Howard Fast

Tito and His People

A Force to be Recknoned With

After the disaster at their former headquarters in Uzice, the Partisans managed to bring most of their arms away with them. Also, the bulk of their army was intact. Tito and his officers decided to move southwest into the wild mountains of Herzegovina, establish headquarters at Foca, and build their strength to a point where they could conduct an active offensive against the Germans.

Five brigades of troops were singled out to accompany Tito and form the nucleus of the new army. The rest of the Partisans were divided into small guerrilla bands, and ordered to go south into Serbia, harass the enemy, cut communications and in general seek support from the Serbians.

Foca continued to be Tito's headquarters until May, 1942. Here, he and his staff whipped the new army into shape. Already, they constituted some of the toughest and most experienced troops in the world; by May they were in shape to match strength with the Germans.

Meanwhile, the Partisan movement gathered strength in every part of Yugoslavia. In east Bosnia, a young guerrilla leader, Principe, the nephew of the man who had assassinated the Archduke of Austria in 1914, had formed and was leading a smaller but well-trained Partisan army. Another Partisan group functioned in Slovenia, and in Serbia the Partisans gained in strength day by day. In every case, when the Germans attacked a Partisan group, it was like attacking a bank of mist. The Partisans fought as long as it was profitable — and then melted away into the hills and forests.

At the beginning of June, 1942, a year after he first began operations, Tito tested the strength of his main army against a full-fledged German offensive. The Nazis attacked him in Bosnia. His army withstood the German attack and in places organized their own counter-offensive and drove back the Nazis. Bringing up more strength, the Germans cut off every avenue of escape.

Tito's food was running low. He gathered his men, launched a heavy attack against one section of the German line and broke through. His army, although almost without mechanization of any sort, moved with incredible speed. Before the Germans fully realized that he was out of their trap, Tito swung on their flank and attacked them from the rear. The attack was not anticipated and completely successful. The Germans had considered the Partisan army trapped; and it was their experience that trapped armies surrendered. This one didn't. It lashed out at them and sent them reeling. Tito gave them no rest. He attacked again, routing them and cutting the important Sarajevo-Mostar railroad.

His liaison reported a powerful force of Krajina Partisans on his left flank, separated from him by almost a division of German troops. Tito marched his men twenty miles through the night, attacked the Germans at dawn, routed them, and effected a junction with the Krajina Partisans.

The men were their own supply column. They took food and ammunition from the German dead. The augmented force now drove north through Bosnia in the direction of Croatia. Garrison after garrison of German and Italian troops were surrounded, attacked and destroyed. By August, all of north Bosnia was liberated, cleansed of fascist troops. The slogan, Death to all Fascists! — Liberty to the People ran like fire through Yugoslavia.

As Tito's army fought its way north, it gained in strength. In Bosnia, he was reinforced by thousands of Bosnian Partisans. Hardly resting, he launched a new campaign into Croatia and again he was joined by thousands of fresh troops — Croatian Partisans this time.

During the Croatian campaign, Tito's force swept north almost to the Hungarian border, and there they were joined by a detachment of Hungarian anti-fascist guerrillas. From Croatia, they crossed into Slovenia, pursuing their campaign of liberation almost to the German border. By the end of 1942 the Yugoslav Liberation Front radio was able to announce to the world that half of Yugoslavia had been liberated from the fascists and was now under the control of Partisan forces.

A miracle had come to pass, in a sense as great a miracle as that of Russia. A tiny country, conquered in ten days by the Nazis, had risen in its anger and driven the invader from half its land. And throughout the democratic world, people, reading about the Partisan exploits, began to speak a magic and romantic name —Tito!

The Partisans Fight And Grow

The Partisan army has gone a long way since that time, not so long ago, in 1941 when a few men held up a group of Quisling soldiers and seized their guns and ammunition. This army has reconquered much territory since that day in April, 1942, when Uncle Peter Narovich, the Catholic peasant from Slovenia, walked three hundred miles on foot to see for himself whether that legendary figure Tito actually existed. To join him in the struggle against their common enemy, in spite of the fact that he knew that Tito was a Communist and that he, Peter, was a Catholic.

These scattered guerrilla bands of the early days have become tough, seasoned, scientific fighters who have grown into an army of thirty-six divisions. This army holds at bay and annihilates whole divisions of the three hundred thousand Axis troops Adolf Hitler keeps in Yugoslavia. Today they have tanks, guns, planes and all the necessary small arms.

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