The American Ranger Mission to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1944

Posted by Milos on Fri, 06/04/2021 - 03:54

(Editor's note: This fascinating piece written by Miloslav Samardžić, Serbian journalist and history researcher, author of 35 books, 5 films, and one series about the WWII, was forwarded to us by Milos, our freedom-loving writer in Serbia.  He sent this to me a few weeks ago, but I was not able to make time to post it until now. Thank you Milos for posting this EXCELLENT piece by Mr. Samardžić.)

1. General circumstances and the example of Greece

From a subsequent perspective, the Bolshevization of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the second half of 1944 was a done deal. But at the time, many believed that Western powers would not allow the Soviets to enter the warm seas. At first, the Germans believed in that. On September 3rd 1944, the Southeast Command sent the following report to the Wehrmacht Supreme Command:

Borders of Soviet interest.
From DM sources (Draža Mihailović - Chetniks) and other secure sources (USA):
1) The border of interest to the Soviets runs through Hungary and Romania;
2) In an agreement with the Anglo-Americans, the Soviets undertook not to cross the Danube. [1]

Many high-ranking British officers, including the one who promoted the Communists the most, General Fitzroy Maclean, believed that Churchill would not go that far, that is, that it is only a matter of deception. Churchill himself hoped that Yugoslavia, although as a communist country, would somehow be kept in the Western sphere of influence, and at the same time he feared a sudden increase in American interest in the Balkans. That is, he was afraid that they would radically change the course of events. The American military missions in the communist ranks reported that, despite the Western policy of supporting the partisans, the majority of citizens were for Mihailović, and not for Tito, with the remark: "That hurts us." [2]

The head of the last American military mission in the Chetnik ranks, Colonel Robert McDowell, not only stated that the United States would not allow the country to become Bolshevik, but also worked to hand over German forces in the Balkans to the Chetniks, which would also change the outcome of the war. McDowell reported to the authorities that Serbs were waiting for a conflict between communism and the West in which the West would support them, and that there was surprisingly little Russophilia among Serbs because of the communism of the USSR. [3] In other words, unlike the British, the Americans valued Serbian resistance to communism. The Serbs were the first of the Western allies to clash with the communists, back in 1941. At the time of McDowell's stay at Draža's headquarters, it was clear that the conflict would become general, but its intensity could not be determined.

The structures of the American army, and even the administration in Washington, led by Secretary of State Cordell Hull, still did not believe in the possibility of Bolshevism in Yugoslavia. Both officers and politicians warned Roosevelt that something had to be done against what they believed was British policy leading to the surrender of the Yugoslav Kingdom to the Communists, and he probably never told them the truth: that he had already given freehand to Churchill.

Through his radio connections abroad, and directly from McDowell, Draža was acquainted with the efforts of the Americans, as well as with their disagreement with the British. In particular, he observed the behavior of the United States and Britain towards Greece. Here, London and Washington also helped the communists in the previous period, but in the fall of 1944 they abruptly gave them up, so Draža expected that this would happen in Yugoslavia as well. The change of attitude towards Greece was learned in the country from the western media. In the meantime, a turbulent diplomatic activity took place behind the eyes of the public, about which the Knežević brothers write:

Greece was on the side of the British "lifeline", through the Mediterranean via Suez to India and South Asia. Therefore, Greece mustn't have fallen under the rule of Stalin, who in that case would be in Crete and completely close the Eastern Mediterranean, cut off Turkey from the West and endanger the Middle East itself. Strategic position of Greece was priceless to the British Empire and England. As Great Britain did not have enough forces to send them to Greece, the only option remained was to make a settlement with Stalin, that is, to divide the Balkan Peninsula into spheres of interest between Great Britain and the Soviet Union. [4]

Thus, on May 4th 1944, Churchill warned his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anthony Eden: "We are approaching a showdown with the Russians over their communist intrigues in Italy, Yugoslavia and Greece." While preparing a report on that, Eden met the next day with the Soviet ambassador to London, Gusev. "The British government believes that the Soviet government should have a leading word in all matters of Romania.", that is, "Romania belongs to the sphere of activities of the Soviet Union.", Eden said to Gusev. "In return,", the British minister continued, "the British government believes that it has the leading word in Greek issues, and Greece has to be in the sphere of its activity."

After consultations in Moscow, the Soviet ambassador confirmed to Eden on May 18th that his government "agrees in general with the views of the British government", but before a final agreement, the Soviets would like to know "whether the US government was informed of the British government's views".

Churchill did all this in secret from the Americans, but now he had nowhere to go, since Stalin also demanded that the agreement be verified by a third member of the "big three". That is why the British ambassador in Washington on May 30th asked Cordell Hull for his opinion "on an agreement between the British and the Russians according to which Russia would have a controlling influence in Romania, and Great Britain a controlling influence in Greece." The agreement would allegedly be valid "only as long as the war lasts". Hull asked for time for a final answer, but immediately referred to "principles" and "established rules", certainly referring to the Atlantic Charter. "I was, in fact, completely opposed to any division of Europe or parts of it into spheres of influence, because that would sow the seeds of future divisions.", Hull wrote in his memoirs. [5]

As the mission of the British ambassador failed, Churchill addressed Roosevelt directly the next day, May 31st. He asked for American consent to the agreement with Stalin regarding Romania and Greece, reiterating that it would "be valid only during the war". Roosevelt ordered Hull to prepare a response to Churchill's telegram. "My assistants agreed with me that we cannot support any similar agreement, and that in fact we should do everything to eliminate it.", Hull writes. As the Americans procrastinated with their response, Churchill sent a memorandum to the State Department on June 8th, where he reiterated that "these are not spheres of influence". According to him, "it is reasonable for the Russians to resolve the issues of Romania and Bulgaria", because Soviet troops are approaching these countries. On the other hand, Greece is "on the battlefield assigned to us", and because of it, Britain has already "sacrificed 40,000 people in 1941". Churchill believes that "President Roosevelt completely agrees" with his position "regarding Greece", adding that "this also applies to Yugoslavia". Finally, if the Americans agreed to this, "we accept that the United States are leading the way in resolving the South American issue", reads the end of the memorandum. [6]

