Review: Shadows on the Mountain: The Allies, the Resistance, and the Rivalries that Doomed World War II Yugoslavia by Marcia Christoff Kurapovna. Hoboken, New Jersey: John A. Wiley and Sons, 2009. 336 pages with black and white photographs and a UN map.
Four out of five stars. ****
Shadows on the Mountain by Marcia Christoff Kurapovna is a new reevaluation and re-examination of the role of Draza Mihailovich in World War II. It is a reappraisal and a new analysis of the historical record and the factual documents in the light of all that has happened since World War II. It is a rethink of Draza Mihailovich, a rethinking of his place in the history of World War II and his role in the Yugoslav resistance movement. For this reason alone, it is an invaluable addition to our understanding of World War II.
In the Preface, she noted that Serbia’s “modern history may be read as an indictment of the West’s own troubled twentieth-century identity.” She noted that anyone writing about the history of Serbia “must remain constantly on the defensive.” Regardless of what position one takes, one will be tested to see if the view conforms to the 1990s paradigms established for any analysis. One is either pro-Serb or one maintains the accepted dogma regarding Serbia. She stated that if one wants to examine Serbian history “from an objective, respectful distance” or with “fairness and an appreciation for its courageous contributions to the military victories of the West during World Wars I and II” one will inevitably be labeled a pro-Serb apologist and pro-Serb nationalist, “as a kind of agent for Europe’s favorite rogue state.” This is the dilemma faced by anyone writing anything on the Balkans that is objective and which strays from the etched-in-stone dogma and orthodoxy. Like in medieval times, one will be branded a heretic, an apologist, and a genocide denier, a revisionist, a pro-Serb propagandist and enabler. The “less than scrupulous international media” has not helped matters by demonizing one side while portraying proxies, satellites, and clients as “victims”. Advocacy journalists have acted on behalf of their governments to incite and to exacerbate the conflicts.
The focus is on Serbia’s role during World War I and II when she “heeded the call of Western values” and fought with great sacrifice for the West and for Western values while those the West supports now, such as Croatia, Albania, Bosnian Muslims, fought against the West and those same values. Serbia risked and sacrificed everything to maintain Western values and suffered tremendous loss of life and suffered immensely. How could the Western countries abandon and betray such a staunch ally? This question is the crux of the book. The history of Serbia “teaches us a larger, more abstract lesson.” She wanted to show “a different dimension to a country so often misrepresented” in the media and history books.
Marcia Christoff Kurapovna
Marcia Christoff Kurapovna is a correspondent and writer from Grosse Pointe, Michigan with a background in Eastern European history. Under the name Kurop, she has written for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Foreign Affairs, the Economist, the International Herald Tribune, the Christian Science Monitor and been an editor of Defense News. She has written the article “Al Qaeda’s Balkan Links” in the November 11, 2001 Wall Street Journal Europe.
She stated that the idea behind the book was to “highlight” how the story of modern Serbia “raises questions about how one defines the meaning of loyalty and commitment to the ideals one is fighting for in wartime”. Furthermore, what causes allies in a “common cause” to “undermine one another through perverse political shortsightedness and outright treachery.” Her book is a study of the “battles of ally against ally”. She does not look at the battles the Allies fought against the Axis, but the machinations and maneuvering among the Allies themselves. What motivated this betrayal and stab in the back: “A complete and utter lack of trust.”
The plot of the book centers on a single question, “in a complicated nutshell”: Why did Great Britain abandon and betray Draza Mihailovich and the Chetniks guerrillas who represented the pre-war Royalist Yugoslav government in favor of a Communist dictatorship led by Stalinist Josip Broz Tito? This is the question historians have unsuccessfully sought to answer ever since World War II. That is the million dollar question. The outcome in Yugoslavia was determined by the rivalries and suspicions among the Allied Powers, Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. They jockeyed for power not only against the Axis, but also among themselves. It was this internal conflict that had disastrous consequences for the conflict in Yugoslavia. British and American intelligence differed in their assessment of the rival resistance movements and were more concerned that the other would stab it in the back. The British switched their support to the Partisans and abandoned Mihailovich. Specifically, the focus of the book is on General Draza Mihailovich who led the Chetnik guerrillas. “In particular, this story is about a soldier who was executed by his fellow countrymen a year and some months after the close of the war.” He is the “personification” of the mistrust that existed between “friends and allies”. His “fight for freedom” was a “casualty” of the “distortions”, the opportunistic and short-tem “commitments”, and the “ruthlessness of powers”. She argued that the term “collaboration” is “often, and wrongly, associated” with him, an example of “unfair propaganda” targeted against him, but also against all Serbs and against “Serbia’s reputation” as well.
