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Dragoljub "Draža" Mihailović (Cyrillic script: Драгољуб "Дража" Михаиловић; also known as "Чича Дража" or "Čiča Draža", meaning "uncle Draža"; April 27, 1893 - July 17, 1946) was a Yugoslav Serbianmarker general, now primarily remembered as a World War II collaborator and leader of the Chetnik movement. The organization, officially named the "Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland" (JVUO, ЈВУО), was founded as a royalist/nationalist Serbian resistance movement, but by late 1941 and early 1942 began collaborating and assisted the Germans and the Axis occupation as an auxiliary militia for most of the war in Yugoslavia. The Chetniks' main adversaries were the Allied Yugoslav resistance forces, the Partisans. After the war, Mihailović was tried and convicted of high treason and war crimes by the Yugoslavmarker authorities, and was consequently executed by firing squad.

Early life

Born in Ivanjicamarker, Kingdom of Serbiamarker, Mihailović went to the Serbian military academy in October 1910 and as a cadet fought in the Balkan Wars 1912–1913. In July 1913 he was given rank of Second Lieutenant as the top soldier in his class. He served in World War I and together with the Serbian army marched through Albaniamarker in 1915 during the long retreat of the Serbian army. He later received several decorations for his achievements on the Salonicamarker front. Between the wars he became an elite staff officer and achieved the rank of colonel. He also served as military attaché in Sofiamarker and Praguemarker.

His military career almost came to an abrupt end after several incidents, the most important one being the idea of dividing the Yugoslav army along national lines into (Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes), for which he was sentenced to 30 days imprisonment. World War II found Mihailović occupying a minor position of assistant to chief of staff of the Second Army. In the last years before World War II, he was stationed in Celjemarker, Sloveniamarker (then Drava Banovina), where he was involved in several incidents of violent confrontation with the local ethnic Germans.

World War II

Following the Yugoslav defeat by Germanymarker in April 1941, a small group of officers and soldiers led by Mihailović escaped in hope of finding Yugoslav army units still fighting in the mountains. After arriving at Ravna Gora, Serbiamarker on May 8, 1941, he realized that his group of seven officers and twenty four non-commissioned officers and soldiers was the only one.
At Ravna Gora, Mihailović organized the Chetnik detachment of the Yugoslav Army, which became the Military-Chetnik Detachments and finally the Yugoslav Army of the Homeland (Југословенска војска у отаџбини or Jugoslovenska vojska u otadžbini).

The first Chetnik formations led by Mihailović were formed around Ravna Gora on June 14, 1941. Most of 1941 was spent consolidating the scattered army remnants elsewhere and raising new forces. The stated goal of the Chetniks was the liberation of the country from the occupying armies including the forces of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and the Ustaše fascist regime of the Independent State of Croatiamarker.Mihailović gathered men and weapons in the easily defensible Serbian mountains, waiting for an Allied landing in the Balkans, upon which he could attack any Germans or Italians from behind. Mihailović discouraged sabotage due to German reprisals (such as more than 3,000 killed in Kraljevomarker and Kragujevacmarker) unless some great gain could be accomplished; instead, he favored delayed sabotage that could not easily be traced.

Relations with the Partisans

In June 1941, prior to any Chetnik operation, Josip Broz Tito's Partisans started actively resisting the Germans, in what would become known as the Yugoslav People's Liberation War. However, while Tito favored full resistance, striking at the Germans and Italians with everything he had, Mihailović allegedly saw his strategy as wanting to "save his country with as few casualties as possible", while he believed that Tito wanted to "burn the country and the old order to the ground to better prepare it for communism". Lieutenant Colonel Živan L. Knežević, one of Mihailović's senior advisers and chief of the military cabinet for the Prime Minister of the royalist government stated that in his view "The communist Partisans wanted immediately to lead the people into an open fight against the forces of occupation although the people were completely bare-handed and the fight could not have benefited anybody ... [Mihailović] thought that the uprising was premature and that, without any gain in prospect, it would have brought disproportionately great sacrifices. He was not able to convince the Partisans that an open fight could have only one result, namely, the annihilation of the population."

Mihailović supposedly came to view the Partisans as no better than the Nazis. A telegram sent on February 22, 1943 described an alleged incident where the Partisans brought a German/Ustaše force upon a town in the Bihać Republic (a Partisan-governed part of Yugoslav territory which they liberated); the town fled, but the Partisan force allegedly "abandoned" them to the enemy, which massacred them. Mihailović concluded that "[T]his is the fight that the Communists wage, a fight which is directed by foreign propaganda with the aim of systematically annihilating our nation." The Partisans and Royalists descended into a brutal civil war. Whenever territory changed hands between them, anyone thought sympathetic to the other side was publicly executed.

