Chetnik movement
Chetniks Flag.svg
Chetnik flag
The flag reads: "For king and fatherland; freedom or death"
Dates of operation Early 20th century–
May 8, 1945
Motives Expansion of Serbia, restoration of monarchism in occupied Yugoslavia
Active region(s) World War II:
Occupied Yugoslavia

Monarchism, Serbian nationalism, Greater Serbia

Yugoslav Wars:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Size 300,000-900,000

The Chetniks or the Chetnik movement or Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland (Serbian: Четници, Četnici, Turkish çete pronounced [tʃɛ̂tniːtsi]) were a Serbian nationalist and royalist paramilitary organization operating in the Balkans before and during World Wars, mostly known for their participation in the Yugoslav Front of World War II.

The movement formed in 1941 was initially named the "Chetnik Detachments of the Yugoslav Army" (Četnički odredi jugoslovenske vojske) and was later renamed into the "Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland" (Jugoslovenska vojska u otadžbini, Југословенска војска у отаџбини; JVUO, ЈВУО), though the original name remained the most common in use throughout the war, even among the Chetniks themselves. In 1941, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was defeated by Germany and occupied by the Axis powers from 1941 to 1945. Although the Chetniks were the first of the two resistance movements to be formed in Yugoslavia,[1] they collaborated with the Axis occupation to an ever-increasing degree.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8]

The Chetniks were never a homogenous ideological movement. Some groups were implacably anti-German and sided with the Partisans in joint battles. (An example of Chetnik coalition with the Partisans notably took place on September 28th, 1941 in Takovo and resulted in the first act of surrendering by a German garrison in the Second World War.[9]) However, others actively collaborated with the German and Italian occupation forces in order to fight Communist Partisans or rival Chetnik groups.



The word, "chetnik" was used to describe a member of a Balkan guerrilla force called cheta.[10] The word is derived from the Turkish word çete or in Serbian četa (чета) which means "military company". The suffix -nik is of Slavic origin. It approximately corresponds to the suffix "-er" in the English language and nearly always denotes an agent noun; that is, it describes a person related to the thing, state, habit, or action described by the word to which the suffix is attached.[11]

Early Chetniks in Macedonia

Chetniks volunteers fighting against Bulgarians in Macedonia, late 19th century
Voivodes Micko Krstić and Jovan Dovezenski during Macedonian struggle.

In 1904 the organization known as the "Serb Chetnik Movement" (Српски Четнички Покрет) was formed in Vranje by the Saint Sava organization, by members of the army and representatives of the ministry of foreign affairs, among whom was Dr. Milorad Gođevac, Vasa Jovanović, Luka Ćelović and general Jovan Atanacković.[12] The aim of the movement was liberation of Old Serbia and Macedonia.[12] Serbia started equipping Macedonian Serb Chetniks who were in conflict with the autonomist and pro-Bulgarian Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO).[12]

In the same year of establishment, the first četa from Belgrade was led by voivode Anđelko.[12] It perished, and Gligor Sokolović formed several detachments in and around Prilep, after meeting with Gođevac.[12] The Serb Chetniks defeated the Bulgarians at Prilep, Kičevo, Veles and Poreč. In the summer of 1906 the Serbian Chetniks attacked the Bulgarians at Krapa.

The Macedonian Serb Chetniks from 1904 till 1908 created strongholds in Skopje and Prilep regions after several battles against the Turks and the IMRO, but could not extend their territory due to the IMRO presence in the other parts of Macedonia. The most prominent Chetniks of Macedonia were Jovan Babunski, Gligor Sokolović, Ilija Trifunović-Birčanin, Mihailo Ristić-Džervinac, Jovan Grković-Gapon, Vasilije Trbić, Garda Spasa, Borivoje Jovanović-Brana, Ilija Jovanović-Pčinjski, Jovan Stanojković-Dovezenski, Micko Krstić, Lazar Kujundžić, Cene Marković, Miša Aleksić-Marinko, Doksim Mihailović, Kosta Milovanović-Pećanac, Vojin Popović-Vuk and Savatije Milićević Milošević.[12] After the proclamation of the Young Turk revolution in 1908 and the proclamation of the constitution, all of the brigands in Macedonia, including the Serbian Chetniks put down their weapons.

This period lasted until 1912, when the Balkan countries once again started arming guerrilla bands in Macedonia in order to help them in operations against the Ottoman army. At the start of the Balkan wars there were 110 IMRO, 108 Greek, 30 Serbian, and 5 Vlach detachments. They fought against the Turks in the First Balkan War, while in World War I they fought against Austria-Hungary.

World War I and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia

Chetniks in Skopje, 1908, march against the Ottoman Empire and other Central Powers

In World War I bands of Chetniks fought against the Bulgarian Army and organized the Toplica Insurrection, which was quickly crushed by the Bulgarians.

After the formation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Kingdom of Yugoslavia) and the arrival of peacetime, the Chetnik movement ceased functioning as a guerrilla force, and became a civilian organization. In 1921 the Organization of Chetniks for the Freedom and Honor of the Fatherland (Udruženje Četnika za slobodu i čast Otadžbine) was formed, and in 1924 the Organization of Serbian Chetniks for King and Fatherland (Udruženje srpskih četnika za Kralja i Otadžbinu), while the formation of the Organization of Serbian Chetniks Petar Mrkonjić (Udruženje srpskih četnika Petar Mrkonjić) also followed. These latter two merged together the following year as the Organization of Serbian Chetniks Petar Mrkonjić.