She then put this betrayal in the context of historical developments since World War II. Serbia is “isolated” and attacked as a pariah nation. Serbia was bombed both by the Axis and the Allied countries, while Croatia and Albania have been admitted into NATO. Croatia was one of the closest Nazi and fascist allies during the war and committed its own genocide against Serbs, Jews, and Roma. The situation in NATO-occupied Kosovo is “depressing and violent”. Relations between Bosnian Serbs, Muslims, and Croats in Bosnia have not improved since the 1995 Dayton Accords. The war may have ended, but “from within, the levels of mistrust and demoralization appear insurmountable.”
She argued that Bosnia, like Iraq in 2008, remains an unstable country. The Bosnian Serbs want to establish their own independent state while the Bosnian Muslims seek a centralized state dominated and controlled by Muslims. She concluded: “As always with the Balkans, every point of view has validity, but there is no one vision that is thought valid for all.”
Finally, she noted that books on the Balkans are not popular because they merely recite atrocities, ethnic conflict, and civil wars. There is nothing unique to this. It is merely “atrocity porn”, biased, one-sided propaganda meant to buttress a client state or group, a proxy, or an ally. Everyone can see through the lies and the self-interested motives. What is needed, she argues, is an emphasis or focus on “the larger lessons”. Serbia must be seen “in the abstract”, not as merely a product of its “own environment”. Serbia has “demonstrated the very best and the very worst in humanity itself and the fight for ideals”. The appeal is to examine Serbia’s history, a country that took “the side of the winning team at the expense of its own existence”. Serbia suffered disproportionately large losses in both World War I and World War II as an ally of the West. She concluded: “That is the story of Serbia”. It is a story that is “universal and eternal”.
Draza Mihailovich in World War I
The book begins with a Prologue entitled “The Blue Graveyard” that recounts the story of the retreat or exodus of the Serbian Army during World War I, known as “The Great Retreat” across Montenegro and Albania to the islands of Corfu and Vido in 1915. The Central Powers united their forces to attack Serbia in a joint offensive. German troops from the north, Austro-Hungarian troops from the west, and Bulgarian troops from the east and south attacked Serbia in 1915. Milutin Bojic wrote a poem describing the burial of 5,000 Serbian soldiers at sea off the island of Vido entitled Plava grobnica.
Draza Mihailovich is introduced as one of the Serbian soldiers who arrived at Corfu in January, 1916 during the retreat. Mihailovich had kept his weapons. He had fought in the Drina Division at the 1912 Battle of Kumanovo and in the Morava Division in the 1913 battle against Bulgarian forces. In World War I, he had fought in the first victory by the Entente, the Battle of Cer, and later at Kolubara. He would later be part of the Salonika Front when victory would be assured. Mihailovich was decorated and received the highest military honors of the Serbian Army.
She stated that Mihailovich was shown a foreshadowing and a foretaste of what would come in World War II when he “witnessed the crossing of the Thirteenth Territorial Army of Croatia and Slavonia as it came over the Drina into Serbia.” A member of that Croatian regiment was Josip Broz, who was a reserve sergeant in the Austro-Hungarian Army. This was the first time Mihailovich and Broz would fight against each other. But it would not be the last.
In May, 1916, Mihailovich was transferred to the 23rd Infantry Regiment of the Vardar Division on the Salonika Front. He was a platoon leader. He would take part in the Lake Ostrovo and Dobropolje engagements with the Vardar Division that would lead to an Allied breakthrough and military success. He would be promoted to first lieutenant and be awarded the Order of the White Eagle. He would be awarded a Victoria Cross by the British. The Allies declared victory in World War I on November 11, 1918. But in “the race to victory”, the troops in the “eastern armies have had the dust and toil without the laurel”. World War I would be a triumph for the Allies, the Entente, but the “tragedy” in the Balkans “was only about to begin.”
Mission to Yugoslavia
The first chapter begins with an account of “Lawrence of Yugoslavia”, the sobriquet given to OSS agent Linn M. “Slim” Farish, a geologist by training.
In the Preface Kurapovna asked the question: Why was Draza Mihailovich betrayed and abandoned by the Allies in favor of a Communist and Stalinist dictator, Josip Broz Tito? The first chapter provides the answer: Linn Farish’s accounts helped decisively to switch Allied support away from Draza Mihailovich and to Tito. Later Farish recanted and realized that he was duped by the Partisan propaganda machine, but then it was too late. The damage had been done. Kurapovna gives his place of birth incorrectly as Minnesota. He was born in Rumsey, California. His age is also erroneously given as thirty-two. Farish was born in 1901 so he was forty-two in 1943. He had won a Gold Medal at the 1924 Paris Olympics as part of the U.S. rugby team. He was selected as the OSS representative to the SOE mission to Tito, so he was part of the British team. Fitzroy Maclean of SAS referred to him as “my American chief of staff”. In the Verona Decrypts, he is described as a Communist agent with the code name of “Attila”, who had contacts with the KGB. This evidence is inconclusive. Was Farish a Communist mole and agent? More likely he was a dupe and unwitting accomplice of the Communists.
