Colonel Fabijan Trgo
By the end of 1941, the armed forces of the People's Liberation Movement had developed to a degree making it possible to take new, significant measures in implementing the conception that called for the waging of a nationwide liberation war. One of the most important of such measures was the decision to create brigades as more mobile formations, capable of undertaking more difficult and complex combat tasks, of fighting where the need arose. The first such unit — the First Proletarian Brigade — was formed by decision of the Central Committee and Supreme HQ on December 22, 1941, in Rudo. This marked the beginning of the transformation of the revolutionary Partisan army into the revolutionary People's Liberation Army.
As the armed struggle intensified in all parts of the country, organs of the new people's government — the People's Liberation Committees — came into being. The establishment of the new government organs on the one hand reflected the need for waging the war even more efficiently, an end to which all manpower and material reserves had to be mobilized. On the other hand, it was the result of revolutionary, democratic trends manifested during the uprising. The people's government therefore symbolized the twin goals of the People's Liberation War — liberation and revolution.
The Communist Party of Yugoslavia strove, on the platform of liberation and revolution, to unify the people along the broadest possible lines, the unity thus forged being reflected in the People's Liberation Front. The policy of fratricidal war, pursued by the forces of occupation and quislings, was countered by the Communist Party's policy of brotherhood among all the peoples of Yugoslavia in the struggle against the common enemy.
"The banner of national liberation war against the forces of occupation, raised by the Yugoslav Communist Party in 1941, was also the banner of war for national freedom and for the equality of each nationality within Yugoslavia. It is the same banner that the Communist Party has borne aloft, unsullied, since the formation of Yugoslavia, as it fought uncompromisingly so that each one of our nationalities could enjoy national freedom and equality..." (Tito: Article in "Proletarian", Dec. 1942; Speeches and Articles Book I. p. 132).
The People's Liberation Struggle, which had an all-Yugoslav character from its very inception, was simultaneously a struggle for the liberation of each separate nationality living in Yugoslavia. Even in 1941, meaningful results had been achieved in solving the national question. Profound respect was shown for the specific national features of each individual people. National military and political organs were set up — the general HQs and the People's Liberation Committees. The joint struggle against the invaders and domestic traitors brought the peoples closer together, fostered mutual confidence, and confirmed them in the knowledge that the building up of a new Yugoslavia was indispensable.
Heavy fighting continued throughout Yugoslavia in the winter and spring of 1941-1942. The Partisan units which the enemy offensive had forced to withdraw from Serbia to Sandžak created, together with the Sandžak, Montenegrin, Herzegovinian and Eastern Bosnia Partisan Units, an unbroken segment of free territory in January 1942. There the leadership of the People's Liberation Movement directed its activities towards the further development of military units and the people's government. It was at this time that Supreme HQ published the Statute of the Proleterian Brigades on the basis of which were formed proletarian and Partisan brigades consisting of 800—1,000 fighting men. As a higher degree of military organization, these units were formed in 1942 in virtually all parts of the country. They were the main offensive force although Partisan detachments continued to be formed and to operate in all regions.
During the winter and spring of 1942, the existing focal points of insurrection were reinforced and new ones created in the western sections of Yugoslavia — in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in a considerable part of Croatia and in Slovenia. There the fighting never ceased as more numerous and better-organized Partisan detachments were formed.
The armed struggle was stepped up in Serbia and Macedonia, where new Partisan Detachments were formed. The steady spreading of the liberation war compelled the invaders, apart from daily clashes with the Partisans throughout the country, to undertake several major offensives against the largest forces of insurrection in Yugoslavia. Representatives of the German Supreme Command and the Italian-Ustashi-Home Guard General HQ met in Opatija on March 2 and 3 for the purpose of working out a joint operational plan. Hitler and Mussolini themselves approved the plans.
The most important of these operations was the joint offensive by German, Italian, Ustashi and Chetnik forces against the single segment of free territory covering Eastern Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro and Sandžak.
Refusing to be forced into fighting along a front, the chief Partisan forces concentrated at the triangle formed by the boundaries of Bosnia, Herzegovina and Montenegro. There a group comprising five Partisan shock and proletarian brigades was formed which was soon to take the offensive to Yugoslavia's western regions.
The occupation and quisling troops launched a number of offensive operations in other parts of Yugoslavia as well. One of the major ones centered on Mount Kozara in Bosnia in June and July 1942. This is one of the most highly dramatic events in the entire Liberation War, if judged by the intensity of the fighting, the losses on both sides and the suffering of the innocent population.
