THIS war was bound sooner or later to reach the place where the First World War started. Some Jugoslav leaders thought the contrary. But to point out that this was an illusion is still to tell only part of the story. Prince Regent Paul, working through the Stojadinovich and Cvetkovich Governments, may have hoped that it was possible to isolate Jugoslavia from the main currents of events in Europe. But a more likely explanation of his attitude and that of his ministers is that they were dismayed by the stubborn facts of the European situation -- the growing German military strength, the growing British and French military weakness, and the evidence of a spirit of appeasement in both Britain and France, going back as far as the naval treaty which the Baldwin Government signed with Hitler in June 1935 and the Anglo-French decision not to resist the German occupation of the Rhineland in March 1936.

It was a disaster that Jugoslavia entered the final crisis so unprepared. But it would have been difficult, with the best will in the world, for Jugoslavia to have rearmed sufficiently in 1937 and 1938, when even British and French preparations were still lagging; and it would have been still more difficult for her to have rearmed energetically after the war began in 1939, not only because there was then no place where she could buy the needed arms in sufficient quantities and sufficiently quickly, but because such action would have produced an immediate ultimatum from Germany. This is the general background against which the events of this past winter and spring must be studied. The worst miscalculation of the Jugoslav Governments which preceded that of General Simovich was their belief that the Jugoslav people were not ready to accept any sacrifice, whatever the odds against them, rather than become the slaves of Hitler and rather than facilitate his attack on their neighbors, the Greeks.

A very short study of a map of the Balkan region will show that the Serb lands guard the eastern gates of Europe, and that unless armed forces passing between east and west sweep across the plains of Southern Russia they have to move via the Morava and Vardar valleys. Thus if and when the Drang nach Osten of German imperial days was revived it was likely to take strikingly similar form. Just as Serbia was an unwelcome barrier to the peaceful fulfilment of the Austro-Hungarian and German dream of conquest in 1914, so in our time her successor, Jugoslavia, was a barrier to the National Socialist expansion. With an area of some 96,000 square miles and a population of some 16,000,000 inhabitants, Jugoslavia dominated the Balkan Peninsula, its waterways and roads, its man power, its mineral and agricultural resources. Her standing army of 200,000 was understood to be, man for man, one of the world's best, although short of modern equipment. Her people, having gained freedom after centuries of struggle and sacrifice, were determined to safeguard it at any price. The Nazis knew that her will had to be undermined or circumvented, or that she had to be smashed by force. They tried the first course first.


The actual crisis which preceded the invasion of Jugoslavia on April 6 of this year began with the presentation of German demands to Premier Cvetkovich and Foreign Minister Cincar-Markovich during their visit to Hitler on February 14. But in order to understand why they decided to sign an understanding with Hitler we must go back to the years just after the assassination of King Alexander in October 1934, and in particular look at the foreign policy of the Regency while Stojadinovich was Premier in 1935-1939.

The international position of Jugoslavia early in 1934 was determined by her membership in the League of Nations; by her alliance with France, signed November 11, 1927; and by her membership in two regional organizations, the Little Entente and the Balkan Entente. The former was primarily established to maintain the territorial status quo in the Danube Basin. The Balkan Pact, signed in Athens on February 9, 1934, came after the long and painful preparatory work of the Balkan Conferences. Its function was similar to that of the Little Entente, but for a number of reasons it was more significant. Loose as it was, it was the first concrete step toward the possible Balkan union envisaged by so many political leaders.

The unsuccessful putsch in Austria in the summer of 1934, involving among other things the murder of Chancellor Dollfuss, was the first warning of the extent of the Nazi menace to Jugoslavia; for she knew that the continued independence of Austria and Hungary was a condition of her own peaceful existence. A few months later came the assassination of King Alexander at Marseilles, an event which not merely led to profound changes in the internal political life of the country, and in its foreign policy, but affected the entire future of Southeastern Europe and indeed of Europe as a whole.[i] This is not the place to discuss the internal affairs of Jugoslavia under King Alexander's dictatorship. The fact must be recognized that he was probably the first European statesman to realize the full significance of the German advance after 1933, and to attempt actively to ward off what actually occurred after his country's enemies had succeeded in removing him from the scene. The Balkan Pact of February 1934, and the King's conversations with the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, M. Louis Barthou, had been parts of a larger plan to build an effective international system of defense and stability. Among the immediate consequences of the Marseilles assassination were the rapid disintegration of the relations between France and Jugoslavia[ii] and the weakening of the Little Entente.

The broader aspects of the international events of 1935-1936 do not need special interpretation. Each stage marked clearly the rapid disintegration of what was termed "collective security." The failure of the Western Powers effectively to oppose the German and Italian attacks on the European order based on Versailles and Locarno was one of the main reasons for Jugoslavia's gradual departure from her former foreign policy and her rapprochement, under the Stojadinovich régime, with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Other reasons were the special efforts made by German economic and political diplomacy in the Balkans and the undemocratic tendencies of Premier Stojadinovich.

