Military history

Chapter 8

Man of the Year

George and Mirjana knew the worst of their ordeal was over as soon as they set foot in Turkey. They still had a long way to go, but they were out of German-occupied territory. After hearing about their successful escape from Yugoslavia, ten more Americans took the same path into Turkey. Once again, George and Mirjana found themselves in a group of Americans trying to find a way home, congregated this time in Istanbul. To the south, Syria was in the hands of the Vichy French, working with the Germans, so that meant the only route out was to the east, going to the Indian subcontinent and getting a boat around the Cape of Good Hope. Some of the Americans took that route and made it home in about two months, but George and Mirjana weren’t sure they were up for such a long, arduous journey by boat. And besides, George was quickly running out of money and probably couldn’t afford the passage anyway.

Istanbul was relatively safe and peaceful, so they stayed there for a while, during which time the British military attaché approached George. The British had heard of the couple’s adventure and wanted to glean some information about the occupied territory. George told them all he knew and, in the process, became quite friendly with the British military officers. When they had been in Istanbul for a month, the free French invaded Syria and took control, which made it possible for George and Mirjana to travel through the country on a train called the Taurus Express, to Jerusalem, which was in Allied hands. But when they got there, the authorities would not let them go on to Cairo, Egypt. Too many refugees were taking that route and Cairo couldn’t handle any more. So George and Mirjana were trying to figure out their next step, walking the streets of Jerusalem as they discussed options, when a man approached them. Mirjana was admiring a store’s window display when the man came up and commented on her shoes, canvas sandals common in Yugoslavia. He then asked if she was from Yugoslavia, and after a short conversation the two refugees realized they had mutual friends. He asked Mirjana and George about their backgrounds and then said, “I need people like you. I’m the head of the Yugoslav section of the British General Service Intelligence [GSI], and I need someone to translate for me.”

And thus another door opened for George and Mirjana. The man, Branco Denic, was in charge of broadcasting radio programs from the post in Jerusalem into Yugoslavia, first listening to the Nazi version of the news broadcast in occupied territories and then quickly writing another program that refuted the German lies and told the real news. Mirjana and George both accepted positions with the GSI, translating for the broadcasts, and Mirjana occasionally even went on the air herself to deliver the news. The couple spent a year in Jerusalem and in May 1942 they asked for visas to go to Cairo. Because they had worked with the British intelligence effort, the request was granted.

The plan was to go to Cairo and make their way down the East African coast to Cape Town, South Africa, where they should be able to get a boat back to the United States. But when they got to Cairo, they found the city was in a near panic. German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, known as the Desert Fox, was making his way across the Libyan Desert and there was fear that he might cut off the entire Middle East. Many embassies were abandoning Cairo as people looked for their own way out. George went to the American embassy repeatedly, asking if there were plans to evacuate U.S. citizens. On three separate occasions, the consul personally told him there would be no evacuation of Americans.

The couple was trapped yet again. They were low on money and even lower on options. In his despair, George realized it was June 28, a major holiday in Serbia known as Vidovdan, which celebrates several historical events occurring on that date. To ease his mind and to pay his respects on Vidovdan, he made his way to a Russian church in Cairo and encountered several older men who were also praying. Some small talk revealed that they were with Pan American World Airways, the principal international airline of the United States at that time. The oldest man of the group was George Kraigher, a Serb who had flown for the Yugoslavian army in World War I. He was now head of Pan Am in Africa.

Kraigher asked if George knew another young American who had been fleeing Yugoslavia as well, and George explained that the man had already found a way home to America. Kraigher said that was too bad, that he was going to offer the man a job.

“In that case, I’d like to apply for the job,” George replied.

Kraigher ended up offering George the job, but on one condition: He had to get a visa to go from Cairo to Sudan, then into Nigeria, and finally to Ghana, where the Pan Am job awaited. They had to get out of Cairo before the Germans arrived anyway, so George and Mirjana headed to the Sudan agency, an office run by the British to provide visas and other diplomatic services for countries in Africa. They found a crowd of four hundred people there clamoring for visas, agitated and yelling at the British guards, some trying to force their way in. The British were not giving out any visas.

Mirjana saw the situation and realized it was hopeless. She broke down. “We’ll never get out of here,” she sobbed. “The Germans are going to come in a couple of weeks and we’ll be taken prisoner.”

George held his wife as she cried and thought for a moment, staring at the crowd mobbing the agency gates, trying to come up with any solution. He knew Mirjana was right. If they just stayed in Cairo, they would be caught. He had to do something.

