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THE Germans could not afford to ignore the threat that the resistance forces of Jugoslavia were offering to their hold on the Balkan States. They must have been sorely disappointed to find that their quislings, Pavelic, Nedic and Novak, had failed to take over control of the country from their erstwhile partner, the Italians, and so relieve them of any further anxiety regarding Jugoslavia. Not only had their quislings failed in this respect but they were losing what little following they had very rapidly, and were obviously no match whatever for the Partisans, who were becoming better equipped each day. Something had to be done to check the " bandits," a term which the Germans used in referring to the Partisans, and to eliminate the threat which was pointing at the very heart of their own country.
Large-scale offensives, embracing the use of many extra divisions, were launched against different parts of Jugoslavia by the Germans, commencing in September, 1943. But it was not until the last week in October that heavy forces were directed against Slovenia. It was estimated that five German divisions, three of which were armoured, were used in Slovenia alone during the three weeks of the offensive there.
An enemy offensive was a disturbing influence, and something to be much dreaded, but the Partisans on this occasion had fully anticipated the enemy's moves and had prepared themselves as best they could, in the short time at their disposal, to meet the blow. Strategy was to play a major role. The Partisan command knew that, even with the vast quantity of arms which they had recently obtained from the Italians, and the greatly increased size of their army, they would be no match for the mechanised forces of the enemy in open battle. This they must avoid. They must hold rigidly to the principle of guerilla warfare, and achieve by skilful manoeuvre what they could not hope to do by weight of arms.
The German forces came in column formation from all directions at once, following the principal roads and converging on the heart of Slovenia. They would push their tanks forward a few kilometres, then halt until their armoured cars and lorry-borne infantry would catch up before pushing on again, in this way keeping their forces as compact as possible and hoping to force the Partisans to concentrate in a small area where they could be isolated and destroyed.
The Partisans carefully watched each move the enemy made, and put sufficient obstacles in the way to delay him until they could manoeuvre their own troops by circumvention and infiltration. By a series of well-placed road-blocks, and by constantly ambushing the advancing forces, at the same time passing their own men through to the rear of the enemy, they never ceased to harrass him, while exposing themselves as little as possible.
The German tanks penetrated to the very hill-tops wherever roads were wide and safe enough for them to travel on. They failed to find the Partisan army, and had no alternative but to withdraw again to the larger towns. This they did, and carried whatever booty they could find, a considerable quantity of livestock, but little else, with them. The Partisans pressed them back, inflicting losses whenever opportunity afforded, and, by the middle of November, the enemy was content to retain little more than what he had held before he began the offensive.
It was Partisan strategy during the offensive to offer battle only when circumstances afforded them a distinct advantage. To strike the enemy without being seen: to inflict casualties and destroy his equipment were their chief aims. Many local battles were fought, especially in the vicinity of Novo Mesto, Zuzemberk, Kocevje, Idria, and east of Trst. Two tank battles were fought into the Primorska, in which the Partisans, using a few light tanks which they had obtained from the Italians, gained a temporary success over the enemy. Authentic records show that during the offensive in Slovenia the Germans lost over forty-six hundred killed and thirty-three hundred wounded. Fifteen tanks, ninety-seven vehicles, including many armoured cars, and two complete armoured trains, besides large quanties of machine-guns, rifles, mortars and small arms ammunition were destroyed or captured.
The Partisans had outmanoeuvred the enemy with amazing skill. To have employed such a large force in guerilla warfare with so high a degree of co-ordination reflected leadership and discipline of the highest order. Dispersal was wide and great responsibility devolved upon local commanders and leaders. Hardship was common to all. We knew of some units which were constantly on the move for as long as ten days without a respite from frequent clashes with the enemy and forced marches, during which time they had very little to eat and scarcely more than an hour or two of sleep at a time. Other units were so hard-pressed they had to disperse and find their way out through the enemy's defence line. Frequently enemy patrols would appear, and, though weak in numbers, Partisan units would have to fight their way out to freedom. But during it all constant contact was maintained between units and commands, and the Partisans quickly reassembled, often in rear of the enemy, forcing him to withdraw to safer areas.
The enemy did, however, succeed in tightening his hold on the few railway lines in Northern Slovenia which were still in operation.
This he did by placing strong garrisons in the larger towns, flanking them as a means of warding off the Partisans. In addition to this he succeeded in bringing the entire coastline from Istria to Montenegro again under his control by stationing heavy forces along it at frequent intervals.