The character of the Stojadinovich régime was not generally understood outside Jugoslavia. Superficial talk about its "successes" and its "realism," even by some of those usually well acquainted with Jugoslav problems, helped to conceal the basic trends of its foreign policy. Stojadinovich himself was supposed, when he became Prime Minister, to be liberal, pro-British, pro-Soviet, and in favor of an understanding with the Croats. He was thought to be liberal because he had remained in the opposition during King Alexander's dictatorship; pro-British, because he had been the Belgrade correspondent of the London Economist some ten years previously; pro-Soviet, because not long before he had written an editorial in the Belgrade Politika asking for the recognition of the Soviet Union. As for the understanding with the Croats, this had been one of the main objectives of a previous régime in which he had participated.

Within a year Stojadinovich had turned against almost all the policies mentioned above. He weakened Jugoslavia's ties with the French, the Little Entente and the signatories of the Balkan Pact, and he came to depend more and more on coöperation with Germany and Italy. An unofficial visit by Paul Reynaud to Belgrade, and an official one by Foreign Minister Delbos, did not swerve him from his pro-Axis tendencies.[iii] On January 24, 1937, a pact of "eternal friendship" was signed with Bulgaria, and on March 25, 1937, an agreement was signed with Italy. In 1938 one-half of Jugoslavia's trade was with the Reich.

But it was on internal issues that Stojadinovich finally fell. Having shown himself unable to solve the Croat question, he was replaced on February 5, 1939, by Dragisha Cvetkovich. Here we reach the crisis preceding the German invasion.

Cvetkovich himself was a local politician without any particular political background. He had graduated from the Subotica Law School a few years before entering the Stojadinovich cabinet as Minister of Social Welfare. But after some six months of negotiations he succeeded, with the support and guidance of Prince Regent Paul, in coming to an agreement with the Croats. On August 24, 1939, the Sporazum was signed, and on August 26 the government was transformed to include representatives of the Croat Peasant Party, the Independent Democratic Party, and the Serbian Agrarian Party. The Croat leader, Vladimir Matchek, became Vice-Premier, a post created at this time. Alexander Cincar-Markovich was chosen Minister of Foreign Affairs because he had established friendly contacts with the Germans while serving as the Jugoslav representative in Berlin.

The difficulties of Jugoslav foreign policy multiplied, of course, with the beginning of the Second World War. Yet the transfer of the main theatre of operations to the Low Countries and France, following the rapid Nazi occupation and partitionment of Poland, induced an illusion of security in the Balkans. Cincar-Markovich hoped that the war would be decided in the West, and that the Balkans would be left out. On this false hope he based his policy of neutrality.

The Little Entente had been finally destroyed with Germany's annexation of Czechoslovakia, but the Balkan Entente remained. There was an obvious danger, however, that Germany might look on this as a bloc against her, so during 1939 and the beginning of 1940 the Rumanian and Jugoslav Governments tried to transform it into a "conference of neutrality." Meanwhile, more and more economic concessions had to be made to Germany; and efforts were made to eliminate all possible friction with neighboring Bulgaria and Hungary. At the same time a counterweight to Germany was sought in the Soviet Union. The Soviet régime was at last recognized, and Milan Gavrilovich, leader of the Serbian Agrarian Party, was sent as the first Jugoslav Minister to Moscow.

A certain degree of balancing and neutrality seemed feasible, at any rate on the surface, up to the time when the German plan to invade England was checked. Then, however, it became plain that Germany would have to attempt a decisive action on the Eastern front. This she made ready to do. The Vienna arbitration gave Hungary part of Transylvania and Bulgaria the Dobruja. Russia, in compensation, annexed Bessarabia. German troops gradually took over Rumania.


Throughout these operations the German Government, of course, gave Jugoslavia broad assurances of friendship. On October 10, 1940, it sent her the following statement:

For the purposes of the reorganization of the Rumanian Army, as well as for the purpose of safeguarding German interest in the oil district, Germany has decided to send missions accompanied by detachments of the armed force. Hereby the decision of the Vienna arbitration act is being put into effect on the request of the Rumanian Government. The present action is not directed against any other country. The German Government is anxious to preserve peace in the Balkans, all information to the contrary originating from enemy sources.

Despite these fair words, German pressure at Belgrade increased. The position in which the Jugoslav Government found itself was explained later by Cincar-Markovich. In a statement hitherto unpublished he said:

From the moment of the military action of Soviet Russia and the annexation of Bessarabia the difficulties of the Royal Government became apparent. This led to open territorial requests by Bulgaria and Hungary. The situation became worse with the Vienna arbitration and the German military penetration of Rumania, upon which Italy's war on Greece followed. It is clear that under those conditions we today are not in the position to lead any other policy but the policy of self-defense: our country is not in the position to carry on a war except in the case of foreign aggression. Our efforts to maintain peace in the Balkans were unsuccessful. Under present circumstances we are forced to find a solution bargaining with Germany on a diplomatic plan, a solution which will permit us to continue a policy of peace, safeguarding our vital national interests.