In July, five Italian divisions launched military operations in Slovenia which lasted until late autumn.
In mid-1942, the People's Liberation Struggle was in full swing in the western districts of Yugoslavia, where extensive territory was liberated. The Supreme HQ therefore decided that the group of five shock and proletarian brigades should effect a breakthrough from the triangle formed by Bosnia, Herzegovina and Montenegro to Western Bosnia, a move calculated to influence the further development of the liberation war in that area.
The breakthrough by proletarian and shock brigades initiated at the end of June 1942 soon emerged into a major offensive by the People's Liberation Army which lasted until the very end of the year. The Partisan units destroyed numerous enemy garrisons, put out of commission 70 km of track on the Sarajevo-Mostar line, liberated the towns of Konjić, Prozor, Livno, Duvno, Mrkonjić-Grad, Jajce and made contact with the Partisan brigades in Western Bosnia and Croatia. Continuing the offensive the units freed Bihać, Bosanska Krupa, Slunj, Cazin, Velika Kladuša, Kotor-Varoš, Teslić, and other towns.
The liberation of Bihać on November 4, 1942, made it possible to merge the liberated territories of Western Bosnia and Croatia. This operation was one of the major successes of the Partisan units in that offensive, the attack on the fortified town having brought together the biggest concentration of Partisan units (eight brigades) up to that time.
Its geographical position made the central liberated territory (about 50,000 sq. km) a favourable starting point for operations against neighbouring districts. The Central Committee of the Yugoslav Communist Party and the Supreme HQ then moved to Bihać from which they could bring more influence to bear on the development of the liberation war and revolution in the entire country and particularly in the western regions.
As the new, mobile operational units — the brigades — grew, the problem arose as to how to command and dovetail the numerous, parallel and increasingly intricate military operations. In November 1942, the Supreme HQ decided to create the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia, organized into divisions and corps. The liberation forces were thereby given a new organizational structure which rendered it possible for them to deliver even harder blows to the enemy.
By the end of 1942, nine divisions and two corps of the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia had been set up to carry out operational tasks.1 Up to that time, the People's Liberation Army had also had a few independent brigades, several dozen Partisan detachments and smaller units, with 150,000 armed fighting men all told. The units of the People's Liberation Army kept pinned down 6 German, 18 Italian and 5 Bulgarian divisions, units of three Hungarian divisions, and a large number of quisling units.
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia paid particular attention to the organizational consolidation of the Party in the Army and to the strengthening of its leading role. Each unit had its own Party cell and branch organization of the Communist Youth League of Yugoslavia. Communists devoted their energies to fostering discipline and comradeship; they were the first to volunteer for combat tasks, to strive to surmount difficulties and obstacles of all sorts. The Party organization in the Army was the motive force developing a new type of revolutionary fighting man through ideological, ethical and political education.
Gradually, the truth about the struggle of the Yugoslav people made its way into the world; the position of the treasonous Government-in-exile weakened, with world democratic opinion turning its sympathies towards the People's Liberation Movement as it chalked up one victory after another in its war on the fascist forces of occupation and their lackeys.
Although its sights had been set on far-reaching military and political goals from the very beginning, the People's Liberation Movement did not initially have an elected political representative body of its own. The functions of such a body had to be exercised by the Supreme HQ until the end of 1942, a state of affairs that may be ascribed to the foreign political factors cited above. Despite these factors, however, the Liberation War acquired such proportions that a body of this kind had to be established. The CPY's2 Central Committee took the view that conditions were ripe at that time for the setting up of a single political body in Yugoslavia which would be endowed with the powers of a supreme organ of the government and, as a reflection of the social-political orientation of the People's Liberation Movement, contribute to the latter's consolidation within the country and its recognition on an international level.
The constituent assembly of the Anti-fascist Council of People's Liberation of Yugoslavia, convened at the initiative of the Supreme HQ, sat in session in Bihać on November 26 and 27, 1942. It has gone down in Yugoslavia's history as the First Session of this Council (abbreviated to AVNOJ in Serbo-Croatian), in which delegates from virtually all regions, representing all the country's nationalities, participated.
