World War II Day by Day World War II was the single most devastating and horrific event in the history of the world, causing the death of some 70 million people, reshaping the political map of the twentieth century and ushering in a new era of world history. Every day The Daily Chronicles brings you a new story from the annals of World War II with a vision to preserve the memory of those who suffered in the greatest military conflict the world has ever seen.


Belgrade, Yugoslavia October 22, 1944

By late March 1941 Yugoslavia, a multiethnic nation of 15.5 mil­lion people in Central and South­east Europe, was surrounded on all sides by Axis-aligned nations with the excep­tion of Greece to its south. Roma­nia and Hun­gary had joined Yugo­slavia’s neighbor to the west, Italy, in the Tripar­tite Pact in late Novem­ber 1940 and Bul­garia was a signa­tory in early March 1941. Adolf Hitler, the leader of the pact, tried invei­gling Yugo­slavia’s leaders to join, offering Bel­grade gene­rous terms such as guaran­teeing Yugo­slavia’s terri­torial inte­grity. Kow­towing seemed the better of two vir­tues (the other being standing firm against Hitler’s diplo­matic machi­na­tions), so Prince Regent Paul sent emis­saries to Vienna to enroll in the pact on March 25, 1941. A British-sponsored, anti-Axis coup d’état by the Yugo­slav military forced Paul into exile, ending his regency.

On April 6, 1941, Yugoslavia was assaulted on three sides by Axis armed forces, pri­marily German but also Ital­ian, Hun­garian, and Bul­garian. The inva­sion lasted little more than ten days, ending with the uncon­di­tional sur­render of the Yugo­slav Army on April 17 and the flight of 17-year-old King Peter II and other members of his government from the country.

The victors occupied and dismem­bered the Yugoslav nation. They insti­tuted such severe bur­dens on the local pop­u­lace that the Parti­sans, a Com­mu­nist-led pan-ethnic resis­tance move­ment under Marshal Josip Broz Tito, grew to enjoy moral and ma­te­rial sup­port inside and, to a lesser extent, out­side the coun­try after Presi­dent Franklin D. Roose­velt, British Prime Minis­ter Winston Chur­chill, and Soviet dicta­tor Joseph Stalin decided in late 1943 to support Tito’s forces with sup­plies, equip­ment, and com­man­do opera­tions. (A rival resis­tance group, the mon­ar­chist and Repub­lican Chet­niks, was com­prised mainly of Ser­bians with limited pop­u­lar­ity out­side their home­land largely because they engaged in ethnic cleansing within borders they considered historically Serbia.)

In late 1944 Tito’s forces numbered 650,000 men and women organ­ized in four field armies and 52 divi­sions and had a 3,000-strong navy and an air force. In a joint oper­a­tion with the Parti­sans, the Red Army entered Bel­grade on Octo­ber 20, 1944, evac­u­ated the day before by the Germans, followed on this date, Octo­ber 22, 1944, by the entry of Tito’s Parti­sans into the Yugo­slav capi­tal. Parti­san units en­gaged retreating Germans in the last battle in Europe on May 14–15, 1945, a week after Germany’s unconditional surrender to the Allies in Reims, France, and Berlin.

Yugoslavia was one of only two Euro­pean coun­tries largely liber­ated by its own forces during World War II. The other coun­try was the Soviet Union. Both nations suf­fered pro­por­tion­ately high casual­ties because Nazi Germany and its col­labora­tors in the occu­pied terri­tories and pup­pet states (e.g., the Inde­pen­dent State of Croa­tia in Yugo­sla­via) had an offi­cial geno­cidal agen­da with respect to the inhab­i­tants living there, espe­cially toward Jews. Yugo­sla­via suf­fered just over one million civil­ian and mili­tary dead during the Axis occu­pa­tion. Some 300,000 civil­ians were killed by the Croa­tian ter­rorist organ­i­zation, Ustaša, in German-style concentration camps.

Marshal Josip Broz Tito and Yugoslavia During World War II

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

Left: Yugoslavia’s Partisans, or the National Libera­tion Army, was Europe’s most effect­ive anti-Nazi resis­tance move­ment. Its com­mander was Marshal Josip Broz Tito, shown here in 1942. Tito mostly played down his Com­mu­nist Party ties in favor of a Popular Front approach that appealed to all Yugo­slavs. Tito’s rival was Draža Mihail­ović and his royalist Chetnik resis­tance move­ment. To the Chet­niks, Tito’s pan-ethnic poli­cies seemed anti-Serbian, where­as the Chet­niks’ royalism was ana­thema to the Com­mu­nists. From October 1941 relations between the two main resis­tance groups degenerated into full-scale conflict.

Right: For most of the war in Yugosla­via the only source of Parti­san wea­pons was the enemy—Ger­many, Italy, other Axis nations, and pup­pet Yugo­slav mili­tia. It was not until 1944 when British supplies began to arrive in signifi­cant quan­ti­ties that a cre­dible offen­sive force took to the field. This pic­ture shows Tito and British Prime Minis­ter Winston Chur­chill in Naples, Italy, in 1944, the year the Allies switched their sup­port from Mihail­ović and his Chet­niks to Tito’s Com­mu­nist Partisans. Churchill later regretted the switch.

Yugoslavia’s Montenegrin BrigadeYugoslavia’s Partisan navy

Left: Soldiers of the 4th Montenegrin Prole­tarian Bri­gade. Tito’s Par­ti­san organ­iza­tion was a multi­ethnic resis­tance force con­sisting of Serbs (44%), Croats (30%), Bos­nian Muslims (2.5%), Slo­venes (10%), Monte­ne­grins (5%), Mace­do­nians (2.5%), and Jews. By April 1945, when most of Yugo­sla­via had been liberated, Partisan forces numbered 800,000.

Right: Yugoslavian Partisans operated along the Croa­tian coast of Hitler’s pup­pet state, the so-called Inde­pen­dent State of Croa­tia, run by the Ustaša, a fas­cist and ter­rorist organ­i­za­tion. Tito’s Par­tisan navy raided German supply lines using a num­ber of light boats, often ex-traw­lers or fishing boats as shown in this photo­graph. The Par­ti­san navy had a num­ber of suc­cesses, par­tially assisted by a little-known British naval unit con­sisting of a half-dozen armed boats, the Special Boat Service led by a 23‑year-old Dane, Major Anders Lassen. Yugo­sla­vian Par­ti­sans forced a schooner of 400 tons full of sup­plies to sur­render after shouting, “Don’t shoot or we will torpedo you,” even though the boat had no torpedoes.

Photo Montage of Yugoslav Partisans