Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Forgotten 500: The Story of the Halyard Mission Heroes

The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War Two

By Gregory A. Freeman

Publisher: New American Library, 2007. New York.

Review by Aleksandra Rebic

When I asked author Gregory Freeman what drew him to the story of ‘Operation Halyard’, he didn’t hesitate:

My interests as an author usually lead me to stories of heroism and sacrifice that went unrecognized for too long, and the story of Operation Halyard fits the bill perfectly. I was drawn to the idea that not only was this an amazing tale of intrigue and bravery, but it had been purposefully hidden from the American people for decades. A dramatic story is one thing; a dramatic story that has been kept secret is even more intriguing.

The story of Operation Halyard is one of the last great stories of World War II and it is high time that the American people learn about the heroic sacrifice of Draza Mihailovich and the Serbian people

There are men who fight for their country who are truly a personification of dedication, determination, courage and heroism. Some of them we come to know, and their names are immortalized in our historical consciousness. There are others who most people never hear of and their deeds never become legend, though they deserve to be known and remembered and permanently included in the historical record. The Forgotten 500 by author Gregory Freeman is a new and important book that not only introduces the public to such men, but explains why they and their rescuers deserve a prominent place in history. This book is a celebration of human fortitude and integrity and is so much more than just another book about World War Two.

‘Heroes’ has become an all too common term in this day and age, to the point that heroism has become trivialized. Gregory Freeman reminds us what true heroism is really all about, the kind of heroism that can, and should, leave us in awe. He doesn’t just tell us, he shows us. That would have been enough to make this a valuable book in any library, but Freeman strove for more and has accomplished it. He was bothered by the fact that these heroic acts that he had discovered had not only been virtually ignored, but were actually deliberately suppressed as if they never happened. His research led him to painful discoveries that he could not help but include in this story of heroism, and the light that he sheds on the dark side of ‘Operation Halyard’ makes The Forgotten 500 not only a valuable book, but an essential one. Just as he reminds us of the great things that men in the worst situations are capable of, he also exposes the lengths taken to cover up acts that should have been widely heralded as triumphant examples of the human spirit but instead were sacrificed to the manipulations of political expediency. We owe both the dead and the living to move, once and for all, ‘Operation Halyard’, possibly the greatest rescue of American lives from behind enemy lines in the history of warfare, from being a mere footnote in history to being a shining example of what men of integrity are capable of. Mr. Freeman, with The Forgotten 500, is paying the long overdue debt.

During the second half of World War Two, hundreds of American airmen were sent on dangerous missions over Europe during which their job was to cripple the oil production that was feeding the Nazi war machine. Freeman describes in vivid detail the nature of these missions and by tapping the memories and experiences of the airmen and faithfully capturing them on the pages of The Forgotten 500 he paints a graphic picture of what was endured by these patriots who did their job and followed their orders regardless of the retaliation that was sure to follow. These missions would cost many of their lives. Those who survived the Nazi retaliations had to bail out of their planes over foreign territory in order to get a shot at survival and they did so, not knowing what their fate would be. Their desperation landed them in the hills of Yugoslavia, mainly in Serbia, enemy occupied territory that was, luckily for them, also the land of General Draza Mihailovich, his Chetnik forces, and the peasants who were loyal to them. When they landed in the hills and forests of Serbia, the airmen were now among freedom fighters, loyal above all else, to the democratic Allies, though they did not know it as they fell. Among the hundreds who fell, most were Americans.

Once on the ground these men were soon found by the Serbian peasantry and it was these strangers who spoke a foreign language on foreign soil who would shield them, soothe their wounds, feed them, house them, and protect them, even at the sacrifice of all that they owned and even their lives. The fallen airmen would soon learn that their benefactors were acting on the orders of General Draza Mihailovich, the Serbian hero, who in the beginning darkest moments of the war, had been heralded as being a legendary warrior for the whole free world, but who, in recent times, had been abandoned by the very democracies to whom he had been so loyal. Though he had been abandoned and left to the wolves, both the Yugoslav communists who were bent on destroying him and everything his organization stood for, and the Germans who continued to view him as their primary enemy in Yugoslavia, Mihailovich, upon learning of the fallen airmen, gave out the order to do whatever necessary to protect them, heal them, and in the ensuing months, evacuate them to safety regardless of the cost to himself. This man, whom the airmen had been told to avoid, would end up being the man who would save them. In cooperation with American OSS personnel, whose struggles and ultimate triumphs are faithfully recorded by Freeman as ‘Operation Halyard’ came to fruition over the course of 1944, General Mihailovich and his forces would prove just how profound ‘doing the right thing no matter what’ is.