The Anti-fascist Council of People's Liberation of Yugoslavia officially constituted itself and was proclaimed the highest political organ of the People's Liberation Movement, that is, the supreme political representative of the peoples of Yugoslavia in their struggle against the forces of occupation and domestic traitors. AVNOJ therefore functioned as the first revolutionary assembly, although it was not formally an organ of government.
AVNOJ immediately initiated the creation of regional anti-fascist councils of national liberation, which went a long way toward solving the national question.
In the Battle of the Volga, the Red Army defeated the German fascist army so thoroughly that the operation represented a turning point in the war, with strategic initiative thenceforth in the hands of the Soviet forces. The news of the ringing victory caused great rejoicing among the fighting men of the People's Liberation Army.
The Anglo-American troops in Africa were also scoring signal successes which had a favourable effect on the Yugoslav theatre, particularly after the transfer of operations to Italy.
These developments increased the importance of the Yugoslav theatre, with both Allies and enemies being forced to reckon with it to an increasing extent.
Foreseeing the possibility of an Anglo-American landing in the Balkans, Hitler feared that the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia would jeopardize the German defence operations in the South-East. He therefore decided to wipe out "Tito's state" (as the Germans called the extensive central liberated area) and the main force of its army.
As early as October 1942, Hitler had considered the measures to be taken to crush the main force of the People's Liberation Army. In December the same year, at a General HQ consultation attended by chiefs of general staffs and foreign ministers of Germany and Italy, it was decided to launch operations designed to destroy the People's Liberation Army and win back the liberated areas. The offensive started on January 20, 1943, with the invaders massing against the Liberation Army four German, three Italian and two quisling divisions — roughly 80,000 men in all. For two months, the I Bosnian and the I Croatian Corps of the People's Liberation Army (totaling 20,000 men) were engaged in fierce defensive fighting. Owing to their dogged resistance, the enemy was prevented from making serious inroads on the People's Liberation Army: he therefore vented his fury on the civilian population in unprecedented reprisals and acts of terror. While the fighting was in progress in Croatia and Bosnia, a group of five divisions of the People's Liberation Army, directed by Tito himself, started an offensive in the direction of Herzegovina, Montenegro, Sandžak and Southern Serbia.
This group advanced to the Neretva River Valley where it smashed the Italian Murge Division. For a full month, the Yugoslav units fought to defend and rescue 4,000 wounded in the Central Hospital which was moving with the group. Thanks to a combination of high morale, social and political consciousness and unshakable determination to save their wounded comrades, the People's Liberation Army divisions, although exhausted by prior fighting and a typhus epidemic, staved off the numerically and technically superior enemy.
By the middle of March, this group of divisions had forced the Neretva River, under the command of the Supreme HQ, and continued the offensive. By the middle of May, it had smashed the main Chetnik forces under Mihailović and the considerable Italian forces fighting with the latter, liberating a large segment of Herzegovina, Montenegro, Eastern Bosnia and Sandžak. The winter offensive undertaken by the occupation and quisling troops therefore fell short of its goal.
While this group of divisions was on the offensive in Herzegovina and Montenegro, the remaining units of the People's Liberation Army were winning battles in other parts of the country, particularly in Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia. Following a general directive issued by the Supreme HQ, these operations had as their purpose the easing of enemy pressure on those forces of the People's Liberation Army that were under the direct command of the Supreme HQ. As his winter operations did not yield the desired result, the invader started a fresh offensive in the middle of May in Montenegro and Herzegovina, directed against the group of divisions under the direct command of Tito. This offensive which is known as the Battle of Sutjeska or the Fifth Offensive was launched with roughly 120,000 enemy troops in the field. The numerically superior invasion force surrounded the units of the People's Liberation Army — about 19,000 fighting men, and the fiercest engagement of the People's Liberation War ensued. On rough mountain terrain, plagued by shortages of food, ammunition and other material, exhausted by previous combat which had lasted several months, and burdened by the 4,000 wounded they were carrying with them, the People's Liberation Army units fought day and night for a full month to break through the encirclement. One of the wounded in the hard fighting was Tito.
Again thanks to their uncrushable morale, the People's Liberation units, after fierce fighting and forced marches, finally succeeded in breaking through the ring. The group of divisions had lost a third of its men but it had foiled the German plans and caused the occupying forces heavy losses in manpower and weapons. In the middle of June, it advanced through Eastern Bosnia, and in July, operating in conjunction with other units, liberated even more extensive territory.