His objective was to map out landing fields for U.S. aircraft constructed to rescue downed U.S. airmen. He was part of several rescue operations, rescuing hundreds of airmen shot down over Yugoslavia. He spent three 90-day periods in Yugoslavia, parachuting into territory controlled by the Communist guerrillas under Josip Broz Tito in Bosnia. He was a member of Company B, 2677th Regiment, OSS. He was killed on June 16, 1944 during his third mission to Yugoslavia in 1944. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
Farish’s report of October 29, 1943 based on his six-week stay with the Communist Partisans in Bosnia was rushed to FDR before the Teheran conference. His memo was decisive in the switch of Allied support to Tito. Farish is crucial in understanding why Mihailovich was abandoned. Farish reported that “the Partisans have always fought the Germans and are doing so now….They are a more potent striking force at this time than they have been before….Their present strength is given as 180,000 men.” He concluded that the Partisans were fighting German troops while the Chetniks were not: “Whereas the Partisans have fought steadfastly against the Axis occupying forces, other Yugoslav groups have not done so … Mihailovich ordered his Chetniks to attack the Partisan forces … the Chetnik forces have been fighting with the Germans and Italians against the Partisans.” He characterized the Partisans as a “free community” in which persons “of any religion or political belief can express an opinion”, comparing their movement to the American revolution: “It was in such an environment and under similar conditions that the beginnings of the United States were established.”
Farish later changed his assessment. He became suspicious and wary of British reports that hyped and lauded Tito. He insisted on having American radio operators accompany him. U.S. radioman Arthur “Jibby” Jibilian was one of the radiomen who accompanied Farish. In his final report filed on June 28, 1944, in Bari, Italy, Farish filed a more accurate, objective, realistic, and skeptical report on the situation in Yugoslavia. He indicated that his first report was based on British disinformation and Communist Partisan propaganda. He observed that “each side places the blame on the other.” He concluded that the Partisans were primarily concerned with seizing power: “It appears to me that there are indications in the past few months that there has been less emphasis placed on the fight against the enemy and more preparation for the political struggle to follow the ending of the war.”
Was the Farish report the only or even the main reason for the abandonment of Mihailovich? The Farish report was only one factor. There were many reasons for the switch to Josip Broz Tito. First, Winston Churchill made the decision to abandon Mihailovich. His decision was based on several factors. The main reason was that Draza was not killing enough Germans. In other words, the British were unhappy with Draza’s strategy and tactics in conducting the guerrilla campaign in the Balkans. Draza based his strategy on the premise that there would be a landing or invasion of Yugoslavia by the Allies. His entire strategic outlook revolved on that key assumption. Once the Allies landed in Yugoslavia, his Chetnik guerrillas would spring into action and join up with Allied forces. Churchill, however, knew there would be no landing in Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was not worth the effort. Britain was an imperialist power. Yugoslavia had no value for Britain. It was expendable. This fact, in short, rendered Draza expendable too. He was just a pawn. He was small fry. Churchill did not need him for anything. As a pawn, he could be sacrificed to secure advantages in the chess game. Draza refused to play the British game. He would not change his strategy to suit the British. As a consequence, his fate was sealed. He was done.
Josip Broz Tito, on the other hand, was a politician, not a military man. He was a Communist Party leader and organizer. He was a Kommissar more than he was a General. He understood the value of image over reality. He understood the value of mobilizing mass support and organizing men into a hierarchy and organization. Snubbed by Draza, Churchill turned to Tito. The switch was partly opportunistic. Churchill needed someone who killed Germans, or, more importantly, appeared to kill more Germans. To be sure, from a strictly military point of view, Tito was achieving virtually nothing by his activity. The bulk of the Axis troops in occupied Yugoslavia were German garrison troops and local volunteers and recruits consisting of Croats, Bosnian Muslims, Albanians, and local ethnic Germans, volksdeutsche. The elite German troops and formations were all on the Russian Front. So Yugoslavia was a sideshow and a marginal theater during the war. Tito understood this the best. He knew that the resistance movement did not have to make sense from a military point of view. The key point was to win the hearts and minds, to create an image of resistance, dynamism, and of activism. His eyes were always on the ultimate objective: To prepare for seizing political power. In this he was successful.
Draza based his strategy on two key premises: 1) there would be an Allied landing in Yugoslavia; and, 2) Russia would be defeated by Germany, or bogged down to the point that Russia would not be a decisive factor in the war. Both of these premises worked out against Draza. The Soviet Union not only defeated the German troops at Moscow in 1941, but also at Stalingrad in 1943, and decisively at Kursk in the summer of 1943. What did this mean? It meant that the USSR would occupy not only Germany, or part of Germany, but the countries that had invaded the Soviet Union which Moscow regarded as vital for its national security. Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Poland would all be occupied by Soviet troops. These countries would also have Communist governments allied with the USSR.