The mention of two new countries, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, in Hull's words, prompted the Americans to "oppose the agreement even more urgently". Hull's deputy, Stettinius, warned Roosevelt on June 10th that Churchill's proposal for an agreement with the Soviets, "no matter how skillfully presented... really means the establishment of spheres of interest and an attempt to obtain US approval for that policy". Roosevelt adopted the remarks of his associates and on June 11th sent a negative answer to Churchill. "The US government is unwilling to agree to the proposed agreement, because it leads to dividing the Balkans into spheres of influence, despite the stated intention to limit the agreement to military matters."

Churchill wrote to Roosevelt the same day, not hiding his anger:

1. Action would be paralyzed if everyone had to agree with everyone about everything before anything is done... Someone must have the power to plan and act.
2. The Russians are ready to leave us freehand in Greece.
3. The Russians are preparing an invasion of Romania with great force. Neither you nor I have any troops there at all, and they will do whatever they want there in any case. It is similar with us in Greece... [7]

In the end, Churchill proposed that his agreement be adopted for three months, after which, if something went wrong, it would be annulled by the "big three". The next day, June 12th, Roosevelt finally accepted Churchill's proposal for an agreement with Stalin, but conditionally. He demanded that it be for three months, that it refer only to military operations, and that "it be clearly stated that we are not establishing spheres of influence". Since the American president made such a decision on his own, it happened that on the same day, the State Department officially responded to Churchill's letter to Roosevelt from May 31st; the answer was negative.

A few days after this, Hull returned from a short absence and put an objection to Roosevelt that he had accepted Churchill's settlement with Stalin. In particular, Hull emphasized that Churchill would have agreed with Stalin even without the Americans, if the Soviets had agreed to that. That is why Roosevelt sharply objected to Churchill on June 22: "I am a little worried, and so is the State Department. I think I should tell you honestly that we were upset that your people approached us on that case only after they had brought it before the Russians, and they asked if we agreed with that. Your Foreign Office obviously felt that and now explained that the proposal "originated from an incidental remark", which the Soviet government turned into a formal proposal. However, I hope that things of this importance will not be happening in such a manner in the future." [8]

In an extensive letter dated June 23rd, Churchill humbly replied that "he cannot accept that he did anything wrong in that matter". It was easy for him to change his tone: he got what he wanted. "Events have fully confirmed the fears we had about that Anglo-Russian agreement, which came into power after the president gave his approval.", Hull wrote in his memoirs. "If we had resolutely resisted that Anglo-Russian agreement, it is possible that some of our later difficulties in the Balkans would not have erupted."

Churchill did not even think to respect the word given to Roosevelt about the duration of the agreement with Stalin for only three months and in relation to war operations. But, on the other hand, someone was preparing to deceive Churchill: Stalin. The Soviet dictator wanted to conquer both Yugoslavia and Greece anyway.

As for Yugoslavia, Churchill had a vague idea that it belonged to the Communists but still remained under his influence. He hoped this was possible as he provided crucial assistance to the Yugoslav communists in the struggle for power. That is why, the British Prime Minister expected, they should repay him with long-term recognition of his patronage.

However, when he returned to London on September 25th 1944 from the Third Conference in Quebec, he was faced with a harsh reality: J. B. Tito fled from a British base on the island of Vis to the Soviet Union; Soviet troops began entering Yugoslavia on September 22nd; even earlier, on September 9th, the Soviets forcibly established communist rule in Sofia; finally, the Soviet Union continued to help the Greek communists, with a clear intention to occupy this country at a favorable moment.

These were the consequences of the policy from previous years, when Anglo-American troops from southern Italy were not directed towards the Balkans, but towards the south of France and the north of Italy. At that time, it was important for Western leaders to keep their armies as far away from the Eastern Front as possible, so that the Soviets and Germans would bleed as much as possible, and so that, on the other hand, they themselves would suffer minimal losses.

But then the Eastern Front moved abruptly far to the west and now there was no serious military force to prevent Stalin's conquests in the Balkans. Even Greece, which Churchill wanted to defend at all costs, was at stake. That is why the British Prime Minister decided to travel to Moscow urgently, in order to save what can be saved in a direct conversation with Stalin.

When he arrived in Moscow on October 9th 1944, Churchill immediately excluded US Ambassador Harriman from the negotiations. He simply told him that it was "better for him not to take part in the private talks" with Stalin, although he would "gladly invite" him to "broader meetings". On the evening of October 9th, at dinner in the Kremlin, Churchill and Stalin reached the infamous agreement on the division of the Balkans, expressed as a percentage. According to Churchill's memoirs, the conversation went like this: "Let's solve the issue of the Balkans as well. As for Britain and Russia, you have 90% in Romania, and we have 90% in Greece, and 50-50% in Yugoslavia." The British Prime Minister immediately wrote what he said on a piece of paper, adding 50-50% for Hungary and 75% to 25% for Bulgaria in favor of the Soviet Union. He handed the note to Stalin, who ticked it as a sign of consent and returned it to Churchill. "It was all over in the blink of an eye. After this, a long silence ensued. The note was lying in the middle of the table.", Churchill writes. He was the first to speak: "Wouldn't it be cynically thought that we solved this case so quickly, which was so fateful for millions of people?", he asked Stalin. There was no answer. He then suggested that the note be burned. "No, you keep it.", Stalin replied. [9]

And indeed, the note was saved and later published.

