- - -

Journal of Croatian Studies, XXVIII-XXIX, 1987-88, Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc. New York, N.Y., Electronic edition by Studia Croatica, by permission. All rights reserved by the Croatian Academy of America.

- - -


In their struggle for independence and separation from the Yugoslav State established after the First World War, the Croats found themselves divided into two factions; on the one hand a law abiding majority, under the leadership of Dr. Vladko Maček, President of the Croatian Peasant Party, and on the other a revolutionary minority, styled "Ustaša" ("Insurgents"), whose visible head, Dr. Ante Pavelić, lived in exile in Italy.

Initially the Ustaša had received a limited amount of support from Hungary and Italy, but as Yugoslavia began to distance itself from its traditional allies (Great Britain and, more especially; France), and to move closer to Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy, the Ustaša found themselves without any supporters at all.

When Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite Pact on March 25t, 1941, it seemed that the Croatian revolutionary movement had been dealt a mortal blow. Nevertheless, scarcely two days later, on March 27th, a group of Yugoslav army officers, all of them Serbs, incited by the British secret service, staged a coup, sparking off violent anti-German riots in Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia and Serbia.

Although the new Yugoslav Government tried to avoid a war with Germany and Italy, Hitler decided that the Balkan situation should be clarified and full control established over the whole region before embarking on the campaign he had planned against the Soviet Union. He also felt slighted by the Serbs and decided to punish them by launching an attack against Yugoslavia. This attack began on April 6th, 1941.

Although at that time most of the prominent members of the Croatian Revolutionary Movement were in Yugoslav prisons and their leader, Dr. Ante Pavelić, in exile, the Revolutionary Movement seized the opportunity to launch a struggle for the liberation of Croatia. One Ustaša group incited the troops to rebellion, capturing the town of Bjelovar and proclaiming the independence of Croatia on April 8th, 1941, a mere two days after the German attack, while the German troops were still far away. News of this event failed to travel far, however, for lack of an adequate mass communication media.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to destabilize Yugoslavia, the Germans had already sent two envoys to the Croatian capital, Zagreb where they contacted Maček. Unable to reach an agreement with him, they met with Pavelić's representative, the former Austro-Hungarian colonel Slavko Kvaternik, who subsequently, on April 10th 1941, was to proclaim, in the name of Ante Pavelić, the Independent State of Croatia.

While the April 8th proclamation had had little repercussion, this new announcement, divulged through Radio Zagreb, had an explosive effect, sparking off uprisings throughout Croatia, where followers of both Croatian movements, led by Maćek and Pavelić respectively, jointly incited the Yugoslav troops to lay down their arms and set up local Croatian revolutionary authorities.

Unfortunately, in 1945, the Croats were again to lose their freedom, and at present their history is being written by their enemies. The official Yugoslav version is that the Independent State of Croatia was created by Hitler and Mussolini rather than by the efforts of Croatian freedom-fighters.

This essay endeavours to assert the historical truth of the matter. It centers its attention on the revolutionary act of proclaiming the Independent State of Croatia and tries to explain what caused the change in Hitler's attitude. (Hitler did not start out with the concept of a free Croatia in mind but finally accepted the revolutionary changes brought about by the Croats). It also analyzes the attitude adopted by Italy and Hungary. The analysis is based on historical treatises published mostly by historians who support the current Yugoslav system and are hostile to the Independent State of Croatia, but also draws on an extensive selection of secret documents from various countries, currently available to students of history.*


Political Implications of an Analysis of the Past

To establish who was the creator of the Independent State of Croatia is not merely the necessary matter of setting history straight, but also has political implications. In order to evaluate this facet of the Second World War objectively it is essential to ascertain the true details of the creation of the Independent State of Croatia. Was it the result of a struggle by the Croats themselves, who were to fight tooth and nail for the following four years to defend it against all and sundry, even to the extent of turning a blind eye to their own misgivings concerning the system of government and its shortcomings? Or, far from being a Croatian National State, was it imposed on the Croats, who rejected it and fought not only against the Croatian government but also against the Croatian State as such, in the pursuit of a new and better Yugoslavia, Tito's Yugoslavia?


Characteristics of a Typical State Artificially Created by Germany

In order to evaluate objectively whether or not the State o Croatia was artificially contrived by Germany and Italy, it may be useful to analyze how and under what conditions a typical German contrived state came into being. We shall take as our example Serbia, established in 1941 and corresponding to the territory of the Kingdom of Serbia before the Balkan wars.

The main characteristics of this state are:

(a) It was masterminded exclusively by Hitler, that is, by Germany.

(b) There had been no previous Serbian political group fighting even for separation from the rest of Yugoslavia, let alone for Serbia to come under German control.

(c) No-one, then or now, has suggested that there might be even one Serb prepared to accept such a solution.

The Independent State of Croatia on the contrary (established on April 10th, 1941) was not proclaimed unexpectedly, nor did it come as a surprise to anyone. I shall cite below documents which demonstrate that the Croats' aims and desires were known in major political centers all round the world.


The Croatian Revolution Surprised Nobody

It was no secret that the situation in Yugoslavia was explosive. However, in November 1928, five months after an attempt on the life of the Croatian leader Stjepan Radić while the Yugoslav parliament was in session, three months after his death and two months before the proclamation of the personal dictatorship of King Alexander of Yugoslavia, (the prime purpose of which was to crush Croatian resistance), the King visited Paris where on November 15th he informed the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aristide Briand:

"The Croats are pacifists and therefore innocuous ... There is no danger of the Croats proclaiming their independence ... The state administration is functioning normally as are the courts of justice, the people are paying their taxes without grumbling and are complying with their military service. This means that the situation in the country is normal and the status quo is not threatened, so that, although there is discontent, particularly in Croatia, the crisis is not serious and there is no reason for concern. The opposition coalition and the people will, without concrete results, eventually get tired of verbal fighting".[1]

However, barely two years later, an English journalist and politician, Wickham Steed, who during the First World War was a propagandist in English political circles for the creation of Yugoslavia and, after the creation of Yugoslavia, became one of her most ardent champions in Western political circles, warned Serbian politician Voja Marinković: "What are you people doing? Don't you realize that King Alexander's life is at stake and Yugoslavia will collapse?"[2] Four years later King Alexander was indeed killed in Marseille by a Macedonian, a member of a Croatian revolutionary group founded with the purpose of eliminating the king, while the second part of this prediction was to be proved true eleven years later.