Though this story has been competently tackled by other historians and authors genuinely interested in doing justice to the events of 1944 in enemy occupied Serbia, this story has never been appropriately publicized in the western world because it has not been “politically correct” to do so. It has remained a taboo theme in many political and publishing circles which has dismayed and frustrated so many of the veterans of ‘Operation Halyard’, both the rescued and their rescuers, for decades. Many spent the duration of their postwar years striving to right this wrong. Many have since passed away without ever experiencing the contentment of seeing justice done and a debt repaid. Mr. Freeman and his publishers, with The Forgotten 500, may well be the catalyst for finally changing all of this. When one becomes familiar with the obstacles that have been pervasive in getting this story told over the last six decades, one cannot help but appreciate the courage and the fortitude that it took to produce and publish this book. As much as I admire Freeman’s talent for telling a great true story as it deserves to be told and for his attention to detail that makes this story come alive on the pages, I admire his publishers even more. Instead of dismissing this story, they have chosen to bring it out in the light, thus vindicating all of those both on this side of the world and on the other who lived this story.

The heroic details of the bombing missions and the subsequent bailouts over enemy occupied territory and the great rescue evacuations that followed in 1944 are the “easy part” of this story. Author Freeman didn’t settle for the easy part. In The Forgotten 500 he delves into the more complicated tangential issues that cannot be ignored in the telling of the story of the Halyard Mission.

A primary such issue is that in the name of political expediency, enforced by both the Yugoslav postwar regime and the British, the Americans stayed silent about this chapter of the great heroism of their own sons and the selfless sacrifices of their rescuers. Not only did they stay silent, they kept it silent. Classified.

Another difficult issue that Freeman addresses is the abandonment of General Mihailovich by the Western Allies to whom he had been so loyal. British spies and traitors, such as James Klugmann, had a role in the story that was pivotal, even though he was not directly involved in ‘Operation Halyard’. It takes an astute researcher to piece together the relevant collateral elements of the ‘Halyard’ story that make the deeds of the rescuers all the more extraordinary. Freeman clearly did his research in piecing together the often convoluted chain of events that led to the Allied abandonment of Mihailovich. For that, any serious student of World War Two history should be grateful.

Freeman writes:

Not until 1997 would the world understand that the switch of allegiance was orchestrated largely by a Soviet operative who convinced the British that Mihailovich could not be trusted… Communist moles had infiltrated both the OSS and the SOE, working to besmirch the name of Mihailovich to promote the postwar Communization of Yugoslavia under Tito…Klugmann, who was closely associated with the infamous British traitors known as the Cambridge Five,…was principally responsible for sabotaging the Mihailovich supply operation and for keeping from London information about how much Mihailovich forces were fighting the Germans and how much success they were having.”

James Klugmann, a devout communist and ultimately a traitor to his country of Great Britain, is among the many collateral players in the Mihailovich story and Freeman doesn’t shy away from exposing his role in influencing the misguided British policy that would have tragic consequences for General Mihailovich and ultimately the fate of Serbia itself.

Freeman writes:

The recently declassified files reveal that, for instance, Klugmann had great influence over Colonel Sir William Deakin, the senior intelligence officer in Yugoslavia…

It was Deakin who was mainly responsible for convincing Churchill to switch sides from Mihailovich to Tito. In this endeavor he was greatly supported by Fitzroy Maclean, who became the chief of the British mission at Tito’s headquarters. Freeman explains who these people were and just how strongly they influenced the disastrous British policy in Yugoslavia during the war. The author could have determined that this was all material for another separate story, but he chose to include it in this one, The Forgotten 500, because he understood from the very beginning that there was more to ‘Operation Halyard’ than met the eye. He competently weaves politics and the story on the ground together in such a way as to give the reader the big picture. Freeman, unlike many historians, is able to see the forest, not just the trees.