So far they had been the beneficiary of incredible luck and fortunate coincidences, but now it was up to George to make something happen, to dig deep and find enough courage to bluff his way through the embassy. He wasn’t sure he could pull it off, but he had to give it a shot.

“Let me see what I can do,” George said, pulling away from Mirjana. He walked off and, with all the attitude he could muster, marched up to a guard at the entrance.

“I’d like to see Her Majesty’s consul,” he said, trying to sound as if it were a given that he should be allowed entry.

“What for?” the guard asked.

“I can’t tell you. It’s confidential.” George stood there just staring at the guard, trying not to look away. Then he pulled out his identification card from Jerusalem, which identified him as a member of the British GSI. The guard looked at the identification and pushed aside the other people trying to get to the gate, letting George walk on in. Once inside, George answered the receptionist’s query with the same reply: “I can’t tell you. It’s confidential.” When she directed him to the British consul, Phillip Reed, George was feeling pretty confident about his ruse. Reed asked what he could do for him and George explained that he needed to go to Ghana.

“What for?” Reed asked.

“I can’t tell you. I’m in intelligence and it’s confidential.”

The consul paused for only a short moment and then asked for George’s passport. He had a clerk stamp the passport with visas for both Mr. and Mrs. Vujnovich, wished George luck, and shook his hand before turning to leave. He had been in the building for only ten minutes when he returned outside to find Mirjana. When she saw him return so quickly, she was sure he had been unable to get the visas. She broke down in tears again.

“What’s wrong?” George asked with a grin, holding up his passport as he approached. “I’ve got the visas!”

Mirjana was overjoyed and astounded. “How did you do it, George?”

He couldn’t resist. “I can’t tell you. It’s confidential.”

Kraigher was just as shocked when George returned with the visas, but he was pleased. He gave George and Mirjana first-class tickets to Sudan on the first flight out of Cairo, and when they got to the airport on June 28, George was surprised to learn that the flight was the first evacuation of Americans from Cairo. In the middle of a crowd of thirty Americans milling about was the American consul who had assured George three separate times that there would be no evacuation of Americans. Looking at the crowd of executives from American companies—a sea of camel-hair coats, crocodile-skin shoes, and ten-gallon hats—George immediately realized that the consul had notified only the wealthy and influential Americans in Cairo of the evacuation. People like George were on their own. But they had tickets for this flight, if there was enough room. It looked to George and Mirjana that there were far too many people for the plane, and they were stuck in the back of the crowd. Plus, the consul announced that he would be calling names for boarding and George didn’t expect to be at the top of his list.

They were waiting at the foot of the stairs leading into the DC-3 passenger plane, hoping to make it on the flight, when Kraigher walked up and onto the stairs. He looked over the crowd and said, “Employees of Pan American first. Mr. and Mrs. Vujnovich, please.” They pushed through the crowd and George peered directly into the eyes of the American consul as they boarded the plane first, enjoying the surprised look on the official’s face.

After a couple days of flying, they arrived in Accra, in the Gold Coast, where George took over duties as assistant airport manager, working under Kraigher. About three weeks after arriving, he put Mirjana on a plane that went from Accra to Fisherman’s Lake, Liberia; then to Ascensión, to Natal, to Georgetown, and to South Africa. From there she went to Trinidad and Puerto Rico, and on to Miami. Then she rode a train for thirty-six hours to Washington, DC. With no previous arrangements, she walked into the Yugoslavian embassy and found someone with whom she had mutual friends. She was hired to work at the embassy, and her escape from Yugoslavia was complete.

Vujnovich stayed in Africa, a decision that Mirjana was not entirely happy with, because he enjoyed his job with Pan Am. Even after such a long ordeal to get out of occupied territory, Vujnovich was reluctant to go home because he felt that his job with Pan Am promised more than anything that awaited him at home. Besides, the war was on and chances were good that he would be drafted and sent overseas anyway. Better to stay here on his own terms, he thought.

The American war effort did reach out for Vujnovich before long. About the same time that Mirjana left, Pan Am was militarized for the war effort and became part of the Air Transport Command. Employees like Vujnovich were offered a military commission or a ride back to the United States with no job and the prospect of being drafted. So George accepted a commission as second lieutenant. Kraigher became a colonel. Vujnovich was soon transferred to Lagos, assisting with the delivery of planes to be used in the war, and eventually assumed command of the base. He excelled at his job, and then one day he was visited by two American civilians who asked him to join the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS. He would be useful because he spoke the Serbo-Croat language and knew the region well.