By 1930 the Croats were already actively looking for support for their political plans in various European countries.

After the murder of Stjepan Radić, Vladko Maček succeeded him as President of the Croatian Peasant Party and leader of the Croatian people. While abroad Maček had met Juraj Krnjević and August Košutić, general secretary and vice-president respectively of the same party, who, as exiles, were politically active outside their country. He had also met Ante Pavelić, yet another exiled Croatian politician, who had formerly been vice-president of the Croatian Rights Party and a member of parliament for that party. After his meeting with Maček, who had just returned to Croatia, Ante Trumbić, another prominent Croatian politician, in this case president and member of parliament for the Croatian Federalist Party, made the following entry in his diary:

"Actions: Pavelić will make contacts amongst the Italians, Košutić will work with the Italians and the English, Krnjević with the English, and Kežman will have to work within the law and contact the French".[3]

It is hardly surprising therefore that all relevant political circles were familiar with the Croats' aspirations and knew what they were struggling for. Thus we read in a report sent by the German consul in Zagreb to his Ministry of Foreign Affairs in mid-February 1935 that "according to Maček the Croats would not fight to defend Yugoslavia as it was. He noted with satisfaction Italy's stance in the dispute between Yugoslavia and Hungary with regard to the assassination in Marseille, as well as Italy's decision not to extradite Pavelić and Kvaternik".[4]

In July of 1936 Mussolini had granted an audience to the exiled Croatian politician August Kožutić. On being asked about the Croatian Peasant Party's political program, Kožutić answered the in the first place they wanted a sovereign state of Croatia. Should this not prove feasible they would accept Croatia as part of a federation of Danubian states, (i.e. Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, and Austria). If this too were impossible, and Croatia had to remain inside Yugoslavia, his party would fight for Croatian autonomy. When Mussolini enquired what should be done with Pavelić' followers, the so called "Ustaša", whose extradition from Italy was being pressed for by Yugoslavia, Kožutić replied that "under no circumstances should they be handed over to Belgrade, as this would amount to treachery"[5] on the part of Italy who had previously granted them asylum and assistance.

That same year Yugoslavia received a visit from a certain M W. Been, a member of a London-based institute specializing in the study of problems related to foreign affairs for subsequent use by the British government. He also visited Maček, who was known to be a friend of the English and a staunch democrat. Asked about the Croatian attitude in the event of an armed conflict between Yugoslavia and Germany, Maček answered that "the Croats would take advantage of the opportunity to get rid of the Serbs"[6] that is they would cut loose from Yugoslavia and would proclaim their own sovereign state.

In July 1937, Krnjević visited London where he told the Duchess of Atholl that "relations between the Croats and the Serb were so strained that, if there should be a war and the government were to order a mobilization, civil war would ensue"[7]

In December of the same year, the Czechoslovak Embassy in Belgrade sent the following report regarding official conversation with Kožutić and Maček:

"When Kožutić was asked what the Croatian soldier would do in the case of an armed conflict (between any power and Yugoslavia - Author's note), he said: Let us suppose that a mobilization is called in Croatia. Bills will be posted calling the people to join the army and to shed their blood fighting against the enemy, to defend their state and their nation. Do you really believe that anyone in Croatia would heed such a call? Some have had their ribs crushed in prison, others mourn their murdered fathers, and so on. Can these people be expected to go to war? After the first attack it will all be over".[8]

Maček's answer to the same question was: "Try and send the Croats to the front. Actually the question should be whether it is possible to effect a mobilization at all. I think it is not possible. And, if we are forced to take up arms we will cross over to the enemy, whoever he be. We would even join the Germans, despite our dislike of them. We did once think highly of the Germans and were on good terms with the Italians, purely because they were at that time against Belgrade. At present they have moved closer to Belgrade and so we are against them. You may find our attitude ideologically unsound, but this is a fact that must be borne in mind ... The people follow me, but there are limits to my authority. The peasants are indignant; they come to see me, asking when we will give them arms to attack Belgrade. I was asked by the government to do my best to ensure that the current army maneuvers proceed in a peaceful and orderly manner and that Croatian soldiers should also participate in them. I managed to convince them, but when I relayed Belgrade's request for food and draught animals for the army the peasants were adamant. Our people asked me whether they could commemorate December 1st [anniversary of the foundation of Yugoslavia - Author's note] by organizing protests, burning Yugoslav flags and hoisting Croatian flags in their place. As you will appreciate, the mood of the people is one of rebellion".[9]

When Krnjević remarked in Paris in April 1938, to a prominent member of the radical-socialist party, that in the event of a war the Croats "would start a revolution", the latter hurried off to communicate Krnjević's assertion to the French General Staff, only to be told that "there was nothing new about this, and that the Yugoslav army was neither technically nor morally prepared for war, particularly on account of the Croatian problem".[10]

One year later, in early April 1939, Hugh Seton-Watson, son of R.W. Seton-Watson, wrote in his report to the British Foreign Office after visiting Belgrade:

"During his visit to Belgrade the leader of the Croatian Peasant party, Vladko Maček, made a speech on August 14th, 1938 in the presence of some 80,000 Serbs from Belgrade and Šumadija (central region of Serbia) about injustices committed in Croatia. He mentioned an island in Dalmatia where police terror was rampant and unrestricted, and asked the crowd: 'Are these Croats from Dalmatia likely in the case of war to take up arms to defend the State?' To which the Serbian crowd replied 'No, and neither would we [if we were in their place - Author's note]"[11] This testimony from Hugh Seton-Watson is particularly significant as both he and his father were prominent English journalists and historians (and very probably high-ranking agents of the British Secret Service) moreover both were interested in protecting the status quo in Yugoslavia.

To summarize this section, the world was well aware of the situation in Yugoslavia and even the Serbs, as ruling nation understood that the Croats could not fight in defence of a state that was their oppressor.