He understood, too, the significance of Mihailovich’s integrity in rising above and beyond the betrayal perpetrated upon him and his people.

Klugmann and his fellow traitors may have been driving the efforts to defeat Mihailovich from abroad, but there were many more British officials who unwittingly helped them along the way…Meanwhile, Mihailovich and the peasants in the hillsides who were loyal to him watched over the downed American boys with a stoic determination. Their abandonment by the Allies would not cause them to abandon these young men who were helping them to fight back the Nazis.”

In the summer of 1944, because of destructive but successful British political manipulations, it was no longer ‘politically correct’ for the Allies, including the Americans who deferred to the British in policy relating to the Balkan sphere, to deal with Mihailovich in any way. Yet, there were now hundreds of downed Allied fliers, most of them Americans, who were being protected by Mihailovich and his men and had to be evacuated. This presented quite a political dilemma. Thanks to the efforts of American officers such as George Vujnovich and George Musulin, an ACRU organization (Air Crew Rescue Unit) was created and it was decided to send Musulin to the hills of Serbia, accompanied by Mike Rajachich and OSS radio operator Arthur Jubilian, to run the evacuation operation that would come to be known as the ‘Halyard Mission’.

It was going to be a rescue attempt unlike any ever attempted by the OSS or anyone else, and indeed that’s exactly what it turned out to be. Over the course of several months in 1944, hundreds of Allied airmen would be evacuated and not one would be sacrificed. All, without exception, would make it back to their homes and their families alive. Not one American would be turned over to the Nazis, even though the Germans were offering substantial rewards to the local natives to give them up. Though the Allies had turned their back on General Mihailovich, he refused to turn his back on them.

Gregory Freeman describes the evacuations in vivid detail and with the due well-deserved respect that is appropriate given the magnitude of the obstacles that were faced, both politically and on the ground, to make Halyard a success. The reader is put in the middle of it all as an observer and the reader cannot help but wonder how it was possible to keep such a magnificent true story in the darkness for so long.

The reader will also be struck by the irony of the concentrated attempts that were made by Allied officials to sabotage this rescue operation, a rescue operation that was intended to save the lives of their own boys. In The Forgotten 500 Gregory Freeman makes sure that the irony is not lost on the reader.

Freeman writes:

Musulin, Rajacich, and Jibilian soon realized that the British were not just unenthusiastic about the mission. They were actively sabotaging it, or at least that’s how it appeared to the American team.

The outright hostility of the British was made evident on the next attempt to jump into Pranjane, a few days later. Musulin learned that on the first attempt, when there were no ground signals, the problem actually was that the pilot had flown to the wrong coordinates. They were in the wrong place, so that explained why there was no welcoming party. Knowing that, Musulin wanted to double-check the coordinates soon after they took off on their third attempt to go rescue the airmen. He went forward and asked the pilot to confirm their destination. The pilot read out the coordinates he intended to take the men to and, as soon as he checked the spot on his own map, Musulin exploded in anger.

‘That’s Partisan territory!’ he yelled. ‘Where the hell did you get those coordinates?

The pilot, visibly intimidated by the large and very angry American, explained that he had been briefed on the mission by his British superior and he was just following orders…”

The mission was aborted. Then Freeman writes:

“The three Americans were astounded that British had so completely fouled up their efforts to get into Pranjane, but they still had a hard time believing that their tea-sipping allies were actually trying to sabotage Operation Halyard…”

They didn’t give up, however, and eventually, everything was in place, despite the obstacles, and the series of evacuations would proceed. Success, pure and complete, was achieved.

Freeman doesn’t just capture the events of ‘Operation Halyard’, he is able to capture the essence of General Mihailovich as well. He describes the impression that Mihailovich left on the Americans, such as on OSS radioman Arthur Jibilian:

Like every other American who met Mihailovich personally, however, Jubilian was taken by the way a man of such simplicity could at the same time give such an impression of grandeur. Jibilian and the other Allied soldiers were most impressed by Mihailovich’s sense of dignity in the face of extreme hardship and insurmountable odds and the humble way he received accolades from his followers, consistently coming away with the same unshakable impression that they were standing in the presence of greatness.”

