Military Wiki
Chetnik movement
Participant in the Balkan Wars,
World War I, and World War II
Chetniks Flag.svg
Chetnik flag
inscription reads: "For king and fatherland; freedom or death"
Active 1904–46
Pre-1918 and Post-1945:
  • Serbian Monarchism
  • Serbian nationalism
  • Greater Serbia


  • Yugoslavism
  • Yugoslav monarchism
  • Greater Yugoslavia
  • Serbian nationalism
  • Greater Serbia
Area of
Macedonia (Balkan Wars, World War I)
occupied Yugoslavia (World War II)
Balkan Wars
  • Serb Chetnik Movement

Kingdom of Yugoslavia:

  • Chetnik Association for the Freedom and Honor of the Fatherland
  • Association of Serbian Chetniks for King and Fatherland
  • Association of Serbian Chetniks "Petar Mrkonjić"
  • Association of Serbian Chetniks "Petar Mrkonjić" for King and Fatherland
  • Association of Old Chetniks

World War II

  • Chetnik Detachments of the Yugoslav Army/Yugoslav Army in the Homeland
  • Pećanac Chetniks (1941–43)

Chetniks, or the Chetnik movement (Serbo-Croatian language: Četnici, Четници, pronounced [tʃɛ̂tniːtsi]; Slovene language: Četniki , Macedonian language: Четници, Četnici) were Serb nationalist and monarchist paramilitary organizations from the first half of the 20th century, formed as a resistance against the Ottoman Empire in 1904, and participating in the two Balkan Wars,[1] World War I, and World War II. Between the wars, in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, they functioned in the form of two civilian organizations. The name is today most closely associated with the Chetnik Detachments of the Yugoslav Army, the World War II movement of Draža Mihailović, which was later renamed the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland (Jugoslovenska vojska u otadžbini, Југословенска војска у отаџбини; JVUO, ЈВУО),[2] though the original name remained more common. The Mihailović Chetniks were not a homogeneous movement.[3]

During World War II, the Chetniks were an anti-Axis movement in their long-range goals and engaged in marginal resistance activities for limited periods.[4] They also engaged in tactical or selective collaboration with the occupying forces for almost all of the war.[5] The Chetnik movement[6] adopted a policy of collaboration[7] with regard to the Axis, and engaged in cooperation to one degree or another by establishing modus vivendi or operating as "legalised" auxiliary forces under Axis control.[8][9][10][11] Over a period of time, and in different parts of the country, the Chetnik movement was progressively[12] drawn into collaboration agreements: first with the Nedić forces in the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia,[13] then with the Italians in occupied Dalmatia and Montenegro, with some of the Ustaše forces in northern Bosnia, and after the Italian capitulation also with the Germans directly.[14] While Chetnik collaboration reached "extensive and systematic"[15][7] proportions, the Chetniks themselves referred to their policy of collaboration[7] as "using the enemy".[14] The historian Professor Sabrina Ramet has observed, "Both the Chetniks' political program and the extent of their collaboration have been amply, even voluminously, documented; it is more than a bit disappointing, thus, that people can still be found who believe that the Chetniks were doing anything besides attempting to realize a vision of an ethnically homogeneous Greater Serbian state, which they intended to advance, in the short run, by a policy of collaboration with the Axis forces. The Chetniks collaborated extensively and systematically with the Italian occupation forces until the Italian capitulation in September 1943, and beginning in 1944, portions of the Chetnik movement of Draža Mihailović collaborated openly with the Germans and Ustaša forces in Serbia and Croatia."[7]

The Chetniks were a partner in the pattern of terror and counter terror that developed in Yugoslavia during World War II. The Chetniks used terror tactics against the Croats in areas where Serbs and Croats were intermixed, against the Muslim population in Bosnia, Herzegovina and Sandžak, and against the Yugoslav Partisans and their supporters in all areas. These terror tactics took various forms, including killing of the civilian population, burning of villages, assassinations and destruction of property. The terror tactics used by the Chetniks against the Croats was largely a reaction against the mass terror perpetrated by the Ustaše, and the terror against the Partisans and their supporters was ideologically-driven. The Muslim population of Bosnia, Herzegovina and Sandžak was a primary target of Chetnik terror due to the traditional animosity between Serbs and Muslims, but this action was also undertaken to 'cleanse' these areas of Muslims in order to create a 'Greater Serbia' free of non-Serbs.[16]

Several modern Serbian paramilitary organizations, formed in the 1990s after the breakup of Yugoslavia, chose the name "Chetniks", and consider themselves to be the continuation of the Chetnik legacy. There are also numerous Serbian civilian organisations at home and in the diaspora that drawn upon the history of the Chetnik movement.


The word, "chetnik" was used to describe a member of a Balkan guerrilla force called cheta. The word is derived from the South Slavic word "četa" (чета) which means "band or troop",[17] itself derived from the Turkish word "çete" of the same meaning.[18] The suffix -nik is of Slavic origin. It is a personal suffix meaning "person or thing associated with or involved in".[19]

Macedonia and the Balkan Wars

Chetniks volunteers in Macedonia, circa 1905.

Chetnik voivodes Micko Krstić and Jovan Dovezenski circa 1905.

The Chetnik movement had its roots in the 19th century Serbian liberation struggle against the Turks;[20] however, the first organization can be traced to 1903, when the Serbian military created a unique training program for individuals willing to implement terrorist activities in Macedonia.[21]

At the outbreak of the Ilinden Uprising in the summer of 1903, Serbia offered material support for the rebels of the pro-Bulgarian Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization.[22] After the suppression of the uprising, one of its leaders, Boris Sarafov was adopted in Belgrade and negotiated here with the authorities. They came to an agreement that Serbian četa would be send to Macedonia to conduct combined Serbo-Bulgarian actions against the Ottomans. During the spring of 1904, four četas were equipped, armed and sent from Serbia to Macedonia.[23] There the Chetniks were greeted by the leader of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (IMRO) Bobi Stoychev who had received orders from by Boris Sarafov that he should support them.[24] In June, in several heavy fightings after Turkish ambushes, the IMRO chetas gave a number of victims. As traitors were suspected local Serbian villagers from Kokoshine. During July the bands of IMRO held in the Kokoshine a slaughter and tens of local pro-Serbian oriented villagers were killed.[25] This actions led to a sharp aggravation of the relations between the two organizations.[26]

From 1904 to 1908 the Chetniks created strongholds in the Skopje and Prilep regions after several battles against the Turks and the IMRO, but were unable to extend the territory under their control due to the IMRO presence in 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. 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.[citation needed]

In 1912, 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.[citation needed] During the First Balkan War, Chetniks were used as a vanguard to soften up the enemy forward of advancing armies, for attacks on communications behind enemy lines, as field gendarmerie and to establish basic administration in occupied areas.[27]

World War I

File:Skopske vojvode.jpg

Chetniks in Skopje in 1908, marching after the Young Turk Revolution.

Chetniks' chieftains surrendering to the Bulgarian voivode Tane Nikolov after the Toplica insurrection.

Following the disastrous end to the Serbian campaign in late 1915, some former Chetniks escaped to Corfu along with the retreating Serbian army and government, and ultimately joined the Salonika front. In September 1916, the Serbian high command sent Pećanac by air to Mehane (south-west of Niš in the Toplica region) to prepare a guerrilla uprising in support of a planned Allied offensive. There, Pećanac contacted several groups of guerrillas, known as comitadji. Pećanac joined forces with local leader Kosta Vojinović and they both established headquarters on Mount Kopaonik. Rivalry quickly developed between the two leaders, mainly because Pećanac only had orders to prepare to support the planned Allied offensive, but Vojinović was conducting operations that might result in pre-emptive action by the Bulgarian occupation forces. Matters came to a head in January – February 1917 when the Bulgarians began conscripting local Serbs for military service. At a meeting of guerrilla leaders to discuss whether they should commence a general uprising, Pećanac was outvoted. However, events had overtaken the leaders, and they were essentially joining a popular uprising that was already underway. After guerillas under Pećanac's command engaged the Bulgarians he was hailed as a leader of the resistance, although he had serious reservations about the eventual outcome once the Bulgarians and Austro-Hungarians committed large numbers of troops to subdue the uprising. The guerrillas were closing on Niš in early March when the occupying forces went on the offensive. Pećanac advised his fighters to hide out in the woods and mountains, while Vojinović ordered his to fight to the death. By 25 March, the uprising had been crushed.[28]

In April 1917, Pećanac re-emerged with his guerillas, attacking a railway station, destroying a bridge and raiding a Bulgarian village on the border. Pećanac avoided a further offensive by the occupation forces in July by disappearing into the mountains once again. After emerging for a short time, in September – October 1917 Pećanac again dispersed his guerrillas and infiltrated the Austro-Hungarian occupied zone where he remained in hiding until mid-1918.[29]

Interwar period

Following the end of World War I and the formation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, pro-Bulgarian sentiment was rife in Macedonia, which was referred to as "Southern Serbia" by the Belgrade government. Extensive measures were undertaken to "serbianise" Macedonia, including closing Bulgarian Orthodox Church schools, revising history textbooks, dismissing "unreliable" teachers, banning the use of the Bulgarian language,[30] and imposing lengthy jail terms for those convicted of anti-state activities. Hundreds of Bulgarian activists were murdered and thousands arrested in the period immediately following the war, and around 50,000 troops were stationed in Macedonia. Bands of Serbian Chetniks, including one led by Babunski, were organised to terrorise the population, kill pro-Bulgarian resistance leaders and recruit the local population into forced labour for the army. Resistance by IMRO was met with further terror, which included the formation in 1922 of the Association against Bulgarian Bandits led by Pećanac and Ilija Trifunović-Lune, based out of Štip in eastern Macedonia. This organisation quickly garnered a reputation for indiscriminate terrorisation of the Macedonian populace. Pećanac and his Chetniks were also active in fighting those resisting the Serb and Montenegrin "colonisation" of Kosovo.[31]

Association against Bulgarian Bandits' band in Vardar Banovina before 1925.