Hitler's Germany Protects Yugoslavia

Nazi Germany's friendly attitude towards Yugoslavia is well known, and is corroborated here by the following facts:

After the annexation of Austria by Germany on March 12th,1938, (an event known as Anschluss), "Maček sent an emissary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Berlin. This messenger was received by an official of the Ministry, and asked whether the German government would be prepared to support the movement for the independence of Croatia, whereupon the Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately informed the Yugoslav government of this approach".[12] And to make things worse, "Prince Paul transmitted this information confidentially to Campbell, the British ambassador in Belgrade"[13] who, in turn, informed Lord Halifax, British Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In brief, the Germans denounced the Croats to the Yugoslav authorities and Prince Paul, the Regent ruling in the name of King Peter II who was still a minor, denounced them to the English.

On March 23rd 1938, immediately after the Anschluss, the consul general of Germany in Zagreb, Freundt, informed his Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Maček had had an interview with the Hungarian consul (who was about to depart for Budapest in order to submit a verbal report). Maček told the Hungarian consul that "he wished to insert the Croatian policy into the Berlin-Rome Axis Perhaps the Hungarian government could ascertain whether this might be feasible? Only if the Berlin-Rome Axis should abandon the Croats completely would he adopt the Franco-Czechoslovak line, and negotiations with Belgrade would be a last recourse".[14]

Von Heeren, German ambassador in Belgrade, wrote in the margin of this report: "It is convenient for Germany that Yugoslavia achieve internal consolidation, that is that Maček be compelled to undertake negotiations that would lead to the signing of a political agreement with Belgrade".[15]

As a result of this report, on May 11th 1938 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany sent the following instructions to the German consul general in Zagreb and to the German ambassador in Belgrade: "There is no change in our policy of non-interference in the Croatian problem after the Anschluss. Quite the contrary, it is now even more convenient for us that Yugoslavia not suffer either internal or external weakening as a result of the secession of a more or less independent Croatia. In fact we would prefer a strong and friendly Yugoslavia as our neighbour on the new frontiers of the Reich".[16]

The downfall of Stojadinovič's pro-Nazi and pro-Fascist government on February 4th 1939 saw no change in the pro-Yugoslav attitude of Hitler's Germany. For example a letter sent on February 22nd 1939 by German Secretary of State Ernst von Weizsacker to the German ambassador in Belgrade, von Heeren, reads in part: "Pessimistic comments about the internal strength of Yugoslavia keep arriving here through different channels. It seems that the Croats in particular are urging us to side with them. Needless to say every time I hear something of this nature I exclaim 'That is the last thing I would want to do'".[17]

Moreover, Germany was endeavouring to convince Italy not to attack Yugoslavia. Early in October 1940, scarcely six months before the conflict with Yugoslavia, von Heeren told the chargé d'affaires of the Slovak embassy in Belgrade that "Italy had territorial claims against Yugoslavia, but Germany was appeasing Italy in an attempt to maintain peace in that part of Europe ... Although it appears paradoxical, he states, nevertheless it is a fact that Germany is acting as protector of the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia ... When the chargé d'affaires asked what the German attitude was with regard to the problem of establishing an independent Croatia, von Heeren replied that Germany considered that it was more convenient to negotiate with an integral than with a dismembered Yugoslavia. It was not therefore Germany's wish to exert any pressure or give any help to the radically oriented Croatian movement whose clear and stated objective was an independent Croatian State".[18]


The Ambivalent Italian Foreign Policy

Unlike Germany which, excepting a part of Slovenia, had no territorial claims against Yugoslavia, Italy continually wanted to conquer Dalmatia and rule the Adriatic. At the same time, Italy was living in constant fear of Germany and was obsessed by the fear that Germany might get a foothold on the Adriatic coast. Thus, whereas on the one hand Italy had an interest in wresting Dalmatia away from Yugoslavia, on the other it wanted Yugoslavia to be strong enough for the two of them to pool their strength and thus prevent Germany from obtaining a passage to the Adriatic. As a result of these two conflicting attitudes Italian foreign policy embraced two conflicting lines, alternating according to the given circumstances; a friendly attitude towards Yugoslavia or a confrontational one. Italy's attitude towards Pavelić and his followers (Ustaša) living in Italy, indeed her attitude to the Croats in general, depended on which of these two lines might be deemed expedient at any given moment.

We can see at least three different attitudes adopted by Italy towards the Ustaša in particular and Croats in general. One attitude consisted of helping the Croatian struggle which was supposed to lead to a revolutionary uprising against Yugoslavia; second attitude used this struggle as a factor of pressure that was supposed to induce Yugoslavia to draw closer to Italy, and a third combined a friendship pact with Yugoslavia and a simultaneous persecution of Pavelić and his followers. This last policy was accompanied by pro-Serbian posturing, culminating in a secret conversations between Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano and Yugoslav Prime Minister Stojadinović, according to which, in the case of an armed conflict, Yugoslavia would allow Italy to occupy practically all of Dalmatia (from Sušak to a line somewhat to the south of Split), as well as the zone of Gorski Kotar, all of them Croatian territories, whilst Italy would, in return, help to create a Great Serbia that would annex the Greek port of Salonika and part of Albania, thus giving Serbia an outlet onto the Aegean Sea, an old dream of Serbian expansionists.

Several sources reveal the existence of these secret conversations. Vladko Maček and Ivan Meštrović, among others, mention them in their memoirs. Meštrović, a friend of Prince-Regent Paul Karadordević, had heard of the conversations as early as 1940 from Prince Paul himself who told him that he had requested Stojadinović's resignation from his post as Prime Minister of Yugoslavia specifically because of a secret understanding between him and Ciano. The German diplomat von Hassel, later to become one of the principal conspirators in an attempt on Hitler's life, also mentions it in his memoirs. Referring to a conversation with Prince Paul in early November of 1940, he mentions that Paul had told him "he had been obliged to get rid of Stojadinović on account of his attitude toward the Croats ... Stojadinović was over-intimate with Ciano and Prince Paul considered that, essentially, he had put the fate of Croatia into the hands of Italy".[19]


The Pro-Serbian Character of the Tripartite Pact

The best proof of the Axis' pro-Serbian leanings is the fact of Yugoslavia's accession to the Tripartite Pact; for once Yugoslavia had signed this pact, Germany and Italy, in return, guaranteed respect for Yugoslav sovereignty and territorial integrity, and, in a secret clause, access to the Aegean sea, specifically "the extension of Yugoslav sovereignty over the city and port of Salonika".[20]