On October 28, 1940, Italy attacked Greece from Albania. While this war was in progress on Jugoslavia's southern borders, Bulgaria and Hungary began pressing her for territorial revisions.[iv] It was already very late to try to checkmate the aggressors. But an excuse to act against the weaker of them seemed to offer when Italian planes bombed the Jugoslav city of Bitolj in November 1940. General Nedich, Minister of War, urged the Government to seize the occasion to attack the Italians and drive them out of Albania before Hitler's legions had finished entrenching themselves in Southeastern Europe. He foresaw that sooner or later Hitler would have to come to Mussolini's help in the Mediterranean, and he knew that this help could not be effective so long as Jugoslavia maintained strict neutrality. Foreseeing that Jugoslavia would have to become Hitler's partner or enemy, and rejecting the former rôle, he planned to help Greece settle accounts with Italy at once so that they then would be free to concentrate on joint resistance to Germany. His advice was rejected, and he was replaced by General Peshich, who had not been in active service for ten years.

This decision set the Jugoslav Government on the last lap of the road that led inexorably to Vienna. Hitler's first concrete demand was received on February 14, 1941, during the visit by Cvetkovich and Cincar-Markovich to the Berghof. The German dictator demanded that Jugoslavia participate in the Tri-Power Pact of September 27, 1940. Hungary, Rumania and Slovakia had already agreed. Bulgaria was being pressed to do likewise. Hitler even offered Jugoslavia territorial compensation in northern Albania and Greece, and hinted that she might also be rewarded at the expense of Italy. The territory to be ceded by Italy was to include Fiume and a part of Istria.[v]

Bulgaria yielded two weeks later. But the Jugoslav Government was forced to postpone its decision because of growing opposition and unrest in the country. Cvetkovich was unsuccessful in his attempt to strengthen the cabinet by bringing in Radical and Democratic Party leaders from Serbia, and without them he did not dare to reply definitely to the German demands.

Then on March 1 German troops occupied Bulgaria. The crisis had reached its final stage. The country now was practically surrounded by German and Italian troops. The only open frontier was that with Greece. On March 4 the Government ordered partial mobilization, but apparently it had not made up its mind what course to follow. On March 6 a special meeting of the cabinet was called by Prince Regent Paul. It split on the issue whether or not to accept the German demands, and five of the members threatened to resign. In the end, the original pact was rejected. But agreement was reached (over protests from the Agrarian and Independent Democratic Party leaders) to negotiate a pact of non-aggression and mutual friendship.

The crisis was thus prolonged, with increasing German pressure from the outside and growing popular resentment and unrest within. In reply to the Jugoslav Government's repeated suggestions for a non-aggression treaty, Germany demanded the following concessions, as reported by the New York Times on March 15: 1. Permission to utilize the Jugoslav railways for the transit of German army hospital trains from Bulgaria to Greece. 2. Right of way on the Jugoslav railways for German munitions trains and troop trains, if that was found necessary. 3. Installation of German technical speed-up experts in Jugoslav mines and factories, but more particularly in supervisory agricultural posts, to raise the Jugoslav production of raw materials and foodstuffs to feed Germany and the German Army. 4. Demobilization of the Jugoslav Army.

It was understood that the Cvetkovich Government was willing to accept the first and third points, but that the other two, which spelled full capitulation, were refused. A week of hesitation followed. The unrest in the Serbian parts of the country continued to grow and diplomatic pressure from Berlin continued to increase. Belatedly the army began to make a number of necessary preparations to strengthen the forces on the frontiers.

The historic session of the Jugoslav cabinet came on March 20. Under pressure from Cvetkovich, Cincar-Markovich, and the Croat members, it was agreed that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs should go to Vienna and sign "an enlarged and amplified friendship and non-aggression pact with the Reich." Ten members of the cabinet voted for this adherence to the Axis in modified form. Five refrained from voting. Three voted against it -- Branko Chubrilovich, Srdjan Budisavljevich and Mihailo Konstantinovich. The cabinet crisis became public the following day, when these three members resigned. After much pushing and hauling, in the course of which Prime Minister Cvetkovich failed to make them change their minds, their places were finally filled by Dragomir Ikonich, Fran Kulovec and Chaslav Nikitovich.[vi]

After all this delay Cvetkovich and Cincar-Markovich, in response to a German ultimatum, finally left for Vienna on March 24. The country was by this time in an uproar, and hostile manifestations had begun to occur, especially in the eastern regions.

On March 25 the Pact was signed. Cvetkovich signed for Jugoslavia and von Ribbentrop for the German Reich. The published text read as follows:

The Governments of Germany, Italy and Japan on one side and the Government of Jugoslavia on the other side, through their plenipotentiaries, agree to the following:

Article I. Jugoslavia joins the Tri-Power Pact which was signed September 27, 1940, at Berlin, by Germany, Italy and Japan.

Article II. Representatives of Jugoslavia will be present at conferences of commissions for common technical questions created under Article IV of the Tri-Power Pact so far as the commission deals with matters touching Jugoslavia's interests.