The Chetnik movement also functioned as a civilian organization during the interwar period, initially as the "Chetnik Association for the Freedom and Honor of the Fatherland" (Udruženje Četnika za slobodu i čast Otadžbine) a Chetnik veteran organisation formed in Belgrade in 1921. The aims of the organisation were to foster Chetnik history, spread Chetnik ideas, and to care for disabled Chetniks and the widows and orphans of fallen Chetniks. Initially the organisation was aligned with the Democratic Party, but the increasing influence of the Serbian Radical Party resulted in a split of the organisation in 1924.[32] The pro-Radical Party, Greater Serbia elements of the organisation formed two new organisations; the "Association of Serbian Chetniks for King and Fatherland" (Udruženje srpskih četnika za Kralja i Otadžbinu) led by Puniša Račić, and the "Association of Serbian Chetniks "Petar Mrkonjić"" (Udruženje srpskih četnika Petar Mrkonjić). Around a year later these two organisations amalgamated as the "Association of Serbian Chetniks "Petar Mrkonjić" for King and Fatherland" with Račić presiding over a great deal of dissension until 1928 when the organisation ceased to operate. After the imposition of royal dictatorship by King Alexander in 1929, the "Petar Mrkonjić" association was dissolved, and the former dissidents re-joined the original "Chetnik Association for the Freedom and Honor of the Fatherland".[33]

In 1929, Trifunović-Birčanin became president of the organisation, serving until 1932 when he was replaced by Pećanac who continued to lead the organisation until the invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941.[33][34] In 1932 the Chetnik organisation established chapters in Dalmatia and Slavonia, and in 1934 Serb students at the University of Zagreb launched a Chetnik newsletter. This expansion of what remained a "nationalist-chauvinist" movement outside Serbia proper was a worrying development.[35] As a result of Pećanac's move to open membership of the Chetnik Association to new younger members that had not served in World War I, in the course of the 1930s he took organisation from a nationalist veterans' association focused on protecting veterans' rights, to an aggressively partisan Serb political organisation which reached 500,000 members throughout Yugoslavia.[36] During this period, Pećanac formed close ties with the far-right Yugoslav Radical Union government of Milan Stojadinović.[37] Trifunović-Birčanin and others that were unhappy with the aggressive expansion of the organisation and its move away from traditional Chetnik ideals, and set up the "Association of Old Chetniks" as a rival organisation, but it never challenged the organisation led by Pećanac.[33]

World War II

Formation and ideology

In April 1941 the Germans, Italians and Hungarians invaded Yugoslavia leading to the swift collapse of the Yugoslav state and the surrender of the Yugoslav army. Many Serb detachments refused to surrender and took to the hills. In the wake of the invasion, the Chetniks were the first of the two resistance movements to be founded.[38] The pre-war Chetnik leader Pećanac soon came to an arrangement with Nedić's collaborationist regime in the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia.[20] Colonel Draža Mihailović, who was "interested in resisting the occupying powers", set up his headquarters in Ravna Gora and named his group "The Ravna Gora Movement" in order to distinguish it from the Pećanac Chetniks and others calling themselves Chetniks who engaged in collaboration with the Germans.[20] But as the other Chetnik groups acted as adjuncts to the occupation, the word "Chetnik" again became associated with Mihailović's force.

Mihailović's group was also called the "Chetnik Detachments of the Yugoslav Army",[39] although "The Ravna Gora Movement" was and still is used to refer to the Chetniks.[40] The movement was later to be renamed the "Yugoslav Army in the Homeland",[41][42] although the original name of the movement remained the most common in use throughout the war, even among the Chetniks themselves. It is these forces that are generally referred to as "the Chetniks" throughout World War II although the name was also used by other smaller groups including those of Pećanac, Nedić and Dimitrije Ljotić.[20] In June 1941, following the start of Operation Barbarossa, the communist-led Partisans under Josip Broz Tito organised an uprising and in the period between June and November 1941, the Chetniks and Partisans largely cooperated in their anti-Axis activities.[citation needed]

In the summer of 1941, the Ravna Gora Movement had attracted a small number of Serb 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 Serb-controlled territories and other shifts of populations.[43][44] He produced a document, Homogenous Serbia, which articulated these notions.[44] Moljević proposed that Greater Serbia consist of 65–70% of the total Yugoslav territory and population.[45] He based his plan on the expulsion of the non-Serb population in different areas and on population exchanges, but did not provide any figures.[45] Mihailović appointed Moljević to the Central National Committee of the Chetnik movement in August 1941.[46] Moljević's 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 Chetniks set forth specific figures in regard to population shifts.[47]

In March 1942, the Chetnik Dinara Division created a program which proposed a Greater Serbia with a corridor between Herzegovina, northern Dalmatia, Bosnia, and Lika to Slovenia, and cleansing of these areas of non-Serb populations. This was accepted a month later by the military leaders of these areas. This document continued additional formulations of strategy, including collaboration with Italian forces as a modus vivendi, formation of Croatian Chetnik units as part of a continuing struggle against the Partisans, Domobrans and Ustaše. This document also proposed decent treatment of the Muslim population in order to keep them from joining the Partisan forces, and noted that the Muslims could later be dealt with.[48]

In the fall of 1942, a program was formulated 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 endorsement of the King, as well as agrarian and political reforms, nationalization of banking and wholesale trade, and increased propaganda to promote Chetnik ideology.[48] Mihailović was not present, but was represented by his subordinate commanders Ostojić, Lašić, and Đurišić.[48] Đurišić played the dominant role at this conference.[49]

A manual prepared by Chetnik military leaders in late 1942 detailed a three phased approach and the military structure to be used during the war.[50] The manual argued that both the Serbs and the Croats had been politically victimized in the period between the two world wars, and the unproven notion that in Serbia and especially in Belgrade, Croats held the upper hand in the government.[51] Except for the Ustaše, Croats were not seen as the enemies of the Serbs, and a goal was set for the incorporation of Croatian forces under Chetnik leadership. Ustaše, on the other hand, were to be summarily executed.[51] The question of shifting populations and religious conversion of the Croats was to be left aside until the Serbs had assumed power in Yugoslavia.[48] Revenge was incorporated into the Chetnik manual as a "... sacred duty of the Serbian people against those who had wronged them during the war and occupation".[52]

Early activities

Chetnik leaders initially conducted a number of operations against Axis forces, some jointly with the Partisans. However, by September 1941 Mihailović was advocating postponement of military action against the Germans, in contrast to the significant number of actions organised by the Partisans.[8] 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.[53] 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 Mihailović's forces in Ravna Gora and effectively routed the Chetniks from the Territory of the Military Commander in 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.[8]

However, by this time Mihailović had already asked the Germans for munitions to fight the communists. The Germans declined to negotiate, instead demanding unconditional surrender.[8] The British liaison to Mihailović 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.[54]

For some time after Yugoslavia was invaded, the Chetniks enjoyed support from the American media.[55] The late American general Billy Mitchell's sister Ruth had been in Yugoslavia during the invasion of Yugoslavia, and in November 1942 launched a campaign to obtain financial assistance for Mihailović's Chetniks.[56]

Axis offensives

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 Allied support

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 Case Black (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.[57][verification needed][58]

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. On 6 October 1944, the Nedić government transferred the Serbian State Guard to Mihailović's command, although cooperation proved impossible and they separated in January 1945 whilst in Bosnia.[59]

Cooperation with the Soviets

At the same time, September 1944, the Soviets invaded and occupied Romania and Bulgaria, removing them from the war and putting Soviet forces on the borders of Yugoslavia. The Chetniks were not unprepared for this, and throughout the war their propaganda strove to harness the pro-Russian and pan-Slavic sympathies of the majority of the Serb population. The distinction between the Russian people and their communist government was belaboured, as was the supposed difference between Yugoslav Partisans, who were allegedly Trotskyists, and the Soviets, who were Stalinists.[60] On 10 September 1944, a Chetnik mission of approximately 150 men, led by Lieutenant Colonel Velimir J. Piletić, commander of northeastern Serbia, crossed the Danube into Romania and established contact with Soviet forces at Craiova.[61] Their main purpose, according the memoirs of one of them, Lt. Col. Miodrag Ratković, was to establish Soviet agreement to certain political goals: a cessation of the civil war through Soviet mediation, free elections supervised by the Allied powers and the postponement of any war-related trials until after elections. Before the mission could go on to Bucharest, where the American and British military missions were, they were denounced by one of Piletić's aides as British spies and arrested by the Soviets on 1 October.[62]

Although the Chetniks naïvely believed they could fight as allies of the Soviets at the same time as they fought the Partisans, they did manage some local cooperation with the former while antagonising the Germans. In a circular of 5 October, Mihailović wrote: "We consider the Russians as our allies. The struggle against Tito's forces in Serbia will be continued." The Germans were aware of the Chetniks' disposition through radio intercepts, and their intelligence reported on 19 October that "the Chetniks have never been prepared by Draža Mihailović through appropriate propaganda for a fighting encounter with the Russians. Draža Mihailović has on the contrary upheld the fiction that the Russians as allies of the Americans and the British will never act against the interests of the Serbian nationalists."[62]

The commander of a group of the Shock Corps, Lt. Col. Keserović, was the first Chetnik officer to cooperate with the Soviets. In mid-October his troops met Soviet forces advancing into central eastern Serbia from Bulgaria and together they occupied the town of Kruševac, the Soviets leaving Keserović in charge of the town.Within three days, Keserović was warning his fellow commanders that the Russians were only talking with the Partisans and disarming the Chetniks. Keserović reported to Supreme Command on 19 October that his delegate to the Soviet division had returned with a message ordering his men to be disarmed and incorporated in the Partisan armed forces by 18 October.[63] The other Chetnik commander to cooperate with the Soviets was Captain Pedrag Raković of the Second Ravna Gora Corps, whose men participated in the capture of Čačak, where they captured 339 soldiers of the Russisches Schutzkorps Serbien (whom they turned over to the Soviets). Raković apparently had a written agreement with the local Soviet commander, placing himself and his men under Soviet command in return for recognition that they were Mihailović's men. After a protest from Tito to Marshal Fyodor Tolbukhin, commander of the front, Keserović's and Raković's cooperation came to an end. By 11 November the latter had gone into hiding and his forces had fled west to avoid being disarmed and placed under Partisan control.[64] After the fall of Belgrade to Soviet and Partisan troops there was little hope of the Chetniks surviving as a legitimate fighting force in Yugoslavia.

