Colonel Fabijan Trgo
In implementing his plans of conquest, Hitler attempted to gain control over the south-eastern part of Europe with the help of the profascist regimes in the Balkans, and thereby to protect the southern flank of his forces as they went into battle against the Soviet Union. In November 1940, the Tri-partite Pact was joined by Hungary under Horthy, and Rumania under Antonescu, and in March 1941, also by the fascist monarchy of Bulgaria. The German forces then marched into Hungary and Rumania with the permission of their respective governments.
Yugoslavia thus found itself surrounded by the troops of countries belonging to the Tri-partite Pact. On March 25, the Yugoslav Government under Cvetković and Maček signed a protocol joining the Tri-partite Pact, an act the ruling regime undertook in order to transform Yugoslavia into an Axis satellite and to make it part of Hitler's war machine.
The peoples of Yugoslavia were unanimous in condemning this act of treason and in opposing the inclusion of their country in the fascist "new order". News about Yugoslavia's joining the Tri-partite Pact was followed by country-wide mass demonstrations on March 25 and 26 led by the Communists, the show of disapproval reaching its climax on the streets of Belgrade on March 27. On that day, the Cvetković-Maček Government fell under the impact of the anti-fascist and patriotic mood of the people. Although the new Government, headed by General Simović, did not meet the people's demands, and the cabinet that came into power was not a truly people's government, March 27 was, nevertheless, a victory for the peoples of Yugoslavia as it upset Hitler's plans of conquest.
Hitler reacted with a decision to destroy Yugoslavia "with a ruthlessness knowing no mercy". At a consultation held on March 27 with senior commanders of the German armed forces and the Foreign Minister, he announced that he had "resolved to undertake all measures to destroy Yugoslavia from the military point of view and to smash it as a state without waiting for any possible declaration of loyalty by the new government", and that "he would deal an unsparing blow to Yugoslavia and a lightning-like military defeat".
Hitler promised parts of Yugoslavia to Horthy-ruled Hungary and Czarist Bulgaria to win them over to the idea of waging war against Yugoslavia. At the same time, he was banking on the separatist aspirations of the traitors whom he and Mussolini had been inciting for quite some time by promises of various kinds and political maneuvers.
On April 6, 1941, without declaring war, the fascist countries launched a surprise attack on Yugoslavia with 51 divisions (24 were German, 22 Italian and 5 Hungarian) and support from approximately 1,500 airplanes.
As the fascist troops invaded the country, German aircraft (roughly 500 bombers escorted by 250 fighters) launched a craven attack on the nation's capital in the morning of April 6, leaving tens of thousands of dead in the smouldering ruins.
The Government and the Supreme Command of the then Kingdom of Yugoslavia were left without leadership, a circumstance which accelerated the collapse of the country and left anarchy in its wake.
The Yugoslav Army, poorly armed and trained, was not prepared to wage war, burdened as it was by all the contradictions that had corroded the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The larger part of the commanding cadre had surrendered to a mood of capitulation while one section was composed of fifth-columnists. The German Army therefore met with no strong organized resistance from the Yugoslav Army although individual examples of resistance reflected the readiness of Yugoslav citizens and patriotic officers to defend their country.
The Communist Party of Yugoslavia was the only political factor in the country to launch a determined struggle for the country's defence. It fostered patriotic sentiments among the people, pointed out the consequence of loss of national independence, and invested maximum efforts in continuing resistance to the aggressor regardless of the treasonous attitude of Yugoslavia's ruling circles. Representatives of the Communist Party visited unit HQs with the request that weapons be given to workers and anti-fascists. But the Government and military leaders did not want arms to be turned over to the people and to Communists. Under the circumstances, the defeat and collapse of the former Yugoslav Army was inevitable. On April 15, the king, Cabinet and Supreme Command fled abroad, after authorizing their plenipotentiaries to sign an act of unconditional surrender, which was duly done on April 17, 1941, at the HQ of the German 2nd Army in Belgrade. Over 300,000 members of the former Yugoslav Army were taken to prisoner-of-war camps, the forces of occupation having captured its armaments and other military equipment.
The short-lived April war, although terminating in the defeat of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, had important international repercussions. Hitler's Command was forced to postpone the attack on the USSR by 38 days?1
Following the April defeat, Yugoslavia was divided up among the fascist aggressors: Slovenia was split up among Germany, Italy, and Hungary; Serbia and Banat were taken by Germany, while Serbia's frontier districts were turned over to Bulgaria under King Boris; a large part of Dalmatia, the Croatian Littoral, Montenegro, Kosovo and Metohija were either occupied or annexed by Italy; Bačka and Medjumurje were taken by Horthy's Hungary: Macedonia was shared by fascist Italy and Czarist Bulgaria.
The occupiers intended denationalizing these areas by various measures including the wholesale resettlement of the population, internment in concentration camps and physical extermination.
The occupation authorities, exploiting seperatist aspirations and supported by various Yugoslav bourgeois politicians, created traitorous organizations. In Slovenia, on the day Yugoslavia was attacked, Governor Natlačen formed the "People's Council", the purpose of which was to set up a Slovenian state within the framework of Hitler's Germany. On April 10, fascist agents in Zagreb set up the so-called Independent State of Croatia run by the Ustashi, at the head of which the occupiers placed the criminal Ante Pavelić. On May 1, the occupiers formed a caretaker government in Belgrade, headed by the traitor Milan Aćimovjć.
Their country occupied and dismembered, the peoples of Yugoslavia faced their hardest trials.
1. Proces des grands criminels, XXXIV, 170, p. 702