In Defense of Mihailovich

by CONSTANTIN FOTITCH

1

THE death of General Mihailovich, shot by Tito after a mockery of justice, gave no satisfactory answer to the accusations which have been raised against him by the Communist propaganda since 1942. Using the knowledge he acquired as Chief of the Balkan Section of the Research and Analysis Branch of the OSS, Mr. Robert Lee Wolff has tried, in the October Atlantic, to give an unbiased and impartial post-mortem by ratifying the conclusions reached by Tito’s court, and vouching before American public opinion that the verdict against Mihailovich was fully justified.

To the question “Did Mihailovich collaborate with the enemy?” he answers with an unreserved “There is no doubt in my mind that he did.” To substantiate this assertion, he calls upon as witnesses not only Americans who were associated with the guerrillas in Yugoslavia, but Partisans and Nazis as well.

I do not know of any American officer who had been attached to Mihailovich’s forces, either in an official capacity or as one of the hundreds whom the destiny of war brought into contact with Mihailovich, who would have sustained those accusations even by indirect implication. Every one of them, without exception, praised the General and spoke highly of his character and relentless struggle against the enemy. Many of them have categorically refuted the accusations of collaboration brought against General Mihailovich.

Captain Walter Mansfield, whose report after his return from Yugoslavia is quoted by Mr. Wolff as giving support to those accusations, testified under oath, before an American Commission of Inquiry, that during his entire stay with Mihailovich from August, 1943, to the end of January, 1944 — during which time he traveled extensively through territory under Mihailovich’s control — he saw no evidence which would support the accusation of collaboration.

In an article appearing in the June issue of the American Mercury magazine, Captain Mansfield, reviewing the charges of collaboration in the light of evidence given by American officers attached to the American mission, made the following conclusion: “The evidence seen by Americans calls for one verdict only — complete exoneration.” He further reports in this article: “In a six months’ careful search, the only evidence I found of an agreement between the Chetniks and the Germans was in January, 1944, near Nevisinjc, Herzegovina, where it appeared that the Germans locally were laying off the Chetniks. In this area, the Chetniks faced an overwhelming Partisan offensive which neatly avoided the Germans. The local commander, with whom I talked, hated the Nazis just as much as the Communists. His only hope was to preserve his own forces in order to get rid of both eventually.”

But even for this incident, Captain Mansfield gives the following explanation: “If local truces and limited arms’ transactions constitute collaboration, however, then virtually every guerrilla group in the world has been guilty of it, including the Partisans.” Yet Mr. Wolff in his article cites this incident as a typical example of Chetnik collaboration with the Axis, putting the blame by inference on Mihailovich himself. It doesn’t seem credible that Captain Mansfield’s public statements would be at variance with the report which he submitted to his superiors after his return from Yugoslavia.

Referring to Colonel Robert H. McDowell’s experience with Mihailovich, Mr. Wolff writes: “Colonel McDowell . . . found himself, within a very short time after his arrival at Mihailovich’s secret HQ, talking in person to Neubacher’s right-hand man, Staerker, who had come to the HQ for a discussion.” Such a presentation of facts by a man who was in a position to examine all the secret reports on the intricate Yugoslav situation gives the impression that there existed a close contact between General Mihailovich and representatives of Hitler’s headquarters in the Balkans, and that Staerker served as a kind of liaison officer between Neubacher and Mihailovich.

In a written statement sent to the Commission of Inquiry into the case of Draja Mihailovich, Colonel McDowell dealt with the Staerker case. He said: “The following is the true account of this incident. German officials made a contact with the undersigned for the purpose of discussing the surrender of German forces. As is now well known, there were many such German contacts during the last months of German resistance. . . . The undersigned was instructed to listen to and transmit any German offer. General Mihailovich was most unwilling to have any contact with Germans but agreed to Staerker’s coming, on the insistence of the undersigned. The undersigned had two interviews with Staerker. As the General was with the undersigned both prior to and after these interviews, there could have been no opportunity for the General to have had private meetings with Staerker.” Such is the formal statement of an American officer who was with Mihailovich during a critical stage. In spite of the clear and unbiased statement of Colonel McDowell, who assumes the responsibility of the meeting with Staerker to which Mihailovich was opposed, this accusation was one of the prosecutor’s feature points at Mihailovich’s trial.