The drama of ‘Operation Halyard’ would end in December of 1944, and due to the perseverance of men with the names of Vujnovich, Musulin, Petrovich, Rajachich, Lalich, Jibilian and others, it would end as a virtually perfect success story in the face of almost insurmountable odds. Every downed airman survived. General Mihailovich, however, would not share their fate. His life would come to an end a year and half later, when he was executed by the Yugoslav communists. The airmen whom he had saved were left to their tears, devastated by the news, and many would dedicate the rest of their years to vindicating Mihailovich, his Serbian people, and to seeking justice for the man to whom they felt they owed their very lives. Many in the Allied world who were following the capture, trial, and execution of Mihailovich, were left to wonder “how it could have been allowed to happen.” Gregory Freeman’s The Forgotten 500 goes a long way in shedding light on “how could this have been allowed to happen.”

Freeman does not accept the fact that “it was allowed to happen.” With the publication of The Forgotten 500 he is doing his part to make things right. Given the truths contained in this book, I wondered who Gregory Freeman was. He accommodated my curiosity with the following response:

As you probably know already, I am not of Serbian descent and have no personal connection to this story at all. Instead, I was drawn to the opportunity to bring some measure of justice to a hero and local Serbs who risked their lives for my country and who ultimately were betrayed by history. I wrote this book because that wrong should be made right, not just for Mihailovich and the Serbian community, but for the American public as well. After all, we can't say "thank you" if we don't know what they did.”

I highly recommend The Forgotten 500, not just to my American and Serbian friends, but to anyone interested in historical accounts that are not tarnished with propaganda, lies, and political correctness. I also recommend this book to anyone who is inspired by a great story about great people who did great things. Those of us who know the “Halyard” story and its significance will smile with satisfaction. We should, indeed, be pleased. It’s about time.

Aleksandra Rebic

Note: To learn more about The Forgotten 500 and author Gregory Freeman, please visit

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A Monument to a Giant from Serbian History: Voyvoda Momchilo R. Djujich

Voyvoda Djujich monument
at St. Sava Monastery in Libertyville, IL U.S.A.
Photo by Aleksandra Rebic, June 22, 2007


Voyvoda Momchilo R. Djujich is immortalized

Voyvoda Momchilo R. Djujich is now there permanently beside his commander General Draza Mihailovich, along with Voyvoda Pavle Djurisic, all facing east toward the far away Serbian lands where their legacies were forged over 60 years ago in the battles that proved their measure as men. All three were leaders of a cause that remains alive in the hearts of those who came to pay tribute on May 20, 2007 at the St. Sava Monastery in Libertyville, IL. Many of their fighters are buried here on the lovely grounds of this beautiful Serbian Orthodox Monastery, and the many who came on that Sunday were reminded of their sacrifice and their courage, now immortalized for always.

Photo of St. Sava Monastery in Libertyville, IL
by Aleksandra Rebic, June 22, 2007

People of all ages came from America, Canada, England, Germany and Australia for the blessing of the newest monument on the St. Sava grounds, as well as the blessing of the new memorial park dedicated to the legacy of the three men. The over 700 visitors included members of the Djujich and Djurisic families and old veterans who had fought under these men. Though previous commitments kept me from being there in person I was there in spirit, for the cause represented by these three men has always resonated very personally with me, from the time I was a child first learning about Draza Mihailovich and the Chetniks. My father Rade Rebic, who knew Voyvoda Djujich personally and had the honor of working closely with him in America as a respected confidant, did attend the dedication. I know that for the brief period of time my father was on the memorial grounds, Voyvoda came back to life for him, and the memories came flooding back.

Photos of Memorial Park at St. Sava Monastery
by Aleksandra Rebic, June 22, 2007

This monument means a lot, not just to those that were there that day, but for the future generations who will visit and ask about these men whose images are now permanently preserved. The monument is a direct reflection of the efforts of the Chetniks to preserve the true legacy of a nation they loved and worked so hard to keep free from the tyranny of those who sought to destroy it. The Chetniks remained faithful to their cause, and though many were forced to leave their beloved homeland and make their lives elsewhere after the war, their hearts remained in the Serbian lands through all these years. Voyvoda Djujich never returned to his homeland, but he dedicated his life’s work after the war to honor the beloved land for which he had fought so faithfully and so courageously.

