MICHAEL LEES – THE RAPE OF SERBIA: The British Role in Tito’s Grab for Power, 1943-1944

Posted on December 6, 2013 by


This book is dedicated to the memory of the victims of the murders
and massacres perpetrated by the Soviet-bloc despots, aided
by their lackeys and dupes. May those truly patriotic Loyalists
who were slaughtered in Yugoslavia in the name of revolutionary
liberation rest more peacefully now that the true nature of the
communist swindle is at last becoming exposed and generally accepted.
We cannot restore their lives but we can, and must, accord
them their proper place in history.
It would be intolerable if the official history of SOE activities
now being written just repeated the hitherto accepted version of
history, which had its origin in communist-inspired disinformation.
The authoritative version must take account of the new information
and analyses coming to light all the time, both in
Yugoslavia and overseas.

Already in my previous memoir I paid tribute to Basil Davidson
for his account of the frivolous shenanigans in the SOE Cairo
(M04) office in January 1943, which possibly determined the tragic
fate of the Yugoslav peoples. This saga, together with his unkind
review of Nora Beloff’s excellent book Tito’s Flawed Legacy, drove
me to undertake an in-depth study of the secret SOE files that
had found their way surprisingly into the Public Records Office
in Kew Gardens, London, England. I wanted to find out what
really happened to cause the U-turn in British wartime policy in
regard to Yugoslavia. I also wanted to know why we British liaison
officers dropped to Mihailović were treated as fall guys and
untrustworthy pariahs.
Thorsons has kindly agreed to inclusion of material previously
published in my war memoir, Special Operations Executed. I
am indebted to Gollancz and the author for permission to quote
from Davidson’s Special Operations Europe. My thanks are due for
permission to quote from Sir William Deakin’s book The Embattled
Mountain, and I am grateful for his replies to questions I put
to him in correspondence. Similarly, I am grateful to Sir Fitzroy
Maclean, Bart., for permission to quote from Eastern Approaches.
I also acknowledge permission to quote from Bickham Sweet-
Escott’s Baker Street Irregular, from Vane Ivanović’s LX Memoirs of
a Yugoslav, and from David Martin’s Patriot or Traitor: The Case of
General Mihailovich. Crown-copyright material in the British Public
Records Office is reproduced by kind permission of the controller
of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.
Although I must stress that those to whom I pay tribute do
not necessarily agree with my conclusions, opinions, and emphasis,
I greatly appreciated the advice of Stevan K. Pavlowitch, one
of the most impressive and totally objective authorities on Yugoslavia,
and the help of Richard Clogg, the well-known historian
of modern Greece, who permitted me to study George
Taylor’s papers in his office at the University of London.
I am also indebted to the university for their publication recording
the so-called Auty-Clogg symposium, formally titled
“British Policy Towards Wartime Resistance in Yugoslavia and
Greece.” At this very exclusive meeting, in an almost unbelievable
way, the lengthy dissertations about Yugoslavia uniformly
evaded the only issue of importance, namely: Should Great Britain
have been in the business of enthusiastically helping a gang
of ruthless communist revolutionaries to exploit Allied recognition
and massive logistical aid in order to kill other Yugoslav patriots
in an out-and-out civil war, while the Germans made good
their strategic withdrawal? But no one thought to disturb the
prestigious ambience with such a vulgar, pragmatic question.
I also record my thanks to Nora Beloff, Roger Scruton, Milan
Deroc, Dominic Flessati, Nikola Pašić, the Reverend James
Coombes, and Charles Crighton, all of whom studied one or another
of my drafts and made valuable, detailed observations. My
brother-in-law, Chips Selby-Bennet, kindly skimmed through my
first draft and reacted as brothers-in-law do, which was fair enough
because that first draft was very rough and excessively aggressive,
reflecting my fury at what I had found in the PRO files. But
“Boadicea” cut me down to size with withering comments and
coerced me to write more soberly on such a tragic subject.
Archie Jack, a very active participant at the Loyalist headquarters
in Yugoslavia, read at least two drafts, contributed a mass
of material, kept up an encouraging correspondence, and constituted
a steadfast father figure throughout. With David Martin,
the real guru, who has fought the disinformation put out against
the Loyalist patriots for nearly forty-five years, I have had a constant
and massive exchange of material and ideas.
I received great help from Sava Bosnić, Heather Williams,
and Staniša Vlahović. The last, with his encyclopedic knowledge
of the location of key documents in the PRO, saved me months
of research. My erstwhile skin-diving companion, Vane Ivanović,
gave me very effective assistance in connection with publication.
The Right Honourable Sir Ian Percival, Sir Richard Keane,
Bart., and Ljubo Sire also very kindly read a draft manuscript
and gave their general comments.
My thanks are due to Sir Brooks Richards, president of the
Special Forces Club, for his patience and tolerance; to Chris
Woods, until recently custodian of the official SOE files and now
chairman of the Special Forces Club historical subcommittee; to
Peter Lee, the former committee chairman and now librarian;
and to Gervase Cowell, Chris Woods’s successor as SOE advisor
at the Foreign Office.
My heartfelt thanks go to Mary O’Sullivan of Barryroe, who
tirelessly typed at least three drafts in her spare time, and to
Catherine Nagle of CMOS Computers, Clonakilty, who is one of
those all-too-rare beings who can actually make a word processor
do what it is meant to. Also to Alan Davies.
My wife served as an officer in the signals-planning section
of SOE Cairo and in Bari and knew many of the people mentioned
in this book. Her recollections have been invaluable.
In conclusion, I want to place on record that I have greatly
enjoyed swapping material and views with Mark Wheeler, the
official historian for SOE activities in Yugoslavia nominated by
the British Cabinet Office. I wish him every success in his task.
Whatever else, it is, I fear, a highly controversial and thankless
one. “Courage, mon vieux” and “Take the self-serving blarney with
a grain of salt” are probably the best counsel I can give him. I
would like to feel that I have followed the latter maxim myself in
this attempt to tell in unequivocal language some unpalatable,
but irrefutable, truths that have been covered up far too long. In
doing so I hope to contribute toward setting the historical record
straight. This is vital for the defense of democracy against future
totalitarian hoodwinking.
May those hundreds of thousands, mostly but by no means
exclusively Serbs, who died in Yugoslavia in fratricidal strife,
fanned by the whims of the leaders of the Great Powers, at least
inspire us to insist: never, never again. The Serbs, a brave and
superbly patriotic people, suffered a holocaust in measure not so
greatly less than that suffered by the Jews: twice, in 1914-18 and
again in 1941-46. In truth their only sin was being in the wrong
place at the wrong time and, on the second occasion, trusting the
Western Allies. Have we no shame?
c is pronounced like ts in fats
č like the ch in beach
ć is a similar sound; the difference is imperceptible to most
Anglo-Saxon ears.
š is like sh in shock
ž is like the s in pleasure
j is like y in yet
ai and aj are like the i in white
Generally, Serbo-Croat spelling is used in this book. Exceptions
are commonly known names such as Yugoslavia (instead of
Jugoslavia) and Belgrade (instead of Beograd). Also I use Cetniks
as the plural (rather than Četnići, which would be correct)
because of its common use.
This book deals with the Yugoslav civil war—a highly controversial
subject. It links my personal eyewitness account of experiences
in 1943—44 with my extensive research of the official
records forty years later. My experiences and conclusions are
sharply at odds with what might best be described as “the British
Yugoslav Establishment view” or, perhaps more aptly, “the victor’s
history.” This version has been assiduously built up over the
years by the communist historians in Belgrade and the protagonists,
supporters, and sponsors of the Tito regime elsewhere,
principally in the United Kingdom. Some time ago I started using
the expression received wisdom to denote this fanciful and distorted
mixture of history, mythology, and left-wing dogma.
Perceived history is, I suppose, semantically more correct. But
received wisdom it is here—and I intend to knock some big holes
in it.
I have also coined the term Loyalist or Loyalist Četniks to identify
the noncommunist national resistance movement commanded
by Gen. Draža Mihailović. The misrepresentation of the
centuries-old term Četnik by communist propagandists, by Axis
disinformation, and by opportunists and bandits seeking to legitimize
themselves obliges us to use something other than “Četnik”
alone. Rather late in the day, General Mihailović, the minister of
war for the legitimate Yugoslav government in exile, endeavored
to call his forces the “Yugoslav Army of the Homeland,” but the
term never caught on because Tito had preempted him by calling
his communist-led Partisans the “National Liberation Army.”
The Mihailović forces also at times used the term Royalist, but
the communists immediately seized on this name as proof that
the Mihailović movement was pan-Serb, which it was not. So
“Loyalist” it is in this book, and I believe that this is an appropriate
My main source of materials was the Public Records Office;
references given in the text relate to documents in the PRO unless
stated to the contrary.
The Antecedents
In future, Mihailović forces will be described not as patriots but as
terrorist gangs; we shall also drop the phrase “red bandits,” as applied
to [Tito’s] partisans, and substitute “freedom fighters.”—British
government directive, early 1944
In the dark, narrow hallway serving as cloakroom and passageway
to the back quarters of the Special Forces Club in London
hang the portraits of Winston Churchill, Marshal Tito, and Gen.
Draža Mihailović.
The portrait of Mihailović—a youthful but studious and
contemplative face—is in the middle, and that is fitting. For this
was the man who was caught in the middle between the two titans
who destroyed him and condemned him to extinction.
It is also fitting that this group of portraits be relegated to a
fusty corner, symbolic of the fudging, the falsifying, the covering
up of history that has taken place for nearly half a century.
Mihailović was the brave Serbian patriot who in May 1941
first raised the flag of large-scale resistance against Hitler in occupied
Europe. For eighteen months he and his Loyalist Četniks
enjoyed acclaim from the free world as an example to other enslaved
peoples. Yet in 1944 Churchill and Tito between them
obliterated the Yugoslav Loyalist movement. Thanks primarily to
British recognition, British propaganda, and overwhelming Allied
logistical and air support, and under the guise of resisting
the German occupation, Tito was able to turn his British and
American guns on his pro-Western countrymen. In an out-andout
civil war, he grabbed power.
Disregarding all of the promises he had made to his British
sponsors, Tito then introduced a brutal, repressive, Stalinist-style
regime accompanied by mass killings and atrocities. Already in
the autumn and winter of 1944, when the Partisan armies invaded
Serbia, helped by the Red Army and the Bulgars, impromptu
massacres had taken place. Even Loyalist guerrilla forces
fighting alongside the Red Army against the retreating Germans
were later disarmed by their Russian comrades and handed over
to Tito’s commissars for disposal. In the case of the officers, that
generally meant execution out of hand. Any opposition, actual
or potential, in the towns or villages in Serbia was crushed ruthlessly.
In May and June 1945 the atrocities reached their peak. The
conscience of the world has recently been stirred by the story—
told all too late—of the deviously conducted forcible repatriation
of 35,000 Croatian and Slovenian home guards and Serbian Četniks,
together with women and children, which was carried out
by the British in Austria. These people, refugees who had been
accepted as such by their captors, were told that they were being
transferred to a refugee camp at Palmanova in Italy. They eagerly
entrained for the journey, only to find after the doors had
been bolted that they were being handed over to Partisan guards
and shunted to Slovenia.
It is now known that they perished at the hands of Tito’s
communists. They were systematically and sadistically slaugh-
tered by specially formed execution squads who had worked out
techniques to ensure that they died and were interred without
trace, most of them in the terrible pit at Kočevje. As with other
Stalinist-inspired massacres in Russia and Poland, everything was
organized in a highly professional manner. No doubt Tito called
in NKVD experts. The purpose was to ensure that the outside
world would not learn what was going on. The experts clearly
gave highly professional advice; the cover-up was successful for
a very long time.
Recently there has been much publicity about the 35,000 because
of allegations that Harold Macmillan, who later became the
British prime minister, was responsible for the repatriations. But
that publicity has diverted attention from the horrible fact that
this 35,000 represented only the tip of the iceberg. There are no
available records or authoritative estimates of the political killings
performed by the communists in Yugoslavia. The officials and
historians in Belgrade have suffered amnesia in this regard. They
would, wouldn’t they? But from what is available from the very
few sources that have had the temerity to touch on this taboo
subject, it appears that a quarter of a million souls in all might
be a realistic figure. That is not a scholar’s figure nor a figure
that can in any way be substantiated. A betting man might even
call it too low. At a Communist Party caucus meeting late in 1945
Tito called for an end to the mass killings, which were still going
on six months after the war had ended. He did so not out of
mercy or any other “bourgeois” weakness but rather because, in
his own words, “no one fears death anymore.” Killing had become
For a nation of fewer than 16 million people at the time, a
quarter of a million dead in secret political killings—after the
deaths on the battlefield—is statistically horrifying. In order to
establish some sort of comparison, imagine a million executions
in the United Kingdom or 4 million in the United States.
Those were the silent killings motivated in part by sadistic
settling of old scores by the hardened communists and in part by
the desire to eliminate any possible focus of opposition to Tito’s
intended permanent takeover of power and the establishment of
a totalitarian state on Stalin’s model.
These secretive, illegal executions were followed by the muchpublicized
trials for which a framework of legality was cobbled
together. Again the Stalinist technique was copied. The object,
of course, was to massage history, to establish the glorious record
of Tito and his movement, and to carry out a public-relations
assassination of rival ideologies. The established ideologies were,
of course, the Serbian Orthodox and royalist traditions in Serbia
and the Roman Catholic church in Slovenia and Croatia. So Mihailović
and Archbishop Stepinac, the Roman Catholic primate
of Yugoslavia, were ideal victims, and their arraignment was stagemanaged
in a glare of publicity. All the stops were pulled out in
order to condemn, in the eyes of the world, Mihailović and
everything he stood for.
It is a shameful fact that Clement Attlee, the British prime
minister from 1945 to 1951, declined a request in 1946 by a disillusioned
and remorseful Churchill, his predecessor, that the
British government should press for a fair trial for Mihailović.
Attlee told Ernest Bevin, his foreign minister, that he could see
no advantage for the British Labour Party in acceding to Churchill’s
request. Mihailović, the erstwhile hero and ally, went alone
and abandoned to his grave. He was executed by firing squad on
July 17, 1946, on a Belgrade golf course.
It is even more shameful that, incredibly, Tito achieved some
measure of success with this Stalinist-style public-relations exercise
and that much of the so-called evidence dished up by the
prosecution at the Mihailović trial has found its way into the received
Churchill’s remorse had come too late. Too late for Mihailović,
too late for a free Yugoslavia. Tito had hoodwinked the
British, and he made no bones about it. “I have outsmarted and
deceived that old fox Churchill,” Tito publicly boasted after the
How had Churchill, cleverest of politicians and strategists, been
so deluded?
Who sold Churchill the idea that Mihailović—the man Hitler
termed an “uncompromising enemy,” whose annihilation was
the key to Axis success in southeastern Europe—was a German
collaborator? Who accepted Tito’s claims of troop strength and
battle victories—claims so preposterous that even Stalin cautioned
Tito against exaggerations too outlandish—and delivered
them to Churchill as fact? And who, conversely, delayed and buried
pro-Mihailović intelligence reports so effectively that there is
no evidence that they ever reached Churchill?
Are we to disbelieve Tito’s postwar ambassador to Britain
who—years later and with no ax to grind then—gave an amusing
account of how he had “indoctrinated” the British intelligence
officer who had Churchill’s ear on matters Balkan? Are we
to ignore Heinrich Himmler’s statement that Tito had “fooled
and humiliated the British and Americans in a most comical way”?
Here a note about the Americans is appropriate. They were
not nearly as gullible as the British. But in the Balkans, a British
sphere of influence, they deferred to Churchill’s judgment, however
unwillingly. “The U.S. government,” Churchill wrote in March
1945, “have never been enthusiastic about our pro-Partisan policy
and it has always been with great difficulty that we have
dragged them reluctantly behind us.” Churchill, at that time, had
just begun to realize how completely Tito had fooled him. He
plaintively mentions the embarrassing chore of having to explain
to the Americans “that after all Tito has not turned out to be
what we hoped for.”
At least the Americans tried to atone for their acquiescence.
A U.S. commission of inquiry fully exonerated Mihailović, and
in 1948 President Harry S Truman awarded him the Legion of
The British have not been so quick to admit the mistake.
Some find it hard to accept, apparently, that our great wartime
leader could have been taken in by a guerrilla from the Balkan
backwoods. Yes, in this matter Churchill was naive. It was not
until May 25, 1945—nearly two years after he had rolled out the
welcome mat for Tito—that it occurred to Churchill to request a
full dossier on him. “Is it true,” Churchill asked in his request
memo, “that he was educated at a communist college?”
It was the British who were deceived and who are clearly
accountable for helping Tito grab power. The Soviets were too
far away to supply Tito during the decisive period—the year 1943
and the first nine months of 1944. But their agents were working
overtime on Tito’s behalf. So were, unfortunately, fellow travelers
and gullible admirers in the West, including some in British
government agencies and secret services. The deception had its
origins in a Soviet-inspired and Soviet-orchestrated misinformation
campaign started in 1942.
Once set on a course, Churchill was always hard to deflect.
Evidently he began to lean strongly toward Tito early in 1943.
The firm decision was reached at the end of 1943 when he ordered
the abandonment of Mihailović after Tito issued the ultimatum:
“It’s him or me.”
It seems incredible that a leader of Churchill’s character and
resolution could have let himself be steamrollered in this way.
After the decision was made, it had to be justified. Mihailović,
the patriot and hero of 1941 and 1942, was first portrayed as
ineffective, then as a collaborator. The communists provided
“evidence” of Loyalist peccadilloes while concealing their own
flagrant, large-scale strategic collaboration with the Germans. Only
a month before the first British mission (team) had contacted them,
three leading members of the Tito clique spent some weeks wining
and dining the Germans in Sarajevo and Zagreb. The two
sides had agreed on a truce to enable the communists to concentrate
on the critical civil-war battle against the Četnik Loyalists
on the Neretva River. In addition to the truce, the negotiators
had discussed a strategic long-term plan whereby the Germans
would help Tito to establish a free zone in the Sandžak Mountains
to the west of Serbia, which was a Loyalist stronghold, in
exchange for Partisan support against an expected Western Allied
landing on the coast of Dalmatia. This plan was vetoed by
Hitler personally. He refused to deal with “communist bandits.”
But the British leadership was about to do just that.
In May 1944 the Germans had mounted a parachute assault
against Tito’s headquarters, capturing his main base. It was only
thanks to the prescience and quick action of Col. Vivian Street,
the chief staff officer of the British mission to the Partisans, that
Tito escaped capture. Together with his mistress and his dog, he
was flown out to the British base at Brindisi, Italy. Although he
was supposed to be a resistance leader, he was accommodated
comfortably and safely under British military protection on the
island of Vis. Vis was formally Yugoslav territory—a fact useful
for face-saving purposes.
Tito expressed his gratitude in typical communist fashion—
with contempt. Without a word to his British allies and protectors,
he sneaked off one fine day in a Russian-piloted plane to
Moscow in order to see the puppet master, Stalin. Tito’s purpose
was to have Red Army divisions diverted into Serbia to drive out
the Axis troops, to forestall the Loyalists, and to pave the way for
communist seizure of power in postwar Yugoslavia.
Having obtained Stalin’s help, Tito became more aggressive
toward his Western Allies every day. In the spring of 1945 he
tried to annex Austrian and Italian territories. These efforts were
thwarted, but they heralded the shape of things to come. Churchill’s
“great guerrilla” ally of 1943 had become Stalin’s satellite
of 1945. And there was nothing the Western Allies could do about
it. By then Yugoslavia was safely behind the Iron Curtain, which
had divided Europe and which permitted the new Red dictators
to ply their despotic trade.
The train of events set in motion by the 1943 decision to
ditch Mihailović and his Loyalist resistance was inexorable. The
hoped-for united resistance of the Yugoslav peoples under Tito
against the German occupation proved the bankrupt illusion it
had always been. The massive Allied support given to Tito was
used primarily to conquer the patriotic Loyalist bastion in the
Serbian heartland. Serbs recruited or conscripted by Tito from
outside Serbia fought their Serbian brothers while the German
army carried out a more or less orderly withdrawal. Had the British
directed all support to the Serbian Loyalists—or at least coordinated
the two resistance movements so that they refrained from
fighting each other—this orderly German retreat could never have
been possible. But British policy now openly fostered civil war.
The BBC, which had heralded Mihailović as a patriot and hero
in 1941 and 1942, was already early in 1944 denouncing the Yugoslav
Loyalist patriots as collaborators and traitors. The subsequent
abandonment of the legitimate exiled royalist government,
and of the monarchy itself, were the inevitable consequences.
In Moscow, Tito had solicited Stalin’s help to draw in the
Bulgarians, as well as the Soviet army, to suppress the Serbian
Loyalists. The Bulgarian army, which had served the German
occupation in Serbia since 1941, became “liberators” overnight.
By the spring of 1945 Churchill, at long last, was totally disillusioned
with Tito. But he lost power to the Labour Party, and
the incoming socialists had neither the time nor the inclination
to worry about the end of a monarchy and the introduction of
Soviet socialism in Yugoslavia. It was a long way away, and in
May 1945 the Western mood was one of euphoria. The Soviets
were still comrades in arms and allies. The West closed its eyes
to the unpleasant developments in Eastern Europe.
In Belgrade, the communist government consolidated its totalitarian
power, crushing all opposition. In true Marxist-Leninist
style it then set about rewriting history to suit itself. In the West—
and particularly in Britain—the supporters of the Tito regime
wrote their heroic versions of what had happened, and their books
became gospel. Titomania became literarily profitable. Over the
years, through constant repetition, the myths and legends became
accepted as fact. In Yugoslavia the few remaining Loyalists
were hunted down. Dissent was silenced. The Tito lobby, inspired
and fostered by the Belgrade communists but enthusiastically
supported by their erstwhile Western sponsors, shouted
down any other versions of history. All of the usual public-relations
gimmicks were called into play. Symposiums were organized
and packed with Tito sympathizers. The Loyalist case—
and the simple truth—went by default.
This warping of history could not have persisted without the
events of 1948. That was when Tito quarreled with Stalin. This
rift in the Soviet united front had nothing to do with ideology
but had everything to do with personalities. Tito simply got too
big for his boots, and Stalin tried to slap him down. To Tito’s
good fortune—or maybe it was his brilliant political instinct—
this occurred when the cold war was at its worst. Western vision,
clouded by wishful thinking, saw a rift in the Iron Curtain that
could be exploited. Tito received considerable financial and moral
help from the West. The rift also gave an enormous boost to the
Titoist public-relations machine in London, which immediately
sprang into action, claiming that Tito’s differences with Stalin
were the direct result of the wartime support given to Tito by
the West. Thus Titomania was revitalized. Yet any serious student
of communism in general and Tito in particular realizes
that Tito’s split with Stalin was not derived from gratitude to the
West. That claim is patently bogus.
The first cracks in the monolithic Titoist gospel appeared
not in the West but in Belgrade itself, early in the 1950s. Milovan
Djilas, one of Tito’s closest collaborators in the wartime hierarchy
and later a vice-president of Yugoslavia, turned revisionist. Vlada
Dedijer, Tito’s personal biographer, joined him. More recently
Veselin Djuretić, a younger-generation historian, published a revealing
work that explained precisely how Tito and his clique
deceived the Western Allies. Still more recently, a war historian
in Belgrade, Miso Leković, published a book entitled The March
Negotiations, which recounts with amazing frankness details of Tito’s
collaboration with the Germans in 1943—precisely at the time
that Churchill was being pressured to support the communist
Partisans and abandon the Loyalists.
Yet in England, Titomania has persisted. As recently as January
1989 an eminent member of the Special Forces Club in
London suggested that the portrait of “that traitor” Mihailović
be taken down so as not to offend the Yugoslav ambassador. It
might have been more in the spirit of these times to suggest that
Tito’s portrait be removed, for who’s to say that he and his despotic
regime will not become officially discredited in Belgrade, as
is happening with Stalinism in Soviet Russia?
This book was born in 1986 when I first visited the British Public
Records Office (PRO) in Kew Gardens, London. I had served
with the Loyalist Četnik forces from June 1943 till May 1944.
From my own experiences I knew that the Titoist gospel was
grotesquely false. But the wall of sponsored Titoite propaganda
was impenetrable. I, and the few other Britons who knew the
truth and tried to tell it, were simply shouted down. Then I published
my War memoirs, British Operations Executed, which I had
actually written in 1949-50 and which told of my experiences in
Serbia with the Loyalists. Because my account gave the lie to the
accepted Titoite gospel, I felt it prudent to search the records for
official documentation that would refute any attempt by the Titomaniacs
to discredit my story.
In the public records in Kew I found a gold mine. In Britain,
secret-service records are classified and kept under wraps for
an indefinite period. The secret services include the Special Intelligence
Services (SIS), also known as MI6; the Counter-intelligence
Service (MI5), and the Special Operations Executive (SOE).
In the PRO’s War Office section, for reasons unexplained, there
is a substantial batch of SOE Cairo files dealing with Yugoslavia
during the key period—from September 1943 onward. These
files seem to have slipped through the classification net. Ironically,
they may well be unauthorized copies removed from the
Cairo SOE office by James Klugmann. Klugmann was a British
officer and an ardent communist, the man said by some to have
recruited the notorious traitor Anthony Blunt for the NKVD
(Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del) in the 1930s. He was
most certainly a communist wartime mole.
Most importantly, these files contain a day-by-day operational
log. It includes most of the signals exchanged between the
missions (British teams) in Yugoslavia and the Cairo SOE headquarters.
The log starts in September 1943 and continues into
1944. The files also contain most of the reports written by the
SOE’s British liaison officers (BLOs) on their assignments with
both the Loyalists and the Partisans. They show policy memorandums
and policy documents. I was able to find my own reports
and signals, along with those of others, detailing sabotage successes
and expressing bitter frustration at the lack of support and
supplies given us operatives with Mihailović’s Loyalists. I was able
to see the difference between this shoddy treatment and that accorded
our missions to Tito’s Partisans. Reading these SOE files
and the Foreign Office files that were released in the normal way,
I was able to build up a very full picture of what really happened
in 1943. This picture was enormously enhanced by a study of
Churchill’s own papers, which are filed under the name “Premier
Series” in the PRO. These show very clearly how the British leader
was misled. Most importantly, I found conclusive evidence of our
missions being lied to by SOE Cairo, of deceptions, and of “dirty
In 1987 the British Cabinet Office decided to appoint an
“official historian” to write a formal history of the SOE’s activities
in Yugoslavia during the war. The appointment was to be made
by the cabinet office’s chief mandarin, then Sir Robert Armstrong,
who became famous for admitting, during litigation in
Australia aimed at suppressing Peter Wright’s book Spycatcher,
that he had been “economical with the truth.” Wright was telling
about dirty tricks in MI5. The desperate efforts made to muzzle
him gave me, and others interested in Yugoslavia, cause for concern
that similar efforts might be made to cover up the appalling
shenanigans that took place in SOE Cairo in 1943 and the almost
unbelievable distortion of history that has been perpetrated ever
since. One had the feeling that the British establishment would
be relieved if the skeletons stayed in their cupboards, thus avoiding
further public disillusionment about communist and fellowtraveler
influence in the secret services.
But they are not going to. In one way or another the truth
must out. The revelations in this book, shocking as they are, do
not give the complete picture. That can come only from a study
of all of the secret files. The official historian has access to them.
Truth should be served.
The main purpose of this book is to right a terrible wrong. Mihailović
was not a collaborator, as Tito and his British sponsors
have repeatedly claimed. He was a true patriot—far more so than
his communist rivals. Where he failed was in politics and public
relations. In those fields he was totally outclassed by the Comintern-
trained Tito and his mentor and master, Stalin. Tito won
the Yugoslav civil war with the political help of the Soviets and
their military presence in the autumn of 1944. But it is my own
honest belief that he could never have done so without the British
logistical help and recognition he received in 1943 and the
first nine months of 1944. He was enormously aided by moles in
the secret services and by self-serving or gullible British protagonists
who set out deliberately to help—or were tricked into
helping—Tito gain power. Above all, Tito was successful in
catching Churchill’s eye when the latter was in an adventuristic
mood. Those who put Tito into power and their disciples may
have wished to justify their actions, but in the name of humanity
can’t they shut up now? The pro-communist bandwagon has had
its day. The widows and children of loyal, patriotic Serbian soldiers
have had to live with the false allegations for more than
forty years. It is time that they saw justice done. If the Soviet
people deserve glasnost, can’t we have it too?
The second purpose of this book is to record the truth for
the sake of the future. At the time of writing Gorbimania is the
order of the day. May he succeed in eradicating Stalinism and
bring the Soviet people out of the evil darkness. But the West
should have no illusions about the spymasters in the KGB. Those
men are professionals paid their salaries to do a job. Their j o b
certainly includes planting moles in our institutions ready for activation
in five, ten, or twenty years’ time.
There is still plenty of potential pro-Soviet material around
in circles of woolly-headed elitists and among gullible or selfseeking
individuals of all political hues. These dupes can be triggered
to provide pro-Soviet background clamor should the Soviet
leadership so desire. The gullibility of so many Western progressives
did terrible harm in the Stalinist era. Can we not learn from
past mistakes? Unrelenting watchfulness and hard-nosed skepticism
are essential for the maintenance of our freedoms.
It was in March 1943 that I found myself a member of SOE
Cairo, then known as M04. I had literally talked my way into the
organization. SOE Cairo security was abysmal at the time, and I
heard of M04 under the pseudonym of “the Tweed Cap Boys”
from a drunken pfficer in the bar of Shepheard’s Hotel. The
barman, who knew it all, directed me to the M04 offices. Fortuitously,
I found that a colonel to whom I had an introduction in
connection with a totally different matter worked for M04. I visited
him and learned that he was going away on operations. So I
returned a few days later to M04 and claimed that I had been
introduced by him with a view to my recruitment into the organization.
I was fobbed off twice. The third time it worked, and I
found myself allocated to the Yugoslav section of M04.
I had come from an airborne brigade and needed no parachute
training. With other prospective agents I was sent on a
course to Camp 102 at Ramat David near Haifa in Palestine. There
we were instructed in the use of most of the small arms available
during the war by a delightful, highly efficient, and virtually incomprehensible
Pole, Stan Lazarewicz. We also had a very good
practical series of classes in explosives and demolitions.
I was intrigued and a little disturbed, however, by the character
and physical-fitness tests. On a night’s forced march that
was little more than a stroll for me, hardened as I was by the
tough training in my parachute regiment, I was surprised to find
that only 50 percent of the trainees completed the march—and
that no one seemed particularly concerned. In another exercise,
two-man teams were sent on the road with instructions to cover
a little over 100 miles on foot in four days, stage a reconnaissance
of secret installations en route, and, at the end of the march,
break into a defended headquarters.
I was shocked that after two days my companion and I were
the only two still following the route. The others had all hitched
a lift home by then. My companion, a game but relatively old
veteran of the First World War, went lame on the third day, and
I finished the exercise alone, carrying out the break-in undetected.
I had to telephone to be collected: the instructors had not
expected anyone to finish. This lack of fitness and determination
of the recruits appeared not to disturb the staff at all, and I found
myself wondering whether I had been wrong in regarding the
exercise as a test of determination and stamina. Perhaps, I thought,
it had been a test of ingenuity and duplicity—in which case I
was the only failure! Later, nothing surprised me in SOE. I frequently
had cause to remember the words of Micky Thomas, second
in command of the 156th Parachute Battalion, on hearing
that I was joining M04: “If you want to get yourself killed, Mike,
that’s your own affair, but don’t cry if you get let down. These
people have a very bad reputation for doing that if it suits them.”
In Cairo the GS02 (general staff officer grade 2) of the M04
Yugoslav section was Maj. Basil Davidson, a tall, clean-cut, classically
good-looking man, with considerable charisma. His appearance
fitted the part. He seemed a straightforward staff officer,
not a regular soldier but a good enough imitation of one. He
briefed me in the most general terms. I had already taken a threeweek
crash course in Serbo-Croat, and my instructor had also
given me quite a good background of the wartime developments
in Yugoslavia. From Davidson I learned that I was to be dropped
as a BLO into southern Yugoslavia, east of Priština, whence I was
to travel south to Macedonia. I was to replace a Major Morgan,
who had been dropped “blind” shortly before; that is, he had
been dropped without a prearranged reception party. Morgan
had disappeared and was presumed captured.
I learned that the guerrillas in my area formed part of the
Loyalist Četnik organization based on the traditional Serbian
Četnik village militia. They were loosely controlled by Gen. Draža
Mihailović, the officially recognized national leader of the resistance
forces in Yugoslavia.
I was given to understand that SOE policy was one of full
support for Mihailović, who had been widely hailed as the first
great leader of overt resistance to the Axis in occupied Europe.
I learned that a considerable number of SOE missions were being
dropped to his commanders throughout Serbia. The existence of
other resistance groups not under Mihailović—outside Serbia and
principally in Croatia and Slovenia—was mentioned only as
background detail. I do remember some reference to communist
“partisans” controlled by a leader called Tito.
In a last briefing Davidson and his intelligence officer, a Capt.
F. W. D. Deakin (now Col. Sir William Deakin) indicated that
there might be some of these “partisans” in Macedonia and that
at some stage the question of helping them too might arise. But
no mention was made of the communist Croats already being
dropped as advance parties to make contact with Tito’s Partisans
in Slovenia and Croatia; this I did not learn about until more
than forty years later. Of course, there was no mention either of
the efforts then underway to make direct contact with Tito’s main
headquarters, which were at that time moving down into Montenegro
from Bosnia.
I do remember very clearly that my briefing contained no
reservations about continued full support of Mihailović and his
Loyalist Četniks. Indeed, the whole atmosphere of my briefing
made the possibility of the Allies changing horses in midstream
unthinkable. I was told that serious aircraft shortages had inhibited
support of Mihailović’s forces, but that additional long-range
Halifax bombers had been allocated and we could count on regular
supplies and support. With the substantial number of missions
dropping to Mihailović’s commanders, and further proposed
missions, we had no reason to doubt that we were part of an
ongoing operation, with the straightforward task of supplying and
training Loyalists in sabotage and demolitions and leading or assisting
them in these operations. The political angle hardly came
into my official briefing. Such political and historical knowledge
as I took with me I obtained principally from my Serbo-Croat
It was also made rather clear to me that it was firm SOE
policy to try to exert the direct control of SOE Cairo over the
resistance movements, and even to take a degree of command
where possible. General Mihailović was the formal leader of the
Loyalist forces throughout Yugoslavia, and the British had a colonel
attached to him, but we were given no signal plans for communicating
with the British mission at his headquarters; all of
our communications were to be funneled through the Yugoslav
section in Cairo, to which we would report and to which we would
be responsible.
Captain Deakin, Major Davidson’s second in command in the
Yugoslav section in Cairo, was an unobtrusive and quiet-spoken
individual, evidently an intellectual. The third member, then a
lieutenant but shortly to be promoted to captain, was a rotund,
rather scruffily turned-out individual, James Klugmann. Klugmann,
seemingly a very human person, fussed around us like a
mother hen. He was charming, solicitous, and enormously helpful
in tending to all our needs: for louse powder, for cyanide
suicide pills, for secret maps, and for any other paraphernalia
that we required or that he thought to be necessary. Walking
around with a cigarette permanently attached to his lower lip, he
inspired great affection and had an encyclopedic knowledge of
almost every subject. I was flabbergasted later when I learned of
his true affiliations and the utter ruthlessness of his underlying
Before setting out on my mission, I met the two senior officers
at SOE in Cairo: Col. Guy Tamplin, who by coincidence had
been in my regiment, the Queen’s Own Dorset Yeomanry, and
Brig. C. M. “Bolo” Keble, the chief of operations of SOE, a bouncy,
domineering individual who gave me a pep talk. It all seemed
very straightforward and very military, and had I thought back
to Micky Thomas’s warning, I would probably have wondered
what the hell he was moaning about.
I gathered together my team, and, one of nine or so such
missions, we traveled up to Derna, boarded a Halifax, and dropped
into Serbia on the moonlit night of J u n e 1 or 2, 1943. We started
our adventure in blissful ignorance of the turmoil going on just
below the surface in the Yugoslav section of M04.
Forty-two years after my drop into Serbia I read a rather offensive
review of Nora Beloff’s perceptive book Tito’s Flawed Legacy
in The New Statesman. The review, by the selfsame Basil Davidson,
the handsome and charismatic staff officer in charge of the
Yugoslav section of M04 in the spring of 1943, angered me so
much that I started a study of just what had happened in Yugoslavia
in 1943 and, perhaps more importantly, just what M04 in
Cairo had been up to in orchestrating events.
On my mission to Yugoslavia I had, of course, experienced
the cataclysmic changes that occurred there, though Tito’s communist
Partisans were only in very limited evidence in Serbia. I
had already left the Balkans when the communist takeover of the
country was consummated, substantially aided by the Red Army
as in Poland, and only rumors of the misery and massacres that
marred the liberation from Axis control reached me. Then, in
the summer of 1946, I learned with sadness of the hunting down
in the mountains, the mock trial, and the subsequent execution
of General Mihailović. The chase had taken more than a year
despite the desperate efforts of OZNA, Tito’s secret police, to
eliminate Mihailović as a possible focus of revolt. From afar 1
watched the Stalinization of Yugoslav society. I also observed, with
regret but without surprise, the anti-Western stand taken by Tito
in the years immediately after the war—so removed from the
almost embarrassingly strong pro-British attitude of the people
of Serbia in 1943. Stalinization in the guise of Titoism made Yugoslavia
in those years as antidemocratic as any country in the
Soviet bloc.
When Tito squabbled with Stalin in 1948 and Yugoslavia became
isolated from her communist allies, I watched the astute
manner in which Tito reharnessed his wartime connections with
the West, again taking advantage of Western and, in particular,
British gullibility until thirty years later he had successfully extracted
some 20 billion dollars from Western banks while giving
nothing in return. Instead he became, like Cuba’s Castro, a fomenter
of anti-Western trouble in the Third World.
Over the years I observed the whole sorry story unfold, but
until Basil Davidson’s review, which reawakened my interest, I
had never really appreciated what caused it all. Then I happened
to come across Davidson’s 1980 book Special Operations Europe.
While I could not help admiring the wit and vividness of Davidson’s
style, my overall reaction was a mixture of surprise, fury,
and disgust. With horror at my own gullibility I recoiled at his
flippant account of the shenanigans that had occurred in the Yugoslav
section of M04 in the last weeks of 1942, just before I
joined. I realized with revulsion that these shenanigans must have
been still reverberating as my team and others were dispatched
by Cairo to the Četniks as if nothing had occurred and no changes
were planned.
Unbeknown to me and, I believe, to most or all of the others
subsequently sent off to join Mihailović, the leading figures of
the Yugoslav section, together with the director of operations,
Brigadier Keble, had pulled off a major coup over the heads of
the entire intervening hierarchy. They had enlisted the help of
Churchill himself, who was on a visit to Cairo, and obtained his
direct authority to modify the policy of giving support exclusively
to the Yugoslav government in exile and its minister of
war, General Mihailović. They obtained Churchill’s permission to
take up contact with Tito.
To contact other resistance groups and particularly those
outside Serbia, the home ground of the Mihailović Loyalists, was
entirely reasonable. It was the motivation, the manner, and the
atmosphere of the doing of it that appalled me in Davidson’s
In fifty stunning pages, Davidson tells his version of what he
calls the “Partisan-Četnik struggle” in Rustem Buildings, the
headquarters of SOE Cairo, then known as M04. It appears from
his story that there was an in-house war involving a large number
of staff of all ranks: from the strange, old-fashioned archivist,
Miss Flannery, from her brash opponent in the filing department,
a senior sergeant, right up to the chief of staff in charge
of operations, Brigadier Keble himself. Although Davidson modestly
describes himself only as “a well-marked Partisan supporter,”
his account indicates that he either was orchestrating this
office struggle or at least would like the reader to think that he
was doing so, and that he was ably supported by Captain Deakin
and, in particular, by Lieutenant Klugmann. But the biggest
joker in the pack was Brigadier Keble himself, who had been
placed in charge of the operational sections of SOE Cairo late in
In my opinion Davidson shows himself in this book and other
postwar writings to be unashamedly—indeed, proudly—of a
strongly left-wing persuasion. Nevertheless, he attaches no political
virtue to Keble’s espousal of the Partisan cause. Indeed, he
attributes to Keble much baser motives, namely, ruthless exploitation
of the situation in order to further personal ambition. Davidson
claims that Deakin was already in 1942 in favor of helping
the Partisans. Moreover, Klugmann was evidently a major factor
in this whole situation, as is hardly surprising.
The evident objective of the “Partisan protagonists” in M04
was to switch support from “that silly old goat Mihadge-lo-vitch,”
as Miss Flannery described the Yugoslav commander in chief, to
Tito. It is clear from Davidson’s book, if not from the mass of
other circumstantial but convincing evidence, that the atmosphere
in SOE Cairo in the closing weeks of 1942, and in particular
the attitudes of the individuals directly involved in the
Yugoslav section, were fundamental to what happened in Yugoslavia
itself in 1943 and constituted a major factor in shaping the
future of Yugoslavia and indeed of the entire Balkans.
SOE security at the time was a sham. How otherwise could I
have talked my way in? But SOE, like its sister organization SIS,
also known as MI6, was a top-secret outfit. Its memorandums
and reports were restricted to the highest military and political
levels, and, as tends to happen in such circumstances, they acquired
a gospel authenticity that, “on security grounds,” could
not be questioned.
There was a compelling mystique about all of the secret organizations
that made it possible for almost anything to be said
and done without accountability; and the attribution to “most secret
sources”—a euphemism for SIS—allowed tendentious and
politically devious material to be fed into the intelligence reports
and into the decision-making machine by those who had a mind
to do so. These included not only those dedicated Soviet moles
such as the infamous Kim Philby—at that time an influential
member of SIS—and left-wing agents of lesser standing in the
socialist hierarchy, but also what one might call amateurs in the
left-wing progressive political spectrum. Yet even today “most secret
sources” wartime memorandums, which make dogmatic assertions
without supporting evidence, are quoted by historians as
An example of this “top-secret” mystique begetting unchallenged
historical “fact” is the story that Keble was privy to deciphered
German signals that revealed the great importance and
massive anti-Axis activity of the Partisans and collaboration with
the Germans by the Četniks. Keble certainly did receive some
intercepts, but nowhere can be found precise detail of what they
contained or how the wide-sweeping conclusions were reached.
We do not know whether there were other intercepts proving
the opposite. Nor is there a plausible explanation of how Keble
managed to get on the superexclusive circulation list for these
deciphered signals. Even to this day the original signals are not
available, and we are simply told the conclusions as indisputable
facts. Over the years these “facts” have been repeated and fed
into history and have thus become accepted as gospel. The “evidence”
of the intercepts was the decisive argument used by the
pro-Partisan faction in Cairo in January 1943. According to Davidson,
it was the major factor in Captain Deakin’s talk with the
prime minister, to which I will shortly refer. Careful study of this
segment of history will show that wherever there is a lacuna in
logic, nebulous “intercepts” are traded out as the clinching argument.
I have gone to some trouble to delve into the question of the
intercepts. It is still largely a closed book, but the little I glean
from persons involved leads me to question very strongly indeed
the significance attributed to this material in relation to Yugoslavia.
I have been told that only about six “Enigma” signals—so
named for the German coding machine, the secrets of which were
discovered by the Allies—relating to Yugoslavia were translated
and circulated. It is hardly conceivable that six signals—or indeed
sixty—not dealing directly with the subject from a politicalanalysis
viewpoint but only with German troop movements and
the effect on them of resistance activity, could have built up a
picture on which major decisions affecting strategic plans could
be based.
Basil Davidson makes no secret at all of his loyalties in Cairo’s
Partisan-Četnik conflict. I do not impute base motives to him. I
am sure he was convinced that the Partisans were the people to
back and that it was his military duty to do so. After all, he stated
in an interview with the Yugoslav paper Danas, “Any national
liberation movement must also be a revolutionary movement. A
movement that is not revolutionary is in its essence not liberational:
it just exchanges one yoke for another.” If what took place
later in 1943 in Cairo was wrong, tragically wrong—as it is the
purpose of this book to reveal—it was more a question of the
wrong men for the job, and of course a lack of control and abysmal
lack of security in M04. Nonetheless, the main responsibility
for the decisive first act in this office play must surely be attached
to Basil Davidson.
Davidson’s book reveals what led to Churchill’s dramatic
modification of the Yugoslav policy when he passed through Cairo
in January 1943. Davidson tells us that “several facts appear.” He
states that Captain Deakin, Davidson’s immediate subordinate in
the Yugoslav section, was a personal friend of Churchill, knew
all of the information in the intercepts, and was in favor of helping
the Partisans. As regards his own role, Davidson says that he
discussed an idea with Deakin: “One cannot order one’s junior
to go to the prime minister over all the intervening hierarchy,
but there is no law against encouraging two friends to meet; nor
is there any limit, if one of them happens to be prime minister,
upon what they may legitimately talk about.”
Davidson goes on to explain that, following a social meeting
with Deakin, Churchill sent for Brigadier Keble, who handed the
prime minister a memorandum. Davidson does not state it explicitly,
but it seems rather likely that he, or Deakin and he together,
wrote the memorandum, which, in Davidson’s words, was
“shrewdly composed.” It recommended that the British go on
supporting Mihailović and the Četniks in Serbia but that support
be given to other evidently effective resistance forces in other
parts of Yugoslavia, notably Slovenia and Croatia, which deserved
support and were getting none. It was suggested that this
move was desirable in order to preempt the Russians or Americans
taking an interest in them, and that for this purpose the
allocation of more long-range aircraft to support SOE’s “four
limping Liberators” was necessary.
As Davidson states, the memorandum itself, which appears
in the Public Records Office in Kew under reference FO 37579,
was not an alarming document. But that was not the point of it!
Indeed, that was not the point of this charade at all.
The document seemed to be based solely on the desire to
solicit the prime minister’s intervention in order to obtain sorely
needed aircraft. Almost certainly that was the main motivation in
Keble’s mind. But, in my opinion, for the key Partisan sympathizers
in Cairo—and surely for the communist Klugmann—it
involved something of much greater importance. It represented
the thin end of the wedge: an authorization to contact Tito’s
communist Partisans under the guise of supporting “other effective
resistance forces in Croatia and Slovenia” in addition to Mihailović
and his Loyalists in Serbia.
Of subtler—but eventually just as great—significance was
the reestablishment of a working relationship between Churchill
and Deakin, right over the heads of the proper channels.
Above all, this meeting effectively demonstrated Churchill’s
intent to take over supervision of the Yugoslav file. As is well
known, Churchill had a particular, almost sentimental attachment
to the Balkans, stemming perhaps from his Gallipoli involvement
in the First World War; and his South African
experiences made any guerrilla operation a matter of interest to
him. He was an adventurist by nature, and he had recently been
dissuaded by his chief of the general staff, later Viscount Alanbrooke,
from a rash plan to invade Norway. The Yugoslav affair
must have fascinated him; it was the only war theater with substantial
guerrilla activity at that stage.
To what extent Churchill’s assumption of a degree of direct
interest in SOE Yugoslav affairs was realized by Lord Glenconner,
the titular and political head of the Special Operations Executive
in Cairo, and by SOE London headquarters is not clear.
But it is from this point on that SOE London and the Foreign
Office increasingly became mere spectators on the scene. If Davidson’s
account is true—and there is no reason to doubt it—the
real center of developments became the self-propelled operational
Yugoslav section in Cairo, under the orders of the chief of
operations, Brigadier Keble. The section became increasingly the
self-nominated champion of the Tito Partisans and underminer
of “that silly old goat Mihadge-lo-vitch” and his Loyalists.
For 1943, the year of decision, the Foreign Office files in the
Public Records Office are massive. They contain detailed memorandums
and discussions of all aspects of the Yugoslav situation.
Decisions were taken, advice was sent, protests were made, conclusions
were reached. But much of this was futile and superfluous,
removed from reality. The real game was being played out
by M04, which exercised remarkable influence over political and
military developments through its control of its missions and
through encouragement, or de facto recognition, of one or the
other of the resistance groups. M04 had day-to-day control over
the allocation of the drops of stores, arms, and communications
equipment; it also determined the priority given to agents’ messages
by the cipher department. A comparison of the PRO’s SOE
files with the Foreign Office files leads to the conclusion that many
times, on many matters, the Foreign Office did not even know
what SOE Cairo was doing. SOE Cairo decided what to tell the
Foreign Office, and more often than not Cairo was plowing its
own distinctive furrow.
The Minister of State’s Office in Cairo was charged with representing
the interests of the Foreign Office and the British Cabinet.
From the attitude the Minister of State’s Office adopted
throughout 1943, as reflected in the Foreign Office files, it must
have gotten the message loud and clear that the Yugoslav section
in M04 was following a line agreed with, and based on the authority
of, the prime minister. In January the key meetings with
Churchill took place under the auspices of the minister of state,
and we have only to guess that he, too, got a nod and a wink
from the Great Man.
At this stage of affairs the wishes of the military had little
bearing on the picture. And where Lord Glenconner fitted into
the unofficial but very real pattern is not clear. It would probably
not be far from the mark to conclude that his role was largely
decorative; his name was used where convenient, and he got no
credit but was useful for taking the knocks.
Thus the Partisan sympathizers had a fair wind.
Although at a later stage other personalities and organizations
became dominant in the British role in Yugoslavia, as will be clear
already from my account of the direct contact established with
Prime Minister Churchill by Captain Deakin and Brigadier Keble
in the last days of January 1943, M04 and its Yugoslav section
exerted a profound influence on what happened in enemyoccupied
Yugoslavia during the decisive period. This was the ten
months between early February and December 10, 1943. During
this relatively short span British policy switched from one of recognizing
the Yugoslav resistance forces commanded by the minister
of defense, General Mihailović, to completely abandoning
them and throwing massive support behind Tito’s previously
outlawed communist movement.
A small handful of people in M04 had a profound influence
on these developments. In this section I delineate the dramatis
personae and the manner in which they affected events.
Deakin: Churchill’s Protege
Fate placed F. W. D. “Bill” Deakin in the hot seat in Yugoslavia.
He has also himself contributed significantly to the historical record.
As Churchill’s literary secretary, he had helped to research
the prime minister’s historical book on the duke of Marlborough
and had evidently made a favorable impression. After joining SOE
London, Deakin was sent to America in 1941 to organize anti-
Axis work in Latin America. This work was vetoed by U.S. authorities
and Deakin returned to London.
In November 1942 Deakin was sent to Cairo. The plan was
to drop him into Yugoslavia to discover the identity of resistance
bands outside Serbia “hopefully organised by the non-Communist
Croat peasant party and by Mihailović’s commander in Slovenia,
Novak,” as Deakin himself wrote later. There was no plan,
and no authority at this time, to drop British liaison officers to
other resistance groups. That first came in a directive to SOE by
the chiefs of staff in March 1943. To prepare for such a widening
of the field, however, was a natural and prudent measure.
Following the Deakin-Keble approach to Churchill in Cairo,
the prime minister on his return to London gave orders on February
12 to Lord Selborne, the cabinet minister responsible for
SOE, that he considered it “a matter of the greatest importance”
to establish the desired closer contacts with the other Yugoslav
leaders. To quote again from Davidson: “With, that is, the leaders
of the Partisans whose locations we had fixed on the map we
had assembled from the SD [Sicherheitsdienst, the German intelligence
service] intercepts.”
Those “Partisans” were, of course, the communist Partisans,
and the leader was Tito, as was already known to those concerned.
Davidson writes that while the Foreign Office might have
been “considering” contact with the Partisans, Keble in Cairo was
doing a lot more than mere considering. If guerrilla war in the
Balkans needed “tuning up,” he knew how to do it. Besides, Keble
possessed from the prime minister an authority to go ahead and
do it that nothing could cancel as long as the order was not withdrawn:
“And it was not withdrawn.”
Indeed it was not. Churchill was so hooked on the idea that
he informed the Turkish foreign minister of his plans even before
he advised SOE London and the War Cabinet.
In April, the first exploratory missions were dropped into
Croatia, and one of them quickly made contact with a Partisan
headquarters. Tito indicated his willingness to receive a British
mission, and Captain Deakin was selected to represent SOE. He
parachuted into Yugoslavia and made contact with Tito’s headquarters
on May 28, 1943.
Basil Davidson tells us that Deakin was pro-Partisan already
at the end of 1942—before his January 1943 meeting with Churchill.
When I put this to him in correspondence in 1988, Deakin
replied, “As to my being pro-Partisan this could be fairly said
after the first British mission to Tito—in the military sense. . . . “
Deakin also advised me that “as to my views on Yugoslav matters
in early 1943 Basil Davidson’s book is not a gospel source.”
At the start Deakin may not have been as dedicated a member
of the pro-Partisan movement in Cairo as Davidson implied,
and his role may have been limited to carrying out Davidson’s
instructions. But this is not the impression one gains from Davidson’s
book. He paints his pictures in striking colors, and Deakin
appears in a central role.
Surprisingly, in his own book The Embattled Mountain, Deakin
makes no reference to approaching Churchill on behalf of the
Cairo Partisan faction. He mentions Churchill’s decision to increase
the number of aircraft available to SOE, but there is no
word about meeting with the prime minister or enlisting his help
in authorizing contact with the Partisans. Rather, Deakin states
that the decision to “make contacts in Partisan territory” was made
by the British general headquarters in Cairo on March 23 and
that it was not even known where the main headquarters of the
Partisan movement were situated. Davidson, by contrast, states
specifically that the identity and location of the Partisans were
known from SD intercepts.
It is all very confusing. Deakin’s January meeting with Churchill
was perhaps the most decisive factor in determining the future
of Yugoslavia. Yet it merited no mention in his book. Is that
not taking modesty a little too far?
The waters are further muddied by this passage from Deakin’s
book: “By chance I had written a personal note through our
Embassy in Cairo to Mr. Churchill, with whom I had worked as
literary secretary before the war, merely telling him that I was
about to leave on a mission to Yugoslavia.” The context implies
that the note was written in May, not January, and that it constituted
Deakin’s first approach to the prime minister. That’s even
more confusing.
This personal note precipitated the Algiers incident, which
demonstrated the extraordinary situation that had developed following
Churchill’s visit to Cairo and the assumption by M04 that
it had been given carte blanche.
On receipt of Deakin’s letter, Churchill, who was preparing
to visit North Africa in June, promptly asked that Deakin come
to Algiers to report to him on affairs in Yugoslavia. The Minister
of State’s Office had to advise Algiers that Deakin had just dropped
into Yugoslavia, but it used the opportunity to forward two
memorandums—emanating from M04—for the prime minister’s
personal attention. These memorandums, in Deakin’s words,
“implied a clear departure from existing policy of exclusive support
for Mihailović.”
But this, too, is an odd statement, because the policy of exclusive
support for Mihailović had already been abandoned in
January by fiat of the prime minister. The abandonment was the
victory of the pro-Partisan side in the Cairo office war.
These two memorandums, which were known only to M04
and the Minister of State’s Office, went much further. They
hammered in the wedge put in place in January. So radical was
the proposed further change of policy implied that Desmond
Morton, the prime minister’s intelligence advisor, actually blocked
the papers before they could get to Churchill.
This incident created an uproar in the Foreign Office. It
demonstrated very dramatically the independent line being taken
by SOE Cairo at the operational level as a result of the unofficial
“authority” given to Keble by Churchill and M04’s broad interpretation
of that authority. It also demonstrated the support given
them in this action by the Minister of State’s Office. It reflected
the evident nod and wink given by Churchill to the minister of
state in January indicating his personal desire to back the Partisans
and if necessary to ignore the views of the proper channels,
namely, the Foreign Office and the military chiefs.
The message to the prime minister that his erstwhile literary
secretary was in Yugoslavia reinforced his interest in the Yugoslav
situation, and he called for regular news of Deakin’s progress.
For his part, Deakin started sending eulogistic signals about
the Partisans’ prowess. These signals, or the main contents of
them, went to the prime minister. Inevitably, a momentum developed.
While credit (or perhaps, better said, the main responsibility)
must go to Basil Davidson for initiating and winning the
Partisan-Četnik office war in Cairo, at this stage Deakin effectively
took over the baton. Operating mostly in the background,
he became a key, and frequently the key, figure in the British
sponsorship of the Partisan movement and thus of the communist
takeover in Yugoslavia. He has also remained a key influence
in the unquestioning support given by historical and academic
circles in England to the Belgrade public-relations machine in its
propagation of the myths and legends created by the Tito movement.
Vane Ivanović, a Yugoslav shipowner, consul general for Monaco
in London, and a man of stature, has written very succinctly
about Deakin’s role in obtaining recognition of Tito as the leader
of Yugoslav resistance and in the creation of the subsequent historical
record. In his book Memoirs of a Yugoslav he acknowledges
his personal friendship for and indebtedness to Deakin, with whom
he attended school at Westminster. He clearly wishes to be very
fair. He states that it was unquestionably Deakin who was decisive
in persuading Churchill to initiate the shift in policy in January
1943 and to authorize an independent mission to the
Partisans “without reference to SOE London.” He goes on to point
out that Deakin’s subsequent reports were based exclusively on
Partisan sources except for what he himself saw in the Mount
Durmitor battle—”in which he acquitted himself valiantly.” Ivanović
goes on to point out that “Whatever its reliability, it was
Deakin’s military information and assessment that Maclean [Brig.
Fitzroy Maclean] accepted in toto when he arrived at Partisan
headquarters in the following September for his first stay, for,
then, by his own account in Eastern Approaches, he himself saw no
It was following this first stay of less than three weeks that
Maclean recommended to Churchill not only that the Partisans
be given massive support but also that the Allies abandon Mihailović.
Deakin wrote of his own December 1943 report to Churchill,
“As I talked I knew that I was compiling the elements of a hostile
brief which would play a decisive part in any future break between
the British government and Mihailović.” But Deakin was
reporting to Churchill what he had learned from Tito Partisan
sources. And Tito wanted Mihailović abandoned and liquidated
at all costs because he represented the one obstacle that could
prevent Tito from snatching power after the war.
Ivanović writes further, “I cannot, especially writing today,
dismiss this evidence that the military evaluation so made by
Deakin and Maclean (through which the meanest intelligence staff
officer could have driven a coach and four) was, or could have
been, the SOLE ground for the acceptance of the partisans as a
fully fledged fighting force. The whole operation reminds one of
the Runciman mission sent to Czechoslovakia before Munich in
Following his return to Cairo in early December 1943, where
he again met Churchill, Deakin became head of the Yugoslav
section of M04, then renamed Force 133. Later he dealt with
Yugoslav affairs, advising the new, specially formed, British-commanded
Balkan Air Force and working with the political representative
of the commanding officer of the Allied Mediterranean
Forces. The base headquarters of the Maclean mission with Tito,
then called 37 Military Mission, and the Yugoslav section of SOE
also came under operational command of the Balkan Air Force
in June 1944. So Deakin remained very much at the heart of
Yugoslav affairs.
Subsequently Deakin went to Belgrade, where he became first
secretary with the British embassy. To quote from Ivanović again:
He stayed, I think, till the end of 1945, if not longer. During
this period the newly formed Tito government disregarded
all the promises made to the British and other Allied Governments
to let the peoples of Yugoslavia choose their postwar
Constitution or Government. . . . Perhaps Foreign
Office documents of the period, still to be released, will throw
light on Deakin’s own role in Belgrade at that time, so decisive
for us in the consolidation of Communist power.
There has been no symposium or discussion in Great
Britain or elsewhere in Europe on the role of SOE in the
last war in which Deakin has not taken a prominent part. In
each of these, the version of events in Yugoslavia that has
been aired is that of the victorious pro-partisan faction inside
SOE. On the British side, I have not come across any
views or interpretations of the other side within SOE.
If any individuals on the British side can be selected as
decisive in the choice of the Partisans as the guerrilla force
to be backed, they are Churchill and Deakin. The dogged
and the pitiless role of carrying this policy through to the
bitter end was Maclean’s.
Maybe Vane Ivanović underestimates the role of Davidson,
a more dominant character and, according to my reading of his
book, the initiator of the Cairo Partisan-Četnik office war. He
was also Deakin’s superior officer at the time. Whatever Deakin’s
influence was with Churchill and whatever pitiless role was played
by Maclean later, to Davidson must—on the basis of his own
account—go the prime credit of it all. The irony of it is that
Maclean was accorded very special recognition by Tito. Deakin,
who —as Ivanović points out—did a great deal for the Tito regime
both during and after the war, has had only limited recognition,
while the man who seems to have started it all, Basil
Davidson, has received the least of the three.
Davidson spent about fifteen months in a nerve-wracking
British liaison officer’s job in a really dangerous area. Deakin spent
a few spectacular weeks in the Mount Durmitor battle but saw
little more fighting. And Maclean’s books reveal that he saw very
little action at all with the Partisans. His job was mostly at the
high headquarters level. Grounds for thought?
Klugmann and His Canadian Communist Croats
James Klugmann attended Gresham’s, one of the smaller British
public schools. Also at Gresham’s at various times were Donald
Maclean, later to become a notorious traitor, and two other very
conventional, apolitical individuals. The first, Terence Airey, was
to become Gen. Sir Terence, a distinguished soldier. The other,
Archie Jack, had only a brief association with Gresham’s, in that
he attended its preparatory school, but it is intriguing to bring in
his name here because it was he who, in September and October
1943, carried out with Mihailović Loyalist help the demolition of
five railway bridges, including the 450-foot single-span bridge over
the Drina River near Višegrad. This really important sabotage
took place at a time that Klugmann, in M04, was doing his utmost
to paint Mihailović as a collaborator and replace him with
his communist rival Tito.
After Gresham’s, Klugmann gained a double first in modern
languages at Cambridge University. Intellectually he was brilliant.
He was also a dedicated member of the Communist Party.
He joined in 1933 and remained in the party until his death in
1977. He was the main architect and organizer of the left-wing
student movement, and not only in Cambridge. With Guy Burgess,
the spy, he recruited for the Oxford communist cell as well.
He was also secretary of the Rassemblement Mondial des Etudiants
(the Student World Assembly) based in Paris, and in this
role he became involved in recruiting for the International Brigades,
the military units formed to serve with the republican forces
in the Spanish Civil War and comprising idealists, socialists, and
a strong sprinkling of communists.
Klugmann’s activities have been dealt with extensively by
Andrew Boyle in The Climate of Treason, by Barrie Penrose and
Simon Freeman in Conspiracy of Silence, and by many others who
have written about the Cambridge set. It is clear from their accounts
that he was not only an overt communist, he was also a
central figure in putting together the covert communist organization
that penetrated the British secret agencies and even the
Foreign Service. He acted as recruiting sergeant for David Haden-
Guest, a dominant figure in the extreme left-wing circles at Cambridge.
He worked closely with Burgess, and it has been claimed
that together they recruited Anthony Blunt, who later turned
traitor. Klugmann was also close to Donald Maclean, both at
Gresham’s and at Cambridge. Klugmann’s sister Kitty was engaged
to Maurice Cornforth, another well-known left-winger, and
there is a story that she acted as communist courier carrying messages
to her brother in her panties. Among many others he allegedly
recruited was John Cairncross, who worked for General
Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) on intercepts and for SIS
on Yugoslav affairs. Klugmann was no dilettante playing at communism
because it was fashionable. He was a professional, totally
dedicated and enormously hardworking. He may have been the
best man the Soviets had, even including Philby, because he had
no weak spots. He was outwardly charming and human, but inwardly
he was a hard man.
Klugmann went to Cairo as an enlisted soldier in the Pioneer
Corps, the British army’s auxiliary labor force. Whether
his open membership in the Communist Party prevented him
from gaining a commission earlier, I do not know. There is a
story that a fire at Wormwood Scrubs destroyed official records
that classified him. In Cairo he was spotted by Terence Airey,
working in the Special Intelligence Branch, who recognized
Klugmann’s brilliance and helped him gain a commission in SOE
in February 1942. He made captain in May 1943 and major
in the spring of 1944, when he was transferred to Bari, Italy.
He was the one staff officer involved in policy, intelligence, and
operational briefings who remained in the Yugoslav section
throughout. He was in a key position dealing with the British
liaison officers and their signals, supplies, and reports. After Davidson
left in August 1943, Klugmann must have been greatly in
demand to advise higher authority and to draft top-level memorandums.
He was the anchor pin of the section with his unrivaled
background knowledge and his remarkable intellectual and linguistic
Basil Davidson, in his review of Nora Beloff’s book, poured
scorn on the theory that Klugmann could have had any influence
on the decision to contact the Partisans: ” T h a t . . . a second lieutenant
could have exercised any operational influence whatsoever
is almost as daft as supposing that the ‘key people’ were
engaged in subversive conspiracy.” But the former proposition is
not daft at all, as Davidson himself made abundantly clear in
Special Operations Europe. In this epic of the bureaucratic war in
SOE Cairo we meet James Klugmann already on page 83, and
the following four pages are devoted to what can only be described
as eulogy extolling the intellectual capacity, the politics,
ancTthe key role of James Klugmann. Writes Davidson: “It could
even be called the Klugmann period and it changed a great deal.”
Klugmann reappears for the whole of page 100, then on
pages 111, 112, and 114. We are told of the strange friendship—
considering the difference in rank—between Keble and Klugmann.
On page 122, Klugmann the lieutenant is pushed into the
lavatory by Keble the brigadier to hide him from security personnel,
who are looking for him for some unspecified reason. It’s
hardly the story of someone without influence.
Apart from making himself useful as the source of all knowledge,
Klugmann was very special because it was he who was looking
after the Canadian communist Croats. Now this is one of the
SOE mysteries that I have struggled to unravel without total success.
British policy until January 1943 was firmly linked to the
exclusive support of the Loyalist forces of General Mihailović.
There was no authority to have anything to do with other forces
until Churchill’s Cairo visit in January 1943, and there was not
even any discussion of backing the communist-led Partisans before
mid-1942. Yet at the end of 1941 Col. S. W. Bailey, an old
hand who had been in SOE from the beginning and with its predecessor
organization in Yugoslavia before the German invasion,
goes off to North America and rapidly gets caught up in a program
of recruiting Croatian-born members of the Communist
Party from the Canadian mining community. In this he worked
closely with the Canadian Communist Party and its general secretary,
Tim Buck. A special SOE training camp, called Camp X,
had been set up in Canada, and these Croatian communists were
trained there for dropping into Yugoslavia.
This recruitment was intended to bring in one hundred recruits.
In the end about thirty went off to Cairo. They immediately
came under the control and assiduous care of James
Klugmann. Davidson says the Croats idolized Klugmann.
Helping Colonel Bailey in Canada was Capt. William Stuart.
Stuart had been in the British consulate in Zagreb before the
war. In Canada he was recruiting the Croats for SIS. He was
dropped into Yugoslavia together with Captain Deakin. He was
killed by a bomb a few days later. Deakin and Tito were both
slightly wounded by the same bomb.
Stuart was replaced in Canada late in 1942 by another SIS
man Maj. Robert Lethbridge, who gave his name to the Lethbridge
Mission, a villa in Cairo where the Croatian communists
were subsequently housed. This setup was looked after by James
Klugmann, and he was helped by Didi Stuart, Captain Stuart’s
widow “Lethbridge” is also the classification given in the Public
Records Office in Kew to the batch of SOE files that, mysteriously,
landed there through War Office channels and thus became
released to the public under the Thirty-Year Rule when
the main SOE files remained classified, and still so remain. It
seems probable that these were actually Klugmann’s own copies.
They start around September 1943, that is, just after Basil Davidson
left on a mission and at the time that Klugmann moved up
a peg in the Yugoslav section hierarchy. They are relatively comprehensive.
If these were indeed Klugmann’s files, that confirms
not only that M04 security was lax but also that Klugmann was
in an absolutely key position in the M04 organization from September
1943 onward.
As I mentioned earlier, Captain Deakin was in New York on
another mission early in 1942, and Vane Ivanović, in his Memoirs
of a Yugoslav, states that Deakin was working with Bailey and Stuart
in Canada on the recruitment of the young communists of Croat
origin. Surprisingly, in a recent letter to me Deakin categorically
denied having any knowledge of “the Canadian project” until he
learned of it in Cairo at the end of 1942—though he had met
Bailey and Stuart in New York earlier that year.
Deakin was in SOE London after returning from New York.
It is strange that he learned nothing of the Canadian communist
Croat recruitment even in London. But the whole affair was so
alien to official policy that one wonders whether anyone in London
knew of it.
The first recruits arrived at Camp X on July 22, 1942. Allowing
for the establishment of relations with Tim Buck, the Communist
Party leader, the project must have been thought up sometime
in the spring of 1942, if not earlier. There had indeed been a
plan in 1941 in SOE London to recruit former Yugoslav members
of the International Brigade who had ceased to be communists,
in order to send them on a mission to find out who Tito
really was.
But such a plan would not encompass the recruitment of the
communist Croats. These men had not been serving in the International
Brigades in Spain. They were mostly miners who had
emigrated to Canada. Furthermore, they had not ceased to be
communists. On the contrary, they remained fervent members
of the party.
Although Klugmann became their minder in Cairo, the decision
to recruit them was taken elsewhere, in London or conceivably
in Canada, and certainly not by Klugmann or for that
matter by Keble or Davidson. The project is said to have been
one of the subjects of a secret meeting on August 8, 1942, involving
SOE, SIS, and the Foreign Office. But recruits were al-
ready in the pipeline long before then. Had someone, somewhere,
planned it all a long way ahead? If so, on whose authority? There
was certainly no authorization through the proper channels to
recruit a whole raft of communists at a time when the British
government was committed to supporting the Loyalists.
The new Croatian government’s genocide program against
the Serbs in 1941 had caused the question of Serbian-Croatian
relations to become highly sensitive both within Yugoslavia and
outside. Mihailović’s movement was predominantly Serb. The recruitment
of communist Croats raised an explosive ethnic question
in an already touchy political situation. Bailey must have
known this, as must have SOE London.
SIS, was, of course, most secret. It was a pure intelligence
organization, supposedly without political function. But in fact it
was deeply penetrated by communists and communist sympathizers.
The Yugoslav desk of SIS in its Broadway headquarters
in London, known as ISLD (Inter-Services Liaison Department),
was occupied by John Ennals. The Cairo desk of ISLD was manned
by James Miller. Both Ennals and Miller had been at Cambridge
in the 1930s. Ennals, for one, was very forthright about his allegiance.
When he left his desk job at ISLD to drop into Yugoslavia,
he said he felt his task had been completed. It had, indeed.
Yugoslavia had been secured for communism by then.
It is just conceivable that a plan to recruit Croats—of any
persuasion—was formulated at SIS and later expanded to include
SOE. It is also conceivable that Bailey in his muddled way
drifted into looking for communist Croats, as the easiest to recruit,
on his own responsibility. Bailey’s vagaries and arbitrary nature
are striking. More on this later.
The mass recruitment of the Canadian communist Croats
remains a puzzle and raises unanswered questions. If it was not
part of a sinister plan, then someone, somewhere, apart from
Bailey was being very maladroit. Who thought of the plan? Why?
And who authorized it? These questions remain unanswered. They
are key questions because the case of the communist Croats is
symptomatic of the unquestioning pro-Partisan atmosphere that
seems to have pervaded M04 even before Deakin dropped to
Tito. Even if it turns out, as it very well may, that it was all an
incompetent muddle, we still need verification that this was the
case. History requires this information from the SOE files.
James Klugmann became the mother superior of the thirty Canadian
communist Croats when they arrived in Cairo, and, as
will already be obvious, he was the ideal round peg in a round
hole. Basil Davidson tells us also about Klugmann’s “brilliant”
handling of the rough-hewn Croatian miners. I urge the reader
to beg, borrow, or steal a copy of Special Operations Europe, which
will tell him in a very readable, though flippant, manner all about
this and much else. Although my views on Yugoslavia, on politics,
and probably on much else differ from those of Basil Davidson,
I would be happy if his book were made compulsory reading
for students of politics and more especially for those studying the
rise and fall—and the ethics and morality—of the liberational
revolutionary illusion promoted by the communists to further
Soviet imperialism. It is a very interesting subject in these days,
when the beautiful but sensitive flower of glasnost is peeping
through the surface of the fifty-year-old swamp of Stalinist brainwashing.
The Kremlin knew all about the communist Croats, a leading
member of the Croatian team told Borba, a Yugoslav daily,
after the war. The relevation in the spring of 1942 that the British
secret services were recruiting communist-inclined agents on
this scale must have been music to the ears of Moscow. It obviously
gave encouragement to the communist Partisans in Yugoslavia.
Vladimir Velebit, a leading member of the postwar
Yugoslav government and later ambassador to Britain, has publicly
said that Tito’s inner circle was amazed at the number of
communists in the British secret services. He was not, one assumes,
referring only to the Canadian-Croatian miners.
It was probably no coincidence that it was at this juncture—
the Croat recruitment—that Moscow came down off the fence
and started spreading pro-Tito and anti-Mihailović propaganda
through its public-relations agents around the world. As has been
explained vividly by Milovan Djilas, then number three in the
Partisan hierarchy, the Russians were very careful not to frighten
the Western Allies off. Until the middle of 1942, they took pains
to pretend that they knew nothing of Tito’s setup. They had even
established relations with the royal Yugoslav government and made
noises about sending a mission to Mihailović. In the summer of
1942, however, the radio station Voice of Free Yugoslavia (also
known as Radio Free Yugoslavia), which operated from southern
Russia, started to attack Mihailović.
Once the communist Croats had been recruited and shipped
to Cairo, they had to be put to use. That was obvious. It was also
obvious that their political persuasion made them suitable to support
only one resistance group—Tito’s. The decision by the chiefs
of staff in March 1943 to contact “hopefully non-communist” resistance
groups was circumvented. Rapidly, three teams were deployed
to the Tito Partisans. This was not exactly what the chiefs
of staff wanted. But it was what they got. These Croats formed
the spearhead of the missions to Tito. Strangely, their signals
and reports were later given credence far beyond those of us
apolitical British officers attached to the Loyalists. No one seems
to have taken their political tendencies into account when assessing
their evidence. One of them, Steve Serdar, later contributed
substantially to dossiers alleging collaboration by Mihailović. No
one thought to question Serdar’s politics.
Deakin’s interpreter was another of the communist Croats,
one Ivan (John) Starčević. In The Embattled Mountain Deakin tells
us, “I was ill-qualified in Serbo-Croat and he was nominally allotted
to me as interpreter. If he had any other duties, I never discovered
them. There were many times during the coming months
when I was grateful for his presence.” One asks the precise significance
of “nominally allotted.” One also asks why a noncommissioned
interpreter should have “other duties” unknown to the
mission commander.
Whoever authorized it, and whatever the precise motivation,
the decision to recruit these men was a milestone on the road to
abandoning the Loyalists.
The freedom given Klugmann, a known leading communist, to
read the secret M04 signals, to brief and debrief agents, and
to wander off in the evenings holding political meetings with the
Croats recruited through the Communist Party is amazing. It is
all the more extraordinary in light of the seven-year sentence
given Lt. R. N. Uren, a junior officer in the SOE London Balkans
section, for transmitting secret information from the SOE
archives to the Communist Party in Great Britain. This draconian
treatment of a petty communist contrasts strangely with the
leeway given Klugmann, who was to play an increasingly influential
and sinister role later in 1943 and in 1944.
Klugmann was directly involved in the Yugoslav section of
M04 and its successor organization Force 133, and then in 37
Military Mission, the base headquarters of Brigadier Maclean’s
mission to Tito, until the end of the war. He then went to Yugoslavia
working for U.N.R.R.A. (the United Nations Relief and
Rehabilitation Agency). After that job finished, he worked in
London for the British Communist Party, organizing strikes in
British industry. Peter Wright tells how John Cairncross was offered
a chance to return to the United Kingdom without prosecution
if he could make Klugmann talk to MI5 about the
communists in the 1930s. But Klugmann was a hard man and
laughed at him. Having substantially contributed to Tito’s grab
for power, he turned against Tito on Soviet orders, writing a
book against him in 1948. Later, when the Soviets relented, he
recanted. In 1977 he died while writing a book on British communism.
