacted Adolf Hitler's formula for suppressing anti-Nazi resistance in Eastern Europe, a ratio of 100 hostages executed for every German soldier killed and 50 hostages executed for every soldier wounded. In October 1941, German soldiers conducted two mass murder campaigns against Serbian civilians in Kraljevo and Kragujevac, with a combined death toll reaching over 4,500 civilians, convincing Chetnik leader Draža Mihailović that killing German troops would only result in further unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of Serbs. As a result, he decided to scale back Chetnik guerrilla attacks and wait for an Allied landing in the Balkans. While Chetnik collaboration reached "extensive and systematic" proportions, the Chetniks themselves referred to their policy of collaboration as "using the enemy". Professor Sabrina Ramet, a historian, has observed, "Both the Chetniks' political program and the extent of their collaboration have been amply, even voluminously, documented; it is more than a bit disappointing, thus, that people can still be found who believe that the Chetniks were doing anything besides attempting to realize a vision of an ethnically homogeneous Greater Serbian state, which they intended to advance, in the short run, by a policy of collaboration with the Axis forces".
The Chetniks were partners in the pattern of terrorism and counter-terror that developed in Yugoslavia during World War II. They used terror tactics against Croats in areas where Serbs and Croats were intermixed, against the Muslim population in Bosnia, Herzegovina and Sandžak, and against the Communist-led Yugoslav Partisans and their supporters in all areas. These tactics included the killing of civilians, burning of villages, assassinations and destruction of property and exacerbated existing ethnic tensions between Croats and Serbs. The use of terror tactics against the Croats and the Muslim Bosniaks was a response to attacks on Serbs but was also motivated by traditional animosity and the policy that areas intended to be part of Greater Serbia were to be cleansed of non-Serbs in accordance with Mihailović's directive of 20 December 1941. The terror against the communist Partisans and their supporters was ideologically driven. In terms of Chetnik motives for collaboration, David Bruce MacDonald stated that it is "highly misleading to suggest that [Chetniks] throughout the war collaborated with the Germans and Italians to carry out genocide of Croats and Muslims.”
The organization was later renamed the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland (Jugoslovenska vojska u otadžbini, Југословенска војска у отаџбини; JVUO, ЈВУО), although the original name was more commonly used. The word "chetnik" was used to describe a member of a Balkan guerrilla force called cheta (чета, četa) which means "band or troop", itself derived from the Turkish word çete of the same meaning, which itself is derived from the Sanskrit word cakra meaning "a troop of soldiers". The suffix -nik is a Slavic personal suffix meaning "person or thing associated with or involved in".
Chetnik guerrilla (1903–18)
The Chetnik movement had its roots in the 19th-century Balkan liberation struggle against the Turks (Ottomans). The "Serbian Committee", made up of intelligentsia, businessmen and military officers, had initially funded small groups of brigands, either self-organized or part of the Bulgarian revolutionary organizations active in Macedonia (IMRO and SMAC), that were used to protect the Christian population from Ottoman atrocities and persecution. Serbia offered material support to the Ilinden Uprising (1903), and after its suppression, authorities in Belgrade sought but failed to negotiate with Bulgarian leaders on sending Serbian bands (cheta) into Macedonia for combined Serbian-Bulgarian action. The Serbian Committee decided to fully organize their own groups, arming and sending the first bands from Serbia into Macedonia in springtime 1904. Soon, hostility on the field between the Bulgarian organizations and the Serbian Chetnik Organization began. With the failed idea of joint Serbian-Bulgarian action, and growing nationalism, the Serbian government took over the activities of the organization. As a consequence, the Chetniks simultaneously engaged the Ottomans (and their Albanian irregular bands) and Bulgarian bands in the 1904–08 period. Activities were temporarily stopped after the Young Turk Revolution (1908).
The Chetniks were active in the Balkan Wars (1912–13), and as they had proven valuable during that war, the Serbian Army used them in World War I (1914–18). During the First Balkan War, Chetniks were used as a vanguard to soften up the enemy forward of advancing armies, for attacks on communications behind enemy lines, as field gendarmerie and to establish basic administration in occupied areas. In the Second Balkan War the Chetniks engaged the Bulgarians. In World War I the Chetniks were used in the same manner. The Chetniks withdrew with the army in 1915 and were later dispatched on the Salonika Front. In Bulgarian-occupied southeastern Serbia in late 1916, the Serbian Supreme Command organized for Chetnik detachments to lead an uprising in support of a planned Allied offensive. They sent veteran Kosta Pećanac. In early 1917, the uprising, successful at first, was put down with Austro-Hungarian reinforcement and bloody reprisals followed on the civil population. Pećanac's Chetniks were then used for sabotage and raids against the Bulgarian occupation, then infiltrated the Austro-Hungarian occupied zone.
Following the end of World War I and the formation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, pro-Bulgarian sentiment was rife in Macedonia, which was referred to as "Southern Serbia" by the Belgrade government. Extensive measures were undertaken to "serbianise" Macedonia, including closing Bulgarian Orthodox Church schools, revising history textbooks, dismissing "unreliable" teachers, banning the use of the Bulgarian language, and imposing lengthy jail terms for those convicted of anti-state activities. Hundreds of Bulgarian activists were murdered and thousands arrested in the period immediately following the war, and around 50,000 troops were stationed in Macedonia. Bands of Serbian Chetniks, including one led by Babunski, were organised to terrorise the population, kill pro-Bulgarian resistance leaders and recruit the local population into forced labour for the army. Resistance by IMRO was met with further terror, which included the formation in 1922 of the Association against Bulgarian Bandits led by Pećanac and Ilija Trifunović-Lune, based out of Štip in eastern Macedonia. This organisation quickly garnered a reputation for indiscriminate terrorisation of the Macedonian populace. Pećanac and his Chetniks were also active in fighting those resisting the Serb and Montenegrin colonisation of Kosovo.
The Chetnik movement also functioned as a civilian organization during the interwar period, initially as the "Chetnik Association for the Freedom and Honor of the Fatherland" (Udruženje Četnika za slobodu i čast Otadžbine), a Chetnik veteran organisation formed in Belgrade in 1921. The aims of the organisation were to foster Chetnik history, spread Chetnik ideas, and to care for disabled Chetniks and the widows and orphans of fallen Chetniks. Initially the organisation was aligned with the Democratic Party, but the increasing influence of the Serbian Radical Party resulted in a split of the organisation in 1924.
The pro-Radical Party, Greater Serbia elements of the organisation formed two new organisations; the "Association of Serbian Chetniks for King and Fatherland" (Udruženje srpskih četnika za Kralja i Otadžbinu) led by Puniša Račić, and the "Association of Serbian Chetniks "Petar Mrkonjić"" (Udruženje srpskih četnika Petar Mrkonjić). Around a year later these two organisations amalgamated as the "Association of Serbian Chetniks "Petar Mrkonjić" for King and Fatherland" with Račić presiding over a great deal of dissension until 1928 when the organisation ceased to operate. After the imposition of royal dictatorship by King Alexander in 1929, the "Petar Mrkonjić" association was dissolved, and the former dissidents re-joined the original "Chetnik Association for the Freedom and Honor of the Fatherland".
In 1929, Trifunović-Birčanin became president of the organisation, serving until 1932 when he was replaced by Pećanac who continued to lead the organisation until the invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941. In 1932 the Chetnik organisation established chapters in Dalmatia and Slavonia, and in 1934 Serb students at the University of Zagreb launched a Chetnik newsletter. This expansion of what remained a "nationalist-chauvinist" movement outside Serbia proper was a worrying development. As a result of Pećanac's move to open membership of the Chetnik Association to new younger members that had not served in World War I, in the course of the 1930s he took the organisation from a nationalist veterans' association focused on protecting veterans' rights, to an aggressively partisan Serb political organisation which reached 500,000 members throughout Yugoslavia. During this period, Pećanac formed close ties with the far-right Yugoslav Radical Union government of Milan Stojadinović. Trifunović-Birčanin and others that were unhappy with the aggressive expansion of the organisation and its move away from traditional Chetnik ideals, and set up the "Association of Old Chetniks" as a rival organisation, but it never challenged the organisation led by Pećanac.
World War II
Formation and ideology
In April 1941 the Germans, Italians and Hungarians invaded Yugoslavia leading to the swift collapse of the Yugoslav state and the surrender of the Yugoslav army. Many Serb detachments refused to surrender and took to the hills. In the wake of the invasion, the Chetniks were the first of the two resistance movements to be founded. The pre-war Chetnik leader Pećanac soon came to an arrangement with Nedić's collaborationist regime in the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia. Colonel Draža Mihailović, who was "interested in resisting the occupying powers", set up his headquarters in Ravna Gora and named his group "The Ravna Gora Movement" in order to distinguish it from the Pećanac Chetniks and others calling themselves Chetniks who engaged in collaboration with the Germans. But as the other Chetnik groups acted as adjuncts to the occupation, the word "Chetnik" again became associated with Mihailović's force.
