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Tito and his People (5)

A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH

After the disaster at their former headquarters in Uzice, the Partisans managed to bring most of their arms away with them. Also, the bulk of their army was intact. Tito and his officers decided to move southwest into the wild mountains of Herzegovina, establish headquarters at Foca, and build their strength to a point where they could conduct an active offensive against the Germans.

Five brigades of troops were singled out to accompany Tito and form the nucleus of the new army. The rest of the Partisans were divided into small guerrilla bands, and ordered to go south into Serbia, harass the enemy, cut communications and in general seek support from the Serbians.

Foca continued to be Tito's headquarters until May, 1942. Here, he and his staff whipped the new army into shape. Already, they constituted some of the toughest and most experienced troops in the world; by May they were in shape to match strength with the Germans.

Meanwhile, the Partisan movement gathered strength in every part of Yugoslavia. In east Bosnia, a young guerrilla leader, Principe, the nephew of the man who had assassinated the Archduke of Austria in 1914, had formed and was leading a smaller but well-trained Partisan army. Another Partisan group functioned in Slovenia, and in Serbia the Partisans gained in strength day by day. In every case, when the Germans attacked a Partisan group, it was like attacking a bank of mist. The Partisans fought as long as it was profitable � and then melted away into the hills and forests.

At the beginning of June, 1942, a year after he first began operations, Tito tested the strength of his main army against a full-fledged German offensive. The Nazis attacked him in Bosnia. His army withstood the German attack and in places organized their own counter-offensive and drove back the Nazis. Bringing up more strength, the Germans cut off every avenue of escape.

Tito's food was running low. He gathered his men, launched a heavy attack against one section of the German line and broke through. His army, although almost without mechanization of any sort, moved with incredible speed. Before the Germans fully realized that he was out of their trap, Tito swung on their flank and attacked them from the rear. The attack was not anticipated and completely successful. The Germans had considered the Partisan army trapped; and it was their experience that trapped armies surrendered. This one didn't. It lashed out at them and sent them reeling. Tito gave them no rest. He attacked again, routing them and cutting the important Sarajevo-Mostar railroad.

His liaison reported a powerful force of Krajina Partisans on his left flank, separated from him by almost a division of German troops. Tito marched his men twenty miles through the night, attacked the Germans at dawn, routed them, and effected a junction with the Krajina Partisans.

The men were their own supply column. They took food and ammunition from the German dead. The augmented force now drove north through Bosnia in the direction of Croatia. Garrison after garrison of German and Italian troops were surrounded, attacked and destroyed. By August, all of north Bosnia was liberated, cleansed of fascist troops. The slogan, Death to all Fascists! � Liberty to the People ran like fire through Yugoslavia.

As Tito's army fought its way north, it gained in strength. In Bosnia, he was reinforced by thousands of Bosnian Partisans. Hardly resting, he launched a new campaign into Croatia and again he was joined by thousands of fresh troops � Croatian Partisans this time.

During the Croatian campaign, Tito's force swept north almost to the Hungarian border, and there they were joined by a detachment of Hungarian anti-fascist guerrillas. From Croatia, they crossed into Slovenia, pursuing their campaign of liberation almost to the German border. By the end of 1942 the Yugoslav Liberation Front radio was able to announce to the world that half of Yugoslavia had been liberated from the fascists and was now under the control of Partisan forces.

A miracle had come to pass, in a sense as great a miracle as that of Russia. A tiny country, conquered in ten days by the Nazis, had risen in its anger and driven the invader from half its land. And throughout the democratic world, people, reading about the Partisan exploits, began to speak a magic and romantic name �Tito!

The Partisans Fight And Grow

The Partisan army has gone a long way since that time, not so long ago, in 1941 when a few men held up a group of Quisling soldiers and seized their guns and ammunition. This army has reconquered much territory since that day in April, 1942, when Uncle Peter Narovich, the Catholic peasant from Slovenia, walked three hundred miles on foot to see for himself whether that legendary figure Tito actually existed. To join him in the struggle against their common enemy, in spite of the fact that he knew that Tito was a Communist and that he, Peter, was a Catholic.

These scattered guerrilla bands of the early days have become tough, seasoned, scientific fighters who have grown into an army of thirty-six divisions. This army holds at bay and annihilates whole divisions of the three hundred thousand Axis troops Adolf Hitler keeps in Yugoslavia. Today they have tanks, guns, planes and all the necessary small arms.

THE ARMY OF LIBERATION

You will recall that the liberation movement in Yugoslavia is composed of two parts, the National Liberation Army and Partisan detachments. We've already discussed at great length the role of the Partisan brigades or detachments. Now let's have a look at the Army of Liberation which grew out of the Partisan bands. Its strength reaches between 120,000 and 200,000 fighters. One fourth of them are women who fight along with their men and are doing a real job of soldiering.

Italian, German, Croatian Quisling newspapers were full of gory accounts of battles with these bandits and Bolsheviks. They told their readers that the Partisans were using Indian tactics of inhuman cunning and bestial ferocity. And, of course, many of our newspapers and magazines believed these Nazi lies. The Yugoslav Army of Liberation remained compact and well organized in spite of many setbacks.