Bearing in mind that both Salonika and an Aegean outlet were old Serbian dreams, and moreover that the importance of the Croatian coast and ports would be diminished by their acquisition, the Tripartite pact can be seen as a gain for the Serbs and a loss for the Croats. Assurances of Yugoslav territorial integrity were tantamount to guaranteeing the submission of the Croatian people, which would make a split of the Croats away from Yugoslavia more difficult. By acceding to the pact, Yugoslavia promoted Serbian imperialism and consolidated Serbian power inside the country. I am tempted to believe that this is the true reason for Hitler's attack of hysteria on learning of the Serb coup only two days after the pact was signed. This coup was "inspired" by money from the British Secret Service, and news of the Serbian masses that poured into the streets of Belgrade in violent anti-German riots, chanting "better a war than a pact", can not have improved his temper. Hitler's manic reaction resulted in an attack on Yugoslavia, and gave the Croats a chance to realize their objective, namely the independence of Croatia. History is as often as not the result of fortuitous events.

Oppressed nations are seldom presented with the opportunity to become free, and so they must grab any chance that presents itself. Did not the nations of South America make the most of the opportunities history offered them to put their dreams of sovereignty and liberty into practice, when the power ruling and exploiting them, Spain, was conveniently tied up in fending off an attack by Napoleon? And did the British settlers in North America fighting to shake off the shackles of colonialism not benefit enormously from the war between France and England? According to the New Cambridge Modern History:[21]

"From an early stage in the struggle, Congressional leaders had realised that the foreign aid they deemed essential could be obtained only from the maritime powers of France and Spain. Towards both these countries, and particularly towards France, Americans had traditional antipathies, and it was a measure of their necessity that they decided to approach the Bourbons for aid. This they did even before independence was declared".[22]

The similarity between the problems of the American and Croatian revolutions is surprising. Like the Americans, the Croats were obliged to ask and receive help from powers for whom traditionally they had no liking. But the similarity does not end there, because:

"France had entered the war not so much to achieve American independence as to weaken Great Britain.

... If France was indifferent to American interests, Spain was openly hostile. Though Spain entered the war against Britain in June 1779, she did so as the ally not of the United States but of France. In Madrid the birth of the American republic was from the first viewed as a threat to Spanish imperial interests".[23]

And lastly: "The peace negotiations revealed deep fissures in the Franco-American alliance.[24]

All this proves that we are forced by historical circumstances to accept as our allies whoever is willing to help us, even if they are not our true friends, and that common interests, although circumstantial, prevail over our likes and dislikes.

Let us now, after this digression, return to the signing of the Tripartite Pact. There are additional proofs that the signing of the Tripartite Pact helped to strengthen Serbian rule and to consolidate the Croatian prison, Yugoslavia.

On November 29th 1940, Hitler held a secret meeting in Berghof with the Yugoslav Minister of Foreign affairs, Aleksandar Cincar-Marković. During this meeting Hitler bent over backwards in his attempts to convince the Yugoslav minister to sign the pact. He "expounded his plans for the consolidation of Europe, and the formation of a world coalition stretching from Yokohama to Spain. Hitler said that the moment had come for every European State to take its place in the overall plan. A short time ago, in Vienna, he had had the opportunity to converse in detail with Count Ciano ... about the consolidation of the Balkans ... Hitler stated that in his opinion Yugoslavia's existence was important for Germany, and that there were no political discrepancies between Yugoslavia and the Reich ... In order to maintain the balance of power in the Balkans, Germany needed a strong Yugoslavia. After expounding extensively on the negative consequences of an armed clash between Italy and Greece, Hitler said that perhaps in view of the military situation Germany should intervene ... Anyway he recommended that Yugoslavia 'hasten to make use of the existing situation before it was too late'. He emphasized that if the consolidation were carried out right away, with the approval of his Italian ally, it would not be possible to effect subsequent changes in the future. 'The help he was giving Italy gave him the right to demand that'. At present he was in a position to persuade Italy to accept the attitude he had consistently maintained regarding Yugoslavia, although he had been unsuccessful in the past in obtaining Italian acceptance. However, in the light of recent military events in Greece that possibility has now materialized, and if Yugoslavia were to receive German guarantees of its independence it would have nothing to worry about ... The agreed Italo-German attitude regarding Yugoslavia 'could not be changed if in the future Italy were to find it inconvenient' ... If it were feasible at this moment to convince his ally [Italy] to guarantee the consolidation of Yugoslavia, this would be valid for ever".[25]

In other words, Yugoslavia's accession to the Tripartite Pact and the written undertaking on the parts of Italy and Germany to "always respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia"[26] were instrumental in shielding Yugoslavia from present and future Italian pretensions. The bondage of the Croatians was to last forever.

At present the Serbs and the supporters of Yugoslavia are trying to justify the signing of the Tripartite Pact by explaining it as a temporary measure with the sole aim of avoiding Yugoslav entanglement in a war against Germany and Italy, and claiming that the intention was, as soon as the military situation permitted, that Yugoslavia would switch allegiance to the Allies. However, if this were the only purpose, that is, if it were only a temporary measure, and if the secret intention was to switch over to the other side, what was the point of the secret clause promising Yugoslavia the city and port of Salonika? It is obvious that Yugoslavia could only keep these territories if the powers of the Axis won the war rather that the Allies. In other words, the fact that Yugoslavia demanded Salonika as part of the booty, in exchange for signing the Tripartite Pact, proves that the Yugoslav government not only believes in victory for the Axis, but that (at least at the moment of signing the Tripartite Pact) it even wanted a final victory for Italy and Germany.


Patriotic Reasons for the Coup of March 27th

We have seen the signing of the Tripartite Pact to have been beneficial for Yugoslavia and for the Serbians, but that it most certainly was not convenient for the Croats. So how are we to explain the fact that only two days after the signing of the pact, the Serbian armed forces staged a coup which received the ample support of the Serbian masses?