He was the total apparatchik.
Bailey: The Enigma
While Davidson, Deakin, and Klugmann were the three key officers
in the Yugoslav section, this rundown of personalities would
not be complete without bringing in Colonel Bailey. S. W. “Bill”
Bailey was an old SOE hand who came to North America from
Istanbul and Jerusalem. Before the war he had worked for the
Trepća Mines in Yugoslavia and was fluent in Serbo-Croat. He
was a man of considerable literacy, and his dispatches show he
knew more about politics than about soldiering. It was not surprising
that he, as the doyen of the Balkan contingent, was named
head of the mission with Mihailović.
Bailey is the enigma, the mystery man, in the whole strange
process whereby the Yugoslav section of M04 Cairo became involved
in the Yugoslav revolutionary movement. Basil Davidson,
as he tells us in his book, was caught in the ripples and swept
along, himself helping substantially in the buildup of this movement.
But the movement had started earlier, at least as early as
the Canadian project.
How could Bailey, with his knowledge of the political and
ethnic situation in Yugoslavia, let himself become involved in the
massive recruitment of Croatian communists—let alone initiate
it? It just does not make sense. He was a soldier under orders,
but that does not answer the question either. The scope of his
orders issued on December 31, 1941, included the selection and
vetting of recruits from the Balkan emigre groups for training in
subversive work in occupied Europe. The files show that London
had an exchange with him about the vetting of some earlier recruits
found in the United States and he had confirmed that he
was checking their personal histories “from the national political
point of view.” So why does he move to Canada, make contact
with the Communist Party, and recruit a bunch of Croatian communists
who would surely not pass muster from any “national
political point of view”?
William Stevenson’s book The Man Called, Intrepid tells the story
of the “quiet Canadian,” Sir William Stephenson, who was the
chief of the joint SIS/SOE operation in North America, known
as British Security Co-ordination (BSC), and to whom Bailey was
acting as political advisor. Stevenson eulogizes the Tito movement
and deals in general terms with the recruitment of Croatians
and their training at Camp X in Canada. Before Bailey moved
to Canada from the United States the agents recruited by him
came through a contact of “Wild Bill” Donovan, head of OSS,
the American Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the CIA.
Did Stephenson or Donovan introduce Bailey to the Comintern
agent Nikola Kovačević or the Canadian Communist Party’s secretary
general, Tim Buck, and did Stephenson fail to consult
London? The recruitment of communists on this scale in early
1942 could hardly have happened had SOE London realized what
was being done. According to the Foreign Office files SOE and
the Foreign Office were forthrightly opposed to supporting the
Tito Partisans right through to about April 1943.
In Spycatcher, Peter Wright states that the Soviets were operating
a number of agents inside BSC in New York. One of
them he names as Charles Ellis, who was Stephenson’s SIS deputy
there “for most of the war.” Was Ellis the key in this mystery?
Did Ellis introduce Buck and persuade Stephenson to overrule
Ellis is also mentioned extensively by Chapman Pincher in
his book Too Secret for Too Long. The book alleges that he spied
for both the Germans and the Russians and that he enjoyed the
protection of the head of SIS Security, none other than the notorious
Kim Philby.
Vladimir Velebit, Tito’s main contact with the British both
during and after the war, wrote in his memoirs that the Canadian
communist Croats were recruited through the influence of
“leftist elements in the British intelligence services.” SOE London,
which was formally responsible, was headed by Sir Charles
Hambro along with Col. George Taylor, Maj. Peter Boughey, and
Colonel Pearson. Other than Pearson I knew them all and can
say that it would be hard to find individuals less likely to be described
as “leftist elements.” As for Pearson, it is clear from Foreign
Office correspondence with SOE that he was the most
conservative of them all. So if the “leftists” were not in SOE
London, then where were they?
Later in this book I recount how Fitzroy Maclean tells a story
of a signal that was dispatched from Cairo to the prime minister
falsely using the signature of General Wilson, commander in chief
of the British forces in the Middle East, when M04 was trying to
sabotage Maclean’s appointment as liaison officer to Tito. Did
some leftist element in London forge a signal under the name of
Sir Charles Hambro or George Taylor, countermanding Bailey’s
instructions to vet recruits from a “national political” point of
view and directing him instead to switch to communists? It may
read fancifully, but as this story develops, it will be seen that far
dirtier tricks were perpetrated in the Yugoslav affair.
From Canada Bailey was sent to Cairo to join Mihailović and
to replace Maj. Bill Hudson, who had been in Yugoslavia since
September 1941. It was planned to drop Bailey in August 1942,
but he contracted malaria and did not go until Christmas Eve.
One has to ask: What did Bailey think of it all in Cairo
between August and December 1942? How did he reconcile
the atmosphere in M04, as reflected in Davidson’s account
of the doing-down of “that silly old goat Mihadge-lo-vitch” in
the Partisan-Četnik office war, with his own mission to the Yugoslav
commander in chief?
It seems inconceivable that Mihailović was not aware of Bailey’s
activities in North America. He had communications with
the government in exile, which would have known what was going
on in the emigre communities. The recruitment and training of
a substantial number of emigre Croats could hardly have escaped
notice. The Kremlin certainly knew!
In his book Camp X, David Stafford states explicitly that several
meetings were held between Bailey and top leaders of the
Communist Party in Canada. On being asked why he was only
seeking communists, the book recounts, Bailey replied that only
the communists were really fighting. One can imagine a ludicrous
scenario. Bailey drops into the Loyalist headquarters a couple
of months later: “How do you do, General Mihailović. I’ve come
to help you. I’ve just been recruiting communists for Tito because
only the communists are really fighting.”
Bailey’s voluminous signals and reports after he parachuted to
Mihailović make it evident—by lack of mention—that his Canadian
venture was never brought up between him and Mihailović.
Bailey’s reports do show, however, that his relations with Mihailović
were not on a colleague-to-colleague basis. Mihailović, who
surely knew of the British recruitment of the communist Croats
and Bailey’s close involvement with it, must have been very suspicious
of him personally from the start, particularly when Bailey
failed to come clean about it.
Nevertheless, Bailey’s arrival must have raised Mihailović’s
hopes of receiving some real support. In the fifteen months from
his first contact with the British until Bailey’s drop, the Loyalists
had received less than thirty tons of supplies. When Bailey arrived,
Mihailović had every reason to be optimistic, particularly
following the tremendous BBC buildup of his movement in the
earlier part of 1942.
Actually, the BBC hype did more harm than good in Britain
because it awoke unattainable expectations of massive operational
activity by the Loyalists. It also went counter to the instructions
given to Mihailović by his government, and the advice by
SOE, to avoid fighting that could provoke reprisals until the time
was ripe for a general uprising. Quite specifically, the Yugoslav
government—presumably with the approval of the Foreign Office
and of the Political Warfare Executive (PWE)—broadcast a
message on the BBC in November 1942 telling Mihailović to
conserve his forces and his energy. This was a thoroughly correct
attitude in the light of Hitler’s order in October 1941 to execute
100 Yugoslavs for every German killed and 50 for every German
wounded. An October 1941 massacre at Kragujevac included all
students at the local high school. The Germans admitted to 2,300.
Yugoslav literature claims 7,000. The total number of Serbs shot
in the 1941 uprising exceeded 35,000. The Germans even took
hostages in advance and stored them up for execution when the
quota called for it.
Significantly, the BBC broadcast advising Mihailović to conserve
his forces was made in November 1942—the very time that
Keble, Davidson, and even the Foreign Office were wondering
whether resistance could not be gingered up. It may be a case of
the left hand not knowing what the right was doing. But it could
also have been a very astute move by left-wing influences in the
BBC or the PWE, encouraging the broadcast in order to throw
doubt on the efficacy of the Loyalists at a time when attention
was becoming centered on Yugoslav resistance.
It is also possibly significant that Guy Burgess had an advisory
role at the BBC and was a member of the Joint Broadcasting
Committee from January 1941 to June 1944. He also had
free run of the ministry of information and the PWE. Brendan
Bracken, the information minister, was close to Churchill, and
through him Burgess had a channel to drop the odd hint at the
highest level.
There are references in the Foreign Office files showing
concern about the Yugoslav slant of the BBC, and the false attri-
bution of Loyalist operations in September through November
1943 to the Partisans did untold harm to our relations with the
Loyalists, as I myself came to experience.
Whether or not there was manipulation of the advice broadcast
to him, Mihailović was the recipient of virtually no material
support, despite being the hero of the resistance and the minister
of war of the exiled government. Sadly, Bailey’s arrival changed
nothing, which must have been a very considerable disappointment
to Mihailović.
Only two drops were made between Christmas 1942 and a fateful
christening party in Lipovo in February 1943, attended by
Mihailović’s headquarters staff. This party represented another
milestone on the road to the abandonment of the Loyalists. As
was not abnormal on such occasions, everyone had a good boozeup
and Mihailović made a controversial speech. In it he complained
bitterly of the lack of support and referred to the
communists and the Croatian ustaša as his worst enemies. This
was quite reasonable. The ustaša—the Croatian equivalent of the
German SS (Schutzstaffel)—had committed massive genocide
against the Serbian minority in Croatia. Now it was totally allied
with the Germans. As for the communists, they eventually took
over the country and carried out judicial murder against Mihailović
personally. The speech was therefore both correct and prescient.
It is significant that Mihailović bracketed the ustaša and the
communists together. The ustaša and the communists had cooperated
before the war when they were both illegal organizations
dedicated to the overthrow of the Yugoslav government—”that
creature of Versailles,” as the communists called it. Tito’s publicrelations
men have always concealed this historical fact. This prewar
communist-wstaia link made it easy for ustaši (the members
of the ustaša) to change sides and join the Partisans when it became
obvious that the Germans would be defeated.
It was typical of Bailey that he, instead of quietly suggesting
to Mihailović that his words were a bit strong—or even ignoring
the incident entirely—wrote a voluminous report about the incident,
building it into an issue. Arriving in Cairo at the precise
moment that the M04 pro-Partisan faction had just gotten at the
prime minister, this report came as if sent from heaven. It was
seized on, blown up, and copied to the secretary of state, to the
Foreign Office, and even to the Cabinet. A justified but undiplomatic
comment became a turning point. Of such is history
It sounds almost incredible, but, in addition to his adverse
report, Bailey ordered supplies stopped. This order was largely
cosmetic, because the very lack of supplies had been the cause of
the squabble. But psychologically, it was extremely important.
Resumption of supplies was approved only after a rebuke to Mihailović
had been extracted from the Yugoslav government in
London. This was just one of a series of incidents, misunderstandings,
and problems between Bailey and Mihailović.
There is a significant reference in one of Bailey’s reports to
Mihailović’s insistence that without five loads of supplies being delivered
he could not regard the British as serious supporters. It
was a fair comment. But it is noteworthy that Mihailović needed
to make the comment at all. When they were supporting Tito in
the subsequent civil war against Mihailović, the British on one
occasion had sixty supply planes in the air at one time.
Throughout his period in Yugoslavia from Christmas 1942
till early 1944, Bailey seems never to have established a satisfactory
working relationship with Mihailović in spite of his very considerable
qualifications. We shall see, as this account unfolds, that
Bailey had to contend with a shocking lack of support from his
base as well as a considerable ambiguity in his position. But a
study of the files shows that Bailey tended always to exaggerate
and thus exacerbate the problems.
The Serbs tend to be a hard-living, hard-drinking, courageous
people. Mihailović himself was a regular soldier and a fierce traditionalist.
I only met him once, in sad circumstances, and I can
claim no personal knowledge of him. Nevertheless, from what I
have heard I believe that the Loyalists would have responded
better to a charismatic, dashing personality as a liaison officer,
someone who could have caught their imagination and overcome
their inevitable suspicions. In this area Bailey obviously failed.
His contribution was a voluminous mass of political analyses and
reports that, by reason of their length, were never acted upon
before events had overtaken them. One feels that he was more
concerned with impressing his superiors than with helping Mihailović,
or even killing Germans.
This state of affairs contrasted dramatically with the situation
at Tito’s headquarters in June 1943. The Partisan main army
of about 15,000 men, which had been trying to penetrate the
Loyalist-held Sandžak area, was encircled near Mount Durmitor
by an Axis offensive directed against both resistance movements.
Captain Deakin arrived in the middle of the fray—fortuitously
for both him personally and the Partisans. There started a personal
attachment that became a blood-brother relationship when
Tito and Deakin were both slightly wounded by a bomb, which
killed Stuart. Tito was formally no more than the leader of a
band of outlaws, who at that stage were condemned by the Yugoslav
government and not even recognized by the British, but
support was thrust upon him enthusiastically and unconditionally.
In the words of Bickham Sweet-Escott in his book Baker Street
Irregular, Deakin, “though wounded . . . had begun to send out
a series of brilliant messages to Cairo which left no doubt as to
the military value of Tito’s movement.”
While Bailey wagged his finger at Mihailović and stopped
supplies, messages of encouragement poured in to Tito. No one
thought to tell him what to do or what not to do. All the stops
were pulled out to build a relationship with him, even though he
was openly attacking the officially recognized resistance movement.
The stated SOE policy was to make contact with other resistance
groups “willing to fight the enemy and willing to undertake
not to fight civil wars,” but M04 Cairo was primarily interested in
consolidating in the field the war already won in the Cairo office—
the Partisan-Četnik war.
In truth, the military value of Tito’s movement was extremely
questionable at that time. According to his own colleague
Milovan Djilas, Tito’s main force was at that stage little more than
a disorganized rabble fleeing from Montenegro, suffering desperate
casualties, forced to abandon its wounded. With the greatest
difficulty they had slipped out of an Axis encirclement. Big
words were used to describe this near-disaster. The Axis attempts
to corner the Partisans were described grandiloquently as the
“Fourth” or “Fifth Offensive.” The flights were described as
“breakouts.” But that was the Partisan propaganda style.
Neither then nor later did the British representatives dare
to insist to Tito that he stop fighting the forces of Mihailović, the
legal army of the recognized government. Without a card in his
hand, when he desperately needed materiel and Allied recognition,
Tito made it clear from the start that his was a sovereign
movement, that Mihailović and his Loyalist forces were the enemy,
and that his purpose was to eliminate them and conquer
their homeland, Serbia—take it or leave it! From the very start
the British with Tito took this message without protest, and they
went on taking it; and in due course they provided the means
for Tito to fulfill every one of his stated ambitions, including his
main ambition—to win the civil war and establish a communist
Contrast this with the treatment of Mihailović. At no stage
whatsoever did he get such encouragement. With the left-inclined
atmosphere that existed from January 1943 on in M04,
not to speak of the prevailing winds in MI6, in the Political Warfare
Executive, and in the Political Intelligence Branch, Mihailović
probably never had much of a chance. But Bailey failed to
exploit what opportunities there were, and his voluminous reports
dwelled at length on all of the Loyalist movement’s shortcomings.
They reflected his own failure to come to grips with the
Loyalists’ problems, and they also provided considerable ammunition
for those in Cairo and London who were—for whatever
reasons—inclined to favor the Partisans.
Bailey served at Mihailović’s headquarters from Christmas
1942 until the end of 1943. Both he and Bill Hudson—the first
British liaison officer with Mihailović—were separately received
by the prime minister in the spring of 1944. Both Bailey and
Hudson said later that Churchill then told them unequivocally
that he had been misled by SOE concerning some aspects of the
situation in Yugoslavia. This anecdote may possibly be apocryphal.
I have it, nevertheless, from two very reliable sources. FurSOE
thermore, since I completed this whole story I have convinced
myself that if Churchill was misled, it was because at the time he
wanted to be misled and encouraged his proteges to recommend
what he wanted to hear. Truly he “led with his chin.” Later things
were quite different, and he recognized that he had made his
greatest mistake of the war. But his full conversion did not begin
until after Tito had bamboozled him personally in the late summer
of 1944.
When he was in London in the spring of 1944, Bailey put
forward a complicated plan for the personal replacement of Mihailović
and for the geographical segregation of the two resistance
movements. But it was ludicrously naive to believe that the
imposition of another leader—even if such a change were possible—
would mitigate Tito’s all-out drive to bring the whole of
Yugoslavia under communist domination. I believe this idea was
deliberately put around by the communists to split the Loyalists
and confuse the British. At that stage any plan to influence the
march of events was too little and too late. The plan is only of
interest in telling us about Bailey himself. He was either utterly
naive or very deep and devious.
In my studies I have observed time and again that with a
friend like Bailey, Mihailović needed no enemies. And in the extraordinary
context of the whole Yugoslav affair I have to ask
myself: Could Bailey have been a mole?
In fairness I must stress that others who were with the Mihailović
forces and who knew Bailey personally far better than I
did find it impossible to entertain such suspicions. Furthermore,
his writings as well as his verbose signals and reports have the
character of a right-wing establishment bureaucrat. Politically one
would have expected Bailey to be a conservative—a “wet,” or
ready-to-compromise, conservative in today’s terms, not a radical
of the right or left.
But then, Kim Philby’s colleagues in the Foreign Office refused
to entertain the concept that he was a traitor right up to
the point that it became undeniable. To me Bailey remains an
enigma. Whatever he was, there is no doubt that he did untold
harm to Mihailović and the Loyalist cause.
Davidson: “A well-marked Partisan supporter”
Let me turn now to a totally different and very straightforward
character in Cairo, Basil Davidson. He exuded charm and, in the
Cairo scene, he could have been taken for a dashing staff officer
in the regular army. I realize that this description would probably
appall him. The very opposite to Bailey, Davidson could not
be mistaken for a conservative—wet or dry. His book tells us that
he started life as a journalist before the war and was recruited
into Section D, a predecessor organization to SOE. He was sent
to Hungary, where he ran a news service with the British mission
as cover for the preparation of postoccupation sabotage. When
the Germans and Hungarians invaded Yugoslavia, Davidson escaped
via Belgrade and Albania. Together with other British diplomatic
staff he was interned briefly by the Italians and then
released. He returned to the United Kingdom via the south of
France, Spain, and Portugal. Transferred to the Middle East, Davidson
served for a time in Istanbul, trying to make contact with
Hungary. Then he was carrying explosives between Palestine and
Istanbul before he was put in charge of the Yugoslav section of
M04 in Cairo in September 1942.
Davidson remained in charge of the section until August 1943,
when he parachuted to Tito’s headquarters in Bosnia with the
task of making contact with the Hungarian resistance and establishing
himself in Hungary from a base in the Yugoslav Bačka
region. That proved impossible. He remained for more than a
year with the Partisans in the Bačka and in the Vojvodina, the
area between the rivers Sava and Danube. This war was very different
from that of the mass formations. With no big mountains
and woods to retreat into, the small units to which he attached
himself lived in the plains, concealing themselves in hiding places
in the villages during the winter and in the maize fields during
summer. I have spent some fascinating hours reading Davidson’s
signals from his mission, which was code-named Savannah. The
intensity of Davidson’s politics and his obsession with liberational
revolution disturb me. So does his unquestioning acceptance of
every Partisan claim. But I have to admire his personal courage
on the Savannah operation. Just what he achieved militarily, as
opposed to politically, I do not know. But he had remarkable
guts and stamina. Davidson was no ordinary man, in more ways
than one.
Vladimir Velebit, Tito’s postwar ambassador to Britain, wrote
of Davidson in his memoirs that he was a journalist and a writer
with pronounced leftist sympathies and that he was very close to
the Communist Party.
The Partisan-Četnik war in the Cairo office in January 1943,
when Davidson was in charge of the Yugoslav section, certainly
becomes more comprehensible—if not any less regrettable—when
one studies Special Operations Europe and other books he has written
about Africa since the war. His writings clearly define his
philosophy. Sadly, I believe, his efforts in Yugoslavia were for
the wrong cause. But this is no reflection on his personal qualities.
He was a fighter for his causes. I approve of fighters. He
was also refreshingly open about his radical opinions.
Seton-Watson: The Meddling Guru
Also in Cairo at that time was the accepted expert in Balkan matters,
Hugh Seton-Watson. He was special advisor to SOE on Yugoslav
and Bulgarian affairs. His father had been the leading
Balkan expert before him. Seton-Watson capitalized on his father’s
reputation, and his word on Balkan matters was gospel in
Cairo. I believe that he finished his life as a conservative and
merits great respect for his later opinions on other eastern countries
and their problems. Nevertheless, his views as a university
undergraduate had been hard-left socialist if not forthrightly procommunist.
There is no doubt that, during the period 1942 to
1944, he was still a fervent left-winger and outspokenly in favor
of the revolutionary adventure in Yugoslavia.
Together with Klugmann, with whom he was very friendly,
Seton-Watson was deeply involved in an energetically pursued
but ill-fated endeavor to organize a Bulgarian communist resistance
using a dedicated, romantic, card-carrying communist, a
young man named Frank Thompson. This disastrous mission,
code-named Claridges, is described in Stowers Johnson’s book
Agents Extraordinary.
Frank Thompson and Seton-Watson had been at Winchester
together and were firm friends. Whereas I have seen no evidence
to indicate that Seton-Watson was actually a member of the Communist
Party before the war, Frank Thompson certainly was, and
he flaunted his politics.
The organization and direction from Cairo of the Claridges
mission appear to have been Seton-Watson’s only venture into
the operational side. It is clear that he and Klugmann played a
substantial role in the planning. There were two preparatory
missions involved, which appear in the operational log under the
code names Mulligatawny and Monkey Wrench. The original
mission dropped into Albania near Lake Ohrid in August or September
1943. It was officially scheduled to cross Macedonia and
act as reception for Frank Thompson, who was to make contact
with Bulgarian communists and start a resistance movement there.
The main preparatory mission, under Maj. Mostyn Davies, a wellconnected
and brave officer, was top secret, and it was given
absolutely overriding priority.
Tito would not permit British missions to be dropped to Partisans
in Serbia before the break with Mihailović at the end of
1943. Wisely, Tito was concerned about the heartland Serbs’ perception
of the communist Partisans, and he feared that British
liaison officers on the two sides might get together and work out
a local truce. This was the last thing he wanted. Nevertheless,
one of Tito’s top henchmen—a man who went by the name of
Vukmanović-Tempo—met Mostyn Davies in Macedonia and
traveled with him to southeastern Serbia, just south of where my
own mission was located and adjacent to that of another British
liaison officer with the Mihailović forces, Capt. Robert Purvis. The
operational log shows that Mulligatawny and Monkey Wrench
enjoyed such a priority from M04 that a substantial proportion
of all drops to Yugoslavia in the last three months of 1943 were
going to those missions. This was so extraordinary that I wonder
whether Brigadier Maclean at Tito’s headquarters knew what was
going on. I found no signals between M04 and the Maclean mission
to indicate that he did. Whether or not Klugmann and Seton-
Watson were operating with the knowledge of Maclean, the massive
deliveries of arms into Macedonia had nothing to do with
the buildup of a Bulgarian resistance. That may have been the
excuse for the priority given to Mostyn Davies’s mission, and it
was certainly the excuse Cairo used when it fervently denied that
the mission existed at all. (To Cairo’s embarrassment, Davies made
contact with Robert Purvis. This blew it.) The fact is that these
massive drops were being made to enable Vukmanović-Tempo
to recruit a Partisan force from the mixed population of Arnautis
(Muslim Albanians living in Serbia) and disaffected Serbs in
preparation for the planned conquest of Serbia. This force, in
due course, drove up from the south.
I believe that the exploitation of the proposed reconnaissance
into Bulgaria by Frank Thompson was organized by Klugmann
on his own initiative; no doubt he spun a good yarn to
Brigadier Keble. It helped enormously in the communist war
against the Loyalists in Serbia. Undoubtedly the involvement of
Seton-Watson lent weight to the plan and facilitated the evident
priority given to the Davies mission.
Frank Thompson was killed in Bulgaria. His mission was exploratory,
and it is inconceivable that he needed, or could have
transported, the massive amounts of arms dropped into the Bulgarian-
annexed zone of southeastern Serbia, which had little indigenous
Bulgarian population. The whole Claridges/Monkey
Wrench/Mulligatawny affair provides added evidence of the freedom
enjoyed by Klugmann, Seton-Watson, and others to operate
their own private policies.
Not surprisingly, Seton-Watson’s immediate postwar writings
confirm his wartime stance. His views had contributed substantially
to the pro-Partisan atmosphere in Cairo. They must
have influenced the Minister of State’s Office and the Middle East
Command because of his unique academic standing. Whether in
continuing conviction, or for self-justification, he did a great deal
after the war to color the received wisdom Red.
An angle on Seton-Watson and his attitude is revealed in the
diary of Vladimir Dedijer, a leading member of Tito’s hierarchy
and close comrade of Deakin in the battle on Mount Durmitor.
Dedijer came to Cairo with the delegation brought out by Maclean
and Deakin in December 1943. The diary records advice
given to another member of the delegation, a man called Milojević.
“Hugh, the son of Seton-Watson, asked him (Milojević) to be sure
to tell the journalists, who were about to interview him, that the
Partisans really cared for animals. If you could somehow supply
photographs of dogs and cats, you would win over many people
in England, added Seton-Watson.” Thus the British public was
to be bamboozled. Even intellectual integrity went by the board
in Seton-Watson’s blinkered enthusiasm for the Partisan cause.
On January 26, 1943, at the time of the M04 PartisanČetnik
office war and shortly before Churchill was snookered,
Seton-Watson published an article in The Spectator attacking
Mihailović. Yet he was supposed to be an objective advisor, and
Mihailović had been appointed minister of defense for a friendly
government. Had an ordinary officer like me done that, I would
have been instantly court-martialed. But in M04 his views were
in vogue.
Seton-Watson worked closely with Klugmann. He was evidently
sold on abandoning the Loyalists. But I would not want
to suggest for a moment that he was part of a Soviet-inspired
conspiracy or that his first loyalty was to the U.S.S.R., as that of
Klugmann undoubtedly was. Rather, I believe that, like so many
other arrogant intellectual elitists, he could be almost frivolous in
pursuing a pet ideological cause without adequately assessing, or
subsequently monitoring, the practical implications of, and the
damage caused by, the policies he so enthusiastically advocated.
Keble: Klugmann’s Disciple and Protector
The next key player in the M04 scenario was Brig. C. M. “Bolo”
Keble, who, when a colonel, was placed in charge of the operational
sections of M04 in 1942. In Special Operations Europe, Basil
Davidson is less than charitable about Keble’s personal characteristics.
He implies that Keble was a lecher, with a nickname TIM
(“Touch I Must”), of aggressive physical bearing and inclined to
ruthless, ambitious maneuvering. Whatever his motivations, Keble
was evidently a forceful individual, determined to put M04 on
the map. He was a regular from a line regiment and staff-trained.
He had previously done a stint with military intelligence. His
qualifications were thus impeccable for the job of turning M04
from semi-spymaster’s organization into a paramilitary machine
supplying guerrilla foot-slogging operations.
Keble’s arrival as operational chief followed the appointment
of Lord Glenconner as head of SOE Cairo and an awakening
interest on the part of military command in the Middle East in
the disruptive potential of paramilitary resistance behind the enemy
Bickham Sweet-Escott writes about the SOE chain of command
in Baker Street Irregular. SOE was answerable to the chiefs
of staff in London and, for policy, to the Foreign Office. Where
political affairs and military strategies conflicted, SOE found itself
between two fires. In Cairo, the situation was more complicated
still because SOE Cairo was answerable to SOE London on
both counts. In theory the military decisions were taken by the
London chiefs of staff advising the Cabinet, advised in turn by
the Joint Intelligence Committee. The Foreign Office controlled
the political decisions, and the PWE exercised influence both in
London and in Cairo. But increasingly the Foreign Office agency
in Cairo—the Minister of State’s Office—came into play, as did
the military Middle East Command, which serviced M04 for materiel,
airfields, and aircraft drops.
The files reflect the bureaucratic complications. Writing in
impeccable style, analyzing the long- and short-term political and
military implications of the messages coming in from the field,
the officials would take their time and call for the views of the
numerous offices involved. They spent days at a time discussing
the merits of, and office responsibility for, the various issues.
It is all very far removed from the guerrillas sleeping rough in
the mountains, constantly threatened by enemies creeping up
behind them in the mist and snow with grenades and knives
in their hands.
The complexity of M04’s organization should have led to
operational paralysis, and in some areas it did. But the near-total
lack of control provided the opportunity for independent initiative,
and an excuse for it, even if it involved playing both ends
against the middle.
Keble did just that. When Churchill accepted his January
1943 memorandum that advocated support for other resistance
movements, Keble seems to have taken this as carte blanche to
initiate and carry out policy at the operational level without asking
London. It is not clear to what extent Keble sought sanction
from Lord Glenconner, his chief, for his initiatives. Certainly the
latter accepted responsibility for everything that happened in
Cairo, but it was in the nature of the man to back up his men or
sack them; and Glenconner and Keble left at the same time in
November 1943.
Keble was another natural conservative who has come under
suspicion as a committed ally of the left. I can only write about
Yugoslav affairs, but he also had Albania and Greece in his bailiwick,
and certainly very odd things happened in the control of
operations in those two countries.
In Yugoslavia the odd things were legion. First there is the
interpretation of Churchill’s wishes following the fateful meetings
in January 1943. The formal instruction was quite clear. It
was that Mihailović and his forces should be supported in Serbia
but that endeavors should be made to contact other resistance
groups, notably in Croatia and Slovenia, which, as Deakin wrote
me in 1988, were “hopefully organised by the non-Communist
Croat Peasant Party, and by Mihailović’s commander in Slovenia,
But whatever the London policy, the victors in the Cairo office
war were in no mind to mess around with the “hopefully
non-Communist Croat Peasant Party” or with “Mihailović’s commander
in Slovenia.” They intended, as Davidson makes clear in
his book, to contact Tito, and steps were soon under way to make
such a contact by dropping some of Klugmann’s communist
As I have already written, the Croats did indeed make contact
with Tito as M04 intended they should. And Tito immediately
agreed to receive a British mission. Deakin was chosen for
SOE, while SIS sent Captain Stuart.
Deakin wrote of his mission, “Such an operation originated
in the directive to SOE of the Chiefs of Staff in March 43—to
report on all Resistance groups in Yugoslavia.” Actually the mission
was sent deliberately to establish relations with Tito.
Deakin added that further reason for this formal decision
had been the disclosure from German intercepts, and similar information
from Bailey, that Mihailović was heavily engaged
alongside the Italians—and parallel to the Germans—in the fourth
offensive against Tito’s Partisans.
Now, this comment is significant in its reference to Mihailović’s
engagement against Tito’s Partisans. The truth can have another
interpretation. What was really happening was that Tito
and his main force had moved from Bosnia down into Montenegro
partly because of German pressure against them in Bosnia
and partly by design: the move fitted into the framework of Tito’s
ambition to conquer Mihailović’s territory in Montenegro and the
Sandžak and eventually to turn east into the heart of Serbia and
south into Macedonia. This was not an attack by Mihailović on
Tito, as stated by Deakin. It was a move by the Partisans against
Mihailović territory. Furthermore, it was a move that was at first
approved by the Germans, who were in talks with Tito’s delegates
in Zagreb. (I deal with this in detail in a later chapter on
collaboration.) Subsequently, when Hitler ordered that no deals
be done with bandits, the Germans mounted a major cleanup
operation against all guerrillas. The Mihailović forces, which bore
the first brunt of the German cleanup operation, were simply
endeavoring to defend their own territory. They would not have
been involved in this fighting at all had Tito not initiated the
move toward the Mihailović homeland.
During Keble’s time in M04 there seems to have been little
inclination to ask whether Tito was willing to avoid civil war. Not
a bit of it. Whereas Bailey stopped arms supplies and made an
issue of Mihailović’s emotional verbal attack on the communists,
M04 Cairo seems seldom to have questioned Tito’s right to fight
Mihailović and his Loyalists and to invade Mihailović territory as
and when he wished; and any Mihailović defense constituted an
“offensive.” Evidently Keble had decided that Tito was to be given
total support and that this support was not conditional on anything.
This decision made civil war inevitable. Yet in the meantime
the British missions to outlying Loyalist units were sent on
their way by Keble unbriefed about what was going on at
their base and about how little support they could expect. With
forty-five years’ hindsight this is hardly credible. It is certainly
Sadly, the Public Records Office has no SOE files for the
period before September 1943, and we have to rely on the Foreign
Office files for official information about this period. We
therefore only see what M04 and the Minister of State’s Office
in Cairo thought fit to pass on to the Foreign Office. Under Keble’s
guidance they probably told London what suited their pro-Partisan
policy and nothing more.
Keble remained in charge of M04 operations throughout the
summer of 1943, and he enhanced his reputation for vigorous
management. Some might call it ruthless. He was in operational
charge when the now-notorious May 29 Glenconner signal was
sent to Mihailović.
This signal was the next milestone on the road to the destruction
of the Loyalist movement. Following the christeningparty
incident, the Yugoslav government had been constrained
to reproach Mihailovic. The reproof, and Mihailović’s acceptance
of it, took about three months, during the greater part of which
Bailey withheld supplies and arms from Mihailović. Within days
of that matter being settled, M04 sent Bailey, for transmission
to Mihailović, a policy signal in Lord Glenconner’s name which,
paraphrased, read:
General Mihailović does not represent a fighting force of
any importance West of Kopaonik [a mountain in southern
Serbia]. His units in Montenegro, Herzegovina and Bosnia
are already annihilated or else in close co-operation with the
axis. It is also difficult to say that his units exist in Croatia,
Slovenia and Slavonia. The Partisans represent a good and
effective fighting force in all parts whereas only the Quislings
represent General Mihailovic . . . you will advise General
Mihailovic that he immediately go to Kopaonik with all
his faithful officers and men; if necessary he is to break
through by armed force . . . in the future the Supreme
Commander will consider the districts under his command
and influence to be bordered on the West by the fighting
elements already existing on the right bank of the Ibar river
and towards the South to Skoplje.
To understand how shocking this signal was, one must remember
that there was still in force the official British policy of
giving full support to Mihailović. Officially, M04 was authorized
only to examine whether other resistance groups merited support—
which hinged on the strict condition that they not undertake
to use it for civil-war purposes.
Mihailović himself had not even been informed that there
was any consideration being given to dropping agents to other
groups, whether communist or otherwise, let alone to assisting or
recognizing them. Yet here we have M04 invoking the supreme
commander and telling Mihailović to withdraw his forces to a
small corner of Yugoslavia and to hand over the rest to groups
regarded by him as communist outlaws.
The Foreign Office was appalled. Douglas Howard, head of
the office’s southern department, wrote in a memorandum dated
June 15, 1943,
In one way or another SOE have excelled themselves in their
handling of this question.
First Lord Glenconner goes and sends Bailey a telegram
off his own bat and completely at variance with our own
policy and with the telegram sent to Mihailovic a week before.
. . .
We have suggested to the Chiefs of Staff that the disastrous
telegram be rescinded. Unless we do that, we shall have
ruined any chance of coming to any agreement with Mihailovic.
Even if it is withdrawn so much bad blood will
now have been spilt, that it may be very difficult to come to
Bailey had protested to M04 on receipt of the signal. Nevertheless,
he passed the message on to Mihailović without waiting
for a response. As Bailey expected, Mihailović’s reaction was fierce.
Eventually the signal was rescinded, but the harm had been done,
as Douglas Howard had predicted.
Compare this whole scenario with the situation a month or
two later when the Foreign Office suggested mildly through Fitzroy
Maclean that Tito be requested not to attack the Loyalists. Maclean
refused to pass on the signal on the grounds that Tito had
made clear his intentions to invade Serbia and liquidate Mihailović,
and that passing the signal would damage relations.
The Glenconner signal, which went out a couple of days after
Deakin was trying to drop to the Tito Partisans, was clearly all
part of the M04 policy in Cairo to build up Tito. It was probably
cobbled together fast in order to take the tactical pressure off the
Partisans and to give them a route to break out of the German
But there’s another interesting angle. Davidson and Deakin
have both claimed that the latter was privy to intercepts and clearly
implied that these included Enigma signals. It was a strict rule
that nobody privy to Enigma should risk capture. Yet Deakin was
dropped into a highly dangerous situation. This is an enigma in
itself. What is the explanation of the apparent flouting by M04
of a strict rule? Did Deakin really see Enigma traffic, or were the
famous intercepts on which the January change of policy was
based just run-of-the-mill stuff? And if he did indeed see Enigma
signals, why was he allowed to drop into what was undoubtedly
the most perilous situation faced by the Partisans? Maybe we will
learn the answer to this puzzle when the official history of the
Balkan operations is written.
It was pure coincidence that my own mission, named Henbury,
was dropped by M04 to a Mihailović Loyalist unit in southeastern
Serbia on June 2, 1943—only three days after the bombshell
Glenconner signal to Mihailović. Our arrival, coming on the heels
of a signal telling the head of the movement to which we were
accredited that his forces were “quislings” and that he was no
longer persona grata, was not auspicious. Furthermore, our drop
took place only a couple of days before the Algiers incident. In
this extraordinary affair, which I recounted earlier, M04
endeavored again to modify policy to Mihailović’s disadvantage.
And M04 had blithely sent my mission and eight others into
enemy-occupied territory while cutting the ground from under
our feet by alienating Mihailović. Who bears the responsibility?
Keble was in charge, whoever was advising him.
Keble was chief of staff of M04 throughout the summer of
1943, during which time M04 was shaken by left-right dissension.
In Greece, due to the energetic attitude of the king and
Churchill’s support for him, the political drive by the communist
elements was held in check. But in Albania, less in the spotlight,
M04 policies certainly helped the Enver Hoxha communist
movement gain power; and this movement’s progress was greatly
helped by the events in Yugoslavia and by assistance from Tito.
To what extent Keble consciously favored the left is hard to
say. Probably he was not left-inclined but just got caught up in
the leftward momentum in M04. He was probably also influenced
by the January incident in which Churchill had gone over
the heads of the hierarchy and given his blessing to a new policy
for Yugoslavia.
On September 29, Keble signed an extraordinary memorandum
that favored dropping all support of nationalist or royalist
resistance movements and building up left-wing movements as a
matter of principle. This, he suggested, would achieve stable postwar
republican governments—and the possibility of restored
constitutional monarchies in some cases—as opposed to communism.
The argument was both mad and bad. It failed to point
out that, in the Balkans, the left-wing resistance movements were
without exception communist and that the proposed policies
could only lead to a rapid communist takeover of the whole
Balkans. This sinister document was almost certainly drafted by
Klugmann for Keble. But the fact that Keble signed such a blatantly
Marxist-Leninist paper indicates that at best he was rather
Keble was replaced in November 1943 in the reorganization
of M04, in which Lord Glenconner also resigned. The trigger
point seems to have been an uproar about Greece involving a
Greek delegation of resistance figures brought out for consultations.
The delegates included communists who opened their innings
by putting the king’s future in question. There was a
monumental row and SOE was blamed for the fiasco.
But it is also said that Fitzroy Maclean had a part in Keble’s
departure, and the story of how “Bolo” Keble crossed swords with
Fitzroy is relevant. Sir Fitzroy’s own account can be found in his
book Eastern Approaches. It also formed the theme of a paper he
presented at the 1975 London University symposium called British
Policy Towards Wartime Resistance in Yugoslavia and Greece—
the so-called Auty-Clogg symposium. Maclean says he had put
out feelers while in Cairo about going into Greece. He was told
that he was to be sent to Yugoslavia and was summoned to London
to report to the prime minister immediately. That was in
July 1943. Churchill explained to him that he had his doubts
about Mihailović’s contribution to the war effort, that he wanted
to know about Tito, and that he wanted Maclean to find out “who
was killing the most Germans” and how he could help them kill
more. Politics was to be a secondary consideration:
He wished me to command the mission with the rank of
Brigadier and also to be his own personal representative with
the Partisan command . . . what was important was that I
should be dropped in as soon as possible. This would be
done under the auspices of SOE and he had given them
instructions to afford all possible assistance.
I accordingly went round to Baker Street to make my
mark and ask them to get me on the first plane to Cairo,
which they undertook to do. A week or so later I rang up to
ask when I was going and was told that, owing to bad weather,
there had been no flying. A day or two after that I was sent
for to number 10 Downing Street to see the Prime Minister.
He showed me a signal he had had from General Wilson
the Commander in Chief Middle East. This said that he considered
me totally unsuitable for the job. I was somewhat
pained at this as General Wilson happened to be an old
friend. . . . Churchill then showed me the reply he had sent
General Wilson over his private link. This said fairly abruptly
that the Commander in Chief was to do what he was told
and not argue.
Maclean goes on to claim that SOE in London tried to sabotage
his air passage and that Lord Selborne, the cabinet minister
in charge of SOE, suggested to him that he take an oath of
loyalty to SOE and had dangled the Distinguished Service Order
in front of him as an inducement. Maclean says that the Wilson
signal had not been sent by the general at all, and someone else
must have drafted it. There is a clear implication that it was Keble.
Maclean then recounts a meeting with General Wilson in which
he learned that SOE had employed a Colonel Vellacott to spread
misinformation about him; and there is again a clear implication
that this had been organized by Keble.
Maclean’s account is rather damning to Keble, but the Foreign
Office files appear to show that Maclean’s memory about the first
part of his story is not too good. They show that he was brought
home by the Foreign Office—not Churchill—and the purpose
was to brief him as political advisor to the head of the mission,
A July 26 signal from the Foreign Office to the deputy minister
of state in Cairo states very specifically that Maclean was to act as
second in command of the SOE mission and as political advisor
furnishing the head of his mission with reports on political matters.
This signal makes it clear that Lieutenant Colonel Maclean
and Colonel Bailey were to be the political advisors to the brigadier
to be accredited to Tito and to the brigadier to be accredited
to Mihailović. The files also show that a Brigadier Orr had already
been nominated by General Wilson for the job with Tito
and that SOE had yet another brigadier as a reserve candidate.
There is nothing in the files to confirm Maclean’s claim that he
was brought home specifically to head up the mission.
But Maclean did manage to see Churchill. He spent a weekend
at Chequers in late July. On July 28 the prime minister wrote
a personal memo indicating that he wanted Maclean to do both
the political and military jobs with the rank of brigadier.
Lord Selborne, minister of economic warfare, and Sir Charles
Hambro, head of SOE London, both pleaded for the original
plan of having the military and political functions separate. Sir
Orme Sargent of the Foreign Office agreed with them at first.
Subsequently, he wrote,
After talking the matter over with Sir C. Hambro I accepted
his arguments, but I have now seen Colonel Maclean who
has been informed by SOE of this new development, and he
tells me that he personally would be in favour of the Prime
Minister’s proposal. His reasons are that he would be afraid
that C in C Middle East are not really interested in this Yugoslav
venture and that their name is being taken in vain by
SOE, who, in order to magnify their position, are planning
to send out a number of inefficient officers, many of whom
will be senior to Colonel Maclean, and that it would be difficult
for him to work with them satisfactorily. He suspects
that the officers who SOE are to obtain from the Middle
East are not chosen because of their suitability for this particular
work, but are merely rejects from the army which
Headquarters wish to get rid of.
That was a pretty ruthless spiel, and it certainly presaged the
high-powered methods used subsequently by Maclean in aid of
Tito. It fixed the opposition in London.
The argument rumbled on for a few days, but naturally in
the end the Old Man got his way and General Wilson was so
Maclean subsequently seems to have concentrated his efforts
entirely on supplying Tito with military hardware and moral
support. All of the political tasks that were laid down in the original
brief to him were apparently forgotten. These political objectives
included one specifying that the Partisans should undertake
not to fight General Mihailović’s forces except in self-defense.
“Our first aim,” the instructions stated,
is . . . t o endeavour to bring about the co-ordination of the
military activities of General Mihailovic and the Partisans (and
any other resistance elements in Yugoslavia) under the direction
of the Commander in Chief Middle East. . . .
At the same time the ultimate aim of His Majesty’s Government
is to endeavour to reconcile all such groups to each
other and to persuade them to subordinate the racial religious
and ideological differences which separate them today,
so that Yugoslav unity may be preserved and the political,
economic and constitutional problems which today confront
the country may be settled by the free will of the people.
It is indeed sad that the unquestionably spectacular energy and
talents of Fitzroy Maclean were not concentrated on the political
side and on trying to stop the Yugoslav civil war. Instead, those
remarkable talents and stratospheric drive resulted in tremendous
Allied support for Tito—and for Tito’s ambitions. Regrettably,
Tito’s first and foremost ambition was to destroy Mihailović
and the royal Yugoslav government through an out-and-out civil
Whatever happened in London, there is no doubt that Brigadier
Keble, and Colonel Tamplin too, attempted to block the
appointment of Maclean as military and political head of the mission.
A memo written by Maclean on September 3 (FO 371/37612)
deals with a meeting between Maclean and Lord Glenconner that
could best be described as cold. Lord Glenconner had evidently
called the meeting in an effort to bury the hatchet. It would perhaps
be a little ingenuous to say that the meeting was successful.
“Lord Glenconner observed that we now had reached deadlock.”
This row, together with the row about the Greek delegation
of resistance figures mentioned earlier, brought about the Foreign
Office recommendation that M04 be placed under command
of General Headquarters Middle East. In due course this
happened, and M04 was renamed Force 133. For whatever reasons,
it seems to have become accepted that M04, and perhaps
Brigadier Keble in particular, were operating their own policies.
It is ironic that in Yugoslavia the policy operated by Brigadier
Keble from January to November 1943 prepared the ground,
created the atmosphere, and opened the floodgates for Brigadier
Maclean’s brilliantly implemented program of total support for
Tito. But Keble became a casualty. It was a straight personality
clash, nothing to do with policy. Maclean intended to run his
show himself with no interference from anyone. There was no
room in that scenario for cooperation with the dynamic and
dominant Keble.
The downfall of Keble is ascribed in Basil Davidson’s Special
Operations Europe, in the author’s usual colorful manner, to his
crossing swords with Fitzroy Maclean and specifically to his alleged
instruction to Colonel Vellacott to confide in all useful ears
around the best bars in Cairo the deliberate lie that Maclean was
a hopeless drunk, an active homosexual, and a consistent coward.
Davidson presumably gleaned this story from Maclean’s own
writings. But the fanciful impression given by Davidson that Keble
was fired almost at once—”and that was pretty much the end of
Keble . . . this was really the last that was heard of the man who
got the intercepts and used them, and a few months later he was
dead”—is factually inaccurate. Keble’s regimental records show
that, after he had worked away for nearly three months more in
M04, he was transerred to another job as chief of staff maintaining
his rank as temporary brigadier, received the Order of the
British Empire for his SOE work, stayed in the army, and died
in 1948 aged forty-four. The truth is duller than Davidson’s
colorful “faction.” But, as Davidson records, nothing about Keble’s
era in SOE was dull.
In another colorful passage of Special Operations Europe Basil
Davidson asserts,
A top level meeting called by General Wilson launched yet
another purge of SOE Cairo, and all obstacles were removed.
But well forewarned now, Maclean took another step
to win the war. Happening to have the right connections,
he provided himself with a separate and secret radio link by
wave length and code, between himself in Yugoslavia and
General Wilson in Cairo, as well as with the Prime Minister
in London. So that later on, as he told us thirty years later,
“when I found that Churchill was not receiving signals from
me [at Tito’s Headquarters] that had been duly despatched
[via SOE Cairo] and acknowledged, I was fortunately able
to repeat them to him in full by another [radio] channel.”
It makes a good story. But it also faithfully reflects the atmosphere
and practice of SOE Cairo in 1943. Because he had
the imprimatur of the prime minister, Maclean was able to deal
with M04 and Brigadier Keble. But the British liaison officers
with Mihailović had no imprimatur from Churchill. We were on
our own with hosts who were being deceived, betrayed, and denounced
as enemies by our own headquarters. Our requests and
our signals were being ignored. Our successes were being attributed
to the Partisans, not to our hosts, the Loyalists. While
we can laugh today about M04 snarling up with Brigadier Maclean
and getting a bloody nose, M04’s shenanigans were no
laughing matter for us BLOs who had no court of appeal or
ultimate recourse. So we should now leave the Keble era in Cairo.
Whatever it was at the start, in the autumn of 1943 it became an
era of undisguised skulduggery.
Et Al.
There were, of course, many others in M04 Cairo. I recollect a
charming old Etonian, Denis Ionides. He was a fairly junior officer
concerned chiefly with administration. He stayed junior,
probably because he was so decent, but he saw everything that
went on. He died some years back just after David Martin brought
out his book Patriot or Traitor: The Case of General Mihailovich. He
was no longer able to read, but his wife recorded how he clutched
the book, happy in the thought that at last someone had spoken
Even if this anecdote is apocryphal, it still fits very precisely
with the whole scene and with my own affectionate memory of
There were various captains and majors and even a lieutenant
colonel in the Yugoslav section in the summer and autumn
of 1943, but they came and they went, and it is very clear that
the changing nature of the personnel enabled those who were
permanent to determine policy. The characters who left their mark
in M04 Cairo were of course Davidson, Deakin, Klugmann, Seton-
Watson, and Keble. Bailey left no mark in Cairo but a very
mysterious trail in Canada and in Yugoslavia itself.
And what about the delightful, old-fashioned archivist, Miss
Flannery? Did she exist in the flesh or was she just an apocryphal
figure? You may recall her being mentioned in Basil Davidson’s
fifty stunning pages on the Partisan-Četnik office war. Was she
real or mythical? Either way, it’s a good story.
From June 1943 onward it was obvious—if it had not been
so earlier—that Mihailović was going to be dumped sooner or
later and that support of the Partisans was the bandwagon to
jump on. Once Maclean was appointed by the prime minister in
early August, there was only one possible way that things could
go. The policy acquired an unstoppable momentum. But it was
M04 that blazed the trail ensuring that Tito would be given
Allied support in his bid to replace the Yugoslav people’s cruel
Axis yoke with the even crueler Stalinist yoke. With the possible
exception of Klugmann, the team members, in their gung-ho
enthusiasm for Tito, surely failed to foresee the horrifying massacres,
the misery, and the economic destitution that communism
would bring to Yugoslavia.
The Germans attacked Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941, starting with
an air bombardment of Belgrade that killed more than 10,000.
The German offensive followed tortuous political maneuvering
in which the Germans brought considerable pressure to bear on
the Yugoslav regent, Prince Paul, and the government to adhere
to the Axis. Under this pressure the Yugoslav prime minister
signed a protocol of adherence to the Tripartite Pact on March
25 in Vienna. This resulted in a military coup against the government
and Prince Paul. Young King Peter, who was just under
age, was proclaimed of age and placed on the throne. The coup
was led by an air force general named Simović. Churchill declared
that Yugoslavia “had found her soul.” The new Yugoslav
government tried to placate the Germans, but Hitler was determined
to attack Greece and liquidate Yugoslavia as a state.
The Yugoslavs were wrong-footed. The Nazi propaganda set
the Croats and the Serbs against each other, and it was effectively
over within a week. The government and the king fled the country.
Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia to form a new state under
German sponsorship led by Ante Pavelić and his ustaša fascists.
The Croatians taken by the German army were allowed to return
home, while a large number of Serbian officers and soldiers who
had been captured were shipped off to prisoner-of-war camps.
Nevertheless, a substantial portion of the army escaped capture
and made its way home or took refuge in the mountains. Many
of them took their arms with them.
The country was dismembered. Slovenia in the north was
split between Greater Germany and Italy. The Mstaša-controlled
Independent State of Croatia (known as the NDH) incorporated
the greater part of Bosnia and Herzegovina and was itself split
between Italian and German zones of control and influence. Various
bits and pieces of the Yugoslav territory were split off, to
Hungary in the northeast and to Bulgaria and to Italian-occupied
Albania in the south, while important parts of the coastal
province of Dalmatia went to Italy. The main part of Serbia—
that is, what was left after the bits and pieces had been chipped
off—came under direct German military rule. A Serbian government
under General Nedić was appointed to control administration
of this remaining rump for the Germans. Unlike Ante Pavelić,
the poglavnik (dictator) of the new Independent State of Croatia,
Nedić was no fascist. Like General Petain in France, he was a
patriotic collaborator who felt that this course was the best means
to save something of his country and his people. Nedić formed a
paramilitary organization, a Serbian state guard, to police German-
occupied Serbia.
The ustaša had been an outlawed terrorist organization before
the war, with its main refuge in Italy. It was responsible for
the murder of King Alexander in Marseilles on October 9, 1934.
It was distinctly fascist in nature, and its paramilitary forces were
similar to the SS. Immediately on gaining power in the new Independent
State of Croatia, these forces started a reign of terror.
It was directed principally against the Serbian minority with the
declared intention of driving out one-third, converting one-third
from the Orthodox to the Roman Catholic faith, and killing
one-third. I doubt that the conversion program achieved its 33
percent, but certainly a very substantial proportion of the population
became refugees, fleeing into Serbia or into the mountains.
There was also massive genocide. Estimates of the numbers
killed vary greatly; according to the Serbs it may well have reached
several hundreds of thousands. There were reports of rivers literally
running red with blood. The ustaša program enormously
intensified the historical strife between the Serbs and the Croats
and became a major factor in what happened later. So did the
flow of refugees into the mountains.
It was as a direct consequence of the events in Croatia that a
great proportion of those sheltering in the woods and mountains
in Croatia and Bosnia, and some even in Serbia itself, were Serbs
driven from their homes and unable to return. The Serbs as a
people were experienced in guerrilla warfare after a long history
of struggle against foreign oppression, and these Serb refugees
constituted the main source of fighting men for the resistance
Thus in Yugoslavia there was a large pool of manpower represented
by the soldiers who had avoided capture, by the refugees
from towns, and by the Serbian refugees from the genocide
in Croatia. To this group—and most importantly—were to be
added the refugees from reprisals, which caused the pool of
manpower to become self-replenishing. The resistance forces,
mobile and living off the land, clashed with the occupation forces.
When the occupation forces carried out reprisals, the villagers
fled and joined the mobile forces. Thus the whole cycle started
anew. This pattern was fundamental to the growth of the communist
Partisan movement. I believe that it was rather cynically
exploited by them in order to strengthen their numbers on the
one hand and destroy the established order in the villages on the
other. Certainly, reprisals were neither deliberately avoided nor
regretted by the communist elite, who just made noble noises
about necessary sacrifices.
But there were also the “Četniks.” The whole Četnik concept—
even the very term itself—enormously complicated the
resistance picture. The term derives from četa, or band. For centuries
the villages had formed these bands for their own protection
against foreign invaders. In Western European terms they
were a form of home guard or militia. As a result of this tradition,
armed bands of all types tended to be called by the very
loose term Cetniks. They included bands of various political complexions
and even straightforward bandit gangs. Confusing the
issue further, the term came to be both approbatory and pejorative,
depending on the speaker.
Because of widespread support from Cetnik groups the Mihailović
movement became known loosely as “the Četniks”; and
it was always known as such by the Allies. I am not clear whether
Mihailović himself used the term for his movement at an earlier
stage, but later the main Mihailović forces called themselves “the
Yugoslav Army of the Homeland.” I think the term was coined
because the communists had seen and exploited the propaganda
value of calling every noncommunist grouping—regardless of its
political affiliation—Četnik and then accusing its members of
collaboration. In this manner—by association—Mihailović was
accused of collaboration.
Yugoslavia is a large and enormously varied country with a
diversity of peoples: from the Slovenes in the north with an Austro-
Hungarian culture; via the Croatians with an Austro-Hungarian
overlay on a Slav peasant background; through Bosnia,
where there were substantial Serb and Muslim populations;
through the Serbian heartland with its fiercely individualistic Serbian
character, Slav but something quite individual and special;
through Montenegro, another unique area with a fierce mountain
Serbian type but a bit different from the Serb of the flatter
agricultural land; down to Macedonia, where Bulgar and Greek
influences were felt. In this hodgepodge, which had unified itself
spontaneously as a reaction to domination by the surrounding
powers and which was proclaimed a state on December 1, 1918,
there were inevitably many cultures, many groupings, many affiliations,
and many loyalties. No wonder there were so many
different četas and Četniks, and some of them had to be collaborators.
It is primarily, but not exclusively, for this reason that I use
the term Loyalists to denote Mihailović’s regular mobile forces and
his committed nonmobile reserves. The term reflects their rather
simple loyalty to their nation and their king.
Regrettably, as things developed in Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav
Army of the Homeland never really got off the ground as a national
movement, and for this the British must bear a very considerable
responsibility. While Mihailović struggled to establish
control over the Četnik units dispersed from Slovenia in the north
to Macedonia in the south, the M04 policy—the consequences
of which were probably never really thought through—was to
drop liaison officers pnly to Serbia, where the Mihailović movement
was already predominant and well organized. This meant
that the Mihailović movement was never given the help it needed
to build up elsewhere.
Furthermore, M04 insisted that the British liaison officers
report directly back to M04 in Cairo. Generally they had no
wireless communications with the chief liaison officer at Mihailović’s
headquarters. This lack of central control within Yugoslav
territory of the Mihailović BLOs derived from the SOE policy of
wishing to control resistance movements directly and to use them
ultimately as an arm of military strategy. The policy added enormously
to Mihailović’s own problems of control. M04 on the one
hand was trying to tell his subcommanders—through us BLOs—
what to do and on the other blaming Mihailović for what the
outlying areas did or did not do. Similarly, M04 even dictated
the distribution of supplies so that Mihailović’s control of his subordinates
was weakened and, even worse, was seen to be weakened.
In addition, M04 eventually exploited its direct contact
with BLOs in the outlying commands in order to gather alleged
evidence against Mihailović and thus to create dissension in the
It is worth digressing here to consider the influence of the BBC
and other radio networks, and the subject of misinformation
generally. (The word “disinformation” to denote intentional
misleading is a modern term, somehow inapplicable in this World
War II narrative. But that is the meaning I have in mind when
using “misinformation.”)
In the early days, the BBC was fulsome in its praise of Mihailović
and his Loyalists. Too fulsome, in fact. His movement
was built up to such a ludicrous extent that it raised hopes that
could not possibly be justified, and incidentally caused the Germans
to intensify their brutal reprisals. Claiming editorial freedom
as its prerogative and accepting only general guidance, the
BBC seems not to have realized that every broadcast would be
picked up, studied, and perhaps acted on: in the Axis camp, in
the Allied camp, and in the Yugoslav territory itself.
By contrast, every German news broadcast was drafted to
serve specific purposes defined by the military and political leaders.
Sometimes it was cleverly done; frequently not so cleverly;
but the military and political direction was clear. And it prevailed.
Not so with the BBC. It was so, however, with the Voice
of Free Yugoslavia programs broadcast from southern Russia from
mid-1942. These broadcasts, purporting to come from a free and
purely Yugoslav station, were in fact coordinated between the
Soviet leadership and Tito and directed solely toward building
up the Partisan movement.
Until mid-1942 the BBC had a clear field and encouraged
patriots—and opportunists—to subscribe to the Loyalist movement.
Before the beginning of 1943 the broadcasts started to become
equivocal, wittingly or unwittingly supporting the Free
Yugoslavia line, and throughout 1943 the left-wing bias became
more and more marked. Later, when in December 1943 the British
government finally decided to turn up the heat, the BBC unleashed
a barrage of anti-Mihailović and pro-Tito propaganda.
That some 100 Allied servicemen were in the hands of the Loyalists
did not deter the BBC.
In fact, already in the late summer and autumn of 1943, the
BBC news was being heavily doctored. Whether this was by influence
of SOE Cairo, the Minister of State’s Office, or possibly the
PWE, I do not know. The official policy as laid down in June
1943 by the chiefs of staff, and specifically spelled out in their
cable quoted a little later, was that radio propaganda would be
brought into line with the policy of fairly supporting both Mihailović
and other groups fighting the Axis.
Even so, the left-wing doctoring was flagrant. In September
1943 a large bridge near Višegrad, probably the largest blown by
resistance movements in the Balkans, was demolished by Major
Archie Jack, covered by Mihailović forces and watched by the
chief BLO with Mihailović, Brigadier Armstrong. The BBC announced
this as a Partisan success. Similarly, my own first sabotage
operation, on the night of September 30, 1943, which involved
the destruction of a length of line on the main Belgrade-Salonika
railway, about one kilometer long and demolished at every joint,
and which blocked traffic for seven to ten days, was, within fortyeight
hours of my reporting it to Cairo, attributed by the BBC to
the Partisans. Thus the British misinformation campaign in favor
of the communists was already in gear well before December 1943.
With all of this misinformation it is indeed amazing that, six
months after the British had denounced Mihailović and mounted
a massive pro-Partisan campaign, the bulk of Serbia still remained
totally under Mihailović’s influence, resisting the Germans
and Bulgars. We were able to travel from our operational
area in southeastern Serbia in the spring of 1944 some 150 miles
in a large column in daylight to Pranjani near Čačak for evacuation
from an airstrip near Mihailović’s headquarters without encountering
a single Partisan unit.
But when we arrived in Bari we found that the maps in the
SOE office showed the areas we had passed through and lodged
in as being firmly in Partisan hands. That demonstrated graphically
the extent of misinformation inside SOE. There was an incident
in which one BLO, a very responsible individual with a
civil-service background, was so incensed that he struck the pins
off the map. From then on the ex-Mihailovic BLOs were forbidden
access to the map room.
I must ask here: Could the maps, which were allegedly prepared
from “most secret sources” intercepts and claimed to have
been decisive in persuading Churchill to approve contact with
the Tito Partisans in his Cairo meetings in early 1943, have been
as erroneous as the demonstrably false maps in Bari in June 1944?
M04 maps were decisive on another occasion: the critical
meeting on December 10, 1943, in the prime minister’s bedroom,
at which he effectively abandoned Mihailovic. There is a
most revealing memo (PREM 3 510/10 5) to Churchill from his
intelligence advisor, Desmond Morton. It is dated December 2,
1943. It reads,
SOE Cairo has given me for you a copy of their MOST SECRET
MAP showing the disposition of the Partisan forces
and Mihailović as at 8 A.M. this morning December 2nd. . . .
This map shows the position much better than the one you
receive daily in London. The London version suggests that
the Germans hold most of the country with the Partisans
hiding in inaccessible districts. Cairo’s operational map, which
is corrected daily from the large number of operational
telegrams which they receive from the field, shows almost
the reverse to be the position. The Germans are holding
all the main lines of communications but the greater part
of the country is in Partisan hands. The Cairo map also
shows the very small districts now held by Mihailovic.
If further proof were needed that someone in Cairo was
cooking the books late in 1943, this is conclusive. The London
maps were prepared by objective intelligence officers from various
sources, including, of course, all of the intercepts. The Cairo map
claimed to be based on information from the field. But the real
information from the field demonstrated that virtually all Serbia,
all Serbian territory annexed to Albania and Bulgaria, and, at
that stage, the Sandžak, together with substantial areas of Montenegro
and even parts of Bosnia were Mihailovic territory. Can
I prove this? Yes. All of the Partisan propaganda in the world
cannot wish away the operational log in the Public Records Office.
The log contains the reports from the field to which Desmond
Morton refers, and they tell a different story of Mihailović’s
strength. As to those areas which were indeed under Tito’s control,
Cairo was receiving signals from only a small number of
missions, maybe five or so, spread over huge areas, and the BLOs
with the Partisans were transmitting Partisan-source information.
That map was “cooked,” and there are no two ways about it. It
so happens that Klugmann had a clear field on December 2, 1943,
the day the bogus map was first seen by Desmond Morton. Keble
had just left on November 27 and Deakin did not arrive till December
Deakin, who then took over the Yugoslav section on December
13, had just come directly from the field and had, shortly
before, had a narrow escape when his plane was bombed on the
ground. The pressures and the preparation of his famous collaboration
dossier about alleged Mihailović misdoings clearly preoccupied
his attention so that he had no time to check maps, and
it has to be assumed that the map referred to by Desmond Morton
was used at the fateful meeting with the prime minister on
December 10, 1943.
In the later map incident in Bari in June 1944 it was actually
Maj. Jasper Rootham, who had been private secretary to Neville
Chamberlain before the war, who struck the pins off the map.
Jasper and Archie Jack visited the map room together and were
aghast that large areas they had just covered as BLOs to Mihailović
were shown in Partisan hands. They knew this to be false
because they had moved around freely and had encountered no
Partisans. The officer in charge of the map room told them that
they were misinformed, whereupon Rootham swung at the map.
They were so upset that Archie Jack called a meeting of a number
of Mihailović BLOs and insisted that Klugmann attend.
Klugmann’s explanation was a pathetic amalgam of excuses: that
the decisions came from above and had to be obeyed; that there
was lack of effective office staff, lack of cypher clerks, and so on.
He was most apologetic and conciliatory, and the BLOs believed
him. At that stage Klugmann’s true nature was not realized.
The Cairo map given to Desmond Morton in December 1943
was allegedly prepared from operational signals, and it suited the
Partisan case much better than the maps in London prepared
from all sources, including, of course, all of the intercepts. Yet
the previous map served up by M04 to Churchill—which, according
to Davidson, was crucial to the decisions made in January
1943—was prepared just from the intercepts to which Keble
was privy. It all sounds like an awfully selective use of information.
Misinformation about what was happening was the major factor
in the Yugoslav civil war. It was widespread at base and in the
From the end of 1942, when Colonel Bailey dropped to Mihailovic
but failed to bring any material support or encouragement,
it must have become increasingly clear both to Mihailovic
himself and to his outlying commanders that the British were
manipulating the movement. From the middle of 1943, when the
British missions were dropped to the Tito Partisans and started
to give them massive supplies, it must have been obvious to all
that the Loyalist movement was in danger of being dumped.
In particular, it is incredible and shameful that SOE Cairo
started dropping missions to the Partisans and pouring in supplies
to them without any prior consultation with Mihailovic. Was
he not bound to suspect that the British missions being dropped
to his local commanders were no more than spies?
The Mihailović movement would have had great potential
had it been able to draw on the huge manpower loyal to the king
and wanting to join, particularly in Serbia. With coordination between
Mihailovic, his local commanders, and BLOs properly dispersed
throughout the country both within and outside Serbia,
his movement could have met any demands by Cairo or London
for carefully planned, timed, and organized sabotage. Moreover,
they could have been coordinated with Middle East Command
strategies far better than could be achieved by Tito’s lumbering
mobile columns, which were, in any case, serving another master—
If we had stayed with Mihailovic, we could have secured the
total defection of the Nedić state guards in 1944 when the ustanak—
the great uprising—was called. The Allies had no qualms
about trying to turn the Vichy French, an exactly parallel case.
This would have brought arms and men to the Allied side and
would have been considerably less offensive ethically than the
turning, and use against Serbs, of the brutal Bulgarians, achieved
by Tito with the help of the Soviets late in 1944.
Mihailovic enjoyed great popular support with the ordinary
people. I can only speak for the peasants in the southeastern
Serbian mountains, and from what I heard secondhand from other
areas, but based on these sources the support in Serbia itself for
the Loyalist movement, for the king, and for Mihailović personally
was astonishingly strong.
Tragically, Mihailović was a bad organizer—indeed, rather
a bumbling bureaucrat—and he had poor advisors. He was also
vulnerable through his association with the exiled government.
As in many other countries, there was a hard core of disaffection
with the prewar regime. None of this would have mattered if the
British had helped him take a real grip on his forces, and if the
British had not reviled him, cheated him, and eventually put a
knife in his back.
In spite of the equivocal and devious attitude of M04 regarding
the Mihailović movement, the BLOs throughout were
treated as allies and even friends by the Loyalists. I know of no
case in which a British serviceman was mishandled or even rudely
treated, or restricted in any way from going where he wanted.
Many of us traveled around entirely on our own volition, and I
for one arbitrarily changed from one Loyalist unit to another
according to the possibilities of getting sabotage carried out. Escaped
prisoners of war were succored, as were crashed aircrews,
and nothing was asked in return. The same applied to Yugoslav
nationals under the formal or informal protection of the British
There were about 500 total, mostly American, crashed aircrewmen,
scattered like confetti over thousands of square miles,
safely passed from Loyalist village to Loyalist village to the evacuation
rendezvous. It would be fascinating to compare the numbers
of aircrewmen evacuated by the Loyalists with those helped
by the Partisans. I believe that such a comparison would demonstrate
the much larger area in Loyalist hands until late in 1944.
Attention should also be drawn to the manner of treatment dealt
out by the two armies. There are many complaints from Americans
about their treatment by the Partisans.
Mihailović and his commanders maintained a pedantically
correct and friendly attitude to the British missions right up to
our departure at the end of May 1944. This is truly remarkable
when it is considered that we had withdrawn support from him
at the end of 1943 and had even before then poured thousands
of tons of supplies into his enemy’s hands.
In the light of the courteous treatment of the missions by
Mihailović and his observance of diplomatic niceties regarding
their Yugoslav members, one reads with a sense of shame a signal
in which Brigadier Maclean at Tito’s headquarters outlined
the procedure to be followed in the event that Tito forces captured
British missions with Mihailović. It was agreed that the
British members of the missions would be given safe-conduct directly
out of the country, but members of Yugoslav origin would
be first arrested and then treated according to the findings of the
Partisans. We all have a good idea what those findings would
have been. This took place while the British were providing Tito
with the arms that he was using to attack Mihailović, and while
the official policy of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was still that Partisan
units could be supported only if they pledged not to use arms
against Mihailović units.
In the late summer of 1941, about six months after the start of
Yugoslav resistance, a spontaneous uprising took place in Serbia
and Montenegro, as a result of which the Germans carried out
massive reprisals against the civilian population in Serbia. Although
his forces became drawn into this uprising, Mihailović
and the exiled royal government, as well as SOE London, were
all opposed in principle to arbitrary general resistance on the
grounds that it was quite unsustainable at that stage of the war
and that it was bound to result in the destruction of the nation
and particularly of the Serbian people. The Serbs had suffered
massively in the First World War, losing 1.5 million from a population
of about 6 million, and they were again being massacred
in the genocide program that was still being carried out by the
ustaša in Croatia.
As a trained soldier and a student of guerrilla-warfare tactics—
and as a veteran of the very harsh Serbian experiences in
the First World War— Mihailović recognized that general uprisings
by inadequately armed, half-trained guerrillas were wasteful
and unproductive. Rather, he believed honestly and passionately
that the right course was to build up in the mountains a numerically
strong force, to obtain arms for them from the Allies, and
to prepare for a general uprising to coincide with an Allied landing
on the Adriatic coast or Greece, or—as actually did happen—
with the entry of the Red Army. In the meantime he felt
that all attacks on the Axis or sabotage had to be weighed in each
individual case by the value of the action against its probable cost
in reprisals.
In preferring this policy, Mihailović was doing no more and
no less than other European resistance movements, counseled
precisely along these lines by SOE as he was. Both SOE and the
royal government in exile specifically instructed him in 1941 to
follow this strategy. Actually, in 1941 and 1942 extensive sabotage
was carried out by Mihailović’s forces. Very little was known
about this activity in Allied circles, partly because of his lack of
communications with the Allies and partly because of his lamentably
negligent attitude regarding public relations. In this he was
totally outgunned by the communist dialectical materialists.
The Germans were actually more threatened by the bideyour-
time policy than by one of haphazard aggression. If the
guerrillas came into the open and pitted themselves against the
German regular forces, defeat and subsequent reprisals were inevitable.
But the threat of guerrillas in the mountains, dispersed
over huge areas and able to appear anywhere, tied down substantial
Axis forces. It should be recorded that more enemy divisions
were deployed in Yugoslavia, guarding the towns, the
mineral resources, and the communications, in 1941-42 than were
deployed late in 1944 when Tito had received massive Allied
support. The reason, of course, was that Tito was using the vast
bulk of his resources and forces not against the Germans but in
civil war.
It is fascinating to note how Tito apologists among the historians
will try to demonstrate how there were very few German
units in Serbia, thus implying that the Loyalists were not resisting.
But when they come to talk about Tito “liberating Serbia,”
suddenly from nowhere the German enemy becomes predominant.
As always, the Partisans’ apologists want everything all ways.
The Partisan organization was totally different from that of the
Loyalists. It had fundamentally different origins. As I have explained,
the Mihailovic movement sprang up spontaneously and
represented at best nothing more than an alliance of patriotic
elements loosely linked together in a common desire to resist the
invader. By contrast, the Partisan organization grew out of a prewar
undercover communist scheme. Tito, the Croatian Josip Broz,
had spent virtually all of his adult life as a servant of the Comintern.
He served in the Austrian army in Russia during the First
World War. He was wounded and he stayed in Russia, marrying
a Russian and working there for a time. He returned to Yugoslavia
to organize on behalf of the Comintern, the Moscow-dominated
international organization linking Communist parties. He
served a prison term for his political activities. He survived Stalin’s
purges in the late 1930s and had become the unchallenged
leader of Yugoslav communism before the outbreak of the Second
World War. He was a totally committed Stalinist communist.
Partisan mythology has it that the Partisan movement started
to resist when the Germans invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941,
but this is communist special pleading. The Partisans followed
the instructions of their Soviet masters to the letter and did not
appear as resisters and patriots until Germany attacked Soviet
Russia. Indeed, Sava Bosnić, a well-known historian, recently gave
a paper in Canada revealing how the Gestapo helped to return
Yugoslav communists from Spain in 1940. The communists were
tolerated by the Germans until J u n e 22, 1941, when the SS ordered
the arrest of communists previously protected by the Nazi-
Soviet pact. Even then Tito did not exactly j u m p into the fray.
In fact, he needed a reminder from Moscow on July 4 to call for
partisans to join the general uprising (for more on this subject
see Milan Deroc, Special Operations Explored).
Already before the war the communists had a network of
cells throughout most of Yugoslavia. Their aims had nothing
whatsoever to do with Yugoslav patriotism, although to be fair it
must be said that many Yugoslav communists later exhibited great
patriotism. The communist cells had to do with plotting, planning,
and organizing the breakdown of the established order. They
also had to follow the tactical dictates of the Comintern.
Tito’s ideas in 1941 were very different from Mihailović’s,
and they are clearly on record thanks to the books written by
Milovan Djilas, number three in the Partisan hierarchy and postwar
vice-president of Yugoslavia, and by Vladimir Dedijer, Tito’s
personal biographer. Both have turned revisionist. The Partisans
were not overly worried about reprisals against the civil population,
as is loud and clear from Djilas’s writings. The victims were
just casualties of “the great struggle for freedom,” as they were
wont to put it. Tito was foremost concerned with meeting the
imperious demands of his master Stalin for action, any action,
and immediate action to relieve in any way, however small, the
pressure of the German armies invading Russia and threatening
Moscow. Considerations such as avoiding reprisals against his
countrymen were secondary. He was, of course, also concerned
with getting ready to grab power.
Tito was, furthermore, particularly interested in building up
his own numbers in order to achieve superiority over the Loyalists
and to broaden his political base. As I have already written,
the German reprisals increased the flow of men into the woods
and mountains. These refugees tended to join the Partisans because
they had mobile forces moving through and on, out of the
devastated areas.
This was the essential difference: Tito’s forces were largely
mobile; they had no permanent home base. They occupied territory
and moved on when Axis pressure became too great or
when their political objectives required them to take over new
areas. They left a degree of devastation behind, but they also left
a strengthened communist political organization wherever they
went. They made a point of destroying the civil administration
and the municipal or village records and of liquidating any potential
political rivals. Thus, in true Marxist-Leninist style, the
Partisans were at every opportunity creating chaos which could
be exploited politically at a later date, even when they had to flee
before German military action against them.
Tito’s concern right from the start was to make his movement
a national one and to gain power throughout the country. This
was almost an obsession with him, as was his having been driven
out of Serbia by the Germans after the 1941 uprising. The need
to get back into Serbia dominated his policy. Astutely he called
his movement the National Liberation Army or the People’s Liberation
Army, thus underlining the nonsectarian nature of his
In 1942 the term “partisan,” like the term “Četnik,” was often
used loosely to describe any guerrilla group. Resistance groups
right across the political spectrum were called partisans. This led
to quite some misunderstanding in the British agencies and to
the attribution of the extensive Loyalist activities in 1941 and 1942
to “partisans” and thus, by association, to Tito’s Partisans. It does
not explain or excuse, however, the BBC giving undue credit to
the Partisans—with a capital P—in 1943. By that time, the distinction
was quite clear.
Tito’s main columns plodded backward and forward from
Užice in western Serbia west through Bosnia as far as Bihać. They
also marched south through Herzegovina into Montenegro and
back again. In their moves into Montenegro they were set on first
destroying the Montenegrin Četniks and then turning east into
Sandžak and Serbia. They moved in long, single-file columns.
This exhausting process was neither economical nor productive.
Casualties were horrendous. As a general rule the wounded could
not be left in friendly areas—the traditional guerrilla method,
which was favored by the Loyalists—but had to be carried, suffering,
until they recovered or died or had to be abandoned. In
the famous rout from Mount Durmitor, proclaimed by communist
propaganda as a victorious breakout from the fifth Axis offensive,
Tito was cornered and only escaped by abandoning his
wounded, by jettisoning a large proportion of his armament, and
by leaving fairly substantial forces to their fate with orders to give
cover to the Partisan headquarters staff and their main forces—
which were running for their lives.
In the areas of Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Croatia where these
Partisan forces lumbered back and forth there were of course
frequent clashes with Axis troops. Communications were sabotaged
but not in accordance with any strategic plan. Rather, they
were broken to protect Partisan retreats; and the movements were
practically always retreats. Furthermore, the area in which all this
movement went on was not really vital to the Axis. What were
important to the Germans were the main rail lines and mines—
and they went on operating both.
While the military advantages derived from the Partisan mode
of operation are questionable, the political advantages were not.
The areas through which the forces traveled were being prepared
as first priority for communist takeover. When from time
to time the Axis area commander decided the ploy had gone far
enough, he moved against Partisan units. Such retaliations became
the “second,” “third,” and “fourth” offensives in Partisan
propaganda and mythology. The miserable transport of suffering
humanity, dragged and carried behind the fleeing Partisans,
created the Partisan legend that “wounded were never abandoned.”
In fact they were, but it all gave the impression of huge
numbers and great glory.
These tactics also affected the intercepts. To read historians
of the Partisan school and persuasion one obtains the impression
that the intercepted German signals spelled out details of intense
Partisan resistance effort and of Četnik collaboration. No such
thing. The intercepts chiefly carried reports of “bandit” sightings
and of movements of Axis forces. For a long time the Germans
referred to all resistance as “bandit activity.” Generally they did
not specify what brand of bandit. But Partisan apologists have
been assiduous in claiming all “bandit activity” mentioned in intercepts
as Partisan activity.
The bravery of the Partisans cannot be gainsaid. It was
breathtaking. But this had nothing to do with Tito or communism.
It was quite simply a quality of the Serbs. Forced to flee
their homes, seized and indoctrinated by the communist elite and
well led, often by Spanish Civil War veterans, the Serbian qualities
shone out. Had we BLOs with the Mihailovic forces been
allowed to arm, and above all to encourage, the massive numbers
of Serbs in the Serbian heartland, then totally under the influence
of Mihailovic and royalist sentiment, Yugoslavia might well
be a democracy today.
The ruthlessness with which the Partisan movement and the
population were manipulated by the ruling clique stands out in
Djilas’s writings. Even as he was using commissars to indoctrinate
the recruits in communist ideology, Tito publicly portrayed the
whole movement as a patriotic one. He kept its direction and
support by the Soviets very much in the background. In his book
Wartime Djilas tells us how Stalin more than once told Tito to be
careful that the West did not catch on to the Soviet orchestration
of the situation.
Tito brilliantly fostered the concept of the integrity of a whole
Yugoslavia without sacrificing the special identities of its many
nationalities and tribes. This ploy, which suited Soviet Comintern
theory, enabled Tito’s propagandists to portray Mihailović and
the Loyalists as pan-Serb fascists concerned only with Serbian interests
and a postwar strengthening of Serbian hegemony.
After the crushing of the 1941 uprising the Partisans lost their
foothold in Serbia. Serbia and the neighboring Sandžak were,
from a resistance viewpoint, Mihailović territory. Serbia’s population
was royalist, patriotic, and traditionally very militant against
invaders. It was important territory in that the main north-south
railway lines traveled the Ibar and Morava valleys and linked Belgrade
and Salonika. It was the key rail link for moving German
forces up and down from Greece. Serbia also held mineral resources
important to Germany. Therefore, Serbia was not only
the heartland of the Mihailović Loyalist movement but also strategically
the most important area in all of Yugoslavia.
Eastern Bosnia, Montenegro, and Herzegovina were contested
by Loyalists and Partisans, and these were the barren lands
in which the two forces clashed time and again. Effectively, western
Bosnia and Croatia were predominantly Partisan territories
with no serious presence of forces loyal to or loosely associated
with Mihailović.
Dalmatia in the west and Slovenia in the northwest were two
other territories with both Partisan and Loyalist presences at the
start. The development of events in these territories was illustrative
of the different organization of Mihailović’s and Tito’s forces.
At the start, the Loyalist commanders in Slovenia and Dalmatia,
Karlo Novak and Trifunović Birčanin, respectively, were
strongly placed. Unfortunately, they received no support and no
encouragement, and they were far removed from Mihailović
through both distance and lack of communications. By contrast,
Tito’s organization exercised rigid control over the communist
cells throughout Yugoslavia; excellent communication was maintained.
The communist organization, which had existed since
peacetime, worked superbly well. With a clear objective—exploitation
of the wartime circumstances to destroy all anticommunist
opposition—and with the benefit of substantial Allied material
support as early as July 1943, Tito’s outlying units inevitably
overcame the Loyalist forces in Slovenia and Dalmatia, who received
not one single planeload from the Allies at any time.
I have spelled out the areas of operations—inevitably in very
general terms—in order to make the point that there was a fairly
natural geographical division between the Partisan domain and
the Loyalist heartland in Serbia. Only after the Allies had publicly
denounced Mihailović and urged the Loyalists to switch their
allegiance to Tito, and only after the massive logistical support
for Tito demonstrated that this was not all communist propaganda,
was Tito able to penetrate Serbia in a serious way.
Tito’s overwhelming priority—a goal he made quite clear—
was the conquest of the Serbian heartland, the “liberation” from
the Loyalists. The tragedy is that we, the British, helped him
succeed in attaining it.
Except for public-relations purposes, the Partisan war against
Axis forces was secondary. It took place. The Axis was occupying
Yugoslavia, and it was impossible to move around, particularly in
large columns, without stumbling over Germans or Italians or
Bulgars. But most of the fighting against the Axis by the Partisans
took place in the legendary Axis “offensives”—when the
Partisans were on the run and had little choice but to shoot back.
I stress that this section of my book is not written as history
but is intended solely to give the lay reader some idea of the
background before I come to the main story, which is what I saw
with my own eyes in southeastern Serbia in 1943 and the blowby-
blow account of the undoing of Mihailović and the Loyalists.
I have already mentioned the total freedom enjoyed by BLOs
with Mihailović. In sabotage operations, we were free to observe,
to help, or to lead. Major Archie Jack played the central role in
Loyalist bridge-destruction operations in October 1943, and I
personally placed the charges on railway lines together with Loyalist
units on a number of occasions from September to December
1943. Even after the break with Mihailović, when we were
awaiting evacuation and when he had been formally and publicly
abandoned by the Allies, I derailed two more trains. Although
they did not help me on the latter two occasions (only because I
did not tell them what I was going to do), the Loyalist forces did
nothing whatsoever to hinder me, nor did they protest as some
of my “more responsible” colleagues, who condemned me, feared
they might. Yet a few weeks previously we had publicly denounced
them over the BBC as collaborators. Some collaboration!
Compare this with the treatment of the liaison officers by
the Partisans. I think it is fair to say that few of them had freedom
of movement without surveillance. Where they did not need
interpreters they had minders. The American missions with the
Partisans made this point after their return, and I have heard
British confirm it. They were frequently caught up in the fighting,
particularly on the march with the mobile columns, and, sadly,
in the “liberation” of Serbia. Nevertheless, I have yet to read of
a BLO with the Partisans regularly leading, or even accompanying,
demolition teams in their day-to-day sabotage operations,
though one or two reported being shown a demonstration. For
sabotage reports, the BLOs had to take the Partisans’ word. This
is what they signaled through. Not all identified it as hearsay.
In contrast, the British with the Loyalists were able to make
eyewitness reports truthfully and objectively. In the event that
they reported a bit too explicitly in their moments of frustration,
their reports were seized on by SOE Cairo and by the Minister
of State’s Office as justification for their negative view of Mihailović.
After rereading my own signals from the field and remembering
the circumstances, I am ashamed that I grumbled so much.
My complaints provided ammunition that was used to considerable
effect in the anti-Mihailović campaign.
Col. Bill “Marko” Hudson and Col. Bill Bailey at Mihailović’s
headquarters provided particularly valuable material for the critics.
Their reports tended to be rather long, rather detailed, and
sometimes rather complicated. They could be used selectively to
prove almost anything. We did not know, of course, that our
masters in Cairo would not just take our messages at face value
and, in reading them, allow for the pressure that weighs on any
man living in enemy territory. Moreover, I must point out that I
for one had no idea that Cairo was not wholeheartedly behind
the Mihailović movement. I did not even learn until several months
after the fact that a mission had been dropped to Partisan headquarters.
That M04 should be seriously moving toward a break
with Mihailović was quite unthinkable.
On the Partisan side it was different; very different indeed
and much simpler. The Partisan commanders called the shots,
and the Allied officers with their units appear to have mainly
served the purpose of providing help. They appear to have had
no say in strategy or tactics. The decisions were made by Tito
and his subcommanders.
The attitude of the Partisans toward the British was typified
by Tito’s refusal to allow drops to Partisan units in Serbia. He
obviously wanted to avoid the possibility that an independentminded
BLO might contact a BLO with the Loyalists and even
organize a local truce arrangement, as I myself tried to do from
the Mihailović side at one stage.
Then there was the sudden worsening of the Partisan attitude
regarding the BLOs in the autumn of 1944. This is reflected
in many reports I have read, and it took place not long
after Tito had—in Churchill’s word—”levanted” to Moscow to
coordinate with the Russians the “liberation” of Serbia. Tito disappeared
overnight from his headquarters on Vis, without even
informing—much less consulting—the British mission, and he
flew off in a Soviet plane or, more correctly, an American-built
plane operated by the Soviet mission on Vis.
About this time or shortly afterward the British mission was
advised that the liaison officers with the subordinate Partisan
commands had to be withdrawn, leaving only the missions with
the main commands. This, of course, was the time that the Partisans
were preparing the coup de grace against the Loyalist forces,
and it has to be assumed that this move reflected the need to
camouflage from the British the ruthless measures planned for
dealing with the Loyalists and all other potential opponents.
The different attitudes of the two movements with regard to the
British missions were a logical corollary of their different natures.
The Loyalists were led for the most part by regular officers
who followed regular traditions and manners and by Serbs who
had been allies of the British for decades. Although in fact they
were let down, their nature was to continue to regard the British
as allies and to treat them as such. The Loyalists, furthermore,
were serving their government in exile and their king, who remained
under British protection.
Mihailović had no revolutionary purpose. His movement’s
political aim was to free the country from the occupation; to save
it from a communist takeover; and then to hold democratic elections
with the help of the Western Allies. He wanted to restore
the legitimate government under the monarchy and, last but not
least, to restore the honor of the army after its ignominious April
1941 defeat. In pursuance of this general-resistance concept, the
movement was prepared to cooperate with and accept direction
from the Allies, provided that its leaders were satisfied that they
were not being manipulated or asked to subject their people to
reprisals without weighing the consequences and without a quid
pro quo.
The Partisans, by contrast, set themselves up as a sovereign
state with a national army. They pretended to this stature even
when they were nothing more than a rabble of outlaws running
from encirclement to encirclement. They admitted of no interference
and pretended to be dealing militarily on a basis of army
commander to army commander and politically on a basis of
government to government.
The difference in the two relationships was really almost ludicrous.
Mihailović was the minister of defense of a legitimate
though exiled government. He was the leading political figure
and commander of the forces in the Serbian homeland. Yet he
was treated by M04 as a lackey. Tito early in 1943 was staggering
from rout to rout with mobile forces smaller than those of
Mihailovic and with reserves minuscule compared to those of the
Loyalists. Yet Tito’s movement was built up by M04 without
making any serious effort to achieve any degree of control.
While Tito was becoming confident and aggressive, what was
happening psychologically to Mihailovic? By June 1943 if not
earlier he must have been strongly suspicious that, at best, the
Allies intended to abandon him outside Serbia or, at worst, the
Loyalists had been sold out to the Russians in some strategic superpower
deal. He had been living in the mountains and the
woods for more than two years, constantly under threat, with the
responsibility for his movement and indeed for all of the people
of Yugoslavia. He may have been limited in outlook, he may have
been a bureaucrat, he may have been many things, but he was a
very responsible human being with a great depth of feeling. He
saw everything he had tried to achieve slipping away from him,
and he saw the British, whom he had been brought up to respect
and like, cheating him and treating him as a lackey without even
justifying their actions.
The fundamentally different natures of the two resistance
movements were mirrored by fundamental differences in the attitudes
of the British liaison officers. “Marko” Hudson tried to
mediate between Tito and Mihailovic as early as 1941, and he
earned not a little opprobrium from Mihailovic for his endeavors.
Bill Bailey was obliged to transmit to Mihailovic messages
that were at times unreasonable and at times outright
offensive. He encountered Mihailović’s anger—and not unreasonable
anger—on a number of occasions, not least for what
happened with the Italian Venezia Division at the time of the
Italian capitulation—a shocking incident that I will chronicle a
little later.
In the outlying missions we sought to prevent the Loyalists
from fighting the Partisans. In my area the relative weakness of
the Partisan forces created a complication because my commanders
were tempted to clean them out before they became
reinforced. It was largely due to pressure by the missions that
they did not do so. The clashes we had with the detachment of
Partisans based on Mount Radan near Leskovac, a mere couple
of hundred strong, took place only when they entered our area
or ambushed us as we were passing through the plains to attack
the railway line. My own sabotage group suffered ambushes on
two occasions. We did not retaliate.
Other BLOs with Mihailović also tried to restrain the Loyalists
from attacking the Partisans, but the BLOs with the Partisans
appear to have adopted an entirely different philosophy. Whether
this stemmed from their own initiative, from M04 instructions,
or from Partisan pressure I do not know.
The official policy of seeking to prevent the two movements
from fighting each other is shown in a telegram from the chiefs
of staff (PREM 3 510/13) to the Middle East Defence Committee,
dated June 27, 1943. Here are pertinent excerpts:
6. . . .We should continue to support Mihailovic, provided
he accepts H.M.G.’s recent directive.
7. Croatian guerrillas and Communist Partisans should
forthwith be supplied with war material, but Partisans
operating in close proximity to Mihailovic’s forces should
first be required to give assurance to British Liaison Officers
that no operations will be carried out against Mihailovic
except in self-defence.
8. This policy will be open to reconsideration from time to
time in light of your recommendations.
9. No definite territories should be allotted to different resistance
movements with a view to supporting each of
them only in those districts, but resistance groups of all
kinds should be supported wherever they are able to
undertake operations against the Axis, subject to proviso
in para. 7.
10. Our ultimate object must be to unify all resistance
movements throughout Yugoslavia. With this in view,
instructions are being sent through SOE channel to Bailey
and other British liaison officers to arrange, if possible,
political nonaggression agreement between
Mihailovic and Partisans.
11. Radio propaganda will be brought into line, and publicity
extended to all groups which fight the Axis as soon
as the Partisans and Mihailovic give the assurance required
in paragraphs 6 and 7. . . .
Paragraph 7 is unequivocal in making support for Partisans
contingent on their assurance to British liaison officers that they
would not initiate conflict with Mihailovic. The SOE operational
logs for that period are not available in the Public Records Office,
but the Foreign Office files show no evidence that these assurances
were ever obtained. Indeed, there are repeated reminders
from the Foreign Office to the Minister of State’s Office in Cairo
urging that such assurances should be obtained and complaining
about the failure to do so. The responsibility for the failure to
get assurances from the Partisans—or even ask for them—lay
with Cairo. With SOE Cairo or with the Minister of State’s Office
in Cairo, or with both. It also lay, of course, with the British
mission to Tito.
The policy of the Foreign Office was spelled out very clearly
on July 22, 1943, in a document titled “Brief for Colonel Maclean.”
It states:
. . . Our first aim is, therefore, to endeavour to bring about
the coordination of the military activities of General Mihailovic
and Partisans (and any other resistance elements in
Yugoslavia) under the direction of the Commander-in-Chief,
Middle East.
Moreover, in our view negotiations for effecting political
understandings between these various groups should not
be rushed lest internal rivalries are thereby aggravated.
At the same time, the ultimate aim of His Majesty’s
Government is to endeavour to reconcile all such groups to
each other and persuade them to subordinate the racial, religious
and ideological differences which separate them
to-day, so that Yugoslav unity may be preserved and the
political, economic and constitutional problems which today
confront the country may be settled by the free will of
the people.
It is also the hope of His Majesty’s Government that
King Peter will return as the Constitutional monarch and it
is believed that through him and with his assistance, the aims
of His Majesty’s Government can be realised.
When Maclean arrived in Yugoslavia on September 17, 1943,
he had had eight weeks in which to study the above brief. Early
in October he received a signal from Brigadier Keble of SOE
instructing him to approach Tito with a view to stopping the
fighting between the two resistance movements. Maclean declined
to pass on the message on the grounds that Tito and the
Partisan movement were determined to “liquidate” Mihailovic and
that giving Tito the message would cause a deterioration of relations
at this early stage of his mission.
When Deakin dropped to Tito at the end of May 1943, the
Partisan movement was in extremis. By the skin of its teeth it
had extricated itself from the encirclement near Mount Durmitor.
It desperately needed arms and supplies. Should such support
not have been made dependent on arms not being used to
attack Mihailovic? This was the official government policy, and it
was the only honorable policy for Great Britain with her commitment
to the Loyalists.
Three months is a long time in a war, and if the table was
never thumped before Maclean’s arrival on September 17, obviously
it was a bit harder for Maclean then. But the arrival of a
senior head of mission, and the de facto recognition thus accorded,
should have made Tito more amenable to discussions.
Maclean, despite clear instructions from London in his brief, seems
to have chosen not to exert pressure.
We do not know precisely what passed between Deakin and
Maclean on one side and Tito on the other. Furthermore, we do
not know whether Deakin and Maclean had received secret instructions
from Churchill. But we do know what was the official
government policy. Should not Deakin and Maclean have flatly
told Tito to take the support on Allied terms or leave it? That is
what Bailey and Armstrong were doing with Mihailovic.
Tito needed the Allies far more than they needed him. The
Germans had already rejected advances he made to them in the
spring of 1943, and the Russians could not help at that time.
Tito had nowhere else to go. Yet the British mission failed dismally
to extract anything from him then; or indeed at any time,
as far as can be seen from history and the records.
Deakin was an academic, not a businessman and understandably
no power politician. But Maclean, with his experience
in Russia before the war, should surely have been up to such a
task. Indeed, his highest-level influence in British political and
military circles demonstrated his ability to apply pressure where
needed. Why oh why did he not use that talent, that drive, that
power to steer Tito away from the civil war, and why oh why did
he ignore his Foreign Office brief? He might have failed, but I
have found no sign that he tried. The evidence seems to show
that little table-thumping took place with Tito. Pressure, when it
came—and it was very great pressure indeed—was all the other
way: pressure on the British agencies to give Tito anything Tito
As I have already related, Bickham Sweet-Escott in his book
Baker Street Irregular tells us that, immediately on his arrival in
Yugoslavia in early June, Deakin started sending out a series of
telegrams espousing the potential of the Tito movement. Maclean
in his turn arrived with Tito on September 17 and already by
November 6 had produced a voluminous report that sold the
Partisan story effusively—on the basis of Partisan facts and figures.
Many of the “facts” were tendentious. Most of the figures
were false. The speed at which this material was produced absolutely
precluded any study of the situation in detail on the ground,
or any coordination with Colonel Bailey at Mihailović’s headquarters,
as was called for in the brief for Colonel Maclean.
But here the big question I have already hinted at has to
be asked outright: Were things happening over the heads of the
hierarchy and outside the official channels? Had a policy been
established on an unofficial nod-and-wink basis when Churchill
visited Cairo in January 1943 and held the fateful meetings with
Deakin, Keble, and the minister of state? The files show unequivocally
that Captain Maclean, as he was in July, was brought back
from Cairo to the Foreign Office for briefing and appointment
as political advisor to the brigadier who was to be named head of
the military mission to Tito. But Maclean’s own books and his
paper to the Auty-Clogg symposium tell us quite specifically that
he was brought back by the prime minister to head up the mission.
It is all very confused and confusing. What is certain is that
following the weekend at Chequers the prime minister wrote this
personal memo (FO 371 37610) to the foreign secretary:
Mr. Fitzroy Maclean, M.P. is a man of daring character with
Parliamentary status and Foreign Office training. He is to
go to Yugoslavia and work with Tito largely for S.O.E. The
idea is that a Brigadier should be sent out to take command
later on. In my view, we should plump for Maclean and
make him the head of any Mission now contemplated, and
give him a good military Staff officer under his authority.
What we want is a daring Ambassador-Leader with these
hardy and hunted guerillas.
If you agree, please act in this sense with the War Office
and S.O.E., and use my influence, for what it is worth.
This memo may well have been dictated late at night and
typed on the spot. The typing was untidy, and evidently the great
man had to make two or three tries at the signature, which appears
in the form of shaky initials repeated partly on top of
themselves two or three times. Maybe he was very tired. But the
memo set the pattern for what was going to happen in Yugoslavia.
In Eastern Approaches Maclean tells us that he warned Churchill
in Cairo early in December that Tito was avowedly a communist
and that the postwar system would inevitably be on Soviet
lines and oriented toward the Soviet Union. According to Maclean’s
account, Churchill then asked, “Do you intend to make Yugoslavia
your home after the war?” “No Sir.” “Neither do I. And that
being so, the less you and I worry about the form of Government
they set up the better, that is for them to decide.”
This comment by Churchill is significant because at that time
he was publicly committed to doing his utmost to get the king
back into Yugoslavia and to ensure free elections for the people
of Yugoslavia after the war. In the subsequent months various
diplomatic steps were taken to try to bring Tito and acceptable
politicians together, with a view to getting a less extreme government
and the desired free elections. Yet Churchill seems not really
to have been sanguine about it or, if his remark was not unduly
cynical, to have had his heart in it.
This sequence of events forces one to ask: Did something
more happen at Chequers on the night of July 28? While advising
the foreign secretary in his memo to plump for Maclean, did
he mumble to Maclean, “See here, Maclean, I want also to plump
for full support for Tito, whatever the consequences, and you
have to supply me with the arguments to justify this course in
Parliament”? Some such occurrence would explain a lot. It would
explain nearly everything.
It is significant that Maclean insisted on having a direct line
of communication not only to the Middle East commander in
chief but also to the prime minister. Brigadier Sir Fitzroy Maclean
is still very much with us, appearing on the television and
writing fascinating travel and political commentaries. Will he one
day tell all? Some of us would dearly like to know in full what
happened on that fateful night at Chequers.
Eastern Approaches tells us of Maclean’s first meeting with Tito
and gives us impressive evidence of the failure of the British mission
to do any table-thumping or indeed to make any use of this
unique opportunity to try to check the civil war. Maclean tells
how Tito made his position quite clear about Mihailović and the
Loyalists. That position, including the claim that Mihailović was
a collaborator, reflected the Partisan “facts” and interpretations
put around in the Soviet-conducted misinformation campaign,
which had been going on for more than a year. Maclean did
not need to drop into Bosnia to hear that spiel. But Eastern
Approaches says nothing about putting forth the Western Allied
viewpoint or policy, and nothing about asking for assurances or making
supplies dependent on finding a modus vivendi with Mihailović. Tito
stated his viewpoint. That was that.
Reflecting the totally different attitude adopted by the British
mission to Mihailović, a signal came in from Bailey in which he
reports giving another bludgeoning message to Mihailović—a
signal he pretended came from General Headquarters (GHQ)
Middle East, though actually he was its author. The message lists
a series of complaints, some of which may have been real but
some of which were certainly imaginary. The catalog of complaints
included my own grumbles. They dealt with various sabotage
projects and claimed that the local Loyalist commanders
were being obstructive or that they had not received instructions
from Mihailović. In reality it is probable that most if not all of
the problems arose from lack of communications between Mihailović
and his subcommanders, from the outlying BLOs’ lack of
direct communication with their chief at Mihailović’s headquarters,
and from the monumental delays in Cairo in deciphering
signals from Mihailović BLOs.
Specifically, Bailey’s signal spoke of Maj. Radoslav Djurić, the
Mihailović commander in southeastern Serbia, “with three thousand
men armed by the British during the past four months now
engaged fighting Partisans in his area to the detriment of antiaxis
Djurić never had 3,000 men armed by the British at any time.
Official statistics I quote elsewhere show that the whole Loyalist
movement received enough arms for only 1,500 men from June
to November 1943. Bailey must have known his signal was misleading.
So did Mihailović.
The signal also claimed that forty drops had been planned
for Mihailović in September, that none of them would now be
delivered, and that there would be no resumption of supplies
until categorical and unambiguous instructions to remedy the
position had been issued by Mihailović and confirmed by the local
In reporting passing this message to Mihailović in the name
of GHQ Middle East, Bailey stated, “Possible not probable Mihailovic
will reject ultimatum and break off relations but am
making no progress at moment. Therefore consider better have
rupture before (repeat before) arrival Brigadier so that future
line can be decided at highest level but in personal consultation
with him.” Bailey amazingly went on to suggest that this “rupture”
would help future relations between the brigadier and the
Loyalists. He also suggested that Mihailović might play the
Americans off against the British. This resembled the specious
argument used in Cairo in January 1943 that the Partisans had
to be supported in order to forestall the Russians or the Americans
from doing so.
Not surprisingly, the Foreign Office’s reaction was unfavorable.
There was also considerable anger at Bailey speaking in the
name of GHQ Middle East. The ultimatum was withdrawn.
But the harm had been done. Once again Mihailović had
been bludgeoned. While the Foreign Office did not subscribe to
or support Bailey’s initiative, someone seems to have followed
Bailey’s instructions and stopped supplies, because there is no
evidence that forty planeloads went to Mihailović in September.
Indeed, only two or three went to southeastern Serbia. M04 would
not have missed a chance like that to sabotage Mihailović. Not
the opportunist Keble or the sinister Klugmann.
Shortly thereafter, however, Brigadier Armstrong arrived
and brought with him a very encouraging letter from General
Wilson, the Middle East commander in chief. This missive approached
Mihailović diplomatically and assured him that the
British were now in a position to give him adequate supplies.
Mihailović’s reaction was to cooperate in a spate of bridge-blowing
carried out by Archie Jack and Brigadier Armstrong. Hundreds
of Bulgars and Germans were killed. All went reasonably well
until Mihailović was again shocked by the change in attitude following
Maclean’s drop to Tito and the subsequent cessation of
supplies to the Loyalists. Coming so soon after an incident involving
the Venezia Division in which the Loyalists were tricked
out of their booty, this new disappointment angered Mihailović
considerably. The final straw was the attribution by the BBC to
the Partisans of the extensive Mihailović actions. Mihailović had
to interpret this as Perfidious Albion at work.
The Venezia Division incident is particularly revealing in this
general context. In September 1943 the capitulation of the Italians
was eagerly awaited, and Colonel Bailey with a Loyalist force
contacted the Italian Venezia Division, which was occupying
Montenegro. Some days previously, in order to get to the town
of Berane, where the division was based, this Loyalist force had
taken the town of Prijepolje, killing about 200 Germans in the
process. Colonel Bailey was present at the battle. The Loyalists
proposed to disarm the Venezia Division and carry away their
weapons, but Bailey requested that the Loyalist commander let
him talk alone with the Italian general.
Bailey came out from this talk and announced that the Italians
would keep their arms and coordinate action with the Loyalists.
This was, of course, what the Italians wanted. The Loyalists
did not like that at all: they wanted the arms. They submitted to
Bailey’s demand unwillingly. That they did so at all was symptomatic
of the respect and trust with which the Loyalists treated
the British. Regrettably, it was their undoing.
Cairo was fully informed of Bailey’s movements, intentions,
and actions. Indeed, the capture of Prijepolje, which was reported
to Cairo, was announced by the BBC before the incident
at Berane. True to the usual form, it was announced as a great
success by the Yugoslav resistance and attributed not to the Loyalists
but to their enemies, the Partisans. Cairo knew that Bailey’s
force was negotiating the Italian surrender. Why did Bailey stop
the Loyalists from disarming them? Did he do so on his own
initiative and, if he did so, why? And why did he take the Italian
general aside out of the hearing of the Loyalist commander? The
balance of probability must be that he did so on orders from
Cairo. Indeed, his signal of October 14, 1943, says, “at your instigation
[emphasis added] Colonel Bailey managed to persuade Mihailovic
not to disarm the Italians in the Lim Valley.”
What happened at Berane was of major importance in the
Yugoslav civil war. Fortunately, Italian sources are available, in
particular the book by Stefano Gestro, which was written with the
cooperation of the Italian army’s historical branch, La Divisione
italiana partigiana: Montenegro 1943-45. Dominic Flessati, producer
of a BBC program on SOE and author of a biography of
“Marko” Hudson, gave me a summary.
The book shows that the Italian general, a man named Oxilia,
behaved in a very dignified and courageous manner. When
the Italian capitulation was announced, he determined to break
away from the Germans and put his forces at the disposal of the
Allies. With other outlying forces that had moved in he had a
very strong, well-equipped division with supporting arms—by far
the most important individual Italian force on the Yugoslav
mainland. His division also dominated an area of Montenegro
leading south into Albania and Macedonia and east to Sandžak
on the road to the Serbian heartland.
Bailey and the Četniks had moved in first, and Berane and
its surrounding area were Loyalist territory. The Loyalists took
over the civil administration of Berane, and on September 23
there was a joint Italo-Yugoslav ceremony. Tito then moved by
throwing first the entire corps of one of his generals, Peko Dapčević,
then part of the corps of another, Koča Popović, into securing
Berane by force of arms. He signaled to Dapčević, “My
plan is to concentrate the first corps and your second corps in
the Sandžak and Metohija so as to move, at the right moment,
toward Serbia and Macedonia.”
General Oxilia tried to persuade the Partisans and Loyalists
to cooperate and fight the Germans together. There was a great
opportunity, he thought, to mount an offensive thrust toward
Podgorica and the sea. But Dapčević refused and told Oxilia to
keep out of Yugoslav internal affairs.
From September 23 until October 10 there was a struggle
for the hearts and minds of the Italians, accompanied by Partisan
attacks on the ground. In the political and psychological struggle
the Partisans, as usual, outgunned the Loyalists, with the Partisans
swearing that they were the representatives of the Allies.
They had solid support in this from their BLO, a Major Hunter,
and the argument that a British general (Maclean) had just joined
them was very telling. So also was the BBC and its false claims
attributing Loyalist successes to the Partisans. An outlying Italian
unit had jumped the gun and joined the Partisans, and together
they were attacking Loyalists. The BBC weighed in, calling the
Loyalists “enemies,” which greatly impressed the Italians. In the
end the sheer weight of Partisan forces rushed down by Tito into
Mihailović territory—and the support of the Partisans by the
British—persuaded General Oxilia to throw in his lot with the
Partisans. Nevertheless, he insisted on permitting the very much
smaller Loyalist force to withdraw unharmed.
Bailey’s behavior continued to be extraordinary. He accompanied
the Loyalists in their successful drive to Berane. He intervened
to stop the disarming of the Venezia Division by the
Loyalists. He stayed for two days only and then set off back to
Mihailovic headquarters. Why? It seems he wanted to be there to
meet Brigadier Armstrong, who dropped on September 24. But
there were others who could just as well have met Armstrong.
Furthermore, Armstrong went off on the bridge-blowing operations
as soon as he arrived, and no one thought to go to Berane
to stiffen up General Oxilia and to support the poor Loyalists
who had taken the town in the first place. Berane was a pure
Loyalist area with a strong contingent. They were destroyed by
this incident.
The files also show that Armstrong and Bailey were insisting
at the end of September that Mihailovic refrain from sending
more Loyalists westward to counter the Peko Dapčević offensive.
Thus the British, and specifically Bailey, delivered Mihailovic the
most decisive blow he suffered in the Yugoslav civil war. Was
Bailey manipulating the situation in order to favor the Partisans—
either on his own or on secret instructions from M04—
or was he just being a sycophantic bureaucrat rushing back to
impress the new chief?
It is extraordinary to note that with the arrival of Armstrong’s
team there were, at Mihailović’s headquarters, Brigadier
Armstrong; Colonel Howard, his new chief of staff; Colonel Bailey;
Colonel Hudson; Major Greenlees; Major Jack; and Major
Solly-Flood—seven senior officers. The failure to send someone
back to Berane was not Armstrong’s fault. He and Howard and
Jack had just arrived, and he set out immediately on demolition
operations. But surely Bailey or Hudson or Greenlees could have
been spared for the vital argument going on in Berane, in order
to support the Loyalists with General Oxilia.
Berane was in a strategic location as a starting point for
eventually opening up a road to the coast. It also had a serviceable
airfield. Did Bailey not see its military value? Did he ever
discuss it with M04?
This incident is of great significance. First, it demonstrated
the Loyalists’ obedience to British demands. It demonstrated the
manipulation of the Loyalist forces by the British mission, whoever
was responsible for it, Bailey or Cairo. It demonstrated the ruthless
opportunism of the Partisan command. It demonstrated that
the British mission with the Partisans had not taken steps to stop
Partisan aggression against the Loyalists; possibly the subject had
never been raised. It demonstrated once again the doctoring of
news at some link in the chain of information via SOE Cairo, the
Minister of State’s Office, the PWE, and the BBC, which somewhere,
somehow, resulted in the repeated attribution of Loyalist
successes to the Partisans. Finally, the incident raises very serious
questions about Bailey, his competence, and his attitude regarding
the Loyalists to whom he was officially accredited.
Mihailović was furious. He would be, wouldn’t he? There
was the inexcusable news doctoring, which really made a difference.
Then he lost the arms from the Venezia Division—arms
and supplies for 10,000 to 15,000 men—representing five times
the arms supplied to the Loyalists during the whole war. And he
also lost Montenegro. It was a major disaster, the turning point
on the ground in Yugoslavia.
There were numerous other instances of one law for Mihailović
and another for Tito. Two stand out. As I have already related,
in the first, muddles by the British mission with Djurić, Mihailović’s
area commander in southeastern Serbia, and my own naivete
in telling Cairo too much, resulted in Bailey’s stopping
supplies to Mihailović.
In the second, in November 1943, Col. Bill Cope and Maj.
Rupert Raw, who had succeeded John Sehmer as liaison officers
with Djurić and did not speak Serbo-Croat, failed to understand
Djurić correctly, used a bad interpreter, or even were intentionally
misled by Djurić. They “understood” that Djurić had received
instructions from Mihailović to collaborate directly with
the Germans; they rushed off a high-priority signal to M04 to
this effect. In fact, what Mihailović had ordered was that young
volunteers should be sought out and encouraged to penetrate
the Serbian state guard of General Nedić as spies, in order to
defect to the Loyalists when instructed to do so, bringing with
them their arms, supplies, and other defectors if possible. The
Loyalist units were also called on to resist Partisan encroachment
on Loyalist territory in the Sandžak. The false interpretation was
grabbed by Cairo and sent in an elaborate report by the Minister
of State’s Office to the Foreign Office. Thence it went to the
foreign secretary himself and from him to the prime minister.
The latter sent it to the American president and to Commonwealth
prime ministers. Mr. Rose, an official in the southern department
of the Foreign Office, suggested that perhaps Colonel
Cope had had a bad interpreter. This was indeed the case. But
no one listened to Mr. Rose. In the atmosphere at that stage the
incident was a godsend to help justify the planned dumping of
Mihailovic. In due course the Minister of State’s Office realized
that an error had been made, but sent no “hold-it” signal. Someone
just wrote a very low-level letter correcting the mistake, a
letter that failed to reach the top echelons. Obviously it was not
meant to. That sort of thing happened to Mihailovic all the time.
That sort of thing never happened in the British mission to
the Partisans. The available signal traffic seems to show that the
mission did not concern itself with matters such as checking up
on whether the Partisans were attacking the Loyalists and trying
to stop them. The Loyalist forces were the main enemy of the
Tito Partisans, and the British mission just got on with the job of
treating the Partisans as a fully independent, allied army and giving
them highly efficient and enthusiastic support.
Bill Deakin has written that the material he collected from
the Partisans about Mihailović amounted to a “hostile brief” when
he was reporting to the prime minister in Cairo on December
10, 1943. In my opinion it is incontestable that Deakin went to
some trouble to gather information to support the Partisan claim
that Mihailović was guilty of collaboration.
I deal with the general question of collaboration in a subsequent
chapter, but one has to ask here: What was the effect on
Tito and his staff of this assiduous collection of evidence against
the Loyalists?
It was the official government policy to tell both Mihailovic
and Tito to cool it; to lay off the civil war and to concentrate on
fighting the Axis. It was government policy to continue recognition
of Mihailovic as minister of defense and to give full support
to his movement. Yet here we have the BLO to Tito gathering
information from the communists to use against our ally. If he
did not ask, at least he listened and wrote it all down.
Should he not have been telling Tito that he was not interested?
That Mihailovic was our ally and would Tito kindly shut
up and get on with the war against the Axis? That was the line
we BLOs with the Mihailovic commanders took. But in my opinion
it seems all too evident from the history and even from the
writings of the British officers concerned that their attitude did
nothing to discourage Tito from his conclusion that all he had to
do was to push and keep pushing for the door to open and that
his demand that the British betray their allies would be granted.
In due course the British did just that.
Mihailovic first established his headquarters on Ravna Gora
Mountain in May 1941. The abortive summer 1941 uprisings in
Serbia and Montenegro, which cost such heavy reprisals, were
followed by a relatively quiet period. Contact having been established
by couriers, and by radio from Malta, Capt. Bill “Marko”
Hudson was infiltrated by submarine in September 1941 on the
Montenegrin coast, where he reached a communist group that
included Djilas. A great deal has been written about Hudson’s
adventures and tribulations, and I do not propose to trespass
deeply onto this terrain. A very good and honestly researched
account can be found in Milan Deroc’s Special Operations Explored,
recently published. Still, I want to make certain points about this
period that are relevant here.
Hudson was fluent in Serbo-Croat and knew the country well
from his experience as a mining engineer there before the war.
He made his way from Montenegro to Tito’s headquarters, where
he stayed a little time before moving across to join Mihailovic.
Mihailovic had been expecting him and was put out at the delay
in his arrival, also at the questionable company he had been
keeping. That was hardly Hudson’s fault, but it was an inauspicious
Hudson’s arrival coincided with a worsening of relations between
Mihailović and Tito, and though he made valiant efforts
to bring them together, events militated against him. Hudson,
like others of us later, had constant communications problems.
Whole chapters have been written about what happened or did
not happen to his W/T sets, which were variously buried or stolen
or borrowed by others. (For those of my readers born into
the electronics age, W/T, or wireless telegraphy, sets in the Second
World War were forty-pound, suitcase-sized radio transmitter-
receivers using Morse Code—not voice—signals. They were
powered by bulky, sixty-pound batteries. Sometimes they worked.)
Hudson was back with Tito again when the Germans launched
their major attack. Following an altercation with Tito about when
Tito was going to stop running and on which hill he was going
to stand and fight, Hudson took off in disgust. He tried to rejoin
Mihailović, only to find that the latter had gone walkabout too.
Hudson had vacillated about the choice between the Partisans
and Mihailović. He was at first more impressed by the Partisans,
but when he left Tito to rejoin Mihailović, he did so because
he felt the latter to be the better prospect. The received-wisdom
historians deal extensively with what happened with Tito, Mihailović,
and Hudson in 1941. They try to prove that the break was
all Mihailović’s fault, but they gloss over Hudson’s deliberate choice
of Mihailović as the sounder proposition.
Ironically, Hudson was regarded by the Foreign Office as
politically leaning to the left. The significance of his decision to
leave Tito and rejoin Mihailović should not be discounted. Hudson
shows himself in all his long reports and cables to be a very
fair and humane man. He was particularly affected by the horror
of the reprisals, which, of course, did not worry the Partisans.
The story goes that, sadly, Hudson found himself a rejected
suitor. Mihailović would not have him back, and he spent a lonely,
hard winter in 1941-42 with such help as he could get from
peasants or with none. When he was allowed by Mihailović to
rejoin the headquarters in the late spring of 1942, he had no
means of communication and was unable to report to Cairo on a
regular basis. Captain Robertson, a Yugoslav communist posing
as a British officer, was dropped to him as a communicator in
July 1942, but his advent created many more problems than it
solved. It is certainly the case that there were no regular exchanges
that summer between the then-head of the British mission
to Mihailović and M04. Bailey was to have been dropped to
relieve Hudson in August, because of the lack of proper communication
with the latter and his supposed fatigue. But Bailey
contracted malaria and did not fly till Christmas 1942. By then
the shenanigans of the Cairo Partisan-Četnik office war had started.
M04 staff members, even down to the mysterious but fascinating
Miss Flannery, were already denigrating their Loyalist ally as “that
silly old goat Mihadge-lo-vitch” and preparing to throw him and
the Loyalists overboard.
Thus the British, and especially the BBC, hailed Mihailovic
as a hero in the early days of 1941, even though they had virtually
no contact with him and gave him virtually no supplies.
The drops to Mihailovic forces between the autumn of 1941 and
Bailey’s arrival fifteen months later totaled sixteen planeloads
according to one source, twenty according to another, each
amounting to one or two tons. And without a BLO in touch with
Cairo, Mihailovic hardly knew what Cairo wanted of him. Cairo
probably did not know any too well what it wanted of him either,
there were so many cooks stirring the broth.
Already in the autumn of 1941 there were differences with the
British. When he had a confrontation with Mihailovic about
making terms with Tito, Hudson is supposed to have stopped a
drop—according to one version of history. According to another,
the drop did not materialize for technical reasons. Either
way, it caused resentment.
This was one of a whole series of incidents that led to the
strained relationship between Mihailovic and Hudson. This tension
persisted throughout Hudson’s time in Yugoslavia. Hudson’s
reports, which were sent through after Bailey’s arrival at
Christmastime 1942, were clearly affected by these unfortunate
circumstances. But the critical parts of the reports were seized on
and built up by the elements in the British agencies who wanted
to back the communists. The Partisan sympathizers and agitators
in Cairo and London could not believe their luck.
Les absents ont toujours tort!
Then Colonel Bailey arrived on Christmas Eve 1942, duly
recovered from his malaria. A colonel—that should change things,
the Serbs thought. No doubt, as happened nine months later with
Brigadier Armstrong’s arrival, there was celebrating at Mihailović’s
headquarters. No doubt the šljivovica flowed, and why not?
Now at last, they no doubt felt, we can come to grips with things,
agree on attitudes and policies, and receive some goodies caido
del cielo— fallen from heaven— too, and maybe do some sabotage
without reopening the whole reprisals can of worms— that
is, if they give us some ammunition to make the Germans think
twice about taking reprisals.
It was not to be. In two long months two planes arrived.
Then came the infamous christening party, the tipple, the exasperated
speech by Mihailović—who, incidentally, was no roisterer
but a studious introvert—and schoolmarm Bailey stopped
even the single monthly drop. Nothing came to Mihailović headquarters
for the next three months.
Regrettably, much verbiage came from the BLO mission at
Mihailović headquarters. Bailey at least had W/T equipment and
signalers. Lots of it and them. Voluminous, verbose signals poured
out to Cairo. One of the first was a twenty- or thirty-page foolscap
report that had been written in November by Hudson—way out
of date in every sense by then—followed by an even longer message
by Bailey commenting on Hudson’s report. But all of this
superbureaucratic stuff brought no supplies, no mutual understandings,
and no action.
It did provide a mass of material for the Foreign Office and
SOE to dissect, chew over, digest, and discuss, and the files in
the PRO certainly show that this opportunity was seized upon
It is unfortunate that Bailey did not appreciate that with these
reports he was digging Mihailović’s grave and providing the ammunition
needed by the Partisan faction in Cairo. Later, much
later, he tried to reverse the process he had started, but by then,
in the spring of 1944, it was too late.
But I have to ask: Did Bailey know full well what he was
doing, and did his 1944 initiative just stem from the need to cover
his tracks?
Typically, in one of these reports Bailey related anecdotally
how Mihailović relegated him to the end of the column when he
was in disfavor. My reaction to that is: What sort of a man was
he to permit that? No wonder he was in disfavor. And no wonder
there was never a meeting of minds between him and Mihailović,
though in his signals he tried to pretend there was.
As I have recorded earlier, no sooner had that embargo on
supply drops been lifted than the notorious Glenconner signal of
May 29 threw a spanner into the works. Then, after a brief peace
between the British mission and Mihailović, Bailey slammed in
the notorious message that he was subsequently ordered to withdraw
on the intervention of the Foreign Office. As I wrote earlier,
this message, actually drafted by Bailey, purported to come
from GHQ, and Bailey used it deliberately in order to provoke
another row with Mihailović. By the time it was withdrawn, the
switch from support of the Loyalists to support of the Partisans
was already virtually accomplished.
The received-wisdom, pro-Partisan propaganda has it that the British
turned from Mihailović to the Partisans because he was doing
nothing in spite of British support. The truth is that there was
never, at any stage, effective British support for the Loyalists;
that the planeloads dropped in two years to Mihailović’s forces in
the whole of Yugoslavia were less than the Partisans would be
receiving on one dropping ground in a couple of nights when
their turn came; that there was no moral support other than the
unfortunate early 1942 BBC hype, which was too much and too
soon; and that Mihailović had no British mission with proper
communication telling him what M04 wanted until Christmas
1942, at which time he had only one, which was constantly at
cross-purposes with him.
What happened in that period with the Partisans? Djilas tells
the story. It’s simple. They went about their business exactly as
planned from the start. Whereas Mihailović, anxious to avoid reprisals,
with no clear policy from his own exiled government and
with no consistent and coherent lead from the British, adopted a
defensive position awaiting events, the Partisans burrowed away
at their long-term aim of politicizing as wide a territory as possible
in preparation for taking over power.
Mihailović’s overseas contact was his exiled government in
London, the members of which were bitterly divided among
themselves following the ustaša atrocities. The exiled government
could do nothing for him and, by exasperating its British hosts,
did a great deal to damage his cause by association. The Partisans,
conversely, had the Soviets as their contact abroad, and it is
now very clear from Partisan writers such as Djilas and Dedijer
that the links between Tito and the Soviets were like those that
existed between the Yugoslav Communist Party and the Comintern
before the war but with the important difference that Stalin
himself took a great personal interest. Very astutely, Stalin stressed
time and again to Tito the vital need to cover up this Soviet orchestration.
Moreover, in dealings with the Foreign Office the
Russians took pains to pretend that they hardly knew who Tito
The Soviet international apparatus was hard at work preparing
the ground for Tito. The misinformation campaign against
Mihailovic and the Loyalists conducted through the left-wing media
in Western and neutral countries swung into action in the summer
of 1942. There can be no doubt at all that the moles in the
British agencies, notably in MI6/SIS, were tipped off. Left-wingers
in other agencies such as PWE and the BBC, whether politically
inspired by Soviet contacts or just observing the left-inclined media
slant of those days, followed suit. The whole climate of opinion
was nurtured and prepared.
There was no conservative action to counter or mitigate the
massive leftist-inspired misinformation. There was no agency
charged with putting the Loyalists’ case. Although SOE London
was steadfastly loyal to the official policy of supporting the Loyalists,
SOE was a secret organization and employed no publicity
agents to sell its ideas. Moreover, in the atmosphere of Russophilia
that existed at the time, anyone opposing left-wing gullibility
was on a losing wicket.
There is no doubt that the Partisans gained by having no
illusions to start with about getting help from the Western Allies.
It was impossible for the Soviets to send them supplies. Thus the
Partisans were forced to go out and take arms by force from
wherever they could, from the Axis or Nedić or the ustaša or the
Domobrans—or Četniks. They had no qualms about taking food
and other supplies, with or without the goodwill of the population.
They had no help, but they had clarity of purpose. It is
undeniable that necessity hardened and helped the Partisans.
However vile the ambitions of their leaders, they were no slouches
in combat.
When in time the Allies contacted them, they found themselves
almost embarrassed by the massive support they received.
But, having been through hard times, they knew not to waste it.
The level of support then given to the Partisans was made
possible by increased aircraft availability in the summer of 1943
and, to a lesser extent, by the switch of all support away from
Only a month or two after M04 began throwing massive
support to the Partisans, the chief of the American OSS (Office
of Strategic Services, the precursor of the CIA) in Bari, a Colonel
Huot, set out to best the British with seaborne support and poured
in 6,000 tons of supplies. The British, not to be outdone, trumped
his ace, and before the end of 1943 the Partisans on the mainland
and the islands had received a total of 18,000 tons in six
months of contact—in comparison with Mihailović’s 20 to 30 tons
in the year and a half after his first contact with the British. A
signal (WO 202/145) of December 20, 1943, shows that the Loyalists
received only 653 rifles, 625 Bren guns, 51 antitank rifles,
4 antitank guns, 18 mortars, 3,346 grenades, and 14.6 tons of
explosive between June and November 1943. That was enough
to arm a maximum of 1,500 men and weighed about 30 tons in
all. By June 1944 the Partisans had received 5,000 planeloads
totaling 6,900 tons by air plus 22,000 tons by sea from British
sources alone—in nine months.
This comparison is necessary to put the history into perspective.
Received wisdom, Partisan-inspired, is notoriously vague about
chronology and logistics and relies on vague generalizations. Even
at the time of this writing, 1988, Sir Fitzroy still gave newspaper
interviews stating flatly that Mihailović was a collaborator . . .
was a collaborator . . . was a collaborator. Just that, nothing more.
But history cannot be written with placards and labels.
It is entertaining to record that there is a furious cable from
Brigadier Maclean, who had found out about Huot’s oneupmanship
when he arrived at the coast from Tito’s headquarters. In
dynamic style he agreed with Tito that Allied personnel appearing
in Yugoslavia without prior clearance from Maclean would
be arrested by the Partisans and that any Partisans in Italy not
cleared by Tito would be arrested by the British. Tito must have
been delighted. As usual, he won on both counts. The fact that
the Partisans could arrest Allied personnel implied official recognition.
The British were under obligation to arrest any Partisans
coming to Italy. The term “Partisans” could cover a lot of
ground—including, quite possibly, Loyalists. It gave Tito a useful
The British government took the decision to abandon Mihailović
and throw total support behind Tito shortly following the Tehran
conference of the Big Three powers attended by Churchill,
Stalin, and an ailing Roosevelt. Although Churchill and Stalin
later in Moscow arbitrarily agreed on a division of interest in Yugoslavia
on a fifty-fifty basis, whatever that might mean, Tehran
was not, I believe, the precursor of that deal and the turning
point in Yugoslav history, as some supporters of the Loyalists
and the exiled government were inclined to believe.
What happened in Tehran was that the decision was made
to give large-scale support to the resistance movement in Yugoslavia.
But the position regarding the Loyalists was not settled
formally and probably was not even discussed by the three leaders.
Stalin knew quite well what was going on; he was pulling the
strings. But the decision to abandon Mihailović was taken by
Churchill and Churchill alone. It was justified by the collaboration
accusations, but it was brought about by Tito’s insistence and
by Churchill’s disinclination to call Tito’s bluff. The two resistance
movements could have coexisted if we had had the will to
oblige them to do so, and there was no commitment vis-a-vis the
Soviets that precluded supporting both movements.
The Foreign Office files show that already in the spring of
1943 there was hard talk of deciding between Mihailović and Tito.
Sir Orme Sargent, a senior Foreign Service official, harked back
to this point a number of times, stating that the choice was between
a “short-term” policy for military considerations, which favored
supporting Tito, and a “long-term” policy of favoring the
Loyalists for the sake of postwar democracy and maintenance of
the monarchy. The concept that there was a need for backing
one movement only was, I believe, false and may have been the
main cause of the decisions ultimately taken. It was pushed strongly
by the Partisan faction and particularly by Tito himself.
Whether or not he was tipped off by sympathizers in the
British agencies, Tito made it clear right from the first contact
with the British that support for him had to be all or nothing,
that he intended to liquidate the Loyalists, and that there would
be no compromise, take it or leave it. Apparently without arguing,
Deakin and Maclean advised Churchill to take it.
Either Tito was astute in discerning that he could get away
with this ploy, or maybe he was advised by the Soviets or by sympathizers
in the Western agencies to play a hard hand. We will
probably never know the answer. That he played an uncompromisingly
hard hand and that he made no secret whatsoever of
his attitude is undeniable.
It is also clear that, whether or not he was tipped off, his
treatment by the British mission must have told an old campaigner
like Tito to push and keep on pushing. Push away, boys;
the Brits are a pushover. So the British chose the “short-term”
policy and condemned all of Yugoslavia to communism.
Did the “short-term” policy really bring military advantages?
My personal experience in southeastern Serbia, astride the key
Axis communications, convinces me that it did not.
The question opens up an enormous field on which I am
not qualified to comment in detail because it covers all of 1944,
while my experience is limited to the first half of that year. It is
certainly the case that a huge volume of military materiel was
poured into Yugoslavia late in 1943 and throughout 1944. A great
deal of costly air supply and air close support was exploited by
Tito for civil-war purposes. The strategy and tactics adopted inside
Yugoslavia were decided by Tito and his commanders alone. The
British just gave support— shipping and dropping arms and
supplies and carrying out air strikes when and where requested.
For the British missions to Tito it was not theirs to reason why,
it was just theirs to do or die. Mostly they did— as quartermasters
and as conduits for Tito to put over his propaganda.
In theory, Tito took cognizance of the general strategy of
the Anglo-American Mediterranean command. In practice, he did
just what he wanted, eventually even threatening the invasion of
Italian Venezia Giulia and Trieste, in which adventure he was
thwarted not by his British mission but by the rapid action of
General Freyberg and the New Zealand Division. He gave moral
and logistical support to the successful communist takeover of
Albania and the unsuccessful communist grab for power in Greece.
Djilas in his writings states that the Albanian communists recognized
Tito as their guru and leader.
It is also the case that the Germans continued to operate the
main lines of communications, the rail lines from Salonika to
Belgrade; the Danube waterway, except when it was interrupted
by aerial mining; and most of the mining companies, until the
Wehrmacht retreated before the advancing Russians. This German
retreat was accomplished in reasonable order, right through
Tito country. And it was the Red Army that liberated Belgrade,
albeit accompanied by Partisans. It is furthermore the case that
Tito’s “liberation” of southern and southeastern Serbia from the
Germans, from the Nedić state guard, and from the Loyalists still
holding out in the mountains was materially assisted by the Bulgarian
army. The Bulgar jackals had joined with the Germans in
1941 and annexed a substantial section of southeastern Serbia.
They had helped the Germans in the occupation and protection
of communications in the annexed territory and in the portion
of Serbia under German control. But in 1944 they bolted and
jumped on the Red bandwagon. Their help was immediately welcomed
by Tito. No talk of Nuremberg-type trials of war criminals.
The Bulgar, bitter enemy of yesterday, became the comrade
of today. And the Bulgar army was used in the great communist
roundup of the Yugoslav Loyalist resistance pockets still holding
As I said, this is a huge field of history and I am in no way
qualified to examine it all. Nevertheless I have to comment that
the silence of the Partisan-inspired received wisdom on these subjects
is deafening. If you belong to the school that believed—and
amazingly still argues—that the alliance of necessity with Soviet
Russia after Barbarossa in 1941 necessitated a total abandonment
of long-term Allied interests and an acceptance of anything Stalin
wanted, including his continued efforts at subversion in the
West, then the “short-term” policy may have been right.
But if you believe in all that, then you must believe in leprechauns
What would have happened had His Majesty’s Government
quietly implemented and continued the policy that was in force
officially throughout 1943 until December 10? What if HMG had
exercised a degree of control, made support for both sides dependent
on both Mihailović and Tito eschewing or delaying the
civil war; had specified more sabotage targets and provided materiel
and British personnel to destroy them? What would have
happened then?
In southeastern Serbia, far more effective sabotage of Axis
communications could have been achieved by a clear demonstration
of British support for the Loyalists, who were in virtual
domination in the area throughout 1943 and who could have
harnessed the massive potential reserves of Serbian peasants. The
policy of abandoning and vilifying the Loyalists was morally and
ethically wrong. Furthermore, it effectively stopped our nascent
sabotage action on the vital Salonika-Belgrade railway line in the
Morava Valley just as we were getting going.
Nothing was done against the Axis on that line throughout
most of the important winter of 1943—44, while the Partisans
concentrated on gathering their forces and equipping them with
British arms in order to bring their civil war to Serbia.
What is collaboration? This term is used very loosely, and it means
what its users choose it to mean. In war there has always been
collaboration. Any truce is collaboration to those who wish to denounce
it as such. The unofficial Christmas Day truces in the
Flanders trenches, when the German and Allied soldiers climbed
out and exchanged greetings, sweets, and cigarettes, would no
doubt have been denounced by communist dialectical materialists
as “collaboration by imperialist forces.”
In March 1943 Tito’s emissaries held a series of meetings
with senior German officers. These meetings are described in detail
by Milovan Djilas in his writings. Djilas and two other leading
Partisan figures, Vladimir Velebit and Koča Popović, spent several
weeks with senior German officers enjoying safe-conduct,
transport, and accommodation provided by the Axis in Sarajevo
and Zagreb.
Until very recently it was claimed by Partisan historians that
these March 1943 meetings were held in order to discuss exchanges
of prisoners of war. Neither the Partisans nor the Germans,
however, were ever in the business of exchanging POWs
in high-level negotiations. The Germans shot “bandits” as a matter
of course, and the Partisans normally shot their enemies too,
even when they were captured. Any such transaction would have
been at platoon or company level—not at the level of Djilas and
senior German officers.
The purpose of the meetings was, of course, to discuss the
situation that at the time posed an agonizing problem for the
Partisans. They certainly knew from the international communist
spy network—if not from Klugmann in SOE Cairo, or Philby in
MI6/SIS, or Burgess in one of his Foreign Office, PWE, or BBC
roles—that the Middle East command was in a mood to “ginger
up” resistance activities with increased supplies.
At that stage the Partisans were not on the list of potential
recipients of supplies, whereas the Mihailovic Loyalists supposedly
were right at the top. Furthermore, higher resistance activity
was the logical precursor to some invasion in the
Mediterranean—perhaps on the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia or
in Greece. The Soviets, however, desperately wanted to gain
postwar influence in the Balkans and to secure an Adriatic port
in the postwar settlement.
Tito—and Stalin—had to be worried that a Western Allied
invasion through Greece or on the Adriatic coast, supported by
the famous planned ustanak, or uprising, of the Serbian clans,
which was the pivot of Mihailović’s policy, would leave the communists
with no possibility of success in their plans for insurrection,
civil war, and eventual takeover of power.
There was even more to it than that. The negotiations represented
one of Tito’s most brilliant moves. His forces were faced
on the Neretva River by the Montenegrin Stanišić and Djurišić
Cetniks, who were impeding his attempts to penetrate the Sandžak
and enter southern Serbia. Furthermore, the Germans were
driving down behind him. By instituting the negotiations and by
agreeing to stop sabotage on the Zagreb-Belgrade line and other
communications, he bought the respite he needed to concentrate
his entire mobile forces against the well-organized Montenegrin
Cetniks. It was an inspired tactical move, but it was more flagrant
collaboration with the Germans than anything Mihailovic was ever
accused of.
I am revealing no new discoveries here. Walter R. Roberts,
in Tito, Mihailovic, and the Allies 1941-1945, deals with the incident.
So does Walter Hagen in Die Geheime Front. So does Milovan
Djilas, with only minimal coverup, in Wartime. But there are
purveyors of the received wisdom who paint the Neretva battle as
something heroic. In truth it was a sordid civil-war maneuver.
What is also ignored by the Partisan purveyors of wisdom is
the fact that these very same Četniks were interned in POW camps
in Greece in the first stage of the next German cleanup operation.
The Cetniks surrounded, captured, and interned included
5,000 Stanišić and Djurišić Četniks taken in Kolašin and 2,000
taken in Sandžac between May 12 and 15. Once they were out of
the way, German forces turned on the Partisans and encircled
them in the Sutjecka Canyon about May 28. In other words, the
famous fifth offensive of Partisan legend was first started against
the Loyalists. Yet those purveyors of wisdom will have us believe
that the Germans used the Loyalists in the offensive against the
Djilas, Popović, and Velebit spun out their negotiations for
some weeks, keeping the German pressure off the Partisans. The
proposal being discussed, as Djilas admits, was that the Partisans
should take over the Sandžak as recognized Partisan territory and
back up the Germans holding the coastal strip against the Allies.
It was not until April that Hitler rejected the deal on the grounds
that he would not treat with bandits.
The Partisan negotiators spent a pleasant time in Zagreb.
Velebit visited his parents. Djilas ran into an old female acquaintance.
Koča Popović, French-educated and an almost paranoiac
Anglophobe, practiced his language skills conversing with an
equally vitriolic pommy-bashing German officer who spoke French
Perhaps most ironic of all was Tito’s personal and private
motive for the March negotiations. The Germans held Herthe
Haas, Tito’s second common-law wife and the mother of his child.
Tito had actually abandoned her when she was pregnant in order
to elope with another communist comrade twenty-five years
his junior. Tito nevertheless arranged the release of Herthe Haas
as a bonus in the negotiations. As they were bamboozled by the
Partisan claim that it was the Loyalists and not the Partisans who
were collaborating, so most British observers swallowed Tito’s
propaganda that the Mihailovic forces were womanizers, overlooking
the fact that Tito was accompanied throughout the war
by a lady companion.
Actually the March 1943 negotiations were not the first between
Tito and the Germans. Desultory contacts had commenced
in August 1942 when the Partisans captured engineer Hans Ott
in western Bosnia near Livno. Negotiations resumed on November
17, and further talks took place at the end of January 1943.
Tito even agreed to meet Ante Pavelić’s ustaša negotiating team
on January 23, 1943, but the German offensive against the “republic”
in Bihać put paid to that. Hans Ott became very friendly
with Tito, who used him as a regular contact with the Germans;
he stayed with the Partisans until the end of the war. Tito had
no reservations about dealing with the enemy. He did, however,
have the good sense not to be found out and to detract attention
from his own collaboration by unleashing a propaganda campaign
about alleged Loyalist collaboration. He also deemed it
prudent to liquidate Hans Ott after the war.
Proof of the Partisan collaboration in March 1943 has been
provided by the Belgrade authorities. Tito became increasingly
embarrassed by the rumors circulating about the March 1943 negotiations
with the Germans, and an official military historian,
Miso Leković, was authorized to research the tricky subject in
detail. He published his book in 1985 after Tito’s death. This
book represents a total indictment of the extensive Partisan collaboration
record, and it shows the enormous benefits derived
therefrom. It also shows that Tito’s sole concern was his civil war
against the Cetniks. This case is irrefutable. Leković is pure kosher:
an official Pa-tisan historian publishing in Belgrade. Sava
Bosnić published a superb synopsis of the book in the South Slav
Journal, which totally destroys the received wisdom hypocrisy on
the collaboration issue.
Incidentally, there were also extensive negotiations between
the SS and Tito’s Partisans in Slovenia in July 1944. They were
carried out by Tito’s later personal secretary, Dr. Jose Vilfan, while
Tito himself was living under British protection on Vis. These
negotiations were an insurance policy against an Allied landing
in Venezia Giulia. They are not relevant to this book, because by
July 1944 Tito had gained the support of the British in his civilwar
aims, and the negotiations were directed against the Western
Allies, not the Serbian Loyalists. They merit mention because they
underline the gullibility of those who believed the trumped-up
allegations of collaboration by Mihailović.
In the light of all of this evidence, Deakin’s obsession with Mihailović’s
supposed collaboration would be comical had it not led
to such tragic results. I refer to the momentously important
meeting of December 10, 1943, which resulted in Churchill’s
abandonment of Mihailović. I will examine this meeting in greater
detail later on. But here I want to touch briefly on the role played
by Deakin, who attended the meeting.
In his book The Embattled Mountain, Deakin recalls how the
prime minister interrogated him for nearly two hours “as the Officer
concerned with interpreting the evidence derived from captured
German and Četnik documents concerning the links between
Mihailović and his commanders with the Italians and the Germans.”
He writes, “As I talked I knew that I was compiling the
elements of a hostile brief which would play a decisive part in any
future breach between the British Government and Mihailović.”
Deakin takes full responsibility for the brief to the prime
minister in regard to alleged Mihailović collaboration and the
interpretation of the evidence. The “captured documents,” however,
came substantially from the Partisans. They could only,
couldn’t they? And they’would certainly be interpreted very aggressively
by the Partisans, wouldn’t they?
It is important to register that Deakin appears to imply that
his case against Mihailović—his interpretation of Partisan-submitted
documents claiming collaboration—was very material,
perhaps decisive, in the finalization of the decision to denounce
Mihailović. It is important because Churchill decided that same
December 10 that he wanted Mihailović “removed” by the end
of the month.
The question of alleged Loyalist Četnik collaboration has been
the subject of massive research and writings. This is hardly surprising,
because something had to be dug up to justify the cynical
abandonment of Mihailović, of the exiled government, of the
Loyalist resistance, and eventually of the king. The public record
could hardly be allowed to state the truth, namely, that the British
had abandoned their allies because it was expedient. Why was
it expedient? Either it was because Tito said, “I am going to liquidate
Mihailović, take it or leave it,” and the British had not
seen fit to call Tito’s bluff; or it was all ordained since the January
1943 Cairo meetings, and Churchill had more or less made
up his mind then, and all the rest was just a charade.
More than twenty British officers served with the Mihailović
forces. Incidentally, nearly all of them were dropped after the
January 1943 meetings. There was an equal or greater number
of NCOs. There were some hundreds of crashed aircrew, British
and American, who were rescued, succored, transported, and
evacuated by Mihailović forces. I have met nearly all of the British
liaison staff. Most of us were together at evacuation with a
substantial number of aircrew. I have read the statements under
oath of a number of the 500 Americans. To a man all of these
people, if asked, “Was Mihailović a collaborator?” would reply
firmly and unequivocally, “No.”
Yet he was condemned and abandoned on the strength of
the interpretation of evidence by Deakin without any counsel for
the defense or any friendly spokesman present. In my opinion,
The Embattled Mountain and Deakin’s signals and reports in the
PRO show irrefutably his total acceptance of the Partisans’ views
of the Loyalists. And we know from Fitzroy Maclean’s own signals
and reports that Tito had made clear his unswerving aim to
“liquidate” Mihailović and that nothing would be allowed to stand
in his way. Yet Tito’s “evidence” was accepted without question.
Isn’t that ludicrous?
Several other factors have a bearing on the collaboration issue.
The Germans, who had every possible interest in fostering
the civil war and thus diverting the military effort that could otherwise
be used against them, did a great deal to promote the
theory that the Loyalists were collaborating with them. They even
distributed photographs of friendly Četnik groups to the Yugoslav
press to support their claim and discredit the genuine Loyalist
forces in the eyes of the civil population.
Furthermore, there were so-called “legal” Četniks. In part
these derived from a deliberate, legitimate move by Mihailović in
November 1941 when, in the wake of the abortive Serbian uprising,
he had to all but dissolve his mobile force and go into deep
hiding with a small headquarters. He sent many of his men home.
Others he encouraged to infiltrate the German-sponsored Nedić
forces. They were to hold themselves ready to be called back into
the mountains, bringing their arms with them. In 1943 both Archie
Jack and I used such men to help us in setting up sabotage
operations. These men were agents, not collaborators, but that
was too fine a distinction for the Tito propagandists.
Then there was Kosta Pečanac, a Četnik hero from the First
World War who raised a Četnik force and went over to support
the Axis. He was not part of Mihailović’s movement, and Mihailović
had him executed. Yet the Partisans have used his name
extensively to denigrate Mihailović by association.
The Yugoslav situation was typical of a resistance scenario. It existed
in other countries, perhaps most notably in France, but it
was natural to the Balkans. In Western European movements,
resisters worked by day for the occupiers and did clandestine jobs
at night. Although perhaps SOE did not comprehend the full
sophisticated extent of what was happening in Yugoslavia prior
to 1943, the potential was known and encouraged. It was the
ideal scenario for the preparation of the ustanak, when a Serbian
horde of some half a million warriors, in the tradition of old,
would at the right moment rise and drive out the occupier, coordinating
its move with an Allied invasion, whether from the west
or from the east.
This plan could have worked. It could have worked very well
indeed were it not for one Josip Broz, alias Tito, and his ruthless
ambition to grab sole power for himself in Yugoslavia; and to
cheat and lie and bamboozle however much he needed to. Like
any confidence trickster, he only needed gullible victims. He found
them, particularly among the British.
From quite early on there had clearly been accommodation
between Četnik forces loosely associated with Mihailović and the
Italians. This existed principally in Montenegro but also in Herzegovina
and Dalmatia. It was a live-and-let-live collaboration. The
Italians were glad of a bit of peace, and the Četniks were preparing
to exploit this accommodation when the Italian collapse came.
The Venezia Division incident referred to earlier corroborates
this view. This accommodation was quite specifically known to,
and approved by, SOE from the start, as is clearly shown by Col.
George Taylor’s report of March 11, 1943, which he made after
a long visit to SOE Cairo and a thorough study of the Yugoslav
situation. Colonel Taylor was the chief staff officer of SOE London
and thus effectively Lord Glenconner’s director in London.
Capt. Nedjelko Plećaš, a Yugoslav air force officer who was
dropped to Mihailović by the British in 1942, later wrote about
the SOE policy condoning such collaboration, which he himself
Nevertheless, when, in late November and early December
1943, the Foreign Office scented that the prime minister was
leading up to a policy of total support of Tito and the abandon-
ment of the Loyalists—and that he could no longer be headed
off such a course and they would need to justify this policy
change—Secretary of State Anthony Eden started condemning
this earlier collaboration in Montenegro and denounced the evil
of it, totally ignoring the fact that it had been encouraged by the
British, and encouraged for entirely laudable reasons.
When the decision to abandon Mihailovic had finally been
taken and when Churchill was also no doubt seeking to rationalize
it before his own conscience, he wrote on January 2, 1944, to
the foreign secretary (PREM 3 511/2):
There is no doubt in my mind whatever that Mihailovic is
in collaboration with the enemy. This was confirmed not only
by people like Deakin who have come back from Tito’s forces
but by many of the officers now serving in the Mihailovic
area. I have been convinced by the arguments of the men I
know and trust that Mihailovic is a millstone tied round the
neck of the Little King and he has no chance till he gets rid
of him.
As an instance of the follies into which the King has
been dragged Deakin showed me a photograph of one of
Mihailovic’s commanders being entertained by the Italian
general, against whom he was supposed to be fighting, at a
banquet to celebrate the grant to him of a decoration from
King Peter and the Yugoslav Government.
While showing Churchill the photo from his Mihailovic collaboration
dossier, Deakin evidently omitted to apprise him of
the background just related—the fact that tactical accommodation
with the Italians in Montenegro had been known to and
approved by SOE from the start. Furthermore, the prime minister’s
claim that many of the officers serving in the Mihailovic area
had confirmed Mihailovic’s collaboration was grotesquely false and
hypocritical. No BLOs had come out to report. The inept Cope-
Raw misunderstanding of Mihailović’s instructions to Djurić, and
the absurd claim that they constituted collaboration with the Germans,
had been corrected. It is, of course, possible— indeed,
almost certain— that the correction was not passed on to Churchill
by M04 or the Minister of State’s Office.
A “most secret” report dated December 10, 1943, obviously
prepared by the Yugoslav section for that day’s meeting with the
prime minister, quotes “extracts from reports by British Liaison
Officers with Mihailović Forces—15th Nov. to 10th Dec. 1943.”
These were condensations culled selectively from half a dozen
signals. They contain short statements by captains More and Wade
and (once again) Colonel Cope. They refer to hypothetical bargaining
with the Nedić people about eventual cooperation against
the Partisans, and contain Cope’s, Wade’s, and More’s personal
perceptions of the attitudes of the Loyalist commanders. In the
light of Tito’s announced intention to liquidate the Loyalists and
the Partisan offensives already under way at that time in Sandžak
and western Serbia, there was nothing surprising and definitely
nothing that could be reasonably complained about in these extracts.
They constituted the subjective speculation and opinions
of frustrated BLOs, all of whom relied on interpreters. We know
that Cope’s interpreter got things wrong. Yet the Yugoslav section
built up this straightforward tittle-tattle into a big deal. Any
intelligence officer worth his salt would have relegated them to
the ash can. There were even three signals from a Captain Hargreaves
complaining about low Četnik morale and lack of help
for his mission. I wonder who was to blame for that. Cairo or
Hargreaves himself? Hardly the Loyalists, who knew that they
were being betrayed.
F. H. Hinsley, now Sir Harry, is the recognized authority on
British intelligence in the Second World War. He refers to reports
critical of Mihailović sent by “Captain Robertson.” Hinsley
evidently does not appreciate that “Captain Robertson,” real name
either Dragi Radivojević or Branko Radojević, was a communist
spy controlled by Klugmann and sent by M04 into Mihailović
headquarters with the purpose of spying on both Mihailović and
the chief BLO, Captain Hudson. I tell his full story later. Maybe
M04 showed Robertson’s reports to Churchill. That would have
been a typical Keble-Klugmann “dirty trick.”
Churchill’s January 2, 1944 rationalization of the decision to
dump Mihailović had been prompted by a signal (PREM 3 511/2)
from the foreign secretary of December 29, 1943, the fifth paragraph
of which states, “I am doubtful whether we should tell
Tito that we are prepared to have no further dealings with Mihailovic
first because we here at any rate have not yet got conclusive
evidence of his misbehaviour.”
Without consulting the foreign secretary, however, Churchill
had made his decision to get rid of Mihailović, and even Tito was
informed of the “general way things were going” and specifically
that the BLOs with Mihailovic were being instructed to try to
cross to the Partisans. The PREM series in the Public Records
Office for this period shows that the prime minister had been
worked up into a quite vitriolic state of mind about Mihailović,
and he wrote of him almost as a monster. It is almost incredible
today to read how Tito put over this propaganda without ever
having left his Yugoslav headquarters.
Between Eden’s December 29 message and Churchill’s January
2 rationalization there was another intriguing exchange between
the two. On December 30, Churchill wrote, “Everything
Deakin and Maclean said and all the reports received showed
that he had been in active collaboration with the Germans.” Eden
replied on January 1, “As regards Mihailovic I do not recall any
decision in Cairo to demand his dismissal before the end of the
year. Maybe this was after I left.”
Then came Churchill’s January 2 message, from which I have
already quoted. Here is another passage from that message: “I
still feel that the only chance for the King is to dismiss Mihailovic
and muzzle his anti-Tito propaganda. In this way alone can he
free himself from the growing antagonism. Once Mihailovic is
dismissed I believe that Maclean and Randolph [Churchill’s son]
will have a chance to work on Tito for a return of the King to
his country.”
It is in the light of these signals that the collaboration case
against Mihailovic has to be viewed. Tito had persuaded Maclean
that Mihailovic had to go. The prime minister had bent his knee
to Tito’s blackmail in the hope of getting the king back into the
country. Then it became imperative to justify the decision to
abandon Mihailovic, and, whatever it contained, Deakin’s dossier
had to be regarded as damning. Lie or not, the Yugoslav section
claim that we BLOs with Mihailovic had reported him as being
in active collaboration with the Germans had to be accepted. The
falsely interpreted Mihailovic signal to Djurić passed to Cairo by
Cope had to be regarded as valid and the correction suppressed.
The collaboration issue was as simple as that.
Although Foreign Secretary Eden adopted a hypocritical attitude
about Mihailović’s accommodations with the Italians when
Churchill’s absolute determination to sacrifice the Loyalists became
clear, he was never happy about the decision, as can be
seen in a memo from him to Sir Orme Sargent (FO 371 44273)
on June 20, 1944. He wrote, “I find this report most disturbing.