Vujnovich didn’t even know what the OSS was, so the men explained that it was a special agency that reported directly to the president. He probably would be promoted if he joined the OSS, they told him. Vujnovich thought it sounded like the chance of a lifetime, so he said yes and found himself in Washington, DC, for a week. He had some time with Mirjana and then he was sent to the “Farm,” the ultrasecret OSS training facility on a sprawling estate about twenty miles north of Washington, DC. This was where he learned close-combat skills, code work, and other espionage techniques. After a month at the Farm, Vujnovich was an expert in skills like reading maps and judging latitude from the sun. The instructor in close combat was a former police chief in Shanghai, and he taught Vujnovich how to break a man’s arm or leg quickly, and how to make a man hurt so he would do anything you wanted. Once Vujnovich was fully trained, he had to take the final exam that was required of everyone leaving the Farm: a real-world assignment that would test what he had learned during his stay. His instructors gave him a challenging assignment: Go to the Bethlehem Shipyard in Baltimore, Maryland, and find out what ships were being built and how many. This was in wartime 1943, and such defense information was supposed to be closely guarded. He was given a small pressing tool for copying documents and a special phone number to call if he were caught and the police got too rough with him. If they didn’t beat him too badly, he was supposed to maintain his cover as long as he could. Calling for help from the OSS because you received a standard police beating might mean you failed your exam.

Vujnovich set out on his task and decided right away to use a technique called “negative information,” which involved stating information you know to be false in hopes that the other person will correct you and reveal secrets. The shipyard was in need of workers, so it was no problem getting a job there with a fake identification card he made himself. He befriended a coworker and joined him for a beer one day after work, casually mentioning that he had worked in another shipyard that was turning out one Liberty ship every five days, a pitifully slow rate during a war. “It doesn’t look like Baltimore is much faster than that,” he said.

This was Vujnovich’s entrée into finding out exactly what the Baltimore yard was doing, because most individual workers weren’t supposed to know details about production rates, and if they knew, they weren’t supposed to talk about it.

The other worker was eager to brag about the shipyard’s fast pace and told Vujnovich he was wrong, that, by God, they were completing a ship a day and they were damned proud of it. Vujnovich scoffed at the idea, so the man bet him a beer that he could prove it. He brought over another worker who confirmed the information. The man won his beer and Vujnovich became an OSS officer.

After his training, Vujnovich was able to spend a month and a half with Mirjana in Washington, where she was living with a naval officer and his wife on the west side of town. He had to leave before they found out that Mirjana was pregnant. Then the OSS flew him back to Cairo and on to Bari, Italy, where he arrived on November 20, 1943. The British Eighth Army had liberated Italy only about three weeks earlier. By the time he arrived in Bari, Vujnovich had been promoted to first lieutenant.

Vujnovich was back, and this time he was fighting the Nazis instead of running from them.

When Mirjana wrote him from Washington to ask if he could help the airmen stranded in the hills of Yugoslavia, he immediately set out to determine if his wife really did know something that had eluded the OSS post in Bari. A little investigation revealed that no one had been informed of any group as large as the hundred airmen Mirjana referred to, but there was reason to think she might be right.

If it proved true, the revelation in Mirjana’s letter was surprising but not exactly shocking. It was entirely possible for so many airmen to be in Mihailovich’s territory without word getting to him in Bari. Vujnovich knew quite well how the military bureaucracy and politics, not to mention the Communist moles that had infiltrated the OSS, routinely got in the way of his agents doing their jobs. But how the news got to him didn’t matter as much as what he could do in response. He instantly felt a connection to the young men who just wanted to get out and go home. And he also felt a strong tie to the local Serbs helping them, any one of whom could be his own relative.