After the unitarianist King Alexander I proclaimed a dictatorship in 1929, the Organization of Serbian Chetniks Petar Mrkonjić was banned while the Organization of Chetniks for Freedom and Honour of the Fatherland was allowed to continue operating. Kosta Pećanac was the organization's leader from 1932 up to the occupation of Yugoslavia in 1941.[13]

World War II

Formation and ideology

In April 1941 the Germans and Italians invaded Yugoslavia leading to the swift collapse of the Yugoslav state and the surrender of the Yugoslav army. Many Serbian detachments refused to surrender and took to the hills. The Chetnik tradition of paramilitary activity and outrage at Ustaše atrocities quickly attracted recruits to the Chetnik banner. The pre-war Chetnik leader Kosta Pećanac soon came to an arrangement with Nedić's collaborationist regime in Serbia but Colonel Draža Mihailović set up his Chetnik headquarters in Ravna Gora and established contact with the Allies. It is these forces that are generally referred to as the Chetniks during World War II although the name was also used generally for other smaller groups. In June 1941, following Operation Barbarossa the communist Partisans under Tito organised an uprising and in the period between June and November 1941, the Chetniks and Partisans largely co-operated in anti-Axis activity.

Early activities

Chetnik leaders conducted a number of operations against Axis forces, some jointly with the Partisans. However, by September 1941 Mihailovic was advocating postponement of military action against the Germans, in contrast to the significant number of actions organised by the Partisans.[5] According to Mihailovic the reason was humanitarian: the prevention of German reprisals against Serbs at the published rate of 100 civilians for every German soldier killed, 50 civilians for every soldier wounded.[14] Nevertheless, in December 1941 the Yugoslav government in exile in London under King Peter II promoted him to Brigadier-General and named him commander of the Yugoslav Home Army. That same month the Germans launched an attack on Mihajlovic's forces in Ravna Gora and effectively routed the Chetniks from Serbia. The bulk of the Chetnik forces retreated into eastern Bosnia and Sandžak and the centre of Chetnik activity moved to the Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi puppet state.[5]

However, by this time Mihailovic had already asked the Germans for munitions to fight the communists. The Germans declined to negotiate, instead demanding unconditional surrender.[5] The British liaison to Mihajlović advised London to stop supplying the Chetniks after their assistance in the German attack on Užice (see First anti-Partisan Offensive), but Britain continued to do so.[2][15]

The 1941 wanted poster reads, whoever brings Draža Mihailović, dead or alive, will get 100,000 German Reichsmark as a reward. In the following years, Draža Mihailović was to start collaborating with the Axis occupation,[16] placing his Chetniks fully in their command.[3]

From a relatively short time after Yugoslavia was invaded, the Chetniks enjoyed high-profile support from the American media[17] and received financial aid; American general Billy Mitchell's sister was one of the many Americans that supported and/or financed the cause of the Yugoslav Army of the Fatherland.[18][19]

Operation Halyard

Operation Halyard, In 1944, despite being abandoned by the Allied powers, the Chetniks of Mihailjovic rescued and evacuated 512 American pilots who had been shot down behind enemy lines.It was the largest Allied airlift operation behind enemy lines of World War II.[20] Most of the airmen were shot down during bombing runs of oil fields in Romania. Most pilots were captured by Germans and then rescued by Chetniks.

Axis offensives

Document from William Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), stating that his intelligence unit in Yugoslavia personally observed the Partisans attacking Chetniks while the latter were fighting Germans

Later during the War, the Allies were seriously considering an invasion of the Balkans, so the Yugoslav resistance movements increased in strategic importance, and there was a need to determine which of the two factions was fighting the Germans. A number of Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents were sent to Yugoslavia to determine the facts on the ground. In the meantime, the Germans, also aware of the growing importance of Yugoslavia, decided to wipe out the Partisans with determined offensives. The Chetniks, by this time, had agreed to provide support for the German operations, and were in turn granted supplies and munitions to increase their effectiveness.

The first of these large anti-Partisan offensives was Fall Weiss, also known as the Battle of Neretva. The Chetniks participated with a significant, 20,000-strong, force providing assistance to the German and Italian encirclement from the east (the far bank of the river Neretva). However, Tito's Partisans managed to break through the encirclement, cross the river, and engage the Chetniks. The conflict resulted in a near-total Partisan victory, after which the Chetniks were almost entirely incapacitated in the area west of the Drina river. The Partisans continued on, and later again escaped the Germans in the Battle of Sutjeska.

In the meantime, the Allies stopped planning an invasion of the Balkans and finally rescinded their support for the Chetniks and instead supplied the Partisans. At the Teheran Conference of 1943 and the Yalta Conference of 1945, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided to split their influence in Yugoslavia in half.

Loss of support and final war years

To gather intelligence, agents of the western Allies were infiltrated into both the Partisans and the Chetniks. The intelligence gathered by liaisons to the resistance groups was crucial to the success of supply missions and was the primary influence on Allied strategy in Yugoslavia. The search for intelligence ultimately resulted in the demise of the Chetniks and their eclipse by Tito’s Partisans. In 1942, though supplies were limited, token support was sent equally to each. The new year would bring a change. The Germans were executing Operation Schwarz (the Battle of Sutjeska, i.e., the Fifth anti-Partisan offensive), one of a series of offensives aimed at the resistance fighters, when F.W.D. Deakin was sent by the British to gather information.