Article III. The text of the Tri-Power Pact is added as a supplement to this protocol. This protocol and the text are written in the German, Italian and Jugoslav languages. It comes into effect the day of signing.[vii]

No provisions covering the German right of passage for munitions or hospital trains appeared in the public text, nor were any economic provisions published. But it is believed that they existed.

Two "letters of guarantee" were added to the protocol, addressed to Cvetkovich and signed by von Ribbentrop. In them the German Government promised to respect the territorial integrity of Jugoslavia and not to require the passage of German troops. They read as follows:

I. Mr. Prime Minister: In the name of and on behalf of the German Government, I have the honor to communicate the following to your Excellency:

On the occasion of the adherence of Jugoslavia to the Tri-Power Pact, which has occurred today, the German Government reaffirms its determination to respect at all times the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Jugoslavia.

II. Mr. Prime Minister: With reference to the conversations which took place on the occasion of Jugoslavia's adherence to the Tri-Power Pact today, I have the honor, your Excellency, in the name of the Reich Government to confirm the agreement between the Governments of the Axis Powers and the Jugoslav Government, that during the war the Governments of the Axis Powers will not make any demands on Jugoslavia to allow the passage or the transit of troops through Jugoslav territory.

This pact was received in the country with general vituperation. All classes and all political groups joined in wild demonstrations -- peasants, workers, students, intellectuals, soldiers, people of the right, people of the left. They were backed, indeed led, by the most powerful political organizations, by the Church, by the organization of the komitadjis, by the association of reserve officers, and by many others. It was a popular revolt in the truest sense of the word, so profound and general that it deserves to be called a revolution. In this respect the coup d'état which came two days later was forced by the people and was not the result of a military conspiracy.

The popular uprising was paralleled by representations from abroad, both diplomatic and others. The diplomatic representations made by several of the democratic states did not have a decisive influence on popular sentiment in Jugoslavia -- that had been hardening spontaneously over a long period -- but they certainly helped strengthen the hands of those who had determined to resist the Axis. The representations made by Greece, Turkey and Great Britain, and the comments received from the United States, were especially important.[viii] The resolutions adopted by various organizations of Jugoslav immigrants in the United States and the British Dominions also had an influence. Certain of the Jugoslav representatives abroad joined in recommending a positive line. In Moscow, Milan Gavrilovich resigned his post of minister in protest against the signing of the Pact. Constantin Fotitch, in Washington, and Ivan Subotitch, in London, were ready to follow him.


On March 27 came the coup d'état. It had been planned for some days. The story of just how it was executed need not detain us now. Suffice it to state that the replacement of the Regency by young King Peter II and the formation of a coalition cabinet were carried out without bloodshed and that these acts responded to the wishes of the vast majority of the Jugoslav people.

General Dushan Simovich executed the coup d'état and became the new Prime Minister. In 1938 he had been Chief of the General Staff and was appointed in November 1940 commander of the air force. Other members of the new cabinet included leading representatives of almost every significant political group. The second Vice-Premier, Professor Slobodan Jovanovich of the University of Belgrade, the outstanding social scientist in the country and President for some years of the Serbian Academy of Science, had been frequently consulted during the crisis and played an important rôle in the change. The new Minister of Foreign Affairs was Momchilo Ninchich, a member of the Radical Party, who had occupied that post frequently under the premiership of Nikola Pashich. The Radical and Democratic elements were represented also by Boridar Markovich, Misha Trifunovich and Milan Grol. Agrarian and Independent Democratic Party ministers came back into the new cabinet, reënforced by some new members.

For a time the position of the Croat members of the cabinet was problematical. Matchek was appointed First Vice-Premier, while other posts were given to four more members of the Croat Peasant Party. The presence of a number of their old political enemies undoubtedly made some of the Croats suspicious. But as a matter of fact Matchek actually made only two demands on General Simovich: reaffirmation of home rule for Croatia; and assurances that the Government would try by every means possible to avoid war with Germany. Satisfied on these points, Matchek and the other Croat members returned from Zagreb, where they had been in consultation with their followers, and participated in the historic cabinet session of April 4 when a definite stand was adopted as regards both internal and foreign matters. It was accepted that Serbo-Croat collaboration formed the very backbone of the Jugoslav state; and it was announced that though the new government had decided to do everything possible to maintain peace it was ready to take a firm stand if the country's independence and territorial integrity were threatened.

The Groat position on relations with Nazi Germany and the Tri-Power Pact nevertheless caused some confusion. Matchek was accused of being willing to see Jugoslavia enter the Axis, on practically any conditions, rather than go to war. This attitude did in fact prevail in some circles in Zagreb, as evidenced by two editorials published in the Hrvatski Dnevnik, Vice-Premier Matchek's own paper. One of these stated that the "will to cooperate" had been presented to Jugoslavia by the Axis in such a form that "not a single argument which would stand real and serious criticism could have been raised." The other, written immediately after Jugoslavia's adherence to the Tri-Power Pact, stated that "Croatian public opinion had been ready for such a solution for a long time."[ix] However, editorials in a similar vein had also appeared in the controlled Belgrade press all through the Cvetkovich régime.[x]

In comparison, the position of the Slovenes was simple. Liberal or Clerical, they gave firm support to the Serbian members of the cabinet who favored resistance to Germany. Fran Kulovec, leader of the Slovene Clericals in succession to Father Koroshec, remained in the new Simovich Government. Later he was killed in the first Nazi air raid on Belgrade.