Not a man to stand aside and hope someone else acted, Vujnovich decided he had to get those men out of Yugoslavia. He knew the task would be challenging and he was not certain it could be done at all. But he was certain that it had to be tried and that the OSS was the right bunch of men for the job. While he tried to confirm Mirjana’s message, Vujnovich started looking into rescue options and quickly found out that the task would be challenging on many fronts, not the least of which was all the political maneuvering over the Balkans. Vujnovich knew that the political situation in Yugoslavia was growing more complicated by the day, and the interaction among the United States, Great Britain, Tito, and Mihailovich was becoming a tangled mess of alliances, pseudo-alliances, outright opposition, and conflicting loyalties. In just the past year, the relationship between the Allies and Mihailovich had taken a dramatic turn for the worse, which Vujnovich knew was the primary explanation for why the messages from Mihailovich about the downed airmen were not acted on. Sure, the situation on the ground was more complicated and more dangerous than when the OSS had gone into Yugoslavia in 1943 to bring out some pilots, but that didn’t explain all of the hesitation. Vujnovich knew that politicos were arguing back and forth about Tito and Mihailovich, juggling the reports from Yugoslavia—many of them questionable at best—to determine where the Allies should put their support. The facts about what was happening on the ground took a backseat to the political posturing and propaganda spewed by many parties with many different agendas. Vujnovich knew this and he knew that it would be as formidable a challenge for him as any Nazi trooper his agents might meet in Yugoslavia.

The first thing Vujnovich investigated was the reports from Mihailovich. When he looked into Mirjana’s comment about the downed airmen, it didn’t take long for him to confirm that Mihailovich had been sending detailed accounts of the airmen he was harboring. So why wasn’t anyone doing anything about it? The answer, Vujnovich discovered, was that Mihailovich was officially persona non grata with the Allies now. By the time Vujnovich started working on the rescue, the Allies’ position was that Mihailovich could not be trusted and should receive no support that might give him an advantage over his internal opponent, Tito. Or rather, that was mostly the British position and the Americans went along with it.

Vujnovich was no stranger to Yugoslav history and he was quite familiar with Mihailovich. This turnaround was shocking, though it fit into the pattern he was seeing within the OSS. There were so many Communists infiltrating the OSS and other military agencies, Vujnovich realized, that it was hard to trust any information disparaging an anti-Communist like Mihailovich. Especially one who had been such a loyal supporter of the Allies since the war began, and one who had been hailed as a great freedom fighter by the West.

Only two years earlier, a flattering, dramatically rendered portrait of Mihailovich graced the cover of Time magazine, leading readers to an article that described him as “the greatest guerilla fighter of Europe.” The first articles in the Western press had appeared in late 1941, a few months after the Germans invaded Yugoslavia in April and soon after the Yugoslav government in exile in London was able to make radio contact with the rebel general. The people of America and Great Britain were captivated by the romantic tales of this handsome guerilla who dared to stand up to the German invasion. The news from most other fronts in Europe was discouraging. German armies were advancing on Moscow and Leningrad, other countries had capitulated already, and resistance movements elsewhere were still fledgling. But the public was reading stories about this dashing general who refused to concede his country to the Nazis. The very idea that someone was fighting back gave people in the West reason to hope, and the press quickly realized that its readers couldn’t get enough of Mihailovich. Before long, Mihailovich was one of the better known and most popular public figures in the West, his name becoming synonymous with resistance and dedication to one’s country. Time magazine readers voted him Man of the Year.

The press reported on everything they could find about Mihailovich, painting a flattering portrait of a man who was at once intellectually gifted and possessed of a fierce fighting nature. He was of medium height, wiry, with blue eyes, horn-rimmed or wire-rimmed eyeglasses, and a look that reporters often described as pensive. Before the war, when he held positions in the Yugoslav government, Mihailovich was mostly clean shaven. During the war, he sported the bushy Old Testament beard common among the Serb peasants. In most photographs of Mihailovich, especially those taken before the war, it would be easy to mistake him for a university professor rather than one of the world’s foremost resistance fighters.

Mihailovich had been a war hero in World War I and had achieved the rank of colonel in the Yugoslav army. Like many Serb officers in the army, Mihailovich was known as “a man of the people” who looked out for the peasants in the countryside. He was known throughout the military, and by some leaders abroad, as a brilliant strategist and theoretician, though his outspoken criticism of some military operations earned him official rebukes and even house arrest on more than one occasion. While there were those who differed with him on politics and military strategy, scarcely anyone could fault Mihailovich as a man. He was known by all as a man of great integrity, dignified and controlled at all times, and he consistently displayed an egalitarianism that others of his rank did not always share. Mihailovich always took his meals sitting on the ground with common soldiers, not in more comfortable quarters with officers, and he carried his own knapsack on long marches. This man of the people was always willing to sit down with local people and hear their concerns.