His reports contained two important observations. The first was that the Partisans were courageous and aggressive in battling the German 1st Mountain and 104th Light Division, had suffered significant casualties, and required support. The second observation was that the entire German 1st Mountain Division had transited from Russia on rail lines through Chetnik-controlled territory. British intercepts (Ultra) of German message traffic confirmed Chetnik timidity. All in all, intelligence reports resulted in increased Allied interest in Yugoslavia air operations, and a shift in policy. In September 1943, at Churchill’s request, Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean was parachuted to Tito’s headquarters near Drvar to serve as a permanent, formal liaison to the Partisans. While the Chetniks were still occasionally supplied, the Partisans received the bulk of all future support.[3][21]

Thus, after the Tehran Conference the Partisans received official recognition as the legitimate national liberation force by the Allies, who subsequently set-up the RAF Balkan Air Force (under the influence and suggestion of Brigadier Fitzroy MacLean) with the aim to provide increased supplies and tactical air support for Marshal Tito's Partisan forces. On 14 August 1944, the Tito-Šubašić agreement between Partisans and the Government in exile was signed on the island of Vis. The document called on all Croats, Slovenes, and Serbs to join the Partisans. Mihailović and the Chetniks refused to accept the Royal Government's agreement and continued to engage the Partisans, by now the official Yugoslav Allied force. Consequently on 29 August 1944, King Peter II dismissed Mihailović as Chief-of-Staff of the Yugoslav Army and on 12 September appointed Marshal Josip Broz Tito in his place. In late 1944, the leader of the Serbian fifth column, Milan Nedić, transferred all fascist Serbian troops under his command to Mihailović.[22]

Throughout the war the Chetniks were nevertheless involved in operations in which Allied (mostly United States) airmen were rescued and sheltered from the occupation forces.[23][24] The largest of these operations came to be Operation Halyard, which took place shortly before the Chetnik movement was destroyed in 1945. Due to the efforts of Major Richard L. Felman, President Harry S. Truman posthumously awarded Mihailović the "Legion of Merit", for the rescue of American Airmen (Operation Airbridge). This award was classified secret by the United States Department of State so as not to offend Yugoslavs.

Finally, in April and May 1945, as the victorious Partisans took possession of the country's territory, many Chetniks retreated toward Italy and a smaller group toward Austria. Many were captured by the Partisans or returned to Yugoslavia by British forces while a number were killed afterwards at Bleiburg. Some were tried for treason and were sentenced to prison terms or death. Many were summarily executed, especially in the first months after the end of the war. Mihailović and his few remaining followers tried to fight their way back to the Ravna Gora, but he was captured by Partisan forces. In March 1946, Mihailović was brought to Belgrade, where he was tried and executed on charges of treason in July. During the closing years of World War II, many Chetniks defected from their units, as the Partisan commander-in-chief, Marshal Josip Broz Tito, proclaimed a general amnesty to all defecting forces for a time.[25]

Non-Serbian Chetniks

Slovene Chetniks

Besides Partisans in Slovenia, during World War II there was also a movement of Slovene Chetniks (Jugoslovanska vojska v domovini). After the occupation of Yugoslavia, a number of Slovene soldiers from the dissolved Yugoslav royal army organized themselves as resistance fighters against the German occupation. They were organized as the Slovene branch of Mihajlović's "Yugoslav army in the fatherland". Their goal was restoration of the Yugoslav monarchy, and expansion of Slovene territory. The leader of the Slovene Chetniks was Karl Novak, and a subordinate to general Mihajlović.[26][27][28] Created in 1941, the Slovene Chetniks originally had around 300.-600. fighters and their number later increased to 2.000. fighters.

They were organized into several groups: 1. "Primorski" under command of captain Ratomir Cotić. 2. "Gorenjski" under command of colonel Jože Hlebc. 3. "Centralni četniški odred" under command of captain Milan Kranjc. 4. "Štajerski" under command of sergeant (later lieutenant) Jože Melaherj.

Other notable commanders were vice-colonel Ernest Peterlin - Logar, colonel Vladimir Vauhnik, Ivan Prezelj, Anton Kokalj - Tonči and naval captain Andrej Klinar - Hren.[29] After victory by Tito's partisans, most Slovene Chetnik soldiers and commanders fled to Italy. Since most Slovene Chetnik commanders worked for SOE,during the war, they continued to work for British and US intelligence after the war.[30]

Croat Chetniks

During World War II a number of ethnic Croats participated in various Chetnik units, mostly in Dalmatia. Many of those Croats were Yugoslav monarchists, pan-Slavists, anti-communists, and members of pre–World War II ORJUNA organization. Two Chetnik battalions - "Splitsko-šibenički četnički bataljon" and "Odred vojvode Birčanina" were mostly dominated by ethnic Croats.[31] Most famous Croat Chetnik commanders were people like captain Krešimir Vranić (leader of second Chetnik detachment, dominated by Croats), Ivo Jankov, colonel Anton Šuster from Sušak and lieutenant Niko Lazarić from island of Krk.[32]

Muslim Chetniks

Also, a large amount of Yugoslav Muslims fought for the Chetniks. Some Chetnik officers were Muslim, such as Dr. Abdulah Kemura, Colonel Mustafa Sailhbegovic, and others. The Chetnik Sandzak corps was the corps with the most Muslim Chetnik fighters. It operated around South Serbia and Kosovo and Metohija, and was guilty of the slaughter of some Albanians in Kosovo. Most of the Muslims who were in the Chetniks were anti-communists, royalists, or former royal Yugoslav army soldiers.[33]

Bulgarian Chetniks

Bulgarian chetniks were active during the Liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule as members of the Bulgarian Legions, Internal Revolutionary Organisation, Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, Internal Thracian Revolutionary Organisation. Afterwards chetniks were called members of the Bulgarian resistance movement during World War II and also the Goryani.