We would be failing in our objectivity if we did not recognize the importance of the anti-German (rather than anti-Nazi) sentiment of the Serbian masses. These people reacted according to the way they felt, and deserve our respect for that. But it should also be borne in mind that the masses were unaware of just what had been signed on March 25th, particularly the secret clauses, and they were therefore not in a position to judge how beneficial the signing of the pact was for the Serbs.

It is interesting to trace who was manipulating these masses who was pulling the strings of the Putsch-makers; who was inciting these people. It is also useful to learn the personal motivations of those who were in command of the situation.

Doubtless some of them acted in accordance with their political convictions. The facts show, however, that actions of others went not solely inspired by political or ideological motivations. Let us turn to some documents and witnesses reports, and a selection of Serbian, English and Italian writers, to see what they have to say.

"The first testimony comes from Sir Cecil Parrott, tutor of King Peter II, subsequently British ambassador and Professor of History at the University of Lancaster. On January 12th 1977 he gave a lecture on BBC3 entitled Decline of a Dynasty, the dynasty in question being that of the Karađorđevićs. Referring to the Putsch of March 27th, Sir Cecil said: 'Late in March 1941 I visited my old university of Cambridge. There, in the company of my old teacher: and their colleagues, we had a conversation about the Putsch in Belgrade. Some of the teachers who were present said 'It was not the Yugoslavs but us who staged the Putsch'. 'Who are us?' I asked them. The answer was 'We, the SOE (Special Operation Executive)', that is the British Secret Service pertaining to the Ministry of Psychological Warfare'".[27]

"According to the statement of the British publicist and historian Robert William Seton Watson, 'the British spent half a million pounds to finance the Serbian revolt". [28]

"In a document from the official British archives (F.O. 371-224892) there is a note mentioning that towards the end of 1940, actions against the Axis to be carried out in the south-eastern part of Europe were analysed at a meeting between the representatives of the Foreign Office and the SOE. These actions included a system of large-scale bribes both in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. Globally, the sum of Ł 5,000 per month was allotted as aid for the Serbian Agrarian Party, which sum the latter had been receiving during the previous six months. Another decision was to subsidize the Independent Democratic Party, to an unspecified amount. The organization Narodna Odbrana (Defence of the People) had also been earmarked for subsidies out of the same fund".[29]

"During 1940 Section D (later S.O.E.) was particularly active in Belgrade, cultivating politicians and leaders of patriotic organizations and handing out subsidies to the Serb Peasant Party, the Independent Democratic Party and the Narodna Odbrana. They were also in contact with the exiled Bulgarian left-wing Agrarians".[30]

"The Belgrade authorities tried to explain to the people that the government had no choice but to sign the Tripartite Pact, as Yugoslavia was militarily unprepared and, for several months to come, Great Britain would not be in a position to send supplies to Yugoslavia ... British Ambassador Campbell asked his government to refute these arguments by means of BBC Serbo-Croatian broadcasts, which would emphasize past and present British aid to Greece, and would state that Yugoslavia was to receive both British and North American aid, and that moreover booty obtained from Albania would come in very handy. Intelligence Service agents gave efficient backing to this propaganda, flooding Yugoslavia with anti-German leaflets and tracts, thus enhancing the climate for revolution. They too gave financial aid to certain Serbian opposition groups, centring their efforts on the people who were to carry out the Putsch".[31]

"On 21 March the crucial meeting of the Crown Council was held. Three members of the government resigned rather than agree to signing the pact - Branko Čubrilović, of the Serb Peasant Party, Srdjan Budisavljević, of the Independent Democratic Party (both parties were subsidised by S.O.E., who were in close touch with both men) and Mihajlo Konstantinović, an independent nominee of Prince Paul's, over whom Budisavljević and Tupanjanin (of the Serb Peasant Party, also in constant touch with S.O.E.) had acquired considerable influence".[32]

About the middle of May 1941 most of the exiled Yugoslav Government was in Palestine. Through its minister at the British Court, the Yugoslav government expressed its wish to move as soon as possible to London.

The British Information Ministry set about preparing a list of all Yugoslavs exiled in Palestine, with brief biographical data. On that list, beside each name, remarks were recorded by Foreign Office staff ... Beside the name of Miloš Tupanjanin was written 'On the payroll of the British Intelligence Service, SOE 2' (F.O 3 71-30282)". [33]

"The best hope lay with the Air Force, and with the younger army officers: the General Staff, whatever bribes S.O.E. may have lavished, were too cautious and fearful to take action ... On 26 March Macdonald reported that Simović was head of an organization in tending to carry out a coup d'etat, and had said that 'we should not have to wait more than a few days.. In reality, Simović was the figure-head and Mirković the moving spirit, who brought forward the date of the coup to 27 March.

In the following year, when Mirković was in the Middle East he was reported to have said that he had been an 'agent of the British' before the coup. On this Campbell (by this time Minister in Washington) commented that 'if he was indeed an [agent] I did not know of it. I knew he was in confidential contact with the Air Attaché and told him that a coup d'etat was being planned, but he never furnished any details or dates, and I should doubt that he received pay from any of our intelligence or other services'".[34]


"To the last Bullet"

The Germans held the Yugoslav army in high esteem. The day before the attack against Yugoslavia, on April 5th 1941, "Hitler wrote to Mussolini that he was aware that he would have to fight against an exceptionally courageous and tenacious enemy who will moreover be favoured by the mountainous configuration of the land".[35] A short time before that, on March 30th 1941, Field Marshall Walter von Brauchitsch, chief of the High Command of the Army (OKW), also considered that the Yugoslav troops would probably put up a very brave defence and that they would fight stubbornly in the field as long as their ammunition and food lasted".[36]

The Germans however were proved entirely wrong. The Yugoslav southern front, where the troops were mostly Serbian soldiers, gave way some three days after the first German attack. (Skoplje, the most important town in that area, fell after only one and a half days), so that the war was virtually all over. "In accordance with the German OKW report of April 9th, once the German armed forces had penetrated the Skoplje plain and crossed the river Vardar, 'the Yugoslav troops (were) cut off from the Greek and English troops', prompting the German military specialists to consider that the war in Yugoslavia was really over (Der Feldzug auf dem Balkan, pp. 43-45)"[37]

At 9 a.m. of April 14th, that is barely eight days after the beginning of hostilities, General Dušan Simović, Yugoslav Prime Minister, gave General Kalafatović written orders to apply for "a truce", which actually turned out to be an unconditional surrender. But the capitulation could not be signed until April 17th at 21 hrs, on account of the chaotic state of what was left of the Serbian army. (After April 10th, 1941, it is no longer fitting to continue speaking of the Yugoslav Army, rather we should talk of the remnants of the former Yugoslav Army, or the remnants of the Serbian troops belonging to that army. However, Germany had waged war against Yugoslavia rather than Serbia, which at that time did not exist, and, presumably for normal reasons, the Germans insisted that the unconditional surrender be signed in the name of the Yugoslav Army, although actually and legally it no longer existed).


