General Mihailovich on trial in Belgrade 1946
THE MYSTERY OF MIHAILOVICH – Was General Draza Mihailovich a Traitor or a Patriot?
Aleksandra’s Note: Ironically, even though it was Great Britain who betrayed General Mihailovich in the Second World War, it was some of her officers, diplomats, and journalists who were fairest and most effective at pinning down and exposing the truth about what really happened in Yugoslavia during WWII and the British complicity in the consequences of what transpired during and after the war. A number of excellent and honest articles about the Mihailovich tragedy were published in independent British papers during and after his trial at the hands of Tito’s Yugoslav communists in 1946. Of those, the following essay by Donovan Touche, published in London in December of 1946, is one of the very best. Though written 65 years ago it resonates today, and, like so much of what was written at that time, it should have served as a harbinger of things to come to those who would be in charge of world events and their consequences in the future.
THE MYSTERY OF MIHAILOVICH
By Donovan Touche
December 27, 1946
Was General Mihailovich a great patriot, foully done to death, or was he a collaborator? That is the mystery of Mihailovich. I would not have presumed to intervene in this delicate and disturbing debate but for the privilege of my acquaintance with a very gallant gentleman, Major Kenneth Greenlees, who for eighteen months served with General Mihailovich as British Liaison Officer until our Military Mission was withdrawn in 1944. What the soldier said is evidence in this case.
In the dark days of 1941 Mihailovich was the loyal friend and Ally of Great Britain. Then in June 1941, Germany attacked Russia, and the Communist Tito took to the hills. Tito was a Russian-trained revolutionary agent, and as head of the Communist party in Yugoslavia had opposed the war with Germany so long as the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact held good. He now took up arms in the interest of Russia, although hitherto indifferent to the cause of Yugoslav independence. His intervention greatly complicated the problem of the patriot Mihailovich who now had not only to defend his country from the Germans but also from eventual communisation, especially after he became the recognized representative in the field of the Royal Yugoslav Government. The astute Tito quickly grasped that the Russians would be unable to provide any material assistance for some considerable time. He, accordingly, set himself to win the confidence and support of the British, and later the Americans. By getting their support transferred from Mihailovich to himself, Tito would bring about the overthrow both of Mihailovich and the King’s Government, which he upheld, and obtained the control of Yugoslavia for Russia. The Anglo-Americans would thus be induced to co-operate in the destruction of the very government which they had recognized. To achieve this he had to convince the British that his Partisans were causing far more harm to the Axis forces than were the Chetniks, and exaggerated bulletins were issued as to the Partisan exploits and claiming credit for those of the Chetniks.
The only reply Mihailovich could make to this was to increase his own action against the Germans, which entailed appalling reprisals upon the population out of all proportion to any possible value of his military action. He soon came to the conclusion that continuous small actions were more harmful to his people than helpful to the Allies. The meager scale of his supplies did not permit larger actions. As Minister of War and the King’s representative in the field, he could not discard his responsibility for the Serbian people, on whom he was wholly dependent for recruits, food, shelter, and information, or weaken their loyalty to the King by exposing them to useless massacre. Tito felt no such compunction, and, indeed, had everything to gain by provoking reprisals in his rival’s areas. Is not misery the seedbed of Communism anyway? The Germans were quick to seize the opportunity of sowing the seeds of civil war, and killed first hundreds, and finally thousands of innocent Serbs for any small act of sabotage. This policy was not nearly so marked in the Tito areas. To their eternal shame, the Anglo-Americans allowed themselves to be persuaded by the short-term military advantage of switching their supplies and propaganda support from Mihailovich to Tito, although this ensured the ultimate rulers of Yugoslavia being anti-British Communists. British arms and munitions were largely used against the Mihailovich forces which continued to rescue and evacuate hundreds of American airmen. The sacrifice of loyal and tried friends to their declared enemies has become a cardinal principal of British policy I these days of imperial decay; and who can say what craven motive of appeasing Russia calculated into the sordid calculation? Just so was the Polish Government, which we had likewise recognized, abandoned to the Communist wolves. Never again can any European King be expected to ally himself to a country which has proved as false and treacherous to its true friends in adversity as contemptible in its habitual appeasement of the strong.