Axis collaboration

German General Major Friedrich Stahl (left) stands alongside an Ustaše officer (center) and Chetnik commander Rade Radić (right) somewhere in central Bosnia, 1942.[34]

Throughout the War, the Chetnik movement remained mostly inactive against the occupation forces, and increasingly collaborated with the Axis, eventually losing its international recognition as the Yugoslav resistance force.[4][5][2][3] After a brief initial period of cooperation, the Partisans and the Chetniks quickly started fighting against each other. Gradually, the Chetniks ended up primarily fighting the Partisans[35] instead of the occupation forces, and started cooperating with the Axis in a struggle to destroy the resistance, receiving increasing amounts of logistical assistance. Mihailović admitted to a British colonel that the Chetniks' principal enemies were "the partisans, the Ustasha, the Muslims, the Croats and last the Germans and Italians" in that order.[36]

At the start of the conflict, Chetnik forces were merely relatively inactive towards the occupation, and had contacts and negotiations with the Partisans. This changed when the talks broke down, and they proceeded to attack the latter (who were actively fighting the Germans), while continuing to engage the Axis only in minor skirmishes. Attacking the Germans provoked strong retaliation and the Chetniks increasingly started to negotiate with them. Negotiations with the occupiers were aided by the gtwo sides' mutual goal of destroying the Partisans. This collaboration first appeared during the operations on the Partisan "Užice Republic", where Chetniks played a part in the general Axis attack.[3]

Collaboration with the Italians

Chetnik collaboration with the occupation forces of fascist Italy took place in three main areas: in Italian-occupied (and Italian-annexed) Dalmatia; in the Italian puppet state of Montenegro; and in German and Italian-occupied Slovenia. The collaboration in Dalmatia and parts of Bosnia was the most widespread. The split between Partisans and Chetniks took place earlier in those areas.[3]

The Partisans considered all occupation forces to be "the fascist enemy," while the Chetniks hated the Ustaše but balked at fighting the Italians, and had approached the Italian VI Army Corps (General Renzo Dalmazzo, Commander) as early as July and August 1941 for assistance, via a Serbian politician from Lika, Stevo Rađenović. In particular, Chetnik vojvodas ("leaders") Ilija Trifunović-Birčanin and Dobroslav Jevđević were favorably disposed towards the Italians, because they believed Italian occupation over the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina would be detrimental to the influence of the Ustaše state. For this reason, they sought an alliance with the Italian occupation forces in Yugoslavia. The Italians (esepcially General Dalamazzo) looked favorably on these approaches and hoped to first avoid fighting the Chetniks, and then use them against the Partisans, a strategy which they thought would give them an "enormous advantage". An agreement was concluded on January 11, 1942 between the representative of the Italian 2nd Army, Captain Angelo De Matteis and the Chetnik representative for southeastern Bosnia, Mutimir Petković, and was later signed by Draža Mihailović's chief delegate in Bosnia, Major Boško Todorović. Among other provisions of the agreement, it was agreed that the Italians would support Chetnik formations with arms and provisions, and would facilitate the release of "recommended individuals" from Axis concentration camps (Jasenovac, Rab...). The chief interest of both the Chetniks and Italians would be to assist each other in combating Partisan-led resistance.[5] [3]

In the following months of 1942, General Mario Roatta, commander of the Italian 2nd Army, worked on developing a Linea di condotta ("Policy Directive") on relations with Chetniks, Ustaše and Partisans. In line with these efforts, General Vittorio Ambrosio outlined the Italian policy in Yugoslavia: All negotiations with the (quisling) Ustaše were to be avoided, but contacts with the Chetniks were "advisable." As for the Partisans, it was to be "struggle to the bitter end". This meant that General Roatta was essentially free to take action with regard to the Chetniks as he saw fit.[3] He outlined the four points of his policy in his report to the Italian Army General Staff:

To support the Chetniks sufficiently to make them fight against the communists, but not so much as to allow them too much latitude in their own action; to demand and assure that the Chetniks do not fight against the Croatian forces and authorities; to allow them to fight against the communists on their own initiative (so that they can "slaughter each other"); and finally to allow them to fight in parallel with the Italian and German forces, as do the nationalist bands [Chetniks and separatist Zelenaši] in Montenegro.
General Mario Roatta, 1942[3]

During 1942 and 1943, an overwhelming proportion of Chetnik forces in the Italian-controlled areas of occupied Yugoslavia were organized as Italian auxiliary forces in the form of the Anti-Communist Volunteer Militia (Milizia volontaria anti comunista, MVAC). According to General Giacomo Zanussi (then a Colonel and Roatta's chief of staff), there were 19,000 to 20,000 Chetniks in the MVAC in Italian-occupied parts of the Independent State of Croatia alone. The Chetniks were extensively supplied with thousands of rifles, grenades, mortars and artillery pieces. In a memorandum dated March 26, 1943 to the Italian Army General Staff, entitled "The Conduct of the Chetniks", Italian officers noted the ultimate control of these collaborating Chetnik units remained in the hands of Draža Mihailović, and contemplated the possibility of a hostile reorientation of these troops in light of the changing strategic situation. The commander of these troops was vojvoda Ilija Trifunović-Birčanin, who arrived in Italian-annexed Split in October 1941 and received his orders directly from Mihailović in the spring of 1942.
The Chetnik-Italian collaboration lasted until the Italian capitulation on September 8, 1943, when Chetnik troops switched to supporting the German occupation in trying to force the Partisans out of the coastal cities which the Partisans liberated after the Italian withdrawal.[5][3] The German 114th Jäger Division even incorporated a Chetnik detachment in its advance to the Adriatic.[6]

