Hidden Yugoslav History Of WWII: Collaboration Between Partisans And Ustashi (III)

Part I, Part II

Historical sources of the historiography vs Titographic „history“ (II)

In the context of this article’s particular contribution to the revision of official Titographic “history” of “our [Yugoslav] nations and nationalities” during WWII, the next section as a challenging research problem of this analysis addresses the real nature of the relationships between Tito’s Partisans and Pavelić’s Ustashi. Fortunately, after the breakup and dispersal of Titoslavia in the 1990s, researchers have obtained more and more of the relevant archival material confirming according to the Yugoslav Titographic “historians” so-called “Chetnik propaganda from abroad” the open, systematic and strategic cooperation of the Croatian Ustashi with Tito’s Partisans (in fact, two armies from the same state’s territory – the Independent State of Croatia, and both led by the Croats).[1] In view of the fact that the collaboration between the Nazi Ustashi and the Communist Partisans, as an example, in the area around Gacko or more precisely, on the territory of the Gacko Valley in the Independent State of Croatia (today the Republic of Croatia) calls for additional investigation, this particular case deserves to be deeply elaborated in the following section of the article.

The Gacko area is named after the River of Gacka which spreads from Medak over Gospić and Gorski Kotar up to the Serbian Moravica in the north near the border with Slovenia (Kranjska). In this area, there were Italian, Ustashi, Partisan and Chetnik (the Dinara Chetnik Division)[2] military formations. During the war, Tito’s Partisans with the Soviet military insignia executed their military strikes using guerrilla type warfare in order to seize this area from the Dinara Chetnik Division, but they did not succeed. One of the crucial reasons for their failure was the fact that the local Serbs (who were in the majority of the population in the area) mainly sided with the royalist Chetniks (the Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland), but not with the Croat-led Partisans because two crucial reasons as in response to: 1) the apparent cooperation with Pavelić’s Nazi Ustashi by Tito’s Partisans; and 2) the participation in the genocidal anti-Serb policy of the Nazi Ustashi regime in Zagreb by the Communist-Partisan “Supreme Staff of Croatia”.

It should be noted that during WWII it was was exactly in this area that an open and unequivocal collaboration between Nazi Ustashi and the Partisan units occurred. One of the classic examples of such collaboration was the case of two Croat brothers – Ivo Rukavina, a commander of the Communist-Partisan “Supreme Staff of Croatia” and Juca Rukavina, a commander of the most notorious Nazi Ustashi military (in the form of SS) formation – the Black Legion.[3]

A. Stepinac and V. Bakaric in Zagreb meeting Tito
Zagreb, May 1945: The Independent State of Croatia’s Cardinal Aloyz Stepinac (Croat) with top Communist official Vladimir Bakaric (Croat) in meeting Josip Broz Tito (Croat)

According to first-hand sources about the Partisan-Ustashi collaboration on the military field, during the Ustashi attack on the Serbian civilians in this area, the Communist military formations were called to attend a “people’s assembly” in the village of Kunić. Concurrently, some 1,500 Nazi Ustashi soldiers were passing through the territory of Kordun and Lika whose purpose was to slaughter the local Serb villagers. So, at the moment when one (the Ustashi) brother Croat breaks through with his combatants to kill the Serbs, another (the Partisan) brother Croat, instead of defending the people from slaughter, withdraws his forces from the road which is used by the Ustashi to arrive at the homes of Serb civilians. In other words, those who had to protect the people from slaughtering were rather going to the rural political gatherings of „people’s assembly“.

This is what Mane Pešut, a witness to the event, related:

While the Partisan heroes played a wheel[4]and having rejoiced, the Ustashi freely exercised their bloody feast. What was the prey, i.e., hunting Serbs, was visible at the best according to the kind of killing. Booty was so great, that the Ustashi did not have time to apply their innate principle – firstly to sadistically torture the victims and then to kill them. They had time only to cut their necks. The biggest crime was committed in Tržić and Primišlje and then in Veljun and Perjasica. Many of the victims, who did not die immediately, were transported by carts to the Chetnik territory in Plaški, where they were given first aid. Throughout the whole period of the massacre, a single Partisan did not use the rifle to fire on the Ustashi.[5]

This evidence largely resembles the case of the “bloody October in Kragujevac” of 1941 when Tito’s Partisan units had expressed a great rejoice in the nearby village of Divostin during the execution of civilians of the city of Kragujevac in Central Serbia (2,300 including 300 pupils from the city’s Gymnasium) in the city’s outskirts of Šumarice by the Germans.[6] The Communist leaders explained such Partisans’ behavior to the Divostin’s peasants defining it as carrying out of their strategic conviction that those who were not with them were deemed as against them.[7]

Document in German language (March 11, 1943) about the collaboration between Germans and Partisans (written and signed by both sides in Gornji Vakuf, Bosnia). The document is from German archives.

