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Chetnik sabotage of Axis communication lines
Part of World War II in Yugoslavia and Western Desert campaign
Plakat o streljanju DM pristalica iz 1942.jpg

German poster about shooting 50 men of Draža Mihailović because of destruction of railway bridge between Požarevac and Petrovac na Mlavi in December 1942
Date31 April, or July[1] or early August 1942 [2] — 1943
Location
Belligerents
Axis: Chetniks
Commanders and leaders
Unknown Draža Mihailović
Dragutin Keserović
Velimir Piletić
Units involved

The Chetnik sabotage of Axis communication lines was campaign of Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland (commonly known as Chetniks) sabotage of Axis communication lines, mostly along the rivers Morava, Vardar and Danube, to obstruct transport of German war material through Serbia to Thessaloniki and further to Libya during Western Desert campaign. The Chetnik sabotages were organized since 31 April, or according to some sources since July or early August 1942.

After initial support to Mihailovićs Chetniks tactics used against Axis forces in Serbia, since the closing of Summer 1942 the British started to believe that such actions were not enough. On the other hand, the German command decided that such actions were enough for them to make decision to annihilate Chetniks.

During the period, in which these events took place, the Chetnik command was embedded with a members of the British mission, Edgar Hargreeves and Jasper Rootem.

Background

The British General Harold Alexander sent personal telegram to Draža Mihailović before the offensive against Rommel in Africa, requesting him to organize a large-scale campaign against Axis lines of communication in order to obstruct transport of German war material through Serbia to Thessaloniki and further to Libya.[3] Mihailović wanted to keep British confidence in Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland, which was bound to strain because tacit cooperation with Italians, Mihailović decided to engage his forces in German-occupied Serbia in a sabotage campaign against German railway transports.[4] The sabotage actions against railway was the least risky and could prove to the Allies that Chetniks are able to create diversions in the German rear in case of Allied invasion to Balkans.[5]

Sabotage actions to railway

The Chetniks launched campaign of attacks on Axis railways, mostly to important Belgrade-Niš-Thessaloniki railway over which Axis forces moved big quantities of ware materials for transshipment from Thessaloniki to African front.[6]

The Chetnik sabotage of railways began on 31 April 1942 when Captain Lazović ordered all commanders of brigades to establish groups of four people who work on railway to work for Chetniks and who will take out fuel, food and arms from trains.[7] Many of the railway workers were informants of Mihailovic and informed him about important supply deliveries or important movement of German troops.[8]

In May 1942 Mihailović demanded heavy explosives from the British command to be used for destruction of the German supply lines running through Serbia and Aegean to German troops in North Africa.[9]

To execute the acts of sabotages The Main Staff for Railway Sabotage was created in Belgrade in Summer 1942, with subordinate railway staffs for four regions. The sabotages were entrusted to railway employees in Serbia who would be assisted by Chetnik diversion groups called Trojkas (groups of three).[10]

On 9 August 1942 Mihailović sent directive through his connection "506" in Belgrade to sabotage railways and trains along Morava and Vardar river.[11] On 26 August Mihailović sent instructions to Major Radoslav Đurić to organize diversion teams of three men for sabotage actions on the railway between Vranje and Belgrade.[12] According to text published in the Atlantic magazine, the German forces lost 15% of their war supplies because of the sabotage campaign of Mihailović's Chetniks during the Summer of 1942.[13]

On 20 September 1942 Slobodan Jovanović, the president of the Yugoslav Government in Exile informed Mihailović about the request of General Alexander, British commander in the Middle East, that Chetniks should attack Axis communication lines and do another favor to Allied cause.[14] On 25 September 1942 Jovanović sent another message to General Mihailović with request to sabotage Axis transports of war material toward Thessaloniki, emphasizing that it is of vital interest for Allied cause.[15] To support Western Desert campaign Chetniks organized a campaign against Axis communications through German-occupied Serbia. This campaign was witnessed by Hudson.[16]

On 6 November Jovanović sent another message to General Mihailović, emphasizing that British side recognizes Chetnik successful actions until then and the scale of reprisals this actions caused. Jovanović further informed Mihailović that British side requested from Chetniks to double their efforts underlining that it would be most direct and most useful contribution to struggle of Allied forces in Africa.[17]

After his arrival to Chetnik HQ, Bailey decided to reinforce British missions to Chetniks with well trained military sappers who could help Chetniks to be more effective in sabotaging German lines of communications.[18] Of the 362 locomotives that operated on the railway line Belgrade-Niš-Thessaloniki the Chetniks reported that 112 out of action by December 1942.[19] A member of American mission John Jock from Chicago was assigned to Avala Corps of Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland, also of Yugoslav descent, who was main organizer for of sabotages on the railway Belgrade-Nis and Belgrade-Raska-Kosovska Mitrovica.[20]