Thousands of her men and women wintered in Bosnian forests, eating, sleeping, fighting in the snow. Many thousands died from exposure to typhus and other diseases. To hamper the movements of the army are the thousands of children that roam the devastated countryside hungry, homeless. Their parents are either dead or fighting somewhere in Yugoslavia against frightful odds. Whenever the Army of Liberation comes upon these children or where these children hear of the whereabouts of this army of free men, they flock to them in vast numbers.

Each unit is commanded by a military officer chosen from among the men who have been leading their units since the early beginning of Partisan resistance. They were selected by the soldiers themselves as being the bravest among them. Each battalion, brigade and division has a political officer and each platoon has what is known as a platoon delegate who in turn has two assistants. These men look after the personal grievances and worries of the men. They come from all political parties and represent the liberation movement, not their parties.

The political officers lead meetings where criticism and discussion are engaged in. They see that the spirit of the men is kept at a high level.

Each brigade has at least one priest with it. The church has suffered as much as the rest of Yugoslavia and has become part and parcel of the liberation movement.

We have a natural curiosity about clothes and no doubt want to know what kind of a uniform the Partisans wear. As well as their own they wear captured Italian or German uniforms with the former insignia taken off and the five-pointed star placed in a conspicuous fashion on the cap. They are indeed oddly uniformed but uniformly determined men and women. These indomitable fighters composing the Army of Liberation are uniformly in agreement about their cause and their future. Today it is "Death to Fascism! � Freedom to the People! Tomorrow it will be "Death to hunger, poverty and pain; freedom of every man, woman and child to live in peace and security in a free and democratic Yugoslavia."

THE STORY OF PETER AND FRANCA

These are two short stories of young Partisans told by Staff Sgt. Ralph G. Martin of the U.S. Army which appeared in PM on April 23, 1944. They deserve retelling here because they give you an intimate glimpse, a real insight into the personal lives of these indomitable people.

"Every Partisan knows why he fights. Every Partisan includes the old retired engineering professor who now blows up bridges; the woman dentist who brought along her own equipment which she smuggled out of a concentration camp in an overlarge dress; the Macedonian strong man who likes to sneak up on an enemy tank in the dark of night and pry open the turret quietly, kill everyone inside, and then drive away with the tank; the young woman who was a famous dancer before the war but now prefers the machine gun; the eight-year-old kid who still complains bitterly because they took him away from his front-line dispatch messenger job and sent him to liberated Italy.

"The Partisan army is filled with young people who have lost their youth. Peter is typical. Only 14 now, he has been fighting for more than two years and has taken part in four major offensives. Still stuck deep in his body are several different varieties of Nazi bullets and shrapnel.

Peter

"Hardly 12 when the Nazis came to his Bosnian town, Peter escaped with his older brother who was killed several months later. The Partisans had no gun to give him, so for four months he loaded himself with hand grenades and attacked German bunkers. Later from dead Germans he got a rifle, machine gun, some boots and a bayonet. He learned how to use the bayonet during one of the Nazi offensives when the Partisans lost 4,000 men while slicing through a tight German encirclement.

When Peter was hit in the leg by a bullet, he wrapped a rag around the wound and kept on fighting. But the second time, when he was hit in the hip, they had to strap him onto a horse and bring him to one of their few hospitals, almost 200 miles away. Twenty days later he was fighting again. 'I was young then. I healed quickly,' explained Peter, his fuzzless face serious.

"After that came a drawn-out battle with some of the 12,000 home-grown fascists in Bosnia; a 15-mile trek down the Dalmatian coast during which he ate grass when his food ration ran out. It was there that a grenade exploded too close to him, filling him with shrapnel. The Nazis added a few machine gun bullets for good measure. But, after three operations, Peter still lives, limping a little but recovering rapidly, impatient to get back to the war.

Franca

"As good as any man, Franca is representative of Partisan women fighters. Slightly on the plump side, with a face as weather-beaten as an Indian squaw, Franca was studying agronomy in a technical school in a small Dalmatian village in Croatia when war broke out."

"From the first days of June, 1941, Franca smuggled out badly-needed supplies to the guerrilla fighters until she grew restless and joined them herself. The only woman in a group of 19, she led a raid on a food warehouse in her home town. Before they got very far, they heard that a large force of Germans was coming the other way. so they stopped and waited.

"The Nazis came in, started looting, burning, killing, and left a small group behind to mop up. The 19 decided to try an old trick. During the night they charged in on their horses, each shooting and yelling the names of different outfits. Believing that a considerable force of Partisans were rushing down on them, the Germans retreated in disorder.

"Not only did the 19 Partisans save a lot of civilians but they killed a lot of Germans.

"They brought back a few prisoners for information purposes. One of them was later identified as the Nazi who killed Franca's sister-in-law and niece. Franca had the pleasure of being on the firing squad that killed him the next morning.

"Franca doesn't know how many Germans she's killed; she's lost count.