When that battle was over, in the summer of 1943, the People's Liberation Army emerged as a significant armed force, with 57 brigades in 18 divisions, 4 corps and 70 Partisan detachments. Its operations inside Hitler's "European Fortress" attracted the attention of the world.
A momentous occasion in terms of the further course of the People's Liberation War was the capitulation in September 1943 of fascist Italy which, at that time, had 14 complete and 4 incomplete divisions in Yugoslavia. The People's Liberation Army then smashed and disarmed 10 Italian divisions, capturing immense amounts of weapons and other war material.
In the autumn of 1943, the People's Liberation Struggle continued to spread, especially in Dalmatia and the Croatian Littoral. About 80,000 new fighting men joined the ranks of the People's Liberation Army. The Navy of the People's Liberation forces of Yugoslavia, formed in 1942, had grown considerably by that time and come into the possession of many ships. Contact could thus be established with the Allied troops in Italy via the liberated islands. At the beginning of October, a People's Liberation Army base was established in Ban, Italy, through which the Allies sent material assistance.
The units of the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia liberated extensive territory in Croatia and in Western and Central Bosnia. There was also an upsurge in the liberation movement in Serbia; in the autumn of 1943, three brigades were formed: the I Šumadija, and the I and II South Morava brigades. The I and II Macedonian brigades were formed in Macedonia where the scope of military operations broadened considerably.
At that time the People's Liberation Movement also increased its influence on members of the Italian, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak and other nationalities living in Yugoslavia. Special units consisting of Albanians, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, and Italians were formed.
By the autumn of 1943, the People's Liberation Army had emerged into a powerful force getting ready to deal the final blow to the forces of occupation and their henchmen in the country. It then numbered about 300,000 fighting men, organized into 8 corps (25 divisions), several independent brigades and 108 Partisan detachments.
At the close of 1943, the People's Liberation Army rained blows upon the domestic traitors from which they were never able to recover. Liberated territory amounted to over half of Yugoslavia, or approximately 130,000 sq. km.
At long last, the People's Liberation Army took the initiative in the Yugoslav theatre and forced Hitler to raise the number of his divisions in this country. All in all, there were 650,000 occupation and quisling soldiers in Yugoslavia. As the Red Army was forcing the Dnieper and the troops of Britain and American were setting foot on the soil of Southern Italy, the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia was a factor to be reckoned with in the overall strategic plan for the destruction of the fascist forces in Europe.
The liberation war in Yugoslavia had a positive influence on liberation movements in Albania, Greece, Bulgaria and Italy. Anti-fascists in the Italian army of occupation in Yugoslavia formed several battalions and brigade which became part of the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia; the Garibaldi, Venezia and Garibaldi Natisone divisions were set up. On liberated territory in the south of Serbia and in Macedonia, Partisan units were formed of soldiers belonging to Bulgarian occupation units who had gone over to the side of the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia: the Georgi Dimitrov Brigade, the I and II Sofia Brigades and several Partisan battalions.
The organs of people's Government continued to consolidate during this period. From the local committees to the regional anti-fascist councils and the Anti-fascist Council of People's Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ), these organs were knit into a unified system of administration in the country. The majority of the population recognized these organs of government, rather than those set up by the occupiers or those left over from the pre-war regime which, discredited even before the war, had entered the service of the invader.
By the end of 1943, the mass political organizations of the People's Liberation Movement: the People's Liberation Front, the Anti-fascist Women's Front, and the United Anti-fascist Youth Federation of Yugoslavia, had rallied to their standard the majority of the population regardless of national, political or religious affiliation.
In 1943, too, the international position of the People's Liberation Movement of Yugoslavia began to change. The first direct contacts were established with the states of the anti-fascist coalition, initially via military missions and soon afterwards through other forms of cooperation.3 These contacts enabled the People's Liberation Movement to assert itself as the sole force in the country fighting the occupiers. The Yugoslav Government-in-exile which had, through its Defence Minister Draža Mihailović been waging war on the People's Liberation Movement, was compromised to the hilt not only inside the country but throughout the world.
The second session of the Anti-fascist Council of People's Liberation of Yugoslavia is one of the most important events in the recent history of the peoples of Yugoslavia. The meeting, held in the town of Jajce, passed historic decisions marking the creation of a new, socialist Yugoslavia. These decisions were the result of the victories over the forces of occupation scored by the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia, the result of the profound social changes that had occurred in the course of the People's Liberation War.