In his post-war memoirs Chetnik officer Radomir Petrović Kent emphasized that Chetnik Boljevac Brigade under his command conducted 40 diversions on railway used for German transports to Rommels forces during the battle in Africa.[21]

Based on the British requests headquarters of the Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland ordered their forces to prepare to sabotage the railways in German-occupied Serbia. Following on from these orders, Dragutin Keserović who was a commander of Rasina Corps issued a general direction urging peasants in his area of operations to hide grain, livestock and fodder from the occupying forces.

Attempt to block Danube in Đerdap

Based on the agreement between Draža Mihailović and Colonel William Bailey who was head of British Liaison Officers at Chetnik HQ, nine British sub-missions that had their own separate radio communication with SOE base in Cairo were transported by airplanes and parachuted to headquarters of various Chetnik Corps since April 1943.[22] The first mission under command of Major Eric Greenwood was parachuted to Homolje in HQ of Krajina Corps under command of Velimir Piletić and second group of two officers, Major Jasper Rootem and New Zealand Colonel Edgar Hargreeves joined them on 21 May 1943.[23][24][25] They participated in attack of Chetniks of Krajina Corps on German boats on Danube and other acts of sabotage of German railway transports through Serbia.[26]

Mihailović could not believe that British and Americans could support Communists against him so he continued to act as part of the Allies and stepped up anti-German sabotage in the second half of 1943.[27] The reason for attacking German boats on Danube in October 1943 in village Boljetin in Đerdap was to sink them and to block this important transport route for Axis forces.[28] The attack was organized by Porečka Brigade of Krajina Corps.[29] This brigade used a small canon to sink two boats with armor-piercing shells, but failed.[30] The boats that were heavily damaged and remained on Romanian side of Danube for repair.[31]

Reactions

Allied reactions

On 1 December 1942 Mihalovic received a greeting from the Chief of the British Imperial General Staff Alan Brooke[32] who expressed his felicitations for the wonderful undertaking of the Yugoslav Army.[33] The campaign of Mihailović's Chetniks against Axis communications was commended by British Near East Command in a telegram to Mihailovic on 16 August 1943 stating:"With admiration we are following your directed operations which are of inestimable value to our allied cause."[34]

Until the end of Summer 1942 the British command and SOE favored resistance action which corresponds to Mihailovićs opinion.[35] In August 1942 the SOE director Hugh Dalton reported:

’The Yugoslavs [the government in exile in London], the War Office and we are all agreed that the guerrilla and sabotage bands now active in Yugoslavia should show sufficient active resistance to cause constant embarrassment to the occupying forces, and prevent any reduction in their numbers. But they should keep their organisation underground and avoid any attempt at large scale risings or ambitious military operations, which could only result at present in severe repression and the loss of our key men. They should now do all they can to prepare a widespread underground organisation ready to strike hard later on, when we give the signal.’[36]

Historian Milazzo emphasize that Yugoslav Government in Exile and Mihailović as its member did not want to subject the people of Serbia to German reprisals, like those in 1941, so the sabotage campaign was shortlived after being initiated only in early August 1942.[37]

Even during 1944, when communists were repeatedly attacking Chetniks mostly with arms and supplies they received from Allies or with their support, the Chetniks sabotaged German communications, engaged in smaller battles and rescued Allied airmen shot down in Yugoslavia.[38]

Axis reactions

Because of the Chetnik sabotage campaign Germans decided to settle accounts once for all with Mihailovićs Chetniks, while on the other hand British command expected more of it.[39]

Hitler blamed Chetniks in Serbia for his defeat in Africa and issued an order for complete annihilation of all Chetnik forces also sent to Mussolini in a letter on 16 February 1943.[40]

We have no other choice, but to annihilate all Chetniks and against the bandits use the most brutal means.

