Kosta Nikolić, PhD
Institute of Contemporary History
Belgrade, Serbia


Nebojša Stambolija
Institute of Contemporary History
Belgrade, Serbia



Vol. XXXVI, 2/2018, pp. 9–34



The nucleus of what later became royalist resistance force was a small group of officers and non-commissioned officers of the Yugoslav royal army who refused to surrender. Under the command of General Staff Colonel Dragoljub Mihailović these men retreated into the hills and started marching to the mountainous interior of Serbia where they hoped to find other parts of the Yugoslav army whom they would join and with whom they would continue the fight against the enemy. Mihailović and his men gathered at the plateau of Ravna Gora in Western Serbia on May 11, 1941. In the first days of creation of the resistance movement, Mihailović pointed out the need of secret organizing, civil disobedien­ce and harmfulness of early actions. Creation of a new military organization, called Yugoslav Army in the Homeland, was finished in June 1942. The new military organization was based on territorial principles, so to avoid reprisals, but in readiness for the final operations at the “appropriate time”.

The Royalist movement was a traditional royalist and national Serb force. Despite the official Yugoslav label and the participation of some non–Serbs, the Royalists were essentially a Serb national force from the beginning. This does not mean that the Royalists were anti–Yugoslav as such, or that they did not want to restore Yugoslavia – albeit on their own terms – after the war. Rather, this meant that a Serb affair, such as the creation of a Serb territorial unit, was the first priority for the Royalist. During Second World War were three parallel conflicts in occupied Yugoslavia. First, a resistance struggles against the Axis, second, a communist–royalist civil war and third, a regional ethnoreligious conflict made possible by the wartime circumstances. The Yugoslav Army in the Homeland fought in all three: as the extension of the Yugoslav army in the resistance struggle, in the civil war as royalists, and in the ethnoreligious conflict as a Serb territorial force in areas with a mixed population. Once combined, these elements paint a picture of Mihailović’s wartime resistance movement as an anti–communist, royalist, Serb territorial military force in areas with a heterogeneous population, and an anti–communist royalist guerrilla in Serbia and Montenegro.

In their policies towards Yugoslavia, each of the three Allied Powers had their short-term and long-term goals. The short-term goals were victory over the Axis powers. The long-term goals were related to the post-war order in Europe (and the world). The Allies were unanimous about the short-term goals but differed in respect to long-term goals. The relations between Great Britain and the Soviet Union were especially sensitive: both countries wanted to use a victory in the war as a means of increasing their political power and influence. Yugoslavia was a useful buffer zone between British and Soviet ambitions, as well as being the territory in which the resistance to the Axis was the strongest. This was the starting point of a long and complex process that led to the destruction of the social and political order of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the introduction of communist dictatorship at the end of the war.

The Second World War caused both the making and the unmaking of the Yugoslav army in the Homeland. In the autumn of 1944 it was defeated in Serbia. The outcome of the civil war had been decided by the arrival of the Red Army. Mihailović withdrew with the majority of his forces to Bosnia in an unrealistic hope that the ideological conflict between the West and the Soviets might bring certain changes. Seeing himself as the saviour of the Serbian people, the defender of King and Homeland, Mihailović chose there to make a new effort to defeat the “Communist enemy” rather than be evacuated.

This was the major miscalculation which would lead the Royalist movement to its final collapse. The decimated units, some 25,000 men, moved towards in last battleground in Bosnia. So, the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland, which had been the initiator of armed resistance against the occupying forces, ended up defeated, sharing the fate of their German foes that had been intent on destroying them during the war.


KEYWORDS: Yugoslavia, resistance, Chetniks, military strategy, communist ideology, Allies, Second World War, General Dragoljub Mihailović



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