Rescuing Allied aviators

In the last years of the war the Chetniks were involved in operations in which Allied (mostly American) airmen were rescued and sheltered from the occupation forces. The largest of these operations was Operation Halyard, which took place shortly before the Chetnik movement was destroyed. In 1944, the Chetniks of Mihailovic rescued and evacuated between 417 and 512 Allied aircrew who had been shot down behind enemy lines. Most of the airmen were shot down during bombing runs of oil fields in Romania. 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. This award was classified secret by the United States Department of State so as not to offend Yugoslavs.[citation needed]

Retreat and dissolution

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 following repatriation from 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.[65]

Non-Serb Chetniks

The Yugoslav Army of the Homeland was almost exclusively made up of Serbs. A few Croats in central Dalmatia and Primorje supported Mihailović, but the group was too small to have any political or military significance. A few Sandžak and Bosnian Muslims also supported him.[66] In Slovenia, Major Karlo Novak led a small pro-Mihailović group which never played an important role.[67]

There had been long standing mutual animosity between Muslims and Serbs throughout Bosnia.[68] Due to mass atrocities carried out against non-Serbs late in the spring of 1941 in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in other ethnically heterogeneous areas, and due to Muslims, especially those in eastern Bosnia, being branded as 'Turks' and 'Ustase cronies', few Muslims joined the Chetniks.[69]

However, there were some notable exceptions, and a few Muslims cooperated with or even joined the Chetniks:

  • In late 1942, Herzegovinian Muslim leader Ismet Popovac obtained assistance from the Italians and formed an Italian Anti-Communist Volunteer Militia (MVAC). Early in 1943, Popovac's militia of around 800 fighters cooperated with the Chetniks against the Partisans during Fall Weiss. Not long after this, Popovac was assassinated.[70][71]
  • In 1943, the Chetniks moderated their policies towards the Muslims to some extent, in order to assist them to enlist Muslims into their ranks. Fehim Musakadić became the commander of all Muslim Chetnik units.[citation needed]
  • At the end of 1943, Muslims comprised up to eight percent of Mihailovic forces, numbering about 4,000.[69][72]
  • One prominent Muslim supporter of Mihailovic was Mustafa Mulalić, who had been a representative of the Yugoslav National Party in the pre-war Yugoslav parliament. In January 1944, at the Congress of Ba, Mulalić was appointed vice-chairman of the Chetnik National Committee. In late 1944, the Chetniks organised a Muslim Chetnik corps in north-east Bosnia.[73]

In November 1941, Major Karlo Novak, who had initially been appointed as the chief of staff of the Slovene Chetniks, became their commander when Mihailović's original delegate, Colonel Jakob Avšić defected to the Partisans.[74] In Slovenia, anti-Communist resistance was dominated by the Slovene Alliance led by the Slovene People's Party rather than the Chetniks, and although the Slovene Alliance theoretically owed allegiance to the government-in-exile via Mihailović as Chief of Staff of the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland, in reality it was completely independent of his command. The Slovene Alliance collaborated with the Italians, becoming 'legalised' as units of the MVAC.[75] Partly as a result of the dominance and influence of the Slovene Alliance, Novak was unable to attract a significant following, and at their peak the Slovene Chetniks numbered no more than 300–400 fighters. Novak received some arms and ammunition indirectly from the Italians. However, in September 1943 at the village of Grčarice, 50 km southeast of Ljubljana, the main Slovene Chetnik force of about 200 fighters was destroyed by the Partisans. Novak escaped to Italy where he remained for the remainder of the war.[76]

In mid-1944, Colonel (later General) Ivan Prezelj, who had been appointed as Mihailović's delegate in Slovenia after Novak's escape to Italy, briefly re-established several Slovene Chetnik detachments. One of these, operating in Lower Styria and led by Joze Melaher, managed to survive until the end of the war.[77]

Axis collaboration

German Generalmajor (Brigadier) Friedrich Stahl stands alongside an Ustaše officer and Chetnik commander Rade Radić in central Bosnia in mid–1942.

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.[8][54][57][78] 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 instead of the occupation forces, and started cooperating with the Axis in a struggle to destroy the Partisans, 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.[79]

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 two 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.[57]

Collaboration with the Italians

two males in uniform leaning against a car

Chetnik commander Momčilo Đujić with an Italian officer

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 the Italian-annexed and later German-occupied Ljubljana Province in 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.[57]

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 Serb politician from Lika, Stevo Rađenović. In particular, Chetnik vojvodas ("leaders") 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 (especially 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 11 January 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.[8] [57]

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.[57] 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[57]

