In the early stages of the resistance, Mihailovich and Tito both considered the advantages that could be obtained by combining their forces. But doing so would require one of them to compromise his political beliefs and neither was willing to budge. Better to fight the occupiers separately than give up your commitment to Communism, or your commitment to preserving the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The two sides resisted the Germans in their own ways, with Mihailovich still receiving strong support from the Allies and Tito left to do as he pleased as long as he was undermining the Nazi effort to secure Yugoslavia.
Though Mihailovich was content to avoid direct confrontation with Tito, the same could not be said for the Communist leader. Tito aggressively attacked Mihailovich’s forces in November 1941, bringing to a head all the differences that had been largely philosophical and theoretical up to that point. From that point forward, both Tito and Mihailovich were forced to divide their attention and their resources, fighting each other for control of Yugoslavia while they fought the Germans so there would be something left to control.
The growing civil war in Yugoslavia forced the British government’s hand. Sending support to both sides was British policy for a while, but by late 1941, the Allies were beginning to realize that supporting both Tito and Mihailovich would not be productive if they were using the arms and resources against each other and not just the Germans. One or the other had to be the Allies’ man in Yugoslavia, and so the British sent in a field agent named Captain Duane Hudson to investigate the situation. Hudson was an agent of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the British equivalent of the American OSS. This would prove to be the beginning of the end for Mihailovich.
Communication between the parties consisted mainly of telegrams, radio broadcasts, and the personal reports of agents sent in to meet with Mihailovich, and the records indicate that while the British were annoyed by Mihailovich’s apparent defiance of their orders, he was just as annoyed that they would presume to tell him how to run his insurgency. Hudson spent seven months in Yugoslavia, traveling between Mihailovich’s and Tito’s forces, meeting with both leaders and assessing their commitment to the Allied war effort. When Hudson reported back to his superiors in May 1942, he concluded that Chetnik leaders had collaborated with Italian forces in Montenegro and he confirmed that Mihailovich was taking a passive stance and not actively resisting the German occupation. Though he reported that Mihailovich might be willing to make a secret pact with the Germans or Italians if it would keep Yugoslavia from falling under Communism, he underscored that he thought Mihailovich much preferred an Allied victory. The general and his forces could be counted on to participate in a “grand finale against the Axis” if Allied troops arrived to liberate Yugoslavia, he said. The Chetniks were committed to the Allied cause, Hudson concluded, but they might be more committed to fighting the Communists than the Germans.
The enemy, on the other hand, clearly saw Mihailovich as a threat. In the latter part of 1941, not long after Yugoslavia fell, the Germans launched Operation Mihailovich to capture or kill the rebel leader. (They were equally interested in capturing or killing Tito.) The concerted effort to stop Mihailovich reportedly came after German leaders finally realized how strong his movement was and how much it was impeding the German invasion. When Hitler was informed in late 1941 that Mihailovich’s guerilla movement had killed one thousand German troops so far, he announced that for every German soldier killed by Mihailovich, one hundred Serbs would be shot. For every German soldier wounded, fifty Serbs would be killed. Any village harboring Mihailovich or his men would be punished severely. Gunshots from any house would result in the home being destroyed and any male over the age of fifteen executed. The Germans carried out these orders ruthlessly, but Mihailovich evaded the German dragnet. On July 20, 1943, the Axis published a proclamation offering a reward of one hundred thousand gold marks for the capture of Mihailovich, dead or alive. Still, no one turned him in.