The Second Session of AVNOJ adopted a Declaration according to which AVNOJ constituted itself as the supreme legislative and executive body of Yugoslavia; the Yugoslav Government-in-exile in London was shorn of all rights and its activities outside the country were placed under the supervision of AVNOJ; Yugoslavia was to develop as a democratic, federated state of equal nationalities.
This Declaration became the general political framework for the adoption of a series of AVNOJ decisions: establishing the supreme legislative and executive-representative organ of Yugoslavia and the National Committee of Liberation of Yugoslavia as the highest provisional organs of government in Yugoslavia during the People's Liberation War; depriving the Yugoslav Government-in-exile of all rights and forbidding the king to return to the country; setting up the new Yugoslavia on a federal basis, which would guarantee full-fledged equality to the fraternal nationalities and rights to the national minorities; expressing recognition and gratitude to the People's Liberation Army; introducing the rank of Marshal of Yugoslavia; confirming the decisions, regulations and declarations adopted by the Executive Committee of AVNOJ and the Supreme HQ of the People's Liberation Army.
The National Committee of Liberation of Yugoslavia was duly set up by the newly-elected representative body of AVNOJ. Josip Broz Tito, who was named Marshal of Yugoslavia, was also appointed President of the National Committee and Defence Commissioner. The decisions of the Slovenian People's Liberation Committee and the Regional Anti-fascist Council of People's Liberation of Croatia, relative to the attachment to Yugoslavia of the Slovenian Littoral, Istria, Rijeka and other areas that Italy had annexed after the First World War, were confirmed.
The decisions passed by the Second Session of AVNOJ legalized all the profound social and political changes that had occurred in Yugoslavia during the war against the invaders and local traitors. The decision to transform AVNOJ, as a political, representative body, into the supreme legislative and executive organ of Yugoslavia and to establish the National Committee as a provisional government, laid the foundations for the new state community of the Yugoslav peoples — Democratic Federal Yugoslavia. The decision to organize the new state along the lines of a federation guaranteed full equality to all the nationalities living in Yugoslavia. The decision to deprive the Government-in-exile in London of all rights and to forbid the king to return to the country meant that the former social order had been rejected. The Second Session of AVNOJ bestowed legal form on the achievements of the revolution, which later facilitated recognition of the new Yugoslavia on the international plane.
The Jajce decisions had far-reaching repercussions outside the country. A new state had arisen in enslaved Europe despite the Allied fronts being hundreds and thousands of kilometres away. The new Yugoslavia appeared before the world as a warring party delivering hard blows to the Axis powers.
The AVNOJ decisions raised the problem of international recognition for all the changes effected in Yugoslavia. At the Teheran Conference of December 1, 1943, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States had agreed it was "imperative to extend the greatest possible assistance in necessary means and in equipment to the Partisans in Yugoslavia". After the foregoing decisions had been made public, the Allied governments officially issued positive statements in reference to the People's Liberation Movement. On December 13, 1943, the Soviet Government announced its decision to send a military mission to Yugoslavia, which arrived there on February 23, 1944.
The defeat of German troops at the Eastern and other fronts on the one hand, and the strengthening of the People's Liberation Movement in Yugoslavia on the other, marked a turning point in the Yugoslav theatre of operations, as well. Regardless of the fact that there were in the autumn of 1943 over 600,000 enemy soldiers and officers in Yugoslavia, the balance of forces had altered basically (in comparison with the earlier years of the war and taking into consideration the growth of the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia). The German fascist troops of occupation were forced to fight to try and capture the many important positions held by the People's Liberation Army. At the end of 1943, they undertook a number of successive operations aimed at gaining hold of the Adriatic coastal belt and retaining it, at recapturing the important lines of communication linking the coast with the interior, at smashing the People's Liberation Army concentrations in these districts, particularly in Eastern Bosnia and Sandžak, where they posed a threat to the German positions in Serbia.
Another three divisions were brought into Yugoslavia to reinforce the troops charged with this task: the 371st Infantry Division from Italy, the 1st Alpine Division from Greece, and the 392nd Division from Austria.
Thirteen German and one Bulgarian division, several independent brigades and a number of quisling units kept up a succession of fierce attacks and defensive operations from the autumn of 1943 to February 1944. Judged from the strength of the forces used, the size of the area involved, the fierceness of the fighting and the losses on both sides, these operations are among the largest-scale enemy actions undertaken during the Liberation War.