However, this was not the end of the story of the collaboration of two Croat brothers from the Rukavina family. In fact, there is evidence provided by Captain Ilija Popović, who was an officer of the American intelligence service known as the OSS (later the CIA) who was sent as an intelligence connection to Tito’s Partisan units during the conference in Tehran on November 1943.[8] This American officer observed the Ustashi commander Juca Rukavina as a guest at a banquet organized by the Partisan Staff, just during the time of the session of the “big three” in Tehran, which among other topics was discussed as well as the fate of post-war Yugoslavia. On this occasion, the Political Commissar of the Partisan detachments and Captain Ilija Popović were guests at the dinner and the banquet event. With respect to this dinner and banquet, we have a first-hand testimony of the US’ intelligence officer Ilija Popović who wrote: 

I came to a house and saw two Lieutenants (Ustashi) and Major Rukavina (also Ustashi) as they were sitting around the table. Major Rukavina was wearing a German suit with the German Iron Cross. I then said to the Commissioner: “I did not come to Yugoslavia to sit and eat with the bloodsuckers who murdered Serbian people. I have come to fight against them.” Four times I came to Yugoslavia and never saw the Partisans fighting the Germans. From Yugoslavia, I brought out many wounded men to Italy and every man told me that his wounds were not from the enemies, but: “My wounds are from my brother” [9]

On direct cooperation and collaboration between the Communist Partisans and the Nazi Ustashi on the territory of the Independent State of Croatia confirms as well as the statemen about the Ustashi crimes against the Serbian population by Bogdan L. Bolta (a participant in the war events) who in his book on the Gračačka Chetnik Brigade concludes on the basis of the facts the following: 

We know that where there were Chetnik units in South Lika, or anywhere, the Ustashi were not able to kill a single Serb through mass slaughtering. However, where there were Partisans, and even with strong forces, such as those they had in Central Lika and Krbava, in the counties of Udba and Korenica, the Ustashi soldiers in those local Serbian villages were undisturbedly massacring during the war, just they had in 1941. It has been proven that the in the summer and fall of 1942 Communist Partisan Command of Croatia was intentionally moving out Partisan units from the Serbian villages in this part of Lika, in order to open the way for the Ustashi for the purpose to massacre the Serbs.[10]

The same conclusion regarding the Partisan-Ustashi political and military collaboration on the entire territory of the Independent State of Croatia can be done taking into consideration the map “Massacres of the Serbs in Yugoslavia (April 1941-August 1942)” published in the book: Кнежевић Л. Р, Кнежевић Ж., Слобода или смрт, приватно издање аутора, Сијeтл, САД, 1981, 44.

Croat Ustashi and Tito’s Partisans (marked by red arrows) in Velika Kladusa, Bosnia in 1944

New German documents from the German archives on collaboration between the Partisans and the Ustashi in their joint fight against the Chetniks (the Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland) of Jezdimir Dangić[11] were published in 2005 in Belgrade in the academic journal, Vojnoistorijski glasnik (Military-Historical Review) issued by the Military Historical Institute dealing with the review of the book by the German historian Klaus Schmider: The Partisan War in Yugoslavia 19411944. According to the reviewer, the author of the book claims that the collapse of the Chetnik units of Jezdimir Dangić in Bosnia-Herzegovina was:

…influenced by tactical cooperation between the Ustashi and the Partisans at the beginning of April 1942, which lasted about two weeks. During this period, the Ustashi twice delivered ammunition to the Partisans.[12]

It is important to note one document from the Yugoslav archives as it also clearly provides confirmation of the direct collaboration between the Partisans and the Ustashi. It points to the order issued by the Supreme Headquarters of Josip Broz Tito’s People’s Liberation Army and the Partisan Detachments of Yugoslavia (NOV i POJ)[13] in strictly confidential dispatches. The document is registered under № 785 with the issuing date on July 25th, 1943. A part of the order that is of most importance to this discussion is the following: 

To establish as soon as possible the connection with the Ustashi comrade Drekalo, who is being sent by the General Staff of the Ustashi in Zagreb. He is visiting the places where there are Ustashi units and propagates, i.e. orders, a fusion of Ustashi with the Partisans…according to obtained instructions from Zagreb. So far, he has visited all of the Ustashi units that are located in the Coastal area, and lastly, he visited Imotski. After the meeting in Imotski, he went public to the Western part of the Imotski county’s villages of Studenica, Aržano, Lovreno, and Čista, in order to determine the details with them. Boglić, a Ustashi Headquarters’ member from Omiš is cooperating with him [Drekalo], like most of the Franciscan friars, who are producing the fiercest propaganda in this direction [fusion] in the favor of him [Drekalo]. These data were received from comrade Colonel A. Jovanović and deemed as completely accurate they are submitted to you for the orientation. In regard to this, immediately get in touch with comrade Drekalo and if you have not done it in relation to previously issued instructions start with the organization of the “U-2” territory on this basis.[14]

To be continued

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.


