Dragoljub Mihailovic, better known as “Draza” Mihailovic, was one of the great monarchists of the Second World War yet also one of the most maligned and ill-treated by history. As leader of the Chetniks in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia he courageously led a hard and bitter fight for his King and country against overwhelming odds and ultimately betrayal by those who should have been his allies. This great patriot, loyal defender of his King and as proud a Serbian warrior as any could be was fated to end his life labeled as a “collaborator” and shot by his own countrymen on the preposterous charge of “treason”. For loyal Serbians he is a legendary hero but “Draza” Mihailovic is not much known outside of Eastern Europe and that certainly needs to change, both because of the inspirational nature of his life as well as the betrayal that brought him down on the part of the western democracies. It may not be pleasant to hear but the story should be told.
Dragoljub Mihailovic was born on April 27, 1893 in Serbia but as his parents died when he was still young he was raised by his uncle, Major Vladimir Mihailovic, in Belgrade after 1901. He later attended military academy and as a young cadet fought in the First Balkan War against the Turks and later in the Second Balkan War against Bulgaria. With this service under his belt he graduated fourth in his class and joined the ranks of the Serbian officer corps. In World War I he showed great courage in numerous battles against the Austrians, demonstrating great tenacity even in the midst of disastrous defeats. For his service he earned the Gold Medal for Bravery. Throughout the war his skill was continuously displayed, earning him the Order of the White Eagle, the British Military Cross and numerous other awards. At the end of the war Serbia was triumphant, becoming in time the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and Mihailovic was posted to the Royal Guards. However, his involvement in a fight in 1920 saw him posted to the Albanian frontier. However, he also married that same year and started a family and was later promoted to captain. He showed so much promise that he was among a select group of Serbian officers sent to France for special training in Paris.
In 1930 came promotion to lieutenant colonel. After a posting to Bulgaria he was promoted to colonel in 1935. He served again in the Royal Guard and later as an instructor at the military academy. In 1941 he fought against impossible odds when Yugoslavia was invaded by the Axis forces of Germany, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria. As Yugoslavia was overrun and divided by the Axis forces Mihailovic organized his troops into an effective royalist irregular army to continue the fight in the name of their King. These were the Chetniks, though that name is often applied to a wide array of irregular forces, not all of whom were under the command of Mihailovic though he was certainly the most famous and preeminent Chetnik leader of all. The situation was made even more difficult and complicated by the emergence of Soviet-backed communist partisans who were just as intent as anyone on destroying the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as it had been. Wishing to dominate post-war Serbia and appear as the only opposition force the communists took special aim at Mihailovic and his “Yugoslav Army of the Fatherland”. As a result Draza and his Chetniks were forced to spend most of their time fighting the partisans, fighting for the very soul of Serbia while a larger war raged around them.
Mihailovic and his Chetniks were, of course, on the side of the Allies against the Axis invaders. He fully cooperated with the Allies in a planned invasion of Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav government-in-exile promoted him to General of the Army. However, the Soviet dictator Stalin vetoed this plan, pushing instead for an invasion of Western Europe so that his communists would have a free hand in dominating the east. Churchill and Roosevelt agreed and totally sold out the royalist Chetniks and all of Eastern Europe so Soviet domination. It was then, and only then, that some elements of the Chetniks began cooperating with the Germans as the only ally left to them in their war against the communist partisans. It is still fiercely debated whether or not Draza himself ever cooperated with the Germans at all but no doubt some did. However, the Germans also continued to target both the Chetniks and the partisans when either stood in their way and the Chetniks continued to rescue Allied pilots shot down over their area of operations.
It is worth keeping in mind as well, though it is not “politically correct” to do so, that the communist partisans were a direct threat, not only to the existence of “Greater Serbia” but the very soul of Serbia and Yugoslavia. The Germans, on the other hand, had originally had no interest in the region at all and became involved only in order to aid the Italians who were fighting the Greeks. Yugoslavia had, very briefly, been a member of the Axis under Prince-Regent Paul. The Italians were slightly different as they had long regarded Yugoslavia as an enemy and had sponsored the creation of an independent kingdom for the Croatians under an Italian monarch. However, even then, Serbia itself would still have something left. The communists, on the other hand, were the avowed enemies of the very existence of Serbia in every way that mattered in their anti-royalist and anti-Christian platform. However, choosing between the Axis and the communists would never have been necessary had not the western allies sold out Eastern Europe to Stalin and Yugoslavia to the communist partisans under “Tito” who Stalin (at that time) supported.
This confused situation prevailed throughout the final years of the Second World War with bloody and bitter fighting by all involved as the Soviet Red Army marched ever closer. Finally, in the most bitter betrayal of all, Churchill prevailed upon the young King Peter II of Yugoslavia to announce from London that the Chetniks were to put themselves under the command of the communist partisans of “Tito” according to the agreement made between the Western allies and Stalin. Draza Mihailovic was relieved of command and the top position given to “Tito”. However, the old warrior refused to give up, knowing far more about the reality of the situation on the ground than anyone in far away London and refusing to abandon his country to the godless Bolsheviks. He fought on as Soviet forces invaded Yugoslavia, refusing an American offer to smuggle him out of the country before he was captured by the communists. The old general said, “I prefer to lose my life in his country, than to live as an outcast in a strange land. I’ll stay with my soldiers and people to the end, in order to fulfill the duty to the King that he left me. For King and Fatherland - Freedom or Death!”
The Chetniks were soon all but wiped out the Red Army, many being massacred. Draza and some remnants tried to fight their way north but were finally captured. “Tito” telephoned Stalin personally to tell him the good news. The communists subjected Mihailovic to a show trial for “treason” from June 10 to July 15, 1946. Only two days after the inevitable guilty verdict he was taken out and shot by a communist firing squad on July 17, 1946 and buried in an unknown grave. Against impossible odds, in the most difficult situation imaginable, Draza Mihailovic had fought for his king and country regardless of the circumstances. Betrayed by his allies and handed over to the most bitter enemies of his country he faced his death with great nobility, willing to give his life for the Crown and cause he had so long served and fought for.