No matter what else his detractors might have said of Mihailovich, there was no disputing his loyalty to Yugoslavia and its monarchy. When the Germans invaded, Mihailovich led seven officers and twenty-four noncommissioned officers and soldiers who refused to surrender and retreated to the hills. After arriving at Ravna Gora, mountain country in the region of Serbia, on May 8, he started organizing parts of the splintered Yugoslav army into the Yugoslav Army of the Homeland, dedicated to driving the Nazis out of their country but also vehemently opposed to the Communists who were promoting Soviet-style government. In the first year after the fall of Yugoslavia, Mihailovich’s forces didn’t constitute much of a formidable force; he was mostly trying to consolidate the bits and pieces of the Yugoslav army that were still in isolated pockets throughout the country. A major challenge was gaining the trust and cooperation of individual commanders who were accustomed to working independently. Mihailovich had his hands full fighting the Germans, Fascist Italy, the Ustashe Fascists from Croatia, and anyone promoting a Communist future for Yugoslavia. As far as the Allies were concerned, and especially the Americans, Mihailovich was our man in 1941—opposed to both the Germans and the Communists, and having pledged his support to the Allied cause.

At first Mihailovich and his guerillas were able to concentrate on the German occupiers because he did not seek to directly engage any of the other enemies. In fact, he didn’t seek confrontation even with the Germans on a large scale. Though he was well liked by the Yugoslav people and hailed as a hero by those in the hill country, Mihailovich did not try to incite a mass uprising against the Germans and others occupying their country. After seeing the catastrophic Serb losses in World War I, in which the Kingdom of Serbia lost a quarter of its male population, Mihailovich could not encourage the people of his country to charge German machine guns with their pitchforks and axes. His strategy, instead, was to gather men and materials and create a stronghold in the Serbian hills while he awaited an Allied landing that would liberate Yugoslavia the same way Italy had just been freed from German control. Mihailovich’s plan was to prepare a large army that could be mobilized quickly at the right moment, attacking the Germans and Italians just as the Americans and British were approaching. To that end, he avoided any premature conflicts that could lead to the destruction of his fighting force. In particular, he avoided enlisting the local Serbs in espionage or overt sabotage against the German occupiers because he thought the risk was too great. Having seen almost three thousand civilians executed in the towns of Kraljevo and Kragujevac in October 1941 as reprisals for sabotage against the Germans, Mihailovich took a firm position that he could not expose the people of Yugoslavia to such risk unless the outcome was great enough to justify the inevitable deaths from reprisal. Until he knew the Allies were on the brink of invasion, he thought, it rarely was worth the lives of innocent villagers just to kill a German soldier or blow up a bridge. That conviction led Mihailovich’s forces to concentrate their efforts on delayed sabotage that made reprisals less likely, but it should be noted that Mihailovich found protecting the downed American airmen to be so important that he was willing to risk lives and even see villages massacred rather than give them up.

The exiled King Peter supported Mihailovich, and the colonel who refused to surrender rose in rank in the exile government, becoming minister of war on January 11, 1942, and then general and deputy commander-in-chief on June 17. That prompted the Time magazine cover, and Mihailovich was lauded the world over for fighting the German war machine from within occupied territory.

Mihailovich’s position was challenged in June 1941, after the German attack on the Soviet Union, when the Communist movement led by Josip Broz Tito—known as the Partisans—began actively resisting the German and Italian forces in Yugoslavia. A dedicated Communist even before the German invasion, Tito was a member of the outlawed Yugoslav Communist Party in the 1930s and became chairman in 1937. He and his fellow Communists were vehemently anti-Fascist but had been pushing to keep Yugoslavia out of the war until Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. With the Soviet Union, the motherland of Communism, under attack, suddenly the Yugoslav Communists felt it was time to fight the Germans occupying their country. Mihailovich wanted nothing to do with Communism, but like the Allies in the West, he didn’t mind if Tito wanted to kill a few Germans. A problem soon arose, however, when Mihailovich realized that Tito was adopting a very different approach from his own. Instead of quietly gathering resources and waiting for the Allies to arrive, Tito was striking out at the German and Italian occupiers like a cuckold with nothing to lose. All-out resistance was Tito’s strategy, and Mihailovich knew it would prompt vicious reprisals from the Germans.

The reason for the different approaches was crystallized by one of Mihailovich’s senior officers, Lieutenant Colonel Zivan L. Knezevich, who had been chief of the Yugoslav prime minister’s military cabinet and the former Yugoslav military and air attaché in Washington. He noted that Mihailovich’s primary goals were saving the country and its traditions with as few civilian casualties as possible. Tito, he explained, wanted to Sovietize Yugoslavia and establish Communism, and he didn’t care how much Yugoslav blood was shed in the process. “The Communist Partisans wanted immediately to lead the people into an open fight against the forces of occupation although the people were completely bare-handed and the fight could not have benefited anybody,” Knezevich explained soon after the war. Mihailovich “thought that the uprising was premature and that, without any gain in prospect, it would have brought disproportionately great sacrifices. He was not able to convince the Communist Partisans that an open fight could have only one result, namely, the annihilation of the population.”

