By Carl Savich
Review: The Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the Second World War, Episode 7: The Final Chetnik Offensive Against the Axis.
The Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the Second World War is the second part of a documentary series consisting of six approximately 30 minute episodes. This series continues from part one which consisted of six episodes that examined the German invasion and subsequent occupation and dismemberment of Yugoslavia released in 2014. The first series analyzed the period from the German invasion and occupation of Yugoslavia beginning on April 6, 1941 up to October 20, 1944 when Soviet Red Army troops captured Belgrade. The second series attempts to answer the question of why the Allies turned the control of the Balkans over to the Communists. Why was the legal and recognized Yugoslav Government-in-Exile abandoned in favor of a Soviet installed Communist dictatorship regime?
The documentary series is a production of Pogledi Kragujevac made in Serbia in Serbian with English subtitles. The screenwriter is Kragujevac based historian and journalist Miloslav Samardzic who also is featured in interview segments in the series. Other commentators were a Yugoslav Army private of that time, Berislav Stanojlovic, Aleksandar Djokic, a UN officer in Geneva, Switzerland, Urosh Shusterich, a former Yugoslav Army officer, Radenko Mirich, a businessman in Paris, and Milutin Velisavljevich, a Serbian historian. Colonel Dragan Krsmanovich, the former head of the Military Archives in Belgrade, also is interviewed. They recount the story. There are eyewitness accounts along with historical analyses. Miloslav Samardzic was filmed on location in several scenes including Kadina Luka and Lazarevac.
The original music is by Dobrica Andrich. One of the featured songs is “Get ready Chetniks!” or “Spremte se, spremte Cetnici” by Milan Petrovich which was the theme song of the 1943 20th Century Fox film Chetniks! The Fighting Guerillas starring Philip Dorn and Anna Sten and also of the 1943 Treasury Star Parade radio drama The Chetniks starring Orson Welles and Vincent Price. “God of Justice” or ”Boze pravde” by Davorin Jenko is also featured. The film is narrated by Sasha Pilipovich. The director of photography is Dragan Vuchkovich.
The 7th episode covers the last full year of the war, 1944. The episode begins with the liberation of Paris and the anticipation of the return of democracy. Charles DeGaulle returns triumphantly in France. The Chetniks had these same expectations for Yugoslavia. But they were to be thwarted and dashed.
The opening scene showed a map of 1941 Yugoslavia with a black background that bursts into flames as a column of German Panzerkampfwagen V Panther medium tanks roll by. The Panther was introduced in 1943 as a reply to the Soviet T-34/76 tank and saw action at the Battle of Kursk and in France. The Panther tank was not, however, deployed in Yugoslavia. Then archive footage is shown of Yugoslav Communist Partisan troops in military uniforms marching in file in rows of two towards the camera from a film from May 29, 1944.
Draza Mihailovich, second from left, with American Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. McDowell of the Office of Strategic Services or OSS, first on left, the chief of the U.S. Ranger Mission, 1944. Robert H. McDowell was a graduate of the University of Michigan, majoring in history.
For Josip Broz Tito, the end of the war saw him pursuing his main objective, to destroy Draza Mihailovich and the Chetniks and to take power in Yugoslavia. On September 5, 1944, Tito declared that the first priority or primary objective of the Communist Partisans was the annihilation of Draza Mihailovich and his forces.
On August 30, Draza Mihailovich ordered the general mobilization of his forces. On the next day he ordered an attack on German forces. He fought a two front war: A defensive war against the Partisans, and an offensive one against the Germans.
Silent film footage of Draza Mihailovich holding a rifle filmed by members of the U.S. mission.
Draza Mihailovich welcomed the collapse of the German forces as a sign of the resurrection of Yugoslavia. This was the time to attack the Axis occupation forces.
Critics have attacked the Chetniks as being passive during the war while the Partisans were engaged in combat. But, in reality, the Partisans did not liberate or take any major towns in this same time period. The Chetniks, by contrast, had taken Loznica, Cacak, Ljubovija, Bajina Basta, and Visegrad in eastern Bosnia by September, 1944.
Every year since 1941 the Chetniks had launched a major offensive against German and Axis forces. 1944 was no different. The Chetniks launched their Fourth Offensive in September, 1944 against German forces in central, east, and southern Serbia as well as Hercegovina and eastern Bosnia.