Djujich remained faithful to the last day of his life and stayed consistent in his belief that Serbia must return to her democratic soul no matter which way the political winds turned or which enemy was determined to crush her spirit. I’ve met many people throughout the course of my life, but very few who exemplify the dedication and the determination that Voyvoda Djujich did. I met the man only once, in Indiana in the early 1990s, at the celebration of “Drazin Dan”. I had my photos of the first Serbian parade that had taken place in Chicago in the summer of 1992. I had designed a float dedicated to Draza and his Chetniks and took my photos of the parade with me that day to show Voyvoda. I remember so vividly walking into the room where he was sitting and though there were other people in that room only one drew everyone’s attention. There are very few people on this earth who have that special quality that is indefinable – one knows that they are in the presence of such a person when the whole aura in the room changes when they leave or enter the room. Though not easily intimidated by people or overwhelmed by their presence, I found it impossible not to feel humbled in the presence of Voyvoda Djujich. I was in the presence of a living legend and felt it in my bones. He was cordial and took the photos to look at them, going one by one. When he came to the one of my father sitting on my Chetnik float he looked at it for a long time then asked if he could keep that one. Of course, I replied. Inside I felt so proud that of all the photos of the parade I had shown him, the one that struck him - the only one Voyvoda wanted to keep - was the one with my father in it.

I don’t remember all that we spoke about that day. I wish I did. I wish I had filmed it. I wish I had more pictures. But I remember his face. And I remember most his presence and easily understand why his people remained loyal to him. This was a true hero, and though I would never see him in person again, we kept in touch via postal mail. He was always very kind and supportive of every effort that my father and I were involved in, fighting for the Serbian cause here in the United States during the hardships of the 1990s when Serbia’s survival and legacy were once again under attack.

Photo of Voyvoda Djujich monument at St. Sava Monastery
Memorial Park in Libertyville, IL
by Aleksandra Rebic June 22, 2007

When he passed away on September 11th of 1999 at the age of 92, I felt like I had lost a mentor. I can’t even imagine what those who had fought with him and worked with him felt. He had been a lifeline to the old days and a beacon of light through all the years afterwards, for he remained a constant living reminder of the promise of heroism and dedication to a cause worth fighting for.

Voyvoda Djujich was an exceptional visionary. He understood early on in World War II how important it was to fight for the survival and freedom of the Serbian nation. No Nazis, Ustashe, Yugoslav communists, or later NATO forces were able  to crush that resolve or destroy the legacy established by Voyvoda and his men and their supporters as they fought, both during the war and all the years afterwards, to cherish and preserve Serbdom.

Photo of Voyvoda Djujich monument
in Memorial Park at St. Sava Monastery
Libertyville, IL
by Aleksandra Rebic June 22, 2007

The three men whose monuments now stand together at St. Sava Monastery represent perhaps better than anyone else the unity that Serbs have striven for in their struggles. The Serbs of Serbia, the Serbs of western Krajina in the lands of Kordun, Banija, Gorski Kotar, Lika, Dalmatia, the Serbs of Bosnia and Hercegovina and the Serbs of Montenegro all fought under these men as brothers with the same goal. They are and will remain a reminder of how important and vital unity and fighting together for the common goal is, especially when facing enemies who seek to divide and conquer.

These monuments, erected on Serbian hallowed ground far from those lands, unite the Diaspora with those lands in a bond that cannot be broken by distance or time. That sense of unity, dedication and purpose will be forever preserved here where Christian Serbs come from near and far to share their faith and rededicate themselves to the cause for which these three men fought.

Voyvoda Djujich and Voyvoda Pavle Djurisic stood by General Draza Mihailovich during some of the darkest moments in Serbian history. They never wavered. Now, all three are together and here they will stay forever. Leaders come and go, events change history, and causes are born and causes die. Some are abandoned while others prevail and rise above the circumstances that challenge their successful completion. Here at St. Sava Monastery in America, thousands of miles from their homeland, three giants of Serbian history stand together to inspire future Serbian generations to fight for a cause that must never be abandoned and to remind them that their greatest strength lies in their unity under the flag of a united Serbian nation.