Brigadier Armstrong does not bear out the oft-repeated tale of
Mihailovic’s collaboration with the enemy. Yet he was with him
all the time wasn’t he? I have never understood on what the evidence
rests tho I have asked a score of times.”
The Partisan campaign of tendentious accusations against
Mihailovic of collaboration was enormously helped by the pro-
Partisan atmosphere that increasingly came to rule in the British
agencies. Starting in SOE Cairo, firmly catching hold in the Minister
of State’s Office in Cairo, it spread—if it was not previously
established there—to PWE and the Political Intelligence Centre
and eventually even to the military in the Middle East. As people
saw the way the wind was blowing, they jumped on the bandwagon
until Četnik bashing became the main sport of the Yugoslav
section in Italy during 1944.
As I have related earlier, some of our signals sent in moments
of frustration were taken out of context and used by those
in Cairo who were determined to undermine the Loyalists. Evidently
these presentations reached the prime minister. Nevertheless,
I am sure that none of the BLOs in retrospect will say that
the Loyalists were quislings.
The Germans, despite their campaign to portray Četniks as
friendly to them, regarded Mihailovic as anything but a friend or
collaborator. We have been treated to a surfeit of claims about
the intercepts that supposedly support the Partisan case but about
which we have no specific details. Yet on July 17, 1942, Hitler
signaled one of his lieutenants, “The basis of every success in
Serbia and the entire south-east of Europe lies in the annihilation
of Mihailovic.” On February 9, 1943, an intercepted signal
from a German general reported, “The movement of General
Mihailovic remains in the first place with regard to leadership,
armament, organization, and activity.”
At the end of February 1943 Hitler wrote to Mussolini, “Your
Second Army [should] regard Mihailovic and his movement as
uncompromising enemies of the Axis powers.” Yet it was at this
very time that Churchill was being persuaded by SOE Cairo that
Tito’s forces were of overriding importance. How ćould this possibly
have come about? Sir Harry Hinsley states that in August
1943 “Enigma left no doubt, at least at the highest level, that the
Germans remained set on Mihailovic’s destruction.”
The Partisans and their publicists have made great play of
the German poster with a photograph of Tito and the reward of
100,000 reichsmarks for his capture, dead or alive. They have
insulted the intelligence of their readers by cutting off the picture
of Mihailovic which appeared on the same poster side by
side with Tito’s, with an identical price on his head. It was
typical of the time and the attitudes that many of the Partisan
allies in the British agencies merited the insult by swallowing the
fraud. In a court of law a silly ploy like that would destroy a case.
Not so in the received -wisdom. The Titoites continue to use the
picture of Tito alone, relying on the use of noise, more noise,
and more noise still to make the Titomania case.
Great play is also made of Loyalists fighting the Partisans
while the Germans were doing so. This is perhaps the most tendentious
claim of all. Such fighting nearly always occurred when
the Germans moved against the Partisans and the latter, on the
run, invaded Mihailovic territory. In the famous Mount Durmitor
battle, for instance, the Partisans attacked Mihailovic in his
territory when the Germans and the Italians came up behind them.
In the Durmitor offensive the Germans first captured the main
Montenegrin Četnik force.
It must be stressed that the Partisans made no secret of their
utter determination to destroy the Loyalists in preference to destroying
Axis forces. Inevitably they clashed with both at the same
The purveyors of the Tito propaganda also conveniently
telescope events, paying little attention to chronology. In the autumn
of 1944 the tastelessly named “Ratweek” attacks by the Partisans,
driving into Serbia with enormous logistic and air support
from the British, pushed some surviving Loyalist units literally
into the arms of the enemy, in some cases into enemy redoubts.
This was then alleged to be “Četnik collaboration” and treated as
if it had been happening continuously since 1941.
What were the Loyalists supposed to do? Commit suicide?
If he had been a collaborator like Nedić, Mihailović would have
fled with the Germans in 1945. He did not do so, and though he
was down to a “hiding to nothing”—a no-win situation—he called
the ustanak in September 1944 against the retreating Germans.
It was, predictably, a half-baked affair, nearly a year after he had
been abandoned by the West and stood alone. But he did it, and
he made contact with the Red Army, who promptly handed over
the Loyalist units involved to the Partisans for “disposal.” The
officers were, of course, shot.
How many sources and how much evidence does one have
to trot out to show that Mihailovic was not a collaborator?
Yet Deakin, relying largely on communist source documents
and on “evidence” from BLOs’ signals extracted selectively by
Partisan sympathizers in M04, presented Churchill with a twohour
hostile brief. No one from the mission to Mihailovic was
there to represent the other view. That meeting sealed Mihailović’s
fate. It helped split the Serbian warrior nation. A true tragedy.
As I wrote at the start of this section, in wars collaboration
in the pedantic sense of the word always takes place from time
to time—in guerrilla war even more so. In Yugoslavia prior to
December 1943 the Partisans collaborated with the Axis infinitely
more extensively and profitably than anything Mihailovic was accused
of. Mihailovic scorned a public-relations exercise to build a
case against the Partisans, and the British did nothing to help
him build one. The Partisans, by contrast, used their vastly superior
publicity machine to fabricate a case against Mihailović.
The British grabbed the case and publicized it because they needed
justification for their decision to abandon Mihailović. It’s as simple
as that.
The story of King Peter and the Yugoslav government in exile is
a book unto itself. I am in no way qualified to write on this complex
subject, and I will therefore limit myself to a few general
points that have a bearing on the theme of this book.
When he had decided to abandon the Loyalists at the end of
1943, Churchill wrote that he had been convinced by the arguments
“of the men I know and trust” that Mihailović was a “millstone
tied round the neck of the Little King.” I believe it would
be fairer to comment that the “Little King’s” exiled government
became a heavy cross for Mihailović and the Loyalist movement
to bear. The reasons were various. First, there was the inevitable
dissention that arose between the Serbs and the Croats in the
government following the reports from Yugoslavia of ustaša
atrocities and the genocide of the Serbian minorities in Croatia.
Then the Slovene elements in the government seem to have fished
in troubled waters. Certainly the Slovene vice-premier, Miha Krek,
was instrumental in spreading to British agencies Partisan-inspired
rumors about Mihailović collaboration in 1941.
The differences, problems, and squabbles of the exiled government
exasperated the British, as did the machinations of young
King Peter’s prospective mother-in-law. Similarly, King Peter’s
determination to get married at a time when others felt he should
be thinking more of his people and of the problems of his country
did little to endear the Loyalist cause to British government
Communicating with his government must have taken an inordinate
amount of Mihailović’s time and caused him great annoyance
and frustration. Added to this was the problem of the
communications themselves. When he managed to establish regular
W/T contact with British help, through the so-called Villa
Resta series, his signals passed, in order, through SOE Cairo and
the British ambassador to the exiled government in London, Sir
George Rendel, before they reached their destination. This was
a slow process, and even at the start the signals enjoyed a rather
low priority. Worse, Sir George decided at his sole discretion which
signals should or should not be passed on to the Yugoslav government.
Thus the British censored Mihailović’s signals. This was
truly extraordinary behavior vis-a-vis an Allied government.
Later, however, an even more extraordinary situation prevailed.
The signals came into and went out from SOE Cairo to
Mihailović’s headquarters. Incoming signals were then passed on
to the Minister of State’s Office in Cairo, which had assumed the
role of embassy to the exiled government when King Peter and
his ministers moved to Cairo late in the summer of 1943. Whereas
Sir George Rendel in London had been a good friend to the
Yugoslav government and, as far can be seen from the files, had
adopted as fair and correct an attitude as was possible in his role
as censor, the Minister of State’s Office in Cairo seems to have
been predisposed to favor the M04 pro-Partisan line from early
in 1943. The office adopted an attitude verging on open hostility
to Mihailović. Mihailović’s signals to his government and his king
became subject to unsympathetic and arbitrary censorship. Furthermore,
they were treated by M04 in a cavalier manner.
The Public Records Office has a series of communications
(file WO 202/144) between the British embassy to Yugoslavia and
M04 in October 1943. These reveal that M04 let Villa Resta
signals accumulate “to the tune of a hundred or so twice within
the last three months.” A letter to M04 from an embassy official
named Philip Broad dated October 22, 1943, states, “. . . enclosing
copies of further Villa Resta messages. I note that one of
these is dated 29th December, 1942 whereas the most recent is
dated 1st July of this year. We should obviously get into appalling
trouble with the Yugoslavs , if we were to pass these on to
them now. I think the best thing would be for us just to pigeonhole
them, but in case the Yugoslavs spot the gap and attack us,
could you please be so good as to let me know why these messages
have only come through now?”
On October 26, Broad states, “As I have mentioned before
it is out of the question for us to send these on now.”
The same day, Colonel Davidson of M04 (not Basil Davidson
but a successor) writes back, “To hand over ancient messages
to the Jug Government would certainly provoke a scream. If enquiries
are made I will produce an answer.”
Though devious, all of this is more cockup or coverup than
conspiracy. But it certainly constitutes Perfidious Albion at work
An objective reading of the Foreign Office files in the Public Records
Office brings out the difference between the attitudes of our
ambassador to Tito on the one hand and our ambassador to the
royal Yugoslav government on the other. Our ambassador to Tito
was Fitzroy Maclean, and he seems to have become Tito’s mouthpiece
with the British government rather than the British government’s
mouthpiece with Tito. He was loath to pass on messages
that Tito did not want to hear, but he readily advised Tito how
to put his case to the British. In his legendary report after his
first visit to Tito, nicknamed “the blockbuster” in the Foreign
Office, Maclean put Tito’s case himself with spectacular emphasis
and lucidity. It may sound apocryphal, but it is said that he even
used to help Tito draft his messages to Churchill.
I would dearly love to know whether he drafted Tito’s message
complaining in the most intemperate and dictatorial manner
about the BBC, a message sent just a few days after Maclean
dropped. Although the message constituted a direct challenge to
the British government, it was written in the most beautiful Foreign
Office prose. Hardly the style one would expect from an
international revolutionary.
Conversely, the ambassador to the royal Yugoslav government,
in his communications with the Foreign Office and his attitude
to Mihailovic, caused Douglas Howard, head of the southern
department, and Sir Orme Sargent, his superior, to comment in
a memo that the Minister of State’s Office in Cairo appeared “not
to want agreement to be reached with Mihailović.”
In practice the embassy to the royal Yugoslav government
seems to have been much more concerned with assisting Maclean
and the Tito Partisans than the government to which it was accredited
and its minister of defense, Mihailović. This paradox was
further underlined by the extraordinary organizational arrangement
under which the Minister of State’s Office in Cairo acted as
rear link for the mission to Tito on political matters while also
providing the ambassador to the royal Yugoslav government in
Cairo. With Tito sworn to liquidate the government and Mihailović,
it would have taken a Solomon to carry out the two tasks
fairly and simultaneously; and Ralph Skrine Stevenson and his
assistant, Philip Broad, though no doubt admirable and experienced
Foreign Office officials, were certainly no miracle workers
or Solomons. It was an anomalous and crazy setup. Mihailović
was in a trap, with the obligation to report to his government via
M04 and with the embassy censoring and holding up his signals.
Furthermore, those signals went through the deciphering office,
which was open to the officers in M04, including the international
communist guru and doyen of the Cambridge set, James
Klugmann. It would be naive to disregard the possibility that the
signals were subject not only to censorship by the embassy and
to cavalier treatment in the deciphering office of M04 but also
to leaking to the Partisans via the communist agency in Cairo,
with which Klugmann was surely in contact.
How much better off Mihailović would have been had he
had no exiled government to report to! He was subordinated to
an authority with which the British were exasperated and bored;
and with whose failings, real and imaginary, Mihailović became
associated. Beyond that, how much better off might Mihailović
have been without a British mission and British signals?
The Action
“U Sumu”
(Into the Woods)
We had traveled by slow train from Cairo to Derna, where the
M04 airfield was located. The climate was hot and I had a cold.
We were lucky in not being delayed, and though I knew nothing
of it at the time, we must have just missed Deakin on the airfield.
Perhaps I flew in the same Halifax on its next trip. I remember
that there were only two functional that night.
Not only did I know nothing of Deakin’s flight, I knew nothing
of any British mission being dropped to the Partisans. I knew
virtually nothing of the Partisans. From our briefing I recollect
no instructions other than those about supplying the Loyalists
and preparing sabotage on the main north-south railway line.
There had been some slight mention of possible Partisan bands
in Macedonia, but the mention had been incidental. There was
nothing actual, nothing pressing.
My eardrums popped and hurt abominably from the inflammation
caused by my cold in the unpressurized Halifax. After
some six or seven hours I was glad to hear the aircrew member
in charge of us say that we were passing Priština; shortly thereafter
he opened the hatch. The slipstream whistled in. I positioned
myself at the rear of the open hole in the floor with
“Tommy” Tomlinson facing me. Tommy was to be my secondin-
command. The red light shone, then the green, and I was
down and away before the airman had dropped his hand and
shouted “Go!”
The still night air as I fell out of the slipstream, the moisture
in the atmosphere after the dust and dryness of Derna, immediately
impressed itself on my senses. We had been dropped high,
and I landed near the bottom of a steep ravine after quite a long
spell in the air. I found myself near a path on its side, and, swallowing
to clear my clogged eardrums, I felt relief and pleasure
as the rushing and roaring waters of a mountain stream below
made themselves audible at last.
The moon was bright, and the ravine lay in gently mountainous
country deeply clothed in beech forests, interspersed with
oaks, covering practically the whole area in view. It was stunningly
Quite rapidly I made contact with the reception party organized
by Maj. John Sehmer, who had dropped a few weeks previously.
He was accredited to Maj. Radoslav Djurić, the commander
responsible for the area known as Jablanica, northeast of Priština,
which stretched east to the old Bulgarian border, south to
Vranje in the Bulgarian-annexed part of Serbia, and north to the
Niš-Leskovac plains.
Djurić had a number of commanders under him in the Jablanica
area. His full command had about 3,000 fully mobile troops
plus 10,000 or more peasant reserves, perhaps one-third of whom
were armed. Djurić’s area stretched farther west and north; but
Jablanica was the part that came to concern me after my original
plans had to be changed, following the disaster that befell our
missions shortly thereafter.
Major Djurić was a regular soldier of some forty years of age. He
was tall, with the rather flat features of Central Asian peoples,
and a bit fleshy in build. Although he was friendly, he failed to
inspire confidence in me from the start. Nonetheless, he appeared
very much in command as we gathered around in the
dropping area, where the signal fires were already extinguished
and the turf, which had been cut out earlier, was being replaced
in order to hide all signs of them.
John Sehmer was a gnomelike little man about five feet three
or four in height. He sported a pair of smart riding breeches, a
service dress-uniform jacket, amazingly a genuine Sam Browne
belt, which he used to festoon himself with a multitude of handguns,
ammunition, and grenades, and a Yugoslav peasant cap on
top of it all. His round, boyish face was adorned with a couple of
days’ ginger stubble, and he peered shortsightedly through steelrimmed
spectacles. He sucked a meerschaum pipe and carried
an alpenstock. He was actually of part German origin, as his name
signified, and he looked it. He conversed with Djurić in reasonably
fluent but heavily accented German. From time to time he
switched to French with an equally bad accent. His Serbo-Croat
was and remained similar. But he fitted in well and neither expected
nor looked for comforts, sleeping on the floor and sharing
the lice with the rest of us. Although he made some mistakes
that cost dear, he was a good man and the type who went well
for guerrilla warfare. Sadly, he was later captured and killed on
a mission to Czechoslovakia.
Sehmer was accompanied by a Captain Hawksworth, who
was, I believe, an officer in the Royal Engineers and who had
also dropped very recently. Hawksworth was dark, with piercing
eyes and a rather conspiratorial manner. I never quite understood
Hawksworth’s role; whether he was a sabotage expert for
Sehmer or a commander of a sub-mission. Combined with his
manner was a romantic turn of mind, and at one stage he requisitioned
a crossbow for killing sentries, black uniforms to enable
him to form a special task force, and rubber stamps for
marking with a black hawk the faces of sentries killed with the
crossbow. I remember hearing rumors of these plans at the time
and was fascinated to find some signals about them in the Public
Records Office forty years later. The ideas were entertaining and
harmless, and at least they reflected a desire to do what we had
come for, namely, kill Germans. Hawksworth was an entertaining
fellow. I believe that he carried out more than one operation
against the Axis. I recollect that I heard about a daring attack on
a railway station north of Leskovac that was partly successful,
and he may have undertaken other jobs that I did not hear about.
Sehmer and Hawksworth’s group included two W/T operators,
a Sergeant Blackmore and a Sergeant Leban, the latter a
Slovenian, along with two New Zealanders, Sergeants Lindstrom
and Harvey. My group comprised lieutenants Tomlinson and
Smith, who were newly commissioned Royal Engineers officers
included as explosives experts, and Leading-Aircraftman
Thompson, an excellent W/T operator and, as I had found in
the few days we had been together, an extremely pleasant individual.
Lieutenant Smith had been sent to join Sehmer, while Tomlinson
and Thompson were to accompany me into Macedonia
south of Skoplje, where we were to replace Major Morgan’s mission.
Morgan had been captured shortly before by the Bulgars
after he had dropped blind into that area. Vojvoda Trbić, the
local organizer of the resistance south of Skoplje, had been contacted
by Djurić and had come up to the Jablanica area to guide
my party south.
In the dropping zone there was hectic activity. The other members
of my party had collected together and were swapping stories
of their drop. Tomlinson had suffered minor injury to his
back but was not in serious condition, and the other two were
fine. Peasants dressed in broadly cut jodhpur-style breeches and
square-waisted jackets, all of heavy homespun material, were carrying
in the twelve or so containers dropped from our Halifax
and loading them onto bullock carts. These were driven by their
womenfolk, and as soon as they had their load up, they rumbled
off into the darkness. Djurić explained that everything was being
hurried because the dropping ground had been used twice before
and it was feared that the Bulgarian occupation forces were
wise to it.
My first impression was one of remarkable organization. No
one stood around. Everyone seemed to know his task and to get
on with it, though they all had time to greet us, embrace us, and
make us feel welcome. The relatively few mobile troops guarding
the dropping zone were dressed for the most part in peasant
gear, though some of them wore battle-dress jackets. The officers
mostly wore Yugoslav military clothing and equipment, and most
of them carried Schmeisser submachine guns; I learned that the
possession of one of these was a sign of considerable prestige. In
all, the Loyalists were a motley lot in their clothing and equipment.
What struck me most was the integration of the peasantry
and these Loyalist Cetniks. The peasants, a proportion of whom
were carrying long, ancient rifles slung across their backs, acted
as runners, supplied the bullock carts and transport, and brought
food and drink. Some of them, evidently local leaders, talked to
Djurić and his officers on an equal basis. There was no servility
and certainly no hostility. In that clearing we were seeing a little
bit of national custom stemming from the history of the Serbs.
We were watching a traditional četa (a local band or group) in
operation, like the četas that through the centuries had fought
other wars and other occupations, German, Bulgar, and Turk. It
all seemed so natural, and one could feel that it had been going
on for a long time.
In that country of gentle mountains and woodland, which stretched
mile after mile with only an occasional track and no paved roads
at all, the peasant holdings were often separated by one or two
ravines and usually by a mile or so as the crow flies. This distance
could entail two or three hours’ march on foot with one, two, or
maybe more ascents and descents of hundreds of feet each time.
Each holding was independent and virtually self-supporting. There
was usually barley or wheat corn and grazing for livestock. There
were cattle, sometimes sheep, bullocks for transport, small, sturdy
horses, but very few mules. Pigs and chickens ran around the
homesteads, and the warm summer climate favored peppers and
other semiexotic vegetables. Beans formed the main item of the
staple diet. No holding was without its plum trees for making the
potent rakija or šljivovica, and many had pear and apple trees as
well. The women worked with the men on the land, and after
cooking the food, they wove all of the material they needed on
their own looms; they also made all of the clothing, some of which
was of fine quality, design, and appearance. The footwear was
formed from rectangles of rawhide wrapped around the foot and
known as opanake.
The houses were built of mud with home-fired tiled roofs.
In the mountains they were universally single-storied. A two-storied
house was regarded as a sign of enormous prestige and fortune,
and was to be found only in the foothills and plains. But even in
the mountains, most of the houses had a cellar, or podrun, which
served the vital purpose of storing the rakija. Chimneys were a
rarity; the smoke from the open fire in the center of the floor
filtered through a hole in the peak of the roof. There was usually
just one bed in the house, reserved for the mating couple.
Grandparents, children, and others slept on mats on the floor,
where we would join them in due course. There would be a low,
round table and a few small stools and, apart from the looms, no
other furniture. The reserves of food, mostly dried, hung from
hooks in the ceiling.
The homesteads were simple. The holdings seemed limited
only by the amount of land the members of the family were
physically able to cultivate; there were large areas of unexploited
woodland between each settlement. The families were almost entirely
self-supporting. Some produce was carried up to ten, fifteen,
or more hours’journey—an average distance to the nearest
village or township—and sold in order to purchase needles, sugar,
or salt, which were the articles most in demand. While the life
was rugged and hard, the mountain peasants in that area were
proud and fiercely individualistic, and they loved their svojina—
their home and land, As long as their health held, they had all
that they wanted, and provided they had a good woman who
bore them a strong son, they could pass their old age pondering
the past and testing last year’s šljivovica. For the man born to it,
with the necessary stamina, it was an idyllic existence. It was in
Yugoslavia that I determined that I myself would become a peasant
with my own svojina before I finished my days.
All around one could feel the history of these mountain folk.
One could understand why they had formed their četas to protect
their houses. One marveled at the distances they traveled to
join together; and in the year ahead I was amazed time and again
at the news-carrying service—the bush telegraph—that functioned
automatically, without conscious organization. Each family
would send a courier on to the next, to pass on any item of
news, and it was literally all done on the run.
These peasants had few riches in the monetary sense and
virtually no assets or valuables other than their homesteads and
their stock. They had no machinery and worked largely with
wooden plows drawn by bullocks. Yet they had a unique way of
life, and nowhere in those mountains did I find a desire for change.
They wanted to hold what they had and to live as their forebears
had. They were prepared to fight for that, as had been their
ancestors, and in the mountains of southeastern Serbia there were
hundreds of thousands of them. They constituted an extraordinary
potential for a guerrilla army.
In a year in those mountains, not once did I hear those peasants
expressing support for communism or for the Partisans. They
were Royalists to a man; and they swore total support for “Uncle
Draža” Mihailovic. Autres temps, autres moeurs. Things may have
changed later. But when we left that area in March 1944, nothing
had changed. And no amount of propaganda will persuade
me that it did.
Those Serbs were opposed to any invader. This was their
history. One felt totally confident moving around without guides
through those mountains. The territory was friendly; the people
knew who we were; the bush telegraph signaled our coming, and
the bush telegraphers would come running to tell us what was
happening elsewhere and where the invader was. When we were
there, “invader” meant not only Axis troops but also any Partisan
group that encroached on the territory. This happened very little
in the mountains themselves, but on the one or two occasions
that Partisan patrols pushed up, the peasants made it very clear
to them that they too were without business there.
The potential of the territory as a safe base for Četnik-style
guerrilla warfare was fantastic. All they needed was s u p p o r t –
arms and equipment. The relatively gentle terrain of the mountains
over large areas provided virtually unlimited possibilities for
dropping zones.
To the east lay the valley of the Morava. From Vranje in the
southeastern corner of the Jablanica command area north to
Grdelica, the railway and road ran for the most part through the
mountains, dropping down into the Morava Valley. In that part
the valley was narrow and precipitous. Then to the north it opened
up into the Leskovac plains. To the west were many more miles
of mountain and suma—woodland—before the Ibar Valley was
In the Leskovac plains to the north the pattern of country
and life changed. Falling to the foothills, the sparsely populated
woods and mountains gave way to small villages surrounded by
rich farmland. The homesteads became small hamlets. Churches,
far apart in the mountains, appeared in the larger hamlets. The
barley, oats, and wheat of the mountains became replaced by maize
on the flatlands, and the staple bread there was maize-based and
of doughy consistency. The people changed too, not very much
yet in the hamlets in the foothills; but already one got the feeling
that other eyes and ears were watching and listening, and that
one could not be sure of the loyalties.
Moving farther into the plains, one came across bigger villages,
still depending on agriculture but with larger farms, many
of them evidently prosperous. In these villages one began to feel
the influence of the towns, of the politicians, and of the proletariat.
And, of course, in the villages the occupation was more noticeably
present, and patrols were regularly passing through. Yes,
in the plains it was different.
It was the second morning after our drop that the surprise attack
took place. We had passed the first night in a peasant homestead
and rejoined the main party the next day in another clearing,
where the stores were being distributed. News had come in of
Bulgarian and German columns approaching, and it was evident
that an Axis cleanup operation was starting. Trbić counseled
against trying to start our journey south over the Bulgarian border,
and we buried some of our W/T equipment. With runners
coming in, advising us of the movement of the enemy columns,
we moved off into the woods with Djurić’s headquarters platoon
of about thirty men.
It was early June, and it coincided with the Axis encirclement
of the Partisans on Mount Durmitor far to the west of us,
in which attack Deakin and Tito shared splinters from the same
bomb. It was a general cleanup by Axis forces of all guerrillaheld
mountain areas, and they were after the Loyalists just as
much as they were after the Partisans. But Partisan mythology
has it that the Loyalists were collaborating with the Axis in this
cleanup. I did not feel as if I had the Axis on my side in those
next few days. The shared bomb that slightly wounded Tito and
Deakin became earthshaking news. What happened to the Mihailovic
BLOs did not even merit a footnote.
We spent the day in the woods with rumors coming in. We
experienced a nasty introduction to the bitterness of internecine
strife when Sergeant Leban, the W/T operator of Slovenian extraction,
told me that three Croats sent out as spies by the Germans,
who had been caught and held prisoner, had been quietly
dispatched as the enemy got closer and their guarding became
more onerous and insecure. It was logical enough, but disturbing
to our Western minds. More disturbing to us was the manner of
their execution: their throats were slit. But we were going to experience
a lot worse.
Late at night we moved into a tiny hamlet consisting of two
homesteads, which was clear of enemy troops, and settled in for
the night. We were awakened at dawn by the peasant woman’s
cries of “Idi brzo. Brzo. Bugari su tu.” (Go quickly, quickly. The
Bulgars are here.) An advance Bulgarian platoon, clearly aware
of our location, had made a dawn attack and set up a machine
gun covering the house. Before I could get my boots on, it was
firing bursts.
My life was probably saved by the speed with which Radoslav
Djurić made his exit. First through the door and with no
thought for his command, he left behind his strongbox, which
contained a heavy bag of gold sovereigns I had brought with me.
I am a peasant by nature and mean about money, and I did not
really like the idea of those sovereigns being seized by the Bulgars.
By the time I had shot off the lock of the strongbox, which
was too heavy to carry, and extricated the bag of gold, I was
alone in the house and bursts were coming through the wall.
Through the window I could see a second machine gun being
mounted. Sehmer and the others had gone with Djurić or followed
after him. No one else was in sight. As the front of the
house was under steady fire, I made my way out through the
back window. I had to cover about thirty yards of open ground
to reach the safety of the woods below. As I neared cover at full
gallop, the Bulgars saw me and I narrowly escaped a burst,
jumping over the body of a Serb who had been less lucky.
I saw no other sign of life until I ran into Sehmer. He seemed
fully confident that the others were just ahead in two groups, one
with Djurić and the other with his adjutant, a man named Vlada.
We went on and caught up with Djurić, who had six of his men
with him, along with Harvey and Leban from our party. The rest
of my team was missing. He assured us that they were with Vlada.
I was not too happy about the manner of his reply, but he was
very confident. With hindsight I now regret deeply that we did
not attempt a counterattack, but with hindsight I also know that
I could not have forced Djurić to do so; and even if we had, the
Bulgars had two machine guns mounted. I had seen them in
position before I left the back of the house, and we had nothing
to counter them. Djurić had a Schmeisser and I had a Sten, but
the rest had only rifles or handguns. So we would have had no
chance; and the Bulgars were efficient infantry soldiers.
All the same . . .
We found out later that the Bulgars had caught the other
members of the British team as they ran from the front of the
house following Djurić and Sehmer toward the forest. Lieutenant
Tomlinson, my number two, was wounded in the arm but
escaped into the forest. Thompson, the W/T operator, was killed
instantly. Three more men were hit: Lieutenant Smith, one of
the explosives experts; Sergeant Blackmore, Sehmer’s W/T operator;
and Lindstrom, one of the New Zealanders. Lindstrom
and Smith were shot on the ground by the Bulgars. Smith feigned
death. Blackmore, with four bullets in his chest, had fainted.
Having taken their boots and valuables, the Bulgars left them for
dead. We recovered Smith and Blackmore, but they both died a
day or two later.
Djurić had acquitted himself badly. His sentries were inade-
quate, and he was the first to run. He was a devious individual,
and in the months ahead we frequently had cause to distrust him.
When Bill Cope took over the mission from Sehmer, Djurić manipulated
him and his number two, Rupert Raw, taking advantage
of their lack of Serbo-Croat on a number of occasions. It’s
quite possible that he intentionally misled them, for example, on
the occasion of the Mihailović “collaboration” signal. Why Djurić
would behave thus is not certain, but it is possible that he was at
that stage trying to replace Mihailović in British favor. Mihailović
never really trusted him, and on other occasions there were misunderstandings
between them.
Whatever the truth of that, later on Djurić became distracted
by something more personal and evidently more pressing for him.
He took up with a notorious ex-Gestapo spy, a prewar communist,
Vera Pešić, recently a German general’s mistress. She was
captured and taken to Djurić to be interrogated and shot. But he
made her his mistress instead. This liaison went on for some time,
and Rupert Raw was instructed by M04 to find out about it. He
wrote an entertaining and salacious report, which can be found
in the PRO together with the other BLO reports (WO 202 162).
Shortly after the British mission withdrew in March 1944,
Mihailović sent orders to one of Djurić’s subcommanders, Jovo
Stefanović, to arrest Djurić and send him under escort to the
Mihailović headquarters. Stefanović did arrest Djurić, but unfortunately
he made a great error in judgment by accepting his “parole,”
his word not to escape, and allowing him out of the building
to answer the call of nature. Obviously in some doubt about his
prisoner’s sincerity, Stefanović obliged him to go out without his
trousers. It was not the wisest of moves. Djurić, bare bottom and
all, bolted. He made it to the Partisans.
The modern reader may not understand the truly binding
nature of parole for an officer at that time. To give one’s parole
in the first place would be extraordinary. To break it was unthinkable.
But to do so was Djurić’s style.
This, of course, is not the story Djurić tells. He claims that
Mihailović had him arrested because he wanted to join the Partisans
but that he was allowed to keep his Schmeisser and, seizing
an opportunity, he shot his way out. He would claim that, wouldn’t
he? And would even dear, gentlemanly, naive Jovo Stefanović let
him keep a submachine gun?
I accept the first version. Not because it makes a good story
but because it happens to be true. Milovan Djilas, Tito’s close
colleague, supports it in his writings, though he should have every
reason to support Djurić’s own version, as Djurić promptly issued
a long and passionate broadcast from Partisan headquarters urging
Cetniks to desert to the Partisans. For his pains Djurić was
given an immediate senior-staff appointment, and he never looked
back under the red banner. Like the Bulgars and many astasia he
became a useful comrade. He died not long ago, a revered, pensioned
senior officer.
Fitzroy Maclean wrote of Djurić, “While I was in Serbia I was
to meet Radoslav Djurić, until recently one of Mihajlovic’s best
known commanders and now chief of staff to a Partisan division.
This amusing, somewhat cynical character seemed to have been
received by the Partisans with open arms although in the past he
had always been known, even among the Cetniks, for the ruthless
brutality with which he had waged war against them.” Other
British officers with the Partisans mentioned Djurić in their
reports. He seems to have impressed them as an entertaining
and urbane individual. For me he was the ultimate nasty bit of
Jovo Stefanović was a great friend of mine, and in my book
Special Operations Executed I describe him as a true gentleman.
But he should have known better than to accept Djurić’s parole.
Mihailović suffered from the same shortcoming; he was a gentleman
too. Regrettably, there was no room for gentlemen in this
conflict. A civil war is the bitterest and worst of all wars, and what
was happening in Yugoslavia was a civil war, with the war against
the Axis little more than an overlay. The British decision-makers
never clearly understood this situation, and the received wisdom
denies it or glosses it over. We did not know it either in June
Although they must have known or suspected a lot more than
we did, our Loyalist Četnik hosts—at that stage—also probably
did not appreciate the full extent of the communist determina-
tion to take over Yugoslavia. The communists had been surrounded
and very near total extinction in the Axis encirclement
of Tito’s main force near Mount Durmitor in Montenegro the
month before. With missions dropping to them in Serbia like
confetti at a wedding, the Loyalist Četniks cannot have believed
that the British decision-makers were going to abandon them for
the communists, leaving the British missions as hostages to fortune
and to having their throats cut.
When I read and reread my well-thumbed pages 83-136 of
Basil Davidson’s Special Operations Europe describing the Četnik-
Partisan office war in Cairo; and when I read of the conviction
of the head of the Yugoslav section of M04 that liberation movements
should be revolutionary to be viable; and when I read on
page 109 how this selfsame section head describes himself as “a
well-marked Partisan supporter”; and when I learn now all about
the involvement of the M04 head of operations and Davidson’s
boss, Brigadier Keble, and the astonishing influence of the hardened
Cambridge set leader and communist guru James Klugmann;
and when I see Tito reverently referred to as “this gigantic
guerrilla”; and when I read the sinister memorandum in the Public
Records Office signed by Keble, whoever drafted it, on September
29, 1943, in which he recommends supporting only revolutionary
movements throughout the Balkans; and when I know as
I do know now the attitudes at M04 in June 1943—I can understand
bloody well what was going to happen to us BLOs in
the next twelve months. But I certainly had no inkling at the
While understanding now why it happened and understanding
that, with Cairo in that mood, it had to happen, I cannot
forgive or forget the astounding cynicism that delivered us innocents
into that situation and that used the British missions to
pull the wool over the Loyalists’ eyes in that critical period.
Unwittingly we BLOs with Mihailovic perpetrated a monstrous
fraud. Those we tricked by our mere presence, including
my friends Stefanović and Andrejević, were massacred in due
course, almost certainly by their Serbian countrymen in Partisan
uniforms supplied by the British and using British bullets—or,
more probably, British commando knives.
There are two techniques. The throat slit, like killing a pig.
The other more merciful. The knife goes in above the rib cage
at the side of the neck, forward and down into the heart. Regrettably,
the former was more common.
Furthermore, I cannot forgive or forget the double standards:
the almost hysterical manner in which we were adjured by
M04 to stop the Loyalists from fighting the Partisans—even in
defense of their own territory; while the Foreign Office in London
bleated away impotently asking for assurances from M04
that the Partisans would not attack the Loyalists, which yammering
was generally ignored by M04 and the British mission with
the Partisans but no doubt raised a belly laugh from Tito—if the
matter was ever raised with him, that is.
The Bulgar massacre was a major setback. Worst of all, Sehmer
and I lost our good radio operators, Blackmore and Thompson.
With Thompson dead and Tomlinson recovering from his wound
in the care of the Loyalist peasants, and with the Axis cleanup
operation in full progress, my scheduled journey south with Trbić
was out of the question. Sehmer’s W/T equipment had been destroyed
by the Bulgars on the morning of the massacre, and between
us all we had left was the set I had buried, a small hand
generator and one battery. To work them we had the Slovene,
Leban, who was only half-trained as an operator, temperamental,
and unaccustomed to our specialized equipment. After some days’
bitter work with the hand generator, we managed at last to get
through to Cairo and explain our position. Orders came for Sehmer
to proceed with Djurić, who was moving northeast, and for
me to move to an area on the western slope of Mount Kukavica,
taking Leban with me. The surviving New Zealander, Harvey,
came with me too, to lend a hand until Tomlinson recovered.
Trbić had already returned south, and the mission to Skoplje was
canceled by Cairo. I was to remain in the Kukavica-Barje-Oruglica
area and prepare to sabotage the Niš-Skoplje railway in the
Morava Valley.
In the Oruglica area were three active or semimobile brigades.
The largest and most mobile was the Leteći Brigade, commanded
by an air force officer, Capt. Bora Manic. This unit was
based directly on Mount Kukavica, the large mountain overlooking
the Morava Valley from the west.
The Vranjska Brigade, as its name signified, reached down
to Vranje and included the whole area beyond the new wartime
Bulgarian border, that is, the territory annexed to Bulgaria. This
brigade was commanded by Capt. Jovo Stefanović, a regular officer
of the Royal Horse Guards.
The third brigade, to which I attached myself frequently,
was the Leskovačka Brigade of Lt. Mile Andrejević, which took
in the foothills and plains stretching toward Leskovac and Lebane
to the north and west.
There were two other brigades formally included in the Jablanica
area—the Jablanica Brigade, commanded by Capt. Ilja
Janović, which was stationed in the mountains to the west, and
the Gnilanska Brigade, commanded by Lt. Joško Popović, which
took in the area over the new border in that part of Serbia annexed
to Albania. This was the land of the Arnautis, who were a
curious, often hostile folk of Muslim religion and Albanian ethnic
In the Bulgar attack Popović, another regular officer, had
been wounded with a bullet through the ankle. I had taken off
his boot and bandaged the ankle, the bone of which had been
penetrated by the bullet. All that day and the next Joško marched
on that ankle. I was dumbfounded at the bravery and tenacity of
the man. The physical courage of the Serbs and their capacity to
endure suffering are truly remarkable. These qualities, of course,
added to the ferocity of the civil war, in which Serbs fought on
both sides.
I spent the month of June and part of July with Jovo Stefanović.
Jovo was a regular officer. His parents had been reasonably wellto-
do peasants. He had done well at school and gone on to the
military academy, whence he had obtained a commission in the
Royal Horse Guards. He had a brother who was a doctor and
another who was a civil servant. Jovo was a thoroughly decent
man. A regime and country that allowed a peasant family to
progress in this way cannot have been all bad, as the revolutionaries
and gurus of the left pretended.
Jovo had formed part of the secret group of officers who
had overthrown the government on March 27, 1941. After the
capitulation he had been taken prisoner by the Germans but had
escaped and returned home. He had been summoned by Mihailović
to join the Loyalists and given command of a brigade.
Of medium height, with a fierce mustache, wiry and goodlooking,
Jovo epitomized the type of Serb regular officers who
had acquitted themselves so well in the First World War. Like all
of his caste, he was a natural ally of the British, and that he
should have been or become a collaborator was to me then, and
is still to me today, quite unthinkable. I know he was killed by
the Partisans sometime late in 1944 after we left, whether in battle
or in a massacre I do not know. The world is poorer for the
passing of the officer-and-gentleman type in the Balkans, men
like Jovo. He was a brave and good soldier, he was liked by his
troops, and he was greatly revered by the peasants, who happily
served as reservists. His ideas and attitudes were straightforward.
He served his country and his king. He did not pretend that
everything had been wonderful or the best of all possible worlds
in Yugoslavia before the war, but he believed that, on the whole,
the way of life in Serbia had been good enough for the bulk of
the population and, after the years of tribulation through which
the country had gone, was not to be jettisoned lightly.
Jovo felt bitter, as did all Serbs, about the suffering of his
countrymen in Croatia and Bosnia, where the Serbs had been
subjected to the ustaša terrorism and genocide; but he did not
call for a holy war against the Croats. Rather, like most Serbs, he
felt that, in the event of a return to the old form of Yugoslavia,
ways had to be devised to build up the Croatian Peasant Party of
Vladko Maček as the best bulwark against fascist and communist
In many ways Jovo Stefanović, with his homeland Serbia, his
peasant background, and his officer-class training, epitomized the
opposition in Yugoslavia to the Croatian fascist ustaša, which had
allied itself to the Axis and to the other totalitarianism, the
emerging communist front. The communists had recruited their
main forces among the Serbian refugees from the genocide in
Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, among urban refugees, and
among some industrial centers; and of course among the natives
of Croatian and Slovenian ethnic origin. They had very little support
from the Serbian peasants in Serbia proper and virtually
none in the southeastern corner, where the population was fervently
nationalist and loyal to the king.
This southeastern corner sat astride the vital north-south rail
link to Salonika, and it was my area of operation.
In the summer of 1943 the sole Partisan unit in our part of
the country was situated on Mount Radan to the west of Leskovac,
and it comprised at that time only about 200 men. Although
the communists enjoyed some limited support in the town of
Leskovac itself, which was a significant industrial center, in the
villages, even in the plains, the feeling was predominantly pro-
Loyalist. Even after the British propaganda switched to favor the
Partisans, the Partisan buildup, though aggressively pushed, was
slow. But at this time, in the summer of 1943, the disparity was
even greater. The 200 Partisans compared with 3,000 to 5,000
mobile Četniks in the Jablanica area alone. And Jablanica was
only a tiny part of Serbia as a whole and of Mihailović’s total
As soon as I had settled the mission into Oruglica, Harvey and I
set off together with Jovo Stefanović, all of us disguised in Serbian
peasant clothing, to reconnoiter the bridges on the railway
line from Vranje to Grdelica. It was a long, hard march, lasting
nearly a week. Wearing the hard rawhide opanake for the very
first time, our feet suffered desperately, and on many days I
abandoned them and walked barefoot. We reconnoitered the rail
bridges, passing close alongside them, and mixed with the peasants
when we had to cross road bridges. These were often watched.
On the way back Jovo and I had to pass through a village
that had been turned into a Bulgar camp. We had to walk right
up the main street with the soldiers lounging or sitting on each
side of the road. Other soldiers busied themselves carrying cooking
materials. Some glanced at us curiously. Jovo quietly took my
arm and whispered to me to keep going straight on. He managed
matters with remarkable sangfroid, a coolness that I was
forced to demonstrate but that inside of me I did not share.
Nodding greetings to the Bulgar soldiers in their brown uniform
jackets and shorts, I had to wonder if these were the same troops
who had shot my colleagues in cold blood on the ground a fortnight
After returning over the frontier to Oruglica I went down
with a bad bout of malaria. It was fairly prevalent in that part of
the Balkans, and it was a rather dangerous variety. I became seriously
ill and delirious at times and had no quinine, atropine, or
other antimalaria drugs. The fever recurred on a number of occasions,
and then only my considerable physical strength enabled
me to keep going.
Through late June and early July 1943 we suffered frustration
and some problems caused by internecine strife between
Stefanović and Bora Manic. Manic was very different from Stefanović.
A younger man, maybe twenty-eight, he had been a lieutenant
in the air force and had served at Mihailović’s headquarters
before being sent to his current command. He was a tall, athletically
built man of striking good looks, though his finely cut features,
well-drilled physique, and thin, cruel mouth gave him a
Prussian appearance. He was immensely competitive, and I remember
thinking at the time that he was the type who goes to
the top or to jail. He was not a man to retire after a quiet career
and grow roses.
Bora Manic machinated and manipulated and caused me
problems, but he was a character, and he could have been a great
guerrilla had we been able to support him. I regret very much
that we did not meet again to swap stories. I am sure he could
contribute much to this account. I recollect that he had a particularly
vitriolic hatred of the Partisans, and he too had little use
for Djurić, even before the latter defected. I suspect Manic saw
through him. Manic would not have accepted his parole. Manic
was a cynic.
My problems with Manic arose from his passionate jealousy
of Stefanović, who was the senior officer. Manic wanted very keenly
to form a Jablanica corps, comprising all of the area brigades,
with himself as commander. With the British support that was
then promised and still confidently expected, and with the huge
manpower potential of the Loyalist peasant reserves, this could
have become a potent force.
There was friendship between Manic and the third brigade
commander, Mile Andrejević. The latter was very noncompetitive.
A soft-spoken, small, and sparse individual, impeccably
dressed even in difficult circumstances, he was a man of quiet
strength and great reason and tolerance. He had been a regular,
like Stefanović (in his case, an engineer subaltern in the guards
division), and he and Jovo were close friends. He acted at times
as peacemaker when Manic and Stefanović came near to blows—
or to shooting each other.
I spent time with all three brigades. Without scruples or hesitation
I played the commanders off against each other in order
to get sabotage done in spite of my inability to bring in the anticipated
and promised drops. I traveled freely around the country,
frequently, indeed nearly always, by myself. I decided to which
command I would attach myself and what action should be taken.
The idea that they might attach a minder to me, or tell me what
to do or where to go, was unthinkable. Even so, I would not for
a moment pretend that my Serbian commanders would take orders
from me. They respected my integrity and independence,
and I respected theirs. I had to negotiate my wishes, and frequently—
indeed generally, but not always—my ambitions regarding
action were fulfilled only in part, and sometimes not at
all. But there was no question whatsoever of my being in any
way under their command.
I have commented on the difference in the relations between
ourselves and the Loyalists on the one hand, and the liaison
officers with the Partisans and their hosts on the other, not
in order to say that the Loyalists were right in their freer attitude
or that the Partisans were wrong, but to stress that what we reported
was what had happened and not what we were told had
happened. We made our own assessments on the basis of what
we had seen with our own eyes. They were not spelled out for
us by our hosts.
The trouble between Manić and Stefanović started with my
first planned supply drop. I was with Stefanović’s brigade, and
Manic warned of a German attack coming in over Mount Kukavica
against his positions. The warning, coming shortly after the
previous Bulgar-German cleanup operation, made me naturally
cautious, and I called the drop off. Subsequently I had grounds
to suspect that Manic had fabricated the attack story in order to
prevent Stefanović from getting the drop.
On the occasion of the next drop, a joint affair organized by
the three brigades, there was an incident in which Manic was on
the point of shooting Stefanović and I was obliged to knock Manic
down. This was something I had never previously done to another
officer, let alone to a member of a foreign allied force.
Naively I mentioned the incident later when I returned to base,
and it rapidly found its way into the received-wisdom mythology as
an example of the “drunken, irresponsible behaviour” of Loyalist
One needed to be awfully careful what one said or wrote or
reported. Rather, one ought to have been awfully careful. We
did not know that at the time, and sadly we were not careful;
and the pro-Partisan “walls that had ears” used to write it all
Up to this point I had no cause for complaint at the service
given to us by M04. Our communications problems arose solely
from the loss of W/T equipment in the Bulgar attack, and once
we got a message through, M04 responded quickly. My first drop
was canceled by me, no fault of M04’s, and the next of two planes
came very soon thereafter. Looking at the files forty years later,
I found, interestingly, that this happened to be the honeymoon
period in relations between Mihailovic and Bailey. This honeymoon
followed the formal withdrawal of the notorious Glenconner
signal of May 29 and lasted until the next squabble between
Bailey and Mihailovic, which was triggered by the reports from
our area that Djurić was refusing to cooperate. In this latter
squabble Bailey told Mihailovic that he was stopping drops “on
orders from GHQ.” It seems evident that M04 seized the chance
and took Bailey at his word.
But at this point, thanks to the honeymoon period, I got two
planes in one night. Maybe there were other reasons, but that
seems to be the logic of it.
The conclusion that M04 exploited Bailey’s stupid, provocative,
and schoolmistresslike demarche is strengthened by a statement
made to the 1973 Auty-Clogg symposium by Colonel
Woodhouse, a former BLO in Greece: “The point that I am
making here is that in the middle of 1943 Mihailović was in the
doghouse and was therefore not being allowed any aircraft, and
Tito had not yet become the rising star.”
Sabotage with the Loyalists
Sometime late in July or early in August 1943 I received a signal
telling me to do my utmost to interrupt the Belgrade-Salonika
railway, and this I assume was linked to the happenings in Sicily
or Italy. The obvious target was the larger of the two bridges
over the Morava near Vladički Han. I had reconnoitered this
bridge with Jovo. It was very well guarded, also relatively close
to the garrison in Vranje from which reinforcements could be
brought quickly by road. We would have to capture the blockhouse
guarding the bridge and do it quickly. For that I would
need a substantial force with ten to twelve machine guns and, if
possible, a mortar. Stefanović had not sufficient mobile troops
readily available. Manić’s brigade was my best bet.
At that stage the subcommanders had no general license from
Mihailovic to carry out sabotage without his consent, but in a
long, hard night’s conferring with a lot of rakija consumed and
many promises of drops for his brigade—which I honestly felt
entitled to make at that stage—I won Manic around, and he agreed
to help without waiting for approval from Mihailović or Djurić.
We set to immediately with our preparations, and Manic was cooperative
and highly efficient. The operation was going to be a
considerable undertaking, involving about 150 men in all. We
had a long approach march over Mount Kukavica, and we had
to cross the Bulgarian frontier. With such a large force, with horses
carrying the machine guns and mortar, this march constituted a
problem. Manic solved it by bringing the local Nedić state guard
commander into play.
As I wrote earlier, the Nedić state guard was the semimilitary,
semipolice force that supported the Axis-sponsored Nedić
regime. As such it was fully collaborationist. The local commander
of the guard had wanted for some time to desert and
join Mihailović, but he had been requested by the Loyalist brigade
commanders to stay with the Nedić forces until he was called
over for the ustanak or until his position became untenable. The
idea was that, when the time came, he would cross over to the
Loyalists, bringing his men and arms with him. In the meantime
he kept us informed as far as he could of Axis troop movements.
The good sense of this policy was proved on this occasion because,
without cooperation of the state guard, crossing the frontier
with a substantial force without being spotted would have
been virtually impossible. Once we were spotted, the attack on
the bridge would have been impossible. With the guard commander’s
cooperation, however, everything was enormously facilitated
for us. Not only did the state guard consent to look the
other way but our friend proposed to invite his Bulgar opposite
numbers across the border to a drinking session and thus make
sure that both sides of the frontier would be unguarded at the
same time and at the agreed point.
I got to know that state guard commander well—so well
that I used a photograph showing him, me, and Jovo Stefanović
in my book Special Operations Executed. Does that make me a collaborator
too? This incident is typical of what went on not only
in the Balkans but in virtually every occupied country. Things
could not be judged in black-and-white terms. There were many
shades of gray. It is just in Yugoslavia that the black-and-white
judgment has been made, and only because the British volte-face
had to be justified.
Major Archie Jack has told me that he was personally helped
by Nedić forces in reconnoitering targets for sabotage. On one
occasion a Nedić sergeant took him through the German sentry
posts and actually onto a bridge he wished to examine. Was Jack
collaborating? If so, I’m all for collaboration.
We were still planning the bridge job when my W/T gave up the
ghost. I concealed this from Manic. In a few days we were ready
to go. A matter of hours before we were due to start the approach
march, Tommy and I were bathing in the stream below
Manić’s house when two British sergeants appeared without
warning. They were unexpected reinforcements for the mission:
Sergeant Faithful of the army physical training corps, previously
a parachute instructor, who had been dropped in to help where
he could, and Sergeant Johnson, a W/T operator and mechanic.
While Johnson was particularly welcome to replace the Slovene
Leban if and when we could get back on the air, a new set
and a motor charger would have been more appropriate and even
more welcome. It would also have been more to the point. But
that was not all, unfortunately. Sergeant Faithful brought an
abrupt but simple message from John Sehmer at Djurić headquarters.
Base had told him to let me know that I should postpone
operations against the railway line till further notice. That
and nothing more.
With that and nothing more the hopeful world around us
collapsed and stayed collapsed.
After the severe setback of the Bulgarian attack only thirtysix
hours after our drop; after losing half the mission; after our
enforced change of plans following that Axis drive against our
area; after completing the arduous and detailed reconnaissance
of railway targets; after evading a second Axis drive through our
area; after being caught up in the strife between Manic and Stefanović;
after my several bouts of malaria; after and in spite of
all of these problems I had succeeded in setting up an attack
force to blow a major bridge on the most important rail route in
the Balkans. Furthermore, at this time the Germans were rush-
ing troops north from Greece to reinforce their garrisons in Italy.
It was my chance to strike a significant blow for the Western
Allied cause.
Now there came this abrupt message to “postpone” operations
against the railway line till further notice. There is no doubt
in my mind today that I made the biggest mistake of my life. I
obeyed the order from Sehmer. It was a knee-jerk reaction of a
young officer trained in a military tradition. A soldier obeys. He
argues afterward. But I couldn’t argue. I had no W/T.
It was a sorry error. The blowing of that important bridge
on that key line at that vital stage would surely have had an impact
on policy-making in London, if not in Cairo.
Or would it? After Brigadier Armstrong’s arrival late in September,
a total of five admittedly less important bridges were blown
by Mihailović’s Loyalists to the west under the guidance of Archie
Jack and observed by Armstrong, and those demolitions scored
only passing reference in a fortnightly report to London. And
the Višegrad bridge, the important and large bridge over the Drina
brought down by Archie with Loyalist help, resulted in a report
by the BBC that the Partisans had blown it! And this lie has been
carried forward into history. In his recent book Waldheim: The
Missing Years, Robert Edwin Herzstein writes, “Adding to the
confusion, the Partisans blew up a key bridge spanning the Drina
river at Višegrad.” Maybe the decision-makers in 1943 were lied
to as well as the BBC.
Only the first of my subsequent railway sabotage operations
merited mention in the reports from Cairo to London, though
the majority of them were indeed signaled through and the signals
acknowledged by SOE Cairo during the short September-
October period during which my W/T worked before it gave out
again. By then, however, with Maclean dropping in to Tito, Cairo
was firmly locked on to a course leading to the abandonment of
Mihailović and the need for justification of his betrayal. Railway
sabotage by Loyalists did not fit into that scenario.
It is ironic that I finished my guerrilla career in SOE being
badly wounded in an attack against a German corps headquarters
in northern Italy and was blamed, reviled, and demoted for
carrying out this important and successful attack contrary to orders.
But I never got the orders to the contrary. Neither was I actually
in charge of the attack, though I had conceived, planned, and
reconnoitered it.
You can’t win.
I do not expect to win even today. Some modern-day Titophiles
struggling to substantiate the received wisdom against all the
evidence now piling up will no doubt claim that stopping sabotage
on that line was necessary in connection with some “major
strategic deception plan.” But the same special pleaders will say
in the next breath that the Loyalists were “collaborationists unwilling
to do anything.”
Kitted up and ready to go, Bora Manic was listening to the radio
when I went to see him. As I told him my news, he turned up
the knob so that I could hear the broadcast. After some preliminaries
we heard, “The Partisans report that they have amassed a
fund of reliable evidence of Četnik collaboration with the enemy.”
Manic smiled grimly. “The Allies are consistent, if only in
changing their minds.”
Sadly, because the SOE files available in the PRO only show
signals to and from the missions from sometime early in September,
I have not been able to trace the many messages that must
have passed between SOE and Sehmer. But I have found my
own signal decoded on September 15, serial 25 number 34, which
states, “But I had Manic on road to break a bridge without orders
Djurić when you stopped us. Djurić has now sent another
order against sabotage and it will be difficult to get going against
orders. If you want us to please state your wishes about all and
will do my best Mike.”
Not very grammatical, but the meaning is clear.
On September 17 Cairo replied, “Sorry misunderstanding
your 34 of 15th and had no intention to stop you carry out sabotage.
For your information stronger orders will be on way to
Mihailovic soon to command him to order his subordinates to
take action. Meantime stick it out and try to get sabotage carried
And they apologized again in another signal. Obviously,
someone was concerned lest it look as if something funny were
going on, lest they be rumbled if something funny was going on.
As promised in my signal, I did indeed do my best. Signal
Fugue 69 of October 4, 1943, reads, “Blew one Km East railway
night 30th. Job done with 25 men sabotage group under English
command and without Serb Officer or orders Djuric. Line will be
out of action for ten days. The line was passing fifty trains per
day troops tanks arms to Greece mostly arms continued Mike
. . . each train about forty wagons. Must have immediately five
planes one explosives four arms pinpoint Barje. To obtain sabotage
have promised planes and must keep promise.”
How naive I was.
Dealing with the bridge affair, Major Sehmer’s war diary,
submitted when we came out at the end of May 1944 and which
is now available in the Public Records Office (WO 202/162), states,
Way [Lees] reported that one of his Serb commanders was
prepared to start sabotage attacks against railway lines without
orders from Djuric or Mihailovic. The writer did not
wish to compromise any possible plans resulting from Wix’s
[Brigadier Armstrong’s] arrival; Cairo was asked whether they
wished Way to proceed or not. The result was a series of
messages, Yes, No, Yes, No, Etc. Before Way got a final yes
I had left for Kozjak when one of the first messages I received
forbade all action which had not Mihailovic’s or Djuric’s
approval. The writer received a signal in the middle of
September apologising for keeping him in the dark for such
a long time about the situation re. sabotage and reiterating
no action without Mihailovic sanction.
Now, isn’t that odd? Cairo telling me on September 17 that
they did not intend to stop me from doing sabotage and at the
same time telling Sehmer we had to have approval. And at the
same time accusing the Loyalists of doing nothing.
My own Fugue report (WO 202/162) is more concise than
Sehmer’s about the incidents: “Major Sehmer sent through orders
to stand by to blow the bridge I had reconnoitred. Djuric
did not give permission and he [Sehmer] later ordered me to
stand down.”
So it seems that the “misunderstanding” was that Cairo had
cleared the operation but had subsequently signaled to Sehmer
equivocally about clearing actions with Mihailović or Djurić, and
Sehmer had taken it upon himself to stop my operation because
he knew we did not have Djurić’s or Mihailović’s permission. But
he knew that beforehand. He knew that already when he first
sent us Cairo’s instructions to do all we could to block the line.
What a way to run a railroad. Or, rather, what a way not to
blow up a railroad.
Maybe that was the explanation. Maybe someone somewhere
along the chain of command did not want us to blow up
that bridge, possibly because they did not want to disturb a deception
plan or, possibly, for more nefarious motives or reasons.
Like not letting anything interfere with getting the Loyalists
abandoned for alleged noncooperation.
Some misunderstanding. Some cockup, some confidence trick,
or some conspiracy?
The received wisdom has it that the Loyalists were collaborating
and refusing to do anything. But in this and other cases they
were doing nothing on Cairo’s orders and thanks to Cairo’s interference.
Maybe that too was intentional, because we are now moving
into the period in which an increasing number of people at M04
were less interested in action against the Axis by the Loyalists
than in finding reasons to denounce and abandon them.
In order to protect Andrejević from possible trouble from
Djurić, I had told Cairo that this major line demolition was carried
out by a force under my own command without a Serb officer.
Evidently this is why Cairo chose to include my operation
in its fortnightly report to London. Thus the implication was that
Loyalist officers were unwilling to do sabotage. My file searches
failed to find my other sabotage success reports to Cairo mentioned
to London.
It was SOE policy to exercise direct control over resistance
movements. This was a standing tenet of faith. The idea—a very
good one—was to be able to direct the sabotage to complement
Allied strategy. But working up a guerrilla band in enemy-occupied
territory, and dodging cleanup drives by the Axis forces,
and undertaking a major military operation is not something that
can be subject to Yes-No-Yes-No-Maybe.
That was another factor in favor of Tito’s Partisans. Mihailovic
was subjected throughout to the Yes-No-Yes-No-Maybe of
chairborne warriors in Cairo, frequently without his best interests
at heart. Tito, instead, insisted on sovereignty and got away with
Double standards. M04 accepted ultimatums from Tito but
not from Mihailović.
We waited for planes that never came. The fine weather held,
and Manic, at first politely but later a bit more pointedly, wanted
to know what ailed the Allies. First they promised supplies. Now
none came. First they hailed Mihailovic as the great hero of the
resistance. Now they were talking more and more of the Partisans
on the BBC. The Allies were consistent only in changing
their minds, he repeated. Fiercely, he went on: “The Serbs are
nationalistic. We love our king. Can you see our peasants in a
communist state? Here each man has his svojina, his patch of
land, his stock, his rakija. He is master in his own house. And I
have shown my willingness to help you. Until you can show that
supplies will come, I cannot agree to give you troops.”
He had made his point. I did not need troops at that juncture
because I was under instructions not to take action. But there
was no point in staying longer with him on Kukavica. I had overstayed
my welcome. I moved back to Oruglica, to Jovo Stefanović.
I was still on good terms with him, and he did not complain
about the lack of Allied support. He was glad and flattered that
I had returned from Manic. He had written once again to Mihailovic
requesting permission to start operations.
Then suddenly again came a message from Sehmer to say
that base wanted me to cut the rail line, adding, “Djurić refuses
to move.” No explanation of why Djurić’s veto was no longer a
hindrance. Odd. But satisfactory.
Stefanović, always the good soldier, would not act against
orders, but Andrejević agreed to help on the condition that he
would receive the whole of the next sortie when it came. It came
that same night. He must have been fey.
We had a sortie. We even had a generator. I had an excellent
operator in Johnson, and Jovo Stefanović came to tell me
that Sofia had been bombed by a force of Wellington bombers
that had started fires in the railroad yards. We had heard the
planes while waiting for our own. It was a morale booster for us
all. Our cup was full, metaphorically and actually too: the Loyalists
kindly saw to that. According to the Partisan propaganda,
after all, they were drunken womanizers. But the only woman
around was Djurić’s spy mistress, and she was not a factor until
So I went ahead. There was no time to set up another complicated
bridge operation, and I was by no means sure that Manic
would play again. My major failing is pride, and I did not want
to be snubbed. In any case, he was a moody man, and the switching
of the last sortie to Andrejević had not pleased him at all. So
I avoided eventual complications and took thirty men from Andrejević’s
brigade, together with Tomlinson, to do a line-cutting
job myself.
It was a long approach march from Oruglica to Barje to collect
Andrejević’s troops and then right over the top of Mount
Kukavica. We kept on the Serbian side of the frontier and, staying
in the woods, descended after dark into the meadows beside
the line just where it emerged into the Leskovac plains to the
It was about midnight and the moon was not yet up. The
commander of the men from Andrejević’s brigade, a man named
Pešić who held a rank equivalent to that of sergeant in the British
army, was an excellent, aggressive leader. Taking him and two
other men, I crawled forward toward the embankment to reconnoiter.
We heard the whistle of an approaching train and the rails
vibrating. The headlights of the locomotive showed sentries, unarmed
and in peasant dress, stationed in pairs along the track
every hundred yards or so. Covered by the noise of the train
rumbling away, we slipped back and joined the party.
I sent out one group of fighting men with orders to move
onto the embankment about 500 yards to the north, place a
Spandau in position to protect our activities, and try to round up
the sentries on that stretch of track before they could give the
alarm. Another group set off to the south with the same task.
The demolition group, similarly, was split into two parties
under Tommy’s overall command. Pešić and I moved down to
make sure that the starting point was clear, and Tommy followed
shortly afterward with his men. They were to run out a length
of Primacord explosive fuse in each direction. They carried a total
of about a hundred charges of 808 gelignite weighing roughly
one pound each. These were to be jammed against each joint on
both rails and linked by a short length of Primacord to the main
stretch of Primacord, so that detonating it at the starting point
would explode all charges simultaneously.
I heard a voice raised and a soft thud to the left, then silence.
Evidently one sentry had been accounted for.
The demolition parties were running out their Primacord
rapidly in both directions and fixing the charges. All seemed to
be going well for about five minutes. Then I heard a ringing
sound. A sentry had seen us before he could be rounded up and
was tapping the rail—the standard warning signal.
Then firing broke out, and I could pick out the deep, tearing
noise of one of our Spandaus. That was a lovely noise. I can
hear it now. I loved the Spandau; like all German weapons, it
was beautifully engineered.
I ran up the line to the north and saw the flash of rifle fire
coming from a small building a few hundred yards up the line.
It was a blockhouse, obviously intended to guard the line. A group
of Bulgars moved out of it, and it looked as if they were trying
to move down toward our starting point through the fields on
the far side of the embankment. I ran back to Tommy at our
starting point and found that the group to the south had already
run out their full length of Primacord and fixed their charges.
Waiting a couple of minutes more to allow the northern group
time, I blew my whistle, the signal to disengage, withdraw clear
of the line, and return to the collecting point where we had started.
We waited a while to let all of the men get clear, and Tommy
struck a match to light the fuse. It was slow-burning and fired a
detonator taped to the Primacord. He fumbled and swore as he
tried to light it and failed, and two minutes later he asked for a
knife to recut the fuse. This time it caught, but as it burned, we
were challenged from down the embankment to the north and
the Bulgar group opened fire. Answering with Stens, we ran from
the line to the collection point. Everyone was present.
It was a fuse cut to burn for three minutes. I began to worry
at two minutes fifty, as I heard the Bulgars moving along the
line toward it. At three minutes fifteen seconds I was worrying a
lot. I whispered to Tommy, “Get out your second fuse.”
Then the charge went up. The blast slapped our faces as a
line of flame lit up the scene 500 yards each way. The sharp
explosion was followed by the screech of flying metal and screams
from some members of the enemy patrol who had caught the
blast as they arrived to investigate. I was very pleased to see
wooden sleepers (railroad ties) burning from the heat of the explosion.
The full length of track would need replacing and many
sleepers too. That was a big plus.
We wasted no more time and moved away as fast as we could.
Behind us whistles shrilled and desultory firing continued, while
the searchlights of an armored train wove patterns around the
scene of destruction. When the moon rose, the railway was already
a good way behind us.
On the return march we followed a course through the plains
and foothills to the north of the Kukavica mountain range, heading
for Andrejević’s headquarters at Barje. In a village in the
foothills Pešić suggested we stop for a rest and food. This sounded
like a good idea. The lower-lying villages were richer and could
offer better fare; and the men were tired, having been on the
march for more than twenty hours. The inhabitants proved
hospitable, and we were soon indulging ourselves with a magnificent
meal and bountiful portions of fierce grape rakija, a specialty
of the plains.
We were all in great heart. The demolition had been an unqualified
success. Pešić reckoned that it would take a full ten days
to repair the damage because the line, though the most important
rail link in the Balkans, was only a single track. This would
delay the work of clearing the damaged rails and sleepers and
bringing up the replacements. We had used charges on every
joint, and the line would have been totally destroyed for the full
length of the demolition. It had been carrying a massive volume
of traffic, which would now be piling up at junctions to the north
right back to Belgrade and to the south to Salonika. Following
the landing in Italy, the Germans were rushing troops south to
Greece, presumably in anticipation of a further landing there. I
don’t know why, but they certainly were doing so.
The Serbs in the sabotage group were evidently very happy
to have done something against the invader. Pešić in particular
obviously relished his task.
As we were now well clear of the line and, we hoped, out of
reach of German or Bulgar pursuit, I borrowed a horse to ride
ahead of the group to Barje in order to make the midday W/T
schedule. But I had hardly started work in Barje when we were
interrupted by the noise of firing in the direction from which I
had come. Andrejević quickly gathered together what men he
could, and we retraced my steps. We had not gone very far before
we met the party led by a very angry Tomlinson, with a
wounded man in his column. The column had been ambushed
shortly after leaving the village, and the attackers were not Axis
troops but Partisans.
These Partisans came from the group of about 200 who had
their base on Mount Radan on the other side of the Leskovac
plains from Barje, to the north and west of Leskovac. The detachment
had been doing political canvassing in the large villages
in the plains. They hid in vineyards and maize fields by day and
crept into the villages by night to requisition food and to hold
political meetings spreading communist ideology.
According to our information, the political campaign—which
was of course entirely directed at winning support for the Partisan
movement and denigrating the Mihailovic Loyalists—was
having little effect on the peasantry. They wished to be left in
peace to tend their crops while holding themselves ready to join
Loyalist units for the ustanak. They also grossly resented the Partisan
assumption that it was their duty to produce food without
remuneration. The Loyalists had always paid for any food they
took, and they were popular among the peasants for this reason,
apart from the natural affinity of a prosperous peasant—and they
were indeed prosperous in the Leskovac plains—for groups opposed
to communism. Precisely because the plains were prosperous,
the Partisans were using the area as a means of supply for
their group instead of just consuming what they needed on their
political visits.
Furthermore, the Mount Radan group of Partisans included
a number of Arnautis, as well as Albanians and Macedonians from
southwest of Skoplje, and their presence caused resentment among
the Serbs, who considered internal politics their own affair and
not that of Muslim “invaders.”
The Partisans in the Radan group were a nuisance to us because
their sorties into the plains created an additional complication
for our sabotage operation. It was a long, hard march to
the railway line in any case. Nevertheless, it was quite possible to
leave our mountains one day, reach the line by darkness, carry
out a line demolition or derailment, and return the same night.
But there was little time to spare for reconnoitering as we marched,
or for being held up by battles with Partisan groups, with the
possibility of having wounded to hold one up subsequently. Their
presence also forced us to take a larger party than would otherwise
have been necessary. Later, after the British broke with Mihailovic,
I personally went to the line alone, chancing a contact
with Partisans—but that’s another story.
For about eight wonderful weeks through September until about
October 24 I had some sort of W/T contact, though our motor
charger ran a bearing fairly soon and we were back to a hand
charger again. The previous drop had also brought a pedal
charger, but this machine was a fiasco. It broke down almost immediately
and was virtually irreparable.
I have been able to reread many of my signals from the operational
files in the Public Records Office. The files are far from
complete, but they coincide more or less with the period during
which my wireless worked, and together with my report and those
of the other BLOs, they have refreshed my memory.
An incident I had evidently forgotten when I wrote my previous
book, Special Operations Executed, in 1949-50 was my Alba-
nian adventure. Before our line-cutting expedition I crossed the
new Albanian frontier, which lay to the southwest of our area,
and made contact with a group of Albanians and Arnautis. They
were right-wing Zogists—followers of the exiled King Zog—and
they appeared to have considerable potential. They had put out
feelers to me indicating that they wanted to form a guerrilla group
and asked me whether I would come across and help them. I
found a group of about 150 armed men awaiting me. They told
me that they could call on another 1,000 to join in one or two
days if we could get something going and that potential reserves
were very large indeed; they even spoke of 4,000 within a couple
of weeks and eventual reserves of up to 40,000. Although these
figures were clearly wishful thinking or propaganda, to which we
were becoming accustomed, I realized that it was nevertheless a
significant grouping, and I traveled around a little and attended
a series of meetings.
Very importantly, all of the men, who were Muslims, were
armed already. Every man had a rifle, and many additionally had
side arms and grenades. They were mostly peasants, though living
more in hamlets and villages than those in our Serbian area.
The houses too, while Muslim in character, were more sophisticated
than the Serbian mountain peasant houses, and there were
more signs of wealth around. The women were kept firmly in
the background, and we missed our regular rakija. Most obeyed
the Muslim custom of abstinence from alcohol. There was a rather
sinister atmosphere about the whole area (not only on the abstinence
account), but there was no doubt about the genuine guerrilla
potential of the people who had contacted me.
I knew nothing of the local politics. Certainly I had had no
briefing in Cairo about Albanian guerrillas or even about what
an Arnauti was. The Serbs were inclined to be hostile to the Arnautis,
and I was not at all clear where the ethnic Albanians fitted
into the picture. But I was certain that the group was genuine in
wanting to form a resistance movement.
With the benefit of hindsight I realize now that the movement
may well have been motivated primarily by the desire to
protect itself from the emergent communist movement in Albania
of Enver Hoxha and from the Tito Partisans in Yugoslavia.
Neither of these movements had any viable guerrilla organization
in the Kosovo area at that time, but they certainly must have
represented a threatening cloud in the sky for the inhabitants of
those parts still free from actual penetration by the communists.
I would have thought the Arnauti peasant would be even less
sympathetic to communist propaganda than the Serb peasant.
None of that concerned me, however, and the politics of it was
above my head at that stage. I saw it rather simply and from a
military point of view. Here was a group eager to build a resistance
movement, a group already armed with rifles, a group
without a political ax to grind, a group that was just asking for a
lead. What more could M04 ask for?
What the Arnautis and Albanians wanted was contact with
the Western Allies and a drop to demonstrate that they were
recognized; they were then prepared to gather together as large
a group as we asked.
I believe that war history has not given sufficient emphasis
to the importance of Western Allied recognition in the Balkans.
All of these various peoples, all of these different ethnic g r o u p s –
many hostile to each other, confused and worried about the future—
were eager above all for a lead from the Western Allies.
Far more than we in the West, they all knew that the issue was
communism. They all feared lest the Red Army reach the Balkans
first, but at that stage they were still hopeful that there might
be an earlier Western Allied landing. Any group that could show
evidence that it was recognized by the Western Allies was in a
very strong position to gather more recruits and build itself up.
My requisition for the drop reflected the situation. For a first
drop—I asked for only one planeload—I wanted automatic
weapons, along with clothing and cigarettes. The leaders insisted
above all on cigarettes. The cigarettes, which would have been
British army issue or American Lucky Strikes, were better than
any propaganda leaflet, and two or three containers of cigarette
packets—preferably ten in the packet, not twenty—could be distributed
over a large area and have an enormous impact psychologically.
But these people were serious about fighting too, which is
why they asked for automatic arms. They needed no rifles. Those
they had already in abundance, but they could use automatics. I
spent some days with the group and witnessed them in action
against the Bulgars, who had heard something was up and who
had crossed the border into the Albanian zone for a cleanup. My
friends acquitted themselves excellently. Subsequently, the Bulgars
made two more attempts to enter the area and failed on
both occasions.
I stayed in contact with the group and tried repeatedly to
arrange just that one planeload, which could have been instrumental
in starting an important resistance movement. The surviving
signals in the Public Records Office show my exchanges
with Cairo. Cairo promised a drop two or three times, but each
time it was postponed because of bad weather or some other excuse.
The charade started sometime in August or early September
and went on till late October, when my W/T finally went out
of action.
My signal dated September 18, 1943, read, “Albanian situation
first class. After capitulation Italy no occupying troops there.
Bulgars have tried three times to enter and have been defeated.
I have group up to seven hundred armed waiting and immediate
reserves up to forty thousand all armed. Only must give them
one plane for propaganda and have three times more men and
arms than whole Djuric area. Dropping sheet 133 390330. Date
must be 25th. Very urgent reply urgently Mike.”
The signals in the SOE files about drops and promises and
excuses in regard to my Arnautis go on until about October 25.
In retrospect, it was a crazy situation. For the sake of one load
Cairo let a really significant resistance potential wither away. But,
looking back over the few signals in the operational log that came
from Fugue mission, I am horrified to find how much was lost
through M04’s failure to give us maybe half a dozen planes.
Following our line demolition on September 30, I signaled
on October 4, “Am planning attack Leskovac power station and
should be ready carry out shortly. Power station supplies light
and power for factory, aircraft and tank parts. Do you want this.
If you give me planes asked for can take party to attack and
guarantee success. If I do not repeat not receive planes will go
self under disguise but under these circumstances cannot guarantee
success. Please send instructions urgently.” The reply promised
planes the next day and told me not to operate in civilian
The planes didn’t come. Not the next day. Not the next week.
As for the cryptic instructions not to operate in plain clothes,
I had been operating on and off in plain clothes for four months.
How else could I have reconnoitered the bridges? In any case,
we were so short of everything we frequently had to use local
clothing or footwear.
In this context there is an entertaining, rather hysterical cable
in the file dated November 7, 1943, from the mission call sign
Neronian, which was the main mission in the Djurić area. Originally
John Sehmer had been in charge. Then he was replaced by
Lieutenant Colonel Cope and Major Raw. They signaled, “Things
are very precarious here. After a month of waiting with last few
days of frost and snow you still ignore our existence. Planes here
will give you full returns. We English here are living like wogs
with no clothing to keep out the cold, no decent food, no money.
If you send no help before 20 this month you only support the
German propaganda which says Britain cannot help with winter.
For the love of Mike and all the Saints do something to support
me here. I will not be responsible after the 20th. Almost in despair.”
A cry from the heart. M04 were set on undermining the
Loyalists, but they could have done something for their own men.
On October 16 I signaled that I was preparing to attack a
bridge and requested explosives and the five planes I had promised
Andrejević in order to get started on sabotage. I also signaled
that my motor charger had broken down and one W/T set
was also broken. From then until October 25, when my communications
ceased, my signals too became more and more desperate.
But I, unlike Neronian, was bellyaching about lack of support
to honor my commitments to the Loyalists and essential tools for
sabotage and communications.
