Chetnik Uprising in Srb, 27 July 1941

Chetnik Uprising in Srb, 27 July 1941


On 27th of July 1941., a rebellion began against the government of Independent State of Croatia. For a long time, this day was celebrated as the day of Antifascist uprising in Croatia. Uprising caught the area of Srb, Lapac, Drvar and Bosansko Grahovo, that is the area of Lika and Western Bosnia. Since the territory of NDH in Yugoslavia was divided into two republics – Croatia and BiH – both marked the day as the Day of the Uprising.

But the uprising was significantly different from what it is usually portrayed as. The “antifascist” uprising was carried out primarily by Serb Chetniks, with significant support from Communist Partisans as well as Fascist Italy. Representatives of Serb Chetniks and Italian authorities had met in Benkovac on 23rd July – just before the uprising. In the meeting it was agreed that Serbs will return to their homes and work on helping Italy annex the Knin and Gračac districts. Italy also offered Chetniks financial and material support, but not the Communists since they had become official enemies of Italy on 22nd June 1941. It has to be remembered that up until the Axis attack on the Soviet union, Communists considered Fascists and Nazis to be allies, and this attitude included Yugoslav Communists as well.

Aim of the uprising was thus not fighting against fascism, but destruction of the Croatian state. Communists did not and could not have taken the leading role in the uprising. They simply did not have the numbers nor organization for a major uprising – up until only a month earlier (22nd June), Nazi Germany was considered a friendly power, and so Communists required time to shift their operations to war footing. Instead, Chetniks did the brunt of the dirty work, while Communists and Italians supported their operations against the Independent State of Croatia.

This cooperation was inevitable, as all three groups were opposed to Croatian state existing in any shape or form. While Italy had gained its demands from the Treaty of London, it was clear that Ustashi would use the first opportunity to regain the Croatian territories lost to Italy – and indeed they did, annexing Istra and Dalmatia as soon as Italy capitulated in 1943., and thus forcing the Croatian Communist leadership (ZAVNOH) to declare “liberation” of Dalmatia so as not to fall behind.

Chetniks obviously saw independent Croatia as a massive obstacle to their goal of creation of Greater Serbia, as they wanted to include majority of NDH’s territory into said project. Even those who did not want actual Greater Serbia were still opposed to NDH as they wanted to restore Monarchist Yugoslavia.

Problem in fact had existed since the establishment of the Kingdom SHS (later renamed to Kingdom of Yugoslavia) in 1918., when Serbian side publically proposed amputation of Croatia. These threats intensified in 1928., immediately after the attack by Serb National Radical Party member on Croatian parliamentarians in Belgrade. During 1932., Chetnik councils were founded in a large number of cities and towns in Croatia – Zagreb, Sisak, Bjelovar, Osijek, Našice, Virovitica, Vukovar, Nova Gradiška, Okučani, Đakovo, Koprivnica, Križevci, Varaždin, Duga Resa, Drežnica, Gospić, Donji Lapac, Gračac, Karlovac, Knin, Drniš, Kistanje, Dubrovnik, Sušak. This was a clear preparation for aggression against Croatia, and these councils played a key role in spreading propaganda about Serbs being in danger. Founding of Chetnik groups led to Croatian response in form of the Citizen and Peasant Protection groups, and also to appearance of the Ustashi movement. During mid-1930s there were many armed clashes between Croatian militias on one side and Chetniks supported by the Yugoslav gendarmerie (police) on the other, as well as murders of prominent Croatians and even localized massacres carried out by Chetnik militias. Chetnik groups were supported and armed by the Yugoslav government, and operated in close concord with the Gendarmerie.

In 1939., after the establishment of Banate of Croatia, Serb radicals called for separating Serb-majority areas from the territory of Croatia. They also intensified their activity, including propaganda about how Serbs are being threatened by formation of the Banate, spread through among other things the newspaper Serbian Word, founded in 1940. in Zagreb. This continued into 1941., when Serbs requested for Serb-majority areas to be separated from the Independent State of Croatia and annexed to Italy. Last such example of inherent Serb hostility to Croatian state happened in 1990s when calls to autonomy were used as a tool to take away parts of Croatian territory.

Communists meanwhile believed that existence of any kind of independent Croatian state was a direct threat to their project of Communist state. Both groups had thus been carrying out terrorist acts against Croatia and Croatians ever since establishment of Banate of Croatia on 24th August 1939. Italian Fascists saw NDH as an obstacle to spreading their imperial influence deeper into areas beyond the eastern Adriatic shore. All of this meant that the Fascist, Chetniks and Communists were very close allies against the Croatian state. Things however went even deeper. Croatian Communists Marko Orešković and Veco Holjevac, among others, spent time after the fall of Yugoslavia travelling through Serb villages and warning people that Ustashe will murder them. In this way, they pushed Serbs to rebel – and in turn caused precisely the thing they were “warning” people about.