Another SOE agent followed Hudson in and returned with essentially the same conclusions about Mihailovich. He also reported that Mihailovich’s forces in Montenegro were dealing arms with the Italians—a major concern for the Allies because it signaled a lack of loyalty to the Allied cause, or at least a lack of discipline within Mihailovich’s forces—but the agent noted that Tito’s Partisans were doing the same thing. Telegrams from Mihailovich to the exiled Yugoslav government indicated that he had ample opportunity to collaborate with the Germans but consistently refused. In a telegram sent from Mihailovich on March 2, 1943, he wrote of several instances in which he and his senior officers had been approached by Germans with offers of cooperation. Mihailovich reported that he consistently refused such offers, replying to one query with, “As long as you are shooting and arresting innocent Serbians and as long as you are in our Homeland there can be no negotiations of any kind.” In another telegram on March 10, 1943, Mihailovich again reiterated his refusal to cooperate with the Germans and this time he voiced suspicions that the offers themselves were part of a plot orchestrated by the Communists and the Axis to discredit him and his National Movement with the Allies:
The attempts of the enemy to get in contact with me continue. This time the offer came both from the Germans and the Italians together, asking me to get in touch with one of my collaborators at least. This attempt I also refused emphatically and I shall continue to do so in the future. The constant attempts of the enemy to establish contact with me, I am convinced, come from a desire to take advantage of the campaign which is being waged in the Allied countries against the National Movement which is headed by the Central National Committee. I do not exclude the possibility of an intrigue on the part of the Germans and the Italians directed against the National Movement and its integrity. Please, be careful.
Mihailovich voiced those concerns throughout the war, but the British continued to focus on reports of collaboration with the enemy—mostly from their agents in Yugoslavia. There is reason to believe some of those reports of collaboration were well founded but that they missed the big picture. Some instances of collaboration can be found among many warring factions in any war, especially with a loosely organized guerilla movement, but by and large the evidence supports Mihailovich’s loyalty to the Allied cause. Much of what the Allies considered collaboration really could be more accurately termed “accommodations,” which are common and generally benign agreements between warring factions—pragmatic agreements that did not signal any alliance or any backing down from the overall intent to stop each other’s military. An example would be exchanging prisoners or opposing units deciding not to fight each other at the moment because each needed a respite. While these accommodations were the opposite of what the British wanted from Mihailovich, they still did not represent any lack of allegiance to the West.
Nevertheless, the agents’ reports cast doubt on Mihailovich as an ally to be trusted and played into the hands of British authorities who didn’t like the idea of the general supposedly twiddling his thumbs in the hills of Yugoslavia while Tito was out killing German troops and blowing up train depots. The British concerns were increased when British troops caused Hitler’s Afrika Korps to retreat in October 1942, and then Allied forces landed in North Africa less than a month later. Those events caused the Mediterranean to suddenly become a major theater of operations for the Allied and Axis forces, and the British thought it was imperative that German supply lines running through Yugoslavia be cut. When they looked at Tito and Mihailovich, they wanted to see active resistance and they told them so.
Tito’s forces continued attacking German supply lines, but Mihailovich, though he was doing more than the British gave him credit for, did not increase activities in a way that satisfied the British. Authorities in Great Britain were growing increasingly frustrated because their first choice to support in the Yugoslav struggle had always been Mihailovich. They had no interest in seeing Tito establish a Communist government in Yugoslavia after the war. But as explained by author Kirk Ford Jr. in OSS and the Yugoslav Resistance:
Obviously the bond of mutual self-interest which had for slightly more than two years held Mihailovich and the British together was beginning to unravel. As it did, the British had to choose between short-term military policy, which suggested the extension of military support to the Partisans, and long-term political interests, which implied continued support of Mihailovich.
Despite doubts about his loyalty, the British—and by extension the Americans—continued to support Mihailovich as their ally in Yugoslavia. That support was sometimes only on the surface, as material support was given to Tito in amounts similar to what Mihailovich received. Neither received much. In the spring of 1943, however, Mihailovich was beginning to lose all support in London. Concerns had been mounting about Mihailovich being less willing to engage the Germans than Tito, and the accusations of collaboration had gained a foothold. A final straw came on February 28, 1943, when Mihailovich delivered a speech to a local gathering of supporters. In that address, an obviously frustrated and candid Mihailovich said the Serb people were now “completely friendless” and that the British were not willing to help then or in the future, and that, “The English are now fighting to the last Serb in Yugoslavia.” Continuing in his ill-advised rant, Mihailovich stated that his enemies were now the Partisans, Ustashe, the Moslems, and the Croats. When he had dealt with them, he said, he would turn his attention toward the Italians and Germans. He then stated, at least according to the British liaison who reported back to London, that he needed no further contact with the Western democracies whose “sole aim was to win the war at the expense of others.”