"'I do not make notches on my gun like your cowboys,' she said, smiling, brushing the hair out of her eyes with her gloved hand. Inside the glove her hand had three twisted fingers where a bullet passed through. She had some more bullets in her back and knee.

"Except for a rare smile, Franca's face was expressionless even when she spoke of blood and death and torture. That's because these people have seen and suffered so much that they've developed a hard callous around their feelings.

"But not when they sing. When they sing, and they always do, they throw their heads back and their faces shine. Because these people seldom sing sad songs of yesterday; they sing proud songs of the free democratic Yugoslavia of tomorrow."

UNITED FRONT FOR LIBERTY

In the late fall of 1942, in the town of Bihach, in the northwestern corner of Bosnia, a democratic Yugoslav assembly met. It called itself by a long and unwieldy name, "The Anti-Fascist Assembly for the People's Liberation in Yugoslavia." It included Communists, democratic leaders, trade unionists, peasant leaders, and churchmen. It met openly and proudly in liberated territory.

It did not presume to say that it constituted the government of Yugoslavia; it was a temporary parliament for the freed areas of Yugoslavia.

Perhaps Winston Churchill showed more clearly than anyone else why Yugoslavia will emerge a democracy, when in paying tribute to the struggles and sufferings of these indomitable people, he said:

"Around and within these heroic forces a national and unifying movement has developed. Communist elements had the honor of being the beginners, but as the movement has increased in strength and numbers, a modifying and unifying process has taken place and national conceptions have supervened."

This is perhaps the best testimony and most reliable assertion that we have yet heard to the effect that the Partisan movement is not a Communist insurrection but rather a unified expression of the will of the people to resist fascism. This is also ample affirmation of the contribution Tito's forces have made not only as a fighting force, but as wise arbitrators of political issues within Yugoslavia.

Tito's main objectives are two-fold: First and foremost the liberation of his country, and, second, a democratic government formed by the people in the interests of all the people, subject to and ruling by the consent of the people.

Not only has the feud between Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes been buried, but it has been replaced by the closest comradeship in the struggle. Thousands of Macedonians, Bulgars and Albanians are also fighting with Marshal Tito.

The Nazis planned to divide Serbs from Croats. Had their attempts been successful, Yugoslavia might have disappeared from the face of the earth. The People's Liberation movement from the very beginning, set as one of its main objectives the unification of the country.

On November 27, 1942, Dr. Ivan Ribar, chairman of the committee of the People's Liberation movement, at the first meeting of this group, held in Bihach, released the following declaration:

"We, the representatives of all the peoples of Yugoslavia, have decided to organize ourselves in the Anti-Fascist Vece as the highest political expression of the unity of the Yugoslav peoples and as that institution which will still further elevate and develop the efforts of the people's liberation committees and of all other mass anti-fascist organizations in the struggle for the liberation of the still-occupied section of our country. "The Anti-Fascist Vece and the executive committee elected by it will constitute a representative political body, working with the commander in chief (Tito) of the People's Liberation movement and of our People's Army, and jointly with him directing the struggle for the national liberation of Yugoslavia.

"The principal tasks of the Vece are to develop and strengthen the unity already existing between the front and the rear; to organize and supply the People's Liberation army and the guerrilla detachments; to safeguard personal freedom and property; to raise the cultural level of the people; to organize social welfare and services for the protection of public health; to bring about a state of full freedom and equality in the fraternal family of liberated peoples.

"No one will succeed in destroying this family, for it has been forged in the fire of the common struggle."

And then the following statement, which contains the basis of all democratic movements, was issued in the midst of the most engaging battles from Bihach.

"The People's Liberation Movement of Yugoslavia is a people's movement embracing the participation of all honest patriots regardless of political party affiliation, religious affiliations, or nationality.

"Ours aims are:

    "1. To liberate the country from the forces of occupation and to win independence and truly democratic rights and liberties for all the peoples of Yugoslavia.

    "2. To maintain the inviolability of private property and full opportunity for initiative in industry and other economic fields.

    "3. To introduce no radical changes in the social structure and activities of the country except for replacing the reactionary district gendarmes and governing bodies with elected people's institutions of a genuinely democratic character. All important measures affecting the social structure and organizations of the state are to be decided after the war by representatives freely elected by the people.

    "4. To oppose every form of violence and lawlessness as alien to a people's liberation movement which is fighting for the freedom of all and for social and democratic rights for every man.

    "5. To guarantee rank and position to the officers joining the People's Army in accordance with their abilities.

    "6. To grant full recognition of national rights to Croats, Slovenes and Serbs as well as to Macedonians and other groups. The liberation movement is common to Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia and is therefore a guarantee that national rights will be won for all peoples of Yugoslavia."

And so Yugoslavia was re-established. After this announcement the Nazis, stirred into a rage by the audacity of this "inferior" race, launched a most vicious attack on the small, heroic town of Bihach, the cradle of Yugoslav democracy, in an attempt to wipe it from the face of the earth. This attack was one of the most crucial in the history of the struggle of the liberation armies.

The infant democracy matured rapidly. Its body became stronger; its spirit tempered by the fire of struggle, became indomitable, and the fight went on.


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