Memorial Park St. Sava Monastery
Libertyville, IL
Photo by Aleksandra Rebic June 22, 2007

I’m proud to have known this man, Voyvoda Djujich. I still have his letters. I’m even more proud of the fact that he held my father in such high regard and that the two of them worked together on important things that were worth working for then and are worth working for now and forevermore. Voyvoda would have been 100 years old in 2007 and 100 years from now he and his legacy will still be remembered and honored.

Thank you to those that made this monument a reality and who have given this gift to all of us and all those who will enjoy and be inspired by it in the future. Voyvoda will be pleased.

Vovyvoda Momchilo Djujich
Memorial Park
St. Sava Monastery
Libertyville, IL U.S.A.
Photo by Aleksandra Rebic June 22, 2007

Aleksandra Rebic
Chicago, IL U.S.A.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Nazi Reprisal Policy in Serbia Shamelessly Exploited by the Yugoslav Communists

By Aleksandra Rebic

On September 6, 1941, following the successful attacks by Mihailovich forces against the Germans in Western Serbia, Adolph Hitler issued the decree that for every German killed, 100 Serbian hostages would be shot. For every German wounded, 50 Serbs would be shot. This decree would be posted throughout Belgrade, Serbia on September 13, 1941. The Germans were not kidding.

General Boehme, the German Commanding General of the occupation forces in Serbia from September 16 to December 2 of 1941, issued three orders to supplement Hitler’s decree. These orders were dated September 25, October 14, and November 10 of 1941. “Order to the German Army in Serbia” was the first of Boehme’s orders, and it was unequivocal in its lack of mercy:

“As a result of the Serbian rebellion, hundreds of German soldiers have been killed. Our losses will be enormous unless we crush the rebellion without mercy.

Your task always is to be in total control in every village in this country in which German blood was shed also in 1914.

The heavy hand of our retribution must be felt by the entire population of Serbia. Those who show them pity, thereby, deny pity to their own. Any such person will be court martialed, whoever he may be.”

Thousands of Mihailovich’s followers would pay with their lives in the German reprisals that followed each successful action against the Nazi forces in Serbia by the Chetnik forces. Posters listing the names of the executed were put on display throughout Belgrade. Tito’s Serbian followers were also included as targets of the reprisals, however there were two primary differences in sacrifice. Tito’s followers were highly mobile, while those civilians that followed Mihailovich tended to be tied closely to their homes and families.
[2] The second, and most significant difference, was that when it came to reprisals against the Serbian civilian population, Tito did not care. He was more than willing to sacrifice Serbian lives, while General Draza Mihailovich did care, so much so, that it would greatly affect how he would conduct his resistance actions against the Nazi enemy in the future. This concern would end up being used against him by the communists.

Still, General Mihailovich and his forces would continue the resistance against the Germans. General Bader, who succeeded General Boehme as the Commander of the German Army in Serbia, would publish his own proclamation on January 29, 1943:

“A band of outlaws, led by the former Colonel Draza Mihailovich, goes on fighting. These outlaws misrepresent themselves as the regular Yugoslav army with the intention of continuing the war which was lawfully ended by authorized officials a long time ago.”

General Bader was referring to the quick capitulation of the official Yugoslav Army in April of 1941 when the Germans attacked Yugoslavia, successfully occupying the country, and the subsequent Nedich administration established in Serbia. General Mihailovich did not surrender, but took his people into the hills to mount the first successful resistance to the Nazis in all of occupied Europe through the guerrilla warfare made legendary by the Chetniks in previous wars.

Bader, like Boehme, like Hitler, was merciless. One of the methods used by the Germans to punish Mihailovich’s “outlaws” was to imprison their families and close relatives.

General Mihailovich addressed the atrocities being committed by the German army, addressing the German commander, directly:

“It is now a year and a half since I began a life and death battle to rid the country of occupation forces. Our fighting spirit is based on our traditional love of freedom and unshakable faith in the victory of our allies…For every German soldier killed or missing in action, you are executing a hundred innocent Serbian victims. I warn you of the impending judgment for your misdeeds. I will subject German soldiers to the same treatment unless you suspend your bestial reprisals.”