Such accusations, and the apparent declaration that Mihailovich was breaking with the Allies, could not be ignored. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill fired off a stinging rebuke to Slobodan Jovanovich, the Yugoslav prime minister:
I appreciate that words spoken in heat may not express a considered judgment, and that General Mihailovich may feel himself temporarily aggrieved of a small amount of assistance which it has unfortunately for reasons beyond the control of His Majesty’s Government been possible to send him recently. You will appreciate however, that His Majesty’s Government cannot ignore this outburst nor accept without explanation and without protest a policy so totally at variance with our own. They could never justify to the British public or to their own Allies their continued support for a movement, the leader of which does not scruple publicly to declare that their enemies are his allies—whether temporary or permanent is immaterial—and that his enemies are not the German and Italian invaders of his country, but his fellow Yugoslavs and chief among them men who at this very moment are fighting and giving their lives to free his country from the foreigners’ yoke.
Churchill went on to conclude with a warning:
You will, I am sure, appreciate that unless General Mihailovich is prepared to change his policy both towards the Italian enemy and towards his Yugoslav compatriots who are resisting the enemy, it may well prove necessary for His Majesty’s Government to revise their present policy of favouring General Mihailovich to the exclusion of the other resistance movements in Yugoslavia.
The Yugoslav prime minister relayed the British concerns to Mihailovich with a sternly worded telegram that underscored how precarious the British support was and that words spoken in anger could be disastrous. But at the same time, he met with Churchill and explained that Mihailovich’s comments were made in a relaxed state to a small circle of his followers and were not representative of the general’s true feelings. “If there were a secret service to overhear what the Allies say about one another, much worse things would be heard than that speech by General Mihailovich,” he told Churchill.
The warnings from Churchill and Jovanovich made an impression on Mihailovich. While he contended that his speech was greatly misunderstood and then interpreted with the most cynical preconceptions, he responded with a statement of unequivocal support for the Allies, reiterating that, “My only enemy is the Axis. I avoid battle with the Communists in the country and fight only when attacked.” He also stated that he had made every effort to stop the civil war in Yugoslavia, including repeated requests for the British to intervene with Tito, to no avail. He assured the British that he was ready “to do everything I can for the mutual cause.”
The damage had been done. Mihailovich’s speech was just what the doubters in the British government needed to confirm that support should be thrown to Tito and withdrawn from Mihailovich. On June 1, 1943, the British Middle East Command sent a telegram to the Yugoslav prime minister detailing an “operational decision” concerning Mihailovich. “Execution is very urgent,” it said. The telegram, the contents of which were soon forwarded to Mihailovich, explained the British conclusions that Mihailovich’s forces did not represent a significant fighting force but the Communist Partisans did. The telegram instructed Mihailovich to go “immediately to Kopaonik with all his faithful officers and men; if necessary he is to force through with armed forces.” The British were instructing Mihailovich to go to Tito’s headquarters and submit to him, fighting through Germans and Italians to get there. The British position was influenced in part by reports from Randolph Churchill, Winston Churchill’s son, who was at Tito’s headquarters as the principal British liaison to Tito. Vujnovich had heard from the American OSS agents working with the Partisans that Randolph Churchill was uniformly seen as a bad-tempered, spoiled rich boy with a serious drinking problem. Apparently his main function was to send reports directly from Tito to his father, mostly reports of the Partisans’ glorious victories over the Germans that the younger Churchill made no attempt to verify.
Mihailovich responded with astonishment that the British would order him to surrender. He categorically refused, saying, “My fighters and I did not recognize the capitulation which the enemy imposed upon us and we certainly will not accept capitulation from our Allies.” His response only further enraged the British military leaders and politicians who had aligned against him. When Churchill met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Russian general secretary Joseph Stalin at the Tehran Conference on December 1, 1943, Mihailovich was one of the subjects of conversation. Churchill pushed the British view that Mihailovich could no longer be trusted to support the Allied cause, even though his own advisers were warning that Tito intended to establish a Communist government in Yugoslavia that would be controlled from Moscow. Churchill insisted that the war effort demanded a short-term focus and whatever happened after the war they would worry about later. He explained that his only goal at the moment was to find out “who was killing the most Germans and suggesting means by which we could help to kill more.” As Roosevelt already knew, Churchill vigorously opposed Communism except when Hitler was involved. A year and a half earlier, on June 22, 1941, Churchill broadcast a message to the people of Great Britain explaining that the country was allying itself with Communist Russia, which had recently been invaded by Germany. When his private secretary remarked that Churchill previously had called Communism a menace he would like to “strangle in its cradle,” Churchill acknowledged the irony of the moment. But he replied that, “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons!”