Kosta Milovanović Pećanac, a First World War uprising leader and former Chetnik himself, considered the Partisans so grave a threat that he opted for collaboration with the Germans against them. Pećanac and Mihailović became rivals, both claiming a shared Serbian heritage and with Pećanac commanding a much smaller force than Mihailović. Due to the rivalry between the two Chetnik commanders, Pećanac was shot in 1944 upon his capture by Mihailović's Chetniks, "officially" due to collaboration with the Axis.By 1944 Mihailović's Chetnik formations were openly aiding the German efforts against the Partisans and the Red Army. General Milan Nedić, the head of the Serbian collaborationist state (with whom Pećanac sided), transferred command of all of his forces to Mihailović in 1944.

Relations with the British and Americans

The British Special Operations Executive were being sent to aid Mihailović's forces beginning with the autumn of 1941. Mihailović rose in rank, becoming the Minister of War of the exile government in January 11, 1942 and General/Deputy Commander-in-Chief on June 17, 1942. At first, the British had a policy of aiding anyone fighting the Germans, however, as the civil war between the Partisans and the royalists intensified, the British realized that many of the precious resources being committed to Yugoslavia were being used only to further the civil war. Captain Duane Hudson of the SOE's report indicated that while Mihailović could be trusted to participate in a "[g]rand finale against the Axis", they were taking a more passive stance. They also had dealings with Italian forces in Montenegromarker. By early 1943, the Royalists' support was beginning to collapse with the British. Randolph Churchill, the Prime Minister's son, was stationed at Tito's headquarters, where he reported directly to his father with reports of the Partisan's victories.

On February 28, 1943, Mihailović delivered an ill-advised speech to a group of his supporters saying that the Serb people were now "completely friendless" and that the "English are now fighting to the last Serb in Yugoslavia". Mihailović said, according to this source, that his enemies were now the Partisans, the Ustaše, the Moslems, and the Croats. When he had dealt with them, he would turn his attention toward the Italians and Germans. He then stated, at least according to the British liaison, that he needed no further contact with the Western democracies whose"sole aim was to win the war at the expense of others".

These comments doomed hopes of continued British support. By mid-1943, the Partisan movement had survived an intense period of Axis pressure. But before the Tehran Conference in November 1943, the British had decided to cease support of the Chetniks, and switch to supporting only Tito's Partisans, see Yugoslavia and the Allies. In 1943, Chetniks! The Fighting Guerrillas, a major Hollywood war film, was produced by Twentieth Century Fox documenting the role of Draža Mihailović and his guerrillas. The film starred Philip Dorn, Anna Sten, and Martin Kosleck and was directed by Louis King, based on a story by Jack Andrews, who co-wrote the screenplay.

Nevertheless, Chetnik forces continued to aid American airmen who were shot down over Yugoslaviamarker, and relations between the Chetniks and the Americans on the ground remained friendly.


The Royalists advanced into eastern Bosnia in 1943 where they engaged in combat with the Ustaše, resulting in several incidents of ethnic cleansing on both sides. For instance, historian Vladimir Žerjavić claims that roughly 40,000 lost their lives to forces affiliated with the Chetniks. Towards the end of the war, Mihailović went into hiding in East Bosnia.

Ethnic cleansing

As part of his opportunist policies in support of the creation of Greater Serbia, Mihailović issued the following Instructions ( ) to his commanders on December 20, 1941:

The exact number of Bosniak, Croat and other civilians who died at the hands of the Chetniks has never been officially established, although it pales in proportion to the almost one million people who died at the hands of the Ustaše. In Crimes Against Bosnian Muslims 1941-1945, historian Šemso Tucaković estimated that out of 150,000 Bosniaks who lost their lives in World War II, some 100,000 were murdered by Chetniks. He also listed at least 50,000 Bosnian Muslim names directly known to have been killed by Chetniks. According to World War II historian Vladimir Žerjavić, approximately 29,000 Muslims and 18,000 Croats were killed by Chetniks during World War II. Žerjavić's figures have been cited as too conservative by some sources and figures of up to 300,000 non-Serbs have been suggested, but these cannot be confirmed unanimously.

Some of the major World War II Chetnik massacres against ethnic Croats and Bosniaks include:

  • July 1941, Herzegovina (Bileca, Stolac) - approximately 1,150 civilians killed;
  • December 1941/January 1942, eastern Bosnia (Fočamarker, Goraždemarker) - approximately 2,050 civilians killed;
  • August 1942, eastern Bosnia and Sandžak (Foča, Bukovica) - approximately 1,000 civilians killed;
  • August 1942, eastern Bosnia (Ustikolina, Jahorinamarker) - approximately 2,500 civilians killed;
  • October 1942, central Bosnia (Prozor) - approximately 1,250 civilians killed;
  • January 1943, Sandžak (Bijelo Poljemarker) - approximately 1,500 civilians killed;
  • February 1943, eastern Bosnia and Sandžak (Fočamarker, Čajničemarker, Pljevljamarker) - approximately +9,200 civilians killed.