Chetnik commander Lt. Colonel or pukovnik Velimir Piletic, second from left, with Chetnik guerrillas.
On August 15, 1944, Chetnik commander Velimir Piletic ordered attacks against German and Bulgarian forces along the Danube River in eastern Serbia. On August 26, Kuchevo was taken with 120 German POWs. The Serbian towns of Majdanpek, Petrovac na Mlavi and Zhagubica were also taken.
On August 27, Romania switched sides in the war after the Soviet Red Army smashed German forces during the Jassy-Kishinev Offensive. As a consequence, Romanian forces cooperated with the Chetniks. Piletic, with help from Romanian forces, attacked 120 German vessels on the Danube River. Adolf Hitler refused their surrender. So the Germans scuttled the ships. Chetniks attacked the Sip Channel in eastern Serbia. As a result, the German Danube and Black Sea Fleet was destroyed, a major military achievement during the war.
On September 3, 1944, the Chetniks attacked German positions at Pozarevac, Svilajnac, Despotovac. In Cuprija, 200 German POWs were taken.
The Bor and Zajecar regions were also cleared of German troops. No German troops remained in this region. They retreated to Hungary to strengthen their defenses against the impending Soviet Red Army attack. This allowed the Chetniks to take over this territory. Boljevac, Dobrichevo were taken by Chetnik forces, who seized all the territory up to the Morava River.
U.S. Lieutenant Michael Rajachich, left, of the OSS Ranger Mission to Draza Mihailovich, with the chief of the mission American Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. McDowell of the OSS, 1944.
The American member of the Ranger Mission to Mihailovich, Lieutenant Michael Rajacich of the OSS, was able to witness and to document these offensives. He participated in the operations. The first town that Dragomir Topalovic of the Rudnik Corps captured was Kadina Luka. This town was strategically important because the railway link between Belgrade and Sarajevo passed through it. The Rudnik Corps captured German troops and attacked Lazarevac. Belanovica was also taken. German troops surrendered. 60 German troops were killed in the battle.
Miloslav Samardzic on location in Kadina Luka in Serbia where the Belgrade-Sarajevo railway passed.
The planned Chetnik advance on Belgrade was halted due to Partisan attacks against them from the south. The Partisans were supported by U.S. C-47 transport planes. Chetnik forces attacked a column of supply trucks near Jagodina.
Miloslav Samardzic on location in Lazarevac in Serbia.
The Rasina-Toplica Corps and the Deligrad Corps attacked German and Bulgarian forces on August 30. The Axis troops retreated.
Dragutin Keserovic commanded the Rasina Corps. Branimir Popovic of the Deligrad Corps attacked German forces along the Nish-Sveta Petka line. The Germans were reinforced from Krushevac. Keserovic blew up railroad line from Krusehvac-Stalach. The Germans bombed Chetnik positions in response.
Chetnik commander Major Dragutin Keserovic, center, the commander of the Rasina Corps.
The Chetniks were able to take Leskovac and Vlasotince. On August 29, German and Albanian SS troops retreated. Zivojin Mitic commanded the Vlasina Corps. Mitich wrote that he had disarmed 230 German and 300 Albanian SS troops in the Leskovac operation. Mihailovich’s forces were attacked by the 22nd Communist Division during these offensives.
Surljig was taken east of Nish in battles against German and Bulgarian troops.
In September, 1944, the Chetniks attacked the Ustasha and German forces in Bosnia.
German radio reported at the time that Chetniks had attacked Gorazde, Ustipracha, Handerventa, and Bulage. Croats reported that Chetnik forces had taken Medjedja and Ustipracha and Jabuchko Selo. The Chetniks attacked German forces at Visoko. Chetniks blew up rail line at Zhepche-Maglaj. German sources reveal that the Chetniks had killed over 100 troops from the 5th SS Corps.
Chetnik commander Lieutenant Colonel Zaharije Ostojic, center.
Chetniks planned on attacking and taking Sarajevo in 1944. Lt. Col. Zaharije Ostojic had prepared plans for such an operation. On August 26 he had written up orders. The plan was to incorporate Bosnian Muslim and Croat troops. There were many Muslims in Chetnik units at this time. Bosnian Muslim Musa Kadich commanded a Chetnik Brigade made up of 800 members.