Nevertheless, the German occupation forces did not attain their goal. The People's Liberation Army units were sufficiently strong and experienced to preserve their manpower and regain lost territory despite grueling conditions and prolonged fighting lasting several months, while inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. In the spring, they had already taken the operational and tactical initiative into their own hands on virtually all sectors where fighting was in progress. The German Supreme Command realistically foresaw that as the Eastern Front drew closer to Germany's borders and as Allied operations progressed in Italy, the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia would play an important role in events to come.
As it did not have available sufficient forces for large-scale offensive operations in Yugoslavia, it decided to mount an airborne attack to destroy the leadership of the People's Liberation Movement, headed by Josip Broz Tito, the Supreme HQ, the National Committee and the CPY's Central Committee, all of whom were located in the town of Drvar at the time. In secret, it trained special units for the operation.
On May 25, 1944, the German occupiers carried out their paratroop assault on Drvar, synchronized with an attack by motorized units converging on the town from several directions. The German paratroopers were soon put out of commission by vigorous counter-action by cadets at the Officer's School, the Escort Battalion of the Supreme HQ, delegates to the Second Congress of the United Anti-fascist Youth Federation of Yugoslavia, the citizens of Drvar, particularly the young people, and units of the People's Liberation Army that had been quickly brought up. Fighting their way out of the trap, Tito and other members of the Supreme HQ left Drvar for Kupres. The final attempt by the German Supreme Command to deal a decisive blow to the People's Liberation Movement had been foiled.
Even before the airborne attack on Drvar, a decision had been taken to transfer a section of the Supreme HQ, the Presidency of AVNOJ and the National Committee to the island of Vis which then functioned as a military and naval base of the People's Liberation Army. In the night between the 3 and 4 of June, Tito and members of the National Committee and Supreme HQ flew via Ban to Vis, which became the seat of the Central Committee, the Supreme HQ and the National Committee.
After the winter operations, 1943-1944, a large segment of Yugoslav territory was under the control of the People's Liberation Army. Signal successes had been achieved in the eastern regions of Yugoslavia. Southern Serbia and Eastern Macedonia were linked up. Five new People's Liberation Army divisions and two Bulgarian Partisan brigades were formed in Southern Serbia in the first half of 1944. The I Macedonian Division of the People's Liberation Army was created in August. Liberation forces were advancing toward Serbia and the Adriatic Coast from Montenegro, Sandžak, and Herzegovina, and from Bosnia toward the valleys of the Neretva, Bosnia, Sava and Una Rivers and toward Dalmatia. The People's Liberation Struggle north of the Sava River in Croatia was given fresh impetus. Of particular moment at this time were the successful operations of the VI and X Corps along the Belgrade-Zagreb trunk line and in Slavonia. The VII and IX Corps developed operations and attacked enemy strongholds along lines of communication in Slavonia. Close cooperation was established between Italian and Slovenian Partisans in the fighting against Hitler's troops. In Friuli and in Venetian Slovenia, they frequently fought shoulder to shoulder.
The first half of 1944 saw new achievements in the development and functioning of the people's government. The National Committee undertook a number of measures to reconstruct the national economy, to organize education, administration and so on. At their sessions the regional Anti-fascist Councils adopted the decisions of AVNOJ and of the executive organs of people's government. The executive committees of the regional Anti-fascist Council acquired the character of provisional governments. People's Liberation Committees were established throughout the land.
The question of the international recognition of the new Yugoslavia became more and more pressing as the war neared its end. In order to win recognition in the complicated international situation of the time, the National Committee, abiding by the decisions of the Second Session of AVNOJ, decided to initiate talks with the reconstituted Government-in-exile under Dr. ŠubašiĈ.
Talks between Marshal Tito and ŠubašiĈ were held on the island of Vis in June, 1944. An agreement was reached in accordance with which the Yugoslav Government-in- -exile in London was to be composed of persons who had not been discredited in the struggle against the People's Liberation Movement. Its principal responsibility was to obtain assistance abroad for the People's Liberation Army and concern itself with the question of food supply for the population. ŠubašiĈ's Government undertook the obligation, which it later fulfilled, of issuing a declaration tendering recognition to the People's Liberation Army under Marshal Tito's command, condemning all collaborators with the occupiers and appealing to the entire nation to unite and rally around the Liberation Army.