The Lightning Defeat of Yugoslavia - Hitler's Prime Objective

What really happened is unimportant, but it is unquestionable that Hitler was convinced that the war against Yugoslavia would take some time if certain measures were not taken. But Hitler wanted a lightning-fast war against Yugoslavia, convinced as he was that "Germany would thus be able to intimidate Turkey sufficiently, an achievement which would eventually, in the campaign against Greece, have favourable consequences".[38] Likewise it "was important to end the war in the Balkans as soon as possible, in order to launch the attack against the Soviet Union which was scheduled to begin early in June 1941. Moreover, the German OKW wanted to prevent the Yugoslavs, Greeks and the British joining forces any forming a new 'Salonika Front,' which could hamper the German advance and their penetration of the Mediterranean basin".[39]

Everything Hitler did in those days was subordinated to his decision to put an end as soon as possible to hostilities wit] Yugoslavia. During these days he showed little interest in political issues, his main objectives being of a military nature. We can see for example that, in order to convince the Hungarians to attack Yugoslavia he had rashly promised them the rich province of Banat. However, when the Yugoslav conflict was over, Hitler was unable to keep his promise on account of Romanian opposition and that of the 140,000 Germans who lived there.

With his mind set on a quick victory over Yugoslavia, on March 27th, before meeting with his chief ally Mussolini, to whom he had as early as 1936 relinquished Mediterranean supremacy including Adriatic supremacy in the form of the Yugoslav coast Hitler summoned to an early morning meeting the "ambassador of Hungary Dome Sztójay and the ambassador of Bulgaria Pervan Draganov in order to announce his preparations for a lightning attack against Yugoslavia, which would enable their countries to carry out territorial conquests, provided they took part in the war".[40] At that time Hitler did not have an independent Croatian State in mind because he was of the opinion that Croatia should belong to Hungary and be granted only a limited degree of autonomy. According to the Yugoslav historian Dr Fikreta Jelić Butić "guided by strategic reasons Hitler favoured as a solution the Croatian 'self-government' within Hungary or at least under the influence of Hungary. He probably hoped that this solution would eventually help to counteract the Italian expansion".[41]

The same day, between 13 and 14 hours, there was a meeting of the German War Council. In the course of this meeting Hitler declared that it was "necessary to bear in mind that, during the attack on Yugoslavia, the Croats would side with the Germans. They should be given appropriate political treatment (later on, self-government)"[42] Obviously Hitler did not foresee at that time an independent Croatia, but merely considered that during the conflict, and to reap maximum advantage of the Croatian anti-Yugoslav sentiments, they should be given "appropriate political treatment" which would result eventually in "self-government" (probably inside Hungary), always provided that the Croats backed the German forces during the armed conflict.

"As soon as the meeting of the War Council was over, the OKW/WFSt prepared, along the lines of Hitler's statements, the instructions for the military campaign against Yugoslavia. These instructions (Weisungen) bore the reference number 25, and the attack against Yugoslavia was accordingly known as 'Operation 25'".[43] Amongst other things this plan of action states that "The political tensions within Yugoslavia will have to be exacerbated by making promises to the Croats.[44] Obviously, the intention was to incite the Croats against Yugoslavia so as to weaken her defence, but there was no plan regarding the proclamation of a sovereign Croatian State.

This can be seen more clearly on analysis of the guidelines used for drawing up the propaganda against Yugoslavia. These guidelines were issued on March 28th by Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel, head of the OKW. Point (c) reads: "It is necessary to reveal that the German army is not coming to the Croatian, Bosnian or Macedonian territories as an enemy. On the contrary it comes to prevent the Serbian chauvinists sending these people to the front where they would lose their lives in vain, to the sole benefit of the British. But if, under the influence of the Anglo-Serbian propaganda, the non-Serbian population too was to put up a resistance, they would be crushed by the German army, regardless of who they were and where the resistance might be encountered."[45]

It is clear that the purpose of the German propaganda was to dissuade the non-Serbian population from taking part in the conflict. The dual purpose was to appeal to the interests of the people and at the same time to intimidate them. This way they would understand that they had nothing to gain from fighting but, should they decide to do so, they should know before hand of the dire consequences. If anything this proves that at that time the German had no intention whatsoever of helping the Croats to become independent; if they had, would it not have been more coherent an expedient to use this as an argument in their propaganda?

It can be seen with even greater clarity that nobody was giving the remotest thought to the possibility of an independent Croatian State in point (b) of the same instructions, which reads: "In different parts of occupied Yugoslavia, particularly in Croatia, the publication of newspapers will be permitted under German censorship".[46][

This implies that under German plans Croatia was to be occupied rather than independent, but given a milder treatment inasmuch as the publication of newspapers was to be allowed "particularly in Croatia", albeit subject to German (rather than Croatian) censorship. These guidelines coincide perfectly with the instructions Hitler had given the day before in the course of his meeting with the War Council, in the sense that during the hostilities the Croats should be given "appropriate political treatment" and "later on self-government".

That same night Hitler sent a letter to Mussolini, informing him of his decision to attack Yugoslavia and of his suggestions to the ambassadors of Hungary and Bulgaria that their countries might participate in the attack. "Because, Duce, without the help of Hungary and Bulgaria we will not be able to act with the speed the events might demand".[47]

Mussolini answered immediately, one paragraph of his letter being particularly interesting. It reads: "Besides Bulgarian, and especially Hungarian cooperation, the separatist tendencies of the Croats, those represented by Dr. Pavelić, should be borne in mind".[48] In other words it was Mussolini who first pointed out to Hitler the importance of the Croats. However Mussolini does no mention the independence of Croatia; he limits himself to underscoring the importance of Croatian involvement apart from that of Hungary and Bulgaria if the war against Yugoslavia is to be terminated as soon as possible.