The post war Yugoslav sources published information about negotiations between Chetniks and Germans who insisted that Chetniks should cease struggle and sabotage actions against German forces and their allies as precondition for eventual agreement.[43]

References

  1. ^ (Dimitriǰević & Nikolić 2004, p. 532)
  2. ^ (Dimitriǰević & Nikolić 2004, p. 292)
  3. ^ (Jukić 1974, p. 136)
  4. ^ (Milazzo 1975, p. 103):" In order to maintain the confidence of the British, which his tacit cooperation with the Italians was bound to strain, he also decided to employ his underground organization in Serbia in a sabotage campaign against German railway movements. "
  5. ^ (Milazzo 1975, p. 103):" This form of anti-German resistance was the least risky, since the Chetniks no longer had a significant armed movement in Serbia, and it served to demonstrate to the Allies that the Chetniks had the means to create diversions in the German rear in the event of amphibious operation in the Balkans."
  6. ^ (Repac 1957, p. 68):"... Mihailovich, without waiting for orders from Allied headquarters, launched a series of devastating attacks on Axis railways and especially on the vital Belgrsde-Nish-Salonika railway, over which the Germans were moving large quantities of war materials for transhipment from Salonika to the African front."
  7. ^ (Dević 2008, p. 182):"Већ 31 априла, капетан Лазовић је послао допис свим командантима бригада, наређујући да се у сваком срезу формира група од четири железничара, која ће радити за четнике и избацивати гориво, храну и оружје из возова. Од тада почињу четничке саботаже на пругама."
  8. ^ (Ford 1992, p. 105)
  9. ^ (Milazzo 1975, p. 103):"Mihailović ... requested from the British Middle East command heavy explosives for the purpose of destroying the German supply lines running south to the Aegean for Rommel's troops in North Africa."
  10. ^ Germany (Territory under Allied occupation, 1945-1955 : U.S. Zone), ed. (1949). Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10, Nuremberg, October 1946-April, 1949: Case 12 : U.S. v. von Leeb (cont.) Case 7: U.S. v. List (Hostage case). U.S. G.P.O. p. 1019. In order to carry out this sabotage, "the main staff for railway sabotage" was created in Belgrade in the summer of 1942 with its subordinate regional railway staffs 1, 2, 3 and 4. The persons who execute the tasks are Serbian railway employees who are aided by so called Trojkas (groups of three).
  11. ^ (Живковић 2000, p. 95)
  12. ^ (Живковић 2000, p. 95)
  13. ^ "European War, Is Hitler still winning the war". The Atlantic: 4. 1942. .....the famous Chetniks of Yugoslavia, whose leader Draja Mihailovic has been responsible for sabotage during the summer which has cost Germany nearly 15 per cent of her war supplies
  14. ^ Zbornik dokumenata i podataka o narodnooslobodilačkom ratu, DOKUMENTI ČETNIČKOG POKRETA DRAŽE MIHAILOVIĆA, knjiga 1 - 1941. I 1942. GODINA, tom 14. p. 848. Ja sam uveren da su neprijateljske linije u ovoj kritičnoj situaciji jako opterećene i da biste stalnim napadima mogli učiniti novu uslugu savezničkoj stvari.
  15. ^ Zbornik dokumenata i podataka o narodnooslobodilačkom ratu, DOKUMENTI ČETNIČKOG POKRETA DRAŽE MIHAILOVIĆA, knjiga 1 - 1941. I 1942. GODINA, tom 14. p. 849.
  16. ^ (Repac 1957, p. 70):"The campaign against Axis communications had been witnessed by Colonel William Hudson, who at that time was the sole British officer attached to Mihailovich."
  17. ^ Zbornik dokumenata i podataka o narodnooslobodilačkom ratu, DOKUMENTI ČETNIČKOG POKRETA DRAŽE MIHAILOVIĆA, knjiga 1 - 1941. I 1942. GODINA, tom 14. p. 850. Englezi uviđaju vaš uspešan rad dosada i kakve je to žrtve izazvalo Englezi insistiraju da tražim od vas da udvostručite napore i raskinete sve nemačke komunikacione linije i stvorite najviše moguću dezorganizaciju i nered među okupatorskim snagama u našoj zemlji. Podvlače da bi to značilo najkorisniji i najneposredniji doprinos uspehu velike ofanzive koja je uspešno počela u Africi.Verujem da ćete bez odlaganja preduzeti svaku akciju u vašoj moći da ostvarite ove ciljeve.
  18. ^ (Ogden 2010, p. 69):"Following Colonel Bailey's decision to reinforce the chetnik Missions with trained military engineers, so that they could more effectively sabotage German lines of communication and...."
  19. ^ (Repac 1957, p. 68):"Of the 362 locomotives operating on this line, the Chetniks reported 112 as out of action by December 1942. "
  20. ^ (Pešić 2002, p. 192)
  21. ^ (Kent 1999, p. 8): "Док је трајала битка за Африку, бригада је извела око 40 диверзија на пругама којима су Немци транспортовали ратни материјал свом на]бољем војсковођи,..."
  22. ^ (Dimitriǰević & Nikolić 2004, p. 292)
  23. ^ (Dimitriǰević & Nikolić 2004, p. 292):"Прва мисија, под командом мајора Ерика Гринвуда, спуштена је 18. априла у Хомоље, у штаб Велимира Пилетића, а 21. маја придружила им се и друга група са два официра: мајором Џаспером Рутемом и ново- зеландским" поручником Едгаром Харгривзом."
  24. ^ (Rootham & Димитријевић 2004, p. 71)
  25. ^ (Bosiljčić 1963, p. 78):"Држећи се ондашњих процена ситуације, једна енглеска војна мисија (мајор Џаспер Рутем и Е. С. Гринвуд) приспела је негде почетком 1943. године у К, ајински корпус четника."
  26. ^ (Rootham & Димитријевић 2004, p. 71)
  27. ^ (Beloff 1985, p. 107):" On his side, Mihailović was reluctant to believe that the British and Americans could be backing the Communists against him and went on behaving as if he were part of the alliance. In the second half of 1943 he stepped up anti-German sabotage and tried to establish his democratic credentials by convening an
  28. ^ (Đurić & Mijović 1993, p. 212)
  29. ^ (Đurić & Mijović 1993, p. 212)
  30. ^ (Đurić & Mijović 1993, p. 212)
  31. ^ (Đurić & Mijović 1993, p. 212)
  32. ^ General Mihailovich: The World's Verdict : a Selection of Articles on the First Resistance Leader in Europe Published in the World Press. John Bellows. 1947. p. 131. ... joined the ranks of our Army in the Near East in the triumphant hour, but also of your undefeatable Chetniks under your command, who are fighting night and day under the most difficult conditions. December 1st, 1942. General Alan Brooke.
  33. ^ Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the ... Congress. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1956. p. 4989. The Chief of the British Imperial General Staff, pursuant to Yugoslavia's unity Day, December 1, 1942, sent the following greeting to the War Minister and the Chief of Staff of the Supreme Command of King Peter II to Army Gen Dragoljub M Mihailovich: In the name of the British Imperial General Staff I cannot let the twenty-fourth anniversary of the unification of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes into one Kingdom pass without expressing my felicitations for the wonderful undertaking of the Yugoslav Army. I am not thinking only of the forces which have joined the ranks of our army in the Near East in the triumphant hour but also of your undefeatable Chetniks under your command who are fighting night and day under the most difficult war conditions.
  34. ^ Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the ... Congress. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1956. p. 12782. During 1942 Africa crisis, Mihailovic's all-out campaign against Axis communications, especially vital to Belgrade-Nis-Salonika line, was probably instrumental for saving Africa from Rommel. British Near East Command jointly wired Mihailovic August 16, 1943: 'With admiration we are following your directed operations which are of inestimable value to our allied cause."
  35. ^ (Milazzo 1975, p. 35):"Moreover, at least as late as the close of Summer SOE headquarters with the British Middle East Command favored resistance action which paralleled Mihailovics own thinking. SOE director Hugh Dalton had directed in a report of August that "the guerilla and sabotage bands now active in Yugoslavia"
  36. ^ (Milazzo 1975, p. 35)
  37. ^ (Milazzo 1975, p. 104)
  38. ^ (Zalar 1961, p. 82):"But even during this period, ćetnici were performing acts of sabotage against German communications, engaging in minor battles, and rescuing Allied airmen who were shot down in Yugoslavia."
  39. ^ (Milazzo 1975, p. 104):"...the lines of communication, if successful, would without doubt elicit an action of the Axis troops against General Mihailovic." Chetnik sabotage actions in Serbia fell short of British expectations, and they also determined the Germans to settle accounts once for all with Mihailovics organization. "
  40. ^ (Minich 1975, p. 6):"As for his defeat in Africa, Hitler put the blame on Serbian insurgents. Hitler's order for complete annihilation of all the chetnik forces was sent to Mussolini in a letter dated February 16, 1943,...
  41. ^ The South Slav Journal. Dositey Obradovich Circle. 2003. p. 121. Hitler had said frankly: „We have no other choice, but to annihilate all Chetniks and against the bandits use the most brutal means."
  42. ^ (Piekałkiewicz 1984, p. 185):"Hitler zu Graf Ciano: »Es bleibe ... nichts übrig, als alle Tschetniks restlos auszurotten und gegen die Banden mit brutaltsten Mitteln vorzugehen."
  43. ^ (Đuković 1982, p. 61):"Предуслов споразума био је, а биће и у будуће, да четнички одреди: а) прекину борбе и саботаже против немачких снага, њихових савез- ника и домаћих снага које сарађују са њима, и против Муслимана; "

Sources