My demands were not unreasonable and were not for clothing,
food, and money. I wanted five planes just to fulfill the
promise made to Andrejević. The promise had been made in good
faith on a clear understanding from Cairo that M04 would support
me. We had started sabotage without permission from Djurić
or Mihailović and had made our little breakthrough. I only needed
Primacord fuse, fog signals, detonators, and explosives. I also
needed the motor charger. The only comfort I asked for was
greatcoats for the mission. But the operational log shows a massive
number of signals from all directions asking for all kinds of
personal things. The Partisan missions got them, usually within
a couple of days.
The operational log shows that Brigadier Armstrong had allocated
the five planes to me as first priority of the Mihailović
missions. So I was only asking for what I had promised, for what
I had been promised, and for what was due. But the five planes
did not come. The promise was not fulfilled. The Leskovac power
station job was not carried out, and with my promise unfulfilled
there was no question whatsoever of support from any of the
local commanders for the major operation of blowing the Vladički
Han bridge.
We all knew by then that some planes were going to the Partisans
in preference to us, but it was only forty years later that I
was able to read from the operational log in the Public Records
Office that planes were by then actually pouring out to the British
missions with the Partisans, that on nights we were being advised
that weather had aborted our sorties the Partisans were
receiving planes, and that fifteen sorties were dropped just south
of us in November and December to a mission the very existence
of which Cairo denied and the primary purpose of which was to
prepare for the Partisan invasion of our area.
To cap it all, Andrejević complained to me that the BBC had
credited my line demolition with his men to the Partisan group
on the Radan. That group had to my certain knowledge carried
out no sabotage of any sort other than burning the wooden bridge
between Leskovac and Lebane in order to stop a motorized chase
of their units by Bulgars from Lebane, purely a defensive action.
They were not interested in offensive action against the Germans.
Their activity was political, suborning all whom they could
and turning them away from the Loyalist cause. They ambushed
our sabotage parties on two occasions, and they made an attack
on our positions near Barje in October when they sought to capture
materiel from the sole drop we received during those weeks.
The Partisans on the Radan did, however, cause us very serious
damage with their propaganda. Although everybody in the
area knew that they were numerically insignificant, they spread
rumors that the British were abandoning Mihailović. They spread
rumors—at least we BLOs thought they were rumors—that
massive support was coming to Tito from the British. Of course
they were right, and this more than everything else really worried
our Loyalist friends. Furthermore, the Loyalists knew far
more about the scale of support to Tito than we did ourselves.
Things were not easy. But once we got started doing sabotage,
between September 30 and December 13, leading parties of Loyalists,
I personally carried out a second demolition of another
thousand yards of line and four train derailments. In addition,
two derailments were carried out by Serb personnel alone, sent
out by my commanders and briefed by me. The details were clearly
stated in the report on my mission that I submitted through Colonel
Cope at the time of our evacuation. A general report about
these activities was also made by Maj. Peter Solly-Flood, the intelligence
officer from Brigadier Armstrong’s headquarters who
visited us early in December and stayed the winter at my mission
Before losing communications about October 25 I reported
three derailments and the first line demolition on my own signal
series; and a further derailment and a second line demolition in
November were reported on our behalf by Neronian (Cope and
Raw) on their signal series. There can be no doubt whatsoever
that Cairo knew that we were very active on that important railway
line, and I specifically stated in signals that we could keep
the lines cut permanently if we were given adequate support.
The signals reporting my various actions and making this claim
are on the operational log files in the Public Records Office (WO
202/131, 139, 140, 143, and 145).
Robert Purvis, who had the mission just south of me, had
very similar experiences. He submitted a most vivid and interest-
ing report about his adventures in a very difficult and dangerous
area between Vranje and Skoplje on Kozjak Mountain east of the
rail line near the old Bulgarian border in the part of Serbia annexed
to Bulgaria. He lived constantly on the run, harassed by
Bulgars, with Bulgar garrisons in all of the villages, and in two
months he built up a force from scratch to 700 men under two
excellent commanders named Krstić and Djordjević.
Purvis carried out two successful operations against the railway.
The first was on October 15, when he blew up the line in
sixty-five places spread over a length of seven kilometers. This
was a different technique from what I had used but probably just
as effective. Then, in early December, he mounted a very ambitious
attack on a railway station near Kumanovo. In reporting
these actions to Cairo, Purvis advised that given even a limited
number of sorties, we could between us keep the line permanently
out of action. He indicated an intention to send parties
Purvis received even less support than I did. He too was frequently
out of communication, also with generator problems. He
too needed fuse and detonators. This shortage could have been
remedied so easily. Middle East Command was urging resistance
movements to do sabotage. Yet in southeastern Serbia, with highly
trained young British officers in position and leading guerrilla
groups prepared to fight, we were held up by the need for a bit
of materiel.
In his Roughshod mission report in the PRO WO 202/162
series dated June 1, 1944, Purvis tells of his attack on the railway
line on (about) October 15: “We blew the line at about sixty-five
places over a distance of seven km. The plan had been for Olden
to derail a train in the middle but the guards spotted him and
gave the alarm. We blew it between Bujanovce and Presovo and,
according to peasant reports, no trains ran for four (4) days. On
our way home we took away 800 yards of a new telephone line
between the German H.Qs. in Vranje and Kumanovo. It was a
start and everyone was most enthusiastic.” But now comes the
punch line: “We continued to wait for promised sortie as from
about OCTOBER 18TH. It didn’t come till NOVEMBER 28TH.”
The report goes on to detail almost daily action against the
Bulgars. Purvis certainly had an active time. Then the report reads
as follows:
ABOUT 2ND OR 3RD November heard report of British
personnel held prisoner by party of Partisans. Thought they
might be crew of AMERICAN aircraft which had crashed
near VRANJE in October. Sent a note via peasants proposing
escape channel and informed CAIRO. Received answer
from a Capt. Mostyn Davies who was with party ALBANIAN
PARTISANS making for Bulgaria. They were very
short of all gear, had lost generator and batteries were flat.
Tried to arrange meeting. Received assurance from GORGEVIC
[Djordjević] that his party would not be attacked.
CAIRO replied to have nothing to do with them as they
were a very Special Mission. As contact already made and
condition of his Mission already known tried to get his batteries
for charging and informed CAIRO of his condition
and whereabouts also guarantee during transit. PARTISAN
Comdr must have got windy as they moved and we lost contact.
I question the lack of confidence CAIRO must have in
its BLOS in not giving warning of a possible move through
area. Feeling was very high against PARTISANS and an attack
might easily have been made before we could intervene.
Later Purvis reports, “Sortie arrived that night [November
28]. DAVIES also had sortie same night only 5 km away and we
could see glow of his fires. Feeling rather high. Told CAIRO
could not keep up guarantee and he must move on.”
Now, that is very interesting. In fact, as I explain elsewhere,
the story about Albanian Partisans was untrue. It was a cover.
Mostyn Davies’ mission had two roles. First, and most importantly,
it was getting into place to bring massive quantities of arms
for Macedonian, Serbian, and Albanian Partisans who were to
invade southeastern Serbia from the south. One of his closest
henchmen, Vukmanović-Tempo, had been sent by Tito to command
this undertaking and to build up the Partisans in the area
south of Skoplje, though it is probable that Tito did not know
about the Mostyn Davies mission. This was the “most secret” role,
engineered probably by Keble guided by Klugmann. The other
role of Mostyn Davies, also very secret, was to act as reception
for Frank Thompson, a young, openly declared, and dedicated
communist, who under the aegis of Klugmann and Seton-Watson
was being infiltrated to organize the Partisans in Bulgaria.
Not only was the Mostyn Davies mission there with a definitely
hostile role regarding the Loyalists, but supplies were being
poured in to him. Operational-log signals show that a total of
fifteen drops were made to him before the end of November,
and Stowers Johnson’s book Agents Extraordinary claims that twentyfour
drops were made to them on one night in January. The
Partisans with Mostyn Davies were attempting no anti-Axis sabotage
at that stage.
Yet Purvis and I were frustrated in our sabotage endeavors
for lack of a couple of loads of supplies. Moreover, if I had been
given my promised five planes and one or two more, I could
have sabotaged more of that line than was done by the Partisans
in the next nine months.
On November 28, as we have seen, Purvis at last got a drop.
On December 5 Dipper, another mission commanded by an Australian
escaped POW, which was trying to penetrate to Crna Gora
Mountain south of Skoplje, also received a drop. Purvis went on
to write,
Having received more fuse on these two aircraft, we went
on our second operation on the night of December 8th.
The plan of attack was OLDEN with Sgt. WALKER Pte.
OPATOWSKI and guard were to blow road bridge 10 Km.
North of Kumanovo. The DIPPER party had crossed it and
reported it to be of wood. Charges were made accordingly.
When OLDEN arrived, however, he found it heavily reinforced
underneath with steel girders and concrete piers. He
decided it was useless to attempt anything with the stores we
had. The motive behind this demolition was to cover our
attack on a railway station 15 km North of KUMANOVO,
from motorised troops from KUMANOVO. This station was
being used as a shunting yard since the bombing of SCOPLJE.
I, for my part, had charges for a derailment South of
the Station. This would have been more successful had the
train not been stopped by a distant signal, I did not know
about and was only just underway when it went over the fog
signals. The pont bogies came off but I think the drivers
must have bridged the gaps. The engine driver put on steam
and tried to lug his train on. Most of the trucks must, I
think, have come off for there was a fearful noise and after
a hundred yards or so the engine came off itself. When approaching
the line, I could see a train in the distance a train
in the station. Unfortunately, it started just as I was reaching
the line and I had to take cover under a small bridge
while it went over. This was a great pity as it was an S.S.
troop train and going fast at my attack point. The train 1
did derail was only a goods, but it blocked the line for two
The derailment was a signal for GORGEVIC and his
brigade to attack the station where it happened there was
another S.S. troop train. They blew some of the points and
some rail junctions North and South of the station. A big
steam pumping plant was also demolished. While this was
going on they opened fire on the troop train. Peasants reported
next day that 4 had been killed and a great number
of wounded were taken away by road to SCOPLJE. Later
reports put the dead at forty but this may or may not be
The enemy put down pretty heavy tracer fire and also
a wonderful fireworks display which was still going on when
we were back in the hills.
No more troops went down the line for at least two days.
Intelligence reports told us afterwards that these S.S. troops
were going to ALBANIA.
After this we planned to send small derailment parties
down each week at various points of the line, but December
15th ended that.
In his last two paragraphs Purvis writes,
The break was a great disappointment to us all, as we had
raised the Korpus from less than 50 men to a good 700 with
whom we were always on the best of terms. There was also
no question of their not carrying out sabotage which they
were keen to do. Given the proper supplies we could, I am
sure, have managed to be more of a nuisance, and, with
experience, have tackled larger targets. Reprisals were not
feared as they were mostly ALBANIAN or mixed villages
near the railway.
Had there been any question of a GERMAN withdrawal
from GREECE, we should have been in a key position
covering the railway and road into BULGARIA via
KRIVA PALANKA which the GERMANS used frequently.
That report is written from the heart. Is that the report of
an officer with collaborating troops? And were those troops doing
nothing? Would that those who were sitting in armchairs, or
pontificating their Marxist theses in smoke-filled rooms in Cairo,
had accompanied Purvis and his band during those hard weeks
dodging the Bulgars and striking back.
I find from the operational log that my first derailment took place
about two weeks after our line demolition. We heard that our
line job held up the line for seven days according to one report,
and for eleven days according to another.
For the derailment I took Harry Lesar with me. He was an
Australian sergeant who had been captured in the African desert
and who had managed to escape from the train carrying him up
through the Balkans to a POW camp. We took Pešić, Vlada (a
sergeant from Andrejević’s brigade), and sixty men because Andrejević
had received a report that there was a strong force of
Partisans in Miroševce, a village on the way down through the
plains. We reached the line a couple of hours after dark. In October
the nights were longer now and gave us more time, but the
moon was already up and full. Vlada was in command of the
covering party. This was deployed with a group each side of the
point I had picked out from a distance, where the line had a
slight curve and I wanted to derail the train. The covering party
had orders to hold their fire until after the train came off.
The demolition party consisted of Pešić with a submachine
gun, myself with the main charge, and Harry Lesar with a second
charge in order to make sure. I was determined to do the
key job myself. I wanted no mistakes, and if anything went wrong
I would have only myself to blame. We were on uncharted ground.
The instructors in Palestine had taught us how to make the
charges. The theory was to use one pound of plastic, to cut the
line on a curve, and—so they claimed in the school—the forward
motion of the train would do the rest. I doubt anybody had
tried the theory out. That system required a train with some speed
and a point on the line with some curve. Some coincidence.
I am a careful man and I like to be sure. So I made up one
five-pound charge and had Lesar carry another. I planned to
place one on the inside of the outer rail and the other on the
outside of the inner rail going around the curve. It was just a
hunch, but I thought maybe it would be a good idea to introduce
a bit of leverage.
Our line demolition had taught us that the line would be
guarded with very closely spaced civilian sentries and that they
would tap the line if they saw anything untoward. So we could
not just go down and place our charges. Having sent Vlada off
to position the covering parties some 100 yards back from the
line under cover, Pešić, Lesar, and I crawled up along a ditch
that led toward the bend in the line and settled down, waiting
for a train to come. Knowing that the trains went by frequently,
I planned to let one go through untouched, in order to spy out
the land.
We had not long to wait. There was a whistle and a rumble,
and then the headlights of the locomotive illuminated the scene.
Then we saw it. A galvanized iron hut with two soldiers outside.
An emergency guardhouse. Located just on the other side
of the line from the curve we had selected. We also saw soldiers
and civilians on the line spaced out at intervals. There was nothing
for it, however; we had to go ahead at this spot. To endeavor
to withdraw and come down somewhere else was too risky. Once
we were spotted, there would be no other chance that night.
The stationmaster was kind. He did not keep us waiting—it
was only about ten minutes before the second train came. We
had had plenty of opportunity to judge the distance to the line.
We waited fifty yards away until the train was well in sight. We
were learning all the time; the lights showed us the behavior of
the nearest sentries. They were all turning to look at the approaching
locomotive, a magnificent machine with a large cowcatcher
in front. Obviously the sentries would do that, without
thinking. It was a great help, and it was an important lesson.
Now! We started running. I led, closely followed by Lesar.
Forget the sentries; forget the guardhouse. Concentrate on the
job at hand. Up the embankment, onto the line. Fix the charge
on the inside and wedge it with a stone. Take the other charge
from Lesar and fix it on the outside. Knot Primacord between
the two charges using the specially fixed length on each charge;
clip the fog signal to the line. It is attached by orange, fast-burning
fuse (ninety feet per second) to the first charge. Check everything
The train was maybe 100 yards away by then. Jump clear
and run like hell. We tore back from the line. No sentry fired.
They were all looking at the train. But the engine driver had
seen us as he looked ahead along the line. He slammed on his
brakes, screamed, and jumped clear of his cab. Too late. The
train was right up to the charge. I shouted to Pešić and Lesar to
get down, and the charge blew.
The train came off the tracks, but it slid along the line for
quite a long way before it did so. In fact this was a good thing,
because more of the line was damaged and the eventual pileup
was satisfactory enough. But the theory was that the train should
catapult straight off at the curve and come right off the embankment
immediately. That it did not do. Still, we had done it. We
had derailed the train. We had done a good enough job, but I
would have to think some more about the technique.
I did. And I developed a technique using a substantial charge
with a noninstantaneous fast-burning fuse to punch the front bogey
wheels off even on a straight stretch of line with a slow-moving
train. The technique, I believe, became standard practice later. It
was taught in the battle school near Monopoli in southern Italy.
In a conference on Italian resistance at Bologna University in
1985 I listened with amusement and gratification to two Britons
who had been in northern Italy with the Italian partisans explaining
how they had taught and carried out these methods. I
doubt they knew that I had developed them.
But more about that technique later. Now we are near the
railway line a few miles south of Leskovac in 1943, with Vlada’s
covering party pouring Bren and Spandau fire into the stricken
train. A burst of Bren tracer exploded the boiler, and there was
a fine scene of carnage all around.
That’s enough. Let’s go. It was a happy journey home. Back
at Barje we found that there had been a drop at last, one of only
two I received during that time. But sadly, there was no motor
charger; and the Partisans attacked across the Veternica River in
an endeavor to capture the stores. They were beaten off, but we
suffered a couple of casualties. The day had started well. It finished
Tito Take All
It was about this time in October that I attempted to make a local
deal with the Partisans. The thought was precipitated by the first
ambush, when we were returning from our line demolition on
September 30. If we were to carry out regular sabotage in the
plains, it was essential that the Partisan ambush factor be eliminated.
It had also seemed to me that I could put both M04 and
Djurić on the spot: if the Partisans agreed to a local truce, then
base would have to make some gesture to encourage my local
commanders, and that meant they would have to send me planes
to honor my commitments. If the Partisans refused a truce, or
my commanders refused to cooperate, at least the responsibility
would be clearly pinpointed.
I was becoming more and more suspicious of the role Djurić
was playing. First there had been the bridge incident, in which
his attitude had been totally unconstructive and which had
decided the issue adversely when Sehmer and Cairo got at
cross-purposes. Then, when Armstrong dropped, there had been
indications that Mihailovic was being much more helpful in his
attitude regarding sabotage. Yet Djurić continued to confuse the
issue, first by maintaining a blanket veto and then by limiting
approval to minor sabotage and train derailments; nothing major
like a bridge.
At the time I only knew what the local commanders told me
and what I learned from other British who happened to pass
through, traveling from the Neronian mission en route to other
areas. Cairo gave us virtually no information. This was just as
well because, with our communications limitations, we could only
handle short messages in and out. We needed all available W/T
time for the more urgent signals concerning dropping grounds,
fire plans, and our requirements.
John Sehmer had been followed at Neronian first by Maj.
Rupert Raw and later by Maj.—subsequently Lt. Col.—Bill Cope.
Whereas Sehmer had communicated reasonably well with Djurić
in ungrammatical but relatively fluent German or Serbo-Croat—
and they enjoyed a meeting of minds—neither Cope nor Raw
spoke a word of Serbo-Croat. They had to use whatever interpreter
was available, and there was no very good one there. Rupert
Raw, a major in the guards and subsequently a distinguished
civil servant and advisor to the Bank of England, had a strong
political inclination. Bill Cope, a rather typical regular infantry
officer, desperately wanted to do something to meet the demands
for action by his friend and superior, Brigadier Armstrong.
Studying the files forty years later, I found that this all
led to a series of rather bizarre happenings.
There was the famous Cope signal, which I have already referred
to, which found its way via SOE Cairo and the Minister of
State’s Office to the foreign secretary, to the prime minister, and
even to the Commonwealth prime ministers and the American
president. The signal alleged that Mihailovic had ordered collaboration
with the Germans. In fact, what Mihailovic had ordered
was, first, defensive action against the Partisans, who were at that
time trying to penetrate his positions in the Sandžak to the west
and, second, the encouragement of young folk to join the Nedić
forces in order to desert with their arms when ordered to do so
by Mihailovic.
That signal, which was never corrected in London, was a
major factor in the break with Mihailovic. Or, perhaps, it might
be more correct to say that the signal was not a factor but was
used as an excuse.
Then there was talk from Neronian about Djurić making a
local deal with the Partisans, when he actually had no personal
contact with them at all. Indeed he never had such contact until
he fled bare-bottomed, breaking his parole, after he had been
arrested by Stefanović in May 1944, shortly after we had left the
There was also a lot of talk by Neronian about Djurić replacing
Mihailovic personally, which was political cloud-cuckoo-land,
as Mihailović was personally revered in Serbia while Djurić enjoyed
no personal standing at all. But all of this talk and the
reports were seized on and magnified by the Tito protagonists in
the British agencies and turned into “evidence” against Mihailovic.
The famous Cope “collaboration” signal was in two parts. It
was dated November 21, 1943, and is on File WO 202/143. The
first part gave the alleged Mihailović “collaboration” instructions,
which were misrepresented by Cope. The second part read that
Partisan headquarters in Serbia had stated that no collaboration
was possible with Djurić until he openly denounced Mihailović.
The Partisans were willing to collaborate with any nationalist group
that would succeed Mihailović. In Cope’s opinion, Mihailovic
himself was the stumbling block to any agreement with the Partisans.
As a soldier (Cope said) Djurić would obey Mihailovic
until King Peter and the Yugoslav government openly replaced
Mihailovic as minister of defense. Djurić’s position was made more
difficult by the fact that some of his commanders had direct
W/T contact with Mihailović. Djurić stated that he would go to
Cairo if possible.
I am convinced that Djurić was deliberately playing all ends
against the middle so as to be able to profit personally, whatever
direction political developments took. But the Cope report was
material in the condemnation of Mihailović as a collaborator and
in the ingenuous Bailey plan to replace Mihailović personally.
On September 14, 1943, under serial 18 Fugue number 31
(WO 202/131), I had signaled, “General mobilization here today
against Partisans orders Djuric. Have persuaded all local commanders
not to fight. Must have planes to support my control.”
This signal was not deciphered till September 21, 1943—a whole
week later.
On September 15, 1943, I signaled (WO 202/131 sheet 13),
“This friction is of great use to me and strengthens my hold over
them. They all are loyal Djuric because they fear him but I had
Manic on road to break a bridge without orders when you stopped
us. Djuric has now sent another order against sabotage and it will
be difficult to get going again without orders.”
Later the same day (WO 202/131 sheet 14), I signaled, “Further
about Djuric. He is far more interested in fighting Partisans
than attending our interests. I am convinced that he adopts this
attitude in hope of obtaining high office after the war. He could
help us considerably if he wished but will not act. It would help
considerably if he were replaced. Or pressure brought to bear.
All information given LAKE [Sehmer] by Djuric highly unreliable.
I have evidence to support all this and more.”
That was, of course, all before Colonel Cope got into the act.
More than forty years later, when I read the files in the Public
Records Office, I was horrified to find that these earlier signals
from me had been taken out of context and blown up to claim
that the Loyalists in my area were rushing to fight the Partisans.
In fact, it was the opposite. My three commanders were dragging
their feet when called on by Djurić. The signals were written in
good faith. As a young, reasonably straightforward, simple soldier,
I did not anticipate that my signals would be taken out of
context and used to prove something that quite evidently they
did not say, or even imply. My signals were intended and written
to give warning against Djurić’s machinations, to ask for help,
and to indicate that, given support by Cairo, I was hopeful of
steering the local commanders in a direction in line with Allied
policy. But my signals were used to make the case against Mihailović
and the Loyalists as a whole. The files show that later in the
Foreign Office they were thinking they could use Djurić as a substitute
for Mihailović. This was most reprehensible, for Mihailović
at that time was showing a real determination to help,
following the friendly message brought to him by Brigadier
Armstrong from General Wilson.
My signals, I repeat, were directed against Djurić. They were
not directed against Mihailović, not against the Loyalists in general,
and above all not against my local commanders, who were
by then showing every desire to cooperate with me provided they
did not get into trouble with Mihailović or Djurić.
Djurić—in spite of his later “conversion” to communism—
was much more rabidly anti-Partisan than, for example, Stefanović
or Andrejević, but he presented himself to Cope as the
contrary, with some success.
The situation became far worse when Djurić took up with
Vera Pešić, who was captured on September 10, 1943. She exercised
considerable influence until, sometime in November, under
pressure from his subcommanders, he banned her and her mother
from his headquarters and sent them to a subsidiary headquarters.
Rupert Raw’s report (File WO 202/162) shows that she had
been an active communist before the war, and had become a
Gestapo agent and the temporary mistress of a German general.
Throughout she remained very friendly with a Partisan leader,
Milivoj Perović, another prewar communist. Djurić’s Partisan
contacts—if he had any—went through Vera Pešić.
Once Vera Pešić started her affair with Djurić, there could
be no doubt about his unreliability as an officer, an individual,
and a patriot. Sadly, Stefanović, like Mihailović a gentleman, accepted
Djurić’s parole. Naive fellow.
The manner in which the Partisans welcomed this rather
despicable creature when he did his bunk, and used him, and
promoted him, demonstrates not only the venality of Djurić himself
but the utter ruthlessness of the Partisan principles.
Unfortunately, Colonel Cope and Major Raw were taken in
by Djurić, in spite of knowing all about Vera Pešić. Their reports
to Cairo regarding Djurić’s tendentious misrepresentation of Mihailović’s
orders became a main constituent of the collaboration
case trumped up in Cairo against Mihailović.
There is a reference in Rupert Raw’s report to a signal from
Cairo saying that sorties would be stopped to Neronian mission
because Djurić was fighting the Partisans. Raw replied that, if
supplies were stopped to Djurić headquarters, they should be
stopped to all missions in southern Serbia. (With friends like that
we sure needed no enemies.) I for one had told Cairo that I had
managed to control my own commanders. Klugmann must have
been laughing all the way to his office as he rushed to comply
with Raw’s suggestion. But it was all hypothetical. We were not
going to get drops for a quite different reason, as I will shortly
The three Loyalist commanders were by no means enamored of
my ideas of a truce with the local Partisans. At that time, early
October 1943, there was still only the group of 200 or so on
Mount Radan and insignificant other groups in Jastrebac, Kozjak,
and Crna Gora areas. In the light of their intensive political activity
and the rumors of the support being given to the Partisans
by the British, along with the anti-Mihailović tone of the BBC
broadcasts, there was an entirely understandable school of thought
among the Loyalists that favored cleaning up the Partisans before
things got worse. Without our presence and our influence,
the local commanders would have mounted an offensive against
the Radan. I believe that the Loyalists could have cleaned them
out at that stage— before British arms reached the group. Thus
in one more instance we were unwitting tools in the move to
destroy the Mihailovic Loyalist movement.
I had first spoken with my three local commanders about my
truce ideas immediately following the ambush after our line
demolition. Manic was adamant; he for one would not consider
a pact with the communists unless they agreed to place themselves
fully under Loyalist command. It was a logical view; but I
knew that the demand would not be accepted by the Partisans in
that form, and I appealed to Jovo. But this time his sympathy,
though unexpressed, tended to lie with Manić; and Andrejević
thought likewise. After much argument I persuaded them to agree
to back down in their demands. They would not insist on the
Partisans coming under command, only on cessation of all leftist
We had left it that Andrejević would establish contact from
his headquarters in the foothills in Barje. With our preparations
for the first derailment and his annoyance about the BBC announcement
that had credited our line demolition to the Partisans,
however, he had done nothing. I think that it had been
quietly agreed between the three commanders that they would
not show adamant opposition to my ideas but that they would
not help. Accordingly, I decided to try to arrange a meeting for
I sent a peasant, the brother of the owner of the house where
our mission was. then established, to Miroševce, a village frequently
visited by Partisans. In a note to the leader known to us
as Crni Marko, I suggested that we meet. I received an answer
very soon. It was written in English and suggested that I come to
Miroševce at six the following night. Though naive in those days,
I was not plain stupid. I took our host, a man named Dragan,
with me, and, promising Dragan a rather substantial reward if he
would do what I asked, I briefed Tommy about my plans with
full instructions about what he was to do if I did not return. If
the Partisans kidnapped me, it was virtually certain that they would
try to take me away to their headquarters on Mount Radan. If
so, Tommy was to advise Andrejević and Manic to move rapidly
to seal the route there. We fixed certain points where he was
to have a covering party ready to help me if I had to make an
It never came to that. We moved down early to a small hillock
short of Miroševce from which we could see the village. Then
I sent Dragan ahead to make a straightforward shopping visit,
with the idea that he would wait till the Partisans arrived and
then come back and tell me how many were there and how the
situation looked.
We did not need Dragan’s information. Shortly after he left
us a Partisan column approached the outskirts of the village. A
large man with a rifle over his shoulder collected a group around
him and gave orders. The force split up and moved off in small
groups in all directions, forming a cordon around the village.
The men moved into concealed positions and only one route was
left open, the route to Barje.
In my note I had informed Crni Marko that I would come
without an escort and had asked him to do likewise. This cordon
could mean only one thing: they intended to kidnap me. It was
still not half past five. If I had arrived at the correct time instead
of two hours early, I would have walked straight into a trap. We
returned to Barje. Dragan did not get back until the following
morning and told us that he had been locked up all night, not
because they suspected him in particular but because he was from
the mountains. Fortunately, he had bought some silk for his wife,
and he showed it to them as proof that he was there on a purchasing
expedition. But they took the silk from him all the same.
That hurt.
The Partisan leader was evidently upset and had been asking
about me and the British mission and the sorties we were getting.
I forgot about trying to arrange a local truce. One can’t do business
with people like that.
Now I believe that it is possible that this incident was connected
with a rather sinister figure variously described as Dragi Radivojević
from Ub in Serbia and Branko Radojević from Valjevo. He
is said to have been recruited by Captain Deakin in New York,
and according to this account, he was a ship’s radio operator contacted
through Vane Ivanović. There are many gray areas in the
story of this man, for others have it that he was recruited by Bill
Stuart through Kovačević, the Yugoslav communist leader in
According to English W/T operators in Cairo, he had to be
taught radiotelegraphy from scratch. This would be inconsistent
with his being a ship’s radio operator, most of whom were highly
skilled. What does seem probable is that Radivojević or Radojević
was brought in under the plan to recruit former Yugoslav members
of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War who
had ceased to be communist, in order to drop them into Yugoslavia
and find out who Tito really was.
Certainly he had been in Spain, and certainly he claimed to
have ceased to be a communist. Some say that he was a Trotskyist—
not a Stalinist—but that is another gray area and not really
relevant. What is certain is that he claimed to have become disillusioned
with the Reds. The plan in Cairo, when he arrived there
in the spring of 1942, was to drop him in to spy on the Partisans,
for which task he would have seemed admirably suited.
But it did not work out quite like that.
Between April 1 and July 25 there were eight unsuccessful
attempts to drop him into Croatia. “Higher authority” then lost
patience, dressed him up as an Englishman, Capt. Charles Robertson,
and dropped him into Mihailović’s headquarters. His cover
story was that he was to help Captain Hudson, the head of the
British mission, with his signals—a very important task. His secret
brief from M04 was to check up and report on Hudson and
to find out about the Partisans in some way through Mihailović’s
headquarters staff.
Amazingly, Robertson was given full authority to use his own
discretion about deserting from Mihailović to the Partisans. He
was also advised to speak French with the Loyalists and not to let
on that he knew Serbo-Croat.
I have pieced together Robertson’s story from many sources,
but the foregoing is spelled out clearly and unequivocally by
the files in the Public Records Office (FO 371/59469 minute
11677/G). Regrettably, the minute does not specify who was the
“higher authority.” Neither does it tell us who gave Robertson
his shameful brief to deceive Hudson and Mihailović, who at that
time shared unquestioned British support.
The Foreign Office minute also tells us that Robertson took
secret maps with him, drawn in invisible ink, showing where M04
believed Partisan units to be located. Jasper Maskelyn of Maskelyn
Devant, the famous London magicians, worked for M04. He
briefed me about secret inks, along with many other things. I
had a fascinating couple of hours with him. Presumably it was
Maskelyn who briefed Robertson too.
Robertson came to be suspected by Mihailović and his headquarters
staff, who quickly realized that he was not what he made
himself out to be but rather an outright communist spy. Furthermore,
Hudson was tormented by Robertson, who caused him
problems by sending denunciatory signals to M04 Cairo behind
his back: he could work the W/T, while Hudson could not.
I wrote earlier that Sir Harry Hinsley, the historian, refers
to reports “still more critical of Mihailovic from a Yugoslav officer
who had recently joined Hudson after failing to make contact
with the Partisans.” This comment, derived no doubt from received
wisdom, fails to mention the vitally important background I
have provided. Robertson was in no way a “Yugoslav officer.” He
was a communist Yugoslav dressed as a British officer, and it is
no wonder that he sent reports criticizing both Mihailović and
Hudson. Hudson recently told me that he threw Robertson out
of a first-floor window one day. Good for him! Yet Robertson’s
lies have, typically, become gilt-edged history.
Yet, in spite of entertaining great suspicions about him, out
of respect for the British Mihailovic took no action about Robertson
until the latter fled from one of his units, taking with him
a genuine British officer, Maj. Neil Selby. The two left Dragutin
Keserović, a Loyalist commander, on Kopaonik in August 1943,
with Bailey’s full knowledge. They made their break with encouragement
from M04, supposedly in order to try to arrange a
deal with the Partisans. Robertson made his way successfully to
the Partisans on the Jastrebac, but Major Selby and his W/T operator
were captured. Selby was later shot by the Gestapo while
trying to escape. The Partisans tried to claim that the Loyalists
had betrayed Selby, but no proof, circumstantial or otherwise,
has been shown. The simple logic indicated that, if there was a
betrayal, it was done by Robertson himself, precisely in order to
discredit the Loyalists as a last action before finishing his spying
mission on behalf of the communists and returning to the communist
This version is further supported by an odd incident in Cairo,
which occurred before Robertson dropped. He was beaten up
one night. There were various versions of this affair. One was
that he was the victim of royalist Yugoslavs who thought that he
was a communist. The other version is that he was beaten up by
the communists because he was a turncoat. But there were no
overt Yugoslav communists in Cairo at that stage. The most likely
version is that he had himself beaten up in order to strengthen
his cover story, and this version is supported by his meticulous
reporting of the incident to Col. John Bennet, the officer in charge.
The really significant thing is that his “mother superior”—his
minder—in Cairo was, of course, James Klugmann, and the devious
brief to deceive the British head of mission and Mihailović
was a typical Klugmann brainchild.
My searches through the 1943 records have recently revealed
that Robertson wrote on August 24, 1943, to Captain Boon,
a BLO near my headquarters, stating that Selby was taken by the
Serbian Nedić state guards near Mali Jastrebac. Robertson did
not say why he himself was not taken. All this is inconsistent with
the alleged Mihailović-Nedić collaboration and with the tendency
of the Nedić guards to turn a blind eye. Other reports had it that
Selby was captured by Ljotić troops (a small Serbian quisling force),
but Robertson’s letter to Boon was specific that it was the Nedić
guards. Finally, to my considerable surprise I find that Major Raw’s
report in the Public Records Office (WO 202/162) states that
Robertson sent me a message asking me to establish a local W/T
contact with him and thus to act as a W/T link between him and
Cairo. At the time my own W/T was out of order. This mention
by Major Raw establishes that Robertson was still alive in October
1943 and that, having failed to coerce Boon, he had tried to draw
me into his spider’s web too.
I was luckier than Selby. I often wonder what would have happened
to me if I had made the contact. Would I too have disappeared?
And in my case would there too have been allegations
that the Loyalists had murdered me?
Another case is that of Maj. Terence Atherton, whose disappearance
constituted another notorious mystery that has been
exploited by Partisan propaganda. Atherton landed on the Yugoslav
coast in 1942 with orders to join Mihailović. Like Hudson,
he first established contact with the Partisans and was taken by
them to Tito’s headquarters in Bosnia, where he arrived at the
beginning of March 1942. Atherton was a journalist who had
lived in Yugoslavia, and he knew the area well. He stayed some
time with the Partisans but then left without warning in order to
get to the Četnik headquarters. He never arrived. He was
murdered. The Partisan propaganda machine put up an enormous
smoke screen about how Atherton was murdered by a Četnik.
But it was a smoke screen. To this day there is no certainty
that he was not murdered by the Partisans to stop him from joining
Mihailović. That is the more logical explanation.
It is claimed by some historians that Atherton was murdered
by an independent Četnik semibandit for his money. But these
claims are not supported by proof, and they become all the more
suspect when the alleged killer is linked with the Loyalists for
propaganda purposes. As recently as February 14, 1988, Sir Fitzroy
Maclean claimed in an interview with The Sunday Times that Atherton
was murdered by the “Četniks,” and there is a clear implication
that he meant the Mihailović Četnik Loyalists. Not even
the Partisans claimed that.
M04 knew that Selby was making a break to the Partisans
with Robertson. I told Cairo nothing of my plans to contact the
Radan Partisans, either before or afterward. Maybe I was fortunate
that I omitted telling Cairo. Everything seems to indicate
that there were eyes and ears in Cairo—whichever ones they
were—that were malignant to the Loyalists and even hostile to
us British serving with them.
There is another interesting angle to these incidents. Until
Mihailović was abandoned by Churchill on December 10, 1943,
Tito insisted that no British officers be dropped to Partisan units
in Serbia. The small Partisan units on Mount Radan and the Jastrebac
would have benefited enormously from having a BLO. Tito
was sensitive to the likelihood of BLOs with the two rival movements
getting together, an eventuality that the British Foreign
Office would have welcomed. But the last thing Tito wanted was
British-sponsored truces between local groups of Serbs. He wanted
the civil war to be fought to the finish. There is no doubt about
Tito’s policy, and it would fit very well with elimination of BLOs
endeavoring to organize truces, such as Selby or Atherton—or
me. It is interesting to speculate that even Robertson may have
been liquidated for this reason.
When Brigadier Armstrong dropped on September 24 to take
overall command of the mission, he brought a friendly and en-
couraging letter from General Wilson, the Middle East commander
in chief, addressed to General Mihailović. The important
sentence in that letter said, “It has now become logistically possible
for me to send you military supplies on a much larger scale.”
In spite of all of his previous experience of British duplicity, it is
evident that the decision to drop in a brigadier accompanied by
a colonel, a chief of staff, and various others, together with this
letter from General Wilson, must have made quite some impression
on Mihailović. Certainly the spate of Loyalist activity, and
the provision of forces for the bridge demolitions at Mokra Gora
and Višegrad, appear to reflect a more trustful and constructive
attitude on Mihailović’s part. I believe that my own three local
commanders sensed this or received some indication of it and
that the problems in our area, insofar as there were problems,
were created by Djuric and Djurić alone.
But the Venezia Division incident, when Bailey intervened
to stop the Loyalists from disarming the Italians and let the Partisans
move in and take the booty, evidently did enormous harm.
Whether or not someone in M04 set that up deliberately is
something we, who have no access to the main SOE files, cannot
tell. We can only suspect. As with the Glenconner signal ordering
Mihailović to retreat to east of the Ibar on May 29—which was
patently designed to open an escape route for Tito’s hard-pressed
Partisan headquarters troops—we cannot state here conclusively
that cheating Mihailović was the purpose and that the whole Venezia
Division affair was not just a coincidence. But if it was just
another coincidence, it was one hell of a coincidence.
From Mihailović’s viewpoint, however, these incidents were
evident betrayals. And as the weeks passed following Armstrong’s
arrival and the “military supplies on a much larger scale”
specifically promised by General Wilson did not materialize, Mihailović
must have been getting very bitter. The reports from his
agents in the Partisan areas will have told him of the arrival of
Brigadier Maclean on September 17 and of the greatly increased
supplies to the Partisans. As if that were not enough, he received
constant reports of Partisan propaganda telling the population
that Tito was now recognized by the British and that the abandonment
of the Loyalists would follow shortly. Milovan Djilas,
among others, was making public speeches to that effect. In reply
to a question from Bailey through Cairo about this, Major
Deakin at Tito’s headquarters shrugged it off and wrote that he
could not be responsible for what the Partisans said. Furthermore,
the BBC was now making openly pro-Partisan broadcasts
as well as attributing Loyalist successes to the Partisans.
At that point in time, Mihailovic had to ask himself not only
whether sabotage would cost reprisals but also whether he could
afford the ammunition he was going to need in self-defense against
the increasing Partisan attacks on his positions. This was a very
important factor.
In retrospect, it is amazing to me that we were able to continue
living with the Loyalists in total freedom and that we were able
to obtain their support for the actions we carried out. That we
were unable to obtain sufficient support to undertake larger operations
in October-November 1943, though very frustrating to
me at the time, is now entirely comprehensible.
I can write with firsthand knowledge only of the situation in
my area, and with some authority in regard to Robert Purvis’s
area to the south of me. It is very evident from Purvis’s report
that his commanders were remarkably willing and tractable, perhaps
even more so than my own. To the west of us in Keserović’s
Korpus area, Capt. George More was able to carry out a number
of small demolitions too, and even working out of Djurić’s head
quarters, Captain Hawksworth attacked a railway station north
of Leskovac. Then, of course, there was the very considerable
activity by Archie Jack out of Mihailović’s headquarters and the
well-known, partially successful attempt to block the Danube by
the Homolje group. All in all there was a lot of activity in the
month of October 1943. Yet it was precisely at that time that our
supplies dried up and it became quite obvious that our planes
were being diverted elsewhere.
Looking back at the operational log of signals now in the
Public Records Office, I found the signal that tells it all. It was
addressed to all Mihailović missions and to them only. It was dated
September 22, 1943, and read as follows:
Programme of flying disorganised this month due
(1) Demands on our aircraft for other purposes “owing to
fall of Italy.” [sic]
(2) Initial bad weather.
(3) Very bad start Bizerta which will have repercussions sorties.
Realise delicacy your position and doing best see no mission
suffers out of proportion. Unwilling give any figure for remainder
period. We regret very much.
Now, that signal was sent to the British and American missions
with Mihailovic. The one exception was Cavern, the signal
name then used by Colonel Hudson. The transmission to him
was canceled, apparently because of a signal from him a day or
two previously in which he had exploded about the poor service
given him since he was first in contact more than a year before.
Evidently someone in Cairo thought it better to leave him in the
dark and avoid getting an even more abusive signal back!
But this signal, saying in effect that we were being put out
of action, was not sent to any of the missions with the Partisans.
On the contrary, the signal traffic to them shows an increase in
And why? The official policy was clear: full support for Mihailovic
units, provided that the arms were not used against other
resistance groups. No one could claim that the Loyalists were so
using the arms, because the operational log reports signals from
Brigadier Armstrong specifically advising against drops into areas
near Partisan units, which shows pedantic observance of this policy
on the Mihailovic side.
All of this occurred just when Armstrong was delivering the
fulsome letter from General Wilson advising that “It has now
become logistically possible for me to send you military supplies
on a much larger scale.” What gave?
I realize now that what gave was that Brigadier Maclean had
dropped to Tito on September 17 and was already demanding
that the drops to the Partisans be urgently stepped up. No matter
that the commander in chief, General Wilson, had just written
a letter promising substantially increased supplies to Mihailovic.
No matter that Mihailovic was at last telling his outlying commanders
that they could get moving on sabotage. No matter that
Mihailovic’s own forces were going out with Armstrong and Archie
Jack to blow up bridges. No matter that we were stating
categorically and emphatically that we could carry out regular
line demolitions and derailments on the vital Morava Valley line
if given the tools to do the job; and that I could even do major
sabotage such as the Vladički Han bridge if my promised sortie
allocation was sent as an encouragement to the Loyalists. No matter
that I was starting to establish an important new nonaligned resistance
group over the Albanian border and needed just one
plane for recognition and propaganda purposes. It had all stopped.
The vital clue lies in Maclean’s signal of September 20, which
reported on his “dinner with Tito” on the night of his arrival.
The signal (FO 371/37612 number MA/9) starts by detailing a
list of claimed Partisan successes and gives a first batch of tendentious
Partisan statistics and territorial claims. In regard to these
Douglas Howard, head of the southern department of the Foreign
Office, noted in the margin “no longer” to the Partisan claim
to hold the town of Split, and “that’s a very unscientific statement”
to the claim that “Partisans now have important forces in
Serbia including the Vardar Valley and Srem which can therefore
no longer be regarded as the preserve of Mihailovic.”
It is incredible that only two days after arriving in the country
Maclean was making these dogmatic statements of “fact,” which
can only have been based on what the Partisans told him. But
then comes the crunch line: “Regarding supplies, I told Tito that
he could count on a minimum of sixty sorties next month. He
said that the quantities promised hitherto have no relation to those
actually received and this and other questions were further complicated
by apparent absence of reliable communications with
Cairo. I replied that sixty was a firm figure and that steps were
being taken to establish satisfactory communications.”
That was on September 20. The message putting supplies to
all Mihailovic missions in question was sent on September 22.
Bang went our sorties, promised for sabotage done, certain to
bring major sabotage results immediately if delivered. And bang
went Purvis’s and my motor chargers. The motor charger Cairo
subsequently claimed to have dropped to me, but which never
arrived, was obviously pulled out and sent to the missions to the
Partisans in order to meet Tito’s complaints about inadequate
We were in a no-win situation. Cairo had got the message.
Tito was Churchill’s “great guerrilla,” and Maclean had been
anointed by Churchill. If Maclean demanded priority, he could
have it. It made no difference that General Wilson, commander
in chief, had promised Mihailović more supplies, not fewer.
After months of discussion backward and forward, after highlevel
consideration by the Foreign Office and the chiefs of staff
of short-term and long-term policy, after every British agency
getting their oar into the argument, it had been decided to send
a brigadier each to Mihailović and Titć, to have them both report—
and then to consider the reports together.
Armstrong had dropped to Mihailović, and at that stage things
were at last looking up after the series of squabbles and setbacks
between M04 and Mihailović—which squabbles and setbacks were,
as I have shown, substantially of British making. Now Armstrong’s
promising efforts were being nipped in the bud before
he could even get started.
On whose authority were the Mihailović missions singled out
for adverse treatment, even before Armstrong had time to study
and report? On whose authority was the decision taken to effectively
paralyze the emergent Loyalist action against the Axis and
to switch all arms and supplies destined for them to the Partisans,
who were making no pretense of adhering to the British
policy of avoiding civil war? Was this switching done on the orders
of the chiefs of staff, advised by the Foreign Office? Was it
done on the orders of General Wilson, who had just promised
Mihailović increased supplies? Or was it done quietly and surreptitiously
by M04? The files in the Public Records Office reveal
nothing. That’s odd, and sinister.
Rereading the operational log, I noticed the appalling delays
suffered by the messages from the Mihailović missions in the
decoding. Taking just my own case, there are two urgent messages
from Fugue concerning recognition signals and fire plans
for drops. One was sent September 3 and decoded on September
18. The second was sent September 14 and decoded September
2 1 .
On September 13 a sortie failed to drop to us, and Cairo
alleged that we had put out the wrong signal fires. They bludgeoned
us with this accusation and demanded our explanation
in repeated signals until our set went out of action about October
24. They diverted a drop away from us on the grounds that we
had not explained. They at last told us what the plan should have
been, and we confirmed again what we had already told them,
namely, that our fires had conformed precisely to that plan. They
did not apologize or even confirm, but forty years later in Kew
Gardens in the PRO I found on the operational file a handwritten
note: “R.A.F. mistake.”
This same series of bludgeoning signals asked what had happened
to two W/T sets dropped to us on September 8. None had
been dropped. They also advised that a motor generator had been
dropped, when it certainly had not. Obviously, it went to the
Partisans, just like my malaria drugs, which landed up with Deakin.
He mentions with surprise in his writings that malaria drugs were
sent to him unrequested. I had asked for them two months earlier.
No matter that I nearly died of malaria. The Maclean promise
of sixty planes had to be fulfilled. All of this one finds decades
later, and to me now it is remarkable that in the face of such
difficulties we achieved anything at all.
But I do want to know who organized the switching of the
aircraft to the Partisans in the face of the agreed policy. And on
what authority, if any? Will the official historian tell us? These
are the questions that really matter. The keys to history.
There is a postscript to Robert Purvis’s report. It reads, “I
should like a message we received to be recorded. It quoted a
message that we had never sent and said it had too many ‘D’s.’ It
then stated that should this occur again none of our messages
would be decoded for a week and it was only because of our
tactical situation that this was not being put into effect.”
The number of Ds determined the priority.
In Baker Street Irregular, Bickham Sweet-Escott deals with the
lack of planning at M04 that resulted in insufficient cipher staff
and near chaos. What seemed to have concerned him was the
loss of reputation with GHQ when SOE had to ask for signalmen
to help out. That speaks for itself. The fact that our vital signals,
dealing with important intelligence and sabotage information from
deep in enemy territory, were held up seems to have been of
lesser importance in that staff officer’s mind.
Yet more sordid was the nature of the signal sent to Purvis,
which, incidentally, was copied to me and to other missions with
Mihailović, trying to cobble together a justification for Cairo’s
shortcomings. They spent thousands of pounds and lost many
lives putting agents into the field and then failed to read their
messages. Then they blamed us. These despicable deceptions were,
of course, used as smoke screens to hide the switch of all supplies
and signal priorities to the Partisans.
When my own signalers could not cope with decoding, and
even when they could, I sat down and worked with them. We
were in a wartime situation, not a holiday. I would have liked to
read another paragraph in Sweet-Escott’s book saying, “We determined
not to let our men at the sharp end down. All staff
officers were ordered to put in two hours deciphering at the end
of the day.” There is no such paragraph, because there was no
such decision. I guess that such a simple and decent solution would
never have occurred to M04. Gezira Club and the girlies called.
Oh, Micky Thomas, how right you were.
The Coup de Disgrace
Telegram number 2360 of August 10, 1943, to the minister of
state, Cairo, from the Foreign Office advised, “Lieutenant Colonel
Maclean who has now been appointed Head of the SOE mission
attached to General Tito leaves today for Cairo. On all political
matters Lieutenant Colonel Maclean will report to you (or H.M.
Ambassador) through SOE and will receive guidance from you.
He will also consider himself as a member of your staff. Amendments
to Lieutenant Colonel Maclean’s brief necessitated by his
change of status will be telegraphed to you.”
They were referring to Maclean’s new status as sole head of
mission as opposed to the originally intended appointment as political
advisor to Brigadier Orr.
Attached to this telegram was the original brief for Captain”
Fitzroy Maclean, political advisor-designate. This brief contained
interesting handwritten amendments, which make it very
clear that the original policy was maintained and that the brief
envisaged work not only with Tito’s Partisans but with “any other
Partisan movements.” It also clearly shows that the Foreign Office
regarded work to cool the civil war as a priority.
Maclean flew back to Cairo on August 10, and he has told
us in his paper delivered at the Auty-Clogg symposium that the
prime minister wanted him to get into Yugoslavia as soon as possible.
Yet he did not in fact drop till September 17. So what was
he doing in the interim?
A fascinating memorandum contained in signal number 1994
of August 30, 1943, tells us something. The signal is from Maclean
in the Minister of State’s Office to Sir Orme Sargent in the Foreign
Office. In the first paragraph Maclean reports his establishment
of satisfactory relations with General Wilson. In the next
he unleashes a broadside against the principals of SOE Cairo—
Lord Glenconner; his chief of staff, Tamplin; and his director of
special operations, Keble—claiming that all three had stated
frankly that they were working “to reverse the decisions taken by
the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Commanderin-
The next paragraph alleged (correctly, it is almost certain)
that SOE had been messing around with the messages directed
to the minister of state from the political advisor to the head of
the SOE mission in Greece. These messages had been subjected
to the nondeciphering maneuver and had even been held up after
being deciphered.
Next Maclean advised that these matters had been brought
to the notice of the commander in chief, who had raised the whole
question of the status of SOE Cairo and proposed that it come
under GHQ. The signal went on to report a meeting of the commander
in chief, the minister of state, various others, and Maclean
himself, in which Maclean had stated that the attitude of SOE
regarding his mission and the experience of Major Wallace (the
political advisor in Greece) had caused him great concern. General
Wilson had supported Maclean, and the status of SOE was
to be discussed at a future meeting. Maclean went on in a final
paragraph to pile on the agony about the horrors of being under
the authority of SOE: “In any other circumstances I should not
hesitate to tell the Prime Minister that I could not undertake
mission with which he has entrusted me and give reasons. In
view, however, of the urgency of the situation my responsibility,
whatever obstacles are placed in my way, is clearly to carry out
my mission.”
Like his earlier move to get rid of poor Brigadier Orr with
the spiel about unsuitable candidates, it worked wonderfully. Sir
Orme Sargent sent it on to the foreign secretary, and in due
course M04 was brought under GHQ, becoming Force 133. Lord
Glenconner and Keble were moved on some three months later.
Tamplin had just died.
Having cleared the decks, secured his base, and incidentally
arranged direct radio ciphers and links to bypass SOE if necessary,
Maclean caught the next moon and dropped to Tito. But
there can be no doubt that his month or so in Cairo gave due
warning to all and sundry that he was no man to trifle with—
and that maybe it would be wise to keep Maclean gruntled if one
knew what was good for one.
Symptomatic of this situation was that the minister of state
now decided to jump on the bandwagon with a long signal to the
Foreign Office attacking Mihailovic and pedantically questioning
his assurances. This was evidently intended to hold up supplies
to the Loyalists. The Minister of State’s Office right throughout
1943 had been noticeably and aggressively antagonistic to Mihailović,
but this signal excelled. In a memo analyzing it, Douglas
Howard, the head of the southern department in the Foreign
Office, stated,
The fact is, I am sure, that SOE Cairo (plus the minister of
state) do not want us to come to a satisfactory arrangement
with Mihailović. We have been on the verge of doing so many
times, but on each occasion a spanner has been thrown in
to prevent us. I recall the following occasions. We sent Bailey
the directive. For various reasons or excuses it did not
reach Mihailovic for many weeks. Just when Mihailovic was
about to reply Glenconner sent his famous “bludgeoning”
telegram. It took weeks to get that straight again. Mihailovic
then replied to the directive (satisfactorily in our view and
that of SOE here). Before we could reply to that effect, Bai-
ley sends in his ultimatum, Mihailovic replies, again satisfactorily,
but SOE Cairo find it unsatisfactory and now suggest
another “showdown” on the grounds that he will probably
refuse to cooperate with us. Would it not be more normal
to tell Mihailovic that we accept his reply and will do our
best to support him. If then it proves unsatisfactory and he
fails to carry out his promises, we should re-assess our policy;
but to do so on the assumption that he will not do so,
seems to me typical SOE way of doing things.
Perhaps he was a little unkind to SOE. He should have said
a typical M04 way of doing things, thus drawing a distinction
between SOE London—which had been correct all through—
and SOE Cairo, alias M04—which had hardly ever been correct.
Even so, the Keble epoch, as Davidson called it, was coming
to an end with the knife thrust into M04 by Maclean. Power had
transferred from Cairo across the Mediterranean to Tito’s Balkan
headquarters with its British mission. Manifestly, power had
transferred to Tito himself, because the files recording the events
in the months ahead show Maclean using his remarkable powers
of persuasion not so much to make Tito follow the commander
in chief’s wishes as to get the prime minister, the commander in
chief, and everyone and his uncle to dance to Tito’s tune, and to
love doing so. But the transfer of power changed nothing politically.
From January to November 1943 Keble firmly manipulated
M04 to sabotage Mihailovic and build up Tito. From
September 1943 Maclean’s fantastic talent was dedicated to precisely
the same ends.
In M04 Klugmann was still moling away in the communist
cause. Bill Deakin was still at Tito’s headquarters compiling his
dossier of evidence from the Partisans of Mihailovic Četnik collaboration,
while Bailey was still at Mihailovic headquarters getting
things snarled up. Plus qa change . . .
Poor Brigadier Armstrong, who dropped into Yugoslavia
hoping to run a military operation, never had a chance. Poor
Mihailovic, who went into the woods in April 1941 to organize
resistance against the Axis, never had a chance at all. We poor
BLOs trying to do our minor jobs blowing trains and killing the
odd German or Bulgar never had much of a chance either.
SOE Cairo lost effective power and influence over British activities
in Yugoslavia to the new Maclean mission and its Cairo link,
the Minister of State’s Office, as a result of the late August meeting.
As I wrote above, however, Keble stayed in place a little
longer. On September 29, 1943, he produced a paper at the request
of the minister of state that was addressed to the chief of
general staff of GHQ, This astonishing document (WO 201/1585)
purported to “crystalise [sic] one’s thoughts as at 28th September,
The paper started with a eulogy of Tito’s forces, presenting
them as communist-led but not really communist, very anti-Axis,
and willing to fit in with Allied strategy. Keble then went on to
denigrate the Mihailović forces, painting them as small, neither
pro-Axis nor pro-Allied, ineffective, and only interested in postwar
This prologue was followed by the most extraordinary dissertation
on Tito-Mihailovie relations. It was full of falsehoods
and tendentious statements and clearly designed to please the
pro-Partisan faction in the Minister of State’s Office and to spread
misinformation to the military. But he finished with a proposal
that cunningly paid lip service to the official policy of trying to
use the British presence in both camps in order to keep them
from fighting each other.
He proposed as “SOE’s suggestion” that a clear but temporary
boundary be set by which Serbia would be recognized as
Mihailović’s territory and Slovenia, Croatia, Slavonia, Dalmatia,
Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Macedonia south of Skoplje would be
recognized as Partisan territories, with Montenegro and the
Sandžak as “Tom Tiddlers ground” (no-man’s-land). It was suggested
that King Peter put this proposal to Mihailović and that
the British, American, and Soviet governments put the proposal
to Tito.
Following this scheme was a paper titled “Balkan Politico/
Military Situation.” This truly amazing document dealt with
Greece, Yugoslavia, and Albania and pointed out quite correctly
that the Soviets were endeavoring to build a communist bloc in
the Balkans. It went on to recommend that this ploy should be
countered by abandoning support for nonrepublican and royalist
parties. The theory was that goodwill might thus be earned and
that it might even be possible to bring back some monarchies
This was not simply a naive document. It was very dangerous
and sinister, and one cannot avoid the conviction that it was
drafted by the communist Klugmann, who, as Basil Davidson told
us repeatedly in Special Operations Europe, was Keble’s special protege.
With the exception of Seton-Watson, he was also the only
one in M04 with sufficient knowledge and deviousness to cobble
this paper together.
The proposal for the establishment of spheres of influence
in Yugoslavia gave virtually the entire country to the Partisans
except for the heart of Serbia. It was ingeniously devised to give
the Partisans areas such as “Macedonia south of Skoplje” from
which they could—and subsequently did—mount their attacks
into Serbia. The proposal would have constituted the death sentence
for the Mihailović movement. Even then it was not good
enough for Maclean, who declined in an October 8, 1943 signal
to M04 to put it up to Tito on the grounds that it would prejudice
the relations of his mission at that early stage. In this signal
(PRO WO 202/131) Maclean made it quite clear in the first paragraph
that Tito was determined to liquidate Mihailovic and that
Tito claimed that British arms alone had so far prevented him
from doing so.
As the Allies had by then delivered to Mihailović arms for
only about 1,500 men, either the Tito claim was false or the Tito
forces were tiny. But Tito was already claiming an army of 180,000
The British mission to Tito had just a few days earlier transmitted
a “formal Partisan protest against news and propaganda
from the BBC.” This remarkably vitriolic protest, emanating from
the Partisans but written in impeccable prose, listed complaints
and threatened that unless BBC announcements presenting Mihailovic
as an anti-Axis resistance force ceased forthwith, a campaign
against the BBC would be initiated by the Free Yugoslavia
radio station. The protest went on to say that the presence of
British senior officers with Mihailović would not alter the Partisan
determination to wage war on Četniks throughout Yugoslavia
and that no compromise with Mihailovic would be considered
under any circumstances. It gave notice of increasing strength
of the Partisans in Serbia, who would soon be “in a position
to liquidate the regaining Četniks and would not hesitate to
do so.”
Having sent that protest— whether or not they advised Tito
on its drafting— it is indeed very comprehensible that the British
mission was disinclined to pass on Keble’s suggestion that the
territory be divided into spheres of influence. Nevertheless, soldiers
are supposed to obey orders, and the proposal by Keble was
sent officially to the British mission on behalf of the Joint Operations
Committee of the Middle East Command. The manner of
its treatment demonstrated, if nothing else, that as of September
17 de facto power lay totally in the hands of Maclean and his
rear link, the Minister of State’s Office. The M04 Keble era was
over. Even the Joint Operations Committee counted for little.
It is ironic that the rear link was Ralph Skrine Stevenson
(later Sir Ralph), who held the formal position of ambassador to
the royal Yugoslav government. Yet in practice he seems to have
been, after Maclean and Deakin, the major factor in advising
Churchill to eliminate Mihailovic, which of course, in turn, led to
the end of the royal Yugoslav government to which he was accredited.
It is even more ironic how Keble, who had been the
major proponent of the Partisan cause since the end of 1942 and
who had struggled to prevent Maclean’s appointment, was being
outbid by the latter in pandering to Tito. As Keble’s professional
demise came nearer, he must have felt very bitter. In fairness he
kept on going, aiding Tito and sabotaging Mihailovic right to the
The Foreign Office was shocked by the threatening nature
of the Partisan protest about the BBC and signaled its displeasure.
It urged very strongly that Tito not be allowed to get away
with it. No one took notice.
The next chapter in the saga came with Maclean’s return to Cairo
and the circulation of his report, which came to be known in the
trade as the “blockbuster.”
After he dropped on September 17, Maclean spent a very
short time at Tito’s headquarters near Jajce in Bosnia. He was
not involved in any action, so in fact he did not see the Partisans’
fighting qualities. He then visited the coast to examine the possibility
of bringing in seaborne supplies, for which purpose he
visited the island of Kor^ula. He went back to Tito’s headquarters,
where he met Deakin, who had just returned from taking
the surrender of Italian divisions, but he left again almost immediately
in order to return to the coast and thence via Italy to
Cairo, making his way via the island of Vis, where the Navy picked
him up. It is not clear from his book Eastern Approaches precisely
how long he was in Yugoslavia, because he gives no dates. Indeed,
both this and his other book about Yugoslavia, Disputed
Barricades, are notable for their lack of precision in such matters.
According to Deakin in The Embattled Mountain, however, Maclean
finally left Tito’s headquarters on October 5; and Deakin is considered
the primary historical authority on the whole subject. In
the absence of any indication in Maclean’s writings or signals of
the precise dates, I assume October 5 to be correct. A few days
one way or the other do not alter the argument materially. Thus
Maclean seems to have had a total stay at Partisan headquarters
of about three weeks, including one journey to the coast and
back—not very long to determine the future of the country.
In Eastern Approaches, Maclean tells us that he was called back
to Cairo and that he arrived there in time to meet with the foreign
secretary, Anthony Eden, who was passing through the
Middle East after visiting Moscow. The main purpose of Maclean’s
return, one might speculate, may have been to circulate his
“blockbuster” report, which was dated November 6, 1943.
Another purpose of Maclean’s visit to Cairo was to investigate
the possibilities of obtaining aircraft to land in Yugoslavia,
as well as to open up the sea route for stores. Furthermore, he
was making arrangements for a Partisan delegation to come
out and meet with the top people in the Middle East general
headquarters. This in itself was anticipating major political decisions
because it implied recognition of the Tito Partisans.
With his two journeys to the coast, where he spent quite some
time preparing the arrangements for seaborne supplies, and his
introductions to Tito and his headquarter’s staff, Maclean had no
time to see any part of Yugoslavia other than the headquarters
in Bosnia and the country en route to the coast. From his own
account in Eastern Approaches he saw no other parts, neither did
he see any Partisan action or battles. Thus his “blockbuster” report—
and the claims for the Partisans made in it—were based
entirely on Partisan facts, Partisan figures, Partisan claims, Partisan
arguments; that is, except for the input by Deakin, whom he
met at Tito’s headquarters after his return from his first visit to
the coast.
Deakin had of course seen action in the desperate escape
from the encirclement at Mount Durmitor, but I think it is correct
to comment that, apart from that very rough and traumatic
battle, he too had experienced only what he saw at Tito’s headquarters
and what he saw when he went down to the coast to
help accept the surrender of the Italian forces. Neither of them
had seen anything of any other part of Yugoslavia. Most importantly,
neither had seen any part of Serbia.
But the Serbs—both the refugees from the minorities in
Bosnia and Croatia and the heartland Serbs, the Srbijanci—were
what resistance in Yugoslavia was all about. And Serbia was what
the civil war was all about.
There may have been another rather sinister source of input
for the “blockbuster.” There was at Tito’s headquarters a flight
lieutenant named Kenneth Syers. Syers replaced Stuart and was
working for SIS/MI6. His job was collection and collation of intelligence.
Vladimir Velebit—who, together with Vladimir Dedijer,
looked after the British mission at Tito’s headquarters, who
came on the delegation to Cairo, and who after the war became
Yugoslav ambassador to Great Britain—wrote in his memoirs that
Syers was a leftist “relatively active after the war in the British
Communist Party.” As ambassador for one of the most aggressively
communist Eastern European governments in the immediate
postwar years, Velebit must be taken seriously in his
description of Syers. Syers—together with Deakin, of course—
would logically have been one of Maclean’s main sources for
“blockbuster” facts and figures, particularly in view of the lightning
speed with which that authoritative, on-the-spot, eyewitness
account was prepared.
In Cairo, Maclean delivered his “blockbuster,” and it is probably
fair to comment that this report virtually sealed Yugoslavia’s
fate. In about 5,000 words of effusive praise Maclean presented
the Partisan claims and pretensions far better than their best
public-relations men could have done. In flowering Foreign Office
prose he laid out the Partisan case without any wheretofores,
howevers, or notwithstandings. He put their case without any serious
consideration of any other viewpoint. He assumed the role
of Tito’s ambassador. But, even more, he assumed the role of
Tito’s prosecuting counsel in the case against Mihailovic. All that
after three weeks’ experience at Partisan headquarters. That’s
The claims made in his report were quite preposterous. In
the first paragraph it was claimed, “They [the Partisans] count
on not losing more than one man killed for five of the enemy
against Germans and ten against Ustasi or Cetniks.”
Any soldier who has fought the Germans—and by “fight” I
mean real fighting, not observing from a distance—knows very
well that no army bests them to that extent under any circumstances,
let alone a guerrilla rabble. Furthermore, the Loyalists
were Serbs, the Partisans were largely Serbs also, and even if they
were in some cases better led, it is clearly specious and indeed
ludicrous to claim that one bunch of Serbs is going to kill another
bunch of Serbs at a rate of ten to one.
And who says they were better led? The Tito propaganda
machine said that, and it goes on saying that, in its broken-gramophone-
record style. But I don’t say so. Some of the Loyalist units
were led by first-class regular officers. Stefanović, for example,
was as good an officer as I have seen in any army. And the ustasi,
though politically very nasty people, were German-trained and
fierce fighters.
In the same flowery, romantic but dogmatic tone—which even
brings in Lawrence of Arabia—Maclean goes on: “They have re-
ceived the wholehearted support of the civil population. The savage
reprisals of the enemy are not taken into consideration.”
This is sheer rubbish. In Bosnia, where the Partisan columns
lumbered back and forth, the poor, wretched peasants had no
say. In Serbia, the largest province of Yugoslavia, where the savage
reprisals had taken place at greatest cost, the peasants loathed
and feared both the Partisans and the reprisals they had caused
in 1941 and might well cause again. I know, because I was in
Serbia at the time the report was written, because I was in touch
with the population for a year without minders brainwashing me,
and because I spoke their language. Maclean was not in Serbia.
He was just writing down what Partisan headquarters told
him on a visit lasting three weeks before he left again for the
And so it went on. The report claimed that the Partisans had
twenty-six divisions and a total of 220,000 men. Actually the divisions
were much smaller in November 1943 than they were in
the summer of 1944. Yet in the summer of 1944, each division
counted only 1,700 to 2,500 men, as can be seen from the reports
of BLOs with the Partisans filed in the Public Records Office
(WO 202/154A, 162, 196). Thus a generous figure would be
60,000 total Partisans, not 220,000.
Stevan K. Pavlowitch, in his book Yugoslavia, gives an estimate
made by the correspondent of a London weekly, The Tablet,
entitled “Tito’s Military Achievement: The Legend and the Fact
28th April, 1945.” The correspondent, in an analysis based on
Partisan communiques of the time, cross-checked them against
one another and against enemy communiques, and arrived at a
total of 60,000 to 80,000. Not 220,000.
In Disputed Barricades, Maclean claims that the Germans estimated
111,000 Partisans in December 1943. This figure supports
Pavlowitch’s figures, because there was massive recruitment
between October and December 1943, encouraged by British
recognition, the BBC propaganda, and the supplies visibly pouring
in to the Partisans. There were also Italians who were recruited
and used by the Partisans (particularly later, in the 1944
drive across the Drina against the Četniks). Italian Communist
Party sources claim that eventually 60,000 joined the Partisans
and 20,000 were killed. These additional recruits explain the increase
in German figures for the Partisans from 60,000 or 80,000
in October 1943 to 111,000 in December 1943. But they make
total nonsense of the “blockbuster” claim of 220,000 in October
The “blockbuster” went on to claim 30,000 Partisans in Serbia
and Macedonia. Now, this claim was very important, because
it was critical to the decisions that were going to be taken. The
civil war for Serbia was what this charade was all about. Yet Dugmore,
the BLO in Serbia who was with the Partisans from November
1943 until June 1944, stated in his report that the figure
was 1,700 Partisans in January 1944—not 30,000.
And Maclean himself in a September 1944 report claimed
that the Partisans had built up their forces in Serbia from a few
scattered detachments “of only a few hundred men each in early
1944.” Compare this with his claim in the “blockbuster” of 30,000
for Serbia and Macedonia made in November 1943. And British
reports show that there were fewer than 500 men in Macedonia
at that stage.
Churchill took his fateful decision of December 10, 1943,
after reading Maclean’s “blockbuster” figures.
The “blockbuster” refrained from giving specific figures for
Mihailovic forces—rather wisely—but it still claimed that the
Partisans were “ten to twenty times more numerous.” Taking the
purely fictitious figure of 220,000 claimed for the Partisans,
Maclean was saying that the Mihailovic forces had 10,000 to 20,000
men in all of Yugoslavia.
In his voluminous report (WO 202/196), Maj. John Henniker-
Major (now Lord Henniker), who commanded the missions
with the Partisans in Serbia in 1944, gave a figure of 20,000 Cetniks
in Serbia alone for July-August 1944. That was a year later.
It was nine months after we had abandoned Mihailovic, three
months after Djurić had defected and urged Loyalists to follow
him. And it was when the unhappy king was being cajoled by
Churchill to urge all Serbs to rally to Tito. It can in no way be
reconciled with the “blockbuster” calculation of 10,000 to 20,000
Četniks for all of Yugoslavia in October 1943.
Pavlowitch states,
On a tour of Mihailovich’s units in Serbia at the end of 1943
a group of British and American officers estimated that, given
arms, he could throw into the battle at least two hundred
and fifty to three hundred thousand trained men but that
only seventy-two thousand were actually on active service in
Serbia [emphasis added] of which ten thousand to eleven
thousand were fully armed. These figures are slightly below
those that can be gleaned from the accounts published abroad
since the war by participants in Mihailovich’s movement. The
Yugoslav military encyclopaedia Belgrade 1964 puts the figure
at sixty thousand.
Thus the scholars in Belgrade in 1964—scholars under the control
and censorship of the Tito regime—gave a figure of 60,000
for Mihailović in Serbia alone, whereas Maclean claimed 10,000
to 20,000 in all of Yugoslavia.
Mr. Rose of the southern department of the Foreign Office
wondered why, if the figures were correct, the Partisans had not
already cleaned up the Četniks. I wonder why, if the figures were
correct, the Partisans with twenty-six divisions comprising 220,000
men had not seen off, cleaned up, and massacred the mere fourteen
German divisions of perhaps rather fewer than 100,000 men
in Yugoslavia. After all, Maclean (who had not yet seen them in
action) had said that the Partisans killed five Germans for every
one of their men that they lost.
But seeing off Germans was not what it was all about. The
civil war, and hoodwinking the Brits, was what concerned the
The whole proposition was utterly ludicrous. It is incredible
looking back now that this report was accepted and circulated,
and that only Mr. Rose made that comment.
But Fitzroy served with the Special Air Service (SAS), the
ultra-elite British raiding force, so he had already learned that
“Who Dares Wins.” All the same, what cheek.
It is a sobering thought that the people of Yugoslavia may have
been subjected to the despotic rule of Tito, to full-blooded communism,
and to all that has implied, to poverty and lack of prog-
ress—perhaps because of that report. But that may not be true.
The whole swing to the Partisans may well have been an inexorable
process begun in January 1943 by Churchill himself.
The object of the “blockbuster” is clearly seen by the first
recommendation, that support of Mihailović should be discontinued.
That was the number one, the vital, the key demand of
Josip Broz Tito, the communist. It was the central point of his
whole policy. He had to get rid of Mihailović, who was an Orthodox
royalist Serb and who represented the major and only viable
obstacle to an eventual takeover of Yugoslavia by the Communist
Party. More immediately, Mihailović stood in the way of Tito’s
personal takeover and his despotic rule. In truth, the two resistance
movements were probably about equally strong numerically
and militarily at that point. But Mihailović controlled Serbia,
the crucial arena in the war against the Germans and their communications.
If the Allies had built up Mihailović and he blocked
those communications, then they would have had to continue
supporting him.
Serbia and the Serbs were what it was all about. As minister
of defense for the royalist government, Mihailović had first call
on Serbian loyalty, even though many Serbs from outside Serbia
were already with the Partisans. Amazingly, Tito—that consummate
politician—had managed to recruit and motivate the Serbian
refugees from the Croatian ustaša genocide despite being a
Croat himself and despite the tradition of prewar subversive cooperation
by the outlawed ustaša and the communists. Tito had
succeeded in presenting his movement as a national movement,
and he thus overcame the ethnic problem as well as disguising
his communist totalitarian aims. It was brilliant—typically Tito.
Even so, it was not a secure situation until he conquered Serbia.
Tito knew that the only thing that mattered was to get the
Western Allies to withdraw recognition from Mihailović and—
later—to recognize the Partisans. The withdrawal of recognition
from Mihailović was the vital first step. The second would follow
as night follows day. Even the question of supplies and arms was
secondary. The arms and supplies would be very useful against
the Loyalists and also, incidentally, against the Germans if they
attacked. But what mattered was to get the Western Allies to pull
the ground out from under Mihailović’s feet, because that would
ensure ultimate Partisan victory in the civil war.
And Maclean, with his “blockbuster,” did just that. No wonder
Tito honored him so singularly.
The “blockbuster” was rushed out on November 6 so that all
of the agencies and all of the key persons could see it before the
prime minister’s journey to Tehran and before his visit to Cairo
on the way back.
The “blockbuster” was outrageous in its arguments. It can
be torn to shreds. It was like some others of its author’s writings,
beautifully and entertainingly phrased but full of poetic license,
weak on chronology, not terribly strong on accuracy. On such a
technical subject what would a reader do? Glance through it, think
what a good report, assume that the facts and the figures surely
must be correct—otherwise Brigadier Maclean would surely not
have included them—and turn to the recommendation. The first
recommendation, of course. The one that mattered the most: sack
Six weeks later they did.
Maclean was not alone in his unqualified enthusiasm for Tito.
Maj. Linn Farish, an American liaison officer who dropped in
with him on September 17, wrote an equally effusive and sycophantic
report, which, it is said, was shown to Stalin at Tehran.
Farish, like Maclean and Deakin before him, seems to have been
totally captivated by the Partisan propaganda at that stage. He
was so excited that he exfiltrated himself to Italy as early as October
26 in order to report in person in Washington. He felt that
there was too much to tell in writing. This whole happening reflects
the air of Boy Scout unreality of it all. The romantic tone
in the “blockbuster,” with its reference to Lawrence of Arabia
and its John Buchan-G. Henty literary style, built up the suspense.
Vlatko Velebit, Tito’s chief contact man with the British
mission in 1943 and ambassador in London after the war, recently
stated rather amusingly,
At Petrovo Polje I was appointed liaison officer with the
British mission. . . . I tried to explain to Deakin the exact
situation of the Partisan forces in Yugoslavia. Also one of
my most important tasks, as I conceived it, was to convince
him that the Četniks, the Mihailovic people, not only did
not fight the enemy but they actually collaborated with him
in many various and different ways. My system of indoctrinating
Deakin was to take him to a stream nearby, very nice
cool and fresh water, where we used to bathe in the whole
afternoon: I took always a bunch of captured documents
with me, and I read them to him and translated them and I
gave him many transcripts for his own use. I think this course
of indoctrination, if I may call it that, worked very well because
Deakin got more and more convinced that the Mihailovic
movement was really no good at all, and was really a
kind of fifth column supporting the enemy rather than a
resistance force.
Deakin stayed convinced, but, to his credit, Farish changed
his tune radically after he had seen what the civil war was all
about. In due course I will record an extract from a report that
he wrote nine months and three drops later. On that occasion he
expressed horror at the policies followed by the Western Allies
in Yugoslavia. That was in June 1944, and the damage had already
been done. His sickeningly gushing and irresponsibly naive
October 1943 report reflected the first glorious rapture. It is
a tragedy for Balkan history that Farish was killed in a rather
mysterious accident on a mission to Greece the following year.