Yugoslavia had been dismembered and ceased to exist and thus was not part of the invading Axis force during Operation Barbarossa, although the Croatian NDH did send Croat and Bosnian Muslim troops to the Russian Front and at Stalingrad. When the decision was made by Churchill and Joseph Stalin that the Red Army would take Belgrade, however, the fate of Yugoslavia was sealed. The Red Army stormed into Belgrade on October 20, 1944. The only question then was: Who do they install in power? A royalist anti-Communist regime or a Communist regime led by someone who had lived and been trained in Russia? The choice was an easy one. Even if there were no Partisans and Tito had not existed, the Soviets would have installed a Communist regime. To be sure, Churchill and FDR had the power to negotiate the outcome in Yugoslavia. But once Mihailovich was abandoned in 1943 by the Allies, that outcome was never in doubt.
Associated Press (AP) Wirephoto, February 28, 1942: “(NY5-Feb. 28) Serb Guerilla Chief — This picture of General Draza Mihajlovich, Minister of War in the new Yugoslav Cabinet and recently promoted to the rank of divisional general by the Yugoslav Government in London, was smuggled out of Yugoslavia by one of his friends. Mihajlovich is the leader of the Serb guerillas who are waging a hit-and-run war against Axis army of occupation in Yugoslavia. AP (AP WIREPHOTO)(JSB70700APGB)1942.”
The Mythology of the Mountains
In chapter two, she invokes the dominant metaphor for the book, the mountain: “The history of Serbia is a history of its mountains”. Montenegro means “black mountain” and Balkan in Turkish means “chain of wooded mountains”. Five centuries of Ottoman occupation created a history of resistance and defiance and rebellion. The mountains were conducive for resistance because they offered a sanctuary and a refuge and a hiding place. The mountains created and sustained the bandits, rebels, hajduks, guerrillas, and chetniks. So long as the rebels had sanctuary in the mountains, they could never be decisively defeated. The resistance would be on-going and recurrent. This explains the emergence of Draza Mihailovich as a guerrilla leader. He relied on this tradition and history of resistance. He retreated into the mountains of Serbia, Bosnia, and Montenegro and established a guerrilla army based in the mountains, sustained and nurtured by the mountains. The mountains of Bosnia were the main refuge and sanctuary of the Partisans. The mountainous terrain rendered German tanks, artillery, and aircraft useless. In the mountains, the guerrillas had the upper hand and the advantage. It was this history of resistance and rebellion that made the Yugoslav guerrillas a formidable and unconquerable foe. And this history of resistance was tied to the terrain of the Balkans, to the mountains.
She recounts the history of the coup in Belgrade on March 27, 1941 when the Yugoslav government was overthrown after signing a pact with Adolf Hitler. What followed was the Axis invasion on April 6, 1941 and the subsequent dismemberment and destruction of Yugoslavia. The resistance movement led by Draza Mihailovich emerged from the highland of Ravna Gora at the Suvobor mountain in central Serbia to continue the war as a guerrilla conflict. An exponent of guerrilla warfare, Mihailovich had fought in both the First and Second Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 and in World War I. The Germans were caught off guard because such widespread and organized resistance on such a large scale was not seen anywhere else in Europe.
By contrast, the Communists under Josip Broz Tito supported the Axis because they wanted to see the Yugoslav royalist government destroyed and overthrown. The Yugoslav Communists supported regime change in Belgrade. The Communists and Josip Broz Tito were thus the first “collaborators” in Yugoslavia, the first to commit “treason”. The Communists changed course and reversed their collaborationist policy only after the Soviet Union was attacked on June 22, 1941. They came late to the game. They had to reorient their entire wartime outlook. From collaborators they had to become resistance fighters. As a consequence, Draza Mihailovich and the Chetniks had the initial advantage. The Communist Partisans were routed in Serbia and fled to Bosnia where they reorganized and consolidated their hold. Initial plans to unite the two rival resistance groups were attempted on several occasions but failed. As a result, a civil war between the two groups erupted.
The Chetnik and Partisan Conflict
In “Lawrence of Yugoslavia II: Into the Partisan-Chetnik Quagmire”, she discussed the conflict and civil war between the Chetniks and the Partisans. The contest would be to see which group would emerge “the better player in the great game of Allied interests.” She concluded: “What resulted would become one of the saddest chapters of miscommunication, subversion, and deceit in the history of the Allied cause during World War II.” She detailed the first British SOE mission to Mihailovich and Tito. The leaders of the Allied missions became “personally dedicated” and “intellectually astute in analyzing its often unfathomable local military and political dynamics.” The two leaders had met on two occasions to unify their forces but this did not succeed. Tito “insisted that he, and not Mihailovic, was doing the bulk of the fighting.” Moreover, Tito “preferred Allied help via the Soviets.” Sir Frederick William Dampier Deakin and Fitzroy Maclean of the UK missions supported Tito. Walter R. Mansfield and Albert B. Seitz of the U.S. missions supported Draza.