Politically the offensive was a failure. The Germans had attempted to break the Partisan hold in Slovenia and to establish a new quisling in authority, whom they had found in the person of General Rupnik, an ex-officer of the Jugoslav regular army. But in this effort they failed completely. No local support whatever was given to General Rupnik. The most he could boast of were a few thousand conscripts, obtained chiefly from occupied areas in the northerly and westerly parts of Slovenia.
With so little to show for their losses, the enemy discontinued the offensive and moved their Panzer forces to other fronts where they were urgently needed. The Partisans at once began offensive operations. They surrounded all enemy garrisons and inflicted severe losses on them whenever they attempted to move. Troops by the thousands were infiltrated deep into all occupied territory, reaching many points well inside the Austrian frontier. The Partisans intensified their activities against all railways and lines of communication. Such operations were continued relentlessly throughout the winter.
But a German offensive was not to break the continuity of things, and the task of consolidating the unity of the people of Jugoslavia could not be thwarted by the actions of a few German divisions. It was just another experience along the road to freedom. The several States, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, etc., by this time had had their provisional parliaments elected, and the next step in the progress of national liberty was to appoint a central government for Jugoslavia.
The very night that we arrived back at camp, after having been hidden in caves and most secret hide-outs during the Hun offensive, the members of the Izvrsni Odbor of Slovenia started out on the snowy trail for a destination somewhere in Bosnia, leaving our headquarters about midnight. It was expected to be a hard journey and not altogether free from the possibility of enemy interference. Between three and four hundred kilometres to be journeyed principally on foot, through rough mountainous country, with every likelihood of deep snow in places, was enough for younger men at any time. However, the members of the Izvrsni Odbor, with the exception of two or three who were too ill to venture, shouldered their packs, quietly shook hands with us and departed. Nobody but themselves knew where they were going or what it was they were going for. We only recall how happy they were at the time, and we surmised something very important was "in the air."
In December the great secret was disclosed to the world. Two hundred and fifty delegates, representative of all nationalities, classes and creeds from all parts of Jugoslavia, had assembled in the Bosnian town of Jajce, November 29th, 1943, as the second session of the provisional parliament of Jugoslavia, with Dr. Ivar Ribar as president.
The first session of that parliament met in November of the previous year at Bihac, in Croatia. That session comprised several hundred representatives, elected by the people of all parts of Jugoslavia. These representatives appointed from their number a council of sixty-five members, under the presidency of Dr. Ribar, known as the "Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation," and charged it with the responsibility of administering the affairs of liberated areas and of organising supplies for the National Liberation Army as well as for the civilian population.
The second session of the provisional parliament, held at Jajce in November, 1943, attracted world-wide attention and deep interest. This session was unique in many respects. The unity of the people had become their sovereignty. This fact was announced to the world for the first time.
The parliament resolved, among other things, that the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Jugoslavia, as the representative of the sovereign peoples of Jugoslavia, should take over all legislative and executive power for the duration of the war, and that for the periods when the Council was not in session authority should be exercised by the Presidium of the Council, which consisted of the president, five vice-presidents, two secretaries and a minimum of forty members. The duties of a temporary government were delegated to a "National Liberation Committee."
Thus, after two-and-a-half years of lone struggle against two of the strongest armies in the world, a new Jugoslavia emerged a federal state with over half its territory liberated and the people more united than ever in its history under a people's government.
The Presidium of the Council was elected at Jajce and was authorised to appoint the National Liberation Committee, which thus became the supreme executive organ of the nation's authority.
The National Liberation Committee consisted of one president, three vice-presidents and commissioners or ministers corresponding to the departments were set up. The members of the National Committee (provisional government) as appointed by the Presidium at Jajce, November 29th, 1943, were as follows:
Josip Broz Tito, Chairman of the Committee and Commissioner for National Defence; Marshal of Jugoslavia; born in the district of Klanjec; Croat, 55, Communist, metal worker in Zagreb; organiser of the National Liberation Army of Jugoslavia.
Edward Kardelj, Vice-president; Slovene; teacher from Ljubljana; Communist; was for many years in prison for his political activities; a well-known publicist and contributor of the review Sodobnost.
Vladislav Ribnikar, Vice-president; Commissioner for Information; former chief editor and co-proprietor of the leading newspaper, Politika; 43; graduated at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris; Independent; Serb.