Depending on the British assessment of Tito’s and Mihailovich’s activities in Yugoslavia, and not realizing how skewed that assessment was, Roosevelt reluctantly accepted Churchill’s argument. Before they left the meeting in Tehran, Iran, the big three had agreed that Mihailovich would receive no more support. Instead, the Allies would put all their efforts behind helping Tito win control of Yugoslavia.
From that moment forward, Mihailovich was cut loose, fighting alone in Yugoslavia with no support from the British and even open animosity from old friends in Britain.
Despite being abandoned, Mihailovich remained loyal to the Allied cause and particularly the American pilots who risked their lives flying over Yugoslavia to bomb the Ploesti oil fields. However, he continued to grow increasingly frustrated and disappointed by the actions—and inaction—of the British and Americans, especially now that the British had severed all ties. It soon became clear that not only was he not receiving any active support from the British (not that he had received much in the first place), but now he was being smeared by British radio. The Yugoslav general was enraged when he heard BBC radio broadcasts that extolled the anti-German efforts of the Communist Partisans while giving no credit to the work done by his own forces, sometimes even praising Tito for missions carried out by Mihailovich’s men. As the British sided with Tito over Mihailovich, the authorities constructed their radio propaganda accordingly. The BBC radio broadcasts were vital sources of information for the Yugoslav people, and the British voices were telling people that Tito and the Communists were fighting valiantly for them. Almost no mention was made of Mihailovich.
This was the situation that Vujnovich found when he arrived at the Bari, Italy, office of the OSS and took over covert operations in Yugoslavia. He knew enough about the politics of the Balkans, and the influence of Communist moles in the American and British governments, to give Mihailovich the benefit of the doubt, but Vujnovich understood that the British were guiding the Allied position on Mihailovich. If they had decided that he was no longer a partner in the war, the Americans would go along with that. Besides, it was only recently that American operatives had any direct involvement with Mihailovich. Until 1943, the British had complete control over Yugoslavia as far as Allied operations were concerned, but the SOE and OSS agreed in July 1943 to allow limited OSS operations in Yugoslavia. The OSS was eager to get into Yugoslavia, seeing ample opportunity to fulfill its mission behind enemy lines and gain a foothold for operations in the Balkans after the war. The primary goal for the OSS in Yugoslavia was to slow down and interfere with the actions of as many German units as possible, to keep them from linking up with the twenty-six Nazi units already in Italy or redeploying to fight the Allied troops soon to land in Normandy.
At the beginning of World War II the British were considered the worldwide masters of subterfuge and clandestine warfare, and the SOE had been established in 1940 by the Secret Intelligence Service for the specific purpose of assisting local rebels fighting the German invasion across Europe. So it was with great reluctance that the Brits allowed the Yanks onto their turf. Though the British and American intelligence units were supposed to be coequal when working together in the region, American OSS agents reported that their British counterparts always seemed to regard themselves as the senior partner, a little more than coequal with the Americans.
Vujnovich knew from one of the key agents in Yugoslavia that the American and British forces did not always get along. They may have been Allies, but they weren’t always allies, agents reported from the field. Some OSS agents felt that the British were every bit their enemy as the Germans, at least when it came to their intelligence activities.