Collaboration with the NDH

Representatives of the Chetniks, Ustaše, and Croatian Home Guard meet in Bosnia

After the 1941 split between the Partisans and the Chetniks in Serbia, the Chetnik groups in central, eastern, and northwestern Bosnia found themselves caught between the German and Ustaše (NDH) forces on one side and the Partisans on the other. In early 1942 Chetnik Major Jezdimir Dangić approached the Germans in an attempt to arrive at an understanding, but was unsuccessful, and the local Chetnik leaders were forced to look for another solution. The Chetnik groups were in fundamental disagreement with the Ustaše on practically all issues, but they found a common enemy in the Partisans, and this was the overriding reason for the collaboration which ensued between the Ustaše authorities of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) and Chetnik detachments in Bosnia. The first formal agreement between Bosnian Chetniks and the Ustaše was concluded on May 28, 1942, in which Chetnik leaders expressed their loyalty as "citizens of the Independent State of Croatia" both to the state and its Poglavnik (Ante Pavelić). During the next three weeks, three additional agreements were signed, covering a large part of the area of Bosnia (along with the Chetnik detachments within it). By the provision of these agreements, the Chetniks were to cease hostilities against the Ustaše state, and the Ustaše would establish regular administration in these areas.[3] The Chetniks recognized the sovereignty of the Independent State of Croatia and became a legalized movement in it.[37] The main provision, Art. 5 of the agreement, states as follows:

As long as there is danger from the Partisan armed bands, the Chetnik formations will cooperate voluntarily with the Croatian military in fighting and destroying the Partisans and in those operations they will be under the overall command of the Croatian armed forces. (...) Chetnik formations may engage in operations against the Partisans on their own, but this they will have to report, on time, to the Croatian military commanders.
Chetnik-Ustaše collaboration agreement, May 28, 1942[3]

The necessary ammunition and provisions were supplied to the Chetniks by the Ustaše military. Chetniks who were wounded in such operations would be cared for in NDH hospitals, while the orphans and widows of Chetniks killed in action would be supported by the Ustaše state. Persons specifically recommended by Chetnik commanders would be returned home from the Ustaše concentration camps (Jasenovac concentration camp). These agreements covered the majority of Chetnik forces in Bosnia east of the German-Italian demarcation line, and lasted throughout most of the war. Since Croatian forces were immediately subordinate to the German military occupation, collaboration with Croatian forces was, in fact, indirect collaboration with the Germans.[4] [3]

Battle of the Neretva

One of the highpoints of Chetnik collaboration with the Axis took place during the Battle of the Neretva, which was the final phase of operation Fall Weiss or the Fourth Enemy Offensive. In 1942, Partisans forces were on the rise, having established large liberated territories within Bosnia and Herzegovina. Chetnik forces, partially because of their collaboration with the Italian occupation, were also gaining in strength, however, but were no match to the Partisans and required Axis logistical support to attack the liberated territories. In light of the changing strategic situation, Adolf Hitler and the German high command decided to disarm the Chetniks and destroy the Partisans for good. In spite of Hitler's insistence, Italian forces in the end refused to disarm the Chetniks (thus rendering that course of action impossible), under the justification that the Italian occupation forces could not afford to lose the Chetniks as allies in their maintenance of the occupation.

Collaboration with the Germans

Chetniks posing with soldiers of the German occupation forces during World War II in an unidentified Serbian village in occupied Yugoslavia

As early as spring 1942, the Germans favored the collaboration agreement the Ustaše and the Chetniks had established in a large part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since the Ustaše military was supplied by, and immediately subordinate to, the German military occupation, collaboration between the two constituted indirect German-Chetnik collaboration. This was all favorable to the Germans primarily because the agreement was directed against the Partisans, contributed to the pacification of areas significant for German war supplies, and reduced the need for additional German occupation troops (as Chetniks were assisting the occupation). After the Italian capitulation on September 8, 1943, the German 114th Jäger Division even incorporated a Chetnik detachment in its advance to retake the Adriatic coast from the Partisans who had temporarily liberated it.[6] The report on German-Chetnik collaboration of the XV Army Corps on November 19, 1943 to the 2nd Panzer Army states that the Chetniks were "leaning on the German forces" for close to a year.[3]

German-Chetnik collaboration entered a new phase after the Italian surrender, because the Germans now had to police a much larger area than before and fight the Partisans in the whole of Yugoslavia. Consequently, they significantly liberalized their policy towards the Chetniks and mobilized all Serbian nationalist forces against the Partisans. The 2nd Panzer Army oversaw these developments: the XV Army Corps was now officially allowed to utilize Chetniks troops and forge a "local alliance". The first formal and direct agreement between the German occupation forces and the Chetniks took place in early October 1943 between the 373rd Infantry Division and a detachment of Chetniks under Mane Rokvić operating in western Bosnia and Lika. The Germans subsequently even used Chetnik troops for guard duty in occupied Split, Dubrovnik, Šibenik, and Metković.[6] Independent State of Croatia (NDH) troops were not used, despite Ustaše demands, because mass desertions of Croat troops to the Partisans rendered them unreliable. From this point on, the German occupation actually started to "openly favor" Chetnik (Serbian) troops to the Croat formations of the NDH, due to the pro-Partisan dispositions of the Croatian rank-and-file. The Germans paid little attention to frequent Ustaše protests about this.[5][3]

Ustaše Major Mirko Blaž (Deputy Commander, 7th Brigade of the Poglavnik's Personal Guard) observed that:

The Germans are not interested in politics, they take everything from a military point of view. They need troops that can hold certain positions and clear certain areas of the Partisans. If they ask us to do it, we cannot do it. The Chetniks can.
Major Mirko Blaž, March 5, 1944[3]

When appraising the situation in western Serbia, Bosnia, Lika, and Dalmatia, Captain Merrem, intelligence officer with the German commander-in-chief southeastern Europe, was "full of praise" for Chetnik units collaborating with the Germans, and for the smooth relations between the Germans and Chetnik units on the ground.
In addition, the Chief of Staff of the 2nd Panzer Army observed in a letter to the Ustaše liaison officer that the Chetniks fighting the Partisans in Eastern Bosnia were "making a worthwhile contribution to the Croatian state", and that the 2nd Army "refused in principle" to accept Croatian complaints against the usage of these units. German-Chetnik Collaboration continued to take place until the very end of the war, with the tacit approval of Draža Mihailović and the Chetnik Supreme Command in Serbia. Though Mihailović himself never actually signed any agreements, he endorsed the policy for the purpose of eliminating the Partisan threat.[4][3]