The change of régime was welcomed in the non-Axis countries. In Great Britain, Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced it to the House of Commons as "great news." Greek enthusiasm was limitless. The United States Government hastened to recognize General Simovich and to send him messages of support and encouragement.

The reaction in the Axis countries naturally was the opposite. The German Government showed itself most hostile towards the new régime and the German press opened a campaign which waxed daily in vituperation. On March 28 the German Minister in Belgrade, Viktor von Heeren, made a d'émarche at the Foreign Office and received assurances from both General Simovich and Foreign Minister Ninchich that Jugoslavia would honor all her written obligations. To the correspondent of the New York Times, General Simovich said that "all public and open engagements undertaken in the past by Jugoslavia will be respected, and Germany, like all other nations, may expect that formal declarations of previous Jugoslav governments will be officially observed." [xi] It should be noted, however, that he made no mention of secret clauses providing for economic collaboration with Germany and giving German troops right of passage through Jugoslav territory. Since it was precisely these clauses that the Germans relied upon to facilitate their military drive against Greece, Herr von Heeren and Signor Giorgio Mamelli, the Italian Minister, made frequent visits in the next days to the Foreign Office in an effort to bring the Government around. General Simovich repeated the assurance of his intention to observe all the country's formal obligations. But that, of course, was not enough.

The situation grew worse hourly. Germany ordered her citizens out of the country and the departure of German diplomatic officers was known to be pending. Nevertheless, on April 1 the situation seemed more hopeful. Through Signor Mamelli came a suggestion that a delegation be sent to Rome to ask the Italian Government to act as mediator. Evidently Premier Mussolini saw that Jugoslavia's entry into the war would further endanger his precariously situated forces in Albania. Foreign Minister Ninchich and Vice-Premier Jovanovich were supposed to head the delegation to Rome. At the same time there came rumors about a possible visit by Matchek to Berlin.

Suddenly, presumably on Berlin's orders, Italy dropped the whole idea. The Jugoslav Government nevertheless continued trying to find some compromise that might maintain peace. On April 2 the Jugoslav Minister to Germany, Ivo Andrich, hurried back to Berlin carrying a note for Hitler stating that:

(1) Jugoslavia still hopes even at this hour to preserve her neutrality at all costs short of sacrifice of her independence and integrity. (2) Jugoslavia is willing, even eager, to coöperate with the Third Reich, placing her rail lines at Germany's disposal for transport of foodstuffs and raw materials, but the passage of war matériel and troops is out of the question. (3) Jugoslavia as always is willing to coöperate with Germany. (4) Jugoslavia never will declare war on Germany unless attacked, but will resist all unprovoked aggression. (5) Finally, Jugoslavia will respect all outstanding "public and open" engagements with all her neighbors and stands ready to discuss all problems with neighboring powers at all times.[xii]

To this note there never was any answer. The following account of what happened has been received from Belgrade: "The Government instructed their Minister in Berlin to come home at once in order to receive new instructions. He was told to seek contact with the German Foreign Minister and to offer any concessions compatible with national honor. He returned to Berlin immediately, and for the last five days preceding the German attack tried to see any official of the German Foreign Office to whom he could transmit the proposals of his government. The only man he finally did see was the chief of protocol, who handed him his passport."

A similar attempt was made in Belgrade. Mr. Arthur Bliss Lane, the American Minister there, has described how Foreign Minister Ninchich asked the German Minister to come to the Foreign Office, with a view to settling any differences which might exist as a result of the change of government. When the German Minister departed for Berlin the invitation was renewed to the Chargé d'Affaires. "Neither the Minister nor the Chargé," says Mr. Lane, "would accept the invitation." [xiii]

The Government made a last-minute effort to hold off Hitler by signing a treaty of non-aggression and friendship with the Soviet Union. The treaty was negotiated with Molotov by Milan Gavrilovich (who after the coup d'état had again become Jugoslav Minister in Moscow), aided by Colonel Simich, a Serbian political refugee who had performed many services for the Red Army and had enjoyed the special regard of Lenin. The idea that Soviet Russia really intended giving Jugoslavia concrete help, or that anything could make Germany pause, was vain. The mind of the Führer, we now know, had been made up on the very day when the Jugoslav régime changed. On May 4, addressing the Reichstag, Hitler said:

We were all stunned by the news of that coup, carried through by a handful of bribed conspirators who had brought about the event that caused the British Prime Minister to declare in joyous words that at last he had something good to report. You will surely understand, gentlemen, that when I heard this I at once gave orders to attack Jugoslavia. To treat the German Reich in this way is impossible.