It is thus clear that the trigger for uprising were not Ustashi crimes or reprisals, but rather the very act of establishment of the Croatian state. The rebellion was aimed against Croatia in its entirety, not just against the Ustashi regime. This alone is enough to completely negate attemts to label the Srb uprising as an “antifascist” movement, as it wasn’t aimed against Fascism at all, but rather against Croatia.

In fact, uprising in Srb had been prepared even before establishment of the Independent State of Croatia. Serb deserters from Yugoslav army – who later became Chetniks – came to Srb in April 1941., bringing with them enough weapons and ammunition to arm a reinforced company of 136 men at least. They were soon joined by the Communists “from all parts”, who in early June formed their “revolutionary councils” and started moving people to forests. Ustashi only came to Srb around 20th of June, which means that Ustashi crimes could not have caused the uprising. In fact, Serbs in all parts of NDH had been armed, mostly with weapons taken from the dissolving Royal Yugoslav Army. This led to significant Chetnik activity almost immediately, and Ustashi attempts at disarming the rebels led to armed clashes.

Above account clearly proves the lie of the official version of events, which states that the Ustashi had come to Srb and began killing people for no reason at all. Fact is, Chetniks and Communists had been organizing from the very start to rebel – not against the Ustashi, but against Croatian state. Ustashi arrival to Srb was a reactionary measure, taken in response to the previously described events. And any Ustashi crimes against the population would have been a physical impossibility, seeing how civilians had been moved to the forests beforehand. And assuming civilians had been left in Srb, why didn’t Serb “patriots” try to defend them?

Srb Uprising

Stevo Rađenović chose Srb as center of the uprising for multiple reasons. Nino-Novaković Longo had continued to act from the same positions as he did pre-war, but intensified his activities ever since the establishment of NDH. Now he was the leading proponent of collecting Serb signatures for proposal that parts of NDH in which Serbs were a majority should be annexed by Italy. During May 1941. he forwarded these proposals and signatures to Italian authorities in Zadar and Split. In Lika, this initiative was being carried out by Stevo Rađenović, who chose Srb as his center of operations. These two were assisted by Boško Desnica, Vladan Desnica, Vaso Miljuš, Petar Knežević, Tode Novaković, as well as Orthodox priests Ilija Zečević, Sergije Urukalo, arhimandrit Bukurović, Petar Stojsavljević and others.

The uprising was caused by three primary factors: 1) dominant political leaning among the Serbs that was aimed towards realizing the old goal of taking for themselves parts of Croatian territory, 2) Communist initiative for import of revolutionary activities and 3) military and political support of Italian fascists. It was then further enflamed by Ustashi response to initial rebel actions as well as general Ustashi policy towards Serbs.

In his writings, Communist activist Gojko Polovina noted that in the early morning hours of 27th of July he and two friends had received the news that there was fighting near Drvar. This led them to cancel their trip to Drvar and instead stop in the hamlet of Zavlaka near the railway station Lička Kadrma on the narrow railway Drvar – Knin. Polovina noted that they decided to start fighting in such conditions, and met allies in Drvar. However, he also noted his worry because this action was taken without permission of the Central Committee, and indeed the Area Committee of KPH for Dalmatia was against the action. In the response of the Area Committee it was noted how Polovina had “misused his position and placed himself at the head of Serb nationalists, in reality Chetniks, in their chauvinistic clash with the Ustashi, and all under the excuse of saving Serb people from Ustashi slaughter”.

Several days later, when the armed rebellion had reached greater extent, the so-called Headquarters of Guerilla Detachments received call to participate in the “council of Serbs of Lika and northern Dalmatia” which was being prepared in coordination with Italian officers, and was to be held in the village of Otrić on 11th August 1941. According to Gojko Polovina, the Headquarters of Guerilla Detachments had, without consulting higher Party instances, sent Boško Rašeta and Đoka Jovanić to meeting in Otrić. Conclusions from the meeting were limited to stating that people in “Serb autonomous areas” will fight against the Communists and anyobody attempting to attack Italian troops.

Italian and Chetnik soldiers at the time of the Srb uprising

Having learned of the talks, the area representative of CK KPJ (Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia) and CK KPH (Central Committee of the Communist Party of Croatia) Marko Orešković said that he had no other choice but to condemn Đoko Jovanić to death. He ordered Polovina to form a court that would pass the sentence and execute Jovanić. Polovina refused to carry out the order, stating that doing so would be a “heavy blow for the uprising of the Serbian people of the entire Lika”.