At first, Churchill did not tell Roosevelt or even his closest friends about the harsh verdict against the Balkan and Central European peoples. The next day, October 10th, he wrote to the American president about the need to "achieve the same view of the Balkans, so as to prevent the outbreak of civil wars in several countries, in which you and I would certainly be on one side and Stalin on the other".

On October 11th, US Ambassador Harriman sent a report to Roosevelt, saying that "Eden agreed with the Soviets that they would not do anything unilaterally in Yugoslavia, but only jointly with us". As for Greece, "Churchill has already received consent from Stalin to give up on it and use Soviet influence on the Greek communists not to destroy, but to take a constructive part in the people's government".

In a report from October 12th, Harriman also says that Churchill and Stalin talked about the Balkans, especially Yugoslavia. They agreed on an attempt to unite the Yugoslav peoples by creating a "strong federation": "If it turns out that such a federation is impossible without prolonging internal struggles, Serbia should be established as an independent state." The federation is more desirable, and this second solution is envisaged "only as a last resort".

On the same day, Churchill sent a report to the British government. It states that the Yugoslav 50-50 are an attempt to prevent "armed struggle between Croats and Slovenes on the one hand and strong and numerous elements of Serbia on the other".

According to Harriman's October 15th report, Stalin gave "an unusual tribute to Churchill by going with him to the opera, which he had not attended since the beginning of the war". At the farewell, Churchill said the "meetings in Moscow were unforgettable". In a speech to the British Parliament on October 27th, he said that relations with the Soviet Union had never been "as close and cordial as they are now", agreeing once again that the United States were "constantly informed of what was being agreed". [10]

However, American diplomacy realized that something was wrong. Stettinius warned Roosevelt of "US interests in Southeast Europe". He told him that Washington should not deviate from the following principle: "The right of the people, without outside influence, to choose and maintain the form of political, social and economic system they wish for." [11]

It was too late for that. Stalin did not adhere to the agreement on the division of influence into percentages: the states conquered by the Red Army became 100 percent communist. He did not keep his word that he would give up Greece. The civil war in this country lasted until 1948, with the victory of the Greek "Chetniks". The British provided them with far greater assistance than the Soviets to the partisans.

Since "the British exchanged Yugoslavia for Greece with Stalin", as US Congressman O'Konski put it, Churchill has had different criteria for guerrillas in the two countries. What he said about the Yugoslav partisans, he said about the Greek "Chetniks", while the harsh words against Draža's Chetniks were intended for the Greek partisans. Moreover, he now called the Greek partisans "bandits" in the British Parliament. Basically, the Greek communists did not differ from the Yugoslav ones: both were sections of the Comintern. The only difference was that Churchill sacrificed Yugoslavia to Stalin, while he was ready to fight for Greece.

2. The arrival of McDowell's mission

The quarrels between Britain and America in general were transferred directly to the issue of support for Draža and the Chetniks. For example, the head of the OSS, the future CIA, General William Donovan, wrote to Roosevelt in March 1944:

"If we now satisfy the British wishes, we will jeopardize in advance the possible success of our plans for the penetration of the teams into the territory of Germany, its satellites and the areas under their occupation. It is a notorious truth that the British intelligence service failed to create such a possibility at the time when it had its officers with Mihailović. So, if we agree with their current recommendations, this whole important area will be abandoned and will cease to be a source of useful information.

We are convinced that now is the time to reach an agreement with Mihailović and start sending the available intelligence teams to his headquarters. Before we begin, we want you to advise us on what kind of contract we should make with Mihailović." [12]

In a response, written on March 22nd, Roosevelt agreed with Donovan's proposal, but sought to limit its importance, stating:

"I completely agree with the plan which, as I have been informed, you are the author of. And the government agrees that, in order to obtain the necessary information and send agents to enemy territory, we should send a new team of uniformed officers to Draža Mihailović, but only for those purposes.

In order to avoid future misunderstandings, it should be made clear to the British that, in accordance with the agreed political course and practice of joint action, we intend to maintain the freedom of action of our intelligence service.

The officers who will be sent will inform Mihailović that their arrival is exclusively related to the needs of the intelligence service and that they expect help and protection from him during their stay. At the same time, he should be made aware that they are not a replacement for personnel withdrawn from his territory.

Our officers should be given instruction, which they are obliged to convey to Mihailović, that they do not have a mandate to deal with political issues nor must they allow any political function to be assigned to them." [13]

On August 26th 1944, a US military mission called "The Ranger", led by Colonel Robert McDowell, landed at the airport in Pranjani. Churchill tried to prevent its arrival until the last minute, realizing that it was not just gathering intelligence about the Germans, as the Americans had told him. "If an American mission arrives to Mihailović at this hour, it will show complete contradiction in the actions of Britain and the United States throughout the Balkans. Russia will certainly throw in all its forces to help Tito. So we will go into discrepancy. I hope and believe that it will be avoided.", the British Prime Minister wrote to Roosevelt. Roosevelt wrote that he "gave instructions not to send a mission", which was true at the time: McDowell's personal requests to come to Draža's headquarters were directly denied twice, while Donovan asked Roosevelt, and received various answers, as many as six times. Churchill's new protest followed on September 1st:

"I see that General Donovan has sent a mission. I thought from your telegram that this mission would not go. We are trying to help Tito and, of course, if the United States help Mihailović, complete chaos will be created. I used to hope that things would go smoothly in these areas, but if each of us helps the other side, we are creating the basis for a wonderful civil war. General Donovan carried out strong propaganda for General Mihailović just at the hour when we convinced King Peter to resolutely break with him and when many Chetniks gathered under Tito's army of people's liberation. The only opportunity to save the King is unity between the Prime Minister - Ban of Croatia, and Tito." [14]

Churchill, therefore, claimed that the Serbian King would be saved if the two Croats united and that "a wonderful civil war" would begin only if the Serbs were armed, as if it had not erupted at the moment when he armed himself, as he called them, "Croatian partisans". In a letter dated September 3rd, Roosevelt replied: "The OSS mission was my fault. I was not convinced that my first order from April 8th had been carried out. I ordered Donovan to withdraw the mission." [15]

McDowell's mission, however, was not withdrawn. It stayed with Draža until November 1st, and Captain Nik Lalić from the "Air Rescue Team" left the Chetniks only on December 27th from the airport in Boljanić near Doboj.