In a public statement issued in London on May 11, 1946, a group of British officers, among whom were former Brigadier C. D. Armstrong and Colonel S. W. Bailey, — successive heads of British missions to Mihailovich, — placed on record “a few typical examples in which General Mihailovich, personally and in his capacity as Commander in Chief in the field of the Royal Yugoslav Army in the fatherland, made significant and repeated contributions to the Allied cause.” These British officers gave ten such examples in their statement — covering the period between June, 1943, and February, 1944 — without the slightest fragment of support for the charges of collaboration. Had those American and British officers noticed any signs of collaboration between Mihailovich and the Axis, they would certainly have failed in their most elementary duty in not reporting such collusions, if they existed.

In support of his theory, Mr. Wolff quotes also two leading Nazi personalities of the occupation authorities in Yugoslavia, Dr. Hermann Neubacher and the SS Major General (Himmler’s representative in Yugoslavia), as telling the American interrogating officers in detail — after their capture — of their arrangements with Mihailovich. If their accounts contain no more evidence than that produced in Tito’s court, then Mihailovich’s guilt is as unestablished as it was by Tito’s verdict. Had the State Department given credence to those statements (and it must have known about them), it is hardly conceivable that it would have requested the Tito government on two separate occasions to permit American officers and airmen to testify at Mihailovich’s trial, reminding Tito that Mihailovich “remained in his native land and without adequate supplies and fighting under the greatest hardships contributed with his forces materially to the Allied cause so heroically participated in by Yugoslavia.”

In addition to such statements of American and British witnesses who had been with Mihailovich, there are public statements by many American officers who had been attached to Tito’s forces. Those statements are far from favorable to the Partisans. Major Temple Fielding, for instance, one of the original members of the U.S. Military Mission to Tito, said in a statement given to the Detroit Sunday Times: “As a charter member of the Independent American Military Mission to Tito, dictator of Yugoslavia, I watched the greatest double-cross of World War II — the Soviet frameup against General Mihailovich and his Chetnik Army.” Knowing the Partisan methods and the value of their accusations from personal experience, Major Fielding expresses the conviction that “not one shred of ‘evidence’ is authentic.” He knew about 70 per cent of the American personnel in Tito’s Yugoslavia, as well as many American liaison officers with the Chetniks. From the talks he had with them, Major Fielding says: “Never once did I see, hear or read the slightest evidence that this soldier democrat [Mihailovich] sold out to the Nazis.”

The statements of American officers that I have quoted are a result of an analysis and research of the situation conducted in the field through personal contacts with both Yugoslav guerrilla groups in the midst of the war, and are not merely an intellectual product of desk studies.

2

FAR from being driven into the situation on account of his Great Serbian background to fight for the establishment of a Great Serbia, Mihailovich invariably emphasized in all his statements and acts that he was fighting for the restoration of a federal Yugoslavia in which all nationalities — Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes — would have equal rights. Looking beyond the frontiers of Yugoslavia, he tried to establish contact with democratic leaders of Rumania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania. He realized that only through close cooperation of these agrarian democracies could they successfully thwart the threat of communization of their countries.

To Mr. Wolff’s gratuitous assertion that “Mihailovich was devoted to the Serb-dominated dictatorship established by King Alexander in 1929,” I quote from a statement by Mr. George Dimitrov, leader of the Bulgarian Agrarian Party, who took refuge in the American Embassy in Sofia to escape Communist persecution: “Mihailovich did not approve of King Alexander’s dictatorship, and sharply criticized the murder of the Croat, peasant leader Stepan Radich. He enthusiastically accepted the idea for a South Slav brotherhood, a democratic Balkan federation, and a United States of Europe.” Mr. Dimitrov’s testimony is of special interest to the American public in view of the high esteem which the Acting Secretary of State, Joseph Grew, expressed about him when he said: “Mr. Dimitrov is a Bulgarian political leader representing a large democratic element with a long and honorable record of loyalty to democratic principles and the Allied cause.”

General Mihailovich was not a chauvinistic Great Serb, but simply a Serb who was proud of being one, He was imbued with a genuine love for freedom and democracy, inherent in all the Serbian people. He was proud of the history and traditions of his people, and of their ceaseless struggle for liberation first from Ottoman domination and later in the Balkan Wars and World War I, in which Serbia lost nearly 20 per cent of her population fighting alongside the Allies for freedom and democracy.