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 26 March 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 Trifunović-Birčanin, who arrived in Italian-annexed Split in October 1941 and received his orders directly from Mihailović in the spring of 1942.
By the time of the Italian capitulation on 8 September 1943, all Chetnik detachments in the Italian-controlled parts of the Independent State of Croatia had at one time or another collaborated with the Italians against the Partisans.[80] This collaboration lasted right up until the Italian capitulation 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.[8][57] After the Allies did not land in Dalmatia as they had hoped, these Chetnik detachments were basically forced into collaboration with the Germans in order to avoid being caught between the Germans and the Partisans.[80]

Collaboration with the Independent State of Croatia

Chetnik representatives meeting in Bosnia with Ustaše and Croatian Home Guard officers of the Independent State of Croatia

After the 1941 split between the Partisans and the Chetniks in occupied Serb territory, 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 NDH and Chetnik detachments in Bosnia. The first formal agreement between Bosnian Chetniks and the Ustaše was concluded on 28 May 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.[57] The Chetniks recognized the sovereignty of the Independent State of Croatia and became a legalized movement in it.[81] 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, 28 May 1942[57]

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. 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.[57][78]

Case White

One of the highpoints of Chetnik collaboration with the Axis took place during the "Battle of the Neretva", which was the final phase of Case White, known in Yugoslav historiography as 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 pose with German soldiers

When Germans invaded Yugoslavia they met in the Chetniks an organization trained and adapted for guerilla warfare.[82] Although there were some clashes between the Germans and the Chetniks as early as May 1941, Mihailovic thought of resistance in terms of setting up an organisation which, when the time was ripe, would rise against the occupying forces.[83] British policy with regard to European resistance movements was to restrain them from activities which would led to their premature destruction, and this policy coincided initially with the concepts on the basis of which Mihailovic's movement was being operated.[84] In order to dissociate himself from the Chetniks who collaborated with the Germans, Mihailovic at first called its movement the "Ravna Gora Movement".[20]

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 8 September 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.[85] The report on German-Chetnik collaboration of the XV Army Corps on 19 November 1943 to the 2nd Panzer Army states that the Chetniks were "leaning on the German forces" for close to a year.[57]

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 Serb 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 German-led 373rd (Croatian) 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.[85] 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 (Serb) 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.[8][57]

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[57]

When appraising the situation in the western part of the Territory of the Military Commander in 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 the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia. Though Mihailović himself never actually signed any agreements, he endorsed the policy for the purpose of eliminating the Partisan threat.[57][78]

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[86]

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 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 the Government of National Salvation

In the Territory of the Military Commander in 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.[87] 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 gendarmerie.[88] Collaboration between the Government of National Salvation and Mihailović's Chetniks began in fall of 1941 and lasted until the end of German occupation.[89] Nedić was initially firmly opposed to Mihailović and the Chetniks.[89] On 4 September 1941, Mihailović sent Major Aleksandar Mišić and Miodrag Pavlović to enter a meeting with Nedić and nothing was accomplished.[89] 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.[89] On 15 October, Colonel Milorad Popović, acting on behalf of Nedić, gave Mihailović about 500,000 dinars (in addition to an equal amount given on 4 October) to persuade the Chetniks to collaborate.[87] On 26 October 1941, Popović gave an additional 2,500,000 dinars.[87] 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 an anti-Partisan operation.[87] When the Germans launched Operation Mihailović on 6–7 December 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 5 December.[89] In June 1942, Mihailović left the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia for Montenegro and was out of contact with the Nedić authorities until he returned. Subsequently, in the fall of 1942 the Chetniks of Mihailović (and Pećanac) that were legalized by the Nedić administration were dissolved.[89] 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 opted to replace him with a prominent Chetnik in the hopes of quelling the rivalry.[87] 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[87]

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.[90] On 6 September 1944, under the authority of the Germans and formalization by Nedić, Mihailović took command over the entire military force of the Nedić administration, including the Serbian State Guard, Serbian Volunteer Corps, and the Serbian Border Guard.[90]

Contacts with Hungary

In mid-1943, the Hungarian General Staff arranged a meeting between between a Serbian officer in the Nedić regime and Mihailović. The officer was instructed to express to Mihailović Hungary's regret for the massacre at Novi Sad and to promise that those responsible would be punished. Hungary recognised Mihailović as the representative of the Yugoslav government-in-exile and asked him, in the event of an Allied landing in the Balkans, not to enter Hungary with his troops, but to leave the border question to the peace conference. After contact was established, food, medicine, munitions and horses were sent to Mihailović.[91] During his visit to Rome in April 1943, Prime Minister Miklós Kállay talked about Italo-Hungarian cooperation with the Chetniks, but Mussolini said he favoured Tito.[92]

Hungary also tried to contact Mihailović through the royal Yugoslav government's representative in Istanbul in order to cooperate against the Partisans. The Yugoslav Minister of Foreign Affairs, Momčilo Ninčić, reportedly sent a message to Istanbul asking the Hungarians to send an envoy and a Serb politician from the Hungarian-occupied territories to negotiate.[93] Nothing came of these contacts,[94] but Mihailović sent a representative, one Bosnjaković, to Budapest. For their part the Hungarians sent arms, medicine and released Serbian POWs willing to serve with the Chetniks down the Danube.[93]