During his stay at Draža's headquarters, McDowell tried in every way to change the course of events, which was beyond the authority he officially had. He himself denied the communist and British accusations that he exceeded his authority.

Among other things, McDowell wrote:

"The undersigned, in his treatment of General Mihailović and the people, presented himself as advised by the US Government. Our task was to gather military and other information about the Nazis and assess the possible political and economic post-war development of Yugoslavia... On no occasion and in no way did the undersigned promise American help to the Chetniks..." [16]

This denial can not only be interpreted ambiguously, but there is also McDowell's statement in which he "categorically claims that he was allowed to tell Draža Mihailović that the Allies would insist through their special missions in Yugoslavia and other Balkan countries that free elections should be held after the war". It was only when he left the country that McDowell was told that "the directive on free elections is no longer valid, because Yugoslavia has been handed over exclusively to the Soviet-Tito sphere". McDowell's rejection of the British accusations, as well as the difference in what he officially wrote and said privately, can be explained by the fact that upon his return to Italy he was "threatened to be brought before a military court", accused of not leaving Yugoslavia when ordered. [17]

One document is known about the instructions given to McDowell when leaving Italy. In addition to caring for downed U.S. pilots and gathering information, McDowell was tasked with, “if the opportunity arises, to serve as a mediator for any type of surrender proposal that may result from parts of German, Bulgarian, Hungarian, or any other hostile or collaborationist groups”. [18]

A member of McDowell's mission, Lieutenant Elsford Kramer, directly communicated the ultimate intention to the Germans with whom he negotiated the surrender: "Occupy with Chetnik detachments several towns, where the American flag will be raised and thus the entry of Red Army units into these towns will be prevented." [19]

The rescued American pilots who came in contact with McDowell did not even think that he was a secret agent. This is the statement of John T. Nelson: "I was told that President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill had agreed on some kind of political trade-off which left Britain to pursue an allied policy in Yugoslavia. However, President Roosevelt was not satisfied with the Allied support for the Chetniks, and the American colonel was with us to help rectify this." [20]

Therefore, having in mind Donovan's letter to Roosevelt from March 1944, which talks about "plans to penetrate" the territory under German occupation, which in the context of the discussion of Draža meant the territory of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, then Churchill's fear of Donovan, McDowell's advice to Draža and his activity among the Chetniks in general - one can report a reliable conclusion that the "Ranger" Mission was not only intelligence, as well as that its chief did not work only on his own.

The opinion about the wrong policy of the Western allies towards the Chetniks has survived in Western diplomacy to this day. An example is a letter from the Vice-President of the OSCE Assembly, Willi Wiemer, to German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder dated 2nd May 2000, which states, inter alia: "The war against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was waged to correct General Eisenhower's erroneous decision from World War II. Therefore, for strategic reasons, American soldiers must be stationed there, in order to make up for what was missed in 1945." [21]

Thus, it arises that the Serbian people once again, in 1999, paid the price for the wrong policy of the Western powers.

3. McDowell's advices

McDowell's first words upon arrival in Pranjani, which quickly spread in the Chetnik ranks, were: "I have come to help you." The following statement from McDowell was also recorded: "You are in a military crisis, but your cause is very good politically. You are required to endure." [22]

Saying that he had great powers, McDowell offered Draža to make a plan together to change the outcome of the war as it was expected. Draža, of course, accepted the proposal. Whether he believed in the realization of the possibility that suddenly appeared or not, there was no other option in sight, but to rely on McDowell's advices. Because, all four Chetnik radio stations from abroad - Washington, Cairo, Rome and Bari - had already informed the Supreme Command that the Western Allies would not come to the territory of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but the Red Army. [23]

The plan made by Draža and McDowell consisted of an offer to the governments of Great Britain and the United States (the offer was formally delivered to the USSR as well), sent on September 3rd 1944, that the Yugoslav army "attack the Germans on a broad basis, proclaiming a general uprising." In return, Draža demanded that several conditions be met: that the Yugoslav army not be attacked by partisans or units in the service of the Western Allies (Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Albanians); to be recognized and assisted morally, politically and materially, as well as to have its representatives in the Yugoslav government; to allow the return of released prisoners of war and other Yugoslav soldiers outside Yugoslavia, and finally, to allow the return of King Peter, so that he would not go to either the Communists or the Chetniks, but to a "neutral place". [24]

As there was no response to the letter from September 3rd, there was, certainly again in agreement with McDowell, an address only to the Americans, and that is by going a step further in the new offer. Namely, the memorandum of September 18th, signed by Draža on behalf of the armed forces and the secretary of the Executive Board of the Central National Committee of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Dr. Stevan Moljević, on behalf of the political structures, directly offered the Americans to put the Yugoslav army under their command.

At this time, a letter was sent directly to President Roosevelt, and it was signed by Dr. Stevan Moljević, engineer Vladimir Predavec and Mustafa Mulalić, i.e. one Serb, one Croat and one Muslim from the Central National Committee. "Under certain political circumstances, the great democracies have really sided with the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and given it weapons and ammunition, and they are abusing them to kill anyone who thinks and feels democratically... We are convinced that Your Excellency will do everything that stands in your power, to justify our hopes in you as the first fighter for freedom and democracy in the world.", reads, among other things, in this letter. [25]

The American response, however, was negative. It can be assumed that both Draža and McDowell interpreted this by the fact that the Balkans were in the British sphere of influence and that is why a new offer, similar to the one from September 18th, was addressed to London.

