Howard Fast

Tito and His People

Partisan Brigades Strike

When the news of the Nazi attack on Russia arrived, the Liberation Front acted quickly and skilfully. The first uprisings were led by Communists and it was they who acted as a signal to anti-Nazis everywhere.

At Valjevo, in northern Serbia, the ground had been well prepared. Javonavich, a reporter who joined the Partisan brigades, killed the first German in Valjevo on July 5, 1941. His detachment swung into action and launched a full scale attack with rifles, pistols and grenades, on the German guards.

Simultaneously Tito led the Belgrade uprising. A group of young Communists attacked and burned part of the German press. Other Communist groups attacked the telephone building and the station.

In Zagreb the telephone building was successfully stormed and destroyed.

In Slovenia an Italian garrison numbering more than 200 was attacked and wiped out.

In Serbia, 80 truckloads of oil and munitions belonging to the Germans were blown up. Other bands stormed German prisons and carried off Yugoslav prisoners. One of the prisoners rescued at this time, Alexander Rankovich, is today a member of the headquarters staff of the National Liberation Army. Stores of precious rifles and grenades were looted. Partisans attacked and killed Germans, afterwards stripping them of uniforms and arms.

And then, as suddenly as they arose, the Partisans faded away for at that time they were not yet ready for full-scale warfare. They had accomplished their first objective, to completely disrupt German communications, to capture some arms and ammunition, and let the people of Yugoslavia know that there were strong forces within the country actively fighting for their freedom.

Immediately after this first uprising Tito proclaimed a further period of consolidation. His organization was strong enough now for him to make specific plans for an army. How huge a task that was he well knew, because at that time there were neither arms nor ammunition nor leaders for a new Yugoslav army.

His first duty was to keep the fire of revolt burning and to build it up slowly as Partisan strength grew. The concentration at the beginning was on arms. Italian guardhouses were attacked without respite and in every case where the Partisans succeeded, uniforms and arms were seized. Six Croatians, armed with four old muskets, held up twenty occupational police and disarmed them.

A woman and three men in Slovenia attacked a munitions cache with grenades, home manufactured, and escaped with 3,000 cartridges. Peasants lay in wait for German truck convoys, leaped aboard them as they climbed the steep mountain grades, killed the drivers and guards and then held the trucks until Tito's forces appeared and drove them to their arms depots.

Marshal Tito swiftly outlined plans for five divisions of Partisan troops to operate in Serbia. There was still not enough equipment for 86,000 men, but the military structure, including officers, supply and liaison, was already being set up.

Tito sent organizers south to the little mountainous Yugoslav state of Montenegro. For many years Montenegrins had had the reputation of being men who knew the meaning and value of freedom and were ready to fight for it at the drop of a hat.

The Montenegrins were already at the boiling point. Their little country was occupied by Italians and they felt that the time to strike was now.

Two exceptionally competent officers of the Yugoslav regular army who escaped the Germans were in Montenegro at the time — Colonel Oravich and Major or Arbe Jovanavich. They met with Tito's organizers. Hostile at first, they resented the idea of collaborating with groups that contained Communists.

The Partisans talked with the regular officers; explained to them the structure of the People's Liberation Front and pointed out what had already been accomplished. Finally the two army officers agreed to work with the Partisans. Today Jovanavich is a Partisan Major General and the trusted head of Marshal Tito's operational and intelligence command.

Once the Partisans had made common cause with the regular officers they set about to organize revolt in Montenegro. The peasants were ready; most of them were armed, all of them skilled in the knowledge of their craggy hills. On July 13 they struck and the peasant Partisan forces swept through Montenegro like a scythe. In a short time only three main towns in the province were still held by the Italians and those three towns were surrounded and under siege.

Meanwhile other Partisans were kept busy moving caravans out of Montenegro into other parts of Yugoslavia, across rocky mountain trails, avoiding the main roads.

Concurrent with these planned revolts, there were spontaneous uprisings all over Yugoslavia. The Nazis did not take this lying down. Wherever they held towns, they extracted a fearful price for guerrilla activity. They proclaimed to the Yugoslavs that for every dead German they would execute 100 Yugoslavs and for every wounded German they would execute 50 Yugoslavs.

The town of Gorni Milanovats, for example, was said to be aiding the guerrillas. It was surrounded and burned to the ground. Some of the people escaped to the woods. Most of those who were left, some 800 women, boys and girls, were murdered by the Germans.

Kraguyavets is a Serbian city, population 16,000. Ten Germans were killed in a skirmish outside the city. The Germans surrounded it, collected 4,500 men and boys and executed them.

These are only two examples of what was happening all over Yugoslavia. These are not invented atrocity tales. The facts have been proved and substantiated by numerous eye witness accounts. In Yugoslavia, as in Poland and Russia, the Germans went mad. They killed and killed until the enormity of their murdering became too great for the human mind to comprehend.


The Nazis Hunt For Tito


In July, 1941, Tito found himself the nominal leader of a nation in revolt against the Nazis. He was confronted with the enormous job of pulling all the threads together, of turning this loose resistance into a concerted campaign that would eventually drive out the Germans and Italians.

During July and August, Tito remained in Belgrade, operating his headquarters under the very noses of the Nazis, spreading farther and farther the influence of the Liberation Front. The Gestapo had some inkling that a man called Tito was at the head of this movement. They even managed to obtain an old picture of him which they blew up into huge posters.

Everywhere in the country these posters began to appear. Wanted: Tito! A reward was offered, a reward so huge that it would make a Yugoslav peasant the equivalent of an American millionaire. Yet strangely, although hundreds of Partisans knew Tito personally, no one betrayed him.

He remained at large in Belgrade. In the cafes he would meet Partisans from all over Yugoslavia, issue instructions, receive reports.

In a church, he knelt beside a Slovenian priest who was a Partisan leader in that province and gave him instructions. He held a staff meeting in an empty warehouse. He wrote orders that left Belgrade in the baskets of peasant women, under the cloaks of churchmen and in the valises of respectable looking salesmen.

By August his organizational work had progressed tremendously. All of Yugoslavia was now operating under a single command of the Liberation Front, with the exception of the Chetniks of General Mikhailovich, although at that time, in several cases, Chetniks and Partisans fought the Germans side by side.

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