The following day (March 28th) the Hungarian ambassador Sztójay, after Hitler had again offered him Croatia, "replied that Hungary had no claims on Croatia and did not wish to incorporate that country into its boundaries",[49] whereupon Hitler insisted that "a possible solution might be, for example, Croatia receiving friendly and economic support from Hungary".[50]

On March 31st, that is four days after Hitler had taken the decision to attack Yugoslavia, Mussolini had pointed out the importance of the Croats to him, and after the Hungarians had rejected the idea of Croatia becoming part of Hungary, as an autonomous territory, "for the first time a pattern of German opinion regarding the idea of an 'independent Croatia' began to emerge with some clarity".[51] That same day Minister of Foreign Affairs Joachim von Ribbentrop sent a telegram to the German consul in Zagreb instructing him to inform Maček that if Yugoslavia were to collapse Germany would contemplate an independent Croatia.[52]

But what was to be understood by the term "independence"? Even Hitler seems to have been unclear. Six days later, on April 6th, he issued instructions for the subsequent organization of Yugoslav territory. Here one can read "Croatia shall be an independent state, probably under Hungarian influence".[53] "The coast in the north-western part of Yugoslavia, Dalmatia and Montenegro shall belong to Italy".[54]

More than two days after the Croats had proclaimed their independent state (in the afternoon of April 10th) we eventually find in article 6 of the "Provisional instructions regarding the breakup of Yugoslavia" which was put together between the evening of April 12th and the morning of April 13th, that "within its ethnic boundaries, Croatia shall become an independent state", and that "Germany shall not interfere in the internal political affairs of Croatia".[55] However, article 7 of these instructions states that Bosnia (and implicitly Dalmatia) do not belong to Croatia, and that their future political status shall be decided by Italy.[56] It is therefore obvious that when Hitler speaks about Croatia he refers only to "the historical Kingdom of Croatia and Slavonia, formerly a constituent part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy".[57]


Three Forgeries by Yugoslav Historians

It is of extreme importance to determine as accurately as possible the date on which these "Provisional instructions" were conceived. If they were put together after the proclamation of the Independent State of Croatia they would prove that this was established thanks to the Croatian struggle and that Hitler came into the picture late in the day. However, if the "Provisional instructions" preceded the proclamation of the independence of Croatia then evidence of this could be used by enemies of the Croatian cause to give credibility to their theory that the Independent State of Croatia was a German creation.

Not only the Croats are aware of this, but also all those who put their pens to the service of Croatian oppressors. It is useful to see just how far some official Yugoslav historians are prepare to go.

For instance Ferdo Čulinović, renowned historian and university professor in Yugoslavia, writes in his book Yugoslavia Between Two Wars, published in Yugoslavia in 1961, that Hitler issued his Provisional instructions "before attacking Yugoslavia",[58] that is before April 6th 1941. And in order that so gross a lie not be detected by readers the author refrains from mentioning the date of these instructions, April 12th 1941, or six days after the German attack.

What seems to particularly bother Čulinović about these instructions is the statement that Germany will not interfere in the internal political affairs of the Croatian State, and this would seen to be why he qualifies them as an example of the "hypocrisy of the leaders of the Third Reich".[59] But Čulinović knows perfectly well that these instructions, far from being intended for the Croats or the general public were actually issued to the highest levels of command of the German army and classified "Top Secret". He also knows that they were prepared and signed by the Chief of the High Command of the German Armed Forces (OKW), General Keitel along the lines of Hitler's instructions, which surely implies that this is not a statement made for purposes of propaganda but a case of a high-ranking officer giving official instructions.

Another Yugoslav historian, General Velimir Terzić, was much more blunt. General Terzić does not enter into subtle disquisition: and musings about "hypocrisy." Instead, on page 549 of the second tome of his bulky work Collapse of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1941 we can find the "complete" text of the "Provisional instructions", from which he has omitted completely the instructions relating to non-interference in the internal political matters of the Croatian State. This omission patently constitutes an academic and historical forgery.

It is interesting to analyse Čulinović's and Terzič's motives in playing down and concealing respectively this instruction. It would be ridiculous to affirm or attempt to demonstrate by means of this instruction that the Germans really did not meddle in the internal affairs of the Independent State of Croatia. But this instruction does show clearly what Hitler and the Germans were thinking at a given moment, the moment at which the Independent State of Croatia was proclaimed, and also what kind of state they were prepared to recognize. It is obvious they were thinking in terms of a fully sovereign state, and that at that moment they had no intention of interfering in its internal problems. It is not the purpose of this essay to analyse the subsequent events which were in many respects a far cry from what was voiced in the "Provisional instructions". Here we simply wish to highlight the changes that occurred in Hitler's plans. On March 27th 1941 Hitler conceived Croatia as an autonomous country inside Hungary, and on April 6th 1941, the day Yugoslavia was attacked, he already considered that Croatia should be an independent state but "under Hungarian influence", only to change again abruptly on April 12th 1941, upholding the idea of Croatia as an "independent state" in whose internal affairs Germany should not interfere. It is obvious that the chain of events that commenced on April 6th, that is to say the momentum of the Croatian revolution which culminated in the proclamation of the independence of Croatia on April 10th 1941, was instrumental in forging Hitler's (and Germany's) opinion.