Draža wrote three times in a row, on October 21st, November 8th and 13th, to the Allied Commander for the Mediterranean, British General Wilson: "I am willing to place under your command 50,000 armed and trained men to fight a common enemy, whether in the Balkans, or on any other battlefield at your discretion." Then, specifically, he offered an attack on the Germans who were retreating "through the Novi Pazar Sandžak to Bosnia and to the front in Italy". He demanded the sending of ammunition for the action, reminding Wilson that "no partisan rifle was fired at the enemy in retreat" towards the northwest. If this proposal is also rejected, Draža asked if Wilson "in any form is interested in the fate of the Yugoslav national army, which was the first to start the war for liberation in the Balkans and has always been the most determined supporter of democracy." [26]

Draža's offer sounded tempting, because it actually referred to helping the Western Allies in crushing the German resistance on the Gothic line in Italy. At the end of 1944, the allied divisions still did not move from that line, so more and more thought was given to landing in Istria and attacking the Germans from behind, from the valley of the river Po. Such an attack hindered the movement of German troops from Greece, precisely in the direction of Istria and the Italian front. That is why Draža offered Wilson to stop the Germans in retreat and send part of his units to Italy. With the rotation of forces with the communists, he was now in the position of the communists in the spring of the same year: the partisans invaded Serbia, and the Chetniks occupied Sandžak and Bosnia. Communist units in southern Serbia, as well as in Dalmatia, were unwilling to help the Western Allies by stopping the German withdrawal from Greece or, even less, by going to Italy. Their goal was to fight for power, with the help of the Red Army.

The English rejected both of Draža's offers, prolonging the battles with the Germans in Italy until the spring of 1945. It is difficult to explain this refusal, because on October 9th Churchill agreed with Stalin on the division of Yugoslavia 50:50. Since Soviet troops occupied the eastern half of Yugoslavia, the Western Allies were able to enter the western part of the country under that agreement. The issue of post-war power could be resolved through free elections, which would be overseen by all three allies.

At the end of 1944, Marshal Alexander was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces in the Mediterranean, instead of General Wilson. It is the same Alexander who in 1942 begged Draža to help break up Rommel's troops in Africa by taking action on Serbian railways. Draža helped the Allies on that occasion, but they now once again refused to help him (and themselves): the letter to Marshal Alexander remained unanswered. [27]

4. Negotiations with the Germans on surrender

While he was in Bari on August 15th, Colonel McDowell was ordered by the OSS command to establish contact with Dr. Hermann Neubacher, the German special envoy for the Balkans, upon his arrival at Draža's headquarters. The Chetniks enabled a meeting between McDowell and Neubacher's envoy Sterker, in the first days of September in the village of Draginje near Valjevo. McDowell informed his headquarters in Bari on September 4th, so that the next day he would receive instructions on the implementation of the unconditional capitulation of the Germans in the Balkans. The next meeting between McDowell and Sterker was held on September 16th in the village of Badovinci in Mačva. McDowell sent a radiogram to the command in Bari as Sterker insisted that the surrendering German forces not be delivered to the Soviets afterwards. McDowell never received an answer to this question, or at least that document is not known. It is only known that in his first radiogram to Donovan on his return to Italy, on November 2nd, McDowell wrote that he had agreed on the surrender of the Germans with General McCarney, the chief of the Command of the Mediterranean Allied Forces. According to McDowell, "it was necessary to ensure the German surrender in Yugoslavia (formally) to an Anglo-American military mission, which I once proposed". By the way, Draža did not meet with Sterker and did not attend his meetings with McDowell. [28]

According to the version of events that McDowell communicated to Lieutenant Colonel Živan Knežević, in December 1944 in Washington, in the presence of Colonel Jadwin, Sterker came to the meetings not only as an envoy of Hermann Neubacher, but also to the commander of the Southeast, Field Marshal Weiks. The Germans asked "only 300 American paratroopers" to symbolically accept the surrender, while the rest of the work would go to the Chetniks. This coincides with McDowell's radiogram of Donovan from November 2nd. The only difference is whether the Germans would surrender to an Anglo-American military mission, or a detachment of 300 American paratroopers, but in any case the allied presence would be formal, while the German weapons would belong to the Chetniks. McDowell then told Knežević that Weiks and Neubacher offered to surrender "all German forces in Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia". The American colonel immediately informed his superiors by radio, they consulted with the British, and the British, following their policy of supporting the Communists, sent a negative response. [29]

In a written statement given before the Committee for a Fair Trial of Draža Mihailović in New York in 1946, McDowell states about negotiations with the Germans: "German officials came in contact with me in order to negotiate the surrender of German forces. As is well known today, in the last months of their resistance, the Germans often sought touches that had no significance because the Nazis did not want to see that the Allied demands for unconditional surrender were quite serious. I was ordered to listen to any such German offer and pass it on." [30]

However, when answering the next question, McDowell changes the assessment that the negotiations "had no significance" from the root: now he writes that they were "of great importance". Here is the answer: "Neubacher... insisted on meeting with me so that we could continue the negotiations that had begun with Sterker. I was very happy to meet with him, because it was of great importance to ensure the surrender of German forces. This was prevented by great pressure from the communists, who wanted to capture General Draža and me in every way." [31]

From the second answer, as well as from the mentioned radiogram to Donovan from November 2nd 1944, it follows that Lieutenant Colonel Knežević faithfully transmitted McDowell's words spoken in December 1944 in Washington. The remark that the negotiations on the surrender of the Germans were interrupted due to the pressure of the communists is nothing but fleeing from unpleasant facts, or from the military court, which, as we have seen, hung over McDowell's head. Draža and McDowell crossed the Drina river only on September 26th, and then they moved together through Bosnian Posavina until November 1st. There were no communists nearby who could threaten them, that is, the territory was firmly in the hands of the Chetniks, which McDowell himself emphasized in response to the slander of British General Fitzroy Maclean.