This agreement was a major political victory for the People's Liberation Movement. The reconstructed government abroad recognized the fundamental attainments hammered out by the Yugoslav people in the war; it undertook the obligation of working exclusively to organize assistance for the people and the Liberation Army; it publicly renounced Draža Mihailović and the Chetniks under him, whom it had assisted for a full three years. In brief, the Vis Agreement practically solved the problem of Yugoslavia's international position.
Marshal Tito's talks with Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Maples in August 1944 were also of immense significance in terms of international recognition for Yugoslavia. Agreement in principle was reached on joint operations between the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia and the Allied forces, with arrangements being made to supply the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia, to care for its wounded, to form air force units, to hand over the ships of the former Yugoslav Navy to the People's Liberation Army and so on.
Defeats along all fronts made Germany's position hopeless in the summer of 1944. The Red Army was advancing inexorably toward Germany, its left flank moving toward Rumania and Bulgaria. Faced with active resistance movements, the satellite governments in those countries were not long in capitulating. In June, the British and American troops invaded Normandy and opened up the Second Front in Europe. The People's Liberation Army, which already numbered roughly forty divisions with over 350,000 fighting men, launched operations for the final freeing of the country.
Assessing the international military and political situation as indicating the rapid collapse of Hitler's Germany, the Supreme HQ directed the principal operations of the People's Liberation Army toward Serbia. An advance into Serbia would prevent the German "E" Army Group from withdrawing in the Vardar-Morava direction, while contact between the People's Liberation and Red Armies would link the front in the Yugoslav theatre of operations with the Soviet front in Eastern Europe. The Chetnik and Nedićite forces also had to be smashed, as reactionary circles in the West were still counting on them in their post-war schemes for Yugoslavia. Serbia therefore acquired exceptional significance in terms of the development and triumphant conclusion of the People's Liberation War.
In the summer of 1944, a strong Liberation Army force (the I and XII Corps and an Operational Group consisting of 3 divisions) gathered in Eastern Bosnia and Montenegro with the view to advancing into Serbia. A General HQ of the People's Liberation Army of Serbia was established and all liberation units in Serbia (5 divisions plus Partisan Detachments) were placed under its command. By the end of September 1944, this powerful concentration of the Liberation Army had captured the central part of Serbia and was poised to fight for the liberation of Belgrade. During the penetration of this main force of the People's Liberation Army into Central Serbia, successful operations were conducted by the newly-formed XIII Corps around Niš and the XIV in Eastern Serbia.
For purposes of expediting operations, the First Army Group consisting of nine divisions was created of the units which had advanced into Serbia. It was assigned the task of freeing the still unliberated parts of Western Serbia, Šumadija and Belgrade. Tito flew to Moscow where he negotiated an agreement with the Soviet Government to have the Red Army participate in the liberation of portions of Serbia and Vojvodina, to send our units armaments and to place under the civilian administration of the Yugoslav-National Committee of Liberation the areas where the Red Army operated in Yugoslavia.
After many days of ferocious fighting shoulder to shoulder, units of the People's Liberation and the Red Armies freed Belgrade on October 20, 1944. The Germans lost 25,000 men killed or captured. Several thousand citizens of Belgrade also took part in the fighting to free their city, and thousands of new men joined the Liberation Army.
Belgrade became the political and military hub of the new Yugoslavia. It was there that the Central Committee, the Supreme HQ and the National Committee passed far-reaching decisions in terms of the country's political and economic consolidation and the pooling of efforts for the final liberation of the whole of Yugoslavia. As regards foreign policy, the National Committee continued efforts to solve a series of problems which were significant for the consolidation of the new Yugoslavia's international position.
Towards the end of 1944, the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia completed the liberation of Serbia and Macedonia and rid Montenegro and Dalmatia of the enemy. Units of the Fatherland Front, of Bulgaria and the People's Liberation Army of Albania fought together with the Yugoslav troops to free sections of Macedonia, Kosovo and Metohija. A large part of Bosnia and Herzegovina was liberated simultaneously. The extensive free territories in Croatia and Slovenia served as a base for Yugoslav operations against enemy garrisons and lines of communication. There were seven corps of the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia and numerous Partisan detachments in combat at that time.