The orders Hitler then gave were put into execution early on the morning of April 6. This time everything was clear. There was no Sarajevo, and the historians will be saved the effort of discussing the question of war guilt. The answer as to who willed the war with Jugoslavia had been given by Adolf Hitler himself.


The rapidity of the Nazi attack on Jugoslavia by land and air spread confusion and disrupted communications. Systematic information about the movement of troops is still entirely lacking. During the twelve days that the fighting lasted the reports received abroad came almost exclusively from German and Italian sources. The story of the invasion can therefore be written in detail only after the war is over. Plainly, however, the resistance of the Jugoslavs would have been stiffer had it not been for a number of unfortunate circumstances, both diplomatic and military.

The Stoyadinovich régime had refused British guarantees at the time they were given to Poland, Greece and Rumania. And in the hope that war could still be averted, the Jugoslav Government had hesitated until the invasion actually began to ask Great Britain formally for active military support. As a matter of fact, inquiries which were put privately to British representatives who came to Belgrade in the early months of 1941 indicated only too plainly that Britain had little help to spare and scant means of making even that little actually available on the spot.

But the major factor was the poor equipment of the army. General Simovich, speaking at London on June 27, 1941, explained how this came about:

As regards war preparedness, the Cvetkovich Government, in deference to Germany, refrained from taking necessary measures for the defense of the country. Moreover, the semi-mobilized forces that were concentrated in the South, more to appease public opinion and the anxiety of the nation than to create real defense, were ordered demobilized by the Cvetkovich Government. The anticipated grouping of our forces and the defense program of concentrating stronger forces on the northern and northwestern fronts did not correspond to the needs of the situation created by the German occupation of Bulgaria. The lack of a stronger strategic reserve made any adjustment of these dispositions impossible. The Government which I formed on March 27 hastened the mobilization, but Germany did not give us time to complete it or to bring about a concentration and the necessary regrouping of our troops. When the war began, the tremendous superiority of the enemy in the air and in his mechanized equipment was felt immediately. The Government at once requested help from the Allies. But the war was over so quickly that the Allies, no matter how willing they were, could not send their assistance in time. Germany, which attacked Jugoslavia almost immediately after the formation of the present Government, forced us to conduct the war exclusively with the means and under the conditions created by the previous Government, which had already sold the country to the enemy.

General Simovich estimated the German forces which took part in the attack on Jugoslavia at 33 divisions, six of them mechanized, besides some two thousand planes under the personal command of Marshal Göring. As the war developed, these forces were supplemented by the armies of Bulgaria and Hungary. Meanwhile the Italians attacked in Slovenia, South Serbia and along the Adriatic coast.

The real strength of the Jugoslav army is still doubtful. Theoretically, the country could mobilize some 1,500,000 men. Her standing army was 200,000. In practice, she could equip and feed only between 500,000 and 600,000. It might be fair to put the number mobilized and armed on the day of the German invasion at 400,000. But only a negligible part of these was able to take part in the decisive battle against Germany on the southern front. Simovich states that "from a total of 18 infantry divisions and 3 cavalry divisions which Jugoslavia had, only five infantry and one and a half cavalry divisions took part in the decisive battles. These divisions were aided by an active and fearless air force consisting of about 300 war planes."

The outcome of this uneven struggle was never in real doubt. Strategically improperly placed, not properly armed, not fully mobilized, Jugoslavia's forces stretched along a front of some 2,000 kilometers. A well-prepared and numerically far superior enemy came against them from three sides. First there was the systematic destruction of the principal centers (including Belgrade, which had been declared an open city) and communications. There followed the decisive strategic blow, the German attack from Bulgaria.

German mechanized forces had been heavily concentrated in southeastern Bulgaria. Most of them had earlier been located on the Bulgarian frontier facing Greece and Turkey, but had been withdrawn and sent to the Jugoslav border after the Simovich coup d'état. They attacked in three major directions: (a) through the Strumica Valley toward Salonika; (b) through the Pchinya Gap toward Skoplje; and (c) down the Nishava Valley toward Pirot and Nish. Of the three, the most important was the decisive blow at Strumica, which made possible the encirclement of Jugoslavia from the south and prepared the fate of the Greek and British forces in Thrace and Macedonia. Advancing rapidly, the German mechanized forces within a few days found themselves in control of the lifeline of Jugoslavia, the long valleys of the Morava and Vardar. Skoplje and Nish fell after a desperate struggle. The rest of the operations were of minor importance. In a short time the German units had joined hands with the Italian forces in central Albania. The encirclement of Jugoslavia was complete.

In reality, the Battle of Jugoslavia had occurred on March 1 when the German troops entered Bulgaria. But the outcome of the battle had been decided even earlier -- in November 1940, when the Cvetkovich Government refused to accept General Nedich's plan to drive the Italian forces out of Albania before the Germans could entrench themselves in Bulgaria.

From the very beginning the Jugoslav forces were unable to operate as a whole. Decisions were left to regional commanders, who coped with individual situations as best they could. In the highlands between the Bulgarian and the Albanian borders, and in sections of Northern Serbia, the Jugoslav troops fought with heroism and sacrifice and won individual battles. But these could not and did not affect the outcome.