Namely, fearing the consequences that McDowell's mission could bring, the communists turned to Maclean, and he wrote an insulting letter against the American colonel to the commander of the allied forces for the Mediterranean, British General Wilson. He claimed that the Yugoslav army practically did not exist, but that McDowell and Draža were fleeing partisan pursuits and taking refuge in German garrisons. The Americans were further angered by the British accusation that their officer was sending false reports and even cooperating with the Germans, and he himself, upon his return to Bari, responded to Maclean by denying every item of his accusation.

Among other things, McDowell wrote: "The undersigned wishes to state that the allegation in paragraph two of the said report is false (Maclean's report). The undersigned and General Mihailović never "fled from one enemy garrison to another". On the contrary, until the partisans attacked them, the nationalists fought against the Germans in Serbia. In Bosnia, the general's entourage was under pressure from the SS and the Ustashas, ​​but was never forced to withdraw, which is confirmed by the fact that the territory of that part of Bosnia was constantly under the control of local nationalists (except larger cities). In the part of the crossed Bosnia, the partisans were very weak, so they were not able to attack the general's escort, despite the fact that the local nationalists were busy with almost continuous operations against German and Ustasha troops." [32]

Maclean actually transmitted the reports of British officers to the partisan units, and they transmitted the communist version of events, which they adopted as their own. Among other things, this was a consequence of the British determination to gather pro-communist people in Western countries and to send them among the Yugoslav partisans. On September 13th 1944, a group of these British officers reported no less than that the partisans would soon capture "an American colonel and two officers", asking for "instructions on what to do with them". That was immediately after the battle on Jelova Gora between the Chetniks and the Partisans. Due to the superiority in the artillery, which was delivered to them by the Western allies, the partisans pushed the Chetniks to the neighboring mountains. According to the established custom, they announced on all sides that they had actually achieved a great victory, and even that the capture of Draža himself was a matter of time.

Here is a quote from a report by British officers from September 13th: "Mihailović's headquarters was conquered. Mihailović escaped with his protective detachment... An American colonel and two officers are with him... Since there is a chance that we will catch Mihailović, send us further instructions. We found all of Mihailović's archives. It contains confirmation that the American mission is with him. Please clarify the situation with (Tito's headquarters) and send instructions on what to do with them when they are captured." [33]

Upon receiving such a report, the British command in Bari nevertheless warned its people in the partisan units. They were told that the primary goal was to fight against the Germans, not the Chetniks, and that they must not adopt the views of their hosts. The unpleasant facts that McDowell did not want to mention before the New York court refer to the reasons why the German offer for the surrender of Army Group "E" and Army Group "F" was rejected. With huge quantities of German weapons, the Chetniks would be able to arm a total of half a million soldiers and then eliminate the communist threat. Western leaders thwarted that scenario, because they had been working on the surrender of Yugoslavia to the communists for almost a year and a half.

According to McDowell's statement to Lieutenant Colonel Knežević, the German offer was allegedly rejected out of consideration for the interests of the Soviet Union. However, "the surrender on one battlefield could be considered by the Allies as a tactical surrender, as was the case with the surrender of the Germans in Italy, without the need to report to the Soviet Union", the Knežević brothers wrote. [34]

In addition to this, the Americans were able to take a resolute stance and accept the surrender of the Germans, citing Stalin's disloyalty in recent months. The Soviet dictator promised to attack the Germans from the east at the same time as the Americans and the British did from the west. However, the Red Army launched a summer offensive on June 23rd, 17 days after landing in Normandy. The offensive lasted only until July 31st, when Soviet troops were sent south to establish communist rule in the Balkan states. Stalin resumed the attack in the direction of Berlin only on January 12th 1945. Thus he avenged Churchill and Roosevelt for delaying attacks on Germans from the West during 1942 and 1943. Seeing that he was not currently in danger from the east, Hitler first defeated the Polish resistance movement, and then attacked the Allies in Belgium with 24 divisions. Thus, the policy of Western leaders constantly prolonged the war and increased the number of casualties. There is no doubt that the shortening of the war would be influenced by the acceptance of the German offer in Badovinci. [35]

When he was taken American prisoner, Hermann Neubacher was also questioned about his contacts with Colonel McDowell. Neubacher told the American investigator that "the permission for the meeting was obtained from Berlin", but on the condition that he does not go to McDowell in person, but his delegate. That is how Neubacher sent Sterker, for whom it is said here that he was not a captain, but a colonel in the General Staff. Among other things, Neubacher told the American investigator this: Neubacher believed that McDowell's political mission was to prevent the Soviet invasion of the Balkans, to oppose Tito and to help Mihailović's idea of ​​leaving the fight on two fronts. He thought that it was wiser to concentrate all efforts in the fight against Tito, than to waste energy in the fight against the Germans, whose destiny to leave Yugoslavia was sealed anyway. [36]

Documents on the interrogation of Neubacher, as well as Sterker, reached the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A diplomat from this ministry, John Colville, wrote his remark on one page: "The material is interesting from the historical point of view, but at the same time it reveals the dangerous side of the domain of work, which the American organization OSS allowed itself." Who actually allowed himself a "dangerous domain of work", let the readers judge.

5. Use of the Germans

According to McDowell's reports to Bari, the Germans agreed to negotiations on unconditional capitulation only when their first offer, which they made in the village of Draginje, was rejected. It was a proposal for the Americans and the British to allow all German troops to withdraw unhindered to the north, to the Danube-Sava line, in order to stop the Red Army's penetration to the west. [37]

Neubacher writes that at the end of 1942, in Athens, a British lieutenant colonel, at a secret meeting with one of his commissioners, told him: "This war should end by uniting the Anglo-American military forces with the Germans and creating a common front against the Bolsheviks."