Associated Press (AP) Wirephoto, October 29, 1943: “(NY 10 - Oct. 29) - Mihailovic fighters man captured Axis truck–This picture radioed today from Bern, Switzerland, is described as showing armed members of Gen. Draja Mihailovic’s Yugoslav guerrilla army crowded into a captured Axis truck. Two guerrillas man machine guns on top of the truck’s cab, while a third man holds a skull and crossbones flag. (AP Wire Photo)(See Wire Stories)(NDR61407Bern)43."
The Chetniks were engaged in half a dozen major battles against Axis forces in 1943. They attacked Bulgarian forces at Mucanj on July 31, inflicting casualties. On August 29 they derailed two troop trains, killing 200 Axis troops. On September 11, they attacked a German garrison at Prijepolje, killing 200 German troops. The next day at Priboj, they attacked an Italian garrison and took 1,800 Italian prisoners. On October 8, they attacked a German garrison, killing “several hundred” of them. Then they blew up the Belgrade-Sarajevo railway line at Visegrad. On October 14, several hundred Ustasha troops were killed by the Chetniks. They blew up four major railway bridges and the tracks for the Sarajevo-Uzice line were torn up. The Cehtniks forced the surrender of the Italian Venezia Division in Berane, Montenegro and of other Italian units in Kotor and other regions. On September 5 and October 10, German troops attacked Draza’s headquarters. Yet for all these successes, the Allies were making the decision to abandon Mihailovich. These Chetnik operations, however, were credited to the Partisans by the BBC.
She examined the rivalries and disagreements between the British and U.S. government regarding policy and strategy in Yugoslavia and how this impacted the Chetnik-Partisan conflict.
She then backtracked to 1942 to detail the deterioration and collapse of the Chetnik-British relationship. She stated that the breakup was due to a “severe distrust” that was due more to “gross miscommunication and “irresponsible ideological biases” rather than strategical differences. The British general staff and Supreme Allied Commander in Europe Dwight D. Eisenhower congratulated Draza on his succeses. Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler and General Reinhard Gehlen, the head of German military intelligence, regarded Draza as the main threat in the Balkans.
On March 26, 1943 Mihailovich wrote a telegram in which he accused the Partisans of collaborating with the Nazis: “The Communists continue negotiations with the Germans, with the aim of exterminating us, taking advantage of our indecisions.”
A key event in the breakdown in the relationship was a February 28, 1943 discussion where Mihailovich told SOE representative William Bailey that since the Allies were not supporting him, he had to look elsewhere for aid. He stated that the Partisans, the Ustashi, and Muslims were his primary enemies and the greatest threat to the survival of the Serbs. This elicited a reply by Churchill who attacked Draza for stating that “the English were now fighting to the last Serb in Yugoslavia” and that “the English were trying to purchase Serbian blood at the cost of an insignificant supply of arms.” There was the statement that these actions were “typical of traditional English perfidy”.
Soviet military gains by 1943 meant that the USSR could now insist on a Communist regime in Yugoslavia. On July 16, 1943, the Soviet radio station “Free Yugoslavia” accused Draza of collaborating with the Italians and of “treason”.
She discussed the tensions and conflicts in Partisan relations with the Soviet Union. Like the UK and U.S., the USSR backed Draza Mihailovich and his resistance movement at the outset of the conflict. This was done to maintain Allied unity, solidarity, and a consistent policy. This Soviet support also reflected the relative weakness of the Partisans at that time and the precarious military position of the Red Army. As the strength of the Partisans increased and as the Red Army began to score victory after victory against the Wehrmacht, the USSR was in a position to demand a Communist role in Yugoslavia.
She showed that the Communist Partisans of Yugoslavia “collaborated” with the Ustasha forces of Ante Pavelic: “The Secretary of the Ustase Ministry of the Interior established informal diplomatic relations with Andrija Hebrang, Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Croatian Communist Party. Hebrang went to Tito, who authorized Marko Belinic, a member of that party, to represent the Partisans in their discussions with Ustase officials. Pavelic’s war minister, General Ante Vokic, aided the Partisans with war materials, while a Ustase lieutenant, Barisa Smoljan, who had personally admitted to killing three hundred Serbs in Mostar, joined the Partisans in 1942.”
The Partisans had knowledge of his war crimes and atrocities but instead of being punished Smoljan was rewarded instead by being placed as an assistant commissar in a battalion in the Fourth Partisan Brigade in the Kordun region of Croatia.