General Mihailovich’s response to the German reprisals, though made in Lipovo, reached Hitler. Hitler took Mihailovich seriously for he was well aware of the damage the Chetniks had done and could do in sabotaging his plans. On February 16, 1943, just days after Mihailovich’s declaration, Hitler wrote to his colleague in the fascist cause, Mussolini, whose Italian forces had occupied western Yugoslavia:

“In addition to the current operations against the communists I see, Duce, I perceive a particular long term danger in the plans of Mihailovich’s followers to destroy or disarm your own forces in Hercegovina and Montenegro [Yugoslavia]…Being conscious of the danger posed by Mihailovich’s movement, I ordered my forces to destroy all his detachments in the occupied territory. I would consider it desirable for your Second Army similarly to treat Mihailovich and his officers as sworn enemies of the Axis.

''I ask you, Duce, to instruct your military commanders accordingly. It goes without saying that the liquidation of Mihailovich’s detachments will not be a simple task, considering the forces at his disposal…The territories occupied by these bands should be cordoned off carefully and resistance should be stifled by starvation and interdiction of supplies. The remnants of those forces will then be destroyed definitively in a concentric attack.”

Hitler’s Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop delivered Hitler’s message to Mussolini in Rome and the Duce replied on March 13, 1943, agreeing with the German appraisal:

“Minister von Ribbentrop has surely informed you, Fuehrer, about the conversations we had concerning the Partisans and the Chetniks. We totally agree that the Partisans and the Chetniks are equally hostile to the Axis and that in case of an Allied landing they will assist the invasion forces to our grave detriment. Although the Partisan radio treats Mihailovich as a traitor, he is therefore no less an enemy of ours…”

As it would turn out, Mussolini’s appraisal of Partisan hostility toward the Axis gave too much credit to Tito’s communists, who would become far more hostile toward the Chetniks than they ever were toward the Germans.

The reprisal policy of the Germans against Serbian civilians would come to haunt even their own generals. After the war, testifying before the Yugoslav communist court in November 1947, General Meisner, another German commander in Serbia, perhaps in an attempt to cleanse his soul, regretted how the orders from Berlin were expedited. His testimony before the communist court would include condemnation of the extent to which the German reprisal policy was shamelessly exploited by the Yugoslav communists and its consequence:

“The seeds of tragedy were sown by the communists who would descend from the mountains into the towns and villages of Serbia, ambush some German officer, and then again disappear in the mountains, lacking courage to join in battle with German troops and to accept the consequences of their raids. As soon as German troops would appear in the area, they would sneak back into the forest leaving the defenseless people behind to pay the price for their acts.”

This German appraisal came sixteen months after General Mihailovich had been executed, not by German hands but by Yugoslav hands, the very same that had exploited the German reprisal policy against their own brothers and sisters in Yugoslavia.

A tragic fratricidal war developed in Yugoslavia shortly after the Axis occupied the country. This fratricidal war would ultimately prove to be far more destructive in its consequences for the future of that country and its people than the occupation itself. Long after Hitler and his people were gone, Tito and his people, those that would come to power following the exit of the Nazis, would do more damage than the Germans had ever done in Yugoslavia.

Innocent Serbian civilians, said General Meisner, paid the price for communist exploitations. General Mihailovich, too, paid with his life, and ironically it was the Germans who provided the most honest testament to his dedication to the fight for freedom in Yugoslavia.

Who knows how things would have gone in Yugoslavia during World War II had the German reprisal policy not been a factor. General Mihailovich certainly considered it a primary factor in planning his actions against the enemy. His policy was simple: Consider the benefit and effectiveness of the action against the enemy in proportion to the human cost it would entail against your own people. Mihailovich would wage his resistance accordingly. Tito’s policy, too, was simple, brutally simple: He did not care about human cost.

The Germans understood this. As history would prove, the British did not, and their lack of understanding and appreciation for this very simple fact about Tito would effectively enable him to fulfill his agenda and rise to power with the help and support of the very Allies whom he disdained.

Aleksandra Rebic
0ctober 31, 2006

[1] Danau Zeitung, German newspaper.
[2] Vukcevic, Dr. Radoje. General Mihailovich The Trial and Great Injustice, “Njegos”, Chicago, IL 1984.