As a soldier he was not a “boot” of a narrow professional outlook. On the contrary, he was known for his leftist sympathies, because of which he was transferred from the Royal Guard regiment to the regular army troops. As a professor of strategy at the Belgrade Military Academy, his theories on the importance of guerrilla warfare for an army like the Yugoslav, which would be no match for the highly mechanized armies of its potential enemies, were considered too radical, and like General de Gaulle, he had to discontinue his courses.

Mihailovich was not the Minister of War of the government-in-exile which “the Serb nationalists formed . . . after the speedy collapse of the Yugoslav armies.” He was the Minister of War of the Yugoslav government, one of whose Vice Presidents was Dr. Juraj Krnjevich, Secretary General of the Croat Peasant Party, and the other Dr. Miho Krek, President of the Slovene Popular Party, which, like the governments of Belgium, Norway, and Holland, found refuge in London. Not a single Serbian member of the Yugoslav government-in-exile could be accused of having had any connection with the so-called “Charshiya.” Dr. Slobodan Yovanovich, one of the most distinguished personalities in Serbian public life, was a former dean of the University of Belgrade; Dr. Milan Gavrilovich, leader of the Serbian Agrarian Party, was a politician and a longtime editor of the largest Belgrade newspaper — the Politika; Milan Grol and Milosh Trifunovich, leader of the Radical Party, were both college professors.

It is true that the relations between the Serb and Croat members of the government-in-exile gradually became more and more strained, especially after the mass massacres of the Serbs in the Croat Independent State carried out by Pavelich’s Ustashi. Even according to Tito’s statistics, those massacres exceeded the appalling figure of 600,000. The Croat members, by failing to denounce publicly these cruel and merciless murders, helped to broaden the gap already existing between the two groups. Naturally all the Serbs bitterly resented the extermination of their helpless compatriots in the Croat Independent State, but it is pure gossip to attribute to Major Knezevich the statement: “The massacre of two million Croats after the war would be the only way in which peace and order could be restored,” and more so to add: “He was regarded as a moderate in some Great Serb circles.” Major Knezevich was one of the principal executors of the Belgrade coup d’état of March 27, 1941, hailed throughout the Allied world as one of the gravest moral blows dealt Hitler during the war.

3

MIHAILOVICH’S tactics and strategy were quite different from Tito’s. He knew that unless there was an Allied landing in Yugoslavia he would be forced to limit his activities to guerrilla warfare and sabotage of German lines of communication, thus making their occupation of the country more difficult and forcing them to keep a greater number of divisions in Yugoslavia, which otherwise could have been used by the Nazis on some other front, He contributed greatly to the Allied cause in this field of activity, his services being recognized by telegrams from the Allied headquarters in Cairo on August 16, 1942, from the Chief of the British Imperial Staff on December 1, 1942, and from General Eisenhower in a New Year’s message of 1943.

Mihailovich knew that a guerrilla army, no matter how well supplied by the Allies and how courageous, could not eject the German Army from Yugoslavia unless there was an Allied invasion either from the East or the West. It is no wonder then that he was preparing his army in the expectation of such a moment. The Partisan victory was assured by the advance of the Red Army, not “almost to the Yugoslav frontiers,” but actually by the advance of Marshal Tolbukhin’s army through Serbia, which seized Belgrade and installed Tito in the capital of Yugoslavia. “Tito’s government,” stated the Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, in the House of Commons on January 19, 1945, “has now installed itself in Belgrade with Russian assistance.”

After the capture of Belgrade, Marshal Tolbukhin’s army veered toward Hungary, and Tito, in spite of the forced mobilization carried out throughout Serbia, could not drive the Germans any further from their entrenched positions. Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, located almost in the heart of Yugoslavia, did not fall until the beginning of May, 1945; and Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, surrendered only after German capitulation. This complete stalemate did not prevent Tito from issuing boastful communiques claiming new and important victories over the Germans daily, a long-established custom of his.

Here is what Colonel McDowell has to say about Tito’s reports: “The communiques issued by the Communist-led Yugoslav forces consistently presented a false picture of military operations. In Cairo during the first half of 1944, the undersigned was directly concerned with an Allied committee to evaluate the state of Axis lines of communication in the Balkans. This group had at its disposal all sorts of information. The Communist communiques of their operations against German communications proved themselves so consistently untrustworthy that their evidence was finally deemed worthless.”

Even Mihailovich’s successful operations were claimed as their own in these communiques, the most typical instance of which was the destruction of the railroad line between Uzice and Sarajevo, in September, 1943. This operation was witnessed by several British and American officers, and Colonel Albert Seitz himself lit the fuse which set off the explosion of one of the bridges. A few days later —to their great surprise — they heard an account of this important operation over the BBC, for which full credit was given to the Partisans (at that time at least 100 miles away), who according to this radio report had to fight the Germans, the Ustashis, and the Chetnilcs in order to perform this feat. Brigadier General Armstrong, Chief of the British Mission with Mihailovich, made fruitless efforts with the Allied headquarters in Cairo to make the BBC broadcast a correction and present a true account of the operation.

Mihailovich’s reports came through the channel of the “Woods and Mountains radio station,” whose authenticity must have been known to the Research and Analysis Branch of the OSS. The license to receive those telegrams — as they emanated from the territory officially under enemy occupation — was granted to me only after a careful investigation of their origin by the War, Navy, and State Departments. A New York newspaper, which some time ago challenged more directly the authenticity of those messages, as well as the manner in which they were used by me, was compelled to print a public retraction and “Apology to Former Ambassador Fotitch.”

4

MIHAILOVICH’S contribution in rescuing almost 500 American airmen and returning them safely to their bases in Italy is not, according to Mr. Wolff, in contradiction with the theory of collaboration. His explanation is practically the same as the one given by the prosecutor at the trial of Mihailovich. If General Mihailovich did both things at the same time, — that is, collaborated with the enemy on the one hand and helped the Allies on the other, — then it must be assumed that the German Intelligence was so inadequate as to let itself be deceived by Mihailovich in carrying out so important an act for the benefit of the Allies before its very own eyes.

The presence of the American mission with Mihailovich as late as the summer of 1944 was amply justified by the work in connection with the rescue of the American airmen, as well as by the necessity for effective intelligence work in that important area of war operations. The Partisans were very likely annoyed by the presence of American officers with Mihailovich’s forces, but it was not for this reason that they became suspicious of the Allies. Even during the war, when they continued to receive considerable help from the Allies, their attitude toward the Western democracies was lukewarm. The war had hardly come to an end when Tito set a course of deliberate anti-Ally, especially anti-American policy, which he has continued to pursue with unchanging determination.

The closing down of the American Information Center in Belgrade, the mistreatment of American citizens in concentration camps and forced labor camps, the shooting down of American planes, and the murder of American airmen are only a normal flow of developments resulting from this policy. It is primarily aimed at impairing the prestige of the United States in the eyes of the Yugoslav people, and forcing them to abandon all hope of Allied intervention in bringing Tito to respect the commitments made in the Yalta Agreement, thereby reconciling themselves with his dictatorial regime and their lost liberties.

Searching for the reasons why various prominent Americans joined the Committee for a Fair Trial for Draja Mihailovich is a useless and unnecessary waste of effort. Their participation in this Committee, it seems to me, was motivated solely by a sense of justice and of fair play, innate with all Americans. Dr. Subasieh’s announcement during the San Francisco Conference that Mihailovich would be shot if captured was not the only reason why they believed that Mihailovich would not receive a fair trial. Public manifestations and statements of several members of Tito’s government indicated that the sentence was passed even before the trial began. In an official note to the American government on April 4 — two months before the opening of the trial —— the Yugoslav Foreign Office made the following amazing statement to the American government: “The crimes of the traitor Draja Mihailovich against the people of Yugoslavia are far too big and horrible that it could be or should be allowed to be discussed whether he is guilty or is not.” This statement comes from a government which was committed, according to the Tito-Subasich Agreement sanctioned at Yalta, “to have a judiciary system in conformity with a democratic spirit.” There was little doubt as to what Mihailovich’s fate would be after these statements.

There is, however, one point on which I am inclined to agree with Mr. Wolff. Writing about the American and British students of the Balkans, he admits that: “It happens usually that the discoverer falls in love with the first Balkan people he meets.” The first Balkan people whom Mr. Wolff met were undoubtedly not Mihailovich supporters.

(Mr. Wolff’s reply will be found in Atlantic Repartee, page 26, of this issue.)