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Tito and his People (3)

DEATH TO ALL FASCISTS

Three days after the Yugoslav army had surrendered to the Axis, April 20, 1941, Tito held a meeting with certain Slovenian leaders, Catholic priests, trade unionists, peasant leaders and Communists. They formed the Liberation Front and issued their first defiance to Germany: Death to all Fascists! – Liberty to the People!"

The united front he organized included anyone and everyone who hated fascism and was willing to fight the invader. Its purpose was to render all aid to the Allies and to drive the Germans and Italians from Yugoslavia.

The Liberation Front, or LF as it became known, decided that Tito should go to Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia, contact the anti-fascist organization there and start a movement that would embrace every democratic force in Yugoslavia, a movement that would unite the whole land against the Nazis.

In civilian clothes, a revolver in one pocket, Tito left Slovenia for Belgrade.

There are hundreds of stories told of how Tito began the Belgrade centre of the Liberation Front. It is said that he sat in a cafe in Belgrade, his hand on the revolver in his pocket, while German police cars cruised the streets looking for him.

Actually Tito did not start the Liberation Front in Belgrade, for when he arrived there, a united front underground organization including progressive Yugoslavs of every political shade was functioning. Tito knew many key people in this movement, contacted them and a meeting was arranged.

At this meeting was the former Yugoslav parliamentary president, Dr. Ivan Ribar and other national non-Communist leaders. The meeting lasted for hours. Tito constantly reiterated his purpose: "To drive out the invader and liberate the land."

Then and there the Liberation Front of all Yugoslavia was formed. Communists and non-Communists shook hands and pledged their lives to their country's freedom.

The slogan spoken first in Slovenia was confirmed as a battle cry:

DEATH TO ALL FASCISTS!
LIBERTY TO THE PEOPLE!

ORGANIZING PARTISAN BRIGADES

Tito was an old and experienced fighter. The better part of his life had been spent in the struggle for human freedom and dignity. He never made the mistake of underestimating the enemy. He had seen the German Panzers tried out in Spain. He had seen those same Panzers knife through his native land in ten days. He knew how futile and foolish it would be to send his half armed guerrillas against them immediately.

Instead he set out perfecting his organization, arming it as well as he could and enlarging it. Wherever they could be reached, his own party organizations were contacted. They in turn reached out and made common purpose with all anti-Axis people they could reach. Liaison was perfected.

Disguised as travelling men, as peasants, as housewives, organizers travelled back and forth throughout the country. Branches were strengthened, arms were apportioned effectively, ammunition stretched as far as it would go.

When they had done all they could do, they waited for the opportune moment to strike. They had hardly completed their preparations when it came. In June, 1941, two months after the defeat of Yugoslavia, the Nazi Panzers poured over the Russian front, the Stukas smashed at the Russian cities.

In Yugoslavia an immediate effect of the Russian invasion was apparent. Needing every German soldier he could lay his hands on and believing that Yugoslavia was completely conquered, Hitler withdrew most of his Nazi garrisons to the Soviet front. He left a small but strong holding force – and against that force, the Liberation Front struck. And so for the first time people outside of the Balkans heard of the Partisan brigade and their leader, Marshal Tito.

What Is A Partisan ?

Something should be said here of the origin of the term Partisan and the Partisan method of warfare. Curiously enough, the first Partisan brigades were American and both the word and the method came into being during the American Revolution. At that time continental farmers, when the occasion arose, would take down their guns, leave their homes and meet at an appointed spot. They would then attack a British garrison or an outpost or a marching column. They would appear suddenly, strike hard and quickly and then melt away before the enemy could reorganize. When the enemy was in a position to strike back, the Partisans had disappeared, gone back to their homes, ceased to exist as an army.

That feature, the ability to assemble quickly, strike quickly, and then disappear if the need should arise, was the most striking quality of the Partisan band. You will see how again and again in the history of Tito's struggle, this feature was used to full advantage.

Although Partisan is the popular name for Tito's movement today, the armed resistance to the Germans is offered by the National Liberation Army and the Partisan detachments of Yugoslavia.

The army is a standard army composed of 26 divisions, each containing 3,000 to 7,000 men. The Partisan detachments, however, are something different. They are small, irregular units for special tasks. Guerrillas in the proper sense of the word, that number alone about 120,000 men. These partake in delaying action, sabotage, and surprise attacks.

PARTISAN BRIGADES STRIKE

When the news of the Nazi attack on Russia arrived, the Liberation Front acted quickly and skilfully. The first uprisings were led by Communists and it was they who acted as a signal to anti-Nazis everywhere.

At Valjevo, in northern Serbia, the ground had been well prepared. Javonavich, a reporter who joined the Partisan brigades, killed the first German in Valjevo on July 5, 1941. His detachment swung into action and launched a full scale attack with rifles, pistols and grenades, on the German guards.

Simultaneously Tito led the Belgrade uprising. A group of young Communists attacked and burned part of the German press. Other Communist groups attacked the telephone building and the station.

In Zagreb the telephone building was successfully stormed and destroyed.

In Slovenia an Italian garrison numbering more than 200 was attacked and wiped out.

In Serbia, 80 truckloads of oil and munitions belonging to the Germans were blown up. Other bands stormed German prisons and carried off Yugoslav prisoners. One of the prisoners rescued at this time, Alexander Rankovich, is today a member of the headquarters staff of the National Liberation Army. Stores of precious rifles and grenades were looted. Partisans attacked and killed Germans, afterwards stripping them of uniforms and arms.

And then, as suddenly as they arose, the Partisans faded away for at that time they were not yet ready for full-scale warfare. They had accomplished their first objective, to completely disrupt German communications, to capture some arms and ammunition, and let the people of Yugoslavia know that there were strong forces within the country actively fighting for their freedom.

Immediately after this first uprising Tito proclaimed a further period of consolidation. His organization was strong enough now for him to make specific plans for an army. How huge a task that was he well knew, because at that time there were neither arms nor ammunition nor leaders for a new Yugoslav army.

His first duty was to keep the fire of revolt burning and to build it up slowly as Partisan strength grew. The concentration at the beginning was on arms. Italian guardhouses were attacked without respite and in every case where the Partisans succeeded, uniforms and arms were seized. Six Croatians, armed with four old muskets, held up twenty occupational police and disarmed them.

A woman and three men in Slovenia attacked a munitions cache with grenades, home manufactured, and escaped with 3,000 cartridges. Peasants lay in wait for German truck convoys, leaped aboard them as they climbed the steep mountain grades, killed the drivers and guards and then held the trucks until Tito's forces appeared and drove them to their arms depots.

Marshal Tito swiftly outlined plans for five divisions of Partisan troops to operate in Serbia. There was still not enough equipment for 86,000 men, but the military structure, including officers, supply and liaison, was already being set up.

Tito sent organizers south to the little mountainous Yugoslav state of Montenegro. For many years Montenegrins had had the reputation of being men who knew the meaning and value of freedom and were ready to fight for it at the drop of a hat.

The Montenegrins were already at the boiling point. Their little country was occupied by Italians and they felt that the time to strike was now.

Two exceptionally competent officers of the Yugoslav regular army who escaped the Germans were in Montenegro at the time – Colonel Oravich and Major or Arbe Jovanavich. They met with Tito's organizers. Hostile at first, they resented the idea of collaborating with groups that contained Communists.

The Partisans talked with the regular officers; explained to them the structure of the People's Liberation Front and pointed out what had already been accomplished. Finally the two army officers agreed to work with the Partisans. Today Jovanavich is a Partisan Major General and the trusted head of Marshal Tito's operational and intelligence command.

Once the Partisans had made common cause with the regular officers they set about to organize revolt in Montenegro. The peasants were ready; most of them were armed, all of them skilled in the knowledge of their craggy hills. On July 13 they struck and the peasant Partisan forces swept through Montenegro like a scythe. In a short time only three main towns in the province were still held by the Italians and those three towns were surrounded and under siege.