Field Marshal Maximilian von Weichs commented:

Though he himself [Draža Mihailović] shrewdly refrained from giving his personal view in public, no doubt to have a free hand for every eventuality (e.g. Allied landing on the Balkans), he allowed his commanders to negotiate with Germans and to co-operate with them. And they did so, more and more...
Field Marshal Maximilian von Weichs, 1945[38]

The loss of Allied support in 1943 caused the Chetniks to lean more than ever towards the Germans for assistance against the Partisans. On 14 August 1944, the Tito-Šubašić agreement between the Partisans and the Yugoslav King Peter II and government-in-exile was signed on the island of Vis. The document called on all Croats, Slovenes, and Serbs to join the Partisans. Mihailović and the Chetniks refused to follow the order and abide by the agreement and continued to engage the Partisans (by now the official Yugoslav Allied force). Consequently on 29 August 1944, King Peter II dismissed Mihailović as Chief-of-Staff of the Yugoslav Army and on 12 September appointed Marshal Josip Broz Tito in his place. Josip Broz Tito at this point became the Prime Minister of the Yugoslav state and the joint government.

Collaboration with Nedić's Serbia

Draža Mihailović, World War II senior Chetnik leader was found guilty of high treason and war crimes by the Yugoslav government and executed by firing squad in 1946

In occupied Serbia, the Germans initially installed Milan Aćimović, as leader, but later replaced him with General Milan Nedić, former minister of war, who governed until 1944. Aćimović instead later served as the key liaison between the Germans and the Chetniks.[39] In the second half of August 1941, prior to Nedić assuming power, the Germans arranged with Kosta Pećanac for the transfer of several thousand of his Chetniks to serve as auxiliaries for the Serbian gendarmerie.[40] Collaboration between the Nedić administration and Mihailović's Chetniks began in fall of 1941 and lasted until the end of German occupation.[41] Nedić was initially firmly opposed to Mihailović and the Chetniks.[41] On September 4, 1941, Mihailović sent Major Aleksandar Mišić and Miodrag Pavlović to enter a meeting with Nedić and nothing was accomplished.[41] After Mihailović shifted his policy of mild cooperation with the Partisans to becoming hostile to them and seizure of anti-German activity in late October 1941, Nedić relaxed his opposition.[41] On October 15, Colonel Milorad Popović, acting on behalf of Nedić, gave Mihailović about 500,000 dinars (in addition to an equal amount given on October 4) to persuade the Chetniks to collaborate.[39] On October 26, 1941, Popović gave an additional 2,500,000 dinars.[39] By mid-November 1941, Mihailović put 2,000 of his men under Nedić's direct command and shortly later these men joined the Germans in a anti-Partisan operation.[39] When the Germans launched Operation Mihailović on December 6-7, 1941, with the intent of capturing Mihailović and removing his headquarters in Ravna Gora, he escaped, probably because he was warned of the attack by Aćimović on December 5.[41] In June 1942, Mihailović left Serbia to Montenegro and became out of contact with the Nedić authorities until returning in June. Subsequently, in the fall of 1942 the Chetniks of Mihailović (and Pećanac) that were legalized in Nedić's Serbia were dissolved.[41] By 1943, Nedić feared that the Chetniks would become the primary collaborator with the Germans and after the Chetniks murdered Ceka Đorđević, deputy minister of internal affairs, in March 1944 he co-opted to replace him with a prominent Chetnik in the hopes of quelling the rivalry.[39] A report prepared in April 1944 by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services commented that:

[Mihailović] should be viewed in the same light as Nedić, Ljotić, and the Bulgarian occupation forces.
Office of Strategic Services report, April 1944[39]

In mid-August 1944, Mihailović, Nedić, and Dragomir Jovanović met in the village of Ražani secretly where Nedić agreed to give one hundred million dinars for wages and to request from the Germans arms and ammunition for Mihailović.[42] On September 6, 1944, under the authority of the Germans and formalization by Nedić, Mihailović took command over the entire military force of Nedić's Serbia, including the Serbian State Guard, Serbian Volunteer Corps, and the Serbian Border Guard.[42]

Ethnic conflict and terror tactics

See also Ethnic cleansing and Draža_Mihailović: Ethnic conflict and terror tactics

Chetnik ideology revolved around the notion of a Greater Serbia within the borders of Yugoslavia, to be created out of all territories in which Serbs were found, even if the numbers were small. This goal had long been the foundation of the movement for a Greater Serbia. During the Axis occupation, however, the notion of removing or "cleansing" of these territories was introduced, largely in response to the massacres of Serbs by the Ustaše in the Independent State of Croatia.[43]

Prior to the outbreak of WWII, use of terror tactics had a long tradition in the area as various oppressed groups sought their freedom and atrocities were committed by all parties engaged in conflict in Yugoslavia.[44] During the early stages of the occupation, the Ustashas had also recruited a number of Muslims to aid in the persecutions of the Serbs, and even though only a relatively small number of Croates and Muslims engaged in these activities, and many opposed them, those actions initiated a cycle of violence and retribution between the Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims, as each sought to rid the others from the territories they controlled.[45] In particular, Ustaše ideologs were concerned with the large Serbian minority in the NDH, and intiated acts of terror on a wide scale in May 1941, and by July, even the Germans protested the brutality of these actions.[46] Reprisals followed, as in the case of Nevesinje, where Serb peasants staged an uprising in response to the persecution, drove out the Ustasha militia, but then engaged in reprisals killed hundreds of Croats and Muslims.[47]