Mihailović's group was also called the "Chetnik Detachments of the Yugoslav Army", although "The Ravna Gora Movement" was and still is used to refer to the Chetniks. The movement was later to be renamed the "Yugoslav Army in the Homeland", although the original name of the movement remained the most common in use throughout the war, even among the Chetniks themselves. It is these forces that are generally referred to as "the Chetniks" throughout World War II although the name was also used by other smaller groups including those of Pećanac, Nedić and Dimitrije Ljotić. In June 1941, following the start of Operation Barbarossa, the communist-led Partisans under Josip Broz Tito organised an uprising and in the period between June and November 1941, the Chetniks and Partisans largely cooperated in their anti-Axis activities.
In the summer of 1941, the Ravna Gora Movement had attracted a small number of Serb intellectuals who developed a political ideology for the Chetniks. Stevan Moljević believed that Serbs should not repeat the mistakes of World War I by failing to define the borders of Serbia, and proposed that at the end of World War II Serbs should take control of all territories to which they laid claim, and from that position negotiate the form of a federally organized Yugoslavia. This plan required the relocation of non-Serbs from Serb-controlled territories and other shifts of populations. He produced a document, Homogenous Serbia, which articulated these notions. Moljević proposed that Greater Serbia consist of 65–70% of the total Yugoslav territory and population. He based his plan on the expulsion of the non-Serb population in different areas and on population exchanges, but did not provide any figures. Mihailović appointed Moljević to the Central National Committee of the Chetnik movement in August 1941. Moljević's proposals were very similar to those later formulated by the Belgrade Chetnik Committee and presented to the Government in Exile in September 1941, in which the Chetniks set forth specific figures in regard to population shifts.
In March 1942, the Chetnik Dinara Division created a program which proposed a Greater Serbia with a corridor between Herzegovina, northern Dalmatia, Bosnia, and Lika to Slovenia, and cleansing of these areas of non-Serb populations. This was accepted a month later by the military leaders of these areas. This document continued additional formulations of strategy, including collaboration with Italian forces as a modus vivendi, formation of Croatian Chetnik units as part of a continuing struggle against the Partisans, Domobrans and Ustaše. This document proposed decent treatment of the Muslim population to keep them from joining the Partisan forces, and noted that Bosniaks could be dealt with later. In August 1942, the Lim-Sandžak Chetnik Detachment was the largest and the most elite military unit of Mihailović's Chetniks.
In the fall of 1942, a program was formulated at a Conference of Young Chetnik Intellectuals of Montenegro, which also proposed a unified Yugoslavia consisting only of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, exclusion of other ethnic groups, which was to be controlled by the Chetnik forces with the endorsement of the King, as well as agrarian and political reforms, nationalization of banking and wholesale trade, and increased propaganda to promote Chetnik ideology. Mihailović was not present, but was represented by his subordinate commanders Ostojić, Lašić, and Đurišić. Đurišić played the dominant role at this conference.
A manual prepared by Chetnik military leaders in late 1942 detailed a three phased approach and the military structure to be used during the war. The manual argued that both the Serbs and the Croats had been politically victimized in the period between the two world wars, and the unproven notion that in Serbia and especially in Belgrade, Croats held the upper hand in the government. Except for the Ustaše, Croats were not seen as the enemies of the Serbs, and a goal was set for the incorporation of Croatian forces under Chetnik leadership. Ustaše, on the other hand, were to be summarily executed.
The question of shifting populations and religious conversion of the Croats was to be left aside until the Serbs had assumed power in Yugoslavia. Revenge was incorporated into the Chetnik manual as a "... sacred duty of the Serbian people against those who had wronged them during the war and occupation".
Some Chetnik leaders initially conducted a number of operations against Axis forces jointly with the Partisans. On 19 September 1941, Tito and Mihailović met for the first time in Struganik where Tito offered Mihailović the chief-of-staff post in return for the merger of their units. Mihailović refused to attack the Germans, fearing reprisals, but promised to not attack the Partisans. According to Mihailović the reason was humanitarian: the prevention of German reprisals against Serbs at the published rate of 100 civilians for every German soldier killed, 50 civilians for every soldier wounded. On 20 October, Tito proposed a 12-point program to Mihailović as the basis of cooperation. Six days later, Tito and Mihailović met at Mihailović's headquarters where Mihailović rejected principal points of Tito's proposal including the establishment of common headquarters, joint military actions against the Germans and quisling formations, establishment of a combined staff for the supply of troops, and the formation of national liberation committees. In late October, Mihailović concluded the Partisans, rather than Axis forces, were the primary enemies of the Chetniks.
On 2 November, Mihailović's Chetniks attacked Partisan headquarters in Užice. The attack was driven back and a counterattack followed the next day, the Chetniks lost 1,000 men in these two battles and a large amount of weaponry. On 18 November, Mihailović accepted a truce offer from Tito though attempts to establish a common front failed. That month, the British government, upon the request of the Yugoslav government-in-exile, insisted Tito make Mihailović the commander-in-chief of resistance forces in Yugoslavia, a demand he refused.
Partisan-Chetnik truces were repeatedly violated by the Chetniks, first with the killing of a local Partisan commander in October and then later, under orders of Mihailović's staff, massacring 30 Partisan supporters, mostly girls and wounded individuals, in November. Despite this, Chetniks and Partisans in eastern Bosnia continued to cooperate for some time.
In December 1941 the Yugoslav government-in-exile in London under King Peter II promoted Mihailović to Brigadier-General and named him commander of the Yugoslav Home Army. By this time Mihailović had established friendly relations with Nedić and his Government of National Salvation and the Germans who he requested weaponry from to fight the Partisans. This was rejected by General Franz Böhme who stated they could deal with the Partisans themselves and demanded Mihailović's surrender.
The Germans launched an attack on Mihailović's forces in Ravna Gora and effectively routed the Chetniks from the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia. The bulk of the Chetnik forces retreated into eastern Bosnia and Sandžak and the centre of Chetnik activity moved to the Independent State of Croatia. The British liaison to Mihailović advised Allied command to stop supplying the Chetniks after their attacks on the Partisans in the German attack on Užice, but Britain continued to do so.
In April 1942 the Communists in Bosnia established two Shock Anti-Chetnik Battalions (Grmeč and Kozara) composed of 1,200 best soldiers of Serb ethnicity to struggle against Chetniks. Later during the war, the Allies were seriously considering an invasion of the Balkans, so the Yugoslav resistance movements increased in strategic importance, and there was a need to determine which of the two factions was fighting the Germans. A number of Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents were sent to Yugoslavia to determine the facts on the ground. In the meantime, the Germans, also aware of the growing importance of Yugoslavia, decided to wipe out the Partisans with determined offensives. The Chetniks, by this time, had agreed to provide support for the German operations, and were in turn granted supplies and munitions to increase their effectiveness.
The first of these large anti-Partisan offensives was Fall Weiss, also known as the Battle of Neretva. The Chetniks participated with a significant, 20,000-strong, force providing assistance to the German and Italian encirclement from the east (the far bank of the river Neretva). However, Tito's Partisans managed to break through the encirclement, cross the river, and engage the Chetniks. The conflict resulted in a near-total Partisan victory, after which the Chetniks were almost entirely incapacitated in the area west of the Drina river. The Partisans continued on, and later again escaped the Germans in the Battle of Sutjeska. In the meantime, the Allies stopped planning an invasion of the Balkans and finally rescinded their support for the Chetniks and instead supplied the Partisans. At the Teheran Conference of 1943 and the Yalta Conference of 1945, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided to split their influence in Yugoslavia in half.
The Chetniks were almost exclusively made up of Serbs and consisted of "local defence units, marauding bands of Serb villagers, anti-partisan auxiliaries, forcibly mobilised peasants, and armed refugees". The vast majority of Orthodox priests supported the Chetniks with some, notably Momčilo Đujić and Savo Božić, becoming commanders. A few Croats in central Dalmatia and Primorje supported Mihailović, but the group was too small to have any political or military significance. A few Sandžak and Bosnian Muslims also supported him. In Slovenia, Major Karlo Novak led a small pro-Mihailović group which never played an important role. A number of Jews joined the Chetniks, but later defected to the Partisans. Chetniks treated women with the norm prevalent in the Balkans at the time, limiting their duties to those traditionally performed.
There had been long standing mutual animosity between Muslims and Serbs throughout Bosnia. Due to mass atrocities carried out against non-Serbs late in the spring of 1941 in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in other ethnically heterogeneous areas, and due to Muslims, especially those in eastern Bosnia, being branded as 'Turks' and 'Ustaše cronies', few Muslims joined the Chetniks. In late 1942, Herzegovinian Muslim leader Ismet Popovac obtained assistance from the Italians and formed an Italian Anti-Communist Volunteer Militia (MVAC). Early in 1943, Popovac's militia of around 800 fighters cooperated with the Chetniks against the Partisans during Fall Weiss. Not long after this, Popovac was assassinated.