That lieutenant colonel worked on his own and was soon replaced, but, Neubacher continues, "when the evacuation of our forces from Greece began, the British... sought contact with the German side". Allegedly, they were worried that the communists would take power after their withdrawal. "This is the reason why the British did not obstruct the movement of German troops from the Greek islands and from Greece in general with full force.", Neubacher writes. [38]

One of Hitler's closest associates, Albert Speer, wrote in his memoirs, among other things: "I remember the only example when Hitler, albeit reluctantly and silently, agreed to an agreement with his opponent. In the late fall of 1944, British ships cut off all connection between the Greek islands and the interior of Greece with German troops. Despite the complete British superiority at sea, German units were transported inland without hindrance. German ships partially sailed so that they could be seen from British ships. For this service, the German side agreed to defend Thessaloniki (from the Greek partisans) until it was occupied by British forces. When the operation, proposed by Jodl, was completed, Hitler stated: It was the only example that we embarked on such a thing." [39]

However, while the Western Allies sought to move the Germans from Greece to the Danube and halt Soviet advance into Central Europe, the Soviet intention was to direct German columns to the northwest to slow the Western Allies from Italy.

Author of the "Collection of Documents from the British Archives", Staniša R. Vlahović believes that the agreements between the Western allies and the Germans were known to Stalin, which was an additional motive for the Soviet leader to facilitate the German withdrawal to the northwest. They have not been able to go north since September 1944, because that road, through the valley of the South and Great Morava rivers, was cut off by the Red Army. Thus, in November 1944, the Western Allies asked Stalin to establish a line for bombing by each side - Stalin did not accept it. The proposed line ran from the Baltic Sea, through Vienna, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Podgorica, Peć and Prilep to the Greek-Bulgarian border. West of this line was to be bombed by the air force of the Western Allies, and east by the air force of the Red Army. Instead of answering, Stalin first ordered his generals to delay the matter with counter-proposals and long talks. In the end, they managed to ensure that Allied bombers were not allowed to approach the Soviet front closer than 60 kilometers, and Allied fighters closer than 120 kilometers, measured by air. Thus, a kind of protection zone was created for the Germans. Even if they wanted to bomb that zone, the Soviets could not do it like the Western Allies, because they had significantly fewer planes. General Wilson, the allied commander of the Mediterranean, said that in this way the German divisions were "protected by a Soviet umbrella". He mentioned Sarajevo as a place of great German concentration, adding that "we must not bomb that city". That is why, on December 2nd 1944, Churchill asked Stalin to give up his proposal, because he "allows the Germans to withdraw unhindered".

Churchill continued to write, that is, to beg: "It would be very unfortunate if these Hitler columns escaped the mountain roads that we are able to shower with the weight of our bombs. Please give us your latitudes on the bombing line. The new line we propose will give us stronger and more deadly opportunities to attack the retreating enemy. Please allow this now. Secondly, but best of all, it would be a reasonable camaraderie and connection between our protruding commands. The enemy who manages to escape will face us both later, and will be strengthened. Let's hit it where and when we can. We expect your signal to begin the action on the line indicated in my dispatch, in the third and fourth paragraphs. To save time, I count on you to issue orders on all sides." [40]

Stalin wrote to Churchill only on December 9th. "He (Stalin) wanted to nail the Western armies to the ground of well-defended Italy, with new (German) reinforcements from the Balkans. Stalin also succeeded well in his intentions.", concludes Vlahović. The officers of the Red Army had another reason to insist that the western planes do not approach them too close. Namely, they bombed them, which will be discussed next.

6. Armed conflicts between Americans and Soviets

Sparks between the American and Soviet armies erupted so much that two armed conflicts were recorded on the territory of Serbia.

The first took place on October 13th 1944, about thirty kilometers east of the city of Kruševac. Three days earlier, the Chetniks of the Deligrad Corps liberated the town of Ražanj from the Germans and set out to meet the Soviets. Negotiations with the Soviets did not go in the desired direction, so they left Ražanj. However, they obeyed the recommendation of the Council to continue persecuting the Germans towards Varvarin and Paraćin. Red Army soldiers and partisans entered the abandoned Ražanj on October 13th. Suddenly, Allied planes start bombing this place. The commander of the Soviet unit, who was just giving a speech to the assembled people, General Lesnikov, immediately got in the car and headed north, but the Allied air force continued to bomb and machine gun. General Lesnikov's car was hit and he remained dead on the spot. [41]

There were many more victims on November 7th 1944, on the same road, just a little further south, near the city of Niš. That morning, the Soviets and the local communists organized a celebration of the anniversary of the October Revolution, and then a long column of the 6th Guards Rifle Corps of the Red Army marched towards Belgrade. At around 10 o'clock, the column was attacked by three groups of 12 American P-38 Lightning type fighters. The corps commander, General Kotov, was killed along with 31 soldiers, while 37 Red Army soldiers were wounded. A large number of vehicles were destroyed.

Not only did the attack not stop, but another group of American fighters came along. Then, the commander of the Soviet 17th Air Force, General Sudec, ordered the pilots of the planes on duty at the Niš airport to take off and respond to the attack. A group of nine Yak-3 fighters from the 288th Air Division immediately took off. American fighters were now targeting the Soviet and an air battle ensued. According to the American author Glenn Baus, the Americans shot down four Yaks, and the Soviets shot down two Lightnings. According to the Soviet report, three Yaks and four Lightnings were shot down, and according to a report by the Yugoslav Communists, three Yaks and seven Lightnings. [42]

Some authors claim that it was a mistake, and some that it was an intention, since Soviet vehicles and planes were marked with large five-pointed stars. In another case, American pilots allegedly thought they were bombing a German column in the Ibar River valley. This river is located about a hundred kilometers west of South Morava and the city of Niš. Its gorge is narrow and surrounded by large mountains, while the valley of the South Morava is wide, and there are low mountains around it.

