|Prince Paul with Adolf Hitler|
Prince Paul was actually much more pro-democracy than the previous monarch, King Alexander I, had been. When World War II broke out, he declared Yugoslavia to be firmly neutral and he took Yugoslavia into the Axis but he did so on three specific conditions, all aimed to keep Yugoslavia from actually playing any part in the war. When seen in context, these conditions and his actions in joining the Axis all make perfect sense. It must be remembered that there were numerous neighboring countries who had designs on Yugoslav territory (an unavoidable consequence of the way it was cobbled together after World War I). In the south were lands Bulgaria thought should belong to them, the same for Hungary in the northeast. Historically Italian areas in the west were also a potential cause of trouble. Prior to the conflict, the Italian military had most expected the next war Italy fought would be against Yugoslavia and Mussolini had given support to the Catholic Croatians who wanted to declare independence from Yugoslavia.
|Prince Paul of Yugoslavia|
Nothing could be more obvious than that Prince Paul was no Nazi or Fascist sympathizer. He wanted to stay out of the war and preserve his country the way it was. However, not all of the Serbian military agreed and the British were quick to encourage them. They did not want Yugoslavia to sit out the war but to join it on the Allied side. This was really quite a despicable thing for the British government to do since there was no realistic way they could support Yugoslavia in the war. Nazi Germany blocked any assistance from coming across the continent and, after the Italian occupation of Albania, Mussolini controlled the entrance to the Adriatic and so could block any help from the sea. The military may have pulled off the coup in any event but what the British were thinking in encouraging and supporting it is hard to fathom. It was the same sort of thinking that led to the humiliating fall of the Kingdom of Norway as but one example. Nonetheless, it happened on March 27, 1941 when a group of air force officers led by General Dusan Simovic forced Prince Paul to resign and go into exile in Greece. There was jubilation in some quarters and Churchill was certainly pleased but this was the start of a long period of suffering for all of the peoples of Yugoslavia and, effectively, the end of the Serbian monarchy.
|King Peter II of Yugoslavia|
The unfortunate Prince Paul was taken into custody by the British and held in house arrest in British East Africa (Kenya) for the remainder of the war. King Peter II went eventually to London (via Greece, Palestine and Egypt) where he finished his studies and joined the British Royal Air Force as well as serving as titular head of the Yugoslavian government-in-exile. At home, Yugoslavia was divided among the Axis forces. Macedonia went to Bulgaria, formerly Hungarian lands were annexed by that country, coastal areas were occupied by Italy, Serbia was occupied by Germany and the Independent State of Croatia was proclaimed by Ante Pavelic. Some supported the Axis forces and others carried on armed resistance. The two primary resistance groups were the royalist Chetniks who continued to fight for King Peter II and the communist partisans led by Tito. In addition to fighting the occupying forces these two groups carried on a bitter civil war within the World War against each other. This is something which has attracted some criticism (invariably aimed at the Chetniks and never the communists) but it was, from a purely Yugoslavian point of view, the conflict that should have had priority. After all, no matter how successful they were, they were not going to win the war against the Axis powers all by themselves. That was up to the Allies. However, the outcome of the civil war would determine if Yugoslavia would survive, whether the former kingdom would continue or whether a Marxist dictatorship were established.
This also coincided with a new strategic plan for the Allies. Consideration had been given to a more massive Allied invasion of southern Europe but Stalin objected to the plan. He wanted it all left to his forces and preferred for the British and Americans to invade Western Europe, opening a new front there to draw German forces away from his advancing Red Army. The Allies abandoned Yugoslavia, along with the other Balkan countries (save Greece which Britain had an interest in) and Eastern Europe as a whole to the monstrous Soviet regime. They abandoned the Chetniks who they had originally supported and who had fought for years, including launching very successful raids against Axis forces on their behalf. It is little wonder, given the situation, that some Chetniks (though not all) decided to join with the Germans and Italians who would at least help them resist the communist partisans. Their reputation has never recovered from this, and it is unfortunate but it should be remembered that it was the decision of the Allies which made the Axis powers the only option left for the Chetniks.
|King Peter II in the RAF|
Looking back, it is easy to be critical of what the Allies did. We are not in the middle of a world war. However, some criticism is justified. Britain and France, as it turns out, entered into a war with Nazi Germany that they could not win on their own. That was their choice. To involve Stalin in the war as a member of the Allied nations, however, was not their choice. That choice was made by one Adolf Hitler when he invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. From that point on, Stalin was going to have some part to play in Eastern Europe whether his other Allies liked it or not, providing the Axis forces were defeated of course (which they were). Even so, what happened to Yugoslavia was a betrayal. Some have tended to exaggerate the role of Britain in the coup that brought down Prince Paul. It was an entirely Yugoslavian affair, however, Britain supported it and perhaps the YRAF officers would not have been so keen on the idea if Britain had not been or had been more realistic about what tangible assistance they could offer when German, Italian and Hungarian troops came surging across their borders. Even so, what happened to Yugoslavia was a betrayal. Finally, the agreement that consigned Eastern Europe to Stalin was not supposed to include the establishment of puppet dictators in every country. Even so, Churchill and FDR should have known better than to think that Stalin would allow other peoples privileges he refused to his own.
|A King betrayed|