Not soon after the Kingdom of Yugoslavia joined the Axis, government was overthrown. Led by the Communist Party, on 27th March 1941. the people went to the streets, shouting paroles “Bolje grob nego rob! Bolje rat nego pakt!” (“Better grave than the slave! Better combat than the compact!”).
But as usual in the Marxist historiography, much of this is a lie.
It is true that on 25th March 1941., the Cvetković-Maček government signed an agreement which led to Kingdom of Yugoslavia joining the Tripartite Agreement. Two days later, on 27th March 1941., the Yugoslav government was overthrown in a coup and the agreement with the Axis was rejected.
Ten days later, on 6th April 1941., Axis invaded the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, destroying all armed resistance in only 11 days. Yugoslavia signed an unconditional surrender on 18th April 1941.
Following the establishment of the Communist Yugoslavia, the Communists – as usual – got the collective amnesia. Namely, they completely forgot what they were really doing on 27th March 1941., and instead they made up completely fictional events, mixed up with some events that did happen but in a completely different context.
Result of this was a completely fabricated history that – in former Yugoslavia – is believed in even today, 82 years after these events.
25 March 1941, Tuesday
On that day Dragiša Cvetković, acting as a representative of the government of Kingdom of Yugoslavia, signed agreement to join the Tripartite Pact. Joachim von Ribbentrop signed the agreement as representative of the Third Reich.
This however was merely a formality. Fact is that Hitler did not care about Yugoslavia at all, so long as it couldn’t be used to base Allied troops. Agreement specified that Germany will respect territorial integrity of Yugoslavia. German army would not violate Yugoslav territory, and Yugoslav Army was not required to operate in any military operations. Yugoslavia could have easily remained neutral in a way Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Sweden did so long as it formally joined the Tripartite Pact.
Signing the agreement was merely the finale of the events that had begun on 17th March. On that day Prince Paul had met Hitler. Hitler required a Yugoslav signature on the agreement in the exchange for very generous terms.
Despite the generosity of Hitler’s terms, prince Paul was worried. He was always pro-British, knew English perfectly and had spent time in Britain. Yet he was keenly aware that Yugoslavia was simply not able to offer even token resistance to the German war machine that had just conquered France – conventionally considered the greatest land power in Europe – as well as the rest of the Western Europe.
Further, he had finally managed to somewhat stabilize the situation in Yugoslavia by solving the “Croatian question”. This he did by forming the Banate of Croatia that gave Croatians autonomy they didn’t have since the end of Austria-Hungary.
So he was determined to preserve Yugoslavia by any means necessary, and thus agreed to join the Tripartite Pact.
26 March 1941, Wednesday
Day after the signing of the pact, all newspapers in Yugoslavia were writing about it. And despite the postwar Communist bullshit, majority of population saw nothing bad in the pact. In fact, the populace widely greeted the pact, as Yugoslavia had profited heavily from it.
Specifically, pact gave Yugoslavia the exit to the Aegean sea as well as city of Solun following the conquest of Greece. At the time, Greece was already at war with – and beating the crap out of – the German incompetent ally, Italy.
But while majority of people supported the pact, some were against it. Senior leadership of the Yugoslav – really, Serbian – army and political class saw the foundation of the Banate of Croatia as treason on Prince Paul’s part. To them, the Second World War came almost as if ordered.
And they had an ally in Britain. Even before the pact had been signed, Britain had been trying to pull the Kingdom of Yugoslavia into war. Attempts intensified especially after the end of the Battle for Britain. While that battle was a victory, British had been thrown off the continent, and formation of German Afrika Korps led to them suffering a defeat after defeat.
British needed a distraction, and Yugoslavia was a perfect tool for that. Should Yugoslavia leave the Tripartite Pact and declare war on Germany, it would be quickly crushed – but it would provide the necessary distraction. This in turn would allow the British to repeat the scenario from the First World War, namely deploying an army to Greece in order to create another front and keep Germany occupied.
Preparations were in fact made immediately. Already in March 1941., the British started operation Lustre. This operation saw several tens of thousands of British troops transferred from Northern Africa to Greece in order to reinforce the Greek Army in defending Greece but also British interests.
But in Belgrade, something started to happen. In November 1940., prince Paul had dismissed general Nedić due to latter’s advocacy of joining the Tripartite Agreement. Yet now, four months later, prince Paul himself was advocating the same. This turned out to be a perfect excuse for starting the already planned action.