After the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944, the Chetnik relationship was one of the few foreign contacts independent of German influence that Hungary had. A Hungarian diplomat, L. Hory, formerly posted in Belgrade, twice visited Mihailović in Bosnia, and the Hungarians continued to send him munitions, even across Croatian territory.[95] The last contact between Mihailović and Hungary occurred on 13 October 1944, shortly before the German-sponsored coup of 15 October.[96]

Terror tactics and cleansing actions

See also: Ethnic cleansing and Draža Mihailović's terror tactics and cleansing actions

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 Axis occupation the notion of clearing or "cleansing" these territories was introduced largely in response to the massacres of Serbs by the Ustaše in the Independent State of Croatia.[97] However, the largest Chetnik massacres took place in east Bosnia which was relatively untouched by the Ustaša genocide until spring of 1942.[46]

Prior to the outbreak of World War II, 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.[98] During the early stages of the occupation, the Ustaše had also recruited a number of Muslims to aid in the persecutions of the Serbs, and even though only a relatively small number of Croats 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.[99] In particular, Ustaše ideologues were concerned with the large Serb minority in the NDH, and initiated acts of terror on a wide scale in May 1941, and by July, even the Germans protested the brutality of these actions.[100] Reprisals followed, as in the case of Nevesinje, where Serb peasants staged an uprising in response to the persecution, drove out the Ustaše militia, but then engaged in reprisals killing hundreds of Croats and Muslims.[100]

File:Drazas Instrukcije.JPG

The "Instructions" ("Instrukcije") of 1941, ordering the ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks, Croats, and others

A directive dated 20 December 1941, addressed to newly appointed commanders in Montenegro, Major Đorđije Lašić and Captain Pavle Đurišić, outlined, among other things, the cleansing of all non-Serb elements in order to create a Greater Serbia:[47]

  1. The struggle for the liberty of our whole nation under the scepter of His Majesty King Peter II;
  2. the creation of a Great Yugoslavia and within it of a Great Serbia which is to be ethnically pure and is to include Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Srijem, the Banat, and Bačka;
  3. the struggle for the inclusion into Yugoslavia of all still unliberated Slovene territories under the Italians and Germans (Trieste, Gorizia, Istria, and Carinthia) as well as Bulgaria, and northern Albania with Skadar;
  4. the cleansing of the state territory of all national minorities and a-national elements;
  5. the creation of contiguous frontiers between Serbia and Montenegro, as well as between Serbia and Slovenia by cleansing the Muslim population from Sandžak and the Muslim and Croat populations from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

—Directive of 20 December 1941[47]

The authenticity of the directive is disputed.[101] Some have attributed the directive as having come from Mihailović.[102][103] Others have claimed that there is no original and that it may have been a forgery made by Đurišić to suit his purposes.[104][105]

The Chetniks systemically massacred Muslims in villages that they captured.[46] In late autumn of 1941 the Italians handed over the towns of Višegrad, Goražde, Foča and the surrounding areas, in south-east Bosnia to the Chetniks to run as a puppet administration and NDH forces were compelled by the Italians to withdraw from there.[106] After the Chetniks gained control of Goražde on 29 November 1941, they began a massacre of Home Guard prisoners and NDH officials that became a systematic massacre of the local Muslim civilian population.[106] Several hundred Muslims were murdered and their bodies were left hanging in the town or thrown into the Drina river.[106] On 5 December 1941, the Chetniks received the town of Foča from the Italians and proceeded to massacre around five hundred Muslims.[106] Additional massacres against the Muslims in the area of Foča took place in August 1942.[16] In total, over two thousand people were killed in Foča.[16] In early January, the Chetniks entered Srebrenica and killed around a thousand Muslim civilians in the town and in nearby villages.[107] Around the same time the Chetniks made their way to Višegrad where deaths were reportedly in the thousands.[108] Massacres continued in the following months in the region.[108] In the village of Žepa alone about three hundred were killed in late 1941.[108] In early January, Chetniks massacred fifty-four Muslims in Čelebić and burned down the village.[108] On 3 March, the Chetniks burned forty-two Muslim villagers to death in Drakan.[107]

Đurišić's report of 13 February 1943 detailing the massacres of Muslims in the counties of Čajniče and Foča in southeastern Bosnia and in the county of Pljevlja in Sandžak

In early January 1943 and again in early February, Montenegrin Chetnik units were ordered to carry out "cleansing actions" against Muslims, first in the Bijelo Polje county in Sandžak and then in February in the Čajniče county and part of Foča county in southeastern Bosnia, and in part of the Pljevlja county in Sandžak.[109] Pavle Đurišić, the officer in charge of these operations, reported to Mihailović, Chief of Staff of the Supreme Command, that on 10 January 1943: "thirty-three Muslim villages had been burned down, and 400 Muslim fighters (members of the Muslim self-protection militia supported by the Italians) and about 1,000 women and children had been killed, as against 14 Chetnik dead and 26 wounded".[109] In another report sent by Đurišić dated 13 February 1943, he reported that: "Chetniks killed about 1,200 Muslim fighters and about 8,000 old people, women, and children; Chetnik losses in the action were 22 killed and 32 wounded".[109] He added that "during the operation the total destruction of the Muslim inhabitants was carried out regardless of sex and age".[110] The total number of deaths caused by the anti-Muslim operations between January and February 1943 is estimated at 10,000.[109] The casualty rate would have been higher had a great number of Muslims not already fled the area, most to Sarajevo, when the February action began.[109] According to a statement from the Chetnik Supreme Command from 24 February 1943, these were countermeasures taken against Muslim aggressive activities; however, all circumstances show that these massacres were committed in accordance with implementing the directive of 20 December 1941.[16]