In 1943, the Chetniks moderated their policies towards the Muslims to some extent, in order to assist them to enlist Muslims into their ranks. At the urging of Zaharije Ostojić, on 25 March 1943, Mihailović appointed Fehim Musakadić as the commander of all Muslim Chetnik units, in the hope that his appointment would encourage Muslims to form Chetnik units. At the end of 1943, Muslims comprised up to eight percent of Mihailović forces, numbering about 4,000. Another prominent Muslim supporter of Mihailović was Mustafa Mulalić, who had been a representative of the Yugoslav National Party in the pre-war Yugoslav parliament. In January 1944, at the Congress of Ba, Mulalić was appointed vice-chairman of the Chetnik National Committee. In late 1944, the Chetniks organised a Muslim Chetnik corps in north-east Bosnia.
In November 1941, Major Karlo Novak, who had initially been appointed as the chief of staff of the Slovene Chetniks, became their commander when Mihailović's original delegate, Colonel Jakob Avšić defected to the Partisans. In Slovenia, anti-Communist resistance was dominated by the Slovene Alliance led by the Slovene People's Party rather than the Chetniks, and although the Slovene Alliance theoretically owed allegiance to the government-in-exile via Mihailović as Chief of Staff of the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland, in reality it was completely independent of his command. The Slovene Alliance collaborated with the Italians, becoming 'legalised' as units of the MVAC. Partly as a result of the dominance and influence of the Slovene Alliance, Novak was unable to attract a significant following, and at their peak the Slovene Chetniks numbered no more than 300–400 fighters. Novak received some arms and ammunition indirectly from the Italians. In September 1943 at the village of Grčarice, 50 km southeast of Ljubljana, the main Slovene Chetnik force of about 200 fighters was wiped out by the Partisans. Novak escaped to Italy where he remained for the remainder of the war. In mid-1944, Colonel (later General) Ivan Prezelj, who had been appointed as Mihailović's delegate in Slovenia after Novak's escape to Italy, briefly re-established several Slovene Chetnik detachments. One of these, operating in Lower Styria and led by Jože Melaher, managed to survive until the end of the war.
Initially many Jews served in the Chetniks, a number of whom were former prisoners of concentration camps, and a Jewish Patriotic Brigade existed. A Jew served as Mihailović's aide-de-camp and they had their own newspaper named Židov. Jews were among the Chetniks during the first months of occupied Yugoslavia, but as Chetnik resistance ceased and collaboration increased the Jews left the Chetniks in favor of the Partisans and on 2 January 1943 a directive from Mihailović stated: "Partisan units are a motley collection of rascals, such as the Ustašas, the most blood-thirsty enemies of the Serbian people, Jews, Turks, Croats, Dalmatians, Bulgarians, Hungarians, and all other nations of the world." Chetnik policies barred women from performing significant roles. No women took part in fighting units and were restricted to nursing and occasional intelligence work. The low status of female peasants in areas of Yugoslavia where Chetniks were strongest could have been utilized and advantageous in military, political, and psychological terms. The treatment of women was a fundamental difference between the Chetniks and Partisans and Chetnik propaganda disparaged the female role in the Partisans.
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Throughout the war, the Chetnik movement remained mostly inactive against the occupation forces, and increasingly collaborated with the Axis, eventually losing its international recognition as the Yugoslav resistance force. After a brief initial period of cooperation, the Partisans and the Chetniks quickly started fighting against each other. Gradually, the Chetniks ended up primarily fighting the Partisans instead of the occupation forces, and started cooperating with the Axis in a struggle to destroy the Partisans, receiving increasing amounts of logistical assistance. Mihailović admitted to a British colonel that the Chetniks' principal enemies were "the partisans, the Ustasha, the Muslims, the Croats and last the Germans and Italians" [in that order].
At the start of the conflict, Chetnik forces were merely relatively inactive towards the occupation, and had contacts and negotiations with the Partisans. This changed when the talks broke down, and they proceeded to attack the latter (who were actively fighting the Germans), while continuing to engage the Axis only in minor skirmishes. Attacking the Germans provoked strong retaliation and the Chetniks increasingly started to negotiate with them. Negotiations with the occupiers were aided by the two sides' mutual goal of destroying the Partisans. This collaboration first appeared during the operations on the Partisan "Užice Republic", where Chetniks played a part in the general Axis attack.
Collaboration with the Italians
Chetnik collaboration with the occupation forces of fascist Italy took place in three main areas: in Italian-occupied (and Italian-annexed) Dalmatia; in the Italian puppet state of Montenegro; and in the Italian-annexed and later German-occupied Ljubljana Province in Slovenia. The collaboration in Dalmatia and parts of Bosnia was the most widespread. The split between Partisans and Chetniks took place earlier in those areas.
The Partisans considered all occupation forces to be "the fascist enemy", while the Chetniks hated the Ustaše but balked at fighting the Italians, and had approached the Italian VI Army Corps (General Renzo Dalmazzo, Commander) as early as July and August 1941 for assistance, via a Serb politician from Lika, Stevo Rađenović. In particular, Chetnik vojvodas ("leaders") Trifunović-Birčanin and Jevđević were favorably disposed towards the Italians, believing Italian occupation over all of Bosnia-Herzegovina would be detrimental to the influence of the Ustaše state.
For this reason, they sought an alliance with the Italian occupation forces in Yugoslavia. The Italians (especially General Dalamazzo) looked favorably on these approaches and hoped to first avoid fighting the Chetniks, and then use them against the Partisans, a strategy which they thought would give them an "enormous advantage". An agreement was concluded on 11 January 1942 between the representative of the Italian 2nd Army, Captain Angelo De Matteis and the Chetnik representative for southeastern Bosnia, Mutimir Petković, and was later signed by Draža Mihailović's chief delegate in Bosnia, Major Boško Todorović. Among other provisions of the agreement, it was agreed that the Italians would support Chetnik formations with arms and provisions, and would facilitate the release of "recommended individuals" from Axis concentration camps (Jasenovac, Rab ...). The chief interest of both the Chetniks and Italians would be to assist each other in combating Partisan-led resistance.
In the following months of 1942, General Mario Roatta, commander of the Italian 2nd Army, worked on developing a Linea di condotta ("Policy Directive") on relations with Chetniks, Ustaše and Partisans. In line with these efforts, General Vittorio Ambrosio outlined the Italian policy in Yugoslavia: All negotiations with the (quisling) Ustaše were to be avoided, but contacts with the Chetniks were "advisable." As for the Partisans, it was to be "struggle to the bitter end". This meant that General Roatta was essentially free to take action with regard to the Chetniks as he saw fit.
He outlined the four points of his policy in his report to the Italian Army General Staff:
To support the Chetniks sufficiently to make them fight against the communists, but not so much as to allow them too much latitude in their own action; to demand and assure that the Chetniks do not fight against the Croatian forces and authorities; to allow them to fight against the communists on their own initiative (so that they can "slaughter each other"); and finally to allow them to fight in parallel with the Italian and German forces, as do the nationalist bands [Chetniks and separatist Greens] in Montenegro.— General Mario Roatta, 1942
During 1942 and 1943, an overwhelming proportion of Chetnik forces in the Italian-controlled areas of occupied Yugoslavia were organized as Italian auxiliary forces in the form of the Anti-Communist Volunteer Militia (Milizia volontaria anti comunista, MVAC). According to General Giacomo Zanussi (then a Colonel and Roatta's chief of staff), there were 19,000 to 20,000 Chetniks in the MVAC in Italian-occupied parts of the Independent State of Croatia alone. The Chetniks were extensively supplied with thousands of rifles, grenades, mortars and artillery pieces. In a memorandum dated 26 March 1943 to the Italian Army General Staff, entitled "The Conduct of the Chetniks".
Italian officers noted the ultimate control of these collaborating Chetnik units remained in the hands of Draža Mihailović, and contemplated the possibility of a hostile reorientation of these troops in light of the changing strategic situation. The commander of these troops was Trifunović-Birčanin, who arrived in Italian-annexed Split in October 1941 and received his orders directly from Mihailović in the spring of 1942. By the time Italy capitulated on 8 September 1943, all Chetnik detachments in the Italian-controlled parts of the Independent State of Croatia had at one time or another collaborated with the Italians against the Partisans. This collaboration lasted right up until the Italian capitulation when Chetnik troops switched to supporting the German occupation in trying to force the Partisans out of the coastal cities which the Partisans liberated after the Italian withdrawal. After the Allies did not land in Dalmatia as they had hoped, these Chetnik detachments were basically forced into collaboration with the Germans in order to avoid being caught between the Germans and the Partisans.