The Chetnik commanders wanted the U.S. to bomb Sarajevo. The U.S. Air Force bombed Sarajevo on September 9 and 11. The plan failed, however, because of the lack of Allied support. Bosnian Muslim and Croatian Home Guard troops turned to the Partisans instead. There were mass defections to the Partisans by Croats at his time.
September 28, 1944, Bjeljina, eastern Bosnia. Second from left, U.S. Army Captain John R. Milodragovich, a member of the OSS Secret Intelligence Branch and recipient of the Legion of Merit Award. Eighth from left, U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. McDowell. Seventh from left, Draza Mihailovich. Eleventh from left, Bosnian Muslim Mustafa Mulalic, partially obscured.
Ostojic ordered attacks against the Germans and Croats to gain weapons and supplies. There were up to 40,000 Chetniks in Bosnia-Hercegovina at this time.
15,000 Partisans launched an attack on Serbia in September, 1944. This was to support the Soviet Red Army offensive on Belgrade.
The Chetniks still believed that an Allied landing on the Adriatic Coast would occur in 1944. It never did. But the Chetniks planned offensive operations nonetheless. Major Milorad Momchilovich, the commander of the Romania Corps, took Breza and attacked Visoko in Bosnia. He seized weapons and supplies and blew up rail lines and bridges from Visoko to Podlugovo, which was also taken.
On September 14, the Ozren Corps attacked a column of 165 trucks from the Waffen SS Division Prinz Eugen in the Doboj-Maglaj area in Bosnia with a reported 52 German troops killed.
The Zenica and the Romania Corps had to halt their offensive operations due to the lack of Allied landings and because of German and Ustasha reprisals against Serbian civilians in the area, especially in Sarajevo.
Chetnik commander Major Vojislav Lukachevich, second from left, with British Colonel William Bailey of the Special Operations Executive or SOE, third from left, American Captain Walter R. Mansfield of OSS, kneeling on left, and Borislav Todorovich, kneeling on right, February, 1944. Jovan Babovich is first on left. Mansfield became a federal judge in the U.S. after the war.
The Chetniks planned to attack along a broad front in the west from Metkovic to Kotor. On September 17, Major Voja Lukachevich, the Chetnik commander in Hercegovina, assembled 4,000-5,000 men to attack German troops in Trebinje. On September 20, the battle began. They took 100 German and Croat POWs. The siege of Trebinje by the Chetniks began. The 8,000 strong Chetnik force was attacked, however, not only by German and Croat Ustasha troops, but also by Communist Partisan troops. As a result, the siege of Trebinje was lifted. The Germans were about to surrender but were saved by Partisan Communist attacks against the Chetniks.
This was the end of the episode. A major theme of the episode was that Chetnik guerrillas were engaged in offensive operations against the Axis throughout Yugoslavia in 1944. A second theme is that the Partisans were stabbing the Chetniks in the back which allowed the Germans to regroup and escape defeat. The primary focus of the Partisans was not the German occupation forces, but the Chetnik guerrillas, who represented the Allied recognized government of Yugoslavia, which was the Exile Government in London. The Partisan objective was to overthrow that legal government and to replace it with a Communist dictatorship. Allied support for the Partisans allowed the creation of a post-war Communist regime in Yugoslavia.
Winston Churchill wrote: “History is written by the victors.” In this case, the Partisans wrote the history. And that history was manipulated, distorted, and even falsified. When victors write their histories and narratives, they always only tell one side of the story. They tell their side of the story. As Voltaire noted: “History is after all only a pack of tricks we play on the dead.” The victors monopolize and fabricate the history. But what was the other side of the story?
This documentary seeks to present the other side of the story. The long suppressed and covered-up history of the Second World War in Yugoslavia. In this respect, this is an invaluable and essential documentary series. Ever since 1945, we have been presented only one side to the story, been shown one side of the picture. This documentary allows us to examine both sides and to make our own judgment. This documentary allows us to see the full picture, to examine the full historical panorama. But we still must decide for ourselves.
There are black and white photographs of Chetnik guerrillas and Chetnik commanders and film footage. There is only a short film clip of Draza Mihailovich holding a rifle with no sound lasting five seconds. There is also film footage of Chetnik forces entering the town of Boljevac in 1944.
This documentary is essential and a must-see for anyone who wants to know what the other side of the story was. This was the story that was suppressed and covered-up. Now it is being told.