[1] See, for instance: Pirjevec J., Tito i drugovi, I deo, Beograd, Laguna, 2013, 180−181; Симић П., Тито и Срби, књига 1 (1914−1944), Београд, Laguna, 2016, 152−156.

[2] This Chetnik formation was under the command of a former priest and war duke Momčilo Đujić. About him and the Dinara Chetnik Division, see in: Самарџић М., Војвода Ђујић и Динарска четничка дивизија, UNA Press, Београд, 2008.

[3] Пешут М., Револуција у Лици 1941−1945, ауторово приватно издање, Билефелд, Немачка, 1966, 181−217. Mane Pešut was a commander of the battalion of the Dinara Chetnik Division. After the war, he imigrated to West Germany where he wrote mentiond book that is a first-hand historical source written in the form of a memoir. Pešut was the editor in West Germany of the journal White Eagles.

[4] The wheel (kolo) is a typical popular dance of the Serbs in a form of a circle dance.

[5] Original is in Serbian.

[6] Бељаковић М., Под облацима Србије, Јефимија, Крагујевац, 2004, 109−119.

[7] When the (trans-Drina) Partisans occupied the city of Kragujevac in Central Serbia in October 1944 they executed several thousand civilians accusing them of being „collaborators“ and „national betrayers“ of whom 4,700 were buried in the same graves as those executed in October 1941 by the Germans. However, in 1945 the Communist authorities of Yugoslavia officially reported to the International Red Cross organization in Geneve that the Germans executed 7,000 Kragujevac’s civilians in October 1941. In other words, all bodies from the Kragujevac „Šumarice Memorial Park“ (2,300+4,700) were officially treated after 1945 by both the Yugoslav (Titographic) historiography and the state’s authorities as those executed in October 1941 by the Germans.

[8] The Allies (USA, UK and USSR) of the anti-Fascist coalition at this conference, which lasted from November 28th to December 1st, 1943 recognized the Partisans of Josip Broz Tito as the allied and anti-Fascist force, but only under pressure of Stalin and, more importantly, the Partisan movement became recognized by the “big three” as the only legitimate political representative of all of Yugoslavia. On the conflict between on one hand the Soviet Government and on the other the Yugoslav Royal Government in London and the Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland, see: Popović B. N., Jugoslovensko-sovjetski odnosi u drugom svetskom ratu (1941−1945), Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd, 1988, 90−108. One of the best mini anthologies of the documents of the Government-in-exile of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia during WWII is: Николић К., Владе Краљевине Југославије у Другом светском рату 1941−1945, Институт за савремену историју, Београд, 2008 (документа).

[9] This testimony by the American Captain Ilija Popović is taken from the journal Погледи, Kragujevac, № 74, January 11th, 1991.

Direct evidence of collaboration between Tito’s Partizans and Pavelić’s Ustashi during WWII is contained in an authentic photograph showing the Ustashi soldier (standing) and one Partisan (on horseback) in their uniforms, armed with guns and surrounded by several of their fellow soldiers. The photograph is published in: Самарџић М., Фалсификати комунистичке историје, UNA PRESS, Beograd, 2010, 163.

[10] Bolta, Gračačka četnička brigada, 205−206. Original is in Serbian.

[11] Major Jezdimir Dangić was a commander of the Chetnik units of the Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland in East Bosnia-Herzegovina until April 1942. He was there to protect Serbian civilians from the Croat Nazi Ustashi massacres. He was arrested on April 1942 by the Germans and sent to the Styj (Stryi) prisoner camp in Galicia (present-day West Ukraine).

[12] As cited in: Равногорска омладина у рату 1941–1945. Сећања и казивања, група аутора, књига друга, Удружење припадника Југословенске Војске у Отаџбини, Београд, 2008, 332.

[13] That was the official name for the Partisan units of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia from December 1942 until March 1945. From March 1945 until 1951, Tito’s armed forces were called the Yugoslav Army (JA), but from 1951 their name was the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). However, their original name from July 1941 until January 1942 was the People’s Liberation Partisan Detachments of Yugoslavia (NOPOJ), but from January until December 1942 there was a further change to a new designation the People’s Liberation Partisan and Volunteer Army of Yugoslavia (NOP i DVJ).

[14] Citation according to the book: Равногорска омладина у рату 1941–1945. Сећања и казивања, група аутора, књига друга, Удружење припадника Југословенске Војске у Отаџбини, Београд, 2008, 336. Original is in Serbian.

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