Collaboration with the Independent State of Croatia
After the 1941 split between the Partisans and the Chetniks in occupied Serb territory, the Chetnik groups in central, eastern, and northwestern Bosnia found themselves caught between the German and Ustaše (NDH) forces on one side and the Partisans on the other. In early 1942 Chetnik Major Jezdimir Dangić approached the Germans in an attempt to arrive at an understanding, but was unsuccessful, and the local Chetnik leaders were forced to look for another solution. The Chetnik groups were in fundamental disagreement with the Ustaše on practically all issues, but they found a common enemy in the Partisans, and this was the overriding reason for the collaboration which ensued between the Ustaše authorities of the NDH and Chetnik detachments in Bosnia. The first formal agreement between Bosnian Chetniks and the Ustaše was concluded on 28 May 1942, in which Chetnik leaders expressed their loyalty as "citizens of the Independent State of Croatia" both to the state and its Poglavnik (Ante Pavelić).
During the next three weeks, three additional agreements were signed, covering a large part of the area of Bosnia (along with the Chetnik detachments within it). By the provision of these agreements, the Chetniks were to cease hostilities against the Ustaše state, and the Ustaše would establish regular administration in these areas. The Chetniks recognized the sovereignty of the Independent State of Croatia and became a legalized movement in it. The main provision, Art. 5 of the agreement, states as follows:
As long as there is danger from the Partisan armed bands, the Chetnik formations will cooperate voluntarily with the Croatian military in fighting and destroying the Partisans and in those operations they will be under the overall command of the Croatian armed forces. (... ) Chetnik formations may engage in operations against the Partisans on their own, but this they will have to report, on time, to the Croatian military commanders.— Chetnik-Ustaše collaboration agreement, 28 May 1942
The necessary ammunition and provisions were supplied to the Chetniks by the Ustaše military. Chetniks who were wounded in such operations would be cared for in NDH hospitals, while the orphans and widows of Chetniks killed in action would be supported by the Ustaše state. Persons specifically recommended by Chetnik commanders would be returned home from the Ustaše concentration camps. These agreements covered the majority of Chetnik forces in Bosnia east of the German-Italian demarcation line, and lasted throughout most of the war. Since Croatian forces were immediately subordinate to the German military occupation, collaboration with Croatian forces was, in fact, indirect collaboration with the Germans.
One major Chetnik collaboration with the Axis took place during the "Battle of the Neretva", the final phase of "Case White", known in Yugoslav historiography as the "Fourth Enemy Offensive". In 1942, Partisans forces were on the rise, having established large liberated territories within Bosnia and Herzegovina. Chetnik forces, partially because of their collaboration with the Italian occupation, were also gaining in strength, however, but were no match to the Partisans and required Axis logistical support to attack the liberated territories. In light of the changing strategic situation, Hitler and the German high command decided to disarm the Chetniks and destroy the Partisans for good. In spite of Hitler's insistence, Italian forces in the end refused to disarm the Chetniks (thus rendering that course of action impossible), under the justification that the Italian occupation forces could not afford to lose the Chetniks as allies in their maintenance of the occupation.
Collaboration with the Germans
When Germans invaded Yugoslavia they met in the Chetniks an organization trained and adapted for guerilla warfare. Although there were some clashes between the Germans and the Chetniks as early as May 1941, Mihailović thought of resistance in terms of setting up an organisation which, when the time was ripe, would rise against the occupying forces. British policy with regard to European resistance movements was to restrain them from activities which would lead to their premature destruction, and this policy coincided initially with the concepts on the basis of which Mihailović's movement was being operated. In order to dissociate himself from the Chetniks who collaborated with the Germans, Mihailović at first called its movement the "Ravna Gora Movement".
As early as spring 1942, the Germans favored the collaboration agreement the Ustaše and the Chetniks had established in a large part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since the Ustaše military was supplied by, and immediately subordinate to, the German military occupation, collaboration between the two constituted indirect German-Chetnik collaboration. This was all favorable to the Germans primarily because the agreement was directed against the Partisans, contributed to the pacification of areas significant for German war supplies, and reduced the need for additional German occupation troops (as Chetniks were assisting the occupation). After the Italian capitulation on 8 September 1943, the German 114th Jäger Division even incorporated a Chetnik detachment in its advance to retake the Adriatic coast from the Partisans who had temporarily liberated it. The report on German-Chetnik collaboration of the XV Army Corps on 19 November 1943 to the 2nd Panzer Army states that the Chetniks were "leaning on the German forces" for close to a year.
German-Chetnik collaboration entered a new phase after the Italian surrender, because the Germans now had to police a much larger area than before and fight the Partisans in the whole of Yugoslavia. Consequently, they significantly liberalized their policy towards the Chetniks and mobilized all Serb nationalist forces against the Partisans. The 2nd Panzer Army oversaw these developments: the XV Army Corps was now officially allowed to utilize Chetniks troops and forge a "local alliance". The first formal and direct agreement between the German occupation forces and the Chetniks took place in early October 1943 between the German-led 373rd (Croatian) Infantry Division and a detachment of Chetniks under Mane Rokvić operating in western Bosnia and Lika. The Germans subsequently even used Chetnik troops for guard duty in occupied Split, Dubrovnik, Šibenik, and Metković.
NDH troops were not used, despite Ustaše demands, as mass desertions of Croat troops to the Partisans rendered them unreliable. From this point on, the German occupation actually started to "openly favor" Chetnik (Serb) troops over the Croat formations of the NDH, due to the pro-Partisan dispositions of the Croatian rank-and-file. The Germans paid little attention to frequent Ustaše protests about this.
Ustaše Major Mirko Blaž (Deputy Commander, 7th Brigade of the Poglavnik's Personal Guard) observed that:
The Germans are not interested in politics, they take everything from a military point of view. They need troops that can hold certain positions and clear certain areas of the Partisans. If they ask us to do it, we cannot do it. The Chetniks can.
When appraising the situation in the western part of the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia, Bosnia, Lika, and Dalmatia, Captain Merrem, intelligence officer with the German commander-in-chief southeastern Europe, was "full of praise" for Chetnik units collaborating with the Germans, and for the smooth relations between the Germans and Chetnik units on the ground. In addition, the Chief of Staff of the 2nd Panzer Army observed in a letter to the Ustaše liaison officer that the Chetniks fighting the Partisans in Eastern Bosnia were "making a worthwhile contribution to the Croatian state", and that the 2nd Army "refused in principle" to accept Croatian complaints against the usage of these units. German-Chetnik collaboration continued to take place until the very end of the war, with the tacit approval of Draža Mihailović and the Chetnik Supreme Command in the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia. Though Mihailović himself never actually signed any agreements, he endorsed the policy for the purpose of eliminating the Partisan threat.
Field Marshal Maximilian von Weichs commented:
Though he himself [Draža Mihailović] shrewdly refrained from giving his personal view in public, no doubt to have a free hand for every eventuality (e.g. Allied landing on the Balkans), he allowed his commanders to negotiate with Germans and to co-operate with them. And they did so, more and more ...
The loss of Allied support in 1943 caused the Chetniks to lean more than ever towards the Germans for assistance against the Partisans. On 14 August 1944, the Tito-Šubašić agreement between the Partisans and the Yugoslav King and government-in-exile was signed on the island of Vis. The document called on all Croats, Slovenes, and Serbs to join the Partisans. Mihailović and the Chetniks refused to follow the order and abide by the agreement and continued to engage the Partisans (by now the official Yugoslav Allied force). Consequently, on 29 August 1944, King Peter II dismissed Mihailović as Chief-of-Staff of the Yugoslav Army and on 12 September appointed Marshal Tito in his place. Tito at this point became the Prime Minister of the Yugoslav state and the joint government.
Collaboration with the Government of National Salvation
In the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia, the Germans initially installed Milan Aćimović, as leader, but later replaced him with General Milan Nedić, former minister of war, who governed until 1944. Aćimović instead later served as the key liaison between the Germans and the Chetniks. In the second half of August 1941, prior to Nedić assuming power, the Germans arranged with Kosta Pećanac for the transfer of several thousand of his Chetniks to serve as auxiliaries for the gendarmerie. Collaboration between the Government of National Salvation and Mihailović's Chetniks began in fall of 1941 and lasted until the end of German occupation.
Nedić was initially firmly opposed to Mihailović and the Chetniks. On 4 September 1941, Mihailović sent Major Aleksandar Mišić and Miodrag Pavlović to enter a meeting with Nedić and nothing was accomplished. After Mihailović shifted his policy of mild cooperation with the Partisans to becoming hostile to them and seizure of anti-German activity in late October 1941, Nedić relaxed his opposition. On 15 October, Colonel Milorad Popović, acting on behalf of Nedić, gave Mihailović about 500,000 dinars (in addition to an equal amount given on 4 October) to persuade the Chetniks to collaborate. On 26 October 1941, Popović gave an additional 2,500,000 dinars.
By mid-November 1941, Mihailović put 2,000 of his men under Nedić's direct command and shortly later these men joined the Germans in an anti-Partisan operation. When the Germans launched Operation Mihailović on 6–7 December 1941, with the intent of capturing Mihailović and removing his headquarters in Ravna Gora, he escaped, probably because he was warned of the attack by Aćimović on 5 December.
In June 1942, Mihailović left the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia for Montenegro and was out of contact with the Nedić authorities until he returned. Subsequently, in the fall of 1942 the Chetniks of Mihailović (and Pećanac) who had been legalized by the Nedić administration were dissolved. By 1943, Nedić feared that the Chetniks would become the primary collaborator with the Germans and after the Chetniks murdered Ceka Đorđević, deputy minister of internal affairs, in March 1944 he opted to replace him with a prominent Chetnik in the hopes of quelling the rivalry. A report prepared in April 1944 by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services commented that:
[Mihailović] should be viewed in the same light as Nedić, Ljotić, and the Bulgarian occupation forces.
In mid-August 1944, Mihailović, Nedić, and Dragomir Jovanović met in the village of Ražani secretly where Nedić agreed to give one hundred million dinars for wages and to request from the Germans arms and ammunition for Mihailović. On 6 September 1944, under the authority of the Germans and formalization by Nedić, Mihailović took command over the entire military force of the Nedić administration, including the Serbian State Guard, Serbian Volunteer Corps, and the Serbian Border Guard.
Contacts with Hungary
In mid-1943, the Hungarian General Staff arranged a meeting between a Serbian officer in the Nedić regime and Mihailović. The officer was instructed to express to Mihailović Hungary's regret for the massacre at Novi Sad and to promise that those responsible would be punished. Hungary recognised Mihailović as the representative of the Yugoslav government-in-exile and asked him, in the event of an Allied landing in the Balkans, not to enter Hungary with his troops, but to leave the border question to the peace conference. After contact was established, food, medicine, munitions and horses were sent to Mihailović. During his visit to Rome in April 1943, Prime Minister Miklós Kállay talked about Italo-Hungarian cooperation with the Chetniks, but Mussolini said he favoured Tito.
Hungary also tried to contact Mihailović through the royal Yugoslav government's representative in Istanbul in order to cooperate against the Partisans. The Yugoslav Minister of Foreign Affairs, Momčilo Ninčić, reportedly sent a message to Istanbul asking the Hungarians to send an envoy and a Serb politician from the Hungarian-occupied territories to negotiate. Nothing came of these contacts, but Mihailović sent a representative, Čedomir Bosnjaković, to Budapest. For their part the Hungarians sent arms, medicine and released Serbian POWs willing to serve with the Chetniks down the Danube.
After the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944, the Chetnik relationship was one of the few foreign contacts independent of German influence that Hungary had. A Hungarian diplomat, L. Hory, formerly posted in Belgrade, twice visited Mihailović in Bosnia, and the Hungarians continued to send him munitions, even across Croatian territory. The last contact between Mihailović and Hungary occurred on 13 October 1944, shortly before the German-sponsored coup of 15 October.
Terror tactics and cleansing actions
Chetnik ideology revolved around the notion of a Greater Serbia within the borders of Yugoslavia, to be created out of all territories in which Serbs were found, even if the numbers were small. This goal had long been the foundation of the movement for a Greater Serbia. During Axis occupation the notion of clearing or "ethnically cleansing" these territories was introduced largely in response to the massacres of Serbs by the Ustashe in the Independent State of Croatia. However, the largest Chetnik massacres took place in eastern Bosnia where they preceded any significant Ustashe operations.
Prior to the outbreak of World War II, use of terror tactics had a long tradition in the area as various oppressed groups sought their freedom and atrocities were committed by all parties engaged in conflict in Yugoslavia. During the early stages of the occupation, the Ustaše had also recruited a number of Muslims to aid in the persecutions of the Serbs, and even though only a relatively small number of Croats and Muslims engaged in these activities, and many opposed them, those actions initiated a cycle of violence and retribution between the Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims, as each sought to rid the others from the territories they controlled.
In particular, Ustaše ideologues were concerned with the large Serb minority in the NDH, and initiated acts of terror on a wide scale in May 1941. Two months later, in July, the Germans protested the brutality of these actions. Reprisals followed, as in the case of Nevesinje, where Serb peasants staged an uprising in response to the persecution, drove out the Ustaše militia, but then engaged in reprisals, killing hundreds of Muslims and some Croats, whom they associated with the Ustaše.
A directive dated 20 December 1941, addressed to newly appointed commanders in Montenegro, Major Đorđije Lašić and Captain Pavle Đurišić, outlined, among other things, the cleansing of non-Serb populations in order to create a Greater Serbia:
#The struggle for the liberty of our whole nation under the scepter of His Majesty King Peter II;
- the creation of a Great Yugoslavia and within it of a Great Serbia which is to be ethnically pure and is to include Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Srijem, the Banat, and Bačka;
- the struggle for the inclusion into Yugoslavia of all still unliberated Slovene territories under the Italians and Germans (Trieste, Gorizia, Istria, and Carinthia) as well as Bulgaria, and northern Albania with Skadar;
- the cleansing of the state territory of all national minorities and a-national elements;
- the creation of contiguous frontiers between Serbia and Montenegro, as well as between Serbia and Slovenia by cleansing the Muslim population from Sandžak and the Muslim and Croat populations from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The authenticity of the directive is disputed. Some have attributed the directive as having come from Mihailović. Others have claimed that there is no original and that it may have been a forgery made by Đurišić to suit his purposes. Mihailović's headquarters sent further instructions to the commander of the Second Sarajevo Chetnik Brigade clarifying the goal: "It should be made clear to everyone that, after the war or when the time becomes appropriate, we will complete our task and that no one except the Serbs will be left in Serbian lands. Explain this to [our] people and ensure that they make this their priority. You cannot put this in writing or announce it publicly, because the Turks [Muslims] would hear about it too, and this must not be spread around by word of mouth."
The Chetniks systemically massacred Muslims in villages that they captured. In late autumn of 1941 the Italians handed over the towns of Višegrad, Goražde, Foča and the surrounding areas, in south-east Bosnia to the Chetniks to run as a puppet administration and NDH forces were compelled by the Italians to withdraw from there. After the Chetniks gained control of Goražde on 29 November 1941, they began a massacre of Home Guard prisoners and NDH officials that became a systematic massacre of the local Muslim civilian population, with several hundred murdered and their bodies left hanging in the town or thrown into the Drina river. On 5 December 1941, the Chetniks received the town of Foča from the Italians and proceeded to massacre around five hundred Muslims. Additional massacres against the Muslims in the area of Foča took place in August 1942. In total, over two thousand people were killed in Foča.
In early January, the Chetniks entered Srebrenica and killed around a thousand Muslim civilians in the town and in nearby villages. Around the same time the Chetniks made their way to Višegrad where deaths were reportedly in the thousands. Massacres continued in the following months in the region. In the village of Žepa alone about three hundred were killed in late 1941. In early January, Chetniks massacred fifty-four Muslims in Čelebić and burned down the village. On 3 March, a contingent of Chetniks burned forty-two Muslim villagers to death in Drakan.
In early January 1943 and again in early February, Montenegrin Chetnik units were ordered to carry out "cleansing actions" against Muslims, first in the Bijelo Polje county in Sandžak and then in February in the Čajniče county and part of Foča county in southeastern Bosnia, and in part of the Pljevlja county in Sandžak. On 10 January 1943, Pavle Đurišić, the Chetnik officer in charge of these operations, submitted a report to Mihailović, Chief of Staff of the Supreme Command. His report included the results of these "cleansing operations", which according to Tomasevich, were that "thirty-three Muslim villages had been burned down, and 400 Muslim fighters (members of the Muslim self-protection militia supported by the Italians) and about 1,000 women and children had been killed, as against 14 Chetnik dead and 26 wounded".
In another report sent by Đurišić dated 13 February 1943, he reported that: "Chetniks killed about 1,200 Muslim fighters and about 8,000 old people, women, and children; Chetnik losses in the action were 22 killed and 32 wounded". He added that "during the operation the total destruction of the Muslim inhabitants was carried out regardless of sex and age". The total number of deaths in anti-Muslim operations between January and February 1943 is estimated at 10,000. The casualty rate would have been higher had not a great number of Muslims already fled, most to Sarajevo, when the February action began.
According to a statement from the Chetnik Supreme Command from 24 February 1943, these were countermeasures taken against Muslim aggressive activities; however, all circumstances show that these massacres were committed in accordance with implementing the directive of 20 December 1941. In March 1943, Mihailović listed the Chetnik action in Sandžak as one of his successes noting they had "liquidated all Muslims in the villages except those in the small towns".
Actions against Croats were smaller in scale but similar in action. In the summer of 1941, Trubar, Bosansko Grahovo and Krnjeuša were the sites of the first massacres and other attacks against ethnic Croats in the southwestern Bosnian Krajina. In early October 1942 in the village of Gata near Split, an estimated one hundred people were killed and many homes burnt purportedly as reprisal for the destruction of some roads in the area and carried out on the Italians' account. In that same October, formations under the command of Petar Baćović and Dobroslav Jevđević, who were participating in the Italian Operation Alfa in the area of Prozor, massacred over five hundred Croats and Muslims and burnt numerous villages. Baćović noted that "Our Chetniks killed all men 15 years of age or older. ... Seventeen villages were burned to the ground." Mario Roatta, commander of the Italian Second Army, objected to these "massive slaughters" of noncombatant civilians and threatened to halt Italian aid to the Chetniks if they did not end.