When the battle had already been decided Hungarian troops came in from the north and Bulgarian troops from the south. They came in under cover of the Germans, and with German approval helped themselves to large portions of Jugoslav territory. Jugoslavia had treaties of non-aggression and friendship with these two neighboring states. This fact deterred them not at all.


Partition followed invasion and occupation. No other invaded country in Europe has become the spoil for so many aggressors, none other has been cut up into more pieces. The exact lines of the partition are in some cases still unknown. The Axis partners, big and little, still have not settled all their disputes and satisfied all their claims. In some districts, as in Bosnia for example, the forces of occupation seem to overlap. But in spite of the confusion and rivalries there is no real doubt as to who has real control everywhere in the country -- Germany.

Germany has formally annexed the northern half of Slovenia, namely the Jugoslav part of the old Austrian province of Styria and a section of Carniola. The rest of Slovenia has fallen to Italy. The demarcation line between Germany and Italy in Slovenia as first fixed ran from a point east of Kochevje (Gottschee) and northwest of Karlovac on the Croatian-Slovenian border up towards the eastern end of the Karawanken Mountains (see accompanying map). On July 9 a new agreement was signed between Germany and Italy moving the line further west, giving Germany additional territory north of the Sava River and in the region of Novo Mesto and Kochevje. Under this arrangement the Italo-German demarcation line in Slovenia runs from a point close to the Alpine town of Kranjska Gora, near the headwaters of the Sava River, thence southwest along the river (leaving the iron works of Jesenice to Germany), to a point northeast of Ljubljana. That city, the capital of Slovenia, remains under Italy. Thence the line turns southeast, heading toward the frontier of Croatia, but leaving Kochevje to the Germans. Italy's "loss" in Slovenia was compensated for by allowing her to cut deeper into Croat territory and to secure control of the Fiume railway.

In addition to the above, the Italians formally annexed Dalmatia and the territory around the Bay of Kotor, including all the Adriatic Islands with the exception of Pag, Brach and Hvar. The original agreement made between Count Ciano and the Croat Fascist leader, Pavelich, left the southern section of Dalmatia to the new Croat state, also a bit of the Coast north of Obrovac. But either Pavelic was not able to control these areas, which include the proud old town of Dubrovnik, or Italy decided there was no need for her to dissimulate her real intentions any longer. At any rate, Rome reported on August 23 that Pavelic had "asked" the Italians to take over the whole coast.

The Italians have also occupied the towns and valleys of Montenegro as far as the Albanian border. They wanted to expand toward old Serbia and Kosovo Polje, but here they were checked by the Germans, who decided to secure for themselves the important mines of Trepcha. After several months of futile attempts to make Montenegro into another province like Albania, Italy finally succeeded in forming a "National Assembly" which on July 12 proclaimed the "independence" of Montenegro in the capital town of Cetinje. But Mussolini failed to persuade a junior member of the old Montenegrin royal family to head the new state, and the "principality" so far remains without a princeling.

The Hungarians, meanwhile, have occupied the northern section of Jugoslavia, known often as the Vojvodina, specifically the provinces of Bachka and Baranja, including the two large centers of Novi Sad and Subotica. The situation in the Banat, which is under direct German occupation, is still not clear. The Rumanians have refused to play the rôle of Hungary, and have not picked up any Jugoslav crumbs after the German and Italian debauch. The Bulgarians, however, have taken South Serbia (Jugoslav Macedonia), and have also occupied part of eastern Serbia beyond the upper Morava River. A definite line has not yet been established, but the approximate northern limit of Bulgarian occupation seems to run along a line drawn from a point northeast of Pirot and ending near Tetovo, close to the Albanian border. Nish remains in the German-held territory, but Skoplje falls into Bulgarian hands.

Serbia proper is under the direct rule of a German military governor with his seat in Belgrade. German forces of occupation of course are present in other sections of the Jugoslav territory also -- in "free" Croatia proper, in the Croat-annexed provinces of Bosnia, Herzegovina and Srem, and in the lands which Hungary and Bulgaria have been permitted to seize.

A word more must be said about "free" Croatia. For more than a decade Ante Pavelich, a former Croat deputy in the Belgrade parliament, has been active abroad. First he made contacts with the Macedonian revolutionary movement in Bulgaria, but turned then to more lucrative fields of action in Hungary and Italy, organizing subversive activities there against the Jugoslav state. It was he who formed the terrorist organization called Ustashi, composed of left-over functionaries and officers from the old Austrian régime, revolutionaries of various sorts, and adherents of the Fascist group known under the name Frankovtsi. And it was his organization that planned and executed the murder of King Alexander. As General Simovich pointed out: "The meetings between Ciano, Mussolini and Pavelich in January and May 1940 are the best proof that Italy, the most intimate collaborator and ally of Germany, schemed the destruction of Jugoslavia even at a time when her relations with us were officially good. At these meetings the dismemberment of Jugoslavia and the creation of an independent state of Croatia were decided."