In the summer of 1941, the Rava Gora Movement had attracted a small number of Serbia intellectuals who developed a political ideology for the Chetniks. Stevan Moljević believed that Serbs should not repeat the mistakes of World War I by failing to define the borders of Serbia, and proposed that at the end of World War II Serbs should take control of all territories to which they laid claim, and from that position negotiate the form of a federally organized Yugoslavia. This plan required the relocation of non-Serbs from Serbian controlled territories and other shifts of populations.[48][49] He produced a document, Homegenous Serbia, which articulated these notions.[49] These proposals were very similar to those later formulated by the Belgrade Chetnik Committee and presented to the Government in Exile in September 1941, in which the Cetniks set forth specific figures in regard to population shifts.[50] Over one million Serbs were to be brought into newly acquired territories, while over 2.5 million people were to be expelled in order to create an "ethnically pure" Greater Serbia comprising Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Vojvodina. The Sandzak was to be cleansed of the Muslim population, and both Bosnia and Herzegovina were to be cleansed of the Muslim and Croate populations.[51]

A series of instructions attributed to Mihailović contained similar language, although the authenticity of the document are disputed—there is no original and it may have been a forgery made by Djurišic to suit his purposes.[52][53][54]

The Chetnik Dinara Division created a similar program in March 1942, which, like the instructions attributed to Mihailovic, propose a Greater Serbia with a corridor between Herzegovina, northern Dalmatia, Bosnia, and Lika to Slovenia, and cleansing of these areas of non Serbian populations. This was later accepted by the military leaders of the three areas.[55] This document continued additionals formulations of strategy, including collabaration with Italian forces as a modus vivendi, formation of Croatian Chetnik units as part of a continuing struggle against the Partisans, Domobrans and Ustasha. This document also proposed decent treatment of the Muslim population in order to prevent them from joining the Partisan forces, and noted that these groups could later be eliminated.[56]

In the fall of 1942, a program was fomulated at a Conference of Young Chetnik Intellectuals of Montenegro, which also proposed a unified Yugoslavia consisting only of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, exclusion of other ethnic groups, which was to be controlled by the Chetnik forces with the endorsment of the King, as well as agrarian and political reforms, nationalization of banking and wholesale trade, and increased propaganda to promote Chetnik ideology.[57] Mihailovic was not present, but was represented by his subordinate commanders Ostojic, Lasic, and Djurisic.[58] Djurišić played the dominate role at this conference.[59]

Some of the directives associated with cleansing of non-Serbs were later incorporated into a manual prepared by Chetnik military leaders, which detailed a three phased approach and the military structure to be used during the war.[60] The manual argued that both the Serbs and the Croates had been politically victimized in the period between the two world wars, and the unproven notion that in Serbia and especially in Belgrade, Croates held the upper hand in the government.[61] Except for the Ustashas, Croates were not seen as the enemies of the Serbs, and a goal was set for the incorporation of Croatian forces under Chetnik leadership. Ustashas,on the other hand, were to be summarily executed.[62] The question of shifting populations and religious conversion of the Croates was to be left aside until the Serbs had assumed power in Yugoslavia.[63] Revenge was incorporated into the Chetnik manual as a "...sacred duty of the Serbian people against those who had wronged thenm during the war and occupation".[64]

Throughout the war, the Chetniks engaged in a series of massacres carried out against Muslims in southeastern Bosnia, especially in the area in and around Foča and Sandžak. In the winter of 1941, approximately 2000 Muslims were killed.[65] Actions of greater severity were carried out in the same area in August 1942, and further escalations occurred in January and February 1943, which the Chentiks justified as punitive actions in response to claimed attacks by Muslims against Serbian villages.[66] In the latter action, Chetnik units from Montenegro engaged in "cleansing actions" against the Muslims of Foča and Sandžak, in which an estimated 10,000 Muslims perished.[67] Đurišić had been in charge of these operations and in his report to Mihailović, he indicated that about 9000 of the dead were the old, women, and children, and the villages and property not seized by the Chetniks were destroyed. Losses would likely have been higher had not large number of Muslims already fled the area.[68] Actions against the Croates were of a smaller scale but similar in action,[69] and the violence against civilian Croate and Muslim populations were severe enough that the Italian General Roatta threatened to stop supplying the Chetniks if the attacks continued.[70] Although many of these actions were justified as reprisals, they were consistent with the orders for ethnic cleansing actions attributed to Mihailović and regarded by the Chetniks as a response to the large scale "crimes against humanity" initated by the Croatian Ustashas.[71]

The Partisans were also targets of terror tactics. In Serbia, Chetniks killed an unknown number of Partisans, their families and sympathizers, on ideological grounds.[72] During the summer of 1942, using names supplied by Mihailovic, lists of individual Nedić and Ljotić supporters to be assassinated or threatened were broadcast over BBC radio during news programming in Serbo-Croatian. Once the British discovered this, the broadcasts of these lists were halted, although this did not prevent the Chetniks from continuing the assassinations.[73]

SFR Yugoslavia

After the end of World War II, the Chetniks were banned in the new Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On 29 November 1945, King Peter II was deposed by the Yugoslav Constituent Assembly after an overwhelming referendum result. Chetnik leaders either escaped the country or were arrested by the authorities. On 13 March 1946, Draža Mihailović was captured by OZNA, the Yugoslav security agency. He was put to trial, found guilty of high treason against Yugoslavia, sentenced to death and then hanged on July 17. Later, Momčilo Đujić formed the 'Movement of Serbian Chetniks of Ravna Gora' in the United States and Canada.[74]