More than any other man, he could—and probably would—have
exploded many Partisan myths. Nevertheless, with his first report
of October 1943, which supported the “blockbuster” arguments
so enthusiastically, he contributed substantially to the arbitrary
switch of support from the Loyalists to the Partisans.
Brigadier Armstrong had been dropped to Mihailovic about the
same time as Maclean was dropped to Tito. Armstrong’s job was
to join Bailey, who would become his political advisor. Armstrong
and Bailey together were the equivalent of Maclean with
Tito. They were also charged with submitting a report, and as
far as the Foreign Office was concerned, it was planned that they
would come out to Cairo and report on the Mihailović movement
so that the two sides could be represented in the upcoming policy
Sir Orme Sargent, the chief Foreign Office official concerned,
had specifically indicated that this course of action should
be followed. He signaled to Stevenson in Cairo, “We think it would
be useful if Brigadier Armstrong and Colonel Bailey were both
summoned to Egypt to arrive there at the same time as Brigadier
Maclean and Partisan delegation and to be available for consultation
during negotiations between commanders in chief and delegations.”
It is not clear from the files precisely who told them not to
come to Cairo. It seems probable that their journey was overtaken
by events. Armstrong and Bailey signaled their report to
SOE Cairo. It was dated November 7 and was sent in ninety-two
parts. Yes, ninety-two parts. It too consisted of 5,000 words, more
or less. It took till November 10 to come through to SOE.
But M04—that is, SOE Cairo—did not circulate this signal
until November 18. Someone in SOE held that signal up in the
cipher department for more than a week—a critical week.
M04 then passed the report to the Minister of State’s Office,
fiddling the date of origin to read not November 7 but November
18. Perhaps they used the “delay-in-deciphering” trick. In
turn the Minister of State’s Office sat on the report till November
23, when it was sent to London by slow “saving telegram.” (An
extremely brief summary was sent November 18.) It seems to
have arrived on November 27.
The report was not acknowledged by the Foreign Office until
December 10, and then only by a Mr. Nichols, a relatively
junior official. Mr. Nichols wrote this analysis: “Armstrong’s and
Bailey’s proposals are certainly a brave effort to solve our Yugoslav
problem. They are, however, based on the assumption that
the Partisans will be prepared to collaborate in some way or other
with Mihailović. It seems to us that Maclean’s report has put this
possibility quite out of court. That being so Armstrong’s proposal
rather falls to the ground. Furthermore as you will have seen
from our telegrams numbers 99 and 102 to Stevenson we are
now convinced that it is necessary to get rid of Mihailović.”
Game, set, and match to Maclean. He had been smart. Instead
of wasting time fighting the Germans in Yugoslavia, he had
gone back to Cairo, where the levers of power were, and made
sure that the Foreign Office, through Anthony Eden, was well
softened up already in November and that everything was set up
for Churchill’s blessing in Cairo on December 10. Even junior
officials in the Foreign Office knew the score already.
In contrast, Armstrong had hardly hit the quick-release buckle
of his parachute harness before he was off with Archie Jack and
a force of 2,500 Loyalists on his bridge-blowing spree. Little good
did it do him or Mihailović or the Yugoslav people. History should
record the lesson to be learned.
I could find no discussion papers in the Foreign Office files
considering Armstrong’s long report and recommendations. Bailey
was subsequently told by Anthony Eden that he had never
even seen the report, though the signal had expressly addressed
the report to the highest level. I have that story at second hand
but see no reason to disbelieve it. The source is impeccable, and
it fits.
Yet Brigadier Maclean’s report had been seen by all and
sundry. It had been printed as a Foreign Office “special paper,”
and it had been circulated to the Commonwealth prime ministers
and even the president of the United States.
Armstrong and Bailey might just as well never have written
their report. Indeed, Armstrong and his entourage might just as
well never have dropped to Mihailovic at all. It certainly would
have been much better for the Loyalists if Bailey had not.
But what had happened at the Cairo end? What had happened
in SOE when the Armstrong signals started coming through on
November 7? Maclean’s report had been dated November 6 and
was probably just about to be circulated to all and sundry. Surely
one would have expected all and sundry to have been advised
that Armstrong’s report was just coming through, that it would
be sent out as soon as received in full, and that everyone should
“hold everything” meantime. But this did not happen. What does
seem to have happened is that, while sitting on the report for
more than a week, M04 rapidly cobbled together a memorandum
intended to force and settle the Mihailovic issue with the local
Cairo military before the Armstrong report could be seen and
On November 19, M04 submitted a memorandum titled
“Appreciation regarding the military situation in Serbia so as to
determine what in the future should be our military policy.” This
memorandum, with its quaintly styled title redolent of the September
29 memorandum—the authorship of which I attribute
to Klugmann though it was signed by Keble—contained Partisan
claims and figures culled from Maclean’s “blockbuster.” It went a
great deal further, however, and can only be described as outrageously
mendacious. Not tendentious. Mendacious. Inter alia it
used alleged statements in signals by British liaison officers with
the Loyalists, abridged and out of context—wording that totally
misrepresented their views as shown in their subsequent reports—
and ended by recommending that support of Mihailovic
be discontinued, that the British missions be evacuated, and that
BLOs be sent to the Partisans in order to arrange reception of
supplies in Serbia.
While the Armstrong-Bailey report was simply held up by
M04 until November 18, and by the Minister of State’s Office
until November 23, this second sinister memorandum was submitted
by M04 on November 19 and was circulated the very next
day by the brigadier director of military operations at Army Force
Headquarters to the members of the Special Operations Committee.
This was the committee in the Middle East Headquarters
charged with making the necessary policy decisions. Effectively
that action ensured that the ground was prepared in Middle East
Headquarters for the abandonment of Mihailović.
The Armstrong-Bailey report seems not to have seen the light
of day in Cairo either. Regrettably, the report started with a very
long historical dissertation, which paid lip service to the criticisms
of Mihailovic, which was highly apologetic and quite unnecessarily
defensive, and which even accused Mihailovic of being pan-
Serb. That was too much. The allegation simply was not correct;
but it was a super hostage to fortune, with the Tito protagonists
using the “integrity” of Yugoslavia as such an important argument.
It was also irrelevant because at that stage, obviously, the
issue was simply whether the Allies would continue to support
Mihailovic and the Loyalists in the heart of the country in which
they operated—which was all Serbian territory—or help Tito take
over the lot.
In summary, the Armstrong-Bailey report recommended that
both Tito and Mihailović be required to put their two movements
under the control of the Middle East commander in chief, that
they be kept apart on the ground, that all political questions be
postponed until after the Germans had been driven out, that
substantial supplies at an equal level be sent to both movements,
and, finally, that a conference to settle it all be set up between
Mihailovic and Armstrong on the one side and Tito and Maclean
on the other, as well as a representative of general headquarters—
presumably as mediator. In all logic, these recommendations
should have commanded serious attention. After all, the
British and American forces fought under joint control of Middle
East headquarters. If they had agreed to do so, why should not
Mihailovic and Tito? If working under Middle East Command
was not agreeable to them, why should the Western Allies indulge
their foibles and supply them with arms to carry on a civil
It did not work out that way. Absolutely not. As Mr. Nichols
of the Foreign Office had commented quite correctly, Tito’s attitude
excluded it. One might very fairly ask why that necessarily
meant that the proposal should be summarily dropped. After all,
it reflected Bailey’s experience in Yugoslavia as the SOE Balkan
expert with ten months’ study, helped by Armstrong, who had
been there nearly two whole months. By contrast, Maclean had
written his report after three weeks at Partisan headquarters and
little more than a month in the country.
But logical considerations like that do not seem to have been
taken into account at all.
This scenario was typical of everything that happened. Tito
had aroused the prime minister’s curiosity and interest, and
Churchill had introduced into play two young, highly talented,
and intelligent British individuals he knew, liked, and trusted.
These two individuals, Deakin and Maclean, were superb advocates
of Tito’s case, and they made it with enthusiasm, having
seen or heard nothing of the other side of the picture. And their
presentations were read avidly at the highest possible level.
In contrast, Mihailović’s case was presented by virtually
“faceless men” unknown to the majority of the decision-makers.
Without regard to the merits of their case, Mihailović’s advocates
were in no way in the same league as those representing Tito,
but it made no difference, because their report was not studied
by the decision-makers. The Mihailović case lost by default.
The Tito case was trumpeted to high heaven, as it has been ever
The Bailey-Armstrong report, though carefully worked out,
evenhanded, and logical, was—like everything else Bailey wrote—
intensely boring. One needed to be a rather considerable expert
on the whole subject in order to understand what Bailey was getting
at. Furthermore, he went to great trouble to be a devil’s
advocate, to include the wheretofores, howevers, and notwithstandings,
and to set himself up as judge and jury. His style detracted
from his advocacy.
The Maclean “blockbuster,” conversely—whatever else it
w a s _ w a s certainly not boring! The Partisan facts and the Partisan
figures, spiced with a bit of Lawrence of Arabia and other
heroic allusions, made thrilling reading.
It all led inescapably and compellingly to the climactic conclusion:
Mihailović had to go. The reader could not have helped
being swept up in the current of Maclean’s advocacy.
I am not the only one to have wondered what would have
happened if Maclean had been dropped to Mihailović instead of
to Tito. I reckon the Balkan map would look very different today.
I for one would have loved to have Maclean running our
show at Mihailović’s headquarters, and I’m sure Mihailović would
have loved it, too. We would have gotten the support we needed.
We would have torn the enemy communications apart.
Maclean, in describing his first meeting with Tito, quoted
Napoleon: “In war, it is not men, but the man who counts.” He
applied it to Tito, and was he right! He could equally have applied
it to himself. I have enormous respect for Fitzroy Maclean.
Physically, intellectually, and in determination he is outstanding;
and he can be charming. But, with sadness, I have to express the
opinion that he was an instrument of harm as things worked out
in Yugoslavia, and particularly in Serbia.
Yet we cannot forget that, insofar as he was an instrument
of harm, he was 100 percent the prime minister’s instrument, or
that the responsibility and the overriding directives were Churchill’s.
I believe that Maclean would claim that all of the Foreign
Office briefs and military commanders’ instructions were subjugated
to the prime minister’s demand that he report who was
killing the most Germans and advise how to kill more. I believe
that Tito bamboozled Maclean, but evidently the prime minister
was happy with the way things went, and he seemingly did not
ask too many questions. Insofar as blame attaches to anybody
about anything, it attaches primarily to Churchill.
What matters too in war, as in life (but in war even more
so), is being in the right place at the right time. Maclean wasted
little time on his first trip to Yugoslavia, getting back to the locus
of decision making in time for the foreign secretary’s visit and to
deliver the “blockbuster.” Without waiting for a reply to his recommendations,
he made arrangements for a Partisan delegation
to be received in Cairo and, among many other things, prepared
the delivery of supplies to the Yugoslav coastal islands by sea. He
then flew into Yugoslavia to collect Deakin and a Partisan delegation,
stopping only briefly before arriving back in Cairo just as
the prime minister himself made a stop there on his way back
from Tehran. That was quite a performance.
Churchill had a whimsical interest in the Balkans. His young friend
Deakin had intrigued him in January with the doings of the
shadowy “great guerrilla.” That same young friend was now back
from his narrow escape at Tito’s side and from his stirring adventures
on Mount Durmitor. He was accompanied by the new star,
Maclean, with whom Churchill had been so impressed in July at
Chequers. Maclean had even brought a delegation of real live
Partisans with him. The prime minister was tired from his journey
to Tehran and his tough talks with Stalin and Roosevelt. As
he relaxed among his own in Cairo, it was inevitable that he would
accept and welcome whatever was recommended to him by his
earnest young proteges.
But it was not only his young proteges in the British mission
to Tito who were baying for Loyalist blood. The mendacious M04
paper of November 19, 1943, had been submitted on November
20 to the Special Operations Committee. No doubt the final recommendation
of that committee supported the “blockbuster” and
Deakin’s “hostile brief” when he was required by the prime minister
to spell out the Partisan allegations of Četnik collaboration
in the dossier that he had been so assiduously preparing during
his five months with Tito.
A memo by the director of military operations dated December
10, 1943, states in the first paragraph, “Since the P.M.’s statement
to Mr. Stevenson today that he wanted Mihailovic removed
by the end of the year and the King to associate himself with the
removal, I think most of the Yugoslav problem, as it confronts
the defence committee this evening, is out of date.”
And that was that. It was all over, bar the shouting. Perhaps
it would be better to phrase that “bar the shooting”—the shooting
of the Loyalists by the Partisans, using British and American
weapons, in the Yugoslav civil war that soon gathered force as
the full weight of the Allies was thrown behind the Partisans and
their campaign to “liberate” Serbia. The whirlwind that swept
away Draža Mihailovic and his work had been unleashed.
Maclean swung into action. With all Middle East headquarters
systems “go” for him, the Partisan delegation was trundled
around the chiefs of the air force, the chiefs of the navy, the
chiefs of whatever. Arms, tanks, close-support training of pilots:
they named it, they were promised it, and mostly they got it,
because Fitzroy Maclean in full action, with the authority of the
prime minister behind him, was an irresistible force.
The Choice
(Between Loyalty to Allies and the Myth of Expediency)
I believe in a tragic choice between opposing forces the correct
decision was made.
So wrote Sir Alexander Glen in a letter to Nora Beloff in the
summer of 1988. Sir Alexander Glen, an eminent wartime naval
officer, says that he knew Mihailović personally from preoccupation
days in Belgrade and had a high regard for him. He knew
the Partisans from naval and land operations with them. His August
8, 1944, mission report (WO 202/196) shows that he was
converted to their viewpoint and accepted their claim that the
Četniks were “enemy.”
Most eminent people who had to do with the Partisans claim
that it was a question of making a choice. As I have already written,
Sir Orme Sargent, the senior Foreign Office mandarin involved,
insisted that there was a choice between the military “short-term
policy” of backing the Partisans and the political “long-term
policy” of backing the Loyalists and thus ensuring the return of
the monarchy. That was precisely what Tito wanted them to believe
and what his many allies insisted was the case; and that idea
was fed indirectly into the position papers in the agencies by his
dupes. Feeling his oats increasingly after Deakin, and then Maclean,
dropped to him, Tito felt strong enough to start thumping
the table and presenting the situation regarding Mihailovic in
“it’s him or me” terms. When Deakin started collecting a dossier
of evidence against the Loyalists, Tito knew he was on to a winner.
But there was no need for a choice. The Allies could have
continued to insist on a policy of no support to aggressors in the
civil war. There was nothing whatsoever wrong with that policy.
What was wrong was the total absence of its application to the
Tito side. No good having a policy if you do not carry it out.
Don’t get rid of the policy, sack the executives. But no one dared
to suggest such a thing.
The Allies could have applied a policy of physical separation.
Anthony Eden did not like that course, because it might
have established a precedent for postwar decisions and he had
an obsession about maintaining the integrity of the prewar Yugoslavia.
Anthony Eden’s objection was not very logical, because
in accepting total support for the Partisans instead of geographical
separation of the two movements, he established a far worse
precedent for postwar decisions. From a practical viewpoint, the
solution of physical separation of the two movements was difficult
but possible, if there existed goodwill. Militarily it would have
enormously increased the potential manpower reserves for the
Allies, for the traditional martial peasant hordes in Serbia itself,
the Srbijanci, were waiting to be, and were longing to be, mustered
behind Mihailovic and the Loyalists. This solution would
certainly have presented the Germans with an increased garrisoning
problem, both in Serbia and elsewhere, particularly if it
led to the Partisans’ effort being concentrated against the Germans
instead of their brothers in the Serbian heartland.
In reality, the decision to abandon Mihailović meant that the
main Partisan forces were immediately thrown into the war to
wrest Serbia from the Loyalist Četniks. The Mihailovic forces defended
themselves. They held out on their own for a full year.
In the end, inevitably, some of them were pushed into the hands
of the Germans. And for a year the Partisan effort was expended
in civil warfare. Serbs were fighting Serbs, and the Germans got
a breather.
Instead of promoting the civil war, the Allies could have kept
out of the politics and out of the business of massive arms supply,
just giving support to attack selected targets. This third possible
solution, using Special Air Service or other commando types
as liaison officers, could have been very successful indeed under
Balkan conditions. I would have loved to take part in it, and I
even suggested that policy for Hungary, where nothing else had
succeeded. No one wanted to know.
Finally, it is arguable that, if there had to be a choice, if
there had to be a “him or me,” that choice could have been Mihailović.
In any case, when someone says to you, “It’s him or
me,” if you have any pride at all you say, “Thank you, dear sir,
then it’s him, not you.” Any other course is the slippery slope of
paying Dane-geld.
In fact, the choice of Mihailović was a viable one. The Loyalists
got some moral support at the very beginning, but afterward
nothing, either morally or logistically. Never at any time
was Mihailović given good reason to drop his guard and trust the
British. On a small scale—maybe, in fact, not so very small—
some of the Mihailović BLOs did make the Loyalists fight, in
spite of the misinformation to the contrary. We did it with virtually
no support. Given support and real leadership I have no
doubt whatsoever that the Loyalists in Serbia could have been
made to fight on a grand scale once they had the arms to make
German reprisals an expensive business for the Germans themselves.
That was the key.
Churchill, I sincerely believe, made his decision on the basis
of his confidence in Deakin and Maclean. But the rest of the
hierarchy had to be carried along, and they were guided by the
arguments. The mendacious November 19 Keble (Klugmann?)
memorandum citing the reasons for recommending Mihailović’s
ouster epitomized the type of argument used by the Tito protagonists,
though it went much further and was blatantly false. There
were five parts to this line of argument.
The first was the numbers game. Relative troop strength is
always a persuasive argument. So talk up the Partisans, talk down
the Loyalists. Thus we had a claimed total strength of twenty-six
divisions and 220,000 Partisans in October 1943, when the real
figure was probably 60,000 to 80,000. The figure claimed for
Mihailovic forces by the Partisan protagonists was 10,000 to 20,000;
the real figure was probably about 60,000, with reserves of 200,000
or more. As we have seen, for Serbia and Macedonia the claim
was made at the time of decision that there were 30,000 Partisans
and 15,000 Cetniks, while the true figures were about 2,000 Partisans
and 40,000 full-time Loyalists with 100,000 reserves. The
point of the numbers game was, of course, to establish that Mihailovic
was a gone coon anyway and that the Allies were sacrificing
nothing in abandoning him; but it was a pure confidence
Milovan Djilas, one of Tito’s closest colleagues, relates in his
books how even Stalin commented on the Partisan exaggerations
and warned against overdoing it. But the BLOs just passed on
the figures given to them, and nobody at base thought to question
them. Oh yes, Mr. Rose did. But none of the top brass even
heard him.
Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler himself said of Tito, in a
speech at the Jaegerhoehe on September 21, 1944, “He has the
cheek to call a battalion a brigade and we fall for it straight away.
A brigade? In heaven’s name. The military mind at once imagines
a group of six or eight thousand men. A thousand vagabonds
who have been herded together suddenly become a
brigade.” It is intriguing that Fitzroy Maclean, who was the chief
victim of Tito’s exaggerations, quoted this speech by Himmler,
including this extract, in Disputed Barricades. Yet he accepted the
exaggerations at face value when it suited his “blockbuster” claims.
The second point was the claim that no major sabotage was
being undertaken by the Loyalists on the vital rail lines from Belgrade
to Salonika and that supporting the Partisans would make
the whole difference. The reality was the opposite. Sabotage was
actually being done and had been reported through, and, more
significantly, Cairo had been told that the line could be kept out
of action if only a minimum of support was given. I told them.
Purvis told them. The signals are in the files for all to see in the
Public Records Office. The abandonment of Mihailovic had
the opposite effect. It was not till the late spring of 1944 that the
Partisans achieved the level of disruption that we had achieved
already in the autumn of 1943. Six months’ sabotage on that line
was lost by our withdrawal.
The third point was that the population hated the Loyalists
and loved the Partisans. I can only speak for Serbia, but there
this claim is ludicrous. The Serbs in Serbia were individualists,
Loyalists, and monarchists. It’s hard to argue with Marxist dialectical
materialists because they make their statements dogmatically
even when they are claiming that black is white. I can only state
what I know to be true.
The fourth point was that Mihailovic was a pan-Serb. In fact
this was not true at all, but it wouldn’t have mattered if he had
been. The question at issue in 1943 was whether to support Mihailovic
in Serbia and to utilize the enormous potential manpower
reserve there against the Axis, instead of wasting it in civil
war. But the Titoites argued that Yugoslav integrity mattered more
and that only the Partisans would maintain it. I suppose the Soviets
can claim that the communist rule has held the disparate
ethnic groups in Russia together. But that was by force, not choice.
And now, in the days of glasnost, as the iron fist of dictatorship
relaxes its grip, ethnic pride and individualism are reasserting
themselves. In Yugoslavia too there are ethnic stirrings.
The Foreign Office kept on about the integrity of Yugoslavia
and the need to maintain it, but they had in mind the integrity
under a democratic regime and the return of the monarchy. The
Titoites exploited the Foreign Office’s desire for integrity while
covering up the fact that the integrity promised by the Partisans
was simply total conformity under dictatorial rule.
The fifth point was that supporting Tito would result in tying
down more enemy forces. This I believe to be the most fundamentally
flawed argument of all. In fact, there were fewer enemy
forces in Yugoslavia in 1944 than in 1941-42. The civil war and
the massive diversion by Tito of Partisan armies to “liberate” Serbia
from the Loyalists tied down Yugoslavs, not the enemy.
This last point rested on the allegations of collaboration by
Mihailović. I dealt with this question earlier in some detail because
it is the main refrain that the Tito protagonists still keep
singing. As I showed, collaboration by the Mihailovic Loyalists up
to the time of decision, that is, up to December 1943, was limited
to collaboration with the Italians in Montenegro, specifically encouraged
by SOE, and exploitation in a highly intelligent manner
of the Nedić state guard in order to obtain intelligence, arms,
and potential new recruits. As far as collaboration with Germans
is concerned, the Partisan record was infinitely worse than that
of the Loyalists. This is where chronology comes in, because in
1944, when the Partisans started their long and costly campaign
to “liberate” Serbia, some Loyalists were progressively driven—
literally—into the arms of the Germans. For the Tito protagonists
today to bay about Mihailovic collaboration after we abandoned
him is humbug: pure, unadulterated, self-serving hypocrisy.
“Uncle Draža” Mihailovic himself, though hunted and harried,
actually avoided collaboration at any stage. Isolated and sick,
he was eventually captured by a special Partisan task force created
to hunt out the remaining Loyalists. And it took them a year
after the Germans had gone. Poor exhausted old man. How disgusting
can Perfidious Albion become in trying to justify its
The collaboration accusations have been drummed up to
justify the betrayal. It is scurrilous, ungracious, and unworthy.
To make that point is the main purpose of this book.
It was about the time of the mendacious November 19, 1943
“Appreciation regarding the military situation in Serbia . . .”
memorandum that Keble was finally removed from his position
dominating M04. Actually he gave up his post on November 27.
The memorandum (WO 202/1581) is not signed, but the covering
documents refer to it as having been presented by Keble to
the Special Operations Committee. Like the sinister memo of
September 29, also presented by Keble, it bears the literary style
of Klugmann, his political mentor. Basil Davidson had gone off
on his abortive mission to Hungary in mid-August, and Klugmann,
though not formally head of the Yugoslav section, was the
officer who knew it all and who logically would have drafted a
detailed document for that section. Another Colonel Davidson
appears in some documents about this time, as does Maj. Gordon
Fraser. He was another left-winger who was later used by the
BBC to sell the Yugoslav Partisans to the Western public. M04
certainly seems to have attracted the budding left-wingers.
Colonel Davidson replaced Colonel Tamplin, and certainly
he had no time to become an expert on Yugoslav affairs. He
could hardly have drafted the memorandum. Gordon Fraser and
a Maj. Roger Inman were both temporarily head of the Yugoslav
section, but neither seems to have been active in policy matters
in 1943; and Deakin took charge from December 13.
Basil Davidson tells us in Special Operations Europe that already
at the end of 1942, Klugmann had been Keble’s protege
and political mentor. Based on these facts, Klugmann had to be
the one drafting those documents, conceivably helped by Seton-
Watson in his role as political advisor.
Keble got up to one more vital maneuver. On the operational
log dated November 17, 1943, there is a signal under the
call sign Rapier from Major Seitz, the chief American liaison officer
with Mihailović. It contains an assessment by American officers
with the Loyalists of the Mihailović situation. The report,
with great clarity and objectivity, draws much the same conclusions
as the Armstrong-Bailey report, while also stressing Mihailović’s
distrust of the British. It states that if Mihailović is to
perform effectively, he must have much greater support: “To
have any effect the British must be able to fly MVITCH not a
mere 30 sorties a month, but nearer to 300. . . . The United
States now making 7,000 planes a month should be able to provide
these planes. There must also be many DC-3s temporarily
idle in Italy after Sicilian operations. These would be perfect here.”
More significant than the contents of this report—far, far
more significant indeed—is the way it was handled. Seitz says in
a preamble to the report that it was completed October 25, but
it appears on the operations log on November 17. What happened?
Was it deliberately held up in the deciphering department
of M04, the technique used to sabotage Major Wallace in
Greece, which also led to Keble’s downfall?
Something very funny happened, because Keble wrote an
extraordinary letter to a Lieutenant Colonel West of OSS Cairo
(FO 371/37618) that refers to the Seitz report and is dated November
14—three days before it appears on the log. So it had
been sat on, probably for a long time; the total time lag is twentyfour
Keble’s November 14 letter, just like the September 19 memo
and the November 19 “appreciation,” bears all the signs of Klugmann.
It challenges the facts given in the Seitz report, and in its
tone and style it could have been written by the Partisans’ publicrelations
department under Djilas. The most sinister part of the
letter is the last paragraph. It refers to a proposal by Seitz that
he leave Mihailović’s headquarters and make his way to the Adriatic
Coast in order to proceed to Italy and give a full report in
That would really have put the cat among the pigeons. Keble
(Klugmann?) wrote in this last paragraph, “We are unable to
see how they can do this without the assistance either of Partisans
or collaborationist Cetniks, both of whom lie between them and
the coast. It is our firm rule that no officers with the Partisans or
Cetniks shall ever on any account visit the opposite side. Were
this to happen, distrust would immediately be sown, and in some
cases, lives of officers would be prejudiced. Furthermore, it is
clearly undesirable that any officers should have truck with collaborationist
Cetniks, and these possibly provide shipping.”
Now, that was quite some paragraph. First, Keble and Klugmann
were quite obviously out to sabotage Seitz’s coming out at
that critical stage and telling the truth to the decision-makers.
During the very same week M04 was sitting on the Armstrong-
Bailey report. It was also the very week that M04 was not meeting
the request made at the highest level by Sir Orme Sargent
that Bailey be brought out to meet Maclean in order to make a
joint report.
The second point in the paragraph referred to “our firm
rule” that no officer with the Partisans or the Četniks shall ever
on any account visit the opposite side. But it was M04 Cairo that
just three months previously had instructed Maj. Neil Selby to
try to contact the Partisans, a journey that resulted in his death.
Also, Fitzroy Maclean’s firm instructions in July, when he was to
be dropped to Tito, were to cooperate with Bailey at Mihailović
headquarters and to try to bring the two sides together. This “firm
policy” of M04 keeping the two sides apart was something quite
And as regards shipping, what was wrong with the Royal
Navy? The Royal Navy had picked up Maclean from the coast of
Yugoslavia. Why not Seitz?
Clearly, what Keble and Klugmann were after was ramming
through the abandonment of Mihailović in the forthcoming vital
meetings without any Seitzes or Baileys or Armstrongs putting
in their points of view in Cairo. And they succeeded. Whether
they would have succeeded without the momentum built up by
the Deakin-Maclean activities is something we will never know.
The Seitz report was a joint one with a Captain Mansfield.
He was a lawyer in the same firm as “Wild Bill” Donovan, chief
of OSS. He later became a distinguished judge. He was no lightweight,
and he wrote a first-class report vindicating Mihailović
when he eventually left Yugoslavia. He would have greatly embarrassed
the Titomaniacs in Cairo had he and Seitz gotten out
in time.
The revolutionary policy advanced by devious methods at M04
under Keble, with Klugmann at his elbow, was evident in a signal
Keble sent on November 22, five days before he left. It was addressed
to a Major Dugmore, a BLO who had originally been
selected to drop to the Mihailović Loyalists. It came on the heels
of the infamous November 19 memorandum to the Special Operations
Committee. The signal (WO 202/145 sheet X235) reads,
in part,
Dugmore froni Keble:
1. MVIC now given orders for collaboration with QUISLING
NEDIC Government and troops.
2. This with clear indication that MVIC intention future
collaboration with Germans and present proved collaboration
with Bulgars in resisting Partisans confirms our
appreciation now useless repeat useless send you to
MVIC missions.
3. There are Partisan groups at. . . .
4. MOSTYN DAVIES now en route to BULGARIA resting
with group 300 PARTISANS in KOSJAK area . . .
adjacent to MVIC group with Captain Purvis.
5. Our intention if you willing to drop you and W/T operator
to MOSTYN DAVIES ostensibly to go BULGARIA
with him.
6. He will be instructed to say on your arrival that he doesn’t
want you after all.
7. Above story will be your cover to remain with PARTISANS
in South SERBIA without risking Tito’s refusal if
permission asked.
8. Absolutely necessary we have BLO with W/T there before
we make definite break with MVIC and you will
form dropping area later for reinforcement of BLO’s.
9. See BLO with MVIC will be given safe passage by Tito
and evacuated by him which will mean you will be only
BLO left in that area.
10. Essential you keep clear of MVIC men and BLOs with
MVIC parties or Tito will evacuate you also.
11. We can only send you and await the events. . . .
Keble really was a man in a hurry. The signal was dated
November 22. It shows Keble, certainly advised by Klugmann,
acting in direct contravention of the established policy of continued
support for the Loyalists in Serbia. That policy was not
changed even unofficially until the prime minister indicated on
December 10 that he wanted Mihailovic removed. Keble’s determination
to scupper the Loyalists amounted almost to paranoia.
The signal also showed in paragraph 10 that there had already
been discussions with Tito about evacuation of BLOs from
Mihailovic, thus preempting all of the discussions supposed to
take place in Cairo with Churchill about future organization in
Yugoslavia. It is very real evidence of confidence tricks. The operational
log shows that sorties poured in to Mostyn Davies when
we received none and when even Maclean was complaining that
Tito’s headquarters were not receiving enough. It is clear circumstantial
evidence that Klugmann, either alone or through Keble,
was able to switch the planes to suit his nefarious purposes.
This cable should be framed and hung between Tito’s and
Mihailovic’s portraits in the Special Forces Club. It epitomizes
the dirty side of Special Operations, which was, I insist, decisive
in Tito’s grab for power. As evidence of the activities of the dirtytricks
department in Cairo it is only equaled by the Cairo maps
that were allegedly prepared from reports by people in the field
but were quite simply cooked up.
Keble’s head had already been on the block since Maclean’s
previous visit to Cairo. But with Klugmann at his elbow he still
plugged away loyally in his campaign to destroy Mihailovic. Thus,
living on borrowed time, he prepared the ground for the Maclean
coup de grace. That really is ironic. It was Maclean who
had given him, Keble, the coup de grace too. On November 27
Keble disappeared from the scene.
On December 13, immediately on his return from Yugoslavia
and having delivered to Churchill his “hostile brief” concerning
Mihailovic’s collaboration, Deakin took over as head of the
Yugoslav section. Klugmann stayed firmly in place. He was promoted
to general staff officer grade 2 on December 15, and the
following spring he took over as deputy head of the section. The
same faces in the same key places. Plus ga change . . .
M04 quietly disappeared and became Force 133, divorced
from the sobering influence of SOE London and firmly under
the military in the Middle East, with the Minister of State’s Office
handling the political side in Cairo for the Maclean mission. This
arrangement was just what Maclean had requested.
On December 11 1943, the day after the prime minister’s fateful
meetings and while signals warning Mihailovic BLOs to get ready
to run away to the Partisans were being prepared, Force 133 sent
the most extraordinary signal, addressed to Armstrong and Bailey
only. Like the sinister September 29 memorandum proposing
the abandonment of all noncommunist groups in the Balkans
and the M04 November 19 “appreciation” memo preparing the
Special Operations Committee for the Maclean-Deakin Decem-
ber blitzkrieg, this memorandum is written in the style I have
come to associate with Klugmann’s drafting. The extraordinary
nature of this signal lies not so much in its contents—largely a
rehash of the November 19 memorandum with “blockbuster”
padding—as in the way it was addressed, in its length, and in
the way it was covertly aimed at spying eyes. The signal must
also be put into the context of the chaos that was about to engulf
Mihailovic. This chaos was about to be started by the call on Mihailović’s
sub-missions to defect. It would be intensified by a signal
in the Villa Resta series, that is, the British W/T, from the
Yugoslav prime minister pressing Mihailovic to cooperate with
the Western Allies even when they seemed to be acting strangely.
And it would be climaxed—if chaos can have a climax—by yet
another message, about the same date, on Yugoslav W/T telling
Mihailović privately that he was being abandoned.
Here we must pause to consider the implications of a signal
in the Public Records Office (WO 202/145 sheet 405A) that shows
that all of the highly confidential “head of mission” messages were
being deciphered by Yugoslav cipher clerks employed by Bailey.
What’s so significant about that? The fact that these clerks
would have advised Mihailovic of everything immediately. So Mihailovic
had a pipeline into Bailey’s communications. The Force
133 signal—regurgitating the November 19 memo—was bound
to be seen by Mihailovic. Presumably Klugmann knew this.
Another sinister aspect of the Force 133 signal is the fact
that it was copied in full to London. This was a clever move by
Force 133. In the absence of refutation from Armstrong and Bailey,
the contents and conclusions of the signal would be presumed
to have their agreement, and their tacit assent would go
into the record. With everything that was happening at the Mihailovic
headquarters, Armstrong and Bailey would have no time
or opportunity to digest a twenty-six-paragraph signal, let alone
reply to it. Klugmann would have calculated that. And if Armstrong
and Bailey did reply, the well-tested ciphering-delay technique
could be used again.
Apart from being pure propaganda, the Force 133 signal
was straightforwardly, impudently mendacious. Paragraph 11
stated, “In spite most constant and determined efforts WIX OLD
[Armstrong and Bailey] and other BLOs no repeat no effective
demolition activity or important action against enemy has been
reported by any BLO with Mihailović forces since OLD’s arrival
Mihailović’s Headquarters last Christmas.”
Now, that is ludicrous. The signal was addressed to Bailey
and Armstrong, and they knew that it was a flagrant lie. Indeed,
for Armstrong it was an insulting lie because he himself had attended
the bridge demolitions. Armstrong’s headquarters had reported
five bridges blown, including one of the biggest in the
Balkans. They had reported the action at Prijepolje in which substantial
numbers of Germans and Bulgars were killed, prior to
the treacherous treatment of the Loyalists at Berane at the time
of the Italian surrender. They had reported the taking of Višegrad
by 2,500 Loyalists fighting Bulgars, Croats, and Germans
and killing at least 200 in one action alone.
Under my code name Fugue and through Neronian (Colonel
Cope), I myself had reported three train derailments and two
major line demolitions, and M04 had repeatedly acknowledged
my successes (WO 202/131 sheets 54 and 130; WO 202/140 sheets
61 and 62; WO 202/148 sheets 31, 36, 65, 187, and 263; WO
202/145 sheets 12, 23, 25, 30, and 68). Purvis at Roughshod had
reported his extensive attacks on the Kumanovo railway station
and another major line demolition.
There was a mass of other flagrant lies in the signal—about
unfavorable reports from BLOs with Mihailović, about collaboration,
and about BBC reporting. The shameful signal finished with
a paragraph disclaiming criticism of the Mihailović BLOs’ work
and praising their “courage, patience and dignity in spite of difficulties
caused them by Mihailović and local commanders.”
This was a patronizing and disgusting signal by any standards.
It was a classic communist-style brainwash combined with
a very smart maneuver to put a totally false picture on record. It
was very probably copied to the prime minister in Cairo at the
time, and it almost certainly contributed to his quite uncharacteristic
vitriolic animosity toward Mihailović, which shows itself
in his exchanges with the foreign secretary in December and
From a historical standpoint the operational log of signals in the
files in the Public Records Office is pure gold; the signals tell the
truth of what really happened, and they explain a lot. Even then
they do not tell our whole story. Significant numbers of my own
Fugue signals are missing even though I had contact for only six
weeks. The received wisdom cannot belie the operational log. Reports,
assessments, memorandums could be written with hindsight.
The signals could not. They show what was really happening.
The BLO wrote the signal, and his NCOs and he himself put
them into cipher. There was no way in which these signals could
substantially misrepresent things. Similarly, the operational log
and the geographical positions of the missions when they signaled
cannot be fudged. They prove that the maps prepared in
Cairo early in December 1943, allegedly from operational reports,
were being cooked up. There is no way in which the received
wisdom can override the facts that come out of the operational
log. They give the lie to M04.
Making a Mess of Betrayal
In Serbia the nights were drawing in, the weather turned colder,
and the planes still did not come. We were without greatcoats,
and my boots were falling to pieces so that I had to use the local
rawhide opanake all the time. To avoid unwelcome Partisan attention
I switched my sabotage activities to the railroad east of Mount
Kukavica, and I made a journey with Jovo Stefanović over the
Bulgarian frontier and successfully blew another train. On the
journey we caught three Bulgar soldiers in the act of stealing a
pig from an old peasant in an isolated holding near the frontier.
For two of them it was the last looting expedition that they would
ever carry out. The third was disarmed and sent back over the
border, where he was probably shot for losing his weapons. The
owner of the pig, a gnarled but very agile peasant, who was under
fire too as we dispatched the Bulgars, was absolutely delighted
and regaled us with his best rakija.
With a party from Manić I demolished another length of
track in November, and with men from Andrejević I carried out
a rather spectacular derailment in which the train crashed down
a high embankment. There were various other minor actions
carried out by my three local commanders. But the lack of air
sorties and the difficulties in communicating became more and
more depressing.
About October 25 we lost W/T contact for good and had to
rely on couriers carrying messages to Colonel Cope’s headquarters
with requests that he send our messages on to Cairo. Looking
at the signal files in the Public Records Office, I see that
before my set finally expired, I had reported our first line demolition
and two derailments. Subsequently, in November, Colonel
Cope reported the second line demolition and another derailment
on my behalf. Thus Cairo knew of two line demolitions and
three derailments. In fact, I personally carried out one more derailment,
which did not get reported through, and two others
were done by Serbs alone. That should be recorded and underlined,
as the Cairo memorandums stated that very little was done
and that what was done was carried out by British. Not true. In
fact, the reported sabotage, together with our comments, should
have persuaded Cairo that there was quite a lot going on. I have
traced the signals telling Cairo very clearly that if they sent just
a few sorties, we could guarantee regular sabotage of that vital
rail line.
Basil Davidson wrote in Special Operations Europe, “Against all
the evidence of chetnik complicity with the enemy, high policy
insisted on sending more British missions to chetnik groups . . .
all of these tried to make the chetniks fight; none of them succeeded.”
Davidson was not the only Partisan proponent to write
thus, unfairly vilifying the Loyalists, denigrating our efforts, and
misrepresenting what really happened. Our BLO reports, notably
those from Roughshod (Robert Purvis), Fugue (Michael Lees),
and the second Kosovski area (George More), belie the oft-repeated
contention that the Loyalists refused to cooperate. Moreover,
those reports have been open to the public since long before
Special Operations Europe was published. Apart from those three
specific reports, there is a mass of signaled evidence of other
Loyalist operations. As I have already written, five bridges were
destroyed under the supervision of Archie Jack, Armstrong, and
Hudson. When the Višegrad bridge was demolished, 2,500 Loyalist
troops were involved, and they killed 200 Germans. There
was the action when Prijepolje was taken, and again at least 200
Germans were killed in one skirmish alone. There was the ambitious
though only partially successful Danube barge operation
carried out by Greenwood and Rootham. On August 28, George
More reported that Sergeant Belie of his mission had blown the
railway line between Priština and Peć, and on September 24 Belić
derailed a train in a tunnel. More himself carried out demolitions
on three small bridges, with mixed success. But the attacks were
made. These are just a few of the operations that were carried
out by or with the Loyalists, under British supervision or with
British observers. How can Partisan proponents say that we failed
to make the Loyalists fight? Are we all liars?
A reading of any of the reports written by the BLOs at Mihailovic
headquarters, including the two American liaison officers,
will show that more than once the headquarters came under
enemy fire in their presence. Colonel Seitz paid special tribute to
the Loyalist cover given to him when he was so close to the Germans
that he “took pot shots with [his] luger.” Is that complicity
with the enemy? Is Seitz a liar too? There’s not going to be room
in hell for all of us liars.
The Loyalists did not fight as much or as frequently as we
wanted them to. Of course they didn’t. But in my area, in the
period from September to November 1943, that was not so much
because they were unwilling to fight as because of the tiffs between
Bailey and Mihailović and the muddles between Djurić and
his local BLOs, and because of the total lack of support given to
us by Cairo. I can only speak for my area. I do not know about
Homolje or Keserović’s area other than from the BLO reports.
Like me, those BLOs had problems with the Mihailovic veto power
over sabotage operations at first and with the stopping of supplies
when the veto was lifted after Armstrong dropped. But,
also like me, they did not know what was going on in Cairo. If
they studied the files now, I think that they would understand
the Loyalist viewpoint even better.
The BLO reports in the Public Records Office series WO 202/
162, particularly those of captains Robert Wade and George More,
reflect faithfully what was happening. The Loyalist leaders were
in no way collaborating. In no way could they be charged with
being neutral or inactive. But they were unwilling to commit
themselves to all-out, large-scale offensive operations—and to
consequent mass reprisals—without clear evidence of continuing
British support. The Loyalists were daily receiving reports of increasing
support being given to their enemies, along with propaganda
that they were to be abandoned. They needed to conserve
ammunition. The equivocal attitude of the British necessarily became
reflected in an equivocal attitude on their part. If the Loyalists
were less aggressive than the Partisans, the British had
themselves to blame. The fighting material was the same on both
sides. We BLOs have to ask ourselves in each individual case: Did
we give them the encouragement they needed? The answer, thanks
to Cairo, must be no. We also have to ask: Did we give them the
leadership and trust and example they deserved and expected?
But we BLOs did not grasp all of this at the time, because we did
not appreciate the double game being played by our masters in
The reports by George More and Bob Wade (WO 202 154A
and 162) are important historically because they simply don’t agree
with the selective quotations from their signals that were pieced
together by M04 for the December 10 meeting with Churchill to
damn the Loyalists.
Robert Purvis’s report speaks of building up a force from 50
to 700. He was constantly under pressure from Bulgars, and when
the break came he was just initiating a program to attack the
railroad line weekly. Purvis gave his Serbs the leadership and example
they deserved. I hope I gave mine some leadership too.
We had moved to winter quarters near Oruglica. The mission
then consisted of myself, Tomlinson as second in command,
Johnson as radio operator, and sergeants Faithful and Lesar. Lesar
distinguished himself by cutting down our host Mirko’s best plum
tree when sent to get a pole as a W/T aerial. By the time we had
placated Mirko, we had bought the šljivovica supply for an army,
so luscious and rich and ever-yielding had been that tree.
It was a nice, friendly little corner, perhaps half an hour’s
march from the hamlet Oruglica, which was important enough
to have a church. It was secluded, while offering a clear enough
view of the approach routes. We had a subsidiary building to
ourselves, a most unusual arrangement in those parts. It was about
fifteen by fifteen feet and had a stove with a real pipe chimney
instead of the normal hole in the roof. This was luxury indeed.
The door was set above the ground, approached by steps, and
there was even a cellar underneath. Mirko wisely kept that shut
up with an enormous padlock.
Our simple needs were tended to by two giggling daughters
of the house, Milunka and Zagorka, who seemed to greatly enjoy
carrying over a pot of bean soup twice daily for our meals, plus
our breakfast at dawn—according to Serbian custom, a double
slug of double-strength rakija.
That plum tree might have been better left alone to go on
producing the raw material for the elixir of life in the mountains.
The W/T didn’t need an aerial—the hand generator had broken
down, and we were as far as ever from receiving a new one. Messages
sent by courier to Sehmer or Cope for transmission remained
unanswered. In the latter half of November, without
supplies, without communications, and without any encouragement
at all, we began to feel very depressed. The zest had gone
out of it. The Loyalists, though still friendly to us, were obviously
very concerned at the turn events seemed to be taking, and the
increasingly hostile nature of the BBC broadcasts became a very
sore and repeatedly raised subject. More and more the mission
was withdrawing into itself.
Johnson had developed very nasty sores on his legs, known
locally as “sugar.” They seemed to be a form of scurvy and were
very troublesome. So I decided to take him to Sirinska Banja, a
spa in the mountains some two days’ march to the west.
We had acquired horses for the expedition. Mine, a bay
gelding of some fifteen hands, had belonged to Boon the Australian,
and I took him over when Boon went south with Robert
Purvis. I named him Hitler and became very attached to him. He
was indefatigable, very sure-footed, and he carried my 200 pounds
easily. Together we covered great distances and at considerable
speed. I would walk uphill and downhill to spare him and canter
long stretches on the flat. Strangely, Hitler never trotted. It was
walk or canter or gallop. I taught him to jump small obstacles.
At night he would lie on the ground, and I slept with my head
resting on his stomach.
We had many adventures together. On one entertaining occasion,
when we were reaching the end of our journey to Pranjani,
whence we were evacuated, I had had a few drinks, one
thing led to another, and I had bet someone, Peter Solly-Flood
probably, that I would ride my horse through Čačak and return
to drink a toast to Draža Mihailović. Čačak was a town of some
size and considerable significance, full of Germans. On entering
the main street on Hitler, I encountered two German motorcycles
with sidecars. Their riders leapt onto their machines to give
chase, but I escaped through the town at full gallop and back
into the mountains. Colonel Cope was not amused. Oh dear. Not
at all amused. I collected a dressing-down, but I won my bet.
Hitler did not let me down. He was fleet of foot at full gallop,
and he needed to be that night.
In the intervening forty years I had entirely forgotten the
incident until the story was told in the diaries of an American
crewman from the bomber Lucky Strike, which had crashed near
Skoplje. These diaries give a vivid picture of the unstinting help
given to Allied servicemen by the Serb mountain folk.
I last saw Hitler standing disconsolately beside the runway
with his new master, as I embarked on the plane taking us out. I
loved that horse. We’ll meet in his Nirvana one day. That day
when the truth about everything will come out. It will be a shock
for some people.
The other three horses we had acquired for the mission I
named Goering, Goebbels, and Himmler. Goering was even
shorter than Hitler, probably no more than fourteen hands, but
jet-black, round as a barrel, very strong and sturdy. A superb
packhorse. Goebbels was dull. I don’t remember Himmler very
clearly, so I suppose that, like his namesake, he was nondescript.
Anyway, here I was trying to take Johnson to the spas at
Sirinska Banja to find a doctor for his sores. I think I picked
Goehbels for Johnson. It was the end of November or beginning
of December, and we traveled through snow at times. Sirinska
Banja, when we reached it, was quite a shock. A paved road led
to it from Medvedja, a neighboring village occupied by the Germans
from time to time. It had a hotel. A real hotel with three
stories—not just two, the sign of great affluence in our part of
the world—but, wonder of wonders, three; and there were cafes
and shops.
The hotel was closed, but we found lodgings at a cafe. We
went to the spa and bathed in the sulfur baths, an unbelievable
luxury, the first hot bath since we left Cairo. This oasis of civilization
in the mountains was extraordinary, and apart from the
empty hotel, life seemed to go on as it had in peacetime.
In one of the cafes we found a group of Loyalists in British
battle dress, and outside we had noticed a very fine black horse
with a good army saddle, festooned with leather bags, a rolled
blanket, and other finery, which certainly showed up our roughand-
ready gear. The owner introduced himself as Peter Solly-
Flood. He was a tall, heavily built Irishman with a handsome,
round face and thinning black hair. He wore a major’s crown on
his British uniform’s shoulders.
It transpired that Solly-Flood was on his way to visit us. He
had dropped two months previously to the Mihailović headquarters
as intelligence officer attached to Brigadier Armstrong and,
after a month there, had been sent on a tour of all Mihailovic
Loyalist commands to bring back a report on their potential
value as a striking force in the event of an all-out offensive being
Peter and I rode back to Oruglica the next day, leaving
Johnson to complete his cure. He proposed to spend three days
with us, studying our operations and our area, and then to cross
the Leskovac plains in order to visit a Loyalist group on Mount
Suva, northeast of Leskovac. Because of the danger of Partisan
ambushes in the plains and the need to cross the railway line,
which was ever more heavily guarded since our attacks had started,
Peter needed a strong escort. He proposed to return to Oruglica,
and I decided to accompany him myself in order to carry out an
operation about which I had been thinking for some time.
Niš, a large manufacturing town, lay about thirty miles north
of Leskovac. A few miles from Niš, at the foot of the mountain,
there was an aerodrome with a squadron of Messerschmitts. The
Germans used these fighters against the American heavy bombers
that passed over en route to bombing the Romanian oilfields at
Ploie§ti. For some time I had been playing with the idea of carrying
out a night attack to blow up, or set fire to, the aircraft on
that field. It was not practical to mount such an attack from
Oruglica, the distance to the airfield being far too great; but the
aerodrome lay only about five hours’ march from Mount Suva
and was therefore well within the radius for a night attack.
The plan was our most ambitious yet. I planned to take a
force from Andrejević’s brigade and to cross the plains north of
Leskovac, derailing a train as we crossed the line and crossing
the Morava River at the foot of Mount Suva. Peter needed three
days to conduct his business with the Loyalist commander, and I
would borrow guides and, with a party of twenty men, attack the
airfield on the second night. We planned to return by a route
south of Leskovac and cut the railroad line for a second time on
our journey back.
But, as usual, fate intervened. Peter and I were at Barje all
kitted up and ready to go when my Serbian orderly, Mile, came
galloping down the road from Oruglica riding Peter’s black horse.
He brought me a letter from Tomlinson enclosing a message from
Neronian that was short and to the point. It advised us that the
decision to break with Mihailović would probably be taken within
the next few days, that we should cease operations, and that we
should make a break to the Partisans if we could. It told us that
Mihailovic had not been informed of this decision.
Our immediate problem was that quite literally we were poised
to go. The men were actually assembled. The railway charges
had been made up, and the “sticky bombs” for attaching to the
aircraft fuel tanks had been improvised and prepared. We had
even had our last meal. Once again, with forty years’ hindsight,
as on the occasion four months before when we were ordered to
call off the attack on the Vladički Han bridge, I now feel strongly
that I ought to have gone ahead. It would not have altered anything
in history, but at least I could have taken the memory of
an airfield attack through life with me. The airfield-attack technique
developed by the SAS in the African desert has always fascinated
me, and I have always regretted never having done one.
I cobbled together an excuse to the effect that the major had
received orders to return to Mihailović headquarters, and for that
reason we would not go. But the Loyalists knew that something
more had happened. After all the careful preparation that had
taken place they had to ask themselves: Why does he not go ahead
with the derailments and the airfield attack and let this major go
back to Mihailović? Peter’s presence was in no way necessary for
the attacks, and they could hardly have forgotten the amount of
pressure we had been putting on them to do sabotage.
Sheepishly we trekked back from Barje to Oruglica, feeling
the mistrustful eyes of Pešić and his men on our backs as we
moved off. For more than six months these Loyalists had been
our allies, our companions, our friends; and that signal had
changed everything irrevocably. We were used to living surrounded
by enemies: the efficient Germans, the cruel Bulgars,
the treacherous Arnauti bands, the small SS-style Ljotić forces,
Serbian mercenaries, and even the Nedić state guard, who sometimes,
but far from always, looked the other way when we passed;
and, of course, the Partisans. We did not call the latter “enemies,”
though sometimes now I wonder why. Among all of these
more or less hostile forces, the Loyalists had been unquestioningly
on our side; and so too had been the local population. What
was going to happen now?
It was my problem, not Peter’s, because I knew the area. I
was the BLO. I rejected a break to the Partisans. There was only
the small band on the Radan, still about 200 strong, and there
was no British officer with them yet as far as we knew. They
certainly had courier links to other main Partisan groups to the
west, but their routes passed through miles and miles of 100 percent
Loyalist country. To trek from the southeastern corner
through most of Serbia, a party of six with Johnson still very
lame, with Partisan guides and escorts maybe, but through country
hostile to them, would be a very hazardous undertaking. Indeed,
outright impossible.
Add to that the ethics of it all. We had lived with these Loyalists,
and we had been under enemy fire with them. We had
enjoyed their protection and their assistance to undertake sabotage
against the real enemy, risking reprisals against their compatriots.
Those compatriots, the Serbian population, had shown
us nothing but enthusiastic welcome and assistance.
Now some bloody Croat communist in the Bosnian wastelands,
wanting to exploit the circumstances in order to create a
despotic state, had hoodwinked the British into supporting him
and selling out Serbia to the Soviets. The Serbs, the traditional
allies of Britain, had already suffered the appalling genocide perpetrated
by the Croat ustaša. That this Croat Soviet agent should
get away with this was too much.
So it seemed to us in the heartland of Serbia in December
With hindsight, that was not totally fair. The Croat population
of Yugoslavia wanted communism probably even less than
the Serbs; and Tito’s main source of cannon fodder was Serbian
refugees from the ustasa genocide. But we were in no mood for
hair-splitting in apportioning blame.
It should be recorded here that the Loyalists made no move
whatsoever to put minders on us, either then or during the next
three and a half months before we started our evacuation march.
With the population totally loyal to them, no doubt they knew
every move we made; but at least they behaved like the gentlemen
they were. They never controlled us and never reproached
us. Whereas Manic had been very blunt and outspoken at times
during the summer and autumn—a roughness that was reciprocated
by me—after the decision to abandon them was taken,
there were never any hard words.
We decided to split up. Peter took Lesar with him and set
off for the Neronian headquarters, where there was W/T contact.
Tomlinson, Johnson, Faithful, and I started to bury equipment
surreptitiously while holding our breath and preparing to tell any
Loyalists who might see us that everything was wonderful. It was
not easy and it was not convincing, and I must truthfully admit
that there were moments that early dawn when I knew how those
three Croat spies who had been taken prisoner by Djurić’s men
the day before the Bulgar attack in early June must have felt as
they awaited their probable execution and, sweating, anticipated
in their imagination the knives slicing through their jugulars.
Their throats were slit. That ours were not was by the grace
of God— not thanks to the manner in which the affair was handled
by Force 133.
Only more than fortv years later did I come to know the almost
unbelievable circumstances of that first move in the definitive break
with the Loyalists. Missions that still had W/T contact had received
some sort of questionnaire sent from Cairo a few days
earlier, the purpose of which was to gauge the support enjoyed
by Mihailovic personally. This questionnaire reflected serious
consideration in the Foreign Office of continuing support to the
Loyalist local commands in Serbia while getting King Peter to
replace Mihailovic personally. This was an idea that may have
emanated from Bailey; it certainly had his keen support later. It
almost certainly arose from the messy Cope incident, when Djurić
was playing politics and when Mihailović’s instructions were
translated incorrectly. It suffered from the disadvantage that the
Serb population idolized Mihailovic personally. Furthermore, his
replacement would not have appeased Tito, who was intent on
eliminating not only Mihailovic but any independent Loyalist
movement whatsoever.
Following that questionnaire came a signal to the missions
dated December 7. The copy to Roughshod (Purvis) said, “Unlikely
more sorties will reach you next few months than necessary
for maintenance mission. Tell the Jugs this due bad weather which
in fact principal reason. Continue attempts attack L of C [lines
of communication] but do not rely on sorties in plans. Hope send
you full explanation next few days.”
This devious signal must have surprised Robert, because he
knew by then that drops were pouring in just south of us to the
Mostyn Davies missions with the Partisans. And forty years later
I found the signals all about those drops in the PRO files.
Then, about the twelfth or thirteenth, came the fateful message
passed on to us by Colonel Cope’s headquarters. We had
seen nothing of the previous messages, having been out of touch,
and they had not been sent on to us by Neronian.
Bob Wade, a BLO with the Keserović Korpus to the west of
Djurić’s area, did indeed make a break with the Partisans, leaving
December 14. He sent a message to Colonel Hudson, who was
with Cvetić, another subcommander of Keserović’s, and Hudson
joined him. They traveled around with a Partisan group for quite
some time before being evacuated. The Partisans, part of a corps
commanded by the well-known Peko Dapčević, were delighted at
this development and made great play of having the British with
them as they tried to fight their way into Serbia. Bob Wade states
in his report (WO 202/162) that Captain More had already “blown
the gaffe” to Marković on December 14, and Wade’s break too
made it quite clear to the Loyalists what was going on. Marković
was fairly close to Mihailović’s headquarters, and Mihailovic certainly
knew everything by December 15 if not much sooner.
But Mihailovic had not been informed officially. Indeed,
Armstrong himself was not informed until about December 16.
Cairo later excused this lapse on the grounds that they had been
too busy. How Cairo reconciled telling us sub-missions to run
away if we could, while not informing Armstrong or Mihailovic,
is an interesting mystery, but if Klugmann was involved, no doubt
he was just adhering to the standard communist method of creating
chaos. It is not clear to what extent Klugmann was in on the
act. Deakin took over officially on December 13, and surely he
was dealing with this literally life-and-death matter himself from
then on. But the key messages were probably drafted on December
11 or 12. It’s a mystery that only the official historian, with
access to all of the secret files, can unlock.
The Yugoslavs in Cairo and the Loyalists locally were very
apprehensive about what was going on, and they feared that they
would be sold out to the Soviets in a deal made by the superpowers.
Certainly they knew that high-level talks were taking place
in Tehran. The BBC Yugoslav News reported it, and Manic
mentioned it to me. Recently, Archie Jack wrote to me of how a
Mihailović intelligence officer had told him at that time, without
criticism or reproach, that the Allies had handed over Yugoslavia
to the communists and Russia. “He hoped that we had achieved
something of importance in return.” He would have been horrified
to learn that Yugoslavia was sold out gratuitously by Churchill,
not in a deal with Stalin.
I can neither comprehend nor forgive the amateurish instruction
that left the decision to run away or stick it out to individual
sub-missions, thus ensuring that the Loyalists would know
immediately that we were abandoning them while the majority
of the British would have to remain in Loyalist hands.
The Tito proponents already claimed then, without any hard
evidence whatsoever and against all logic, that Terence Atherton
had been murdered and Neil Selby betrayed by “the Cetniks.” If
the Partisan sympathizers in Cairo were sincere in believing that
the Loyalist Cetniks were murderers and betrayers, why, in heaven’s
name, did they create a situation in which some missions
would run and others would stay hostage in far worse circumstances
than existed at the time of the Atherton and Selby incidents?
This demonstration of Perfidious Albion gave the Loyalists
every justification to take us hostage, kill us, or betray us to the
Of course that would have given the communists more grist
for their propaganda machines, and we would not have lived to
tell the tale.
For some days there was no more news. No courier reached us
in Oruglica from Neronian, and we could have been in another
world. Finally I decided to move toward the Neronian mission
headquarters through the mountainous country to the west. If
we encountered hostility, we could turn south into the Kosovo
area, eventually making for Albania—a last and unappealing
After fourteen hours’ hard marching we were already a couple
of hours beyond Sirinska Banja when we met Peter Solly-Flood
and Harry Lesar coming back. At first they pulled our legs—
and we were hardly in the mood for a joke—by telling us that
the Neronian party had all been shot by Djurić. Such was the
situation that for a moment the news rang true.
The truth, however, was almost an anticlimax. It appeared
that Mihailovic had been informed and had agreed to the evacuation
of the missions with only one proviso, namely, that any
evacuation would be done through his channels and not by the
Partisans. Brigadier Armstrong had given orders that we remain
in southeastern Serbia for the time being and concentrate in
Oruglica. So we trekked back the long march to Oruglica and
back into Mirko’s house, and Peter Solly-Flood moved in with us.
It would be stretching things to say that our friends had hardly
noticed our absence. But they were polite enough not to comment
on it.
We settled into our winter quarters. The snow was constant
now and at times so deep that movement was at best arduous
and often nigh impossible. We experimented with homemade skis,
but they did not function well. In any case, the hills were too
intensely wooded and the snow frequently damp, and always
powdery and heavy. We tried to make snowshoes, but that too
proved a failure. So we just struggled about as best we could in
boots—those lucky enough still to have boots—and in opanake
for those like me who had none.
The other missions moved into the area. Purvis and Boon
came from the south. Cope, Raw, and Sehmer set up Neronian
mission nearby, and Hawksworth and a few others were somewhere
around. We kept to ourselves in my Fugue mission in Mirko’s
house. Peter Solly-Flood, who had firmly attached himself to
me and my mission, spent some time each day at the Neronian
headquarters and told us what was going on and what we needed
to know—at least that was what I thought, till forty years later I
found from the files that there was plenty going on of which I
had no knowledge. Once again I was reminded of Micky Thomas’s
remark that M04 would let me down.
The Truth about the Bridges Affair
I first learned of the bridges affair when I came to study the files
in the Public Records Office forty years later. The bridge-demolition
idea arose sometime in late November, before the abandonment
of Mihailovic, very probably in the Middle East
Headquarters Special Operations Committee. It may have come
from Ralph Skrine Stevenson, the ambassador to the legitimate
Yugoslav government and (so paradoxically) political rear link in
Cairo for Maclean’s mission to Tito. From whom the idea came
and when it arose are not material—suffice that it was seized on
by all concerned rather quickly. It was also received enthusiastically
in the Foreign Office and by the secretary of state himself.
As a test of his sincerity, Mihailovic would be asked to blow two
bridges, one in the Ibar Valley and one in the Morava Valley.
While all of the agencies accepted the plan with enthusiasm,
their approaches were not identical. The southern department
of the Foreign Office under Douglas Howard was fair and objec-
tive as always. Howard evidently hoped that Mihailović might respond
and that, at least, the air could be cleared of cant and
propaganda. The southern department was constantly irritated
by the anti-Mihailović attitude of M04 and the Minister of State’s
Office in Cairo and had said so bluntly more than once.
Stevenson, conversely, cabled to the Foreign Office on December
3 that the Special Operations Committee, in considering
future policy concerning Mihailovic, had “agreed that, as most of
the evidence regarding Mihailović’s collaboration with the enemy
could not be published, it was desirable to strengthen the case
against him by calling upon him to carry out by a given date
some specific operations known to be within his power, in the
certain knowledge that he would fail to do so.”
On December 8 Stevenson reported to the Foreign Office
that the Special Operations Committee had agreed on the operations
they wanted Mihailovic to carry out and that Armstrong
was being instructed not to admit to Mihailovic that the request
was intended as a test. Simultaneously King Peter and the Yugoslav
government were being informed simply that Mihailović
had been requested to carry out important operations, and it was
suggested to King Peter that he might like to send a message
asking Mihailović to do his best to comply.
The message from the commander in chief was received by
Brigadier Armstrong on December 8, 1943. The message (WO
202/139 sheet 33) specifies the bridges to be destroyed and simultaneous
subsidiary attacks, and requests Mihailović’s agreement
by December 29. The date, and the fact that it referred to
his “agreement,” are totally clear in the message. Mihailovic asked
for time to study the message but refused Brigadier Armstrong
an interview on December 9. That has no significance here, however,
because by then the two were no longer on speaking terms.
Politics and diplomacy were not Armstrong’s major qualities.
Mihailovic was not to know that Armstrong too was being cuckolded
by Force 133. Inevitably he blamed Armstrong personally
for the British deceit. No wonder they no longer spoke to each
Then in Cairo on December 10 the prime minister told Stevenson
that he wanted Mihailovic “removed” by the end of the
month. No ifs or buts or maybes and not subject to performance
in the bridge operations. That and nothing more, other than that
the prime minister wanted the king to “associate himself with the
removal.” Perhaps Churchill did not even know of the proposed
bridge operation. That could very well have been so.
The likelihood of this state of affairs is strengthened by a
message to Armstrong from Force 133 dated December 17 (WO
202/145 sheet 384) stating, “C-in-C’s request to MVIC re specific
operation was sent with object getting first-hand and clearer evidence
of MVIC’s attitude. Wish to make it clear to you that decision
to break [with Mihailović] is being considered on its own
merits irrespective of MVIC’s attitude toward these operations.”
In short, the real purpose of the bridges-operation demand was
to strengthen the justification for the abandonment of the Loyalists,
which was already a fait accompli.
Yet Mihailović had been requested by the commander in chief
Middle East, by the Yugoslav prime minister, and by his king—
who in turn had been urged by the British government so to
request—to mount a major operation and to confirm that he
could and would do so. The confirmation was to be given by December
On or about December 12, Force 133 banged off the signals
to the British missions telling the BLOs to prepare to desert to
the Partisans if they could; and on or about December 14, George
More blew the gaffe to Marković, and Bob Wade actually moved
off. Hudson joined him, and they reached Peko Dapčević’s Partisan
unit on December 27. Dapčević was endeavoring to break
into Serbia from the west. So by about December 15 Mihailović
knew quite definitely that the curtain had gone up on the final
act and that he was going to be abandoned; and the Partisans
were making huge propaganda from it all. Actually, Mihailović
may already have heard the news via the Yugoslav premier in
Cairo, who had been given the word unofficially (WO 202/145).
In spite of this cataclysmic new development, Mihailović received
Brigadier Armstrong on December 23, as previously agreed,
to give him his reply to the commander in chief’s request. Nothing
passed between them in regard to Force 133’s instructions to
BLOs to defect or the disappearance of Wade and Hudson and
why they had gone; or even about the intention to abandon him.
Mihailović calmly asked Armstrong for a further fourteen days
to enable him to move troops and explosives into position for the
attacks. What was wrong with that? He needed every minute of
that period, with the distances and logistics involved, through the
mountains in the winter. The armchair warriors in Cairo would
not have understood that. In any case, they were praying desperately
that he would decline the request, thus falling for their ploy
to use the refusal to justify the break.
The commander in chief’s message had only requested Mihailović
to reply by December 29. He had done so, and he had
said in effect that he could carry out the operations as soon as
he could move men and materials into position. The ploy had
Accompanied by Loyalists, Archie Jack had already reconnoitered
the Ibar bridge and was moving into position, preparing
to blow it. Maj. Eric Greenwood, the senior BLO in the Homolje
region, had moved up as observer for the other bridge demolition.
Wade’s report shows that, already before he set out for the
Partisans, there had been discussions with Cvetić and Marković
about blowing bridges; and the Angelica mission signal files show
that Mihailović actually gave clear instructions before the December
23 meeting. He was therefore totally serious about complying
with General Wilson’s signaled request after studying the
general’s message.
Mihailović had a small problem, because the force that would
have tackled the Ibar bridge had had to be sent to defend Serbian
territory being invaded by Peko Dapčević’s Partisans—the
unit to which Wade and Hudson had moved. Archie Jack confirms,
however, that even with the reduced force at his disposal
his bridge over the Ibar could have been blown. But Cairo expressly
refused permission when Armstrong sought the go-ahead
in January. Whatever the situation regarding the northern Morava
bridge, we in Oruglica could surely have organized the destruction
of Vladički Han over the southern Morava.
After all, on December 12 Peter Solly-Flood and I had set
out to blow trains and attack an airfield with sixty men from An-
drejević. We stopped that operation, not the Loyalists. They were
bitterly disappointed. In spite of their knowledge that they were
being dumped, I believe sincerely that I could have gotten the
necessary troops, particularly as Mihailović had definitely authorized
the operation. I also had the explosives in my caches. Don’t
blame the Loyalists because Colonel Cope failed to get on with
the job before Cairo called the operations off.
So evidently we were available, with forces sufficiently in position
by about mid-January, and with Mihailovic having agreed
expressly in principle to blow the bridges well before his December
29 deadline for agreement.
Mihailovic raised two more points with Armstrong. He pointed
out quite correctly that he was very short of ammunition and had
no heavy weapons, but he does not seem to have been attempting
to use this as an excuse for refusal, merely to point out the
difficulties and the possibility of failure in the event.
He also asked that ammunition expended should be replaced
after the operations. This was a very reasonable request,
because Mihailovic knew by then that he was going to be abandoned
whatever he did about the bridge demolitions. Ammunition
had become his main worry because he knew that he would
receive no supplies from the British in future, while his enemies
were flush with Allied supplies.
Following the meeting with Armstrong, Mihailovic signaled
to Cairo on December 27, and in a personal message to General
Wilson he made these points about ammunition and heavy weapons.
The signal was positive and could only be interpreted to
mean that Mihailovic intended to carry out the attacks as soon as
logistically possible. The signal (WO 202/136) is susceptible of no
other interpretation. On the same day Armstrong confirmed in
a signal to Cairo that Archie Jack had already left to watch the
Ibar attack and assist in the demolition, and that he was sending
Greenwood to watch the northern Morava operation. Armstrong
asked for confirmation that arms and ammunition would in fact
be replenished, though he stressed that he had not promised them
to Mihailovic. There is a shameful, flippantly written memorandum
(WO 202/136) in which Force 133 ridiculed the idea of replacing
ammunition used.
On December 28, Stevenson signaled to the Foreign Office
in a totally negative manner. In the first paragraph he said that
Mihailović had declined to discuss the commander in chief’s message
on December 9, pleading pressure of work. This was false.
Mihailovic declined to discuss it because he wanted to study the
signal before committing himself and because he was no longer
on friendly speaking terms with Armstrong. In the second paragraph,
Stevenson expressed the opinion that Mihailovic’s intention
was to “procrastinate.” He had nothing except his own
imagination and his evident animosity toward Mihailovic on which
to base this allegation. In the third paragraph he reported the
interview between Armstrong and Mihailovic on December 23
“when General Mihailovic stated that he could not undertake the
operations until sometime during first half of January.” In the
next paragraph he stated that he thought it unlikely that Mihailović
would make any really serious attempt to carry out the operations
but that he might try to put up some kind of show “as
it is clear that he knows that we are considering withdrawal of
our support from him.” Stevenson concludes: “We are therefore
fully justified, despite his statement that he will carry out the
operations requested sometime during the first half of January,
in taking a decision now to withdraw our support from him. That
decision as stated in my telegram number 212 is based on his
attitude of non cooperation over a long period and on the fact
that he has approved collaboration of his subordinate leaders with
the enemy.”
May the reader remember that this is the same Ralph Skrine
Stevenson who was at the December 10 Cairo meeting with
Churchill, Fitzroy Maclean, and Bill Deakin. The memorandum
above bespeaks Stevenson’s ill will toward Mihailovic.
In a memo of December 30 (FO 371/37620) a Mr. Dew of
the Foreign Office commented, “I cannot help feeling that Cairo
is making up a case for the immediate break with Mihailovic in
order that this may smooth the way with Tito. But if Tito won’t
play on the other issues then we shall have broken with Mihailovic
without any quid pro quo and may drive Mihailovic into the
arms of the Germans and alienate all those with him.” It seems
that the Foreign Office had not yet hoisted in that the break had
effectively already taken place on December 10.
On January 1, 1944, Sir Orme Sargent added his assessment:
I agree with Mr. Dew that we ought for tactical reasons to
go slow over Mihailovic. . . .
It is essential therefore that our evidence of his treachery
should be unanswerable: it is not enough merely to denounce
him for not having attacked the Germans more
ir; vigorously or as vigorously as Tito. In that aspect he after
all is no worse than have been the Greek guerillas during all
these months of civil war. Nor can we condemn Mihailovic
because he fights the Partisans. It would be impossible to
prove that Mihailovic was the first to attack. . . . Lastly we
come to the unfortunate test operation. Here, as I foresaw,
we have got ourselves into difficulty, for Mihailovic has not
refused, as Mr. Stevenson hoped he would but has merely
asked for a fortnight’s grace in order to make his plans. . . .
On the strength of this reply Mr. Stevenson says we are fully
t justified in taking a decision now to withdraw our support
from him: I beg to differ. I think it makes it increasingly
difficult and is an additional reason for putting off our
decision for the time being, in the hopes of some fresh
Sir Orme Sargent added a post scriptum:
PS As we are obviously drifting to a position where we
shall have to break with Mihailovic whatever he says or does,
we ought I’m sure to clear this test operation out of the way
as soon as possible. I would be inclined therefore to tell Mihailovic
straight away that as he was not able to carry out
the operation on the 29th December we no longer wish him
to do so and therefore withdraw our request.
On the margin of this memo, Anthony Eden, the secretary of
state, wrote, “There is force in all this. Perhaps we had better
await final decision by the PM on his reply to Tito before we
decide about above.”
Sir Orme Sargent had overlooked the fact that Mihailović
had not been requested to carry out the operation by December
29. That would have been logistically impossible, apart from anything
else. He had been asked only to give his reply by that date,
and he had given his affirmative reply in his signal of December
27. He had also indicated orally to Brigadier Armstrong on December
23 that he would carry out the operations.
More significantly, Mihailović had actually issued demolition-
preparation orders to Marković and Cvetić immediately after
receiving the request and before his meeting with Armstrong on
December 23. This is very important, because the received wisdom
has stated unequivocally that Mihailović was asked to carry out
these bridge operations by December 29 and that he refused.
This is almost a gospel tenet of the received wisdom, and it is totally
and demonstrably false.
True to form, Force 133 had anticipated the Foreign Office.
A signal of January 2, 1944 (WO 202/145 sheet 465), stated,
Following is paraphrase of message sent to Brigadier Armstrong
31st December. The limit of 29th December imposed
by C-in-C in his message to Mihailovic is considered reasonable
and stores previously dropped are considered sufficient
for tasks indicated. [Armstrong had not had a drop for three
months.] These operations were considered with these
considerations in mind and C-in-C’s message was sent for
purpose of securing further evidence of Mihailovic’s
procrastination and his general unwillingness to implement
previous promises to operate against the enemy. Even if these
operations had been successfully carried out within time limit
this would not necessarily have influenced future policy of
HMG towards Mihailovic which is being formulated independently
on general grounds given below. No further supplies,
therefore, will be dropped for these operations.
The signal went on with the usual spiel about Mihailovic’s
collaboration. But Perfidious Albion made a grave error in talk-
ing about the December 29 “time limit.” It would have been one
degree less awkward to have said openly that everything had been
changed by the prime minister following his meeting with Maclean,
Deakin, and Stevenson on December 10, that the demolition
of the bridges had become an embarrassing subject, and that
action by the Loyalists was the last thing that London or Cairo
Both the Yugoslav premier and Tito had been informed
around December 11 that the British government was abandoning
Mihailović. King Peter was put in an invidious position in
that, urged by the British, he had just signaled Mihailovic pressing
him to cooperate in the operations. Now he was being informed
that the British government had decided to break with
Mihailovic and wished him, King Peter, to associate himself with
the break.
Informing Tito on December 11 that the BLOs with Mihailovic
were being withdrawn had made the decision to abandon
the Loyalists irreversible, whatever happened about the bridges
or, indeed, about the king or anything else, for Tito’s publicrelations
men immediately spread the news.
Prior to receiving the signal calling off the operation, Armstrong
had moved off to join Archie Jack, and Mihailovic had
moved west to reinforce the defense against Peko Dapčević’s Partisans.
Shortly thereafter Armstrong was told definitely that any
sabotage action by the British, with Četnik help or alone, must
also cease.
After the war, an American liaison officer swore under oath
that he had received a signal sent by the British from Cairo instructing
him not to take part in the destruction of the antimony
mine at Lisa, which was supplying about one-quarter of the total
Axis requirements and for which he had obtained on December
12 a firm commitment from Mihailovic to provide the necessary
forces. He stated, “I never learned until later on the exact reason
for that reply, but I was told by British officers to whom I had
shown this cable that perhaps they were dropping Mihailovic
completely at that time, the British were going to evacuate and
they felt that they just did not want to have anything more to do
with any activity in that area.” (This incident appears in David
Martin’s Patriot or Traitor.)
The break was by then open knowledge throughout the
country. The Loyalists knew that they were on their own and
that survival was the name of the game. They could not yet know
that the British were not only abandoning them but preparing to
throw massive resources against them—and even to bomb and
machine-gun them.