She showed that the Partisans were guilty of what they accused the Chetniks of. The Partisans “collaborated” with the Nazi forces in Yugoslavia and thus themselves committed treason. A German memorandum was uncovered that proved that the Partisans were guilty of collaboration with the Axis. Negotiations between the Partisans and German officers occurred in Gornji Vakuf, a town west of Sarajevo in Bosnia on March 11, 1943. During the course of this meeting, the Partisan delegation maintained that: “[T]he Partisans saw no reason for fighting the German Army – they added that they fought against German troops only in self-defense – but wished solely to fight the Chetniks; that they were oriented toward the propaganda of the Soviet Union only because they rejected any connection with the British; that they would fight the British should the latter land in Yugoslavia; that they did not intend to capitulate, but inasmuch as they wanted to concentrate on fighting the Chetniks, they wished to suggest respective territories of interest.”
The Partisan delegation left behind a document which bears the signatures of the three Partisan delegates, high-ranking Partisan leaders Milovan Djilas, Vladimir Velebit and Koca Popovic. They proposed to the Germans “not only further prisoner exchanges and German recognition of the right of the Partisans as combatants but, what was more important, the cessation of hostilities between German forces and the Partisans. The three delegates confirmed in writing that the Partisans ‘regard the Chetniks as their main enemy.’
On March 17, 1943, the German Minister in Zagreb, Siegfried Kasche, sent a telegram to Berlin in which he wrote “that Tito and supporters will cease to fight against Germany, Italy and Croatia and retire to the Sandzak in order to settle matters with Mihailovic’s Chetniks.”
Following these Partisan-German negotiations between the three high Partisan representatives and German Wehrmacht Lieutenant General Benignus Dippold, additional discussions were scheduled in Zagreb. Djilas and Velebit were allowed to cross through the German lines and were brought by a German military plane from Sarajevo to Zagreb on March 25, 1943. In Zagreb, Djilas and Velebit had high level negotiations and discussions with Austrian Plenipotentiary General in the NDH Edmund Glaise von Horstenau and his staff.
In his 1977 memoirs Wartime, Djilas acknowledged that the Partisans had, indeed, collaborated with the Nazis confirming the earlier reports. This was the main charge against Mihailovich. Why was Partisan collaboration with the Nazis not prosecuted? Why weren’t Tito, Djilas, Velebit, and Popovic tried for treason and collaboration? This reflects the irony and tragedy of the Yugoslav conflict during World War II. The guilty were allowed to escape prosecution and to cynically whitewash their war crimes and atrocities.
Associated Press (AP) Wirephoto, January 30, 1945: “(WX2-Jan. 30) Rescue Yank Airmen From Behind Enemy Lines–American airmen, who crashed during combat behind the German lines in Yugoslavia, mingle with Gen. Draja Mihailovitch’s Chetniks as they rush preparations to board an American plane for evacuation to Italy. The planes which evacuated a number of Yanks kept their motors running and remained on the ground but seven minutes as they made the pickup four miles behind the battle lines. (AP Wirephoto From Army Air Forces) (#31034-45).”
The Halyard Mission
In the chapter “A Mission (Nearly) Impossible” she described the Halyard mission of 1944. Mihailovich and his men were able to rescue over five hundred Allied airmen, most of them downed U.S. airmen who had been shot down while on bombing missions to the Ploesti oil refineries in Romania. This was one of the largest rescue operations of American troops behind enemy lines in history. Mihailovich’s troops built a makeshift runway in Pranjane in Serbia where U.S. C-47 transport aircraft were able to land and to evacuate the downed pilots to Italy. For his role in the rescue operation, Mihailovich was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit award by U.S. President Harry S. Truman in 1948 on the recommendation of Supreme Allied Commander in Europe Dwight D. Eisenhower. On January 1, 1943, Eisenhower had sent Mihailovich a message reaffirming the Allied commitment to his resistance movement: “These brave men banded together on their native soil to drive the invader from their country are serving with full devotion the cause of the United Nations.” In the March 29, 1948 Legion of Merit Award awarded by Truman, Mihailovich was recognized for his role in the rescue of the downed U.S. airmen:
“General Dragoljub Mihailovich distinguished himself in an outstanding manner as Commander-in-Chief of the Yugoslavian Army Forces and later as Minister of War by organizing and leading important resistance forces against the enemy which occupied Yugoslavia, from December 1941 to December 1944. Through the undaunted efforts of his troops, many United States airmen were rescued and returned safely to friendly control. General Mihailovich and his forces, although lacking adequate supplies, and fighting under extreme hardships, contributed materially to the allied cause, and were instrumental in obtaining a final Allied Victory.”
Due to U.S. backing of the Communist dictatorship regime of Tito during the Cold War, however, the award was kept secret.
Associated Press (AP) Wirephoto, May 6, 1944: “(NY3–May 6)–A Yugoslav Leader Interviews a German Prisoner–Gen. Draja Mihailovic, King Peter’s Minister of War, (left) talks with a German prisoner captured in Yugoslavia. (AP Wirephoto)(TJH70700LON) 1944.”