In the afternoon of the same day, several high-ranking officers of the Yugoslav Army met and reached an agreement. The conclusion was as follows:
- remove Prince Paul
- declare Crown Prince Peter a king
- leave the Pact
- declare war to Germany
- link up with British in Greece
- after the war, abolish the Banate of Croatia and return absolute power to Karađorđević dynasty
All of this had been prepared for a long time, and the war merely allowed it to be implemented.
Before going further, one should understand that Yugoslavia – regardless of all other pretensions and whether it was the Kingdom or Socialist – was always a device of establishing Greater Serbia. Serbian pretensions only intensified after murder of Stjepan (Stephen) Radić and his associates in 1928., and culminated in the 6 January Dictatorship and the Octroic Constitution.
Assassination of king Alexander in Marseille in 1934. completely derailed these plans. Prince Paul, who became the ruling regent, was far more moderate and willing to compromise in order to preserve Yugoslavia. He was aware that Kingdom would collapse under a stiff breeze unless its issues were solved. And one of main issues was partly solved with the establishment of Banate of Croatia in 1939. But this act led to Serb imperialists within the government to start plotting against him. And as Second World War soon broke out, they utilized the situation.
One of the main acters of the October coup was brigadier general Borivoj Mirković. Born in 1884., he was a member of the Black Hand, a Serbian imperialist organization which as a goal had conquest of Bosnia and Croatia. This organization organized assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, thus setting off the First World War, and also the assassination of Stjepan Radić in 1928. Mirković himself was very close first to Prime Minister Nikola Pašić, then to Puniša Račić and several other advocates of Greater Serbia. Of course, none of them could stand even the idea of Croatian independence, or even just autonomy. Croatia had to disappear, to become a province of Serbia.
And they actively worked on that goal.
27 March 1941., Thursday
Action began on 2:15, and everything was quickly over. By early afternoon, all key points were in the conspirators’ hands.
Postwar historiography attributed the conspiracy and its success to Communists. Real truth however was that Communists did not move a finger. The coup was organized by military officers that were, with no exception, greater Serb imperialists.
When the coup had ended and all main points taken, all communication of Belgrade with other parts of the country was ended and Radio Belgrade announced the coup. Josip Broz Tito, having heard the news, dismissed them as “just another coup by a Serbian general”.
One of main acters in the coup was General Dušan Simonović, another member of Black Hand and Serbian imperialist. Coup placed him in the position of a president of new government, and prince Petar (Peter) Karađorđević became a new king, displacing his cousin Alexander who at the time was in Zagreb, having returned from signing the pact.
The issue was that Peter was too young to become a king. The Constitution posited that king couldn’t be a minor, and prince Peter’s 18th birthday was only in November. But solution turned out to be simple – and ridiculous.
Peter simply declared himself to be of age, seven months before his actual coming of age. Prince Paul couldn’t do anything – by the time he learned of the coup, all the rule was already in the Army’s hands.
Coup was beginning of the end of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Just three weeks later, the kingdom would disappear under the attack of a force it could never have hoped to stop, together with its useless army. Yugoslav Army had plans of linking up with Allied forces in Greece, but these had been captured by the Germans during conquest of France. And despite being aware that Germans knew of their plans, general Dušan Simović – person who made them in the first place – did absolutely nothing about it. British themselves could do nothing, as Greece had been attacked at the same time as Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia was conquered, and all the officers that had organized the coup became faithful servant of the Nazi regime. This alone proves that the coup was not aimed against the Third Reich or Yugoslav involvement with the Axis, but against the Banate of Croatia and any notion of federalization of the Kingdom. Coup was made in support of the Greater Serbia, and that is the entire truth about it. There was no popular revolt against the Axis, much less one led by the Communist Party.
4 thoughts on “Military Coup in Yugoslavia 27 March 1941”
Communist Coup in 1941?
Funny then that it was led by the Air Force leadership and Royal Guard, supported by the British and replaced the Prince Regent by the still underage King Peter
Churchill was very pleased as he might no doubt under his instructions the SOE was involved
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Precisely. Yet for the entire existence of Communist Yugoslavia, official historiography had it that it was the Communist Party which overthrew the government, and it is something you can hear said even today. In reality however, Communists supported the alliance with Nazi Germany up until Germany invaded the Soviet Union.
I wrote about Communist propaganda on several occasions before: