The speculators had a field day immediately before and after Casablanca, but the consensus is that second-front strategy was the immediate topic of discussion. The speculation on Casablanca blanketed-out completely certain activities in a territory within Europe where the chances are better than even that the first actual second front will be opened. This spot is Yugoslavia.
But for the most unfortunate civil strife which has flared into violence within the last month, the mountain country along the Adriatic might have already become the seat of the European revolt against the Axis. The little country has suffered defeat at the hands of the Axis, partitioning among the Germans, Italians, Hungarians, and Bulgarians, waves of brutality at the hands of the Gestapo, and the worst sort of privation, yet it was here that patriots and remnants of the defeated Yugoslav army formed the first and largest pocket of Axis resistance. Starting with little except their hands and ingenuity, the People's Liberation Army has now recaptured some 32,000 of the country's 94,230 square miles, has worked out a resourceful supply system, and has even a small air force in operation. According to information from British sources, the partisan army had, during the last six months, slain 17,535 Germans, Italians, Ustachi, and Chetniks. (The Ustachi is the equivalent of Hitler's Elite Guard and is directed by the Balkan terrorist Quisling, Ante Pavelic. Kosta Pechanatz' Chetniks are not to be confused with the group of that name under the command of Gen Draja Mikhailovitch; they are veterans of previous wartime Chetnik groups a sort of American Legion with strong fascist leanings.) The partisans have also taken some 27,000 Axis prisoners and sympathizers, as of January 29, captured 45 field pieces, 60 mortars, and 531 machine guns and destroyed 19 tanks and an equal number of German and Italian airplanes. Efficient guerrillas and demolition squads have kept Axis communications in a constant state of confusion. This impressive damage would undoubtedly be greater if the little country were not in a state of upheaval which approximates revolution.
There are, in the country ten organized cliques fighting people who bear assorted forms of nativity. The "foreign" armies of occupation include the Axis military and their Hungarian and Bulgarian satellites, totaling about twenty divisions. There are two Axis capitals: the stronghold of puppet Croatia, where Ante Pavelic and his Nazi-patterned Ustachi, National Militia, and Domebranci hold forth; and Belgrade, from which Marshal Neditch and his Serbian army and Serbian Fascist Ljotitch and Kosta Pechanatz' Society of Chetniks operate. These are the Slav outfits which are lesser satellites of the Axis.
Against them are aligned the Partisans and Gen Mikhailovitch's Chetnik state, plus three roving groups known, respectively, as the Shumari (Forest Men) of Croatia, the White Guards of Slovenia, and the Village Guards of Slovenia. Unfortunately for the Allied Nations, these elements, all of whom are sincerely patriotic, are bitterly at odds concerning the objectives for which they fight and the manner in which they fight. The émigr&eacyte; government of Yugoslavia in London is stubbornly anti-Partisan and backs Mikhailovitch. Moscow supports the Partisans, or the Peoples Liberation Army, on the basis that they are more truly representative of the Yugoslav people and are better organized and more active in the country's guerrilla war against the Axis. It is this division that results in the great amount of conflicting news concerning Yugoslavia that emanates from the Balkans, from Moscow, and from London.
The independent government which is established in Bihac, a town on the Una River in Northern Bosnia captured by the Partisans last year, has its own Chamber of Deputies with Dr Ivan Ribar as president. The army is under the direction of four rather mysterious figures who are referred to as Generals: Petko Diptchevitch, Milosh Duditch, Tito (believed to be a Russian), and Kosta Nagy.
Farther south in the Province of Bosnia, Mikhailovitch acts as a regent for exiled King Peter II. His armies have not been so active as the Partisans during the past three months, Mikhailovitch having adopted a policy of reorganization and watching-waiting for the time of the opening of the second front by more powerful Allies; this, by his own admission. In all fairness to the General, however, it must be remembered that, at the time of the Yugoslav surrender to the Germans, he was one of the several officers who disappeared into the mountains and collaborated with an officer named Major Paloshevitch who had refused to demobilize his battalion. They worked slowly and carefully, gathering and caching arms, ammunition, and provisions, limiting themselves to small skirmishes and sabotage until Germany invaded Russian in June, 1941. At this time the feeling spread throughout more predominant Slav sections of Yugoslavia that the moment for organized resistance had arrived. The first actual guerrilla activity occurred in the Hercegovina section (in the west central part of the country near the Adriatic Sea) some time before Mikhailovitch and Paloshevitch began organization.
There is indication that Allied diplomats are hard at work trying. to reconcile the Partisans and the émigré government. The unification of these patriot groups is one of the Allies' best second-front bets and might well be handled as such. These coordinated and determined Yugoslavs, as is indicated conclusively by the amount of damage they have already done to the Axis and the number of Axis soldiers and weapons tied up in this Balkan territory, could cut a niche into the Axis that would afford the Allies a solid foothold in the first part of the climb into Adolf's back yard.
This column was originally published in the March, 1943, issue of Air News magazine, vol 4, no 3, p 6.