Bazidar Magovac, Vice-president; born in Karlovac; Croat; member of the Croat Peasant Party; former editor of D.O.M., official weekly of this party.
Dr. Josip Smodlaka, Commissioner of Foreign Affairs; Croat from Split; 70; friend of Masaryk; M.P. in the Vienna Parliament for Dalmatia before the First World War; collaborator of Svetozar Pribicevic, Dr. Trumbic and Stjepan Radic. When Austria declared war on Serbia was imprisoned because of pro-Serbian feelings; in 1918 headed the provincial government of Dalmatia; in the same year became member of the National Council of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs in Zagreb; in 1919 member of the Jugoslav Delegation at the Versailles Peace Conference; Jugoslav Minister in Vatican and in Madrid.
Rev. Vlado Zecevic, Commissioner for Internal Affairs; Orthodox priest from Krupanj, Serbia; Serb; when guerilla movement originated in Serbia in summer, 1941, commanded a detachment of Chetniks, but after the treachery of Draza Mihailovic, went over to the Partisans; in autumn, 1941, was commander of a guerilla battalion; member of the H.Q. of the National Liberation Army.
Eduard Kocbek, Commissioner for Education; Christian Socialist Party; Vice-president of the Executive Committee of the Liberation Front of Slovenia. Well-known Slovene poet and essayist; member of the P.E.N. Club; Professor of French Language and Literature. Born in Styria; founder of Christian Socialist review, Dejana (Action).
Ivan Milutinovic, Commissioner for Agriculture; Montenegrin; economist; specialist in agrarian questions; Communist.
Dushan Sernec, Commissioner for Finance; Slovene; Member of the Slovene Popular Party (Catholic); former Minister in the Belgrade Government; former Ban (Governor) of Slovenia.
Sreten Zujevic Crni, Commissioner for Transport; Serb from Belgrade; Communist; distinguished himself in the guerilla organisation.
Dr. Zlatko Sremac, Commissioner for Public Health; M.D.; Croat.
Todor Vujasinovic, Commissioner for Economic Reconstruction. Serb from Bosnia; former official of the Social Insurance Office in Tusla.
Dr. Anton Knusnik, Commissioner for Social Welfare; born in Styria; about 60; President of the High Court of Slovenia; former President of the Administrative High Court of Celje; a Freethinker and active Freemason, working in the lodges of Sarajevo and Ljubljana. Although he never belonged to any political party, he might be classified as a Liberal Democrat.
Fran Farol, Commissioner for Justice; member of the Croat Peasant Party; former head of the Civil Service in the Banovina of Croatia; 50.
Mile Perunicic, Commissioner for Supplies; Serb; former M.P. for the Democratic Party.
Dr. Rade Pribicevic, Commissioner for Public Works; lawyer from Petrinja; 45; Serb; member of the Executive Committee of the Independent Democratic Party; fought actively against King Alexander's dictatorship; very popular with the Croat peasants and the Serbs.
Cl. Sulejman Filipovic, Commissioner for Forests and Mines: Moslem from Bosnia; went over to the Partisans from the Croat conscripted army with his whole regiment.
Thus the National Committee of Liberation, as appointed by the provisional parliament at Jajce, November, 1943, included 6 Serbs, 5 Croats, 4 Slovenes, 1 Montenegrin and 1 Bosnian, a total of 17 members. It will be observed that many of those members were experienced public men, having held responsible positions in previous administrations of their country.
After two-and-a-half years of bitter fighting the people of Jugoslavia saw the shackles of Axis authority broken and their country emerging from the bondage of tyranny and oppression. Freedom was no fickle promise charged with appeasement to dull their moral convictions. It was the fire of truth, the purge of the soul, the invincible force which had led them on to liberty. And in so far as freedom was served would her reward of security and peace be enjoyed. The unity of the people was absolute, and had now taken on national form in a common democratic government which was so much a part of themselves that its authority was essentially the honest reflection of the public mind.
It became the immediate task of the new government to give official character to many desires and principles currently held throughout the country. Two or three of them, however, were particularly significant, and should be mentioned here.
Parliament provided that the military rank of marshal be created, and by its own act Josip Broz Tito was promoted to the rank of Marshal of Jugoslavia and Commander-in-Chief of the National Liberation Army and Partisan Detachments. This was, indeed, an appropriate act and a fitting recognition of the services of so great and worthy a leader. But the significant point about it was the recognition by the recipient, in his humble acceptance of the honour, of the supreme authority of parliament. He recognised in this tribute the supreme authority of the people he was leading.