Actions against the Croats were of a smaller scale but similar in action.[111] One of the worst Chetnik outbursts against the Croat population of Dalmatia took place in early October 1942 in the village of Gata near Split, in which an estimated one hundred people were killed and many homes were burnt in a reprisal taken against the people of Gata and nearby villages for the destruction of some roads in the area and carried out on the Italians account.[16] In that same October, formations under the command of Petar Baćović and Dobroslav Jevđević, who were participating in the Italian Operation Alfa in the area of Prozor, massacred over five hundred Croats and Muslims and burnt numerous villages.[16] Baćović noted that "Our Chetniks killed all men 15 years of age or older. ... Seventeen villages were burned to the ground."[112] Mario Roatta, commander of the Italian Second Army, objected to these "massive slaughters" of noncombatant civilians and threatened to halt Italian aid to the Chetniks if they did not end.[112]

The exact number of Muslim, Croat and other non-Serb civilians killed by Chetniks has never been established. According to World War II historian Vladimir Žerjavić, about 65,000 Croat and Muslim civilians were killed by Chetniks in the Independent State of Croatia.[112] In addition the Chetniks also completely destroyed 300 villages and small towns and a large number of mosques and Catholic churches.[112]

Chetniks in Šumadija kill a Partisan through heart extraction

The Partisans were also targets of terror tactics. In the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia, apart from a few terrorist acts against Nedić's and Ljotić's men, and in Montenegro against separatists, terror was directed solely against the Partisans, their families and sympathizers, on ideological grounds.[111] The goal, as repeatedly proven by Chetnik documents in general and specific orders, was for the complete destruction of the Partisans.[16] The Chetniks created lists of individuals that were to be liquidated and special units known as "black trojkas" were trained to carry out these acts of terror.[16] During the summer of 1942, using names supplied by Mihailović, lists of individual Nedić and Ljotić supporters to be assassinated or threatened were broadcast over BBC radio during news programming in Serbo-Croatian.[113] Once the British discovered this, the broadcasts of these lists were halted, although this did not prevent the Chetniks from continuing the assassinations.[113]

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 on trial, found guilty of high treason against Yugoslavia, sentenced to death and then executed by firing squad on 17 July.[114] Later, Momčilo Đujić formed the 'Movement of Serbian Chetniks of Ravna Gora' in the United States and Canada.[115]

Recent history

Yugoslav Wars

During the Yugoslav wars, Serb paramilitaries often self-identified and were referred to as Chetniks.[116] Vojislav Šešelj's Serbian Radical Party formed the White Eagles group which identified themselves as Chetniks.[117] Vuk Drašković's Serbian Renewal Movement was closely associated with the Serbian Guard, which was also associated with Chetniks and monarchism.[118]

During the war five Serb soldiers received the title of "Chetnik voivode" from World War II veteran Đujić: Rade Čubrilo, Slavko Aleksić, Branislav Gavrilović, Rade Radović, and Mitar Maksimović Mando. The title that had been awarded to Šešelj in 1989 was later removed in 1998 when it became obvious that Šešelj was cooperating with Slobodan Milošević and was anti-monarchist.[119][120] Rade Čubrilo became the flag-bearer of Đujić's former unit, the Dinara Chetnik Division.[119]

Contemporary period

A Chetnik banquet hall in Ontario, Canada, honoring World War II 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[121]
  • 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.[122]


Since 1992, the Serbian Renewal Movement has annually organized the "Ravna Gora Parliament".[123] People who attend the Parliament wear World War II Chetnik iconography and t-shirts with the image of Draža Mihailović or Ratko Mladić, who as of September 2012 was on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.[123][124][125] 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 Drašković.[126]

In March 2004, the National Assembly of Serbia passed a new law that equalized the Chetniks and Partisans as equivalent anti-fascists.[127] 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.[128]

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.[129] Turkey has also threatened to enact such a ban.[130] 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.[131]


In 2002, preparations began for a memorial complex near Berane dedicated to Đurišić.[132] 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.[133] 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.[134] 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."[135] 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."[136] The stand that was prepared for the erection of the monument was later removed by the police.[137]

Bosnia and Herzegovina

On 12 July 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.[138][139] On 11 July 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 Mladić and sang Chetnik songs.[140][141][142] 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."[143] A full report of the incident was submitted to the local District Prosecutor's Office but no one has been prosecuted.[144] The Bosnian political party SDP has been campaigning for a creation of a law that would ban the group within Bosnia.[145]


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".[146]

United States

Monuments dedicated to Mihailović, Đujić, and Đurišić exist at the Serbian cemetery in Libertyville, Illinois.[147]


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