An Ally Betrayed
The role of Draza Mihailovich and his Chetnik guerrillas in the Halyard mission was recounted. The final months of the Chetniks were recounted, the capture of Draza and Kalabic, the trial of Mihailovich. She pointed out that the trial was a show trial. She described the case of US Sgt. David O’Connell. A Communist prosecution witness, Milenko Jovanovic, testified under oath that he was an eyewitness to the capture of O’Connell and three other airmen. He testified that they were taken away and never seen again, implying that they had been killed by the Chetniks. This statement was false. It was perjury. O’Connell was alive and later was a secretary in the American committee of rescued airmen who were supporting Mihailovich. The rescued airmen were not allowed to testify.
Epilogue: Vindication and Triumph
She ends the book in an Epilogue entitled ”The Mountain at Twilight” with an account of U.S. Army Air Corps Major Richard L. Felman’s support of Draza throughout his life. The Legion of Merit award was described and how it was finally presented to Mihailovich’s daughter Gordana in Belgrade in 2005. “The American airmen and their Chetniks had triumphed. Almost.” She closes on an ambiguous note. She described the visit of Feldman to Serbia in 1994 searching for Draza’s unmarked grave and “his heart cut out of him. Neither Mihailovic, nor his heart, was ever found.” Is she referring to Feldman’s metaphorical heart or Draza’s physical heart? She implies that not finding Draza’s grave meant that the airmen had not completely triumphed. Is this meant literally? Or is she metaphorically or figuratively asserting that Draza Mihailovich has not been recognized in his home country of Serbia so therefore there is a hole in the triumph. Draza has not been vindicated in Serbia. There is no grave. Thus, the triumph is not complete. The ending is ambiguous. Did history finally vindicate Draza Mihailovich? Why did Felman have to find a grave? The ending showed that closure was still not achieved. The last sentence is a line by Petar Njegos from The Mountain Wreath: “The earth groans, but the heavens are silent.” The book closes on a fatalistic and ambiguous note which reflects the tragedy of Draza Mihailovich.
There are several typos and factual and geographical errors in the text.
The word “offenses” appears when “offensives” is meant. “Nehry” in “Sir Nehry Hardwood” should be “Henry” on page 162. On page 211, “George Vuchinovich” is mentioned which should be “George Vujnovich”. On page 63, the sentence contains the wrong date: “By 1934 two SS divisions had been formed: the Thirteenth Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS ‘Handzar,’ or ‘Handschar,’ and the Twenty-third Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS ‘Kama’ in Kosovo-Metohija.” This should read: “By 1944…” Moreover, on the same page is the statement that the Bosnian Muslim Nazi SS Division “Kama” had been formed “in Kosovo-Metohija.” This is incorrect. In fact, the Kama Division was formed in the Bachka region and was never fully completed, coming too late in the war. In addition, the statement that a “Blue Division, composed of Yugoslav Muslims trained in Germany” was formed is misleading. This is a reference to the Croatian Ustasha formation known as the 392nd “Blue” Division, a joint Croat-German formation.
On page 56, a conspicuous geographical error occurs: “Bosnian Muslims who served in the prewar Royal Yugoslav Army also joined the Chetniks, led by the commander Mustafa Mulacic, a commander in Bijeljina, in western Bosnia.” The city is in eastern Bosnia, not in “western Bosnia”, near the border with Serbia. Is Mustafa Mulacic supposed to refer to Mustafa Mulalic?
On page 228, there is another geographical error: “It was evidence, said the Partisan commander … during the massacre of seventy-two Croat Partisan sympathizers in Vranjic, a Croatian city near Osijek, on the beautiful northwest coast of that country.” Osijek is located in northeast Croatia, in Slavonia, and is not adjacent to the Adriatic coastline but is near the border with Vojvodina.
On page 241, the death of poet Ivan Goran Kovacic is incorrectly attributed to the Partisans: “Then followed … the murders of poet Ivan Goran Kovacic in 1946 and of the former Croatian Communist military officer…” The Croatian Ivan Goran Kovacic, who was a Partisan, was killed by Chetnik guerrillas in 1943 near Foca in eastern Bosnia.
On page 253, a small village is mislabeled as a town: “… [A] town in southern Serbia, Pearsonovatz, was named after him.” The village was named after journalist Drew Pearson who directed relief efforts in Yugoslavia. He was critical of Tito, referring to him as “Dictator Tito” and “Stalin’s puppet-in-disguise”.
On page 289 in the notes, the incorrect birthplace for Momcilo Djujic is given: “…Djujic, from the Montenegrin village of Topolje…” Momcilo Djujic was born near Knin, Dalmatia, in Croatia.
On page 65, Vjekoslav Maks Luburic is mistakenly labeled an Orthodox Christian and an incorrect birthplace is given: “In what might best be described as a particularly Balkan brand of irony, the Ustashe official Vjekoslav Maks Luburic, who oversaw the twenty-seven concentration camps that were part of the Jasenovac network, himself was an Orthodox Christian from Montenegro.” Vjekoslav Maks Luburic was a Roman Catholic Croatian Ustasha commander born in Ljubuski, Bosnia-Hercegovina.