Croatian historian Vladimir Žerjavić initially estimated the number of Muslims and Croats killed by the Chetniks as 65,000 (33,000 Muslims and 32,000 Croats; both combatants and civilians). In 1997, he revised this figure down to 47,000 dead (29,000 Muslims and 18,000 Croats). According to Vladimir Geiger of the Croatian Institute of History, Zdravko Dizdar, a historian, estimates Chetniks killed a total of 50,000 Croats and Muslims — mostly civilians — between 1941 and 1945. According to Ramet, the Chetniks completely destroyed 300 villages and small towns and a large number of mosques and Catholic churches. Some historians contend genocide was committed against Muslims.
The Partisans were also targets of terror tactics. In the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia, apart from a few terrorist acts against Nedić's and Ljotić's men, and in Montenegro against separatists, terror was directed solely against the Partisans, their families and sympathizers, on ideological grounds. The goal was the complete destruction of the Partisans. The Chetniks created lists of individuals that were to be liquidated and special units known as "black trojkas" were trained to carry out these acts of terror. During the summer of 1942, using names supplied by Mihailović, lists of individual Nedić and Ljotić supporters to be assassinated or threatened were broadcast over BBC radio during news programming in Serbo-Croatian. Once the British discovered this, the broadcasts were halted, although this did not prevent the Chetniks from continuing to carry out assassinations.
Loss of Allied support
To gather intelligence, agents of the western Allies were infiltrated into both the Partisans and the Chetniks. The intelligence gathered by liaisons were crucial to the success of supply missions and was the primary influence on Allied strategy in Yugoslavia. The search for intelligence ultimately resulted in the demise of the Chetniks and their eclipse by the Partisans. The Germans were executing Case Black, one of a series of offensives aimed at the resistance fighters, when F.W.D. Deakin was sent by the British to gather information. His reports contained two important observations. The first was that the Partisans were courageous and aggressive in battling the German 1st Mountain and 104th Light Division, had suffered significant casualties, and required support. The second observation was that the entire German 1st Mountain Division had transited from Russia on rail lines through Chetnik-controlled territory. British intercepts of German message traffic confirmed Chetnik timidity.
All in all, intelligence reports resulted in increased Allied interest in Yugoslavia air operations, and a shift in policy. In September 1943, British policy dictated equal aid to the Chetniks and Partisans, but by December, relations between the Chetniks and British soured after Chetniks refused to obey orders to sabotage the Germans without the guarantee of an Allied landing in the Balkans. Over time British support moved away from the Chetniks, which refused to stop collaborating with the Italians and Germans to fight them, towards the Partisans, which were eager to increase their anti-Axis activity.
After the Tehran Conference the Partisans received official recognition as the legitimate national liberation force by the Allies, who subsequently set up the Balkan Air Force (under the influence and suggestion of Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean) with the aim to provide increased supplies and tactical air support for the Partisans. In February 1944, Mihailovic's Chetniks failed to fulfill British demands to demolish key bridges over the Morava and Ibar rivers, causing the British to withdraw their liaisons and halt supplying the Chetniks.
On 14 August 1944, the Tito-Šubašić agreement between Partisans and the Government in exile was signed on the island of Vis. The document called on all Croats, Slovenes, and Serbs to join the Partisans. Mihailović and the Chetniks refused to accept the Royal Government's agreement and continued to engage the Partisans, by now the official Yugoslav Allied force. Consequently, on 29 August 1944, King Peter II dismissed Mihailović as Chief-of-Staff of the Yugoslav Army and on 12 September appointed Marshal Josip Broz Tito in his place. On 6 October 1944, the Nedić government transferred the Serbian State Guard to Mihailović's command, although cooperation proved impossible and they separated in January 1945 while in Bosnia. As support shifted towards the Partisans, Mihailović's Chetniks attempted to recommence Allied support for the Chetniks by displaying their eagerness to help the Allies. They helped rescue 417 Allied aviators in Operation Halyard which they used to "make the greatest political and propaganda out of" while in other instances the Chetniks also rescued German aviators and pursued Allied aviators for the Germans. Mihailović later received the Legion of Merit from US President Harry S. Truman for the rescue of Allied pilots.
Cooperation with the Soviets
In September 1944, the Soviets invaded and occupied Romania and Bulgaria, removing them from the war and putting Soviet forces on the borders of Yugoslavia. The Chetniks were not unprepared for this, and throughout the war their propaganda strove to harness the pro-Russian and pan-Slavic sympathies of the majority of the Serb population. The distinction between the Russian people and their communist government was belaboured, as was the supposed difference between Yugoslav Partisans, who were allegedly Trotskyists, and the Soviets, who were Stalinists.
On 10 September 1944, a Chetnik mission of approximately 150 men, led by Lieutenant Colonel Velimir Piletić, commander of northeastern Serbia, crossed the Danube into Romania and established contact with Soviet forces at Craiova. Their main purpose, according to the memoirs of one of them, Lt. Col. Miodrag Ratković, was to establish Soviet agreement to certain political goals: a cessation of the civil war through Soviet mediation, free elections supervised by the Allied powers and the postponement of any war-related trials until after elections. Before the mission could go on to Bucharest, where the American and British military missions were, they were denounced by one of Piletić's aides as British spies and arrested by the Soviets on 1 October.
Although the Chetniks believed they could fight as allies of the Soviets at the same time as they fought the Partisans, they did manage some local cooperation with the former while antagonising the Germans. In a circular of 5 October, Mihailović wrote: "We consider the Russians as our allies. The struggle against Tito's forces in Serbia will be continued." The Germans were aware of the Chetniks' disposition through radio intercepts, and their intelligence reported on 19 October that "the Chetniks have never been prepared by Draža Mihailović through appropriate propaganda for a fighting encounter with the Russians. Draža Mihailović has on the contrary upheld the fiction that the Russians as allies of the Americans and the British will never act against the interests of the Serbian nationalists."
The commander of a group of the Shock Corps, Lt. Col. Keserović, was the first Chetnik officer to cooperate with the Soviets. In mid-October his troops met Soviet forces advancing into central eastern Serbia from Bulgaria and together they occupied the town of Kruševac, the Soviets leaving Keserović in charge of the town. Within three days, Keserović was warning his fellow commanders that the Russians were only talking with the Partisans and disarming the Chetniks. Keserović reported to Supreme Command on 19 October that his delegate to the Soviet division had returned with a message ordering his men to be disarmed and incorporated in the Partisan armed forces by 18 October.
Another Chetnik commander to cooperate with the Soviets was Captain Predrag Raković of the Second Ravna Gora Corps, whose men participated in the capture of Čačak, where they captured 339 soldiers of the Russisches Schutzkorps Serbien (whom they turned over to the Soviets). Raković apparently had a written agreement with the local Soviet commander, placing himself and his men under Soviet command in return for recognition that they were Mihailović's men. After a protest from Tito to Marshal Fyodor Tolbukhin, commander of the front, Keserović's and Raković's cooperation came to an end. By 11 November the latter had gone into hiding and his forces had fled west to avoid being disarmed and placed under Partisan control. After the fall of Belgrade to Soviet and Partisan troops there was little hope of the Chetniks surviving as a legitimate fighting force in Yugoslavia.
Retreat and dissolution
Finally, in April and May 1945, as the victorious Partisans took possession of the country's territory, many Chetniks retreated toward Italy and a smaller group toward Austria. Many were captured by the Partisans or returned to Yugoslavia by British forces while a number were killed following repatriation from Bleiburg. Some were tried for treason and were sentenced to prison terms or death. Many were summarily executed, especially in the first months after the end of the war. Mihailović and his few remaining followers tried to fight their way back to the Ravna Gora, but he was captured by Partisan forces. In March 1946, Mihailović was brought to Belgrade, where he was tried and executed on charges of treason in July. During the closing years of World War II, many Chetniks defected from their units, as the Partisan commander-in-chief, Marshal Josip Broz Tito, proclaimed a general amnesty to all defecting forces for a time.
After the end of World War II, the Chetniks were banned in the new Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On 29 November 1945, King Peter II was deposed by the Yugoslav Constituent Assembly after an overwhelming referendum result. Chetnik leaders either escaped the country or were arrested by the authorities. On 13 March 1946, Mihailović was captured by OZNA, the Yugoslav security agency. He was put on trial, found guilty of high treason against Yugoslavia, sentenced to death and then executed by firing squad on 17 July.
In 1947, Đujić was tried and sentenced in absentia for war crimes by Yugoslavia. He was declared a war criminal who as commander of the Dinara Division was responsible for organizing and carrying out a series of mass murders, massacres, tortures, rapes, robberies, and imprisonments, and collaborating with the German and Italian occupiers. He was accused of being responsible for the deaths of 1,500 people during the war.