Meanwhile other Partisans were kept busy moving caravans out of Montenegro into other parts of Yugoslavia, across rocky mountain trails, avoiding the main roads.

Concurrent with these planned revolts, there were spontaneous uprisings all over Yugoslavia. The Nazis did not take this lying down. Wherever they held towns, they extracted a fearful price for guerrilla activity. They proclaimed to the Yugoslavs that for every dead German they would execute 100 Yugoslavs and for every wounded German they would execute 50 Yugoslavs.

The town of Gorni Milanovats, for example, was said to be aiding the guerrillas. It was surrounded and burned to the ground. Some of the people escaped to the woods. Most of those who were left, some 800 women, boys and girls, were murdered by the Germans.

Kraguyavets is a Serbian city, population 16,000. Ten Germans were killed in a skirmish outside the city. The Germans surrounded it, collected 4,500 men and boys and executed them.

These are only two examples of what was happening all over Yugoslavia. These are not invented atrocity tales. The facts have been proved and substantiated by numerous eye witness accounts. In Yugoslavia, as in Poland and Russia, the Germans went mad. They killed and killed until the enormity of their murdering became too great for the human mind to comprehend.

The Nazis Hunt For Tito

In July, 1941, Tito found himself the nominal leader of a nation in revolt against the Nazis. He was confronted with the enormous job of pulling all the threads together, of turning this loose resistance into a concerted campaign that would eventually drive out the Germans and Italians.

During July and August, Tito remained in Belgrade, operating his headquarters under the very noses of the Nazis, spreading farther and farther the influence of the Liberation Front. The Gestapo had some inkling that a man called Tito was at the head of this movement. They even managed to obtain an old picture of him which they blew up into huge posters.

Everywhere in the country these posters began to appear. Wanted: Tito! A reward was offered, a reward so huge that it would make a Yugoslav peasant the equivalent of an American millionaire. Yet strangely, although hundreds of Partisans knew Tito personally, no one betrayed him.

He remained at large in Belgrade. In the cafes he would meet Partisans from all over Yugoslavia, issue instructions, receive reports.

In a church, he knelt beside a Slovenian priest who was a Partisan leader in that province and gave him instructions. He held a staff meeting in an empty warehouse. He wrote orders that left Belgrade in the baskets of peasant women, under the cloaks of churchmen and in the valises of respectable looking salesmen.

By August his organizational work had progressed tremendously. All of Yugoslavia was now operating under a single command of the Liberation Front, with the exception of the Chetniks of General Mikhailovich, although at that time, in several cases, Chetniks and Partisans fought the Germans side by side.

THE MIKHAILOVICH CHETNIK MYTH

Since the first rumors of guerrilla resistance in Yugoslavia reached the outside world, until a very short time ago, our newspapers were flooded with romantic tales of the fierce Serbian Chetniks and the gallant deeds they performed. Most of this Chetnik legend was untrue. Part of it was fostered, encouraged and blown out of all proportions by the Yugoslav government-in-exile. The other part of it was created by correspondents who knew little of the Chetniks except that they sounded romantic.

The Yugoslav government-in-exile created Chetnik and Mikhailovich news. They seized secret reports of Partisan battles and credited these victories to the Chetniks.

They did all this for a very good reason. They did it because they were terrified at the thought of losing control of their country.

At no time were more than a small minority of Mikhailovich's army Chetniks, and even then they were none too reliable.

Who are these Chetniks?

The Chetnik Action, a sort of romantic, semi-terroristic secret military society, began in Serbia early in the nineteen hundreds, ostensibly as liberators of Serbs under Turkish rule. They received unofficial support from the Serbian government. During the next ten years, they discovered that terrorism was more profitable than liberation; nor did they confine their banditry and extortion to the Turks. Often enough, they took from the Serbs as well.

By 1941, the Chetnik movement was largely a thing of the past. Young men who went in for that sort of thing were unstable romantics. Old Chetniks lived on their memories.

When Yugoslavia surrendered, most of the brightly-uniformed, boasting Chetniks either dropped out of sight or became Axis collaborationists. Some few, however, did join Mikhailovich.


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