Similar concerns were reported by George Musulin and George Wuchinich, OSS agents who had recently been sent into Yugoslavia. Arriving in May 1943, the two Americans of Yugoslav heritage were sent into Yugoslavia through Cairo, with the goal of establishing an OSS presence that would facilitate other missions. A round-faced, robust bear of a man, Musulin was a former steelworker with a personality as big as his girth. He had joined the army in 1941 and was assigned to the 29th Infantry Division at Fort Meade, Maryland. By July 1942, his Yugoslav background and his ease with the Serbo-Croat language, not to mention his eagerness to take on dangerous assignments, made him an excellent candidate for an OSS agent. While on infantry maneuvers in Virginia, Musulin was approached by an OSS representative who asked if he would volunteer for dangerous work behind the lines in the European theater. Musulin immediately accepted the offer and soon found himself in parachute training, made possible only by a special waiver that gave him a nearly one-hundred-pound exemption to the usual 185-pound limit for parachute jumps. The training officers marveled at the huge soldier’s willingness to jump, and each time he did, they made lighthearted bets about how many panels in his chute would blow out.
When he was dropped into enemy territory in October 1943, this former star tackle on the University of Pittsburgh football team was the heaviest American soldier to make a successful parachute jump in World War II.
After making his way to Mihailovich’s headquarters in 1943, during the period when the British were officially supporting Tito and Mihailovich in equal measures, Musulin reported to his superiors in Cairo that Mihailovich claimed to have 57,440 men mobilized and that he could mobilize more than four hundred thousand if he had arms for them. The American agent’s estimates of Mihailovich’s men was somewhat lower at thirty-five thousand, but he described the general as having “a fairly well-organized army.” However, he also reported that, “Mihailovich is now doing very little fighting against the Germans, although he did have a month of considerable activity after the Italian capitulation in September 1943.” Mihailovich’s forces appeared to have complete control over the mountainous region of Serbia, he reported, though he noted that the soldiers were remarkably lacking in military supplies. All of the arms were in “very poor condition,” he said, most of them old Yugoslav army rifles, and the guerillas seemed as dependent on mountaineers’ axes and knives strapped to their belts. Musulin saw many German machine pistols and Barettas in the hands of Chetnik fighters, along with the occasional light machine guns. Mortars and heavy machine guns were in especially short supply, and there were practically no artillery pieces at all. Worst of all, Musulin reported, was that there wasn’t enough ammunition even for the few old weapons the Chetniks had. “I would estimate each soldier has an average of about twenty-five to forty rounds per rifle, and one hundred fifty to two hundred rounds per machine gun,” he reported. He went on to say that the average Chetnik soldier “is extremely poorly clothed and has been living a hard, rugged, and miserable life for three years in the woods, suffering many hardships, living in dirty peasant huts, and eating what the peasant will give him. Many troops have not seen their families for nearly three years, or have lost them through German reprisals. Considering these factors, the morale and discipline of the troops in Serbia is good.”
Musulin also noted that, “The Serbian people are tremendously enthusiastic for Americans. They refer to Americans as the only nation which has no ultimate designs on them.” They did not have such warm feelings for the British. Musulin described a complete distrust of the British by Mihailovich and his leaders “who feel the British have now sold them down the river to Stalin.”
The American agent was not in any mood to defend the British SOE. Musulin also reported back to the OSS post in Cairo that the British sometimes obstructed his operations, apparently not out of any disloyalty to the Allied cause or any interest in collaborating with the enemy, but as a matter of protecting their turf and making sure the British authority in the region was not challenged. Vujnovich saw the same interference on his end. Sometimes the interference was overt and sometimes it amounted to simply a lack of cooperation and a disregard for the aims of the OSS missions. Intelligence might be restricted so as to exclude the Americans who could benefit from it, or messages might be passed along very slowly, eventually winding their way through the proper channels but with no urgency. The lack of cooperation, or outright interference, was even more pronounced when it came to operational missions in which the OSS needed to send agents behind enemy lines with specific objectives. These missions required great coordination and logistical challenges, and the Americans often had to rely on the British SOE because of its longer history in the region and more substantial infrastructure. In his short time in Bari already, Vujnovich had experienced the same frustration with the British that Musulin and the other agents in the field were complaining about. Missions that relied on British cooperation would be delayed over and over, critical supplies would not be dropped to agents and local guerillas, and perhaps most difficult of all, virtually all communications in and out of Yugoslavia had to go through British channels.
Musulin also complained that the Chetniks—and the airmen they were hiding—were receiving virtually no material support. Having already seen the supplies delivered to Tito, Musulin was outraged at the lack of airdrops to the equally loyal—and some would say far more loyal—Mihailovich in the mountains. Why should the airmen harbored by Mihailovich get virtually no support from the Allies when airmen lucky enough to bail out in Tito’s territory could depend on a quick return to their Italian bases? Musulin became so enraged with the lack of supplies sent to Mihailovich that he sent an angry message to his OSS superiors in Cairo reminding them that, “We can’t fight Jerry with bare feet, brave hearts, and Radio London.”
The bottom line for Musulin was that Mihailovich represented a significant fighting force that was on the Allies’ side. “Mihailovich keeps a certain number of German and Bulgarian troops immobilized. Withdrawal of all Allied liaison or labeling him as a traitor would undoubtedly free some of these troops for use on some other front.” He also pushed for the Allies to exert more pressure on both Tito and Mihailovich to declare a truce with each other and concentrate on fighting the troops occupying their country, saying, “The Royal Yugoslav Government could make Mihailovich agree to a truce. It is up to the Great Powers to make Tito do the same by exercising sanctions they obviously possess.”
That never happened.
It would be decades before Mihailovich’s suspicions about a Communist plot to besmirch his reputation with the British was confirmed. Not until 1997 would the world understand that the switch of allegiance was orchestrated largely by a Soviet operative who convinced the British that Mihailovich could not be trusted.
The abandonment of Mihailovich was the culmination of a long series of suspicions and mistrust, not just the work of a single man, and Mihailovich’s own missteps must be considered. But the information revealed fifty-four years later indicates that the general was right about the primary reason the British thought he was collaborating with the enemy and failing to fight the Germans and Italians in Yugoslavia. Communist moles had infiltrated both the OSS and the SOE, working to besmirch the name of Mihailovich to promote the postwar communization of Yugoslavia under Tito. In 1997 newly declassified secret reports on one of the most controversial British undercover operations of World War II showed a Soviet spy was responsible for the British switching support to Tito, confirming the suspicions of some experts who had been studying the case for years. The documents included transcripts of secret wartime signals to London and included evidence of the role played by James Klugmann, a confirmed Soviet mole.
Reports sent by Klugmann, who was closely associated with the infamous British traitors known as the Cambridge Five, for the first time confirmed that he was principally responsible for sabotaging the Mihailovich supply operation and for keeping from London information about how much Mihailovich forces were fighting the Germans and how much success they were having. The Cambridge Five was a ring of British spies who passed information to the Soviet Union during World War II and on into the early 1950s. Proven members were Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, Donald Maclean, and John Cairncross—all high-ranking members of the government and secret agents. Klugmann was essentially the sixth member, though his role as a spy was not confirmed until after the rest of group was identified. Philby served as head of the Soviet counterespionage section of MI6, Britain’s external security agency and top intelligence outfit. Burgess was secretary to the British Deputy Foreign Minister and able to transmit top-secret British Foreign Office documents to the KGB on a regular basis, secreting them out at night to be photographed by his Russian controller and returning them in the morning. Blunt was an art historian who had served the royal household as surveyor of the queen’s pictures. Maclean worked as a diplomat for the British Foreign Office, serving as secretary at the British embassy in Washington, DC, during the war and sending messages to Moscow revealing British efforts to develop an atomic bomb. Cairncross was an intelligence officer working on ciphers at Bletchley Park and MI6. He passed documents through secret channels to the Soviet Union.
Klugmann spent two and a half years working in Bari on the staff of the Yugoslav section of the British SOE as an intelligence and coordination officer—the SOE that Vujnovich knew was favoring Tito over Mihailovich for no good reason, and which ultimately persuaded Churchill to side with the Communists in Yugoslavia’s civil war. Klugmann’s work with the Yugoslav section was so influential that his commanding officer, Basil Davidson, said—with admiration—that the time should be called the “Klugmann period.”
The group of traitors was originally known as the Cambridge Spy Ring because all known members of the ring were recruited at Trinity College in Cambridge while members of the Cambridge Apostles, a secret debating society. They also were open Communists and Klugmann was secretary of the Cambridge Communist Party in the mid-1930s. Like the Cambridge Five, Klugmann could more accurately be described as a mole rather than a typical spy. The difference is that, unlike a spy who embarks on a mission with specific objectives, moles entrench themselves in key government roles or other positions that make them privy to secrets—or the ability to manipulate leaders—and then wait for the right time to act. Moles often are ideologically driven to betray their countries, as opposed to mercenaries who act for money. The Soviets recruited Klugmann because he displayed a sympathy to leftist causes and was well on the path to a career in government or other sensitive work, the same as Philby, Burgess, Blunt, Maclean, and Cairncross. Taking their orders from Moscow, their task was to direct British policy in a manner favorable to the worldwide Communist movement and Russia in particular. They did the job well. David Martin, the foremost historian on Yugoslavia during World War II, concluded that Klugmann was ultimately responsible for leading the British to abandon Mihailovich, and that he was responsible for the postwar Communist expansion in the Balkans. “Klugmann was a mole whose great accomplishment was to falsify information in a manner that resulted in handing over a nation of fifteen million people to Communist control,” he wrote.
Klugmann was a bespectacled bookworm, warm-hearted and compassionate but so fiercely devoted to Communism that he had little time for personal relationships. Blunt, after he was exposed as a traitor and his knighthood for wartime service revoked, described Klugmann as “the pure intellectual of the Party,” more dedicated than any other Communist in Britain. Even though he spent little time on personal relationships, while at Cambridge he was among the most effective in recruiting other students to the Communist cause, and he could channel his political energy into manipulating those around him. The recently declassified files reveal that, for instance, Klugmann had great influence over Colonel Sir William Deakin, the senior intelligence officer in Yugoslavia, who said Klugmann provided “invaluable service.” The declassified files reveal that Klugmann used his relationship with Deakin to advance Tito’s cause, always claiming to act in the best interest of Great Britain but in fact working to further the Soviet Union’s goal of a Communist Yugoslavia after the war by exaggerating claims of Mihailovich’s transgressions, minimizing reports of his accomplishments, and glorifying the actions of Tito. All of the Cambridge Five used other unsuspecting people to serve the Soviet Union’s goals. While the Soviets had operatives in the British intelligence services, Martin notes that the actual number of Communists in the top ranks was small. “Far more numerous than the Communists, and infinitely more numerous than the committed agents, were the muddleheaded liberals who shared a nebulous feeling that they, too, were serving the cause of progress,” Martin writes. The naïveté of these government officials, and their desire to feel important, made them susceptible to Communist efforts to disseminate disinformation about Mihailovich. Klugmann and his fellow traitors may have been driving the effort to defeat Mihailovich from abroad, but there were many more British officials who unwittingly helped them along the way. As in the OSS, a person’s Communist beliefs did not necessarily bar one from serving in the SOE, and those around Klugmann knew of his party affiliation but overlooked it because he was so hard-working, amiable, and seemed to produce good results.
On March 15, 1944, Klugmann moved from Cairo to Bari along with most of the other SOE staff. One of his duties was to educate newly arriving SOE staff about the Mihailovich and Tito conflict, briefing them on the opposing sides in Yugoslavia and where the British stood. The most influential Communist spy in Europe was working practically right alongside Vujnovich and his colleagues, quietly but effectively sabotaging every effort to help Mihailovich and ensuring that Yugoslavia would be in the hands of the Soviet Union after the war.
One of the most active and overt British Communists of his generation, Klugmann became an influential left-wing journalist after the war, serving as editor of Marxism Today and writing the first two volumes of the official History of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
So Mihailovich’s suspicions were on target.
Vujnovich had no idea at the time that such a well-orchestrated and far-reaching Communist operation was at work within the OSS and SOE, but he would not have been overly surprised. He knew there were Communists infiltrating the ranks, and he hated every one of them.
Meanwhile, Mihailovich and the peasants in the hillside who were loyal to him watched over the downed American boys with a stoic determination. Their abandonment by the Allies would not cause them to abandon these young men who were helping them fight back the Nazis.