Following his arrival in the United States, Đujić and his fighters played a role in the foundation of the Ravna Gora Movement of Serbian Chetniks. Other Chetniks factions found their way to the midwestern United States and to Australia.
In January 1951, the Yugoslav government charged 16 individuals that were Chetnik in orientation with being part of a conspiracy that plotted to overthrow the government and reinstate King Petar with French and American military intelligence assistance. Of the charged, 15 were sentenced to long prison sentences and one was sentenced to death. On 12 January 1952, the government reported four or five Chetnik "brigades" numbering around 400 men each still existed and were at the borders of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania, and in Montenegrin forests, attacking meetings of the communist party and police buildings. As late as November 1952, small Chetnik groups operated in mountains and forests around Kalinovik and Trnovo. Trials of wartime Chetniks carried on until 1957.
In 1975, Nikola Kavaja, a diaspora Chetnik living in Chicago and belonging to the Serbian National Defense Council (SNDC), was, at his own initiative, responsible for bombing a Yugoslav consul's home, the first in a series of attacks targeting the Yugoslav state in the United States and Canada. He and his co-conspirators were captured in a sting set up by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and convicted for terrorism for the incident and for planning to bomb two Yugoslav receptions on Yugoslavia's National Day. Later that year, during his flight to receive his sentence, he hijacked the American Airlines Flight 293 with the intention of crashing the plane into Tito's Belgrade headquarters, but was dissuaded; he ultimately received a 67-year prison sentence.
After Serbian President Slobodan Milošević's assumption of power in 1989 various Chetnik groups made a "comeback" and his regime "made a decisive contribution to launching the Chetnik insurrection in 1990–1992 and to funding it thereafter". Chetnik ideology was influenced by the memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. On 28 June 1989, the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, Serbs in north Dalmatia, Knin, Obrovac, and Benkovac where there were "old Chetnik strongholds", held the first anti-Croatian government demonstrations.
On the same day, Đujić declared Vojislav Šešelj "at once assumes the role of a vojvoda and a vladika [high-ranking religious order] unifier" and ordered him "to expel all Croats, Albanians, and other foreign elements from holy Serbian soil", stating he would return only when Serbia was cleansed of "the last Jew, Albanian, and Croat". The Serbian Orthodox Church began the procession of the reliquary of Prince Lazar, who participated in the Battle of Kosovo and was canonized, and in the summer it reached the Zvornik-Tuzla eparchy in Bosnia and Herzegovina where there was a feeling of "historic tragedy of the Serb people, which is experiencing a new Kosovo" accompanied by nationalist declarations and Chetnik iconography.
Later that year, Šešelj, Vuk Drašković, and Mirko Jović formed the Serbian National Renewal (SNO), a Chetnik party. In March 1990, Drašković and Šešelj splintered to form a separate Chetnik party, the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO). On 18 June 1990, Šešelj organized the Serbian Chetnik Movement (SČP) though it wasn't permitted official registration due to its obvious Chetnik identification. On 23 February 1991, it merged with the National Radical Party (NRS), establishing the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) with Šešelj as president and Tomislav Nikolić as vice president. It was a Chetnik party , oriented towards neo-fascism with a striving for the territorial expansion of Serbia. In July 1991, Serb-Croat clashes broke out in Croatia and rallies were held in the Ravna Gora mountains with chants in favor of war and recollected "glories" of Chetnik massacres of Croats and Muslims during World War II. The SPO held many rallies at Ravna Gora
During the Yugoslav Wars, many Serb paramilitaries styled themselves as Chetniks. The SRS's military wing was known as "Chetniks" and received weaponry from the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Serbian police. Šešelj personally helped arm Serbs in Croatia and recruited volunteers in Serbia and Montenegro, sending 5,000 men to Croatia and up to 30,000 to Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to Šešelj "the Chetniks never acted outside the umbrella of the Yugoslav People's Army and the Serbian police". Željko Ražnatović, a self-styled Chetnik, led a Chetnik force called the Serb Volunteer Guard (SDG), established on 11 October 1990. The SDG was connected to the Serbian Ministry of Interior, operated under JNA command, and reported directly to Milošević. It had between 1,000 and 1,500 men. Jović, at the time the Serbian Minister of the Interior, organized the youth wing of the SNO into the White Eagles, a paramilitary closely based on the World War II Chetnik movement, and called for "a Christian, Orthodox Serbia with no Muslims and no unbelievers." It came to be associated with the SRS though Šešelj denied the connection.
Both the White Eagles and SDG received instructions from the Yugoslav Counterintelligence Service. In September–October 1991, the Ozren Chetniks were established to "carry on the 'best' Chetnik traditions of the Second World War". A paramilitary group called the Chetnik Avengers also existed and was led by Milan Lukić who later took command of the White Eagles. A Chetnik unit led by Slavko Aleksić operated under the command of the Army of Republika Srpska. In 1991 it fought in the Krajina area of Croatia and in 1992 around Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Milošević and Radovan Karadžić, the president of the self-proclaimed Republika Srpska, used the subordinate Chetnik forces of Šešelj and Ražnatović as part of their plan to expel non-Serbs and form a Greater Serbia through the use of ethnic cleansing, terror, and demoralization. Šešelj's and Ražnatović's formations acted as "autonomous" groups in the RAM Plan which sought to organize Serbs outside Serbia, consolidate control of the Serbian Democratic Parties (SDS), and prepare arms and ammunition in an effort to establish a country where "all Serbs with their territories would live together in the same state." According to historian Noel Malcolm the "steps taken by Karadžić and his party – [declaring Serb] "Autonomous Regions", the arming of the Serb population, minor local incidents, non-stop propaganda, the request for federal army "protection" – matched exactly what had been done in Croatia. Few observers could doubt that a single plan was in operation."
Chetnik units engaged in mass murders and war crimes. In 1991, the Croatian town of Erdut was forcefully taken over by the SDG and JNA and annexed to the puppet state of Republic of Serbian Krajina. Croats and other non-Serbs were either expelled or killed with Serbs repopulating empty villages in the area. On 1 April 1992, the SDG attacked Bijeljina and carried out a massacre of Muslim civilians. On 4 April, Chetnik irregulars helped the JNA in shelling Sarajevo. On 6 April, Chetniks and the JNA attacked Bijeljina, Foča, Bratunac, and Višegrad. On 9 April, the SDG and Šešelj's Chetniks aided the JNA and special units of the Serbian security force in overtaking Zvornik and ridding it of its local Muslim population.
Reports sent by Ražnatović to Milošević, Ratko Mladić, and Blagoje Adžić stated the plan was progressing, noting that the psychological attack on the Bosniak population in Bosnia and Herzegovina was effective and should continue. Chetnik forces also engaged in mass murder in Vukovar and Srebrenica. The White Eagles were responsible for massacres in Voćin, Višegrad, Foča, Sjeverin, and Štrpci, and for terrorizing the Muslim population in Sandžak. In September 1992, Chetniks attempted to force Sandžak Muslims in Pljevlja to flee by demolishing their stores and houses whilst shouting "Turks leave" and "this is Serbia". By mid-1993, they suffered over a hundred bombings, kidnappings, expulsions, and shootings. The SPO threatened Muslims with expulsion when reacting to requests for autonomy in Sandžak.
On 15 May 1993, Šešelj proclaimed eighteen (18) Chetnik fighters as vojvodas, naming towns that were cleansed of non-Serbs in their citation, and they were blessed by an Orthodox priest afterwards. Šešelj came to be described as "a man whose killer commando units operating in Croatia and Bosnia carried on the very worst of the Chetnik tradition."
Later the SRS became a government coalition partner of Milosević and in 1998, Đujić publicly stated that he regretted awarding that title to Šešelj. He was quoted as saying, "I was naïve when I nominated Šešelj [as] Vojvoda; I ask my people to forgive me. The greatest gravedigger of Serbdom is Slobodan Milošević" and that he is "disappointed in Šešelj for openly collaborating with Milošević's Socialist Party, with Communists who have only changed their name. ... Šešelj has sullied the reputation of Chetniks and Serbian nationalism." In 2000, Ražnatović was killed before facing prosecution by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). In 2003, Šešelj surrendered himself to the ICTY to face war crimes charges and was acquitted in 2016.
Nikolić, whom Šešelj had, in 1993, proclaimed vojvoda and awarded the Order of Chetnik Knights for his subordinates' "personal courage in defending the fatherland", took over the SRS. He vowed to pursue a Greater Serbia "through peaceful means". In 2008, Lukić was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
In the 1980s, Serbian historians initiated the process of reexamining the narrative of how World War II was told in Yugoslavia, which was accompanied by the rehabilitation of Chetnik leader Draža Mihailović. Being preoccupied with the era, Serbian historians have looked to vindicate Chetnik history by portraying Chetniks as righteous freedom fighters battling the Nazis while removing from history books the ambiguous alliances with the Italians and Germans. Whereas the crimes committed by Chetniks against Croats and Muslims in Serbian historiography are overall "cloaked in silence".