Recent history

Yugoslav Wars

During the Yugoslav wars, Serb paramilitaries often self-identified and were referred to as Chetniks (either as a pejorative, or they pretended to look like Chetniks and use their insignia, without any real relationship to the original movement).[75] Vojislav Šešelj's Serbian Radical Party formed the White Eagles group which identified themselves as Chetniks.[76] Vuk Drašković's Serbian Renewal Movement was closely associated with the Serbian Guard, which was also associated with Chetniks and monarchism.[77]

During the war five Serb soldiers received the title of Chetnik voivodes from World War II veteran Momčilo Đujić: Rade Čubrilo, Slavko Aleksić, Branislav Gavrilović, Rade Radović, and Mitar Maksimović Mando. The title to Šešelj was given in 1989 but later taken off in 1998 when it became obvious that Šešelj is in cooperation with Slobodan Milošević.[78] Rade Čubrilo became the flag-bearer of Đujić's former unit, the Dinara Chetnik Division.[78] Serb politician Vojislav Šešelj was also named a voivode prior to the start of the wars by Đujić and the title was taken from Šešelj in later decade, since he was anti-monarchist and in cooperation with Milošević.[79]

Contemporary period

A Chetnik banquet hall honoring senior Chetnik leader Draža Mihailović

The current situation of the movement is different from place to place.

Modern Chetnik movements include:

  • Serbian Chetnik Movement of Republika Srpska[80]
  • Ravna Gora Chetnik Movement of Republika Srpska, based in Brčko.
  • Serbian Movement of Ravna Gora, with branches in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.[81]


Since 1992, the Serbian Renewal Movement has annually organized the "Ravna Gora Parliament".[82] People who attend the Parliament wear World War II Chetnik iconography and t-shirts with the image of Draža Mihailović or war crimes suspect Ratko Mladić.[82][83] In 2005, Croatian president Stjepan Mesić cancelled a planned visit to Serbia as it coincided with the gathering, officially supported by the Serbian government, and attended by Vuk Drašković.[84]

In March 2004, the National Assembly of Serbia passed a new law that equalized the Chetniks and Partisans as equivalent anti-fascists.[85] Rights were granted on the basis that both were anti-fascist movements that fought occupiers, and this formulation has entered the law. The vote was 176 for, 24 against and 4 abstained (the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) of Slobodan Milošević was the one voting against the decision). There have been varying reactions to the law in Serbian public opinion. Many have praised it as just and long overdue, including Prince Alexander Karađorđević (son of Peter II, the last Yugoslav king), as well as most political parties (with the most notable exception of the SPS). Others protested the decision, including the Serbian Association of Former Partisans, the Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, the Croatian Anti-Fascist Movement, and the President and Prime Minister of Croatia. In 2009, Serbian courts rehabilitated Chetnik ideologist Dragiša Vasić.[86]

The Serbian basketball player Milan Gurović has a tattoo of World War II Chetnik Draža Mihailović on his left arm which has resulted in a ban since 2004 in playing in Croatia under its anti-fascist laws.[87] Turkey has also threatened to enact such a ban.[88] Serbian rocker Bora Đorđević is also a self-declared Chetnik, but calling it a "national movement that is much older than the WWII", and adding that he does not hate other nations and never been a member of the Radical Party nor advocated Greater Serbia.[89]


In 2002, preparations for a memorial complex dedicated to Pavle Đurišić near Berane began.[90] In 2003, Vesna Kilibarda, the Montenegrin Minister of Culture, banned the construction of the monument saying that the Ministry of Culture had not applied for the approval to erect monuments.[91] The Association of War Veterans of the National Liberation Army (SUBNOR) objected to the construction of the monument saying that Đurišić was a war criminal who was responsible for the deaths of many colleagues of the veterans association and 7,000 Muslims.[92] The following month the Montenegrin government forbade the unveiling of the monument stating that it "caused public concern, encouraged division among the citizens of Montenegro, and incited national and religious hatred and intolerance."[93] A press release from the committee in charge of the construction of the monument stated that the actions taken by the government was "absolutely illegal and inappropriate."[94] The stand that was prepared for the erection of the monument was later removed by the police.[95]

Bosnia and Herzegovina

On July 12, 2007, a day after the 12th anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide and the burial of a further 465 victims, a group of men dressed in Chetnik uniforms marched the streets of Srebrenica. They all wore badges of military units which committed the massacre in July 1995.[96][97] On July 11, 2009, after the burial of 543 victims in Srebrenica, members of the Ravna Gora Chetnik movement desecrated the flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina, marched in the streets wearing T-shirts with the face of Ratko Mladić and sang Chetnik songs.[98][99][100] A group of men and women associated with the Serbian far-right group Obraz "chanted insults directed towards the victims and in support of the Chetnik movement, calling for eradication of Islam."[101] A full report of the incident was submitted to the local District Prosecutor's Office but no one has been prosecuted.[102] The Bosniak political party SDP has been campaigning for a creation of a law that would ban the group within Bosnia.[103]


Milorad Pupovac of the Independent Democratic Serb Party in Croatia (the present-day leader of Serbs of Croatia and member of the Croatian Parliament), has described the organization as "fascist collaborators".[104]

United States

Monuments dedicated to Draža Mihailović, Momčilo Đujić, and Pavle Đurišić exist at the Serbian cemetery in Libertyville, Illinois.[105]

See also

  • Serbian Military Administration
  • Serbian Volunteer Corps
  • Trial of Draža Mihailović
  • Yugoslav People's Liberation War
  • Yugoslavia and the Allies


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  • Trew, Simon. Britain, Mihailović, and the Chetniks, 1941–42. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin’s Press in association with King’s College, London, 1998.
  • Freeman, Gregory A. "The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All For the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II" NAL Hardcover 2007, ISBN 0451222121

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