The youthful King of Jugoslavia, Peter II, and his advisors, fled from their country as the enemy entered it in 1941, and had taken refuge in Great Britain. The matter of his position in relation to his people was expressed by the provisional parliament in the following clause, which was part of a comprehensive declaration which treated of the king and his government.
"Clause 7 (b). King Peter II, Kara Georgevic, is forbidden to return to the country until after the liberation of the entire country, when the problem of the king as well as the question of monarchy can be decided."
Since the provisional administration within the country considered it could not, within the limits of the people's trust imposed in it, assume any responsibility for the form of post-war government, it was decided to abide by the principle of the Atlantic Charter and defer such matters until the country should become wholly liberated and the people were free to express their will concerning them by formal plebiscite.
Another significant achievement expressed in the Jajce session was the establishment of the federal principal of the organisation of Jugoslavia. The influences which had long sought to foster disunity among the peoples of Jugoslavia by playing up racial jealousies and hatred had at last become ineffective and were being speedily driven from the land. The people were free to express their deep-rooted natural tendency to unity in understanding and co-operation. With so much of the country liberated the new government assumed its responsibility to provide adequate administration for all departments of national life and activity and threw itself into the task forthwith.
The success of the Jajce session in crystallising the will of the people was affirmed by the rate at which the news of the proceedings of that historic meeting spread over the country. Enthusiasm ran high, and like the reassuring fires so often seen from the hill-tops in free areas, the success of the Jajce session was hailed as a symbol of victory and a signal for still greater effort against the enemy.
When several members of the National Committee (the new government) visited Croatia and Slovenia in January, 1944, to report to the people of those States, great crowds assembled to welcome them wherever they went. All were eager to hear, first hand, the account of what had been accomplished at Jajce.
It was a thrilling experience indeed when we witnessed one of these meetings in a large town in the southern part of Slovenia. On the afternoon of a beautiful fine day, late in January, the air chill and clear, several thousands of citizens from miles round gathered in the town square. A rough board grandstand, heavily trimmed with evergreens and bunting, was completely concealed by the many officials and delegates who attended Dr. Ribar, President of the provisional parliament, and the accompanying members of the government. Streamers and Allied flags were prominent among the dense crowd; others were waved excitedly from windows and balconies.
A procession of youth carrying placards, and floats, singing to the accompaniment of accordions, entered from one of the flanks and coiled itself in a reserved space in front of the grandstand. When a full battalion of Partisans marched past General Rozman, who took the salute standing on the steps of the grandstand, the cheering was so loud and continuous that the march played by the band was scarcely audible. With rifles at the proper carriage, all in step and chins high, those brave men reflected in their faces the pride and esteem which all present held for them.
The ovation given to Dr. Ribar when he stepped forward to address the crowd was tremendous. The people cheered and cheered and would not be quieted. This was their opporunity to express themselves, and they did it well. Dr. Ribar, in his inimitable style, held the attention of all for well over an hour, and was frequently interrupted by stirring applause.
For several hours the speeches continued. Commissioners or Ministers of the Government, representing each State in the federation of Jugoslavia, spoke in turn and elaborated upon some phase or other of the proceedings at Jajce. The speakers had acquitted themselves well and the people were strong in their approval of their record. It was evident the people of Jugoslavia were already happy in their freedom. Not until darkness had set in did the meeting finally close. But the activity throughout the town that night clearly indicated that nobody wished to sleep. Dancing and song continued until daybreak.
Such experiences as the meeting in that Slovenian town were common throughout all free areas in Jugoslavia during the winter and spring of 1944. Nor did the joy rest there. Throughout all occupied areas, and even deep into the neighbouring countries of Bulgaria, Greece and Albania, the news of events in Jugoslavia was received with great enthusiasm among the people, though with equal dismay by the Axis military leaders. The spirit of unity now symbolised in their new government had served the people of Jugoslavia well. Victory, final victory, was definitely in sight. In reviewing their progress since the dark days of 1941, they took courage, and with faith strengthened by the knowledge of their great achievements, applied themselves to the task of liberating their country, more determined than ever to destroy the enemy.
They heard the Voice,
And followed on,
Through blood and toil and pain;
And from the hill where Truth did lead.
Found Freedom in the plain.
First published 1946 by Bedford Books Limited 26-30 Midland Road, Bedford and printed in England by Diemer & Reynolds, Ltd., Bedford
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