Thus, also counting the Yugoslav army, ie. Chetniks, during the Second World War, four armed conflicts took place between the Western Allies and the Red Army, all four on the territory of Serbia.

First, on October 13th 1944, Soviet General Lesnikov was killed in an attack by Allied aircraft.

Then, on October 14th, there was a fight between the 2nd Rasina Brigade and Red Army units near Kruševac. The Soviet general told Lieutenant Kramer that the fight took place near Varvarin, that is, near the neighboring town, where the Soviet headquarters was located.

Thirdly, in those days there was a fight between the 1st Banat Corps and Red Army units in Banat. The Soviet general told Kramer that this fight took place "in the area of ​​Belgrade". For both this and the previous case, the general said that the Chetniks attacked the Soviets. The previous case is described in detail, and when it comes to the conflict in Banat, a similar scenario took place there. The Chetniks welcomed the Red Army and everything was fine until the Red Army started raping women. The Chetniks then drew their weapons, after which they were defeated and handed over to the Communists, who liquidated them in Deliblato Sands. [43]

The fourth is the conflict that took place on November 7 near Niš.

In the analysis of this kind, it is necessary to include the case of one of the most famous American commanders, General Patton. It has long been believed in the official version that he died in a car accident in 1945, but lately it has been heard more and more often that Patton was actually killed by secret agents, because he wanted to oppose the Red Army's invasion to the west.



[1] AVII, NAV-N-T-311, roll 193, shot 87-95.
[2] NAW, OSS Operation Yugoslavia, Microfilm 1.642, Roll 132, DECLASIFIED NND 8TT190; report to General Donovan dated 23rd September 1944.
[3] M. Aćin Kosta, Serbian Blood, Stalin's Government 1944, 2,870.
[4] and [5] R. from. Knežević, Freedom or Death, 300-301. Professor Radoje was the Minister of the Court, and Colonel Živan was the head of the Military Cabinet of the Yugoslav Government while it was in London and the last military attaché of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in Washington. After the war, he was drafted into the US Army, in the same rank. Along with General Draža Mihailović, he is the second Serb to receive the highest American decoration intended for foreigners, the Order of the Legion of Merit. Mihailović was awarded the medal posthumously, and Živan Knežević personally, in Washington, in 1948. The Knežević brothers published their life's work "Freedom or Death" in Seattle. Their brother Jovan, a priest, was shot by the Germans in 1941 in Kragujevac, as a supporter of Mihailović's movement.
[6] and [7] R. from. Knežević, Freedom or Death, 302, 303.
[8] Ibid., 304.
[9] Ibid., 341-342.
[10] and [11] Ibid., 344, 345.
[12] М. Pešić, Draža in the reports of American and British intelligence officers 1941-1944, 80.
[13] Ibid., 80-81.
[14] and [15] R. from. Knežević, Freedom or Death, 367-368.
[16] М. Pešić, Draža in the reports of American and British intelligence officers 1941-1944, 92.
[17] Memorial of the Organization of Serbian Chetniks "Ravna Gora" - The best records of Chetnik emigration, 51.
[18] А. J. Timofejev, Russians and World War Two in Yugoslavia, 344. After: NARA, Declassified: NND 877092 by AB 12/30/2004. Orders to Lt. Col. Robert H. McDowell, AUS from Edward J. Green, Lt. Comdr., USNR. Headquarters company B, 2677th Regiment, Office of Strategic Services (Prov), APO 534, U.S. Army. 15 August 1944.
[19] Ibid., 345.
[20] М. Pešić, Mission Halyard, 202.
[21] NIN, February 8, 2007.
[22] К. Nikolić, History of the Ravna Gora Movement, second third, 245.
[23] М. Aćin Kosta, Sacrificed Serbia 1944, 3112.
[24] R. from. Knežević, Freedom or Death, 374-376; M. Aćin Kosta, Sacrificed Serbia 1944, 3114.
[25] J. Topalović, On Ravna Gora, 518-519.
[26] R. from. Knežević, Freedom or Death, 399-400. Draža's memorandum to Wilson from November 8th: Collection of documents, volume 14, book 4, 400-407.
[27] J. Topalović, On Ravna Gora, 400.
[28] М. Pešić, Draža in the reports of American and British intelligence officers 1941-1944, 274-275, 93.
[29] R. from. Knežević, Freedom or Death, 399-400.
[30] and [31] Patriot or traitor: the case of General Mihailović, 472, 473.
[32] М. Pešić, Draža in the reports of American and British intelligence officers 1941-1944, 92.
[33] В. Pavlović, From Monarchy to Republic, 233.
[34] R. from. Knežević, Freedom or Death, 374.
[35] Ibid., 399-400.
[36] Vlahović R. Staniša, Collection of documents from the British archives. Anglo-Yugoslav Relations 1941-1948, 237-238.
[37] М. Pešić, Draža in the reports of American and British intelligence officers 1941-1944, 275.
[38] H. Neubacher, Special Task Balkans, 194-195.
[39] U. Šušterič, From Ljubljana to Ravna Gora, 83. According to: "Memories of Albert Speer", second volume, Delo, Ljubljana 1972, page 81.
[40] С. R. Vlahović, Collection of Documents from the British Archives, 274.
[41] IAN, Narodni odor sreza Ražanjskog (1944-1955), K-7, f. 3, doc. no. 156/1, f. 13, doc. no. 13/1, f. 28, doc. no. 12/1, K-7, Short Chronicle of Raznja (1941-1945).
[43] Statement of Marko Milunović Piper to the author. Milunović was a Chetnik intelligence officer during the war.


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