Tito’s open opposition prompted reprisals not just in his own territory but throughout Yugoslavia. The Communist actions led to punitive German expeditions in the region of Serbia, where Mihailovich operated, that led to the deaths of seventy-eight thousand Serbians between the ages of sixteen and fifty. And German reprisals weren’t Mihailovich’s only concern. Tito was committing his own crimes against the people of Yugoslavia in his quest for a Communist state.

In a telegram on February 22, 1943, Mihailovich reported on a recent Tito operation:

In their flight from the Bihac Republic the Communists forced the entire population to flee with them before the Germans and the Ustashe, in order to protect the Communists from attack. Because of this Communist terror, masses of people are fleeing from Mihac toward Glamoc. As soon as the Germans approach, the Communists abandon these unprotected masses and leave them to the mercy of the Germans and the Ustashe, who massacre them mercilessly. Those who succeed in escaping die in the snow and ice. Between Drvar and Glamoc, there are over five hundred frozen bodies of women and children. All this is more than horrible. That is the fight which the Communists wage, a fight which is directed by foreign propaganda with the aim of systematically annihilating our nation.

With each such incident, Mihailovich’s resolve grew and the picture became clearer to him: The Communists were no better than the Nazis. Though Tito and the Partisan leaders were staunch Communists and planned a Soviet-style postwar government that would gift wrap the Kingdom of Yugoslavia for the Soviet Union, many of those joining the Partisan movement had no such dreams. Some were pro-Communist, but many didn’t care one way or the other. Many joined the Partisan effort because Tito made it clear he was anti-German; he could have been pro-anything and the people who wanted the Germans out wouldn’t have cared. Many Yugoslavs also were directed to one camp or the other purely by geographical proximity. Mihailovich was in the hills where the peasants were his main supporters, and Tito was in the lowlands where city dwellers and others could join his movement. For many, the question was who was going to drive out the Germans, and Tito gave every appearance of doing that more aggressively than Mihailovich.

The animosity between Mihailovich and Tito also was tied to their ethnic and religious backgrounds, in a country that had a long, bloody history of clashes between rival groups that all called Yugoslavia home. Mihailovich was Serbian and Tito was Croat. The Croats had a deep-seated and long-standing resentment over how the Serbs had dominated the political structure in Yugoslavia for decades, and they saw this conflict as a chance to correct that problem. King Alexander, a Serb, had declared himself the supreme ruler in 1929 and abolished the country’s parliament and constitution. For the next fifteen years, the Croat community seethed and grew ever more resentful that they lived under a Serb dictatorship. Italy, soon to join hands with Nazi Germany, took advantage of the Serb/Croat conflict and supported the Ustashe terrorist organization, which was pushing for an overthrow of the Serb dictatorship. The Ustashe were responsible for the assassination of King Alexander in Marseilles, France, in 1934, which led to the rise of Prince Paul, first cousin of the king. Prince Paul was considered a weak ruler who looked to the British for support and instructions. When King Peter took over from Prince Paul in 1941, he continued to rely on the British and lived in exile in Great Britain during the war.

The groups’ religious differences only fueled the fires, the Croats adhering to Catholicism and the Serbs belonging to the Orthodox Church. Adding varied loyalties to Communism, Fascism, Nazism, and Democracy to the mix only ensured that the groups would find good reason to shoot at each other eventually.

The two sides in this civil war hated each other as much as they did the Germans or the Italians, and they both felt fervently—and correctly, it turned out—that the outcome of their conflict would determine the future of Yugoslavia every bit as much as whether the Germans stayed. If Mihailovich prevailed, the country’s future would be monarchist, anti-Communist, and largely democratic. If Tito won, the future Yugoslavia would be Communist, pure and simple. With such sharp contrasts in philosophy, and with the long history of merciless Balkan conflicts influencing their every move, Mihailovich and Tito waged a brutal civil war. When Tito’s men captured Mihailovich territory, they publicly executed anyone even suspected of being sympathetic to the general. Mihailovich’s Chetnik forces followed much the same pattern, though they tended not to be as capricious and put a little more effort into determining who really was a Partisan or Partisan sympathizer before cutting their throats.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!