Mihailovic, Dragoljub (1893–1946)

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Serbian soldier.

Dragoljub (Draža) Mihailović was born on 27 March 1893 in Ivanjica, Serbia, and died 17 July 1946 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. A veteran of the First World War, he served as a colonel in the Yugoslav army at the outbreak of the Second World War.


During the battle against the invading Nazis in April 1941, Mihailović avoided direct confrontation with the Germans, retreating instead to the west Serbian uplands, where he organized and became leader of a Serbian nationalist guerrilla resistance movement. With headquarters at Ravna Gora, the movement was officially known first as the Ravna Gora movement and later the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland. However, it was more popularly known as the Chetniks, a name derived from the Serbian and Macedonian guerrilla bands that had opposed Ottoman rule, and more recently from guerrillas of the First World War and local militias under King Alexander Karadjordjević's dictatorship.

Mihailović's Chetnik movement was built out of traditional Serbian nationalist forces, supporting the Karadjordjević dynasty and maintaining links with the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Chetniks' ultimate aim was to surface as the dominant power in a postwar Yugoslavia to bring about the restoration of the Karadjordjević dynasty and the creation of a Great Serbia within a Great Yugoslavia, once the occupying armies were defeated and the quisling governments fell. The primary obstacle to this goal was the communist resistance movement, the Partisans. The Chetnik forces, which initially numbered around ten thousand, fought primarily in Montenegro, Herzegovina, and areas of the Independent State of Croatia. The Chetniks initially attempted to coordinate resistance with the communist Partisans. However, the Partisans favored a far more aggressive strategy in fighting the occupiers, including the provocation of German reprisals to swell their own ranks, whereas Mihailović, whose forces were not numerous, not united, and not sufficiently armed, favored restraint and avoided large-scale fighting with the superior German forces. The differences in strategy, ideology, and ultimate postwar aims between the Chetniks and Partisans led to their split in September 1941, and the two resistance movements began to war with each other in addition to fighting the foreign occupiers. In October 1941, Mihailović clandestinely turned to the German occupying powers to obtain the necessary military support he needed to fight the Partisans, only to be rebuffed by the Germans at a meeting with the chief German spokesman of the plenipotentiary commanding general in Serbia, who did not want Mihailović's cooperation, but his surrender. In fact, in December 1941, the Germans had launched the unsuccessful Operation Mihailović, aimed at capturing the Chetnik leader and breaking up his headquarters in Ravna Gora.

The Chetniks also allied themselves with the Italians against the communist forces, successfully driving them out of Montenegro in late 1941. In return for collaborating with the Italian forces, the Chetniks received arms, food, and pay. At this stage, the Chetniks were supported still by the British and American allies, as well as the Yugoslav government-in-exile in London, which named Mihailović minister of the army, navy, and air force in January 1942, and promoted the colonel to chief of the Supreme Command of the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland in June 1942, in order to officially reflect his status as the first successful resistance leader in Yugoslavia. British propaganda, which exaggerated the story of Mihailović's resistance to the Nazi occupiers, further contributed to Mihailović's heroic standing.

In June 1942, Mihailović relocated the Chetnik headquarters to Montenegro. The Chetniks continued to fight in Herzegovina and Montenegro under the Italian umbrella. During their battles, the Chetniks used mass terror against their enemies, which included counterterror against Croats in areas where the Ustaše had used terror against Serbs; retaliation against the Muslim population in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Sandjak for their cooperation with Austro-Hungarian forces during the First World War and the Ustaše in 1941; and terror against the Partisans, their principle enemy, which was often reciprocated. A series of military defeats to the Partisans in Herzegovina in March–April 1943 marked a turning point in Mihailović's fortunes, causing him to lose a number of followers to the Partisans and to return his headquarters and force of fifty thousand to Serbia in June 1943. Furthermore, in the months leading up to their capitulation in September 1943, the Italians ceased aid and protection to the Chetniks and even disarmed many units.

When the Germans replaced the Italians in Montenegro in the fall of 1943, the Chetniks did not enjoy the same status or privileges with the Axis Powers as they had under the Italians. The Germans had supported the quisling regime in Serbia, led by Milan Nedić, with whom the Chetniks generally did not have harmonious relations. Nedić disaṕ's initial cooperation with the Partisans and resistance activities against the Germans. When the Chetniks broke with the Partisans, however, Nedić reached out to Mihailović. Their relations then passed through various phases throughout the war, remaining largely ambiguous. Some pro-Chetnik members of Nedić's regime supplied Mihailović with intelligence, money, and a small amount of arms received from the Germans. Central in the relations between Nedić and Mihailović were considerations of the posts they would hold in the postwar period. Although they agreed that the Partisans could not emerge as the dominant power at the end of the war, they could not agree among themselves who should rule. Nonetheless, in autumn 1943, Chetnik commanders concluded collaborationist agreements, or a so-called armistice, with the Nazis. Some Chetnik leaders had made contact with the Germans even prior to their arrival in Montenegro in 1943.This German recognition of the Chetniks, which undermined the Nedić regime and caused it to lose many members to the Chetniks, was an acknowledgement of Mihailović's strength and Nedić's weakness in influencing the Serbian population at that point in the war.

Mihailović also had the support of politicians from traditional political parties in Serbia, who shared his interest in counteracting the threat of the communist Partisans seizing power after the war. Mihailović and the Chetniks, together with members of these parties, met at a congress in January 1944 in a village in western Serbia and established the multinational Yugoslav Democratic Union and declared that the postwar Yugoslav state would be a federal state of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. However, at this point, having essentially lost the support of the Allied Powers, the members of the congress were not in a position to decide the fate of the postwar state. In May 1944, the Allied Powers fully switched their support from Mihailovic proved of Mihailović to the Partisan leader, Tito (Josip Broz), primarily because they did not deem the Chetnik movement to be effective enough, and also because they had received reports of Chetnik collaboration with the Nazis. In fact, the British Special Operation Executive had established direct relations with the Partisan Supreme Headquarters already in May 1943. By June 1944 Mihailović lost both his posts as minister and chief of Supreme Command. At the end of the war, Mihailović retreated with about twelve thousand of his men. He was captured by the Partisans on 12 March 1946, and put on trial for treason and collaboration with the Nazis. Mihailović was found guilty and sentenced to death, and was executed in Belgrade on 17 July 1946.

See alsoBosnia-Herzegovina; Guerrilla Warfare; Montenegro; Partisan Warfare; Ustaše; Yugoslavia.


Committee for a Fair Trial for Gen. Draza Mihailovich, Commission of Inquiry. Patriot or Traitor: The Case of General Mihailovich: Proceedings and Report of the Commission of Inquiry of the Committee for a Fair Trial for Draja Mihailovich. Stanford, Calif., 1978.

Milazzo, Matteo J. The Chetnik Movement and the Yugoslav Resistance. Baltimore, Md., 1975.

Roberts, Walter. Tito, Mihailović, and the Allies, 1941–1945. New Brunswick, N.J., 1973.

Tomasevich, Jozo. The Chetniks. Stanford, Calif., 1975.

——. War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941–1945: Occupation and Collaboration. Stanford, Calif., 2001.

Trew, Simon. Britain, Mihailović, and the Chetniks, 1941–42. New York, 1998.

Wheeler, Mark. Britain and the War for Yugoslavia, 1940–1943. Boulder, Colo., 1980.

Jovana L. KneŽeviĆ

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Mihailovic, Dragoljub (1893–1946)

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