In view of its military and political victories, and the international recognition that had followed, the National Committee started negotiations with ŠubašiĈin liberated Belgrade, at the beginning of November 1944, for the formation of a single Yugoslav Government. Agreement was reached for the people to decide freely what kind of system they wanted as soon as the war was over; until then, the king was not to return to the country and his functions were to be exercised by a regency council which would be appointed with the agreement of the National Committee's President; a single government was to be set up with the full approval of the Presidency of AVNOJ.
Pursuant to the provisions of the foregoing agreement, on March 7, 1945, Marshal Tito formed the Provisional Government of Democratic Federal Yugoslavia. ŠubašiĈ joined that Government as Foreign Minister, and four more ministers from his earlier cabinet were also included. Most of the portfolios (22) were entrusted to former members of the National Committee. The three great Allied Powers immediately recognized the Provisional Government, followed later by the rest of the Allies and neutral countries. The struggle for Yugoslavia's international recognition was thereby crowned with success while the war was still in progress.
Within the scope of the overall Allied plan to mount a decisive assault on Hitler's Germany, the People's Liberation Army was getting ready for its final offensive, the purpose of which was the definitive liberation of the country. The Army was reorganized prior to the final operations against the occupiers. The Supreme HO issued orders on January 1, 1945, forming the I, II and III Armies and on March 1, the IV Army. The People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia acquired a new name — the Yugoslav Army. It then comprised 59 infantry and 2 air force divisions, naval units, and a river flotilla, with a total of 800,000 fighting men.
At separate meetings in Belgrade between Marshal Tito and the Allied commanders, Marshal Tolbukhin and Fieldmarshal Alexander, plans were drawn up dovetailing operations with those of the Soviet troops in Hungary and the British and American in Italy. The agreement stipulated that the Yugoslav Army was to liberate the country with its own forces, coordinating operations with those of the Allies in Hungary and Italy, securing their flanks and providing a link between them. There were then in Yugoslavia seven German corps, with the remnants of quisling forces, offering tenacious resistance.
Operations for the final liberation of the country were launched by the IV Army. On March 20, 1945, this Army went into the offensive; after heavy fighting, it liberated Lika, Gorski Kotar and the Croatian Littoral by the end of April. Somewhat later, the I and III Army started attacking. Having broken through the Srem Front and overpowered enemy resistance, they continued their thrust westward, toward Slovenia. At this time, the TI Army was conducting offensive operations to expel the enemy from Bosnia.
Despite the stubborn resistance put up by the German units which hoped to prevent the entry of the Yugoslav Army into Istria and halt its advance toward Trieste, the IV Army liberated Trieste on May 1, while the IX Corps of the Yugoslav Army moved into the towns of Gorica and Tržić (Gorizia and Monfalcone) on May 1. On May 8, the I and II Armies freed Zagreb.
The resistance of the German fascist Army in Yugoslavia dragged on until May 15 even though the act of unconditional surrender by Hitler's Germany was signed on May 8. It thus happened that while the whole world was celebrating victory in Europe on May 9, the Yugoslav Army fought on for one more week against the German fascist and quisling units. The Hitlerite units under the command of General Lehr, which had tried to withdraw westward, were forced to capitulate on Yugoslav soil.
Thus did the peoples of Yugoslavia bring to a triumphant close their four-year war of liberation and revolution and effect a historic turning point in the annals of their country. Their sufferings had been agonizing and their sacrifices enormous: every ninth Yugoslav had lost his life fighting the fascist invaders and local traitors. The country had been devastated, entire villages and towns ravaged; over 25 percent of the population was left without a roof over their heads. The economy was at a standstill, 84 percent of the means of transportation had been destroyed, roads and railway tracks torn up. Can there be any greater testimony to the heroism of the Yugoslav peoples and their contribution to the victory over the fascist powers than the figures telling of their tremendous human and material sacrifices.
1. In 1942-1943, the numerical standing of divisions was 3,000-4,000 fighting men. In 1944, that number grew to 5,000—6,000 and in certain divisions up to 12,000 men. As a rule, each division had three brigades, an artillery battery or division, a signal company, reconnaissance and engineers' companies, and other HQ units and services. The first corps had about 10,000 men each. Their further growth depended on the numerical increase of the divisions.
2. The Communist Party of Yugoslavia.
3. In April 1943, the Supreme Allied Command for the Middle East sent the first group of officer-observers to the General HQ for Croatia; on May 27, 1943, a British Military Mission arrived at the Supreme HQ of the People's Liberation Army and Partisan Detachments of Yugoslavia.