The photo on page 159 is mislabeled. Croat Ustasha troops are labeled Chetniks while Ustasha troops are labeled Chetniks.
“The Politics of Surrender” chapter is based on conjecture, that Draza Mihailovich relayed a German offer of surrender in Yugoslavia which the British refused because they wanted to continue their advance into Italy and to reach Austria before the Russians did. Mihailovich was captured and flown to Moscow in March, 1945 in this account to inform the Russians personally of the offer. This incident caused a serious rift in the Alliance. The account was related by Drew Pearson as told to him by U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union Joseph Edward Davies. This should have been relegated to a footnote instead of a chapter because of its conjectural nature.
For even a historian, maneuvering through the intricate historical, geographical, military, and linguistic detail of the Balkans can be a daunting task. For a non-historian, the task can be insurmountable. Clearly, there should have been much more of an emphasis and focus on analysis and discussion and less attention to the minutiae and factual detail of the events recounted. But these are minor glitches and should not take away from the main narrative and big picture. Clearly, the manuscript needed to be proofread more thoroughly.
This book is clearly about Draza Mihailovich. The cover photo, however, shows Communist Partisan guerrillas. This takes away from the focus of the book. A photo of Draza Mihailovich should have been on the cover. The photos chosen were satisfactory but do not add anything to the book. There is one photo that is revealing. The first photo shows Ante Pavelic with a massive framed photo of himself in his office which clearly demonstrates his mega-maniacal psychopathology.
Having poetical epigraphs before each chapter was a stylistic choice. It gives a literary context to the history presented by intertwining the culture, literature, and traditions of the country. Poetry from the epic Kosovo ballad-cycle, Charles Simic, Petar Njegos, Milutin Bojic, to the surrealist poetry of Vasko Popa is featured.
Conclusion: Tragedy and Triumph
This book is a thorough and objective reappraisal and re-examination of the Draza Mihailovich case. The book is well researched and well written. Kurapovna relies on OSS and SOE archives. She relied on primary and archival source material from the National Archives at College Park in Maryland and the Public Records Office in Kew in London. The book is marred by typographical and factual errors, but these do not impact the substance of the narrative and the thrust of the arguments. It is the journey that is everything here. Her analyses and evaluations of the conflicting and contradictory and competing arguments make this an indispensable book on this divisive history.
Writing such a book has its pitfalls. Critics will argue that this story has already been told and that there is no need to attempt to revise the facts or to rehabilitate Mihailovich. This is “ideological revisionism” and an apologia that is pro-Serbian. Ultimately, the book will be judged based on the criteria of whether it follows the accepted wisdom, the mainstream historical orthodoxy, whether it follows the anti-Serbian mainstream narrative as established during the 1990s during the breakup of Yugoslavia. The critics will query: Why even bother? Why do you need to reexamine and reanalyze this history? This is like saying why question those scholars who said the earth is flat or that the sun revolves around the earth. Why revise the accepted orthodoxies and accepted wisdom? Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake. And Galileo was put under house arrest. Copernicus was condemned for advocating the heliocentric theory. The assumption is that truth is static. There have been many significant developments, however, since the established texts were written. For instance, Milovan Djilas admitted that the Partisans had collaborated with the Nazis in 1943 in his 1977 memoirs Wartime. The U.S. State Department agreed to let the rescued U.S. airmen award the Legion of Merit to Draza’s daughter Gordana, 74 at the time, acknowledging its authenticity. Finally, new information and focus on the rescue of the 500 airmen by Draza Mihailovich has added to our understanding of the story. Her book has incorporated all of the new material.
The analysis is scrupulously objective, unbiased, and balanced. The focus, however, is on the philosophical dimension, the lessons of history that can be drawn from this tragedy. It points out the misunderstandings and miscalculations that occur in wartime. How narrow and short-term interests and prejudices blind one to the broader consequences and implications. Allies can be more treacherous and dangerous that enemies. Draza Mihailovich was successful against the Nazi occupation forces. It was his own Allies who abandoned, sacrificed, and betrayed him. It was his Allies who ultimately destroyed him. That is the tragedy of this story.
Shadows on the Mountain is an invaluable addition to this story. It is a much needed rethink or reappraisal of the story. Critics urge that we should not think at all, but accept the dogmas and polemics and orthodoxy of the past. But why? The Communist dictatorship that Tito established has collapsed and is in the junk heap of history. A dictator who maintained his power through falsification, assassinations and murders of dissidents, and who created his own gulags, Goli Otoks, where opponents were sent. Why should this dictator have any credibility now? His legacy is in the garbage heap of history. Why shouldn’t we rethink the past, reexamine and reanalyze that history? For this reason, this is an invaluable book on this subject and one that should be read by anyone who wants to understand the World War II history of Yugoslavia.
If you would like to get in touch with me, Aleksandra, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org