Chetnik Units in Service of Independent State of Croatia

Chetnik Units in Service of Independent State of Croatia

As was usual with Second World War in Yugoslavia, there was everything at all sides. Even the alliances were a mess. Italians protected Tito’s Partisans from the Ustashi, Italians protected Chetniks from the Ustashi, Chetniks cooperated with the Partisans, Ustashi cooperated with Italian Fascists, Partisans assisted Italians, Chetniks assisted Italians and the Germans, Western Allies assisted the Chetniks and the Partisans… everybody cooperated

And so did the Chetniks and the Ustashi.

During the first half of 1942., Ustashi government fundamentally changed its policy towards the Orthodox population. Name of the game was now integration, with attempts being made to convince them to accept the existing state framework. An element of the process was signing the agreement between the Croatian government and the commanders of individual Chetnik units. Some of these were simple non-aggression pacts, but others contained clauses by which Chetnik group in question accepted Croatian government’s overlordship. Some of these even included an expression of personal loyalty to Ante Pavelić.

Having signed the agreement in the spring of 1942., almost all Chetnik units that had signed it (these were units operating in the area between Banja Luka, Varcar Vakuf, Brčko and Visoko) adhered to the terms of the agreement and suspended any insurrectionist activity. They in fact supported the operation of Croatian civil authorities, and some even gained employment in the administrative positions.

These agreements in fact kept the area pacified until Communists arrived to stir up trouble in summer of 1943. They were extremely important for the Croatian government, as the pacified area included the valley of river Bosna, through which passed the railway Sarajevo – Brod na Savi, the second most important railway in the country (after Zemun – Zagreb), which in 1945. was used by literally all German troops retreating from Greece.

Security of this area was also crucial for supplying passive areas of Bosnia south of Sava river. This was seen when capture of Doboj and Maglaj by Chetniks from Trebava and Ozren, cutting off southwards railway, caused hunger and even starvation in the area. After the agreement had been signed, members of Ozren Chetnik detachment were responsible for security of a part of the railroad, for which they were paid by the Croatian government.

All of this shows how NDH (Croatia) achieved a political and military success because it successfully pacified a crucial area, turning previously hostile Chetnik groups into allies (called “Chetniks-comrades” in official documents).

Context of agreements

While Croatian authorities understood such agreements as Chetnik capitulation, Chetniks kept the right to bear arms so as to defend the areas from Partisan attacks. Chetniks that had signed the agreements, while remaining under arms, mostly did not carry out crimes. There were several exceptions to this rule however, such as the Zenica Chetnik detachment which acted as if they had never signed any agreement at all and was responsible for at least one mass murder in the “pacified” area. Members of Knez Arsen battalion also broke the agreement signed by their leadership.

By signing the agreements, Chetnik commanders and their soldiers lost the status of rebels, becoming instead full citizens of Independent State of Croatia. With that came privileges, such as the assured supply of ammunition, as well as the right to medical care in Croatian medical facilities. As with food, these were used by Croatian authorities as a tool of pressure to keep Chetniks under control.

Another type of agreements that NDH would sign with Chetniks were ceasefire agreements. These would only establish a ceasefire between NDH and a certain Chetnik group, and did not constitute a statement of loyalty. Such agreements were signed in the areas where Croatian government’s influence was weak or nonexistent thanks to rebel activity. These agreements were not mentioned by government’s propaganda as the Croatian government saw them as reflection of its own weakness.

By contrast, agreements were Chetniks entered Croatian service were publicized. And for a good reason, as areas where such treaties had been signed were indeed effectively pacified and protected from further Chetnik depredations. Government in these area was stabilized thanks to the agreements, enabling normal functioning of the government, schools, as well as the economic and cultural life. Chetniks themselves often participated in these activities. While lack of disarmament of Chetnik groups could have been a sign of weakness, it is also possible that there was hope they could serve as security against Partisan and hostile Chetnik depredations. Draža Mihailović himself was against any agreements with anyone, and especially with the Independent State of Croatia.

End of War

Alongside the Chetniks that had accepted Croatian overlordship, termed “chetniks-comrades”, there were two more categories of Chetniks active on the territory of NDH. Chetniks that during 1942. did not have arrangement with either NDH or other Axis forces were called “chetniks-rebels”. Chetniks that were active in the Italian occupation zone and had been incorporated during 1942. into an anti-Communist militia (MVAC) were called “Italian Chetniks” and they fought within the command structure of Italian Army, and not as an independent military force. Italian government utilized these Chetnik forces to wage a covert war against the Independent State of Croatia, spreading Italian influence. This happened long before the first conflict between the Italian forces and Dalmatian partisans in January 1942., and even after the conflict began, Italian fascists still did not abandon this strategy. It is thus unsurprising that Chetniks – especially those under command of Draža Mihailović – found refuge in the army of Italian fascist government. Dobrislav Jevđević was one of Chetnik leaders that was consistently against recognition of Croatia, but he lacked influence to do anything to or about those Chetnik leaders in Bosnia that had come to terms with Croatian government. In fact, report of his agent, Slavoljub Vranješević, testified that Bosnian Chetniks had in fact made a permanent reorientation and had ceased any and all combat operations against Croatia since signing of the agreement.

These agreements were de facto nullified by Partisan successes during the summer of 1943., when Croatian government lost the ability to control the area in question. After that, German authorities took over and established control over the Chetnik forces without any input from Croatian authorities. Following the end of the war, this entire issue was quietly forgotten as it did not fit either the Chetnik or the Communist narrative. Only those leaders that worked to destroy any form of Croatian state (be it Banate of Croatia or Independent State of Croatia) were allowed to be glorified.


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