Another person who testified about these events was Đoko Jovanić. Importantly, he noted that in the beginning there was no orientation towards the antifascist combat and partisan warfare. Attack on Srb was carried out on 27th July, sometime after 13 hours. According to him, the attack had been organized by “rebels of Bosnian villages of Begluk, Bosnian Osredak and Krč hill, and guerilla detachment of Neteka with rebels from Srb”, a total of 150 – 200 armed men. Ustashi government, which had only 4 – 5 men present, withdrew in the unknown direction, most likely towards Kulen Vakuf.

Insurrection itself was marked by power struggle between the majority Chetniks and few Communists present. Chetniks – especially Pajica Omčikus, Miloš Torbica, Isa Lukić, Stevo Rađenović, Jova Kečo etc. – insisted on respecting previous agreements with Italians in Benkovac of 23rd of July 1941. According to them, the Knin, Gračac and Donji Polac areas should be part of Italian territory, a position that received widespread support from local Serb population. Serbs were thus strictly against any conflict with Italian units.

Đoko Jovanić pointed out that Chetnik orientation was absolutely dominant among the Serbs. In parallel with this, Italians called onto negotiations on 11th August 1941. in Otrić. Because of this, on 10th August the meeting of the “Headquarters of Guerilla Groups for Donji Lapac and Srb” was held in Donji Lapac. It was determined that negotiators will be Đoko Jovanić, Dušan Mileusnić i Boško Rašeta. On demand of local Serb population however it was decided to set up a new negotiations group consisting of Stevo Rađenović, Boško Rašeta, Đoko Jovanić, Dušan Mileusnić i Miloš Torbica. The late additions Stevo Rađenović and Miloš Torbica in particular had pronounced pro-Chetnik sympathies. The agreed meeting was held in Otrić on 11th August. Joko Đovanović was called on 13th August in Drvar where he reported to Marko Orešković, who accused him of backing down to fascists.

The uprising itself was jointly led by the commanders of newly-formed 1000 strong Chetnik brigade: Miloš Torbica, Jovo Keča, Pajica Omčikus, Stevo Radenović; as well as the commander of local Partisan detachment, Đoko Jovanić, later a general of the Yugoslav Army. None of them ever answered for their crimes, but rather enjoyed their “antifascist” benefits.


Primary victims of the uprisings were thousands of innocent Croatian civilians ranging from infants to the elderly, who were murdered wherever the insurrection began. They were murdered in various ways – ritual slaughter, stakings, burned alive in houses… all Croatian villages and houses in the area of the uprising were burned to the ground, and all Catholic churches were destroyed or burned. Catholic priests were cruelly murdered – in one particularly vicious case, don Juraj Gospodnetić from Bosansko Grahovo was staked and burned alive in front of his mother.

In the end, it was not truly an uprising against fascism. It was an insurrection against Croatian state, and a hate crime that had repeated multiple times during the Homeland War. It was also the first genocide on the area of Independent State of Croatia (NDH), with Croats as victims – area of well over 2 000 km2 had been ethnically cleansed. But today, certain actors are trying to rehabilitate the uprising as an “antifascist” uprising, much like in Serbia where Chetniks of Draža Mihailović had been rehabilitated and declared antifascists. Communist and Chetnik crimes are hailed as “antifascism”. But there are several short facts about rebellion in Srb which should be kept in mind:

  • Rebellion which occured on 27th of July in Srb, Donji Lapac, Drvar and Bosansko Grahovo was organized by Chetniks of Draža Mihailović with participation of leading Serb Communists of the area. Goal was creation of “Homogenous Serbia”, a project of Chetnik ideologue Stevan Moljević (a lawyer from Banja Luka) from 30th June 1941., according to whom the first and basic duty of all Serbs was to “create and organize a homogenous Serbia which is to encompass the entire ethnic area on which Serbs live… with free access to the sea for all Serb regions close to the sea”. This was to be achieved by immediate military conquest of the planned areas of Greater Serbia and its ethnic cleansing from Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs “before anyone realizes what is going on”. This would “solve the border between Serbia and Slovenia, by cleansing Sandžak from Muslims and Bosnia and Herzegovina from Muslims and Catholics”; that is, “Serb areas” were to be cleansed of Croats.
  • This was not the first Serb uprising against the Croatian government. In this part of Croatia, first Serb uprising and accompanying massacres of Croats happened in Gračac on 12th April 1941., when several members of former Yugoslav police station murdered a number of Croats. Other similar massacres had occured in other parts of NDH.
  • In the Srb rebellion, not a single unit was under Communist command. In fact, Communists would not even attempt any major act of uprising until after the German attack on the Soviet Union. First major Partisan action against the Axis happened in January 1942, when Dalmatian partisans attacked Italian units. And even this was a result of confusion: Dalmatians in question attacked Italians because they had believed the Partisan propaganda about antifascist combat and because they had grievances against Italians. But if they had known reality – that Partisans were using Italian protection to fight against Croatian people – they would not have done what they did.
  • At the time of Srb uprising, there was no organized Communist leadership. And when a Croatian communist and veteran of the Spanish war, Marko Orešković, attempted to cooperate with Chetniks, said Chetniks murdered him on 20th November 1941. near village of Očijevo in Lapac gorge.
  • Yugoslav Communists had taken 27th July 1941. as a date of the “antifascist” uprising because it was one of the first significant uprisings that had happened after Hitler’s attack on Soviet Union on 22nd June 1941. and Comintern’s call onto rebellion. This date also allowed Serb Communists to turn their Chetnik past into “antifascism”.
  • First conflict, which was essentially Chetniks cleansing their own ranks of Communists, happened in Počelj near Gospić on 18th and 19th November 1941. – two months after the purpoted 27th July.
  • First armed conflict of Chetniks and Partisans, most of the latter being Dalmatians led by Vicko Krstulović and Vice Buljan, happened on 1st April 1942. in village of Marinkovci, some 10 kilometers away from Bosansko Grahovo. This was eight months after the 27th July.

Massacres of Croatians and Muslims in southern Lika and western Bosnia were led by Stojan Matić, Branko Bogunović and Mane Rokvić, who were later joined by Chetnik ideologues Stevo Rađenović, Miloš Torbica, Jovo Keča, Pajica Omčikus. Following their arrival, “guerilla detachments” were set up in Srb, led and manned almost exclusively by Chetniks and in more-or-less constant communication with the Chetnik voevoda Momčilo Đujić (an Orthodox priest).

This continued even in the late war after Chetniks had joined the Partisans. “Partisan” units under command of Gojko Polovina had, by his own testimony, acted more like Chetniks than like Partisans, consisted exclusively of Serbs and carried out mass murders of Croatian civilians. Influence of Partisans in southern Lika grew after Italian capitulation in 1943., when masses of Chetniks joined Partisan movement.

Fate of the Udbina decanate

Village of Srb was in ecclesiastic terms part of the Udbina decanate. Just before the Second World War, over 16 000 Catholic Croats lived in the area of Udbina decanate. Udbina was ethnically Croatian, and also had major historical significance for Croats – more so than Kosovo did for Serbs. But anybody who mentioned this in Communist Yugoslavia was automatically declared an Ustashi or a Fascist. Anybody who mentioned Udbina was sent to prison – Udbina had been 100% Croatian place. But just before the Christmas 1942., Partisans had murdered hundreds of people in Udbina and surrounding villages (Podudbina, Rebić, Vrba, Ćojluk and Mutilić). Surviving Croats had to leave Udbina and the villages with return being forbidden. Everything Croatian in the area was burned down and destroyed, including the Catholic churches of st. Nikola in Udbina, st. Marko in Podudbina, st. Augustin in Mutilić, and Croatian graveyard on Korija was also destroyed and plowed over.

In the Srb uprising, as well as later Chetnik uprisings, main targets were not military units of NDH, but rather people of Croatian ethnicity. Completely destroyed and exterminated were parishes of Borićevac (1905 people), Bunić, Udbina (1575 people), Palanka, Rudopolje, Gračac (1108 people), and Korenica (1200 people). This genocide over Croatians was never punished; moreover, the government of Ivo Sanader financed renovation of monument in Srb with millions of taxpayer money.

Village of Ivezići was destroyed during the uprising as well, although victims were relatively few – “only” 37 people, of which 12 children of ages 3 – 14. Overall, during July and August, Chetniks had ethnically cleansed Drvar, Bosnian Grahovo, Kulen Vakuf, Boričevac, Brotnja and Krnjeuša. All Croats that could not run away were killed.

remains of the Ivezić family

This genocide wiped out over 88% of Croats who had lived in this area pre-war, basically destroying Croatian ethnic corps in eastern Lika and southwestern Bosnia. Those few that had survived lived after 1945. under constant terror – arrests, accusations of Ustashism, and they all had to tolerate the faces of murderers that had brutally killed so many people. And today, Croatian government is celebrating these crimes as an antifascist uprising.

Burning of Borićevac

Simo Dubajić believed that the participants of the rebellion were “satisfied by victories over the Ustashi, talked about the past and dreamed of the future. We knew that the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was not capable of peacefully separating the Serb Krajina from the Banate of Croatia, on which Niko Longo continually insisted. Now we felt that we had received historic opportunity for fulfilling the historic desire of Serbian people”. Dubajić further stated that this formed the basis of the Otrić agreement, which as a key point contained expulsion of the “Ustashi” (meaning Croats) from Krajina, extension of the Italian occupation zone to entirety of the Krajina, and maintaining Italian protectorate over Serbs outside Serbia until such time that Serbs could join the Allied side.

In the collection of documents titled “Peoples Liberation Fight in Dalmatia 1941. – 1945.”, with regards to events connected to beginning of the armed rebellion, cited in the “Our Report”, a newspaper of the Regional Committee of KPH for Dalmatia from 2nd August 1941., it was written that “It is true that there is participation in combat of Chetnik units, especially in Serb areas. But these are not those antinational “Chetniks” which after 1929. had been a weapon of Serbian authorities in Croatian areas. These are Serb villagers, which had rebelled against oppression and slaughter carried out by the Fascists’ servants, the Ustashi, and, under the old national name of Chetniks, are leading the national liberation from fascism”. The note under the text stated that “In the first days of armed combat against the enemy, the rebels were not divided but carried out actions in concord”. Another note further explained the event, stating that “Greater-Serbian elements, supporters of the regime of the old Kingdom of Yugoslavia, during the first days of uprising against the occupators and the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), managed to impose onto the elements of uprising their own views: to fight only against the Quisling NDH, while Italian troops should not be attacked, to the contrary, they should be assisted as they will protect Serbs from the Ustashi persecution”.

Anto Orlovac wrote similarly in his book “Blossoming – destruction – renewal”. Describing the beginnings of the armed rebellion in the area he was showing, he noted that first victims were innocent, including the Catholic Pastor from Drvar, Waldemar Maximilian Nestor. Pastor Nestor had, alongside 300 other travellers, boarded train Knin – Drvar in the morning hours of 27th July 1941. At the triborder of Bosnia, Dalmatia and Lika, near village of Trubar, they were halted by a group of Chetniks. These Chetniks, led by Damjan Zeljković, stopped the train and forced the passengers out. Passengers were then taken to Golubinjača cave and shot. Yugoslav historiography, as per the usual procedure, ascribed this crime to the Ustashi.

This was far from an isolated case. Ethnic cleansing aimed against Croatians continued under the guise of antifascism and “national liberation”. Village of Boričevac was completely burned down by Chetniks on 2nd August 1942., and it was far from the only one. Entire areas of Croatia and Bosnia were completely cleansed of non-Serbs after Chetniks burned down Croatian and Muslim villages.

These events clearly show the character and true political orientation of the rebels, aimed nearly exclusively towards Chetnik ideology and creation of Greater Serbia. This orientation was more-or-less kept until the end of the war, but incorporation of Chetniks into the Partisan movement during 1944. and 1945. and post-war ideological concerns led to creation and maintenance of falsified history, or rather mythology of the events. One of these falsifications was marking the 27th July as date of uprising of the people of Croatia against the Axis forces.

Places of unknown slaughters

In the beginning of the rebellion, masses of Serb peasants, Chetniks, Communists and armed bandits rose up together. They carried out many mass slaughters and even outright ethnic cleansing, with only one target – Croats. Only several months later does there happen a differentiation of rebels, with Communist Partisans dominating in Lika, while Chetniks dominated in southern Lika and northern Dalmatia.

Slaughters in Srb, Lapac, Boričevac are well known – not so those at other places where Croatians lived in the Udbina decanate. In nearby Vaganac, partisan women baked youths on skewer. After the war they walked free while police regularly arrested people from Vaganac. The village was completely destroyed in the Homeland War, with the church being destroyed for the second time – after the first church had been destroyed by partisans.

Vaganac is only one example of a series of mass murders that had begun with slaughter of 36 members of Ivezić family from Brotanj near Srb on the day of the “antifascist” uprising in Srb. In the district (parish) of Palanka near Gračac, where in 1941. all Croats had been killed or expelled, specifically families Sulentić, Ivanković, Lisica and Martinović. The parish was completely wiped out, to the point that few people today even know it exists (in 2011., it had 19 inhabitants). Many other places were also destroyed.


Uprising in Srb on 27th July 1941. was no antifascist uprising. It was in fact a Chetnik uprising against the Croatian state, and was directly supported by the Italian Fascists. It should not be difficult to understand why an uprising supported by fascists cannot be antifascist uprising.

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