In Serbia there has been a revival of Chetnik nationalism. Since the early 1990s, the SPO has annually held the "Ravna Gora Parliament" and in 2005 it was organized with state funding for the first time. Croatian president Stjepan Mesić later cancelled a planned visit to Serbia as it coincided with the gathering. People who attend the Parliament wear Chetnik iconography and T-shirts with the image of Mihailović or of Mladić, who is on trial at the ICTY on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The SRS headed by Nikolić, still in favor of a Greater Serbia and rooted in the Chetnik movement, won the 2003 elections with 27.7 percent and gained 82 seats of the 250 available. In 2005, Patriarch Pavle of the Serbian Orthodox Church backed the SRS. It later won the 2007 elections with 28.7 percent of the vote. In 2008, Nikolić split with SRS over the issue of cooperation with the European Union and formed the Serbian Progressive Party.
Serbian textbooks have contained historical revisionism of the Chetnik role in World War II since the 1990s. Reinterpretation and revisionism has focused primarily on three areas: Chetnik-Partisan relations, Axis collaboration, and crimes against civilians. The 2002 Serbian textbook intended for the final years of high schools hailed Chetniks as national patriots, minimized the Partisan movement, and resulted in protests from historians who viewed the work as dubious. It contained no mention of Chetnik collaboration or of atrocities committed by Chetniks on non-Serbs. Chetniks that killed individuals who cooperated with communists were said to have been renegades. The Chetniks were referred to as "the core of the Serb civic resistance" and "contrary to the communists, who wanted to split up the Serb ethnic space, sought to expand Serbia by incorporating Montenegro, the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina, part of Dalmatia including Dubrovnik and Zadar, the whole Srem, including Vukovar, Vinkovi, and Dalj, Kosovo and Metohija, and South Serbia (Macedonia)", and were portrayed as betrayed by the Allies. The Chetnik movement is claimed to be the sole one with "Serb national interests" and their defeat was equated with the defeat of Serbia, stating in bold that: "In the Second World War, the Serbian citizenry was destroyed, the national movement shattered, and the intelligentsia demolished." After public criticism, the 2006 textbook for the final year of elementary school mentioned collaboration, but attempted to justify it and stated all factions of the war collaborated.
In March 2004, the National Assembly of Serbia passed a new law that equalized the Chetniks and Partisans as equivalent anti-fascists. The vote was 176 for, 24 against and 4 abstained. Vojislav Mihailović, the Vice President of the Serbian Parliament and grandson of Draža Mihailović, stated it was "late, but it provides satisfaction to a good portion of Serbia, their descendants. They will not get financial resources, but will have the satisfaction that their grandfathers, fathers, were true fighters for a free Serbia." Anti-fascist war veterans' associations criticized the law and stated that Serbia was "the first country in Europe to declare a quisling movement as being liberating and anti-fascist." In 2009, Serbian courts rehabilitated Chetnik ideologist Dragiša Vasić. In September 2012, the Constitutional Court of Serbia declared the 2004 law unconstitutional stating Chetnik veterans were not permitted an allowance and medical assistance while still maintaining their rights to a pension and rehabilitation.
The Serbian basketball player Milan Gurović has a tattoo of Mihailović on his left arm which has resulted in a ban since 2004 in playing in Croatia where it is "considered an incitement ... of racial, national or religious hatred". Later Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey enacted such a ban. Serbian rock musician and poet Bora Đorđević, leader of the highly popular band Riblja Čorba, is also a self-declared Chetnik, but calling it a "national movement that is much older than the WWII", and adding that he does not hate other nations and never been a member of the SRS nor advocated Greater Serbia.
In May 2002, plans were prepared for a "Montenegrin Ravna Gora" memorial complex to be located near Berane. The complex was to be dedicated to Đurišić, who not only spent some of his youth at Berane but had also established his wartime headquarters there. In June 2003, Vesna Kilibarda, the Montenegrin Minister of Culture, banned the construction of the monument saying that the Ministry of Culture had not applied for approval to erect it.
The Association of War Veterans of the National Liberation Army (SUBNOR) objected to the construction of the monument saying that Đurišić was a war criminal who was responsible for the deaths of many colleagues of the veterans association and 7,000 Muslims. The association was also concerned about the organizations that backed the construction including the Serbian Orthodox Church and its Montenegrin wing which is led by Metropolitan Amfilohije. The Muslim Association of Montenegro condemned the construction and stated that "this is an attempt to rehabilitate him and it is a great insult to the children of the innocent victims and the Muslim people in Montenegro." On 4 July, the Montenegrin government forbade the unveiling of the monument stating that it "caused public concern, encouraged division among the citizens of Montenegro, and incited national and religious hatred and intolerance." A press release from the committee in charge of the construction of the monument stated that the actions taken by the government were "absolutely illegal and inappropriate". On 7 July, the stand that was prepared for the erection of the monument was removed by the police.
In 2011, the Montenegrin Serb political party New Serb Democracy (NOVA) renewed efforts for a monument to be built and stated that Đurišić and other royal Yugoslav officers were "leaders of the 13 July uprising" and that they "continued their struggle to liberate the country under the leadership of King Peter and the Government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia."
Bosnia and Herzegovina
On 22 July 1996, the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina created a veteran rights law that explicitly covered former Chetniks, but did not include former Partisans.
During the Bosnian War, the main traffic road in Brčko was renamed the "Boulevard of General Draža Mihailović" and on 8 September 1997 a statue of Mihailović was established in the town's center. In 2000, the street was renamed the "Boulevard of Peace" and in 2004, after lobbying by Bosniak returnees and intervention from the Office of the High Representative, the statue was moved to an Orthodox cemetery located at the outskirts of Brčko. It was removed on 20 October 2005 and on 18 August 2013 unveiled in Višegrad.
In May 1998, the Chetnik Ravna Gora Movement of Republika Srpska was founded and proclaimed itself the military branch of the SDS and the SRS. In April 1998, the "key date in its recent history" occurred when Šešelj had held a speech for a gathering in Brčko with representatives from the SDS, the SRS, the Serb National Alliance (SNS), the Assembly of Serb Sisters of Mother Jevrosima, the High Council of Chetnik Veterans of Republika Srpska, and the Chetnik Ravna Gora Movement of Serbia in attendance. In April 1999 it was legally registered and later renamed the Serb National Homeland Movement. Important individuals in its beginnings included: Karadžić, Mladić, Nikola Poplašen, Dragan Čavić, Mirko Banjac, Mirko Blagojević, Velibor Ostojić, Vojo Maksimović and Božidar Vučurević. It operated in fourteen regions where members work in "trojkas" and infiltrate various civilian organisations. On 5 May 2001, it disrupted cornerstone laying ceremonies for the destroyed Omer Pasha Mosque in Trebinje and on 7 May for the destroyed Ferhat Pasha Mosque in Banja Luka. The Bosnian magazine Dani linked to the Oslobođenje newspapers, claimed that the "international community" and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe designated it a terrorist and pro-fascist organization. In 2005, United States president George W. Bush issued an executive order and its US assets were, among other organizations, frozen for obstructing the Dayton Agreement.
On 12 July 2007, a day after the 12th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre and the burial of a further 465 victims, a group of men dressed in Chetnik uniforms marched the streets of Srebrenica. They all wore badges of military units which committed the massacre in July 1995. On 11 July 2009, after the burial of 543 victims in Srebrenica, members of the Ravna Gora Chetnik movement desecrated the flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina, marched in the streets wearing T-shirts with the face of Mladić and sang Chetnik songs. A group of men and women associated with the Serbian far-right group Obraz "chanted insults directed towards the victims and in support of the Chetnik movement, calling for eradication of Islam." A full report of the incident was submitted to the local District Prosecutor's Office but no one has been prosecuted. The Social Democratic Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been campaigning for a creation of a law that would ban the group within Bosnia.
Milorad Pupovac of the Independent Democratic Serb Party in Croatia (the present-day leader of Serbs of Croatia and member of the Croatian Parliament), described the organization as "fascist collaborators".
Serbian-Americans set up a monument dedicated to Pavle Đurišić at the Serbian cemetery in Libertyville, Illinois. The management and players of the football club Red Star Belgrade visited it on 23 May 2010.
In March 2014, Serb volunteers calling themselves Chetniks, led by Serbian national Bratislav Živković, travelled to Sevastopol in Crimea to support the pro-Russian side in the Crimean crisis. They spoke of "common Slavic blood and Orthodox faith", cited similarities with the Cossacks, and claimed to be returning the favour of Russian volunteers who fought on the Serbian side of the Yugoslav Wars. Participating in the ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine since its inception in early 2014, it was reported in August 2014 that Chetniks killed 23 Ukrainian soldiers and took out a "significant amount of armored vehicles" during clashes with the Ukrainian army.
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