When the "independence" of Croatia was proclaimed on April 10, Pavelich had not yet arrived in Zagreb. The engineers on the spot were Slavko Kvaternik and Mile Budak. Kvaternik, a former Austrian army officer, represented the pro-Nazi wing in the Ustashi movement. Pavelich arrived in Zagreb on April 14 and took immediate control of affairs into his hands. Whatever rivalry exists or existed between the pro-Nazi elements of Kvaternik and the pro-Fascist elements of Pavelich thus ended in a relative Italian victory. Pavelich became poglavnik (leader) and Prime Minister, and Kvaternik became Minister of War. Other members of the "cabinet" included old Ustashi such as Andrew Artukovich, Minister of the Interior, and Ivan Lorkovich, Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The rank and file of the Croat Peasant Party refused to join the new régime, and so did its real chiefs. Matchek is believed to have retired to his estate near Zagreb, although the circumstances of this move and later events are still uncertain. Some reports say he has been deported to Germany. August Koshutich, Secretary of the Party, is in jail, and so are many leading Croat democrats and liberals. Some of Matchek's most important collaborators succeeded in leaving the country and joined the Jugoslav Government-in-exile, among them Juraj Krnjevich, at present Vice-Premier of the Jugoslav Government, Ivan Subashich, former Ban of Croatia, and several others.

On May 18 a Croat delegation headed by Pavelich was received in Rome. "Free" Croatia joined Mussolini's Impero Romano, in the rank of Albania, and received an Italian prince, the Duke of Spoleto, as King. The long effort of conspiracy and murder had reached temporary success. Seven years after the assassination of King Alexander of Jugoslavia, Pavelich found himself poglavnik of Croatia, under an Italian king, and with German and Italian troops in occupation of the land.

What of the future? This will depend on three main factors: the general outcome of the war; the abilities of the leaders who carry on the struggle outside the country; and the steadfastness of the conquered population in continuing spiritual and physical resistance. In the last war when the Serbian armies were finally defeated most of the political and intellectual leaders of the country were able to go abroad and continue working and planning for the day when they should be free again. This time only a handful of government officials was able to accompany the young King into exile. But the legal entity of Jugoslavia is being continued by her lawful King and Government, with their seat in London. That Government is recognized by the British, American and other Governments, and in the war which is being fought it is the ally of Great Britain and her allies.

Most important of all is the will of the conquered population to resist the conqueror. Daily reports of fierce uprisings and brutal repressions show that their spirit is not broken. The armed forces of Jugoslavia never surrendered completely. Thousands of soldiers, operating as guerrillas in the mountains of Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Herzegovina, are a symbol that the struggle goes on. Jugoslavia is the first of the conquered countries of Europe where armed revolts have been successfully organized against the oppressor on an important scale. She is beaten but she is not broken. She will live again.

[i] For details and implications of the Marseilles assassination see Hamilton Fish Armstrong, "After the Assassination of King Alexander," FOREIGN AFFAIRS, January 1935.

[ii]Cf. Lazare Marcovitch, "La Politique Extérieure de la Yougoslavie," Paris, 1935.

[iii] Reynaud delivered an address on French-Jugoslav friendship, in Stojadinovich's presence, in the Kolarac auditorium. Delbos had a cold reception from the Jugoslav Government, though the people of Belgrade showed almost riotous enthusiasm on the day of his arrival.

[iv] Hungary demanded sections of the Jugoslav provinces of Bachka and Baranja. Through the efforts of Count Teleki it was found possible to postpone territorial questions between the two countries, and a Jugoslav-Hungarian treaty of "constant peace and perpetual friendship" was signed. The Bulgarians claimed the districts of Caribrod, Bosiljgrad and Strumica, lost in 1918. For details about minorities in Jugoslavia cf. C. A. Macartney, "National States and National Minorities," Oxford University Press, London, 1934; also J. Chmelar, "National Minorities in Central Europe," Prague, Orbis, 1937.

[v] In northern Albania, Jugoslavia was to be given the sector between the Drin River and the Jugoslav border; in Greece, an outlet to the Aegean Sea and possibly the port of Salonika.

[vi] For events in these and subsequent days see contemporary dispatches to the New York Times.

[vii]New York Times, March 26, 1941.

[viii] On May 24, the British Government through the Minister in Belgrade, Mr. Ronald Ian Campbell, handed a note to the Cvetkovich Government declaring that it was "shocked to learn that Jugoslavia now suddenly contemplated the signature of an agreement by which she not only abandoned her neutral attitude, but apparently entered the very system of Great Britain's enemies." (London Times, March 27, 1941.)

[ix]Hrvatski Dnevnik, March 25 and March 26, 1941.

[x]Cf., for example, Politika, March 8, 1941.

[xi]New York Times, March 29.

[xii]New York Times, April 3, 1941.

[xiii] Address at Libertyville, Ill., July 4, 1941.

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  • NICHOLAS MIRKOVICH, formerly member of the Law Faculty of the University of Belgrade and assistant editor of the Jugoslav Economist; author of several publications on economics and sociology
  • More By Nicholas Mirkovich