General Mihailovich was a good enough soldier to have confidence in the final victory of the Allies, and as trustee for the King’s Government was in duty bound to weigh the advantages of any military action he could take against the reprisals it would bring down upon his people, and against the Communist threat embodied in Tito’s Partisan movement. As the Germans, in his view, would be driven out of Yugoslavia in the long run anyway, it is understandable that he should have regarded a permanent Communist subjugation as the greater danger to his King and Country, as in fact it has proved to be. The General’s plan was to organize his forces for a general uprising on the day of the Allied landing. It was difficult for him to understand why he should be called upon to sacrifice his men prematurely when every other resistance movement in Europe was being urged to lie low until Der Tag.
The followers of Mihailovich were for the most part Serbs and intensely pro-British, thanks to their memories of the Kaiser war, when the Serbian Army was re-equipped by and fought alongside the British Army. Old veterans of Salonika would tramp for miles over the mountains in any weather merely to shake the hand of a British officer. They would insist that British officers should share their homes, when discovery would entail their utter destruction, as it often did. The Communist intimates of Tito felt no sort of friendship for the representatives of ‘British Imperialism’ and only preserved appearances until such time as they had built themselves up with Anglo-American arms and supplies brought in at the cost of Anglo-American lives. All pretence of friendship was dropped once the Allies wished to land in Yugoslavia, when they found their entrance to the country practically banned.
The tragedy of it all is not only that our betrayal of Mihailovich forfeited the friendship and esteem of the Serbs. By our pro-Communist propaganda we drove them into the arms of Tito. We succeeded in turning a large part of the population of Yugoslavia from friends into enemies, and reducing our prestige in the Balkans to zero. Have we not already smarted for it? Greek Communists have not hesitated to fire on British troops, Albanian Communists to fire on British ships, and Yugoslav Communists to shoot down American aircraft.
The people of Yugoslavia, and, indeed, of the Balkans generally, are the natural friends of a Britain which can harbour no possible territorial ambitions at their expense and only desires their independence. With vain and pathetic eagerness they look to us for moral leadership. Their traditional friendship and respect is being destroyed at an ever-quickening temp by the continuous propaganda of their Communist Governments. This propaganda has for its theme the evils of a mythical British imperialism and the danger to world peace of British aggression. It is, in fact, rabidly British. Our remaining friends behind the iron curtain are never allowed to hear our answer to these absurd charges. They see, on the contrary, our Press excusing and justify their Communist regimes. What, indeed, are they to conclude when they read in the Titotalitarian Times of November 12, that the Yugoslav elections were, by Balkan standards, relatively free and “democratic”? The Times leader also appears to accept the view that the assistance rendered by the Soviet Union in the liberation of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria gives the Russians a claim to favorable commercial treatment, when such favorable commercial treatment means the barring of trade and intercourse between ourselves and these countries. The implied conclusion is that there is no alternative to the existing Communist regimes, and their overthrow could only result in an anti-Semitic Fascist counter-revolution. Rather than risk that, The Times evidently prefers anti-British regimes. Far from any moral support, those who look to the West for inspiration find only abdication and exhortations to submit to the Communist tyranny, any encouragement being reserved for the Communist tyrants. Doubtless this conclusion will be made known throughout Balkania and will deepen despair among our dwindling supporters.
In the opinion of Major Greenlees there is no mystery about Mihailovich, who was a great Serbian patriot and no traitor. The man who had always been a friend of Britain, and threw in his lot with the British when their fortunes were at their lowest ebb, was not likely to be guilty of collaborating with the hated enemy when the Allies were heading for certain victory. “It is not treachery to decline to accept a revolution.” The most responsible American newspapers have openly stated that Mihailovich was shamefully tortured before his trial. As to this, Major Greenlees comments that the aged and broken man who gave evidence at the trial was not the same Mihailovich he had known for eighteen months in the hills. No admissions that may have been wrung from him in these circumstances would be admitted as evidence in any British court of justice. The trial was just a frame-up to discredit Anglo-America in the eyes of the Yugoslav peoples. Major Greenlees asserts that every effort should be made to keep the Balkan peoples truthfully informed of British aims and policy, as was done during the German occupation. It certainly should, but the B.B.C., which delighted in creating the Great Tito Legend, is no fitting instrument for the purpose. Its voice would drown in the blood of Mihailovich. Imagine, in conclusion, what were the feelings of Major Greenlees and his brother officers when, living under the faithful care and protection of the Chetniks, they heard the B.B.C. daily attacking those same Chetniks and their leader!
December 27, 1946