YUGOSLAVIA JOINS AXIS PACT

Vienna, Austria March 25, 1941

On this date in 1941 in Vienna, the govern­ment of Yugo­slav regent Prince Paul signed a protocol of ad­herence to the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Tri­par­tite Pact, there­by setting the stage for a com­plex guer­rilla war against Ger­mans, Ital­ians, and their Yugo­slav allies, and within the Yugo­slav resis­tance forces them­selves. Not two days after aligning Yugo­sla­via with the Axis, the Yugo­slav army over­threw Prince Paul and pro­claimed seventeen-year-old Peter II as king. The coup d’état—with the support of Britain’s clan­des­tine Special Oper­a­tions Exec­u­tive—reflected the broad majority’s anti-Axis atti­tude in the coun­try. A new cabi­net announced a policy of neu­trality, although a Yugo­slav delega­tion would soon arrive in Moscow to sound out a poten­tial Yugoslav-Soviet Treaty of Friend­ship and Non­ag­gres­sion. The treaty, dated April 5, 1941, was duly signed in Moscow the next morning.

In Berlin Adolf Hitler was furious and lost little time raining bombs on Bel­grade (Oper­a­tion Retri­bu­tion), the Yugo­slav capital, killing 17,000 civil­ians in a series of air raids—the largest num­ber of dead in a single day since the Euro­pean con­flict began in Septem­ber 1939. Out­matched in the air and on the ground, the Yugo­slav high com­mand surrendered on April 17 as the coun­try splintered—Croatia in the north of the coun­try declared its inde­pend­ence as German bombs fell on Bel­grade. Not until three and a half years later, on Septem­ber 6, 1944, after smashing and occupying Roma­nia and declaring war on neigh­boring Bulgaria, did the Allies in the form of the Red Army set foot on Yugo­slav soil, pushing their way to the Dal­ma­tian coast and linking up with Yugo­slav Par­ti­sans, who for months had tied down a considerable number of German troops.

To the south of Yugoslavia, British airborne forces had descended on Greece (Septem­ber 24, 1944) and advanced on Athens, liber­ating the capi­tal on Octo­ber 13. On Octo­ber 19, Ger­man forces, holed up in Bel­grade for half a week, fled the ruined capi­tal, which was occupied by Soviet troops and Josip Tito’s Yugo­slav Army on Octo­ber 20.

That same week, Octo­ber 9–19, 1944, Brit­ish Prime Minis­ter Winston Chur­chill was in Mos­cow for dis­cus­sions with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The two men adopted the Percent­ages Agree­ment, whereby the two Allies divided the Balkan region into spheres of influ­ence. Under terms of the agree­ment, the Soviets would pre­dom­i­nate in Roma­nia, Bul­garia, and Hun­gary—Axis coun­tries where the Red Army had been or would soon be, while Great Britain would assume power in Greece. Both coun­tries would share in­flu­ence in Yugo­sla­via. Presi­dent Franklin D. Roose­velt, upon learning of the agree­ments reached by Chur­chill and Stalin, announced that his administration would not be bound by the terms.





Yugoslavia During World War II

King Peter II of Yugoslavia Hitler in Marburg an der Drau (Maribor), Yugoslavia, 1941

Left: King Peter II of Yugoslavia wearing the uniform of the Royal Air Force, January 1944. On March 27, 1941, Peter, then 17, was pro­claimed of age and par­ti­ci­pated in a Brit­ish-supported coup d’état op­posing the Tri­par­tite Pact. Peter (reign: 1934–1945) was forced to leave the coun­try with the Yugo­slav govern­ment following the Axis in­vasion by German, Italian, and Hungarian armies.

Right: Hitler in the company of his press secre­tary and the chief of his chan­cel­lery crossing the Old Bridge (Stari most) in Mar­burg an der Drau (Mari­bor), occupied Yugo­slavia (in today’s Northeastern Slovenia), 1941.

Yugoslav Marshal Josip Broz Tito, 1942 Tito and Churchill, Naples, Italy, 1944

Left: Partisan supreme com­mander Marshal Josip Broz Tito, 1942. Tito’s for­mi­dable com­munist guerril­la force, con­cealed in rural vil­lages, the country­side, and moun­tain strong­holds, was a con­stant thorn in the side of the Wehr­macht (German armed forces), prompting numerous anti-Partisan operations and much bloodshed.

Right: Tito and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, keeping his dis­tance, pose for the camera in Naples, Italy, 1944. Chur­chill called it one of his big­gest war­time blun­ders—shifting Brit­ish and U.S. sup­port from Yugo­slavia’s Draža Mihail­ovic and his royalist resis­tance movement to Tito and his communist Partisans.

Hitler Revenges Himself on Yugoslavia, the Emergence of Yugo­slav Resis­tance Groups, and the Rise of Tito’s Dictatorship


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WWII Chronicles book coverHistory buffs, there is good news! The Daily Chronicles of World War II is now avail­able as an ebook for $4.99 on Amazon.com. Con­taining a year’s worth of dated entries from this web­site, the ebook brings the story of this tumul­tu­ous era to life in a com­pelling, author­i­ta­tive, and suc­cinct man­ner. Fea­turing inven­tive naviga­tion aids, the ebook enables readers to instantly move for­ward or back­ward by month and date to dif­fer­ent dated entries. Simple and elegant! Click here to purchase the ebook.