Mihailović was captured on March 13, 1946 by agents of the Yugoslav security agency OZNA. He was charged on 47 counts. In the end the court found him guilty on 8 counts, including crimes against humanity and high treason. The trial lasted from June 10 to July 15, he was found guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad on July 15. The Presidium of the National Assembly rejected the clemency appeal on July 16. He was executed together with nine other officers in the early hours of July 18, 1946, in Lisičiji Potok, about 200 meters from the former Royal Palace, and buried in an unmarked grave on the same spot. His main prosecutor was Miloš Minić, later Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Yugoslavmarker government.

After the war

General Dragoljub Mihailović, portrait by Jim Pollard, St. Sava Cultural Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA 1981
Due to the efforts of Major Richard L. Felman and his friends, President Harry S. Truman, on the recommendation of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, posthumously awarded Mihailović the Legion of Merit, for the rescue of American airmen by the Chetniks. For the first time in history, this high award and the story of the rescue was classified secret by the State Department so as not to offend the communist government of Yugoslavia.

"General Dragoljub Mihailovich distinguished himself in an outstanding manner as Commander-in-Chief of the Yugoslavian Army Forces and later as Minister of War by organizing and leading important resistance forces against the enemy which occupied Yugoslavia, from December 1941 to December 1944. Through the undaunted efforts of his troops, many United States airmen were rescued and returned safely to friendly control. General Mihailovich and his forces, although lacking adequate supplies, and fighting under extreme hardships, contributed materially to the Allied cause, and were instrumental in obtaining a final Allied victory." (March 29, 1948, Harry S. Truman)

Almost sixty years after his death, on May 9, 2005, Draža Mihailović's daughter, Gordana, was presented with a decoration bestowed posthumously on her father by United States President Harry S. Truman in 1948, for the assistance provided to the crews of US bombers that were gunned down on the territory under Chetnik control in World War II.

See also


  1. Tomasevich, Jozo; War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945: The Chetniks, Volume 1; Stanford University Press, 1975 ISBN 978-0-8047-0857-9 [1]
  2. Cohen, Philip J., Riesman, David; Serbia's secret war: propaganda and the deceit of history; Texas A&M University Press, 1996 ISBN 0-89096-760-1 [2]
  3. Ramet, Sabrina P.; The three Yugoslavias: state-building and legitimation, 1918-2005; Indiana University Press, 2006 ISBN 0-253-34656-8 [3]
  4. Tomasevich, Jozo; War and revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945: occupation and collaboration, Volume 2; Stanford University Press, 2001 ISBN 0-80473-615-4 [4]
  5. David Martin, Ally Betrayed: The Uncensored Story of Tito and Mihailovich, (New York: Prentice Hall, 1946), p. 34
  6. Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  8. Freeman, p. 123
  9. Freeman, pp.125-26
  10. Freeman, p. 126
  11. Freeman, p. 128
  12. Freeman, p. 130
  13. Freeman, p. 134
  14. Magazine, "YUGOSLAVIA: Mission for Mihailovich"
  15. Vladimir Zerjavic, Response to Dr Bulajić on his writing on Internet of April 8, 1998
  16. Vladimir Žerjavić's response to Dr Bulajić on his writing on Internet of April 8, 1998
  17. Zdravko Dizdar, Chetnik Genocidal Crimes against Croatians and Muslims during World War II (1941-1945)
  18. Noel Malcolm, Bosnia: a Short History (1994) - page 188 details the Foca-Cajnice massacres
  19. Lampe, Yugoslavia as History, pp. 206, 209-10
  20. Glenny, The Balkans, pp. 494-95


  • Juce, Sinoc. Pjetlovi nad Tigrovima, Sanski Most, BiH: Begovic-Bosanska Krajina Press 2007
  • Martin, David. Ally Betrayed: The Uncensored Story of Tito and Mihailović. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1946.
  • Martin, David. Patriot or Traitor: The Case of General Mihailović: Proceedings and Report of the Commission of Inquiry of the Committee for a Fair Trial for Draja Mihailović. Hoover Archival Documentaries. Hoover Institution Publication, volume 191. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, 1978.[46828]
  • Roberts, Walter R. Tito, Mihailović, and the Allies, 1941–1945. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1973.
  • Trew, Simon. Britain, Mihailović, and the Chetniks, 1941–42. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin's Press in association with King's College, London, 1998.
  • Tucaković, Semso. Srpski zlocini nad Bosnjacima Muslimanima, 1941 - 1945. Sarajevo: El Kalem, 1995.

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