In Disputed Barricades, Fitzroy Maclean states unequivocally
that Mihailovic was given three months to carry out the bridge
demolitions and that he had to agree by December 29. The demand
for agreement by that date is, of course, correct, and the
deadline was met by Mihailovic. The claim that Mihailovic had
three months to carry out the job and failed is clearly as inaccurate
and specious as Sir Orme Sargent’s understanding that Mihailovic
was asked to complete the demolitions by December 29.
These totally contradictory statements are typical of the historical
confusion arising from the desperate endeavors to blacken Mihailovic
and thus justify his abandonment.
The Pawns in the Great Game
The British Missions to Mihailović
Forty years later in the Public Records Office I read the December
13 signal to Neronian about the impending break with Mihailovic.
The first paragraph said, “HMG may decide to drop
Mihailovic which would involve evacuation all British personnel.”
It added the order, “Burn this signal after reading.”
t The second paragraph said that the only method of evacuation
was through Partisan territory. The signal then went on to
give sketchy and erroneous details of where the nearest Partisan
detachments were supposed to be. It said, “You must decide
whether you can conduct your mission to Partisan territory with
or without help local Mihailovic commanders. If this not considered
possible with fair degree of safety remain at your HQ
and we shall try arrange safe evacuation by pressure Jug government
and BBC propaganda. Treat this as warning order. Will
signal when decision made. Be prepared to move 15th if journey
to Partisans considered possible.” Force 133 advised Neronian
that Tito had guaranteed safe-conduct. This confirmed that Tito
had already been told that the BLOs were going to be withdrawn
from Mihailovic, or at least that withdrawal was under urgent
consideration. Mihailovic, the minister of defense of the royal
Yugoslav government, had not been told, and he had just been
asked to carry out a series of major demolitions. That was curious
to say the least.
Tito, the Partisan leaders, and their masters the Soviets must
have had a song of joy in their hearts. No doubt Stalin signaled
to Tito, code-named Walter, “Push, boys. Keep pushing. One last
push and we’ll be there.”
Logically Tito had to notify all of his local commanders down
to individual detachment level—no easy or quick job—so that
the guarantee of safe-conduct could be honored. But Force 133
had told Neronian, “Burn this signal after reading.” That means
the signal is top secret.
Top secret from whom? From Mihailovic, of course. From
our hosts and allies. How unworthy, and how unbelievably amateurish.
The Partisans were laughing all the way to their propaganda
megaphones and sending out their political agents to spread
around the good news: “The Brits are pulling the rug out from
under Mihailovic. The Commies are coming. Hurrah! Hurrah!”
But they would not have said “Commies.” “The National Liberation
Army” was the high-sounding name they used, though it
meant the same thing. No doubt they added, “Put a good face
on it because we are the masters now.” Yet the Loyalists were not
to be told by us BLOs. Cairo evidently wanted them to hear the
bad news on the Grapevine. Or, maybe, Cairo just hadn’t thought
it all through.
But there was another funny little twist to this saga. Forty
years later I find from the signal log that on December 15 Colonel
Cope and Major Raw at Neronian had already had a chat
with Djurić about it all, in spite of the order to burn the signal.
A signal to Neronian dated December 14 had asked specifically,
“What are your chances of getting Djuric to agree to your
moving over to the Partisans and of him possibly joining you
later in the event of public declaration being issued?” So Cope
and Raw, with their penchant for playing politics with Djurić,
who was being advised by his mistress, the communist and erstwhile
German spy Vera Pešić, were entitled to take this cable as
an authority to talk to him. Amazingly, they did just that. The
operational log (WO 202/145 sheets 350-520) contains a mass of
signals on this very subject. The naivete and irresponsibility, indeed
childishness, of the Force 133 signals horrify me even
So there was a chaotic situation. The Loyalists all knew by then
that the crunch had come. George More had told Marković. Wade
had left. Cope, Raw, and Sehmer—who was by then back at Neronian,
having been with Purvis in Kozjak and Boon in Crna
Gora—were into another session of cozy chats with Djurić. In
these meetings Djurić was once again playing politics while making
soothing noises about the methods of evacuation. And dear
old Brigadier Armstrong, a real fighting soldier who did not want
to know about politics, poor fellow, was busy still organizing the
bridge blowing and waiting to be received by Mihailovic to talk
about the demolitions as if nothing had happened. I’d have loved
to be a fly on the wall in that December 23 talk. But there wasn’t
a wall. They were in the woods, u sumi.
A chaotic situation was just what James Klugmann—the high
priest of communist ideology and methods—would no doubt have
desired. Keble, his protector and political disciple, had now left
SOE. Deakin was just back from Tito’s headquarters and formally
took charge as of December 13. According to letters from
Deakin written in 1988, his second in command was a Major Wilson,
one of the many transients in the Yugoslav section. He appears
nowhere in the records I have found. Gordon Fraser was
somewhere around, but it was Klugmann who was strategically
placed. As of December 15, 1943, he was director of coordination,
a key position.
Formally, Deakin was very much in charge. The prime minister
signaled to the foreign secretary on Christmas Day 1943, “I
am the more convinced that Maclean should get back as soon as
possible to Tito. In Deakin you have a man who has eight months
of experience of Tito and a bond with him through being wounded
by the same bomb. Deakin is an Oxford don of great ability and,
of course, is well known to me having helped me with Marlborough
for four years before the war. You couldn’t have a better
set-up than Deakin in Cairo and Maclean with Tito.”
Tito might well have expressed the same sentiment in even
more effusive terms. No wonder that what Maclean wanted Maclean
got. Moreover, the files show that—almost by definition—
what Maclean wanted was what Tito wanted or what he thought
Tito wanted . . . and Tito was nothing if not demanding. He
wanted, and got, the jackpot.
This signal shows the prime minister’s enormous regard for
Deakin and, if further evidence were needed, constitutes yet another
indication that Maclean and Deakin were reflecting the prime
minister’s wishes throughout and acting virtually as his agent,
though they informed and counseled him.
Deakin is indeed a remarkable man. How could he be otherwise
when he merited such confidence on the part of the outstanding
statesman and war leader of the century? Although in
my opinion he seems to have played a mistaken and weak hand
with Tito, and subsequently to have been less than objective about
Mihailović and the Loyalists, his outstanding personal qualities,
his reputed bravery in action, and his patriotism cannot be gainsaid.
On Durmitor and afterward he must have been a credit to
the nation. The Partisans were incredibly brave, whatever else,
and if—as Vane Ivanović has written—they made a point of
commenting on Deakin’s acquitting himself valiantly, then he must
have been a very brave man indeed.
Deakin, like Maclean, was very much his own man and paddling
his own canoe. His actions and words throughout are consistent
with those of a conservative totally sold on the Partisans.
A very gullible conservative perhaps. It is clear that the prime
minister had complete trust in Deakin and respect for his views.
He was and remains evidently a man of outstanding intellect and
persuasive power, and his quiet influence undoubtedly played a
great role in the prime minister’s decisions and appreciations;
and the regard he enjoys in historical circles ensures that his views
continue to enjoy precedence. I feel that he was and is sadly wrong
about Tito and Mihailović, but the views are clearly his own and
held with total, indeed blind, sincerity.
My opinion of Deakin’s political role when with Tito and of
his influence on Yugoslav history—the received wisdom—is, of
course, a personal view. It is never malicious. I write what I am
sure is true, and I discount what I believe to be false. This book
is written to fill a wide gap and paint the other side of the picture
as regards Mihailovic and Tito, but I want to be fair and absolutely
truthful. Deakin, a historian, will appreciate this stance,
and he will recognize my viewpoint, my purpose, and my sincerity
even if he cannot radically alter his own, different, forty-yearold
opinion. Maybe he has changed his views or will do so. Stranger
things have happened. After all, Djilas and Dedijer, who were so
close to Tito, have changed theirs radically. Even the Anglophobe
and previously dedicated communist Koča Popović has now
become a “democrat.”
It probably was time for Churchill’s “ambassador/leader,” Maclean,
to get back into Yugoslavia. He had been at Tito’s headquarters
for only about three weeks since his appointment four
and a half months previously. Furthermore, Tito wanted to get
on with the job of liquidating Mihailovic and the Loyalists by any
and every means as quickly as possible, and he wanted all the
help he could get from the British now that the policy had been
cleared with Churchill. The Loyalists knew this, and there we
were with them, looking as if nothing had happened and discussing
the unpleasant weather. It was all rather embarrassing.
It would have been disturbing had we known what I know now
and have recorded above about the chaos created by Cairo’s messages.
Charitably, I assume that Deakin had not had time yet to
grasp the reins.
Although the received wisdom insists that the Loyalists were
collaborators, they were still gentlemen. Nothing could alter that.
With hindsight I do not remember any of us sitting around
chewing our fingernails and wondering which execution technique
they would use on us—the stab to the heart or the slit
throat. At least everybody put a good face on it, and I for one
only had that nasty thought in those drab and scary sleepless
hours around four in the morning, after a good ration of šljivovica
the night before.
I do not recollect worrying unduly, but we did an awful lot
of sitting around. The winter was a hard one, and movement was
very difficult. No doubt this was very fortunate, for it deterred
Axis cleanup operations as well.
We sat around from Christmastime, when all of the southeastern
Serbian missions concentrated in Oruglica, until the news
finally came through in the second half of February that the
evacuation heralded on December 13 would go ahead. After letting
him stew for just two months, Cairo finally sent Mihailovic a
signal signed by General Wilson advising him that the British
government had decided to evacuate the BLOs and would he
kindly so arrange. And Mihailovic sent a very dignified reply that
he would kindly so arrange provided the matter went through
his own channels and not through those of the Partisans.
In the meantime Bailey and the American, Mansfield, had
left and been evacuated via Mihailović’s Loyalist channels—not
“collaborationist Četnik” channels, as Keble would have it—to
the coast, where they were picked up by the Royal Navy. The
Loyalists organized it very well, and the Partisans did not get in
the way, because they were not where Keble pretended they were.
This was the journey that Keble earlier in November had declined
to countenance for his own reasons. Keble’s reasons were
probably nefarious. Presumably he wanted to block Seitz and
Mansfield from coming out with their report before the abandonment
of Mihailovic was a fait accompli.
Seitz came out with Wade and Hudson via Partisan channels.
Colonel Hudson, the first British liaison officer to enter Yugoslavia
two and a half years before, was held up in Berane while
routine Partisan personnel movements took priority.
But what had happened to delay matters for those two months
and to give us BLOs this nice, relaxing, winter-sports holiday in
the mountains?
On November 29 Tito had called together the “Council for National
Liberation” in Jajce, with delegates from all over Yugoslavia.
While the meeting was stage-managed by the Communist
Party, for cosmetic purposes it was designed so as to give it the
appearance of a national assembly, a parliament. It issued reso-
lutions repudiating the royal Yugoslav government and any other
government created in the country or outside the country “against
the will of the people of Yugoslavia.” In Partisanspeak, “the will
of the people of Yugoslavia” meant Tito’s will. The resolutions
held King Peter personally responsible for the actions of Mihailovic
and stated specifically, “King Peter Karadjordjević is forbidden
to return to the country with the proviso that the question
of the king and/or monarchy will be decided by the people itself
by its own will after the liberation of the whole country.” In straight
language, that meant that the dynasty’s days were numbered.
In Cairo the significance of these decisions was not understood
at first, for a very odd reason. Stalin had been very angry
about the Jajce resolutions because they contravened his advice
to Tito. Stalin had been telling him, “For Pete’s sake go steady,
‘Walter.’ You’re going to blow it. You’re going altogether too fast
at it. The Brits will catch on.” So Radio Free Yugoslavia had censored
the report and toned it down. For not very clear reasons
the British mission to Tito followed the same policy as Stalin,
omitting to warn Cairo or London that the real resolutions were
highly provocative and clearly designed to present a fait accompli
as regards the Yugoslav government and the king.
Maclean had, of course, been away from the Yugoslav Partisan
headquarters since October 5, delivering his “blockbuster”
and keeping the pressure on Cairo for the elimination of Mihailovic.
But Deakin was at the mission. Why did he fail to tip
off Cairo or London about the provocative nature of the Jajce
About December 18, Ralph Skrine Stevenson spoke officially
to the Soviet ambassador in Cairo about the plans to evacuate
the missions with Mihailović, letting the Russians know that Mihailovic
was being abandoned. Not surprisingly, Radio Free Yugoslavia,
based in Soviet territory, promptly gave full support to
the Jajce resolutions and came out with their full text, not censored
and not toned down. The need to be careful about the
provocative nature of the text had passed. They knew they had
won concerning Mihailovic. Now they went after the king, which
put Churchill in a bind. Whereas he had not hesitated to abandon
Mihailovic, deposing King Peter was quite another ball game.
Incredibly, Churchill seems to have gotten the idea from
somewhere that the Partisans could be tamed and dealt with. This
was, of course, the Klugmann-Keble theme of the infamous September
29 memorandum. In sacrificing Mihailovic, Tito’s rival,
Churchill seems to have thought that he could earn the gratitude
of the “great guerrilla” and persuade him to have the king back
immediately and free elections afterward; in other words, that he
could educate the lifelong communist revolutionary and turn him
into a democrat.
Stevenson told the Foreign Office in the first paragraph of a
signal (WO 201/1599) dated December 20, 1943, that according
to Brigadier Maclean the “Free Yugoslavia Broadcast was at variance
with the attitude of Tito as known to him [Maclean] and to
the Partisan Delegation now in Alexandria.” Perhaps Stevenson
advised Churchill to the same effect, that is, that Tito might be
amenable to the king’s return.
Maclean’s Disputed Barricades, however, gives the text of a
message from Tito to Moscow early in October that makes it unequivocally
clear that the government and the king would not be
allowed to return to Yugoslavia. Maclean cannot therefore have
meant to tell Stevenson that Tito would tolerate the king’s return.
There must have been a misunderstanding between Maclean
and Stevenson. If so, it evidently misled the prime minister
in a crucial matter at a critical moment.
Furthermore, in the third paragraph of his signal number
194, Stevenson revealed that the Partisan delegation had brought
copies of the Jajce resolutions to Cairo, which were sent on to
London in the Foreign Office bag. Those copies were not censored
or toned-down versions, and they made it very clear that
Tito wanted to eat his cake and have it too. First he wanted Mihailović
out, out, out. Then, for good measure, he wanted the
innocuous Croatian Peasant Party leader Dr. Maček, then under
house arrest in Croatia, out. And the Yugoslav government in
exile out and, of course, King Peter out. In parenthesis they no
doubt would have resolved to demand Cruise missiles and
Thatcher out, if they had been able to look forward forty-odd
One can only suppose that Stevenson had not bothered to
read the resolutions before sending them off in the bag. Otherwise
his statement to the effect that Maclean had said that the
Radio Free Yugoslavia broadcast was at variance with the attitude
of the Partisan delegation would have made no sense at all. But
one also finds it almost unbelievable that Brigadier Maclean himself
found the broadcast, which only reported faithfully what had
happened at Jajce, at variance with Tito’s attitude—because Tito
presided at Jajce.
All of this seems to imply that, whereas Tito had made his
position about the king totally and abundantly clear early in October
and again at Jajce in November, Churchill had been led to
believe at the December 10 Cairo meeting that, perhaps, if Mihailovic
were eliminated, Tito would accept the king back.
The prime minister appears to have been remarkably inconsistent
during the course of his meetings in Cairo in December 1943.
In his writings Maclean has made a great deal out of the exchange
with Churchill in which he claims to have warned the
prime minister that there would be a full communist setup in
Yugoslavia after the war. The prime minister merely asked him
whether he, Maclean, intended to live there and, on being told
that Maclean did not, commented that he did not propose to do
so either, and they shouldn’t worry about what happened. Furthermore,
Maclean himself seems to have given Tito considerable
encouragement to be intransigent about the king. In Disputed
Barricades he tells us that Tito, in passing the Jajce resolutions to
Moscow, had stated that the British government would not insist
on supporting the king and the Yugoslav government in exile.
Maclean explains this rather surprising claim by Tito in a footnote.
He says that, in accordance with his instructions, he had
told Tito that the British government had no intention of trying
to impose any government on the Yugoslav people against their
will. The future form of government was a matter that they would
have to decide for themselves after the war.
That is pretty clever semantics. The British government made
it very clear to Maclean that it steadfastly wished the king to return
and wished there to be free elections. Yet Maclean was quite
clear in his own mind that the communists were going to rule
and that their definition of “the people’s choice” did not involve
kings or free elections. Whatever he said to Tito, the latter had
interpreted it in his own way, and it should have been fully clear
to Maclean, and through him to the prime minister, that Tito
had no intention whatsoever of having the king back.
Anthony Eden signaled Stevenson on December 20, 1943
(WO 202/138), “I have just received a communication from Soviet
Government saying that they would favour action tending to
unite the various elements in Yugoslavia against the common enemy.”
The Soviets may just have been fishing in troubled waters.
They may have been angry with Tito for risking blowing it with
the British. Milovan Djilas has told us that Stalin even advised
Tito to restore the king and stick a knife in his back later. But
Churchill and his Cairo team were in top gear in their determination
to deliver the coup de grace to the Loyalists. Moscow’s
olive branch—if that is what it was—went unregarded. Without
any need to placate Stalin, Churchill was determined to chop Mihailovic
for Tito’s sake—an extraordinary attitude for an unrepentant
right-winger like Winston Spencer Churchill.
Even Moscow wondered whether it made sense to waste the
potentially huge Serbian Loyalist force waiting to stage their ustanak
to coincide with the forthcoming Allied effort. But the British
were totally sold on helping Tito win his civil war regardless.
On center stage of this whole charade was that superb political
animal Tito, quietly pushing the British back step by step. First
he had gotten Deakin to spend months assembling a dossier of
Partisan allegations of Mihailovic misdoings. Whether these were
right or wrong, I contend that Deakin should have replied simply,
“Shut up about all of that. I am not interested. Stop the civil
war.” Then Maclean arrived and the “blockbuster” emerged from
his short visit to Bosnia, which he delivered in Cairo to the foreign
secretary, who by coincidence happened to be there. Then
the idea was sown of sending a high-level Partisan delegation to
Cairo to participate in highest-level talks about logistical help to
the Partisans, which visit happened to take place just when the
prime minister was passing through; and Deakin, the prime minister’s
protege, flew out to Cairo with them.
And at each stage the pressure came on a little harder.
From December 20 till early February there was a massive
exchange of signals among the prime minister, the foreign secretary,
Mr. Stevenson, Brigadier Maclean, and General Wilson.
Even the frequently drunk Randolph Churchill, who had not yet
dropped into Yugoslavia but who seems to have fancied himself
a pundit, got into the act. And there was a shower of “for your
information” signals to the Commonwealth prime ministers and
the president of the United States. The prime minister wanted
Tito to accept the king back. He even seemed to have a romantic
idea of Brigadier Maclean, complete with kilt billowing around
his ears, parachuting into Tito’s headquarters with young King
Peter—crown, Sten gun, and all—to fight alongside the Partisans.
The king’s return was a sine qua non, as was an acceptance
by Tito that there would be free elections. Step by step he and
the Foreign Office were pushed back, with Tito committing himself
to absolutely nothing material. Maclean was kept busy devising
formulas that committed Tito to nothing but kept the prime
minister in play. At the end of the day Tito had everything he
wanted. Later on, a straw man called Šubašić was inveigled to
form a government acceptable to Tito and totally under Tito’s
control. It was inevitable, of course, that Šubašić got squeezed
out too in the end.
It was a brilliant political performance by Tito. The smartest
part of it all was that—while all of this was going on and while
Tito was brushing aside the British efforts to hold on to something,
anything, just any minute quid pro quo—everybody in
Cairo was working away like crazy to harness all possible assistance
for Tito and, with Maclean’s fantastic drive and organizational
ability, to create a support organization for the Partisans
the like of which they could never have expected in their wildest
dreams. The more obdurate Tito became, the more he got. But
he was sophisticated and brilliant, because he operated so calmly,
coolly, and politely—as long as no one mentioned the name Mihailović
(or Maček). Furthermore, with Maclean smoothing the
way with the British at every stage, everyone thought it was the
British who were getting a good deal.
No one anywhere at any time seems to have stopped for
even one minute to ask, “Where else does Tito have to go?” The
Germans had rebuffed him in the Zagreb talks, though the British
did not know it at the time. He had to fight the Germans
because they fought him. Just as simple as that. The Russians
could not supply him yet. But everybody was conned into believing
that Tito was doing the Western Allies a good turn by accepting
their massive logistical support—in order to prepare
himself for a showdown with Mihailovic and his Loyalists, which
was the only thing that interested Tito.
Anthony Eden dragged his feet. On December 29 he signaled
(PREM 511/2) to Churchill, “I am doubtful whether we
should tell Tito that we are prepared to have no further dealings
with MVIC first because we have not yet got conclusive evidence
of his misbehaviour and secondly because tactically it would seem
better to keep this up our sleeves as a concession to Tito if he is
prepared to discuss working with the King at all.” But Churchill
had been convinced otherwise. He replied, “Everything Deakin
and Maclean said and all the reports received showed that he
[Mihailovic] had been in active collaboration with the Germans.”
And where did we, the BLOs with Mihailovic, fit into this?
We became pawns in a game of international blackmail.
The ploy seems to have started in the Foreign Office, as the
signal quoted above would indicate. This is surprising, because
till then it was the Foreign Office that had attempted to play
things straight and clean. In all probability it came not from the
officials but from the foreign secretary himself: the idea that our
continued presence with Mihailovic could be used to blackmail
Tito. Whoever it came from, His Majesty’s Government decided
to postpone our evacuation. The general idea was that, failing
acceptance by Tito of the return of the king, the missions to Mihailovic
would be “reactivated.” That point is quite clear. No
equivocation or muddle in the signals. And they kept it up for
two months.
So we sat there for that whole time, looking at the murk and
the snow, playing bridge, drinking šljivovica, and waking at four
in the morning, from time to time asking ourselves whether we
would be dispatched in the merciful or the unmerciful manner
when the time came.
With long signals flashing back and forth, no one seems
to have thought out exactly how we could be “reactivated” and
what they were going to say to Mihailovic. Evidently the decisionmakers
were thinking that, just because Mihailovic had not yet
been formally advised of his abandonment, he could be told in a
casual manner in due course, if appropriate, that His Majesty’s
Government had now decided to reactivate the British mission.
Or that the mission had never been deactivated. “Forget everything
that has happened in the past two months; forget the BBC
propaganda that you are a collaborator; forget the Radio Free
Yugoslavia broadcasts saying that you have been abandoned by
the British; forget that 20,000 tons of supplies have been delivered
to the islands and the mainland for Tito’s forces; forget the
twenty-four planeloads being dropped to one mission in one night
in the south of Serbia to Vukmanović-Tempo in order to help
him invade from the south; forget the BLOs now being dropped
to the Partisans in Serbia proper. Just count your blessings and
count yourself reinstated. Lucky you!”
This was precisely the unbelievably cavalier treatment Cairo
had accorded Mihailovic from beginning to end.
Of course, it was ludicrous to think that an old campaigner
like Tito would have been impressed by leaving the BLOs as a
means of blackmail. It was obvious that he would call the bluff.
That it was a despicable way to treat an ally does not seem to
have concerned anyone. And nobody seems to have worried much
about us. Lip service was paid to concern for our welfare, but the
chairborne warriors in Whitehall and Cairo shut their desks and
went off to drink in their clubs without paying more than that.
No doubt the lip movement improved their thirst.
To underline the irresponsible and incompetent nature of
this whole episode, in Disputed Barricades Maclean tells us that
already in mid-January he returned to Tito’s headquarters carrying
a letter from Churchill that confirmed that the British would
give no further military help to Mihailovic and would be glad if
the royal Yugoslav government would dismiss him from their
councils. So why were we waiting in the murk and snow, with
those knives being sharpened around us?
Brigadier Armstrong signaled Cairo on February 7,
I had quite enough when you panicked my officers into deserting
their sub-missions without knowing what was happening
all the time and Mihailovic thinking that I had issued
the orders making me object of ridicule now you apparently
want me to sit and do nothing sorry but that is not my idea
of fighting the Bosh . . . can you please clarify sortie question
I am completely bewildered. . . .
You inform me maintenance sorties will be flown to
mission . . . we have now been without a sortie for three
and a half months and the impression left in minds of all
ranks who have spoken to me not only me but in other missions
is one of complete lack of sympathy and appreciation
by you of our conditions. Why should Sgt. Wren have only
one shirt . . . why should Jill [Major Archie Jack] have to
wear borrowed boots because his can only be sent by underground
methods to enemy occupied town Raska for repair
. . . surely you realise difference between slush and mud
on a mountain track and a bus ride from flat to Rustem
buildings . . . why should we have to seriously risk security
by having to send Jugs to buy stores. . . .
Armstrong was no wimp. He was a gutsy fighting soldier
with a remarkable record of service in action. But he had had a
bellyful. When detailed to drop into Yugoslavia, he had made it
clear that he did not want to go if politics was involved. He was
no intellectual, no scribbler like Bailey.
Cairo had kept him, the general, in the dark when they advised
the sub-missions on December 13 to be ready to take off.
He was not told until about December 16, presumably so that he
could not tell Mihailovic. What a way to treat a general, and what
a silly amateurish trick. If Mihailovic was collaborating with the
Germans, one might ask why we had not been handed over by
In correspondence in 1988 with me, Sir William Deakin wrote
of what a big worry the evacuation of the BLOs had been and
implied that a great job had been done. There can be two opinions
about that. In my opinion a study of the signals in the operational
log shows no great job, just an appallingly incompetent
and unimaginative pouring-out of contradictory signals. Whether
great job or incompetent muddle, we would have liked to have
just one of the numerous planes being sent only a few miles south
of us at the end of January to prepare Vukmanović-Tempo to
invade our area. Could Cairo not have spared us just 2 tons out
of the 20,000 sent to Tito in all?
There was absolutely no reason whatsoever not to send a
plane; at least one would have kept us with boots on our feet.
The hardships did not in fact happen to worry me personally. I
am a peasant and a bit of a masochist, and I am used to being
kicked in the teeth. But that really was a regrettable way to treat
the troops.
We got a drop in southeastern Serbia in the end. I do not
know whether Armstrong got one too after waiting three and a
half months. I must remember to ask Archie Jack one day whether
his boots ever came back from Raška.
That was the trouble with M04 and the secret intelligence
agencies. Everyone for himself and devil take the hindmost. And
no esprit de corps. If the troops suffered, too bad! As Micky
Thomas had said to me when I told him that I was joining SOE,
“Don’t cry if you get let down. They have a very bad reputation.”
I am not crying. I am just telling the world in the hope that it
does not happen again. With the public sympathy for modernday
hostages, and the new positive attitude regarding the armed
forces, it is hardly possible today to believe the attitude shown us
by the policy-makers and our base in Cairo when they were trying
to blackmail Tito, using us as the pawns.
All Over, Bar the Shooting
Sometime in the first half of February, His Majesty’s Government
finally figured out that Tito could not be coerced, that he
was the one who was doing all the coercing, and that he would
go on doing so. So on or about February 17 the definitive order
for evacuation came through. Tito, as usual, already knew it from
Maclean. We sat around in Oruglica at least until sometime in
March before starting the trek to Mihailović’s headquarters near
Pranjani, where the airstrip was going to be prepared.
I do not keep a diary, and the signals files do not tell me
when it was that I went off and derailed a train single-handed,
because it never got reported through. Looking back over the
signal files and reading all of the chitchat between Neronian
headquarters and Armstrong’s headquarters about sabotage, and
all of the ideas going back and forth, such as blowing the bridge
at Vladički Han, I can now understand Colonel Cope’s shocked
reaction when one fine morning I wandered round to his head-
quarters and told him— treating it all as a bit of a lark— that, by
the way, I had derailed a train just north of Leskovac the night
before last. And that it had been rather successful. Silly me. I
thought he would think it a big joke, as well as rather a good
show. But not a bit of it. He was very upset. He squeaked aplenty.
After reading the signals in the operational log forty years
later, I can see that it would have been highly embarrassing to
him with all the talk that had been going on: Would they?
Wouldn’t they? Did they? Didn’t they? But / did not know anything
about the larger issues at the time.
Peter Solly-Flood might have told me, because he was in on
some of the talks, though I do not believe he knew about all of
the cloud-cuckoo-land signals going back and forth from Armstrong’s
headquarters through Cairo to Neronian and back. I see
from sheet 616 on WO 202/140 that there was a Neronian message
dated February 2, 1944: “Position British becoming delicate.
Can now do no repeat no sabotage.” I guess I blew the train a
few days after that. So Colonel Cope’s reaction is comprehensible,
as is Neronian’s failure to report it to Cairo.
Having been given quite a dressing-down, I was a bit sore. I
had not expected it at all. My immediate reaction was to feel that
jealousy might be involved. I had done a lot of sabotage prior to
the break without any guidance, instructions, or help from Neronian—
as had Robert Purvis, though he did get some help and
encouragement from Sehmer. Actually, Sehmer had even tried
to get Cairo to switch my sorties to Purvis; no matter, because
there were no sorties anyway. Now here was I, with all of the missions
together in Oruglica, being all of a sudden self-propelled
again. Cope must have felt a bit awkward, I suppose. He was
particularly sharp with me and less so with Peter—which was
not correct, as Peter was senior to me. The discrepancy strengthened
my feelings that jealousy was involved. As I say, I had not
seen the signals.
Actually, it was Peter who triggered it all. He did not want to
leave Yugoslavia without having seen some action, and he was as
disappointed as I was when we had to call off our proposed operations
against the railways and the Niš airfield just as we were
setting off for Mount Suva on December 13. All very comprehensible
and commendable. When he suggested we might do
something, I jumped at the idea and said it would have to be a
train derailment and that we would have to go via the plains,
because the route over Mount Kukavica over the Bulgarian border
would be quite impassable in the snow without guides. It was
bad enough even between Oruglica and Barje.
There must have been a thaw, because we were able to take
our horses to Barje and thence down to a large village in the
plains quite close to Lebane. We stabled our horses and enjoyed
a substantial and tasty meal with too much rakija and an excellent
pink wine. I had planned to march about four hours from our
halting place in order to hit the railway just north of Leskovac.
We had no guides. Although I had been in that area at night
more than once before on similar expeditions, it would be an
overstatement to say that I knew the country. But by marching
due north and aiming for the line a few miles beyond Leskovac
I could be guided by the lights of the town.
We crossed the Lebane-Leskovac road about an hour after
we started. It was there that Peter and I somehow became separated.
As there was a Bulgar patrol moving up the road, I was
not going to hang around to wait for Peter. No matter. I had
made up the charge, I was carrying it, and I could manage very
well on my own. I guessed Peter would follow along hoping to
find me. He was not the type of man to give up and go back.
There was only one charge and only one person needed to fix it.
The purpose of a second person was, of course, mainly to provide
covering fire. If we were unlucky and came up to the line
just beside an armed sentry, a companion would be useful, indeed
rather necessary. There would be no time for me to deal
with sentries and get the charge fixed on the rail ahead of the
oncoming train. If Peter did not arrive in time, or if he missed
the direction I was following, I would just have to hope that I
did not encounter an alert armed guard at my point of derailment.
The railway line in the region toward which I was heading
was straight, so I was relying on my technique of punching the
front of the train off the rails. The charge was a fifteen-pounder,
gun cotton blocks nailed to a board three blocks deep.
The going was heavy on that approach march. When I eventually
neared the embankment, a line of telegraph poles loomed
out of the gloom ahead. I guessed that the telegraph line would
be placed within fifty yards of the permanent way, and the embankment
seemed not that far off. I did not want to get too close.
If I was spotted, that would be the end of the business for that
evening. I was only prepared for a derailment. Without covering
troops, explosives, detonators, or fuse there was nothing I could
do to damage the line itself. I would be able to see precisely how
distant the line was when the first train came through. It was my
practice always to let one go through first, in order to plan the
derailment spot and to spot the position of the sentries, blockhouses,
or other problems.
No train came. I was sweating profusely when I arrived, after
struggling through the ankle-deep mud and slush in the fields,
but after an hour of waiting in the drizzle I was becoming wet
and cold. The hour lengthened to an hour and a half, then two
hours. It was after midnight, and it was imperative that I get
away by one o’clock. I had a four-hour trek back to the horses
and several hours’ riding before I reached the foothills; and I
ought to be there by dawn. I felt cheated. What were the transport
people up to? We reckoned on at least two trains per hour
on that line, often much more. Dirty dogs!
At last I heard a train whistle. It came from the north. I
would have to take this one. I could not risk waiting, and at any
rate I was getting too cold. I slung my Sten over my back by the
strap, took the charge in my right hand—the train was coming
from the left—and the fog signal in my left. As the headlights
twinkled in the distance, I crouched. The lights came nearer. It
must be about 600 yards now. I started to run. I ran and I ran,
but I had misjudged the distance and found myself literally racing
the train, which mercifully had slowed down a bit because
the station was only two or three miles ahead.
That locomotive looked enormous. Already it was towering
over me, belching sparks and smoke from its tall, old-fashioned
stack. The cowcatcher stretched out in front and to the sides. Just
as well the charge board, which was placed on its edge, was narrow
enough that it did not protrude over the rails. The cowcatcher
had to go clear over the charge first without ripping it
off the rail. The charge was timed to go off alongside the very
front wheels. I tore across the path, scrambled up the ten-foot
embankment, and slammed the charge against the rail. There
was no time to wedge it, or even to pray that it would stick in
position. I clipped on the fog signal—an easy, one-hand, halfsecond
job, thank God—and leaped backward.
I hit the ground, and the charge blew over my head. It was
as close as that. One stumble, one second of hesitation, and I
would not have made it. But I did, and I was protected by the
steep embankment. The tearing, wrenching metal went the other
way. The charge unleashed a hail of stones, but the bulk went
clear over my head. Only a few spattered around me, stones that
had been blown straight up in the air and were falling back. I
recovered my Sten, which I had dropped when falling down, and
raised it as fire from an automatic opened up in front of me
from the route on which I had come. It failed to fire; it had lost
its magazine. My spare magazines from my deep hip pocket had
fallen out too. I had only a handgun, an American-made .45.
I ran along the path below the embankment toward Leskovac
but soon realized that the automatic fire was not following
me. It had been directed at the derailed carriages.
After 100 yards or so I turned south toward the mountains
but before doing so had a good look at the line. The locomotive
had been thrown clear down the other bank. The leading cars
were at a right angle to the tracks, telescoped into each other. It
was a classically clean job, and there was nothing more for me to
do. Half-running, half-walking, I struggled through the mud on
the long, hard journey back.
Peter was not back with the horses. I fed and watered both
and left without delay but saddled Peter’s horse all ready for him.
I was back at Oruglica by noon, but Peter did not arrive till midnight.
He had pulled down the telegraph line but had been delayed
borrowing a rope from a house in order to do the job. By
sheer chance he had arrived just in time to open up on the train
with his Sten—and nearly shoot me too. And on the way back
he had learned that I had blown a civilian passenger train. That
was something we could not have controlled, and it signified that
at least there would be less likelihood of reprisals. The line, predictably,
would not carry traffic for at least three more days.
At the time I was a bit sore at Cope’s attitude. I did one more
job, another derailment, adequately successful but not spectacular.
We did not tell anyone, but I am pretty sure that Cope found
out about it, and what with these incidents and my little equestrian
performance at Čačak—when I galloped Hitler through the
main street and got chased by German motorcyclists, all just for
a bet—I guessed the source when later someone told me that an
adverse report had been made about me, dubbing me a wild man.
I was nevertheless disappointed because the main complaint about
Mihailovic had been that not enough sabotage was being done
by the Loyalists. And I had a pretty good game bag. It was bigger
than anyone else’s, except perhaps Archie Jack’s with his bridges.
And that my game bag did not include the Vladički Han bridge
and the Niš airfield was not my fault.
But the Yugoslav section of Force 133 did not want to know
about my game bag, or any game bag, because it was claiming
that we had done no sabotage. If I had been with the Partisans,
my sabotage would have been trumpeted to high heaven. But if
I had been with the Partisans, they would not have allowed me
to go off and do sabotage. I would have had to do what I was
told and send off signals about claimed Partisan successes that
may or may not have been true. I do not think I would have
lasted long as a BLO with the Partisans. When I dropped into
the Piedmont area of northern Italy later, in September 1944, I
dropped to a delightful man, Neville Darewski, who had previously
been with the Partisans in Slovenia and who had experienced
just such difficulties with them. He was forced to leave
under a cloud.
Totally belying the claims in the M04 memorandum of November
19, 1943, according to which the Partisans should already
have mopped up the Loyalists in Serbia; also belying the
Partisan “facts” given in the “blockbuster” report, we never saw
a Partisan in our area in the months we waited in Oruglica.
Everything in the Loyalist area was just the same as it had been
since June 1943—except that the Loyalists were the enemy now,
in the eyes of our Cairo base. And we were hostages.
Eventually we set out on the long trek to Pranjani in central Serbia.
Even before we left southeastern Serbia, our large column
of about twenty British was augmented with crashed bomber crews,
and we collected more as we trekked. We traveled at the pace of
the slowest, and we got held up for quite some time at one stage
on the trek when Rupert Raw went down with pneumonia and
nearly died of it. Finally the column moved on, and John Sehmer
bravely stayed alone to look after him. We had one or two scares
and diversions from German troops, and for a couple of days we
were shadowed by two Fieseler Storches. Even farther north in
Šumadija, however, we saw nothing of the much-vaunted Partisans,
who, according to the “blockbuster” and the faked maps in
Bari, should have been bounding down upon us out of every
wood and spinney.
When we reached Mihailović headquarters and the dropping
ground at Pranjani, we were delayed two or three weeks
before we flew out at the end of May. The Loyalists held the area
against the Germans, who were not far away at Čačak. For our
evacuation the Balkan Air Force organized a special course in
short-strip landing for two selected pilots, a wing commander and
a flight lieutenant, and the two flew their Dakotas in to lift us
out. The wing commander, a rather self-confident gentleman who
looked like a perky sparrow, had landed first with amazing precision,
grandly pronounced the air strip “Oh, a bit too long, too
long,” and taken a full load of twenty-three aboard. His confidence
was misplaced. The strip was only 700 yards long, and we
joked that it had been measured by Brigadier Armstrong himself
pacing it—he was rather a small man. The official requirement
for a DC-3 at that altitude was 1,500 yards. The plane was overloaded,
and we held our breath as it failed to lift properly. It fell
off the end of the runway, sank down a valley, and finally collected
a nice big branch from a tree on a hill about a mile away
as it struggled to get airborne. It carried the branch in its undercarriage
all of the way back to Italy.
The next plane bogged down, and dawn was breaking when
we got it unstuck. The pilot had been warned by radio of the
first plane’s problem, and the second took off with only six passengers
abroad. I do not recollect precisely how many we were,
waiting for embarkation, but there must have been nearly one
hundred. Things looked black for a couple of days, and the word
went around that the RAF was not buying that sort of job anymore.
Our organizers had been smart, and the first two planes had
been packed with the more senior American crew. These officers
kindly insisted that the U.S. Army Air Corps bring out the rest
of us. And they did it in flamboyant style. Their pilots bumped
in over the hedge for every sort of landing, banged their planes
around, and took only eight per plane. But they kept coming.
That’s all that mattered. God bless them. They kept on coming.
It was impressive.
In our relief to get out we did not realize an ironic twist of
the situation. Those planes had earlier dropped arms to Partisan
units, which arms would predictably be used against the Loyalists,
who were holding the airfield and protecting the planes. What
a shameful scene. The Loyalists suffered it all in dignity and
courtesy. History should register that.
And that was that. We had written our reports and handed
them to Colonel Cope in the field. I for one had absolutely no
debriefing at all. No one in Force 133 was the least bit interested.
The nice, sympathetic, helpful James Klugmann of M04 Cairo,
who in April 1943 had supplied us with magnetized fly buttons,
was nowhere to be seen by the likes of us. No one wanted to
In December 1944 the Battle School at Monopoli in Italy
paid me the compliment of asking me to write a report on my
train-blowing technique, which they then adopted. That was the
one lasting achievement of my one-year mission. A lot of blood,
sweat, and tears just for that.
Summing up the whole Mihailovic mission story in his highly
regarded Baker Street Irregular, Col. Bickham Sweet-Escott wrote,
“It was Bill Deakin who, helped by the encyclopaedic knowledge
of Hugh Seton-Watson, finally convinced Cairo and London that
there was truth in the stories that some of Mihailovic’s lieutenants
were collaborating with the enemy. It was mainly as a result
of what he told us that we decided early in the new year to tell
Mihailovic that unless he could satisfy the Allies of his bona fides
by blowing up a bridge on the important railway running from
Belgrade to Salonika, all supplies to him would finally cease. Mihailovic
was unable to comply.”
Well, there’s the received wisdom story for you. Bill Deakin,
with his collaboration dossier collected at Tito’s headquarters, and
Hugh Seton-Watson—Klugmann’s friend and erstwhile university
left-winger—had “established” that “some of Mihailovic’s
lieutenants” were collaborating. So the prime minister had decided
to abandon the Loyalists, the king, and democracy for alleged
“We decided,” writes Bickham Sweet-Escott as if “we,” that
is, SOE London, still had some say. SOE London had been effectively
out of power since September 17. And then, “stop supplies.”
What supplies? Armstrong had not had a drop for three
and a half months.
Sweet-Escott’s book is probably the most complete—and supposedly
most objective—participant’s account of SOE activities
around Europe written by a senior officer. But in matters Yugoslav
it is inaccurate and superficial. In this way the pervasive received
wisdom has spread around and become history for lack of
any contestation.
Sweet-Escott goes on: “Jasper Rootham has given a vivid picture
in his book Miss-Fire of the frustration which our people on
this mission had to suffer. It seemed to many of us unfair that
most of them should go unrewarded, though the risks they took
were neither fewer nor smaller than those taken by our men with
Tito, on whom the fountain of honour played with such freedom.”
Perhaps he could say that again. At least we got to know
some rare and colorful gentlemen. And we did not make our
experiences with overweening commissars blowing down the backs
of our necks.
We all dispersed. Most went off on leave to Cairo. Peter Solly-
Flood later dropped into Poland with “Marko” Hudson. John
Sehmer dropped into Czechoslovakia and was captured, tortured,
and shot. Robert Purvis dropped into France. Colonel Cope
dropped into northern Italy. The others went off in their various
directions. The Yugoslav section became—or rather, more correctly,
remained—a totally Partisan affair, with James Klugmann
the communist guru still firmly in place.
Yugoslavia was a British sphere of influence, but the Americans
were not at all happy about the abandonment of Mihailović and
the Loyalists. In the summer of 1944 OSS commissioned a professor
of Balkan history from the University of Michigan, Robert
McDowell, to do a study of the nationalist area in Yugoslavia.
Dressed as a lieutenant colonel in the Rangers, McDowell—himself
a linguist with many years’ experience in the Balkans and
the Middle East—took three Serbo-Croat-speaking officers with
him and carried out an extensive study, traveling through large
areas of Bosnia and Serbia. Traveling under the auspices of the
nationalists (Loyalists), they moved with total freedom and talked
to nationalist soldiers and Partisan prisoners, rich and poor peasants,
shopkeepers, professional men, intellectuals, and students,
including Bosnian Muslims and some Croats and Slovenes as well
as Serbs from all parts of Yugoslavia. They also talked to nationalists
and civilian leaders from areas they did not visit themselves—
western Bosnia, Slovenia, Herzegovina, and Montenegro.
The McDowell mission submitted a report in November 1944
that confirms all of the major points I have made in this book
and constitutes a terrible indictment of the British policy of forcing
Tito and the Partisans onto Yugoslavia. The McDowell report
is conveniently ignored by the British received-wisdom historical
There were two other illuminating reports on 1944 Yugoslavia
that you won’t find in received-wisdom reading. One was
from a British liaison officer with Tito, Surgeon Lt. Cmdr. D. S.
MacPhail, who was captured by the Loyalists in the middle of my
old area on Mount Kukavica. He wrote a very fair and objective
report (WO 202/196) of his experiences with both the Partisans
and the Loyalists. He describes, in one passage, the attitude of
the Cetniks regarding the British:
I have not the slightest doubt that the friendliness we met
with was genuine, and the hospitality and kindness we received
were more than could be accounted for by Serb tradition
or the desire to impress. In spite of their loathing for
the Partisans and our support of them, the Cetniks appear
to be unable to think ill of us and admire and respect Britain
as much as ever. A Serb who was at Salonika in the last
war still swanks about it inordinately and is something of a
local hero. Those Cetniks who were closely associated with
B.L.O.s enjoy a special prestige and the same seemed to apply
to our guards. Mobs of peasants came to see us anywhere,
apparently just for the privilege of shaking our hands.
Our journey to H.Q. was a triumphal progress. I could not
help contrasting this with the situation in Partisan territory
where any Partisan who became too friendly with the Mission
was sent away in disgrace. The Serb is, of course, highly
histrionic, and much of this may be explained by the desire
to convert us to the Cetnik cause. But not, I think, all.
The final report I will cite here, a most telling and moving
document, was written by Linn Farish, the chief American liaison
officer with Tito, who accompanied Maclean when the latter
dropped to Tito in September 1943. Farish, the reader may recall,
is the man who actually wrote two reports—as different as
night and day. Farish is mentioned very appreciatively by both
Maclean and Deakin in their books. At the time of writing they
had not, I’m sure, seen his second report. Indeed, Deakin only
saw it in 1988, when I sent it to him. Farish wrote his first report
on October 29, 1943. It was an American version of the “blockbuster.”
It was full of Partisan “facts,” figures, and propaganda.
It was sycophantic and gushing. It envisaged Yugoslavia under
the Partisans emulating the United States: “It was in such an en-
vironment and under such conditions that the beginnings of the
United States were established.”
But after three drops and six months in the field Farish wrote
another report, which he signed on June 28, 1944, entitled
“Summary Report on Observations in Yugoslavia for the period
19 September 1943, until 16 June 1944.” This paper, written just
after the British missions from Mihailovic were evacuated, is a
most sober and impressive document. It is almost incredible that
the two reports could have been written by the same man.
In his second report, Farish eats his own words. He issues a
desperate plea for the Allies to intervene and stop the civil war
between the Partisans and the Loyalists. Extracts from his report
In all of this welter of confusion, of conflicting reports and
misunderstandings, a few pertinent facts stand out:
The vast majority of the people in Yugoslavia, and we
have seen them in Bosnia, Herzegovina, Dalmatia, Sandjak,
Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and the Dalmatian islands,
are neither Right, Left, Communist, Reactionary, or anything
else. They are a simple peasant type of people, strong
willed, hot blooded with tremendous powers of endurance
and great personal courage. They love intrigue and gossip,
and are the most profound liars I have ever met. I do not
believe there is any tremendous urge for revolution among
them. They love their mountains, their small homes, their
farms, and their flocks. They want something better, but,
measured by our standards, what most of them ask is not a
great deal, a good government, their King and their Church,
schools, more roads, shoes, clothing, a few modern conveniences,
better modern farming equipment and some better
These people quite unique in Europe have the will and
the environment with which to effectively fight the
enemy. . . .
The senseless killing of these people by each other must
be stopped. It is useless now to endeavor to decide which
side first did wrong. Too much blood has been spilt, the
feeling is too bitter, and too many men on both sides have
uttered rash accusations and performed rash acts.
It does not seem to me that the allies have done well in
Yugoslavia. . . .
However, as in the case of the primary issues between
the Chetniks and the Partisans it does no good to report
what we believe should have been done. What we must decide
is, what shall we do in the face of conditions as they
exist today. Is it too late to draw all the factions together
into one group directed against the enemy under the guarantee
of free elections without violence after the war? As far
as the great mass of the people are concerned, it can be
done, because they are weary of fighting each other, but
eager to fight the enemy. There are thousands who have
buried their rifles and refused to march with any group.
There are thousands more who would volunteer if they could
decide which side to support.
Only a few people on each side prevent a union from
being formed—a few defeatists among the Nedic group who
believed it was hopeless to oppose the German army—A
few Croats who hated the Serbs worse than the Germans—
A few Communists who would see their brothers killed to
further their political aims—A few Serb Nationalists who
classed as Communists all those who did not agree with
them. . . .
. When I have called for aid to the Partisans, and
officers with the Chetniks have called for aid to their group,
we have had the same person in mind—a barefoot, cold,
and hungry peasant farmer, a man whose courage and endurance
must be observed to be understood. . . .
It is not now a question of whether the United States
should send aid and representation to the Partisans—we have
been sending them aid and have had representation with
them for a long time.
During January, February, and March of this year we
saw and received in Bosnia numerous night sorties, two mass
daylight drops with fighter escort, one daylight glider sortie
with fighter escort, and several night landings.
During April, May, and June, we saw and helped receive
in Serbia approximately one hundred night sorties and
one night landing.
Out of all these aircraft, something in the neighborhood
of 300 with 60 in the air at one time, I have only identified
50 which were not American.
The Russian mission to the Partisans was landed by
gliders, American gliders towed by C-47s flown by American
pilots and escorted by American fighters. The Russian mission
rode in the gliders and British pilots landed them. We
have seen “Russian” aid drop to the Partisans from “Russian”
planes, yet the planes were again the old C-47s and
the goods were largely American packed in American containers
dropped by American parachutes. . . .
Nothing stated here should be construed as anti-British,
anti-Russian, or anti Anything. They are merely statements
of facts intended to point out that we do have a very direct
interest in what is taking place in Yugoslavia. It does no good
to say that we are not interested in Yugoslavia and are not
participating in the situation there, because we are, in a most
material and effective manner.
I, personally, do not feel that I can go on with the work
in Yugoslavia unless I can sincerely feel that every possible
honest effort is being made to put an end to the civil strife.
It is not nice to see arms dropped by one group of our airmen
to be turned against men who have rescued and protected
their brothers in arms. It is not a pleasant sight to see
our wounded lying side by side with the men who rescued
and cared for them—and to realize that the bullet holes in
the rescuers could have resulted from American ammunition,
fired from American rifles, dropped from American
aircraft flown by American pilots.
At one time I worried because America was not getting
the proper recognition for her participation in supply operations.
Now I wonder—do we want it? I can only hope
that the small round holes which I saw in those simple peasant
boys in the guerrilla hospital in Lipovica village were not
caused by cartridges stamped W.R.A., or fired from rifles
marked “U.S. Property.”
. . . Under any conditions, two things stand out, every
effort must be made to end the conflict among the people
of Yugoslavia, and the United States has a very definite interest
in seeing that it is ended as soon as possible. . . .
Have you ever read poetry like that?
The Aftermath
The Victor’s History
James Klugmann, by then a major, stayed in the Yugoslav section
until April 15, 1945, when he went to Yugoslavia to organize
U.N.R.R.A. (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency)
affairs there. He had done so much to help Tito into power in
his subterranean way, but when Tito got into his row with Stalin,
Klugmann promptly wrote a book denouncing Tito. He really
was a prototype apparatchik. If there were any grounds for
doubting that Klugmann’s first loyalty was to Stalin, and to the
British only insofar as it suited the Soviets, this switch against
Tito must dispel those doubts; particularly as a year or two later
he had to recant again, when Tito reestablished close links with
the Soviets.
Klugmann made certain that everything was done to bury
the last traces of the Loyalist movement. Already in the summer
of 1944 steps were taken in Bari to start the historical assassination
of Mihailovic and the Loyalists, and this process has contin-
ued for forty-five years. Whether or not this systematic massaging
of the record was originally Klugmann’s brainchild I do not know.
There were many others in Bari and Caserta with a strong vested
interest in it. At an early stage, about August 1944, a pamphlet
entitled The Četniks was cobbled together in southern Italy and
edited by one Stephen Clissold. He was actually a charming individual,
but he had always been left-inclined. The Četniks was
prepared for circulation to all and sundry, particularly to the military,
and it became a gospel source. It is shockingly tendentious,
full of inaccuracies, and, in particular, it built on the technique
of using misquotations of Mihailovic BLO signals and reports.
The preparation and widespread circulation of The Četniks,
published by Allied Forces Headquarters, foreshadowed the shape
of things to come in the historical arena. Incredibly and inexcusably,
there was no direct input for the document by any of the
Mihailovic BLOs. Yet we had arrived in Bari in the last days of
May, and the pamphlet was not printed until August. If it was
felt necessary or desirable to issue a pamphlet about the Četniks,
would it not surely have been normal to ask one of those who
had served with them to prepare it, or at least to act as consultant
for an objective, independent author? We were British officers
and prima facie objective and British in our views.
But no! Allied Forces headquarters gets hold of Stephen
Clissold, a former BLO with the Partisans, who had seen only
their side of the picture. He had worked briefly in Yugoslavia
before the war and spoke Serbo-Croat, which would have helped
him to absorb the propaganda. Above all, he was emotionally
prepared to believe the whole Partisan picture as presented by
their commissars. He only knew “Četniks” as “the enemy” of the
Partisans. And for him the Partisans were “a good thing” by definition;
all Četniks were bad eggs, and his job was to prove it.
Though biased, he was competent and literate.
If nothing else proved the motivation behind the pamphlet,
the choice of Clissold to edit The Četniks establishes that it was
commissioned precisely in order to carry out a character assassination
of Mihailovic, to destroy the reputation of the Četniks, to
explain their sudden overnight classification as enemy rather than
ally, and—in case anyone should put two and two together—to
salve Allied consciences about the massive support being given
to Tito for his civil war and specifically for his liberation of Serbia
and for the cynically named “Ratweek,” starting about that time.
“Ratweek,” thought up by the Maclean mission, really was a most
unfortunate name. It was an exercise designed to catch the Germans
on their retreat from Greece through the Serbian defiles.
In fact, it failed in this aim, and an army of about 100,000 men
carried out an orderly retreat. The real rats were the Loyalists.
“Ratweek” for Tito was the autumn offensive to liberate Serbia
from Mihailović and the Loyalists; and, incidentally, from any
other opponents of the communists, actual or potential.
Inevitably, Deakin has played a major role in setting the trend
for the British historical analysis of what happened in Yugoslavia.
Himself a historian and a metaphorical blood brother of Tito,
this was bound to happen. James Klugmann would have called it
the dialectics of history. Deakin has made it clear in his writings
that he was totally sold on the Partisans militarily. He did not
specify his views on their politics. If their views were opposed to
his own, he has done a fine job of putting his military opinions
In The Embattled Mountain, Deakin gives us a terrifying insight
into the ways of the civil war in Yugoslavia and into the
workings of even a highly cultured and civilized mind under those
circumstances. In these paragraphs he relates honestly and sincerely
how he had become totally involved with the Partisans.
Describing how he rode over enemy wounded, he writes, “Pity
had long drained out of us . . .a flick of the rein would have
avoided the trampling of the imploring shadows. But in the
triumphant wrath we crushed them. . . . I had taken on by stages
a binding and absolute identity with those around me.”
By writing and publishing those words in a book that came
out in 1971, that is, twenty-eight years later, Deakin has surely
associated himself indelibly with the Partisan movement. In my
opinion, no man who even fleetingly felt that way and recorded
that feeling without qualification a quarter of a century later can
be regarded as an arm’s-length observer. Yet Deakin has played
a major—if not the chief—role in the historical record.
No longer can it be pretended that the whole Partisan struggle
was anything other than a grab for power and that the methods
were ruthless in the extreme, right up to Stalin’s most cruel
standards. Although the Partisans’ methods were glossed over in
the Titoites’ postwar historiography, no intellectually honest person
can paint the Yugoslav civil war as other than vile. I myself
did not suffer from excessive scruples in my wartime career as a
guerrilla, but I don’t think I would have ridden my horse over
wounded enemy, and certainly I would not have advertised it
had I done so.
There is a massive bibliography that tells of the breathtaking
wartime scenes in Yugoslavia. Some particularly evocative passages
are to be found in Milovan Djilas’s Wartime. He tells with
evident great admiration of the “martial manhood” of the German
Twenty-first Corps, joined by the Ninety-first Corps, carving
their way through on the long and only road from Greece to
the Drina River across Albania and Montenegro. He writes of
how, hungry and half-naked, they cleared mountain landslides
and stormed the rocky peaks; of how Allied planes used them
for leisurely target practice; of how they had to kill their gravely
wounded whom they could not get out; of how they seized farm
animals to eat and took worn-out, shabby peasant clothing but
did not molest civilians or burn dwellings; and of how, in the
end, they got through. The German army could wage wars—
“without massacres and gas chambers.”
I loved that passage. It appealed to my own romantic military
instincts. Milovan Djilas was no armchair warrior: he had
been through it from beginning to end as Tito’s major troubleshooter.
He was in the political bamboozling business, but he was
a real man nevertheless. My own experience of Germans was the
same. They could wage war. That passage confirms too that
in spite of close Allied air support and in spite of the Allies pouring
arms into the Partisans, the German army beat an orderly
That passage also confirms how ludicrous was the claim in
the “blockbuster” that the Partisans killed five Germans for every
Partisan killed.
But Djilas tells more. He tells of massacres, of the murder of
35,000 Yugoslavs turned over to Tito by the British in Austria,
of the purges in Zagreb, of the killings of Loyalists. He tells how
Mihailovic fought his way from Bosnia, trying to get back into
Serbia in the winter of 1944-45. He writes how the Loyalists
fought with great bitterness and “simply stomped over one of
our brigades.” In the ludicrous “blockbuster” it was claimed to be
the other way around—ten Četniks dead for one Partisan. Djilas
in Wartime was no longer writing for the Partisan propaganda
machine. He was no longer in favor, and he was writing nearer
the truth. He tells how no prisoners were taken. He explains the
motivations and half endeavors to justify them. The facts are all
Who issued the order for this extermination? . . . An atmosphere
of revenge prevailed. . . . Once in a rambling
conversation—after the clash with the Soviet leadership in
1948, of course—I mentioned that we had gone too far then,
because among the executed also were some fleeing for
ideological reasons alone. Tito retorted immediately “We put
an end to it once and for all. Anyway, given the kind of
courts that we had. . . .”
Yet OZNA continued to carry out executions according
to its own local and inconsistent criteria, until late in 1945,
when at a meeting of the Central Committee Tito cried out
in disgust: “Enough of all these death sentences and all this
killing. The death sentence no longer has any effect, no one
fears death anymore.”
In his closing passage Djilas says of revolutions that their
idealization is a coverup for the egotism and love of power of the
new revolutionary masters. No wonder he fell out of favor in
Tito’s court.
So today the Titoites’ great cry is very simple, it is the justification
that was cobbled together by the agencies and even by
the Foreign Office in the last two or three months of 1943. They
recognized that Churchill was firmly hooked on getting rid of the
Loyalists, so they set out to establish that Mihailovic was a collaborator.
There are repeated exchanges in the files of the Foreign
Office 371 series in the Public Records Office saying, in effect,
“We must find justification. We must get some evidence that will
stick.” Not “Was he really a collaborator?” But “How do we prove
No wonder that when Deakin turned up in Cairo with his
dossier of Partisan allegations of Mihailovic collaboration, amassed
with help from Velebit and Dedijer, the dossier was metaphorically
torn out of his hand. It was the justification they needed.
Together with the Partisan mythology it formed the cornerstone
of the Victor’s History.
In war mistakes are always made, and some of them are very
big mistakes. Also, in war, decisions have to be made for reasons
of expediency. The decision to abandon Mihailovic, the Loyalists,
and the king was without question taken on those grounds. The
subsequent justification is another matter. Is it not intellectually
honest just to admit that a decision was taken for expedient reasons?
One may not admit this in the heat of the moment; not
perhaps for a year or two afterward; not perhaps in Churchill’s
lifetime to spare him the remorse. But, forty-five years later, do
the surviving elderly widows and the descendants of those decent,
patriotic Loyalists, who were slaughtered because of the political
and material ambitions of Tito’s clique, still have to hear
the false vilification of their men? The proud Serb nation of old
Serbia, the Srbijanci, Serbia as it was before and through the ages,
has been emasculated. The harm is done. Does history too have
to continue to be twisted? Do we just have to go on with the
gramophone record stuck in the groove “Mihailović was a collaborator
. . . Mihailovic was a collaborator . . . Mihailovic was a
collaborator”? It is not only sickening, it is false.
According to SOE records, Deakin left Force 133 sometime in
the spring of 1944. He was unwell for a period, and then he
joined the resident minister’s, Harold Macmillan’s, staff in Italy,
in the political advisor’s office. There he was with Philip Broad,
who had been sent to Cairo in August 1943 together with Fitzroy
Maclean. Broad, who acted primarily as Maclean’s man in the
Cairo Minister of State’s Office, had worked with Ralph Skrine
Stevenson. Deakin also became advisor to the Balkan Air Force,
and in that role he was still right in the thick of the Yugoslav
scene. The Balkan Air Force seems to have taken over the administration
of the whole Yugoslav operation and of the Maclean
mission in support of the Partisans. It would be interesting to
know whether he was also consulted about such things as the
tactical and strategic significance of targets.
: It is claimed today in some Serbian circles that the Allied air
support was exploited by Tito to turn the people against Britain.
The theory is that strikes by Western Allied aircraft of the Balkan
Air Force were called down specifically against Serbian towns and
villages, cynically choosing Serbian Orthodox religious holidays
for the bombing. It is an undeniable fact that there was carpet
bombing of Belgrade for three consecutive days coinciding with
the Orthodox Easter in April 1944, the intensity of which surpassed
even the Luftwaffe attacks of April 1941. On Saint George’s
Day 1944 the Montenegrin towns of Nikšić, Podgorica, and Danilovgrad
were blasted by Allied planes, allegedly because there
were strong Loyalist concentrations around those areas, but, in
truth, to demoralize the pro-Mihailović populations. The same
was done even to Zara to demoralize the Italian population. Maclean’s
book Eastern Approaches gives his impressive and horrifying
eyewitness account of the devastation of Leskovac on the opening
day of Ratweek, purportedly in order to destroy a concentration
of German armor and motor transport. But fifty Flying
Fortresses were used, and Maclean “tried not to think of the population
of small farmers, shopkeepers and railway workers, of the
old people, the women and children, who at this moment would
be going about their everyday business in the streets. . . . the
whole of Leskovac seemed to rise bodily into the air . . . the
civilian casualties had been heavy.”
Militarily it was using a sledgehammer to kill a gnat. Further,
the vaunted Partisans were there in force—not the overwhelming
force we were told about in the “blockbuster” report,
because that was sheer Partisan misrepresentation, but force all
the same. It surely was the Partisan guerrillas’ job to cut the roads
and railway lines and thus immobilize the armor; and then to go
in with the bayonet and sticky bombs if need be. But to the Partisan
leadership the purpose of that bombing and others was not
military, it was political. It was to show the strongly pro-Loyalist
population of the Jablanica who were the masters now.
The normal bombing procedure was that Tito and his commanders
specified the targets through the British mission and
their RAF advisors. One wonders why the BLOs, or the Balkan
Air Force advisors at base, did not question the necessity of extensive
bombings of Yugoslav civilian areas, of hospitals, and of
churches—and on religious holidays too—if there was not some
political motive. Why did Maclean not question the need to flatten
Leskovac? Massive bombing of civilians in German cities was
one thing. Germans lived there, and the German morale had to
be broken. But bombing Belgrade or Leskovac on the odd chance
of hitting a German barracks or tank and with the certainty of
killing massive numbers of Yugoslav allies was surely something
very sinister. I feel certain that the Allies would never have contemplated
a blanket bombing of Paris, for example, on Easter
Sunday—or any other day—however many German tanks were
passing through.
But of course Tito had made it clear from the start that his
was a sovereign army and that he would decide. Did that go for
ordering out massive formations of allied bombers too?
The Soviets avoided bombing Serbian targets; they incurred
no odium. The Western Allies incurred all the hate. Regrettably,
the Balkan Air Force files are permanently closed like the main
SOE files and those of SIS. One wonders why. What should be
so secret about an air force operation? One hopes that the lock on
those files is not so permanent that even those charged by the
government with writing the “official” history of the war in the
Balkans can’t gain access.
In 1945 the newly formed Tito government and the Yugoslav
Communist Party demonstrated that they had never for a
moment intended to have free elections or any silly bourgeois
nonsense of that sort. They started, as they had always intended,
on an ultra-Stalinist course and, during the next three years, were
without doubt the nastiest and most dictatorial of the Eastern
European communist regimes. It surprises me that Deakin’s
emotional involvement with the Partisans, as reflected in The Embattled
Mountain, survived this period after he moved from Italy
to Belgrade and became first secretary in the British embassy.
The next six months were the period of the massacres, and they
surely must have had echoes in Belgrade.
In 1948 Tito broke with Stalin. It may be more correct to say
that the Soviets broke with Tito and did so simply because Tito
was getting a wee bit too uppity. It was the row with Stalin, not
any gratitude to the British, that caused the Yugoslav regime to
take a line independent of the rest of the Soviet bloc. To claim
anything else is pure humbug.
Nevertheless Tito, the ultimate political animal, knew how
to run to the West with a begging bowl and once more persuade
gullible politicians that he was their friend. This did not inhibit
him at all from burrowing away in the Third World, undermining
the Western powers. As in the war, he pushed Western gullibility
to the absolute limit.
It was a godsend for the Tito advocates that the Tito-Stalin
row in 1948 coincided more or less with the intensification of the
Cold War, the Berlin Airlift, and the erection of the Iron Curtain.
These events created an atmosphere in which the West was
looking for chinks in the Soviet armor, thinking wishfully as ever,
and, lo and behold, there was Tito squabbling with Stalin. So
Tito became a great vogue figure again. And again he was greatly
helped by his British allies beating his drums. It was the same
band as in 1943; only the tune had changed. Now it was: Look.
We always said that if we supported Tito in the war we could
woo him away from communism.
The scene has now changed. All but the ignorant and the deliberately
blind have to recognize that Tito’s “flawed legacy,” as Nora
Beloff called it, is indeed fatally flawed. And all of the euphemisms
about the great national patriotic uprising have suffered
a very severe jolt from the writings of revisionist Partisan leaders
themselves, such as Djilas and Dedijer and Djuretić, the Belgrade
The truth will always out (locked files notwithstanding). The
British who still persist in trying to sell the idea that we “civilized”
Tito are only deluding themselves. We helped bring Stalinism
to Yugoslavia, and that’s all there is to it. If the remaining traces
of Stalinism come to be eliminated in Yugoslavia— as pray God
they will be, maybe quite soon— it will be in spite of, not thanks
to, what the British did in 1943-44. It may be forty years late,
but that has to be said in unequivocal form. Cant and self-serving
humbug. Out, out, out.
This central fact and sadness cannot be changed by events
in recent years and by Yugoslav experiments in introducing a
degree of economic and political liberalization. In his old age,
when he was totally assured of his place in history, Tito seemed
to mellow. The political temper of Yugoslavia reflected that. But
Tito remained a despot at heart. The only difference was that,
with all real opposition eliminated, his position was secure.
Even his friend and erstwhile advocate Fitzroy Maclean had
come to criticize Tito before he came back into vogue again in
1948. In a report dated September 23, 1947, outlining discussions
with him about displaced persons, Maclean wrote,
I could not help wondering if he realised quite how unpopular
he was in England. He had done himself incalculable
harm in Western eyes by his political repression, by the execution
of Mihailovitch and the imprisonment of Stepinac,
by the shooting down of harmless American aeroplanes and,
finally, by his consistently offensive attitude towards former
Allies, who, as he and I knew better than anyone, had done
a very great deal to help him during the war. The fact was
that he had now made himself such a reputation as a blood
thirsty ogre that large sections of British opinion would be
reluctant to see even the worst war criminal handed back to
But that was, tragically, too late for the 35,000 Slovene, Croat,
and Serbian surrendered personnel and refugees who had been
shunted back to Tito from Austria in 1945 and massacred without
any trial at all. And the 35,000 were only the tip of the iceberg.
Other victims lay in unmarked graves, in quarries, rotting
in riverbeds, and in mass graves they had been forced to dig
themselves. Tito had served his apprenticeship under Stalin and
Vane Ivanović wrote in Memoirs of a Yugoslav that there has
been no symposium or discussion in Great Britain or elsewhere
in Europe on SOE’s role in the last war in which Deakin has not
taken a prominent part, and that in each of these meetings the
version of events in Yugoslavia that has been aired is that of a
victorious pro-Partisan faction inside SOE. Ivanović goes on to
point out that on the British side he has come across no views or
interpretations from the other side within SOE.
Why is that?
The British missions returning from Mihailovic were hardly
debriefed in June 1944. I have seen no evidence that our reports
were read by anyone in the Yugoslav section—or anywhere else
at the decision-making level. Maclean certainly did not read them,
otherwise how could he have written in Eastern Approaches that
there had been little or no interruption of traffic on the Belgrade-
Salonika railway when we were there?
Bailey wrote no memoirs, and he was involved on the historical
side hardly at all except insofar as he kept in touch with
many SOE people and, in his last years, rather closely with Deakin.
According to a number of independent sources (including John
Cairncross, the alleged communist in exile in Rome, who knew
Bailey well after the war), Bailey had collected a cache of papers
and was going to start writing a book in early 1974. When he
died shortly thereafter in his rented home near Aries in Provence,
there were no papers at all. I have this directly from Deakin,
who lived nearby and who came over to his place immediately in
order to look after Bailey’s companion. If there was such a cache
of papers, it had disappeared into thin air at some stage, somewhere,
even though Bailey had just written to Milan Deroc that
he was about to start the book.
Though an alcoholic and a very sick man, Bailey did attend
the 1973 Auty-Clogg symposium at London University, and he
read a long-winded paper that, according to Deakin, he patched
together at the last moment from memory. Like everything else
Bailey wrote, it was muddled and harmful to Mihailovic and the
Loyalists while vaunting his own knowledge and importance. He
was, perhaps, motivated by a desire to please the other participants
in the symposium and to pay lip service to their belief in
the sanctity of all Partisan claims. That would have been characteristic
of Bailey. Indeed, his desire to be all things to all men
was half of his problem. But at least he did insist—even in that
company—that Mihailovic was not a collaborator, though in true
Bailey form he was equivocal about it.
Hudson is said to have destroyed all of his papers, and very
regrettably he too has not gone into print. There is a biography
of him in the pipeline, however. That is to be welcomed, because
in the received wisdom he has been quoted (and I suspect misquoted)
repeatedly. His story must be fascinating. He was a very
robust individual, and he saw and went through a great deal in
Armstrong seems never to have published anything, and other
than the attractive personal memoir by Jasper Rootham (Miss-
Fire), nothing appeared in print from the Mihailovic BLOs until
I published Special Operations Executed. That book too was a purely
personal memoir of which my Yugoslav experience formed only
a part. When I wrote it in 1949-50, I had little idea of all the
amazing things that had gone on in the M04 headquarters, and
elsewhere, which I first learned about when I started researching
in the Public Records Office decades later.
A very tenacious and dedicated American, David Martin—
who happened to pass through London on his way to the East
when on service in the Canadian Air Force, got to know some
people interested in Yugoslav affairs at the time, and returned
through London when the Mihailovic trial was making headlines—
became secretary and prime mover of a committee that
was formed in the United States to try to ensure a fair hearing
for Mihailovic. This committee took sworn statements from a large
number of Americans and endeavored to arrange for this evidence
to be admitted in Belgrade. At the same time a number of
BLOs drew up a statement of evidence, which they tried to have
put forward by the British authorities. The Yugoslav government’s
riposte was typically Stalinist: Mihailovic is guilty; there is
no need for evidence. That of course was even before the trial.
David Martin wrote several carefully researched books that,
other than Nora Beloff’s work, Tito’s Flawed Legacy, constitute the
only real defense of Mihailović. Martin has been a lone voice
crying in the wilderness for forty years. Hopefully he will get
some response now in the era of glasnost.
Whereas the Mihailović BLOs disappeared into the woodwork,
fighting other wars and making their living, some Partisan BLOs
have made great names and quite a business out of their Partisan
experiences. A number of books have poured forth. Fitzroy Maclean’s
beautifully written though rather fanciful Eastern Approaches
came out in 1949 and was followed by Disputed Barricades
in 1957. These two books became accepted as gospel, and the
theories and contentions in them have been widely quoted. Even
before Eastern Approaches came out, Basil Davidson, who claimed
in his later book, Special Operations Europe, to have started it all
in the M04 Cairo office, rushed out Partisan Picture already in
1946. Thus Davidson, who had been first past the post in catalyzing
the Partisan-Četnik war in Cairo, was also first past the
post in getting into print, and whatever one thinks about his rather
hard-left politics, he does write with tremendous sincerity, wit,
and conviction. His books, with their convincing enthusiasm, like
those of Fitzroy Maclean, made a great case for the received
Then Stephen Clissold— author and editor of the pamphlet
The Cetniks—published a well-written book called Whirlwind in
1949. This was an account of events in Yugoslavia as seen from
a purely left-wing viewpoint. These Partisan participant books,
together with purportedly “historical” works by Seton-Watson and
others—all of which carried a very clear and very strongly put
political message—created a pro-Partisan climate in the general
public as well as in scholarly circles, which was of course reinforced
dramatically when, in due course, the lead figure and historical
guru, Deakin, published The Embattled Mountain. Deakin,
a prewar don, a researcher for the great man Churchill, hero of
Mount Durmitor, and a postwar academic of distinction, quietly
moved into a key position when he became chairman of the British
Committee for the History of the Second World War—thus
very much one of the Great and the Good. This position has
enabled him, inevitably, to give extra weight and leverage to the
Titoite side.
No one among the British participants has put forth the other
point of view in detail. To my knowledge no one with direct participant
experience on the Mihailovic side has previously worked
through the files in the PRO. Indeed, the nearest person to a
participant to labor through these files in some detail was David
Martin. It is only thanks to his recognition of the importance and
significance of the SOE files, and, above all, of the operationallog
signals, that I personally got involved.
British writing about Yugoslavia reflected the Partisan view.
Received wisdom was, of course, being built up and reinforced in
Belgrade by the Tito government’s public-relations people. Where
they could not scrounge up enough material to support the story
they wanted to tell, they had a long list of scribes who would
happily write anything they were asked to. People do that sort of
thing under dictators. True or false, subjective or objective, the
material from Belgrade has been drawn on heavily by academics
studying, writing, and taking part in symposiums on the subject
and has, in this manner, achieved gospel status. The “note on
sources” in Deakin’s The Embattled Mountain shows the extent to
which he relied on Partisan sources. All of that Belgrade material—
until the revisionists came along—had one underlying political
purpose, namely, to smear Mihailovic and the Loyalist
Četniks and thus ensure that no ideas foreign to Tito’s image,
Tito’s legend, and Tito’s despotic rule could blossom. In the same
way, Stalin destroyed Trotsky and all of his other rivals, and went
on doing so all of his life; and, in the same way, Stalin ensured
throughout his lifetime that his liquidated rivals continued to be
denigrated and reviled in order to prevent any possibility of anyone
ever raising the idea that maybe they were right and Stalin
was wrong.
As this book bears witness, it is my firm conviction that, without
British logistical help and recognition, Tito would never have been
able to conquer Serbia, and in view of the traditional friendly
attitude of the Serbs to the British, I count the de facto full recognition
of Tito and his movement in December 1943 as possibly
a more important factor than the thousands of tons of arms supplied
to the Partisans, the extensive close air support, and the
bombing of Loyalist areas. I suspect that, in their heart of hearts,
most of the British Partisan supporters know this to be true. I
believe that, subconsciously if not consciously, they recognize that
Mihailovic and his Loyalist Četniks were not collaborators but
true patriots. And precisely in the subconscious knowledge of these
facts lies the drive that forces them to go on and on trying to
justify what was done, in the name of supporting the side that
was allegedly “killing more Germans.”
Precisely for that reason, in the Yugoslav Partisan victory,
the British-aided victory over the Loyalists, there was no magnanimity.
No magnanimity, no decency, no generosity or justice
at all.
While they oiled the machinery, it was not the James Klugmanns
who built the legends and myths. The James Klugmanns
are not historians. They leave that to the other professionals, the
dialectical materialists. Klugmann and his ilk, the out-and-out
communist agents and apparatchiks, were quite clear about what
they had to do before the war, during the war, and after. They
knew that the name of their game was how best in their job to
suit Stalin’s needs and wishes from day to day.
The Stalinist myths and legends and, more importantly, the
collectivist concept are being at least examined critically in the
U.S.S.R. Oddly, it is in England, the country of freedom and
democracy, that it is taking longer for the blind to see that in
Yugoslavia, as in many other parts of the world, we were taken
for a ride by the Marxist-Leninists. Regrettably, in England there
was a massive and sinister penetration of both collectivist and
elitist ideas, which gave birth already in the 1930s to phenomena
such as the Cambridge communist set and the heavy penetration
by communists of the secret services and even of the foreign service.
In England the establishment is very much inclined to replace
“My country right or wrong” with “My clique right or wrong.”
Thus the Blunts and the Philbys and the Burgesses and the Donald
Macleans continued to be privy to highly confidential matters,
even when their peers were getting suspicious about them.
Even an outright, no-nonsense, no-cover communist like James
Klugmann was brought right into the secret work because he
happened to be known by a colonel (later to become a general)
from his school background.
The main stronghold in the United Kingdom of the received wisdom
has been the School of Slavonic and East European Studies
(SSEES) at London University. Hardly evidencing academic objectivity,
this school even established a Tito fellowship, though
for cosmetic reasons the name has since been dropped. Under
the auspices of this school symposiums have been held to place
on record Yugoslav wartime history. The school was greatly influenced
by Seton-Watson, whose father was a very important
figure there, and by Phyllis Auty, who held a position there.
Phyllis Auty was another dedicated Titoite who served in political
intelligence in Cairo, where she worked closely with Seton-
Watson and M04. She stayed active in Yugoslav matters
throughout the Partisan takeover and went to Yugoslavia later
for U.N.R.R.A., serving under James Klugmann. Auty, who had
considerable input into intelligence analysis and reports, wrote a
biography of Tito that is tendentious and sycophantic to a nauseating
degree. She gave her name to the Auty-Clogg symposium,
the 1973 assembly of the Great and the Good of the British,
Greek, and Yugoslav establishments organized by the SSEES. My
comments about this symposium relate strictly to the talks about
Yugoslavia, because I am advised that the discussions and papers
about Greece, under the chairmanship of Richard Clogg, the wellknown
historian of modern Greece, were excellent and not controversial.
There is no room in this book to analyze and rebut the papers
on Yugoslavia at this elitist gathering, which was organized
to constitute the final and decisive word on the history of the
British role in Yugoslavia—and would thus ensure that history
reflected the received wisdom. It is also pointless to do so because
none of the papers considered this basic, simple question: Was it
correct to abandon Mihailovic and the Loyalists and thus to promote
the civil war, handing Yugoslavia over on a silver platter to
the communists? All of the papers started from the supposition
that this was no issue. In none of them was there any doubt that
Tito and the Partisans were “a good thing” and that Mihailovic
and the Loyalists were “very bad things indeed.” As for the monstrous,
brutal civil war and the slaughter and massacres by Tito,
involving just possibly as many as a quarter of a million souls in
all—well, all that wasn’t much to talk about, really.
So the papers dealt mostly with bureaucratic office tittletattle.
The charming and well-regarded Elizabeth Barker gave the
main paper, which addressed Foreign Office internal politics exclusively.
As this book shows, the Foreign Office views were irrelevant,
because the Foreign Office became impotent in Yugoslav
affairs in January 1943. Elizabeth Barker was another totally
convinced Titoite. With no prior knowledge of Yugoslavia, its
people, or its languages, she had occupied the Balkan desk in
PWE and thus became the recipient and sorter of all of the information
coming in about Yugoslavia, the vast bulk of which
was influenced by Soviet misinformation. Because she was so civilized
and so charming, she became regarded as an authority and
was even considered a leading candidate to write the proposed
official SOE history. This plan was aborted by her death. I am
sure that Elizabeth Barker was no communist. In her post, however,
she had been effectively brainwashed. There were many
others like her.
The refusal to address the question of the basic decision to
back Tito exclusively has been the pattern of the closed symposiums—
with carefully picked participants—that have taken place
in Belgrade and in the United Kingdom and have contributed
substantially to the construction of the received wisdom. I believe
that participants have been selected—whether deliberately or just
because they made themselves available—among those who would
not rock the boat, raise their hands, and ask, “But, ignoring the
details, why did we underwrite a civil war against the king and
the legitimate government and help out-and-out communists to
gain power against the wishes of the majority of the people? What
did it cost us, and what did we achieve?” Or, worse still: “Did not
Comrade Tito hoodwink the British?” So the basic question has
gone unanswered and unconsidered. It has been swept under the
In the immediate postwar atmosphere, anyone who dared question—
even in the smallest detail—the heroic tale of Tito and his
romantic Partisans was denounced as bad or mad. The myths
abounded, and in due course they became accepted as history. It
is easy to create a legend and so hard, half a century later, to
give the lie to it.
The locks remain on the filing cabinets of the British wartime
secret services. This helps to perpetuate many distortions of
history. Only thanks to an administrative anomaly are some key
SOE files now in the public domain. Without this bureaucratic
foul-up this book could not have been written.
Our children and grandchildren are entitled to the full truth.
It is a perversion of justice that the children of Loyalists should
have to live with the slur that their parents were not true patriots.
The big lie of the Yugoslav civil war was perhaps best encapsulated
in a recollection by R. H. S. Crossman (subsequently a
senior cabinet minister in Harold Wilson’s Labour government),
who was involved in Special Forces affairs in the Second World
War. Crossman wrote (quoted in Milan Deroc’s Special Operations
Explored), “I remember the awkward moment when the Government
dropped Mihailović and backed Tito. ‘In future’ our directive
ran ‘Mihailovic forces will be described not as “patriots” but
as “terrorist gangs.” We shall drop the phrase “Red bandits”, as
applied to Partisans and substitute “Freedom Fighters”.’ “
Such is the stuff of history.
Churchill’s Charade?
Lord Alanbrooke, the wartime chief of the imperial general staff
and close advisor to Churchill, wrote of Churchill in his diary
after the Quebec conference, “He has an unfortunate trick of
picking up some isolated operation, and, without ever really having
it looked into, setting his heart on it. When he gets into one
of these moods he feels everybody is trying to thwart him and to
produce difficulties. He becomes more and more set on the operation,
brushing everything aside, and, when planners prove the
operation to be impossible, he then appoints new planners in the
hope that the operation is possible.”
That fits the pattern of the Yugoslav affair. Churchill had
his planners—the Foreign Office, the chiefs of staff, the Joint
Intelligence Committee, the director of military intelligence, SOE
London—trying to get some control over a divided resistance,
trying to coordinate its activities to suit the Middle East Command’s
strategic plans, and trying to discourage the civil war. But
Churchill, got at by M04 in Cairo, horned in and appointed new
planners—Keble and his M04 team and the Minister of State’s
Office in Cairo. From January 1943, acting on his nod and wink,
they set off on a course of their own, ignoring the requests and
instructions of London except when it suited their policy of
pushing through a program to build up Tito’s communist Partisans,
to put shackles on the Loyalist Mihailović resistance, and,
later, to sabotage the Loyalists.
It was Churchill, through his implied encouragement of the
de facto planning team in Cairo, who set the bandwagon rolling.
It was he who, by his appointment of Maclean as sole ambassador/
leader to Tito, overriding the wishes of the Foreign Office
and SOE, made the ultimate outcome inevitable. It was he who
made the fateful decision on December 10, 1943, that Mihailović
had to go. Churchill was involved in and personally responsible
for all of the key decisions.
Churchill got launched on many adventuristic schemes, ploys,
and ideas, but Lord Alanbrooke usually steered him back onto
course. Alanbrooke appears to have stayed out of the Yugoslav
affair. Perhaps he let the prime minister have this little adventure.
Yugoslavia was of secondary importance from the military
viewpoint, and it was going to tie down a few German divisions
whatever policy was followed.
In my view, everything that happened in M04 in 1943 may
well have been simply Churchill’s charade. The actors played out
their predestined roles and fulfilled their duty, secure in the conviction
that the Great Man would pull whatever strings were necessary
to bring the hierarchy into line with what the actors believed
to be right and to conform to his wishes. Whether their judgment
was correct is quite another question. That is what I think
they believed. So they could go ahead and, if need be, anticipate
the hierarchy coming into line. And that’s just how it worked out.
The nod and the wink. Those, along with Maclean’s weekend
at Chequers in July, explain it all. We do not need to look
any further. We only need to count the cost: to Serbia and Yugoslavia
politically, in the waste of Allied resources in a civil war,
and in terms of human suffering. In those terms above all.
Unlike the other actors, Klugmann was no doubt rejoicing
that his duty to his Soviet masters and his military duty as a British
officer would be relatively easy to reconcile. I am assuming
that there was a nod and a wink to Keble and to the minister of
state in January 1943. If there was not, then the conclusions have
to be different, and very nasty. I am sure that there was. The
circumstantial logic is overwhelming.
I also have to recognize the probability that Churchill made
it rather clear to Maclean at Chequers in July that he had already
made up his mind to back Tito; that the Foreign Office brief was
no more than a formality as far as he, Churchill, was concerned;
that what he wanted above all was to have the switch in policy
justified; and that if the deed were to be done—that is, if Mihailovic
were to be abandoned—it should be done swiftly and ruthlessly,
like putting down a faithful hound that has ceased to be
The Soviets must have been laughing their heads off. That the
Soviets have always allocated huge sums of money and effort in
order to spread communism by every means around the world is
well known now, though it was not fully realized then. The war,
bringing its alliance of necessity with the capitalist Western powers,
changed that basic Soviet policy not one iota, as the subsequent
nonobservance of the Yalta agreement proved. It merely
caused Stalin to adjure his agents such as Tito to be wary of revealing
too much of his revolutionary intentions to the Western
But in Yugoslavia, the Soviets needed do little more than
grease the wheels. The British did their work for them. This has
been commented even by Partisan writers, among them, I believe,
Velebit. He should know.
Whereas the Soviets always regarded the capitalist system as
the enemy to be destroyed by any means fair or foul, there was
a substantial body of opinion in the West during the 1930s that
was coming to sympathize more and more with the Soviet system.
The Soviet propaganda penetrated the academic establishment
and the intelligentsia to an extent that was not generally
appreciated, particularly as public attention and concern were
deflected more and more by what was happening in Nazi
Germany. The Cambridge communist set was only one symptom
of Soviet penetration of the intellectual elite, and it took forty
years before its true extent and significance became realized. Apart
from the recruitment of the known moles— and certainly there
were dozens of lesser ones who have quietly died off or disappeared
without ever being uncovered— the carefully planned and
organized dissemination of pro-Soviet propaganda by the Comintern
ensured that, precisely at the critical time, the atmosphere
in the intellectual classes was highly favorable to Soviet-inspired
ideas. It only needed Barbarossa— the German invasion of Soviet
Russia— and their time came.
Moreover, it was precisely the academic and intellectual ranks
who gravitated into the British intelligence and political agencies.
Spies, agents, and moles in MI5 and MI6 who are known about—
and some of whom even penetrated that sanctum, the Foreign
Office—were only the tip of the iceberg. SIS/MI6 was certainly
deeply penetrated by out-and-out agents. But all of the agencies
such as the Political Intelligence Branch, the Political Intelligence
Department, the Political Warfare Executive, not to speak of the
Army Education Corps and the BBC, were plentifully supplied
with would-be intellectuals who were basically honest, decent patriots
but who sympathized with left-wing ideas, were emotionally
involved with the great Soviet ally, and felt strongly opposed
to the capitalist system. Automatically in any situation they assumed
that the left-wing views were right and any other views at
all were reactionary fascist rubbish. Unfortunately, a culture developed
wherein these intellectuals felt that they could make their
own policies.
Perhaps the smartest thing the Soviets ever did was to propagate
the concept of the “antifascist war.” This and the other
slogan, the “anti-Nazi war,” permitted any adversary, whether
conservative, apolitical, or even nonrevolutionary peasant party
democrat (like the Croatian Peasant Party of Dr. Maček in Yugoslavia),
to be classed with the real enemy as Nazi/fascist.
So the input into the decision-making process by the intelligence
agencies reflected their strong left-wing bias. It was these
people and their like who were influencing policy at the time.
Some SIS reports have found their way into the Foreign Office
files in the PRO headed “From Most Secret Sources.” Nearly all
that I read showed left-wing bias, and many were full of straightforward
propaganda. Furthermore, those which had to do with
my area in Yugoslavia, or with subjects I know about and can
judge objectively, tended to be inaccurate and slovenly in their
presentation. The facts and figures given were often wrong or
distorted. I honestly believe that many of the agents just wrote
anything that came into their heads in order to justify their existence;
but it had to have a left-wing bias.
That was the background in the agencies that were collecting
and collating intelligence and feeding it to the decision-makers,
the Foreign Office and the military. I have been impressed
by the stance of the officials in the southern department. They
were rational and consistent throughout—well, almost—and they
endeavored to steer a straight path and hew their way through
the jungle of propaganda and misinformation being fed in by
the agencies. In the end they were simply overwhelmed by the
pressure from all sides.
I would greatly prefer to leave Churchill out of this. As Vane
Ivanović wrote, without Churchill’s work we might all have ended
up in a bar of soap. But I cannot do so, because he was deeply
involved—in fact, he was the puppet master. The Foreign Office
was simply bypassed by Churchill with his bandwagon.
It is interesting to note that the communist grab for power
succeeded in Yugoslavia and Albania but failed in Greece. This
outcome can be traced back to Churchill too. In Greece the reaction
to communist political maneuvers in the resistance was
immediate and violent, and SOE heads rolled. The Greek king
protested, and things happened at once. But the Greek king had
powerful leverage, and Churchill was not allowing that boat to
be rocked. The Greek monarchy was unpopular at home but had
clout in London. The king was cousin to King George VI. In
Greece Churchill wanted quiet, and that was that.
The Yugoslav monarchy, like the government, had acted up
a bit and caused the prime minister a few headaches. Churchill
tried to save the king, but with the Churchill-Tito love affair the
king lost out. Also, King Peter was not quite in the same power
league dynastically as his Greek counterpart.
As regards Albania, the monarchy had no weight with Churchill
at all. And Albania went to Enver Hoxha, a really nasty
communist, without more ado and without fuss. I would love to
see someone research the SOE role in Albania. I believe that they
would find a very big can of worms there.
In her paper to the Auty-Clogg symposium, Elizabeth Barker
commented very aptly, “There were four main factors in decision
making: the Foreign Office, SOE under its various names,
the Military and finally Churchill himself. There were also two
or three jokers in the pack—by which I mean quite respectfully,
Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean, Colonel F. W. D. Deakin and also,
at one point, Randolph Churchill—who influenced decisions as
As we have seen, Fitzroy Maclean in his role as ambassador
to his and Churchill’s protege Tito, exercised a disproportionate
influence over the total British role from September 1943 onward.
He was a truly remarkable man with an uncanny instinct
for the levers of power. But the bandwagon was already rolling
fast before he took over the steering.
Bill Deakin too quite clearly exercised a decisive influence,
though in a much more indirect, discreet, almost shadowy way.
That leaves what might be called the half-joker in the pack.
It is regrettable and rather shameful that Randolph Churchill got
himself into a position where he exercised some, if limited, influence.
Nevertheless he did. The prime minister gave Maclean the
pick of the staff he wanted. It is hardly credible that Maclean
recruited Randolph for his military qualities. Randolph served a
rather useful purpose, however, by adding a cozy family touch
to Maclean’s signals to Churchill, which from time to time ended
“Randolph sends his love.” And this seemed to work wonders
with the Old Man. Randolph was an unfortunate influence, malicious,
overweening, and frequently drunk. His role is related
very vividly by his companion, who increasingly became a reluctant
companion, in his Diaries of Evelyn Waugh. The received wisdom
has it that the Četniks were drunkards and womanizers,
whereas the Partisans were good clean boys and girls, living and
fighting together in sobriety and celibacy, avoiding the rakija and
almost ascetic. As Waugh tells us, Randolph shook them. More’s
the pity that Randolph did not drop to the Loyalists, bringing his
father’s support and the dynamo Maclean with him; and maybe
a crate of whiskey too. The map of the Balkans might look different
Before leaving the subject of Randolph, I have to tell my
own story. In late April or early May 1945 I was carried back to
the ward from an operating theater in a military hospital in Rome.
In a miasma of excruciating pain from a bullet wound through
my sciatic nerve I had been scrubbed and prepared for amputation
of my leg, which was then totally paralyzed, but the American
lady surgeon spotted a barely perceptible movement in one
of my toes and—my eternal thanks to her—decided to give it a
chance. They pumped me full of morphine and moved me back
to my hospital bed. In my absence the next bed had been surrounded
by screens. In spite of my half-conscious, befuddled state,
I was appalled— and annoyed— at the heartrending moans, interspersed
with uncontrolled outbursts of invective, coming from
the occupant who had just moved in and who was being fussed
over by practically the entire staff of the hospital from the colonel
in charge downward. The patient— a rather inappropriate
description— was Capt. Randolph Churchill, overwhelmed by alcohol
and self-pity, and hospitalized for water on the knee.
Elizabeth Barker was nearly right. Randolph Churchill was a
joker in the pack— a very sick joke indeed— and a tragedy for
his father, who, regrettably, was inclined to supersede the hierarchy
and run things in an almost family way. That became significant
in Yugoslavia. Many opportunists climbed onto the
bandwagon. Is it to be wondered that Tito treated his sponsors
with contempt when he levanted to Moscow without even bidding
them au revoir?
Churchill the prime minister, with his whimsical love of “great
guerrillas,” with his special interest in the Balkans, with his proclivity
to support and rely totally on those he happened to know
and trust, and with his propensity to brush aside the hierarchy,
was the key figure. It was his charade. But he was only the ace
of hearts. An ace of hearts with a huge heart himself.
Indubitably the ace of spades in the pack was Tito himself,
and through his manipulation of Deakin, Maclean, and Churchill,
he surely qualifies as the key factor in the British decision
making in Yugoslavia. Tito made the British decisions for them.
That was the heart of the matter.
From January 1944 on there were many direct exchanges
between Churchill and Tito. These have been extensively and,
dare I write, selectively and sycophantically collated in a scholarly
work by Dušan Biber, a Yugoslav historian, titled Tito-Churchill.
Biber was materially helped by Elizabeth Barker, using declassified
material in the PRO. As I have already recorded, Elizabeth
Barker ran in blinkers. Much of the relevant material remains
classified. Some of us believe that this material contains details of
secret deals between the two men that would not look too good
today (PRE 3/511/1, PRE 3/511/8, and PRE 3/516-526).
This correspondence—all of it—is clearly of vital historical
significance in light of the massaging of history that has gone on.
We need to know what is being held back and why. In particular,
we need to know the composition and style of Tito’s communications.
Tito evidently enjoyed enormous help from—and the total
trust of—his British mission. Apparently it told Churchill what
Tito wanted him told. Were the BLOs drafting communications
to the British authorities on Tito’s behalf? We British with the
missions to the Loyalists were manipulated by M04 in 1943. We
were used as pawns by the foreign secretary in early 1944. Were
our colleagues in the British missions to Tito manipulated by him
as he played Churchill like a fish on a hook?
Earlier I referred to Himmler’s speech at the Jaegerhoehe
on September 21, 1944. There was one passage that shows what
the Germans thought of Tito (and incidentally Tito’s attitude regarding
the Allies):
I would like to give another example of steadfastness, that
of Marshal Tito. I must really say that he is an old Communist,
this Herr Josip Broz, a consistent man. Unfortunately
he is our opponent. He really has properly earned
his title of Marshal. When we catch him we will do him in
at once. You can be sure of that. He is our enemy, but I
wish we had a dozen Titos in Germany, men who were leaders
and had such great resolution and good nerves that
though they were ever encircled they would never give in.
The man had nothing at all. He was between the Russians, the
British and the Americans, and had the nerve actually to fool and
humiliate the British and Americans in the most comical way. He
is a Moscow man. He had arms delivered from there. He was always
encircled, and the man found a way out every time.
He has never capitulated.
This quotation extolling Tito was used by Fitzroy Maclean
in Disputed Barricades, but without the rather important italicized
passage. That is a pity, because his book has become regarded as
almost a classic on the subject.
Incidentally, this translation of the italicized passage rather
softens Himmler’s actual words, which are more earthy in the
original German: “Er stand zwischen den Russen, Englaendern
und Amerikanern und hatte die Nerven, praktisch die Englaender
und Amerikaner gottvoll hereinzulegen, gottvoll zu beschei-.
ssen. Er ist ein Mann von Moskau. Er liess sich von dort die Waffen
Less vulgarly but equally succinctly, Tito himself boasted on
the occasion of his election as an honorary member of the Yugoslav
Academy in Zagreb on December 27, 1947, “I have outsmarted
and deceived that old fox Churchill.” This unequivocal
statement by Tito, like the paragraph from Himmler’s speech
missing from the quotation in Disputed Barricades, is a matter of
public record. Yet none of the allegedly authoritative works written
by the Tito supporters have included these historically vital
statements. Such is the one-sided nature of received wisdom.
It is argued that Tito was such an outstanding personality and
ruthlessly competent operator that he had to come out on top in
any situation and that, British help or no British help, the Partisans
would have ended up as masters in Yugoslavia. It is true
that Mihailovic was hopeless as a politician and as a self-publicist.
He was certainly badly advised, he may well have been bumbling
and bureaucratic, and his Loyalists lacked the rigid discipline and
organization that Tito brought to the Partisans from the Communist
Party. Nevertheless, infinitely more than Tito, Mihailovic
represented what the Serbs in Serbia wanted. The communists
did not enjoy any real support in Serbia, whatever their propagandists
like to pretend.
In spite of his failings, Mihailovic was a very able guerrilla.
If the British had left Yugoslavia to work out her own fate, or
had limited support just to dropping in British teams for specific
operations, then Serbia—or the mountainous area of Serbia at
the very least—would never have fallen to the Partisans. Furthermore,
the same number of Axis divisions would have remained
tied down. The majority were there to guard against an
Allied landing and to protect communications. They had to stay
under any circumstances. And, had we not supported the Partisan
invasion of Serbia, the Loyalists’ planned large-scale uprising,
the ustanak, would have done a much better job of harassing
the German withdrawal. In this regard, the Partisans largely failed.
Unfortunately, guerrilla warfare was not what it was all about
in Yugoslavia. It was all about a civil war and, as far as Tito was
concerned, a civil war in which reprisals, casualties, chaos, and
misery were of no significance or importance. But Mihailovic,
with his worries about saving the Serb nation from total extinction,
was fighting with one hand tied behind his back.
If the British had not positively taken sides in Tito’s favor, I
do not believe that Stalin would have risked conflict with the West
by providing Red Army help. That is really proved by Stalin’s
failure to support Tito in the row with the British over Venezia
The Western Allied support was decisive not only militarily
but also psychologically. The British denunciation of Mihailovic
and the Loyalist Četniks put the Serbian populace in an impossible
position. They had prayed, hoped, and confidently anticipated
that, in the end, the Western Allies, their traditional friends,
would invade—in which case they would have risen to a man in
the ustanak—or that at the very least they would be left to settle
their own affairs. Instead, the Allies turned against their Serbian
friends, and the full weight of the Allied propaganda swung
behind Tito. There was then no longer light at the end of the
Maclean himself tells us all about it in Eastern Approaches:
. . . supplies to the Četniks had ceased and arms and ammunition
were now being dropped to the Partisans in very
considerable quantities . . . the change in our attitude had
also an important psychological effect. All the prestige which
the Četniks had hitherto enjoyed as a result of allied support
was now transferred to the Partisans. The effect was
increased by the news that Tito had come to terms with King
Peter and by the King’s proclamation calling on his subjects
to support the Partisans. . . . Much play was made with the
Tito-Šubašić understanding and with a proclamation made
by King Peter calling on the people to support Tito, both of
which carried a great deal of weight in Serbia, where Royalist
feeling was so strong. Finally, Communist aims and policy
were kept in the background, and very little was seen of
the Red Stars, hammers and sickles, which were so prominently
displayed by the Partisans in other parts of the country,
but which would have had little appeal in this land of
prosperous small holders.
There it is—the British betrayal of Serbia—clearly and succinctly
described by Maclean himself.
In order to use the heaviest guns on the Partisan side, Maclean
himself had flown to Serbia to oversee the Ratweek operations
and presumably to show the Serbs a real live British general
helping the Partisans, in case they did not know what was good
for them. The bombing of Leskovac by the Balkan Air Force on
the occasion of his visit shattered the Serbian heartland and demonstrated
to any doubters that the British were firmly on the Partisan
All of this followed shortly after the meeting between Churchill
and Tito in Naples, when the deal was struck with the
strawman politician Šubašić in order to erect a facade of legitimacy.
Yet Churchill and Maclean were fully clear between themselves
that Tito was going to introduce a communist government
after the war. Nevertheless, in the “liberation” of Serbia, Perfidious
Albion lent itself fully to the manipulation of the king, the
exploitation of his gullibility, and the use of the allegedly democratic
government of the straw man Šubašić, in order to trick the
Serbian people and beat them into submission.
It would not be so awful if we had been able to stop the
massacres and liquidations that followed—which the British missions
must have known might follow—as a quid pro quo for having
greatly helped the Partisan victory. But Tito gave nothing, at
any time, or in any way. And possibly he was not even pressed
to do so.
In an article in Encounter (“A Conversation with Milovan Djilas,”
1979), the writer states that “the British Military Mission
knew what the Partisans were doing but preferred to shut their
eyes.” It might have been fairer to write that they were impotent.
Tito was by then confident that he could do what he wanted, and
the British could do nothing to stop him.
I repeat that I sincerely believe that the British cooperation
was decisive in the conquest of Serbia by the communists and
substantially helped Tito to carry out his revolution. And even if
the Partisans did it all on their glorious ownsome, I cannot forgive
the vilification of the Loyalists, just because they fought for
their traditions and for their king, and the character assassination
of Mihailovic, just because he got in Tito’s way and scared
the guts out of Tito; and I cannot forgive the totally one-sided
version of history that has been assiduously built up to justify
what was done.
Mihailovic was an officer and a gentleman in the old tradition
and of the old school, one of the class that had made the
Serbian fighting men such a wonderful example in previous wars.
The Serbian leaders I personally knew and worked with—Stefanović,
Andrejević, and even the ambitious and ruthless Manic—
were cast in the same mold. The civil war was not only a war
between communism and nationalism. It was a war between new
upstart revolutionaries without any rule book, and the values that
we British had previously prized. Tragically, we destroyed our
natural friends. I think we did so because, after the British cultural
revolution of the 1930s in the leading universities, our own
values had been lost.
The Cost of It All
In his report about his adventures when he was captured by the
Loyalists, after he had been dropped to the Partisans, Lieutenant
Commander MacPhail recounts a conversation with a Serb who
had been educated at Oxford University. This Serb claimed—
and very rightly too—that the Partisans were not grateful to us,
that they used British help for propaganda, and that they would
fight us tomorrow if Stalin told them to.
In fact, that Serb understated his case. The Partisans would
have fought the British to assert their claims in Austria and Venezia
Giulia in the spring of 1945 without any encouragement
from Stalin at all. That they did not do so was thanks to the
tough, no-nonsense New Zealander General Freyberg, who pulled
them up sharp. But Tito was ready, willing, and anxious to fight
his benefactors, the Anglo-Americans, in the spring of 1945, just
as he had been ready and willing to join with the Germans in
resisting an Anglo-American landing in the spring of 1943. Tito
would have made a pact with the devil himself to gain power. It
was certainly the devil’s work that Tito and his clique carried out
after the Russians and Bulgarians had helped him overrun the
Loyalists in Serbia and the Germans had finally retreated.
I am not a historian, and throughout this book I have tried
very hard to stick to what I know. I have written of my own
eyewitness experiences from June 1943 to May 1944, and I have
related these recollections to the can of worms that I found when
I examined the files in the British Public Records Office and, in
particular, those in the War Office section. These records contain
the formerly classified SOE files, which evidently were released
in error. I have not researched the happenings between June
1944 and May 1945, when the second wave of fratricidal horror
hit Yugoslavia. (The first wave, of course, was the genocide operation
carried out in 1941 by the Croatian ustaša against the
Serbian minority in the Independent State of Croatia.) So I have
to depend on the little that has been published. Even that small
amount is horrifying.
Maj. Linn Farish, the chief American liaison officer with Tito,
in his touching June 28, 1944 report, wrote of “a few communists
who would see their brothers killed to further their political
aims.” I did not know Linn Farish, but he seems to have been
thoroughly decent, as well as a highly perceptive and intelligent
man. He was morally brave enough to recognize and report how
things were going very wrong even as early as the summer of
1944. At that time Tito and Titoism were all the fashion. Anyone
resisting the policy of total support for the Yugoslav communists
was regarded in Allied circles in Bari as almost akin to a traitor.
As I have recorded already, Farish wrote, “I personally do not
feel that I can go on with the work in Yugoslavia unless I can
sincerely feel that every possible honest effort is being made to
put an end to the civil strife.”
Farish did not live to see or learn what happened in 1945
when the new wave of horror hit Yugoslavia, as Tito set out to
ensure that all possible opposition was ruthlessly crushed, and
that the job was done so as to ensure that no opposition could
possibly arise in his lifetime. One doubts that he worried too much
about what was going to happen thereafter, beyond concern that
his own personality cult would endure into history.
From what has been written about the massacres that occurred
when Tito’s minions had a clear field in which to operate,
it is clear that a common feature of these horrors— particularly
when refugees were tricked into a forcible repatriation by the
British forces in Austria—was the utter determination of the
specially recruited Tito extermination squads that no one should
live to tell the tale. Some say that more than 30,000 died in the
infamous pit of Kočevje in Slovenia, including many who had
been told by the British, with whom they had taken refuge, that
they were being transferred to Palmanova in Italy. They only
discovered after they had been locked into trains operated by the
British between Austria and Slovenia that they were being handed
over to the Partisans. Milovan Djilas recently went on record with
a figure of 20,000; he commented that the British “had made a
mistake” in repatriating them and that the Tito government “had
made a mistake” in massacring them.
Another 60,000 to 80,000 Croatians ustaši and Domobrans
(home guard) tried to surrender to the Western Allies, but the
surrender was refused; the Partisans captured them and herded
them off on a march on which the vast majority perished. St.
Vid, the transit center in Slovenia through which many of the
victims passed, had already seen the passage of another 30,000
or so, who were taken out and slaughtered in order to make way
for the Serbian Četniks, Croatian Domobrans, and Slovenian Domobrans
from the British camp at Viktring. In Kočevje the death
roll was at least 20,000, possibly 40,000. Another massacre site
was Teharje. Yet another was in the Kamnik Mountains, where
it has been rumored that 30,000 perished.
Few of those massacred at Teharje or Kočevje or in the
Kamnik Mountains were ustaši. Most were Slovenian and Croatian
Domobrans, together with Serbian Četniks. The ustaši had a
bad record, but no civilized court in the Western world would
have condemned the home guards as malefactors: they were simply
defeated combatants. And the Četniks were our allies. Those
massacres were not justified punishment ordered by courts. They
were the arbitrary settling of old scores, without any pretense of
trial, by communist execution squads.
In my first chapter I suggested that “about a quarter of a
million” might be a realistic figure for the political killings by the
communists. I was interested to read a suggestion by Ljubo Sire
in his memoirs just published {Between Hitler and Tito) that perhaps
as many as 300,000 perished. Ljubo Sire, a professor of
political economy at Glasgow University and now director of the
Centre for the Study of Communist Economies, served with the
Partisan forces himself and is thus superbly qualified to write with
restraint and realism on the subject.
Milovan Djilas, one of Tito’s closest immediate circle, has also
told us a great deal about these horrors in his writings. Furthermore,
Stevan Pavlowitch, in The Improbable Survivor, underlines
the significance of those writings. He records: “In fact all power
emanated from the Communist Party under a quadrumvirate
made up of Tito—whose cult was consciously organised—with
Djilas, Kardelj, and Ranković.” Djilas, now a revisionist and evidently
remorseful about his personal share in the responsibility
for all of this killing, tells us that Tito wanted the killing stopped
only because “no one fears death anymore.”
And while all of it was going on, Tito’s Western Allied sponsors,
who had enormously facilitated his grab for power but were
now impotent to restrain him, either were hoodwinked some more
or closed their eyes to the horrors.
The lack of information and discussion about the Tito massacres
is amazing. Until the historian Count Nikolai Tolstoy became involved
in a sensational court case over who bore the responsibility
for the repatriation tragedy, very little had appeared in the
West, and for obvious reasons historians in Belgrade were not
inclined to enlighten us. The cozy British Yugoslav establishment
symposiums talked about less disturbing things, about British
Foreign Office internal squabbles and the like, and massaged the
received wisdom so as to portray the takeover of Yugoslavia by Tito
as the best outcome in the circumstances to maintain the integrity
of the country. It seems that no one dared to stand up and ask:
But what about the quarter of a million people it is rumored that
Tito murdered?
There has been no hesitation about recalling the ustaša genocide.
There has been plenty of talk about that. But for the past
forty-five years there seems to have been astonishing amnesia
about, or hesitation to dare to mention, the communist political
killings. Even now, after Tolstoy, we have little record of the killings
in other parts of Yugoslavia. But that they took place, massively,
there is no shadow of doubt. It is possible, very possible,
that Tito topped the ustaša record. Who knows? Who dared to
count? But it was some performance if he did. The Partisan killings
were certainly in the top league of communist butchery.
There were many massacres in Soviet Russia about which no
one knew anything until glasnost started to dig into the dark corners.
But there is no doubt whatsoever that in Yugoslavia, in
Russia, in Poland, and elsewhere in communist territories, the
butchery was horrifying. There is also no doubt that the leaders,
in every case, were not doing their devil’s work for ideological reasons.
They were despots out for personal power and using ideology
to justify their liquidation of all potential opposition. Even
Milovan Djilas commented to that effect in his book Wartime, in
which, obviously, he was referring to Tito specifically.
It is rather futile to speculate about what might have happened
had the British not been hoodwinked by Tito, had the
British stuck to their policy of support for Mihailovic alone, and
had the Allies given him real support in the autumn of 1943 and
throughout 1944, when short-haul aircraft were available. Here
we should take a look at some statistics. They are very revealing,
and the received wisdom has ignored them for too long.
In 1942 SOE Cairo had only four Liberators available. They
were augmented by four Halifaxes in March 1943 and by twelve
more Halifaxes around June 1943. These planes had to service
the entire SOE area in the Balkans, notably Yugoslavia, Greece,
and Albania, and from May 1943 they were serving both sides in
Yugoslavia. From late 1943 plentiful Dakotas were available to
fly from Brindisi in Italy; they could reach the Partisan areas
with ease but not the eastern Serbian area, where the Loyalists
were located. Moreover, from September 22, 1943, when Fitzroy
Maclean had his first dinner with Tito, supplies to Mihailovic
had been stopped in order to divert everything available to the
From various sources I have calculated that Mihailovic received
a total of less than 150 sorties, 250 tons in all, from the
autumn of 1941 till the end of 1943 when we abandoned him.
Even this figure may be an overestimate. F. H. Hinsley, the foremost
expert, gives total deliveries to Mihailovic up to the Italian
armistice, that is, till early September 1943, as 118 tons. Supplies
sent after that were negligible.
The Balkan Air Force took over operations in the summer
of 1944. Their official figures show that from June 1944 till May
1945—the precise period during which the civil war was at
its peak—11,600 sorties totaling 16,460 tons were delivered to
Tito’s Partisans.
But the Partisans had been receiving the vast bulk of M04/
Force 133 deliveries already since June 1943. They received approximately
500 sorties in 1943, equal to about 800 tons. Hinsley
shows that in the first half of 1944 they received about 3,500
tons. Thus they received 4,300 tons in the first year, up to’ the
end of May 1944, and 16,460 tons in the following year.
The 20,000 tons received by air by the Partisans compare
with about 200 tons received by Mihailovic. He got one percent
of what they got. This shows up the ludicrous nature of the patter
in the received wisdom about how Mihailovic had our support
and did not use it. What would the Loyalists have achieved had
they received even a quarter of the arms sent to the Partisans?
But that’s not all. Shipments by sea to the Yugoslav islands
and the mainland for the Partisans in 1943 were 18,000 to 20,000
tons. I have no figures for January to May 1944, but from June
1944 to May 1945 a further 10,000 tons were shipped. Thus the
Partisans got, probably, 40,000 tons by sea in all. Mihailovic got
The Partisans in Yugoslavia—it has been said—received more
supplies than the total of all other European resistance movements.
And the vast bulk of those arms and supplies were used
in the civil war, which served no useful purpose for the Western
Allies and brought communism, massacres, and misery to the
people of Yugoslavia. The support of Tito in his grab for power
was a disaster politically and morally. It also represented probably
the least cost-effective operation ever mounted.
There is a letter from a Major Last to Mr. J. Reed of the
Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office (FO 371/
44278), which states that already between April 1943 and mid-
September 1944 there were 5,000 air sorties of 6,900 tons and
22,000 tons by sea delivered to Tito. Incredibly, Major Last had
to write this letter in order to answer an attack by Tito’s Radio
Free Yugoslavia broadcasting from Russia that alleged a lack of
Allied support for Tito. Ironically, the broadcast was made just
as Tito “levanted” off to Moscow, cocking a snook at his sponsors.
Those sponsors really were patsies.
Sir Orme Sargent of the British Foreign Office contended
that backing both sides would lead to civil war. The decision was
accordingly taken to back Tito because it was believed that “he
was doing all the fighting.” That claim is certainly open to challenge.
The information on which the claim is based came, of
course, almost entirely from communist sources, communist
propaganda, and sources indirectly influenced by the communists.
But one thing is certain. By backing Tito, by putting in
those massive supplies of arms, and by giving him our full recognition
and every type of support, the British achieved precisely
the opposite of what they were seeking. They scored the biggest
home goal of all time. The arms deliveries precipitated the civil
war. They went straight into battles in which Yugoslavs fought
Yugoslavs. We have on our consciences not only those subsequently
massacred but also the many, many thousands of Yugoslav
patriots who fell on both sides as Serbs with the Partisans
fought Serbs in the homeland using British and American weapons,
delivered in American aircraft flown by British pilots. Have
we no shame?
The Morning After
Churchill got carried away in December 1943. His signals and
minutes indicate that he was vitriolic about Mihailovic and the
Loyalists. Whatever the exact words of the cynical exchange with
Maclean about not wishing to make Yugoslavia their home after
the war, he was in a mood to allow himself to accept anything
Tito wanted and to be manipulated by him. Eventually, however,
that attitude changed.
As early as July 1944 (File PREM 3 513/8) Churchill had
been asking questions about Tito’s prewar activities and rumors
that he had led demonstrations opposing resistance to the Germans.
But it was not until the spring of 1945 that Churchill began
to get the true measure of the dark forces that he had
unleashed in the Balkans by his whimsical policy.
On March 11, 1945, in a memo to the foreign secretary (File
PREM 3 513/6), he wrote,
My feeling is that henceforward our inclination should be to
back Italy against Tito. Tito can be left to himself in his
mountains to stew in Balkan juice which is bitter. But the
fact that we are generally favourable to Italian claims at the
head of the Adriatic will give us an influence over Italian
internal politics as against Communists and wild men which
may assist the re-integration of the Italian state. I have lost
my relish for Yugoslavia which state must rest on the basis
of the Tito-Subasic agreements etc. On the other hand I
hope we may still save Italy from the Bolshevist petulance.
The above is for your eye alone. Pray let me know how
you feel in regard to it.
On March 18, 1945, Churchill wrote in a letter to the foreign
secretary, “I do not see how we could explain a change of
policy to the Americans. The United States Government have
never been enthusiastic about our pro-Partisan policy, and it has
always been with great difficulty that we have dragged them reluctantly
behind us. Are we now . . . to have to explain to them
that after all Tito has not turned out to be what we hoped for.”
On April 16, 1945 (File PREM 3 513/10), he wrote in a private
office memo, “My inclination is towards the gradual but steady
withdrawal of all our agents and missions from Yugoslavia except
those at the Summit in Belgrade. Let me have an account of the
numbers of British officers and men who are at present at the
mercy of these wild people.” Two days later he wrote to the earl
of Halifax, ambassador to the United States (File PREM 3 513/
6), “(1) You know my views about Tito whom I have never trusted
since he levanted from Vis. (2) I therefore fully agree that all
supplies to Tito should be shut down on the best pretext that can
be found.”
On April 20, 1945, he wrote to Sir Orme Sargent,
This is another proof of how vain it is to throw away our
substance in a losing game with Soviet Russia in Tito
land. . . .
The Russians are willing to aid the Yugoslav Air Force.
Why have we to divert from our scanty store the valuable
material in officers and men? The great changes which have
taken place in the connections and centre of gravity of the
Yugoslav government since we talked about providing them
with an air force must not fall unnoticed. They have thrown
themselves wholeheartedly into the hands of Russia. In these
circumstances I should deprecate our making any serious
sacrifice for the fight to play a losing game. As you know,
my view is that a diplomatic and even perhaps a military
front can be made between Britain, the United States and
Italy in the disputed Adriatic territory. Nothing will wrest
Yugoslavia from the Russian grip. In this particular theatre
the policy is “dis-engage.” On the contrary in Greece it is
“hold fast.”
Two days later he noted in a memo to his private office, “I
propose to send a telegram to the Foreign Secretary, Field Marshall
Alexander and Mr Stevenson appraising them of my changed
attitude towards Marshall Tito. Please get together my various
telegrams and minutes to Mr Eden on this subject, so that I can
condense them into one secret message.”
On April 25, 1945, he wrote another memo to his private
office (File PREM 3 513/10): “In view of the way in which all our
affairs are being sold down the counter in Yugoslavia and the
mockery of the 50/50 agreement with Russia I really cannot write
to King Peter except in the strain that it has not been within my
power to alter the course of events and that I am sure that we
have done all we could in the circumstances. I cannot however
claim that the result is at all satisfactory.”
One month later, on May 25, the prime minister wrote to
the foreign secretary, “Be very careful that our missions are not
cut off in Yugoslavia. They will be looking for hostages soon.”
And on the same day he wrote (File PREM 3 513/8),
Ask the Foreign Office for the fullest possible dossier on
Tito. Is it true that he was educated at a Communist college?
Is it true that he occupied part of his time organising
strikes down the Dalmatian coast? Is it true that he did not
move to fight for Yugoslavia when it was attacked by Germany
but waited till June 22nd 1941 when the Comintern gave
instructions to all its minions to help Russia? Has he ever
been married and how many times? We know all about his
running away to the island of Vis when it got hot on the
mainland and levanting from Vis after three months of our
protection to remake his contacts with Moscow. It is just as
well to have all these things looked at to see what they amount
A lengthy Foreign Office memo confirmed the prime minister’s
suspicions fully. Still, it is deplorable that his trusted proteges,
who had been sent to Yugoslavia to find out all about Tito, had
not briefed him on these matters in December 1943 when they
were telling him all about Mihailovic’s alleged shortcomings even
without ever having met the general.
Not long thereafter, the British general elections removed
Churchill from power; but evidently his resentment at the confidence
trick carried out against him by Tito festered. In the
winter of 1945 there was an occasion in Brussels on which he
apparently spoke out at a dinner party. It was reported in the
journal Europe and America on December 13, 1945, and in Time
and Tide on December 29. Churchill was reported to have said,
“During the war I thought I could trust Tito. He had promised
me to observe the agreement he had concluded with Šubašić but
now I am aware that I committed one of my biggest mistakes in
the war.”
The received wisdom has desperately tried to cast doubts on
the veracity of these reports. But there is a note (FO 371/59517)
from Sir John Colville, dated January 15, 1946, stating, “This
certainly represents Mr Churchill’s views and I don’t suppose he
would mind it being known: but I doubt if he will say so publicly
except under provocation. He certainly won’t accept any arguments
to the contrary.”
That surely is good enough.
Finally, the epitaph comes in a rather pathetic letter that Sir
Winston Churchill wrote to Ernest Bevin, the foreign secretary
of the Labour government, on April 9, 1946, asking that His
Majesty’s Government intervene to secure a fair trial for Mihai-
lović. Not all of those British involved in helping Tito gain power
were prepared to show magnanimity in victory. Churchill was;
and Churchill, that really big man, showed his greatness by attaching
two appendixes to his letter. They totally demolish any
justification he could have thought he had for what he did that
fateful December 10, 1943.
The first was a letter dated April 18, 1946, from a Capt.
Maurice John Vitou, which stated,
1. To the best of my knowledge I was the first Allied Officer
to contact General Draja Mihailovitch in this war.
2. I entered Yugoslavia on 22nd July, 1941, as an escaped
prisoner of war.
3. I served with the followers of General Mihailovitch for
a period of nearly nine months, and in the same H.Q.
i.e. under the direct command of the General himself
for three months.
4. I served a further period of ten months in political prisons
and the Gestapo with members of General Mihailovitch’s
Chetnik Organisation.
5. I have full knowledge of the operations against the Germans
by General Mihailovitch’s organisation during the
latter half of 1941 and early 1942.
6. I was in the town of Chachak in central Serbia, when
the forces of General Mihailovitch were attacked by the Partisans,
the nucleus of the present regime, thus enabling
the Germans to retake the town.
7. I am prepared to swear an oath that General Mihailovitch’s
attitude was absolutely pro-British during the time
I knew him and that all his efforts were concentrated
on expelling the enemy from Jugoslavia.
8. I am further prepared to swear that these efforts were
hampered by the attacks on his forces by the Partisans.
9. As an English Officer, an escaped prisoner of war, I was
helped in every conceivable way by General Draja Mihailovitch.
10. During the time I spent in Yugoslavia General
Mihailovitch was as popular with the people as the Partisans
were unpopular.
11. I know that Italian prisoners in General Mihailovitch’s
hands were exchanged for arms and field pieces to be
used against the Germans.
12. I am aware that an Anti-Communist organisation (in no
way connected with Gen. Mihailovitch) under Costa Pachamac
calling themselves “Chetniks” and working under
German control operated against the Partisans.
13. I was arrested and handed over to the Gestapo by the
above organisation.
Nothing could be clearer or more positive than that.
The second was a statement by Capt. Vojislav Ilich, dated
February 11, 1946. It read as follows:
This evening I am asked the question why I am not going
home. My answer is, simply because I ran away. Why did I
run away? That is what I am going to tell you.
The war in Yugoslavia found me a Captain in the Royal
Yugoslav Air Force. I was a Pilot Instructor. In April 1941,
serving as a fighter pilot, I had six German air-craft to my
After the occupation of Yugoslavia by the Germans, I
went to the mountains under the command of Draja Mihailovich.
On December 15th, 1941, I was captured by the Germans,
and, on February 22nd, 1942, I was condemned to
death as a Chetnik. I was reprieved and sent to a Concentration
Camp in Germany. I escaped from that camp and
succeeded in rejoining Mihailovich in Serbia. I became
Commander of a brigade of Mihailovich’s Ravna Gora Corps
under Captain Rakovich. From that time on, through 1943
and 1944, I fought with the Chetniks against the Germans,
and sometimes also I had to defend myself from the Partisan
Forces, which attacked us in the rear. I continued to
fight against the Germans until the Russians came to Yugoslavia
in October 1944.
When the Russian Army started their offensive in Yugoslavia,
Mihailovich’s forces were fully engaged everywhere
in Serbia. Many towns and almost the whole of Serbia were
in the hands of Mihailovich’s forces. The most bloody fighting
was carried on along the line of the withdrawal of the
German forces from Greece and the Balkans. A great part
of these forces, numbering about 30,000, had to pass through
Chachak, where I was engaged with my Brigade. On October
14th, 1944, I liberated from the Germans a small place—
Preljina—six kilometres from Chachak from all sides, when
the Russian Army approached. The Russians were surprised
to see us fighting the Germans, and in the beginning they
thought we were Partisans.
We then arranged with the Russians for a common plan
of action in the fight for Chachak. The negotiations were
carried on in a little village called Brdjane, twelve kilometres
from Chachak. I was present at these negotiations. We drew
up a written agreement about joint action against the Germans.
We fought for Chachak, supported by Russian artillery.
Four times we took Chachak, and each time we had to
withdraw in the face of constant fresh German reinforcements
coming up from the south. Our losses were heavy.
My Corps handed over to the Russians more than 2,000
prisoners. My brigade alone handed over 700 prisoners, for
which I got a receipt from the Russians. In addition, we
handed over another 4,000 German prisoners captured in
our previous fighting with the enemy. When at last Chachak
was definitely held by our troops, the Partisans of Tito arrived
in small numbers and the Russians began to disarm
Mihailovich’s men, who would not recognise Tito as the
Russians wished them to do. Only one part of our troops
was disarmed, the rest of us went to the mountains immediately.
Mihailovich gave orders for some units to move
towards Bosnia and others to disperse in the country and
await further orders. Dressed as a peasant, I entered Chachak,
but was recognised by the Partisans and arrested. After
three months in prison, I was condemned to death, together
with 44 others. However, instead of killing me, I was sent to
a camp near Shabatz to be used for clearing mines at the
German front, north of Belgrade. This had to be done without
any instruments for locating the buried mines. I succeeded
in escaping and joining a Partisan fighting unit, and
went to the front. After capturing some 20 lorries from the
Germans I became a driver, and was later promoted to the
rank of 2nd Lt. When the war ended I was taken into the
Air Force as a transport pilot.
On October 11th, 1945, I was sent to London as a pilot,
and I made use of this first opportunity to escape.
Why did I escape? Here are the reasons: —
1). I fought in Mihailovich’s ranks for democracy and
freedom in the Western sense and in the real meaning of
these words. In Yugoslavia to-day, there is no democracy
and no freedom, but only a dictatorial police state. The whole
time I lived under suspicion and was shadowed by the
OZNA—which is the secret Police in Yugoslavia exactly like
the Gestapo used to be in Germany. This tyrannical police
organisation sent regular reports about my conduct three
times a month to the higher headquarters. Only those who
have been there and have experience with OZNA—the Gestapo
of Yugoslavia to-day—can know the true position. I
lived in constant fear of sudden arrest without any cause.
2). When I was in prison in Chachak over 3,000 of Mihailovich’s
men were shot. My Corps Commander, Captain
Rakovich, committed suicide to avoid being captured by the
Partisans, who had surrounded him. All those who fought
for real democracy and freedom under Mihailovich against
the Germans, are to-day the opponents of Tito’s regime, and
they have to be destroyed in the spirit of this regime. I should
like to mention here that my younger brother was also shot
by the Partisans on January 17th, 1945, while my father, a
Serbian priest, was murdered by Pavelich’s Ustashis in 1941.
3). In Tito’s army to-day, which is purely a Communist
Party army: there is terrible propaganda against the Western
Allies. Russia is the only friend, or, better said, the real
boss of Yugoslavia.
4). How could I stay at home in such conditions? I had
to take this step. Some of my friends said “Remain and wait”.
Others said “Go to the mountains” and so on. As you see,
we are still fighting for freedom.
That is the reason that I ran away, even though I had
to leave my wife and child behind.
Those depositions, given by a British and a Yugoslav officer,
are impressive and touching. But their primary significance here
is that they represent a damning indictment of the British policy
instituted by Churchill himself. It must have cost him dearly to
have exposed his error so clearly to the Labour government’s
foreign secretary. He would never have done so had he not been
totally convinced that, as he said in Brussels, he had made one
of his “biggest mistakes in the war.”
Churchill’s approach to the Labour government evoked no
favorable response from Clement Attlee, who feared that action
on Mihailović’s behalf would not be well received by the Labour
Party. A plea by British officers to be allowed to give evidence at
Mihailović’s trial was rejected, and the testimony of some hundreds
of American officers and aircrew was not admitted.
So, with no evidence in his defense, Draža Mihailovic, abandoned
by his allies, went calmly to his death on July 17, 1946.
His last words at the trial were dignified, those of a gentleman:
“Fate was merciless to me, when it threw me into the maelstrom.
I wanted much, I started much but the gale of the world swept
me and my work away.”
AFHQ Allied Forces Headquarters
BBC British Broadcasting Corporation
BLO British liaison officer
CIA Central Intelligence Agency (U.S.A.)
ELAS/EAM Greek communist organizations, civil and military
Enigma German cipher machine (see also Ultra)
Force 133 Successor to M04 but under army command
GCHQ Then secret government communications and signal
interception center
GHQ General headquarters
G1 (GSOl) General staff officer grade 1 (colonel)
G2 (GS02) General staff officer grade 2 (major)
HMG His (Her) Majesty’s Government
ISLD Another wartime cover name for MI6/SIS
JIC Joint Intelligence Committee
KGB Soviet secret service, successor to NKVD
MI6 British secret intelligence organization for foreign
intelligence, also called SIS and ISLD
MI5 British secret counterintelligence organization
M04 Cairo office of SOE until November 1943
NKVD Soviet secret police prior to KGB
OGPU Soviet military intelligence organization
OSS Office of Strategic Services U.S.A. Wartime intelligence
and special force organization. Forerunner
of CIA, it combined functions carried out by
MI6 and SOE in British intelligence services
OZNA Yugoslav secret police
PIB Political Intelligence Branch, Cairo
PID Political Intelligence Department of Foreign Office
PRO Public Records Office
PWE Political Warfare Executive
RAF Royal Air Force
SAS British elite raiding force (Special Air Service)
SD Sicherheitsdienst, German security service
Section D Predecessor organization of SOE
SIS Another name for MI6 and ISLD
SOE Special Operations Executive, British special force
for undertaking both overt and covert paramilitary
SS Schutzstaffel, German military political formations
SSEES School of Slavonic and East European Studies,
University of London
37 Military Rear base of Maclean mission to Tito under Bal-
Mission kan Air Force headquarters. It absorbed Yugoslav
section of Force 133
Ultra Organization that broke the German Enigma ciphers
UNRRA United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency
USAAC United States Army Air Corps
USAAF United States Army Air Force
W/T Wireless telegraphy
April 6, 1941 Axis troops invade Yugoslavia.
April 10, 1941 New national state of Croatia is proclaimed
by Axis.
April 14-16, 1941 King Peter II flees into exile eventually
in London, where emigre government
establishes itself.
April 18, 1941 Yugoslav forces capitulate.
May 12, 1941 Mihailović establishes headquarters of
Loyalist resistance on Ravna Gora with
cadre of army officers. He starts recruiting
members of the Četnik home
guards into a Loyalist resistance movement.
Spring 1941 Ustasi (SS-style Croatian fascists) launch
extermination program directed at
Serbian minority in new Croatian state,
July 1941
Summer and autumn
September 20, 1941
October 1941
Throughout 1942
which continues throughout the summer
and autumn.
After the German invasion of the U.S.S.R.,
Tito establishes a second resistance
movement, the Partisans, with headquarters
in Užice. He draws heavily on
Serbian refugees from genocide in
Croatia for recruits. Leadership is communist.
Uprisings in Serbia and Montenegro, by
both Partisans and Četniks, lead to
massive Axis reprisals. Partisans withdraw
from Serbia; Loyalists disperse into
scattered units, with many going underground
or returning home, available
for recall.
Capt. Bill “Marko” Hudson, the first of
the British liaison officers whose function
would be to organize resistance and
sabotage in Yugoslavia, is landed by
submarine on the Montenegrin coast.
He makes his way first to Tito’s and
then to Mihailovic’s headquarters.
Mihailović-Tito negotiations to coordinate
resistance are interrupted by Axis
cleanup sweeps following the abortive
uprisings. Tito is forced to move headquarters
to Bosnia. Mihailovic, with a
small staff, goes underground in Sandžak.
Hudson spends winter alone, rejoining
Mihailovic in April 1942, but
remains without adequate W/T communications
with Cairo.
Mihailovic, officially named defense minister
of the Yugoslav government in
exile, moves his headquarters around
western Serbia, eastern Bosnia, and the
Sandžak, where he maintains fairly
substantial mobile forces. He has large
potential manpower reserves in Četnik
formations throughout Serbia and
Montenegro, as well as in Slovenia and
In Britain, BBC starts hyping Mihailović.
BBC claims arouse unrealistic expectations
among Western Allies and encourage
Axis reprisals. Britain’s SOE
and the Yugoslav emigre government
counsel Mihailović to avoid reprisals and
to conserve his strength for eventual
major uprising. Loyalists do continue
sabotage throughout 1942 but are increasingly
deterred by reprisals and
hampered by lack of support from
British. During this period SOE specifically
condones accommodations with
the Italians by Montenegrin Četniks
(Stanišić, Djurišić, and others) designed
to facilitate eventual takeover of
Italian positions and arms. Meanwhile,
Tito builds up his Partisan National
Liberation Army in Croatia, western
Bosnia, Herzegovina, Dalmatia, Slovenia,
and Montenegro. Responding to
Axis cleanup sweeps, his headquarters
and his main army shuttle backward and
forward between Bosnia and Croatia,
with forays south into Herzegovina and
February 1942 James Klugmann, known communist
recruiter, joins SOE Cairo. Hugh Seton-
Watson, Klugmann’s friend and leftinclined
academic specialist in Balkan
affairs, becomes increasingly influential
in political intelligence in Cairo and
in M04 (SOE Cairo) itself.
Spring 1942
Early July 1942
September 1942
December 1942
January 1943
ca. January 30, 1943
Col. S. W. “Bill” Bailey of SOE and Capt.
William Stuart of SIS start recruiting
communist Croats in Canada for future
use in Yugoslavia.
Allies become aware of Tito’s Partisans;
Dragi Radivojević (alias Branko Radojević),
an International Brigade veteran,
is recruited in United States to be
dropped into Croatia “to identify Tito.”
Instead, after three months in Klugmann’s
charge in Cairo, he winds up
with Mihailovic using the name Charles
Robertson. His official task is to restore
Hudson’s W/T communications, but he
has a secret brief to “report” on Hudson
and Mihailovic and to find out
about the Partisans.
Radio Free Yugoslavia, broadcasting from
southern Russia, begins pro-Tito and
anti-Mihailović campaign. Intensive
communist misinformation campaign is
instituted through neutral countries and
via communist sympathizers in British
secret services and other Allied agencies.
Maj. Basil Davidson becomes acting head
of the Yugoslav section of M04, the
Cairo office of SOE.
Bailey, returned from recruiting communist
Croats in Canada, drops to Mihailovic
headquarters as chief BLO.
Capt. F. W. D. “Bill” Deakin joins M04
from SOE London.
SOE starts dropping liaison officers to
Mihailovic. From January to September
nine such missions are dropped.
Following a personal social contact with
Churchill made by Deakin, Brig. C. M.
“Bolo” Keble obtains Winston Churchill’s
permission to contact Tito, in
apparent contravention of SOE’s official
pro-Mihailović policy.
February 1943 “Christening party” speech by Mihailović
condemns lack of Allied support and
brackets communists with the ustaša as
his worst enemies. Bailey stops supplies
and reports speech to Cairo. Diplomatic
exchanges over incident stretch
out for four months.
March 1943 Battle of Neretva. Main Partisan army,
driven south by Germans, enters Loyalist
territory and defeats Montenegrin
Četnik forces.
March—April 1943 “The March negotiations”: Partisans and
Germans negotiate in Sarajevo and Zagreb.
Partisans agree to stop sabotage
in Croatia; Germans agree to stop
pursuit of Partisans. This truce frees
Partisan main army to deal with
Montenegrin Cetniks.
April 20, 1943 Dropping of missions to Tito Partisans
begins, using the communist Croats recruited
in Canada. This follows formal
approval in March by the chiefs of staff
in London, and by military headquarters
in the Middle East, of M04 making
contact with “other resistance
movements in Croatia.” The military
thought that they were being asked to
support apolitical Croatian Partisans.
M04 knew otherwise.
April 1943 Hitler rejects deal with Tito’s “bandits.”
Germans renew cleanup operations with
attack on Djurišić-Stanišić Cetniks; 7,000
May 27-28, 1943
May 29, 1943
June 2, 1943
Early June 1943
men are captured. Axis then turns on
Partisan army, which is encircled near
Mount Durmitor.
Deakin and Stuart drop to Tito.
SOE Cairo dispatches infamous “Glenconner”
signal. Seemingly designed to
open an escape route for the trapped
Partisans, the signal orders Mihailovic
to retreat into central Serbia, east of
the Ibar River, abandoning all remaining
Yugoslav territory to the Partisans.
It is insultingly phrased and alleges
that Mihailovic forces are nonexistent
or collaborationist outside the Serbian
heartland. Ironically, the proposal
demands a Partisan takeover of the
Sandžak, which was what the Partisan
negotiators had been discussing with the
Germans in Zagreb.
Henbury mission (Capt. Michael Lees)
drops to a Loyalist formation in southeastern
Serbia and is immediately
caught up in a German-Bulgarian
cleanup sweep. Henbury mission and
Roughshod mission (Maj. John Sehmer)
lose four British killed in Bulgar
dawn attack.
The Algiers incident. Churchill signals
minister of state, Cairo, asking that
Deakin meet him in Algiers to report
on Yugoslav affairs. Reply states Deakin
was just dropped to Tito, forwards two
M04 memorandums drafted along lines
of Glenconner signal. Desmond Morton,
Churchill’s intelligence advisor,
intercepts and suppresses the memorandums
after consulting with Foreign
Mid-June 1943
Late June 1943
July 19, 1943
July 1943
July 1943
August 1943
Main Partisan army slips out of Mount
Durmitor encirclement and moves north
toward western Bosnia. Captain Stuart
killed, Deakin and Tito slighdy wounded
by same bomb. About 10,000 of original
15,000 make good their escape.
Foreign Office reacts with horror to
Glenconner signal of May 29. Glenconner
recalled to London; signal is eventually
BBC reports that Novo Vreme (an official
news sheet) carried offer of 100,000
reichsmark reward for Tito while not
mentioning identical offer for Mihailovic
printed in the same advertisement.
British decide to drop brigadier-rank officers
to both Mihailovic and Tito, with
Bailey to be political advisor to the former
and Capt. Fitzroy Maclean political
advisor to the latter. The two senior
officer nominees are a Brigadier Orr,
nominated by General Wilson to go to
Tito, and Brigadier Charles Armstrong
for Mihailovic.
Maclean is recalled to London to be
briefed by the Foreign Office as political
advisor. He is a former diplomat and
a member of Parliament, and he gets
to see the foreign secretary, Anthony
Eden. He is invited to Chequers by
Churchill, who decides to upgrade
Maclean from advisor to head of mission
to Tito. Opposition to this promotion
by Foreign Office and SOE wilts
under pressure from Churchill.
Intercepted German Enigma signal
indicates that Germans still regard
Mihailović as their main enemy in the
Balkans and remain set on his destruction.
Following reconnaissance of main Belgrade-
Salonika line, Vranje, Vladićki
Han, and Grdelica, Capt. Michael Lees
prepares operation to demolish Vladički
Han bridge with assistance of Capt.
Bora Manić’s Loyalist Leteći Brigade,
pursuant to orders from M04 to interrupt
line. M04 then countermands order
at very last moment. Operation is
canceled. (Subsequently, M04 claims
Capt. George More (Alkali mission with
Loyalist leader Keserović) blows railway
bridge in Ibar Valley, and a Yugoslav
Sergeant Belie of his mission cuts
another line between Priština and Peć.
Both actions involve Loyalist troops.
Maclean flies to Cairo, crosses swords with
M04, and arranges direct link with Gen.
Sir Henry Maitland (“Jumbo”) Wilson,
commander in chief Middle East, and
with Churchill.
Mihailović’s assurance that he will not attack
Partisans is accepted, but very
shortly thereafter Bailey becomes embroiled
in new row with Mihailovic.
Bailey drafts a signal raising certain issues
and again stops supplies, pending
satisfactory reply by Mihailovic. The
signal, which purports to bear General
Wilson’s signature, details BLO complaints
about Loyalist commanders.
Foreign Office demands that Bailey
withdraw signal immediately, but most
September 10 to
October 10, 1943
September 17, 1943
September 20, 1943
of forty planned September drops remain
Yugoslav section chief Maj. Basil Davidson
leaves M04 on mission to Hungary
(which proves impossible) and stays
with Yugoslav Partisans in Vojvoda
Bačka area.
Captain Robertson (alias Radivojević or
Radojević), with consent of M04 and
Bailey, leaves Loyalist Keserović headquarters
together with BLO Maj. Neil
Selby in attempt to reach nearby Partisans.
Selby and his radio operator are
captured and fall into Gestapo hands.
Robertson joins Partisans on the Jastrebac,
then tries to contact first Capt.
Danny Boon and then Lees, seeking to
reestablish link with M04. Robertson is
subsequently reported shot by Partisans.
Following news of Italian capitulation,
Loyalists attack Priboj, Prijepolje, and
Berane, killing several hundred Germans
and Bulgars and accepting surrender
of Italian Venezia Division.
Actions are witnessed by Bailey, Hudson,
and two Americans, Maj. (later
Col.) Albert B. Seitz and Capt. (later
Maj.) Walter R. Mansfield. Under orders
from M04, Bailey dissuades Loyalists
from disarming Italians. Large
Partisan army then force-marches into
area, drives Loyalists back, and disarms
Italians. Mihailović furious at British
deception and loss of arms.
Maclean drops to Tito.
Maclean informs M04 he has personally
guaranteed Tito greatly increased de-
September 22, 1943
September 1943
September 24, 1943
Late September
through December
liveries, with “minimum 60 sorties this
M04 advises all missions with Loyalists
that supplies will be greatly curtailed
because of bad weather, relocation of
airfield, and other bogus reasons. From
this date on, Loyalists receive nothing
but minimum maintenance drops; all
else is diverted to Partisans, but no
mention of this policy decision is made
in signals to missions with Loyalists.
BBC starts attributing Loyalist sabotage
operations to Partisans, including major
operations at Priboj and Prijepolje.
Brigadier Armstrong drops to Mihailović
with letter from Gen. “Jumbo” Wilson
promising supplies “on a much larger
scale” and asking for a special sabotage
Mihailović forces blow four bridges at
Mokra Gora. A major span over the
Drina at Višegrad is blown by Maj. Archie
Jack; the operation involves 2,500
Loyalists and leaves 200 Germans dead.
Though witnessed by Brigadier Armstrong,
operation is attributed by BBC
to Partisans.
Lees’s Fugue (previously Henbury) mission
carries out major railway demolition
September 30. This demolition is
also promptly reported by the BBC as
a Partisan success. Lees continues with
line demolitions and derailments until
end of November. Roughshod mission
(under Capt. Robert Purvis) starts with
line demolitions and a derailment and
attacks a station north of Kumanovo.
Homolje mission (Maj. Jasper Rootham
September 29, 1943
October- November
October 5, 1943
October 23, 1943
and Maj. Eric Greenwood) attack Danube
shipping. Other missions also active.
M04 memorandum by Keble again proposes
geographical division of territory
along lines of Glenconner signal but allotting
even more to Partisans. Maclean
declines to put proposal to Tito,
alleging it will impair relations. He signals
that Tito is determined to “liquidate”
Mihailovic and the Loyalists and
that he will shortly do so.
Mission headed by Maj. Mostyn Davies
appears in Bulgarian-annexed part of
southern Serbia and starts receiving
massive supply drops. Supplies are used
to build up Partisan forces under Vukmanović-
Tempo on edge of Loyalist
territory. M04 denies existence of this
Maclean leaves Tito headquarters for the
coast and Cairo to meet with Foreign
Secretary Anthony Eden, to arrange a
Partisan delegation’s visit to Middle East
headquarters in Cairo, and to propose
additional massive support for Partisans.
American liaison officers with Mihailovic,
Seitz, and Mansfield dispatch objective
report with policy recommendations
designed to make best use of all
Yugoslav resistance potential and stop
fighting between Mihailovic and the
Partisans. They also seek permission
to exfiltrate in order to take part in
anticipated policy discussions. Their
signal, addressed to William Donovan,
head of OSS (forerunner to the CIA), is
November 7, 1943
November 7-10,
November 11, 1943
November 18, 1943
delayed in M04 until November 14.
Seitz and Mansfield remain in Yugoslavia,
and their report remains unseen
and unconsidered by policy-makers.
Maclean delivers what will become known
as the “blockbuster” report. It relies
heavily on figures and claims supplied
by Partisans and recommends abandoning
Mihailovic. The report is passed
on by Eden to the War Cabinet, Churchill,
the Commonwealth prime ministers,
and President Roosevelt.
Armstrong and Bailey signal 92-part report
to M04. It is along the lines of the
more concise Seitz-Mansfield report and
generally favorable to the Loyalists. It
outlines detailed proposals to stop the
internecine strife between Loyalists and
Partisans and harness resistance efforts
under direct Allied control.
Sir Orme Sargent of Foreign Office signals
Ralph Skrine Stevenson, ambassador
to the royal Yugoslav government
in exile (now in Cairo), urging that
Armstrong and Bailey be exfiltrated to
take part in discussions with Churchill,
Eden, and Maclean. Request is ignored
in Cairo.
Armstrong and Bailey’s long report, delayed
for a week in deciphering, is
passed to the Minister of State’s Office
in Cairo, which sends it to London by
slow savings telegram November 23. It
reaches the Foreign Office November
27 and is first acknowledged on December
10 by a junior officer, who
comments that it has been superseded
by decisions already taken. Neither
November 19, 1943
November 27, 1943
November 28, 1943
December 2, 1943
December 5, 1943
Armstrong nor Bailey is exfiltrated.
Anthony Eden later said neither he nor
Churchill ever saw their report.
Keble submits to the Special Operations
Committee of Middle East headquarters
a paper that purports to be an appreciation
of the military situation in
Serbia and consideration of future policy.
This shockingly mendacious and
irresponsible memorandum concludes
with the recommendation that support
of Mihailovic be discontinued, that the
British missions to the Loyalists be
evacuated (by making arrangements
with Tito to that effect), and that new
BLOs be sent to the Partisans in Serbia.
Keble leaves M04, which is put directly
under military control and renamed
Force 133. Lord Glenconner, political
head of SOE Cairo, also leaves.
Tehran Conference. Big Three agree to
give all possible help to Yugoslav resistance
but do not formally agree to concentrate
all aid on Partisans.
Desmond Morton, Churchill’s intelligence
advisor, while preparing for the
prime minister’s arrival in Cairo, finds
that M04 maps differ substantially from
London intelligence maps. The M04
maps claim huge areas in hands of Partisans,
Germans holding lines of communication
only, and Mihailovic forces
limited to very small areas. Morton
chooses to use the M04 maps in briefing
Maclean collects Deakin and Partisan delegation,
bringing them to Cairo via
December 7, 1943
December 9, 1943
December 10, 1943
December 11, 1943
December 13, 1943
ca. December 13—15
Force 133 instructs BLOs to sound out
local Mihailović commanders about
possibility of replacing Mihailović.
Through Armstrong, General Wilson asks
Mihailović whether he will carry out
specific bridge demolitions. This request
is intended as a test of good faith.
Wilson asks for a reply by December
29. At behest of British government,
King Peter and the exiled Yugoslav
government signal support for Wilson’s
Churchill meets in Cairo with Maclean,
Deakin, and Stevenson. No representatives
from British missions with Mihailović
attend. Maclean reports on
Partisans, and Deakin presents dossier
on alleged Mihailović collaboration.
Churchill tells Stevenson he wants Mihailović
“removed” by the end of the
month and that King Peter be required
to associate himself with the decision.
Tito is asked by his British mission to ensure
safe-conduct for BLOs escaping
from Loyalist units.
Force 133 signals BLOs with Loyalists to
prepare to escape to Partisans. The signal
is not sent to mission at Mihailović’s
headquarters, Brigadier Armstrong.
Subsequently Force 133 signals that it
had been too busy to inform him.
Lees and Maj. Peter Solly-Flood, setting
out on expedition with sixty-man Loyalist
force to blow Morava Valley rail
line and attack enemy airfield near Niš,
receive last-second order from Colonel
Cope to abort mission and prepare to
abandon Loyalists.
December 13, 1943 Deakin formally takes over Yugoslav section
of Force 133.
December 14, 1943 Loyalist BLOs Col. William Cope and Maj.
Rupert Raw discuss “prepare to escape”
signal with Maj. Radoslav Djurić,
chief Mihailović commander in southeastern
Serbia. Capt. George More, also
a Loyalist BLO, breaks the same news
to Captain Marković, another Mihailović
December 14-15, Capt. Robert Wade leaves Keserović to
1943 make a break to Partisans. He is joined
by Marko Hudson December 23. About
December 27 the two reach a Partisan
December 16, 1943 Brigadier Armstrong, chief BLO at Mihailović
headquarters, finally learns that
other BLOs are abandoning Loyalists.
December 23, 1943 Mihailović—never officially informed but
by now undoubtedly aware that Allies
are abandoning him—tells Armstrong
he will comply with General Wilson’s
request regarding bridge demolitions.
Mihailović says he needs a fortnight to
get troops into position.
Late December 1943 Brigadier Armstrong and Major Jack
to early January move out to Ibar Valley, and Major
1944 Greenwood to Morava Valley, for demolitions,
as per General Wilson’s request
to Mihailović. Foreign Office
London calls operation off at last moment.
Eventually orders are given to
stop all sabotage—with or without
Loyalist help.
Evacuation of remaining BLOs held up
by Cairo while Churchill, Eden, Stevenson,
and Maclean consult and negotiate
with Tito about retention of
Mid-January 1944
Mid-February 1944
Early February 1944
Late May 1944
May 25, 1944
Early June 1944
August 1944
Late September
King Peter’s government and future of
king himself.
Maclean delivers to Tito letter from
Churchill confirming that no further
supplies will be sent to Mihailović and
informing Tito that British want Yugoslav
government to “remove Mihailovic
from their councils.”
Mihailovic is at last officially informed of
decision to abandon him.
Captain Lees—one BLO not informed of
Cairo orders to stop sabotage—carries
out derailment near Leskovac on Belgrade-
Salonika line, and follows with
further derailment a week or two later.
BLOs and crashed American aircrew are
evacuated from airstrip Pranjani near
Čačak, having concentrated from widely
dispersed missions all over Serbia.
German paratroopers drop onto Tito’s
headquarters near Drvar in Bosnia. Tito
is evacuated to Italy, thence to island
of Vis.
On return to Bari, BLOs who have just
marched through large portions of
Serbia without sighting Partisans see
official British maps showing those areas
in Partisan hands. Their protests are
rejected, and they are forbidden access
to the map room.
Churchill and Tito meet at Caserta and
discuss proposed new Šubašić government.
Allied air attacks on retreating German
army facilitate massive drive by Partisans
into Loyalist Serbian heartland and
demonstrate Western Allied support for
Partisan cause.
September 21, 1944
Autumn 1944
Autumn and winter
April-May 1945
April 1946
Tito “levants” secretly to Moscow, soliciting
Red Army help to clear Germans
from Serbia and form alliance with
Bulgarian army.
Churchill voices first disillusionment with
Tito. Memos and signals over the next
nine months show Churchill’s increasing
disappointment until, in June 1945,
his party loses power and he leaves
Partisans, initially with Russian and Bulgarian
help on the ground, take areas
of Serbia remaining in Loyalist hands.
They get massive Western Allied logistical
and close air support. Massacres by
Tito execution squads begin.
Partisans threaten Italian territory in Trieste,
Venezia Giulia, and Austrian
province of Carinthia. Massacres take
place in Slovenia and Montenegro. A
total of 35,000 surrendered troops, political
refugees, and camp followers
comprising principally Slovene and
Croatian Domobrans but including
some thousands of Serbian Cetniks, are
sent back forcibly from Austria to Yugoslavia
by British forces. The vast
majority of them are immediately
slaughtered without trial and in great
At a dinner party in Brussels, Churchill
describes his embracing of Tito as “one
of [his] greatest mistakes of the war.”
Following Mihailovic’s capture on March
14, Churchill writes to Foreign Secretary
Ernest Bevin asking that Britain
intervene to ensure a fair trial for Mihailović.
July 10-15, 1946
July 17, 1946
Mihailovic is tried in Belgrade for treason.
Evidence offered by Americans and
Britons is not admitted.
Mihailovic is executed by firing squad on
a Belgrade golf course.
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