Let us however return to General Terzić. It seems that the adulteration of one document relating to the proclamation of the Independent State of Croatia was not enough for the appetite of a "good" Yugoslav historian. If we turn to pages 722/3 of the same volume of his book we can read: "The Independent State of Croatia was created by the decision of the German High Command, that is, by the decision of the German army whose duty it was to put this decision into practice. This is also confirmed by the commander of the German Second Army, Field Marshall Weichs, who on April 4th issued the following order to his troops: 'The Führer has given the order to establish the new state of Croatia which will maintain friendly relations with Germany'". It is to Terzić's eternal misfortune that he had completely forgotten that in the same volume of his book, on pages 58-60, he had published the entire text of the said orders of the commander of the Second Army, issued on April 4th, in which the quotation from it on pages 722/3 does not appear. This "Order related to the Operations", as indicated by its title, is of a purely military nature, with the exception of article 1 which reads: "On account of changes in the political situation in the Balkans resulting from the coup staged by the army in Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia must also be considered our enemy, in spite of its declaration of loyalty. The Führer and Supreme Commander has decided that Yugoslavia must be defeated as soon as possible. This operation will bear the code name 'Operation 25' ". As we can see, there is no question here of "setting up the new state of Croatia", as Terzić said, but of overpowering (that is defeating or annihilating) the Yugoslav army militarily, and as quickly as possible. But then again, how many readers will remember, when they get to page 722, what they read on page 58?


"Provisional instructions": Cause or Consequence of the Croatian Revolution?

We shall now try to analyse just when the "Provisional instructions," particularly article 6 relating to Croatia, were drawn up. They contain an explicit statement that they are based on Hitler's instructions of April 3rd 1941, prior to April 10th, the day on which the Independent State of Croatia was proclaimed. Consequently, one part of the instructions is simply a new and more complete formulation of Hitler's previous orders. If this were also the case of article 6, relating to Croatia, then it would be quite irrelevant whether the date on which they were drawn up were before or after the proclamation of Croatian independence. However, in Hitler's previous instructions ("Instruction No. 26" of April 3rd 1941), there is no mention at all of the future Croatian State, nor for that matter any mention of anything relevant to Croatian problems. There is indeed no mention at all of Croatia, and the only reference to Croatian territories in article 5 is in the context of "the Italian Second Army shall not be set into motion before the attack of the German Second Army and of the XXXI Mobile Group of the Army Corps become manifest. To this end it might become imperative that the attack be directed more to the south than the south- east?".[60] We must therefore conclude that as far as Croatia is concerned the "Provisional instructions" of April 12th are entirely unrelated to the previous instructions of April 3rd 1941, and that they do not derive from them.

In the light of official documents currently available to the public, it is possible to establish not only the date but even the hour when the "Provisional instructions" were drawn up. To this end our study must be based on two of its articles, that is articles 1 and 6.

According to article 1, "The Führer of the Reich shall draw up a settlement in writing with the Duce ratifying the cession of the territories that have already been occupied by Italian troops",[61] and stating which territories will go to Germany. The territories in question were part of Slovenia claimed by Germany, while the other part was claimed by Italy. But these territories were occupied by the Italian troops on April 12th 1941 in the afternoon, since on that day "at 18.20 the Chief of Staff of the (German) Second Army informed (over the telephone) the district chief (Gauleiter) in Graz that the Italians had occupied part of the zone that was to be annexed to Southern Carynthia",[62] which shows that the "Provisional instructions" could not have been drawn up before 18.20 hours on April 12th 1941.

On the basis of article 6 it is possible to establish with even greater accuracy just when the "Provisional instructions" were drafted. The crux of the matter is in that part of article 6 in which instructions are given to the effect that Germans should not interfere in the internal political affairs to the Croatian State. The question then that ought to be raised is why this order was included in the "Provisional instructions" issued for the benefit of high-ranking German commanding officers, since it should have been sufficient to include in article 6 the part reading that "within its ethnic limits Croatia will be an independent state". But, if the instruction about non-interference was added, (which at first sight appears to be redundant), then there must have been a valid reason for its inclusion. And indeed there was.

As can be seen from official German documents, Slavko Kvaternik, the Croatian revolutionary who proclaimed the Independent State of Croatia on April 10th in the name of Ante Pavelić, approached the German government on April 12th requesting diplomatic recognition of the new state.[63] The request for recognition was forwarded through the Command of the German Second Army, which, in turn, channelled through the High Command of the German Armed Forces (OKW) a request from the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs for clarification as to who was the head of the Croatian State, Pavelić or Kvaternik.[64] The enquiry was received at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at 20.45 hours on April 12th 1941,[65] but the Ministry had no brief which would enable them to answer. That same night, at 22 hours,[66] the Ministry of Foreign affairs received Hitler's answer relayed over the phone by the Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces (OKW), General Alfred Jodl. Hitler's answer was "There shall be no interference whatsoever in Croatian internal matters. Let the Croats chose whomsoever they want as their head of state."[67]

If the "Provisional instructions", particularly the instruction regarding German non-interference, had been drawn up previously it would not have been necessary to wait until 22 hrs for the answer, which must mean that this particular instruction was incorporated sometime between 20.45 and 22.00 hours on April 12t 1941, to match the enquiry of the Command of the German Second Army. This would seem to be corroborated in the similarity between Hitler's reply and the phrasing of article 6, as well as by the fact that both statements belonged to the OKW sphere, and that both instructions had been issued for the benefit of the higher officers of the German Command.

To sum up, the instruction explaining what the Croatian Stat would be like, to wit that the Germans would not interfere in it internal political affairs, was drawn up more than two days, (between 53 and 54 hours to be precise), after the proclamation of the Independent State of Croatia. Therefore the proclamation of Croatian Independence was not the consequence but the cause of the spirit in which article 6 of the "Provisional instructions" was drawn up.


Coincidence Between Croatian and Hungarian Interests

As explained above, on March 27th 1941 Hitler was not planning to recognize the rights of the Croats to a sovereign state. His plans were completely different. So, the question is, what happened that persuaded him to recognize the Independent State of Croatia proclaimed by the Croats.

There were several causes, but all hinge around one truism: international politics is keyed exclusively to common interests. The Independent State of Croatia was proclaimed and established as a result of these struggle and efforts of the Croats, but it achieved recognition from Germany and Italy because, at that moment, Croatian interests coincided not only with those of Germany and Italy, but also with those of Hungary. No analyst of these events however has attached sufficient importance to the incidence of Hungarian interests which, to my thinking were fundamental.

As we have already seen, Hitler was trying by all means possible to convince the Hungarians to attack Yugoslavia, promising them territorial concessions in exchange for their support. But barely four months previously, Yugoslavia and Hungary had signed a pact of eternal friendship and a breach of this pact would be extremely unpleasant for Hungary. Still, Hungary was interested in territorial expansion, and was therefore looking around for a pretext to attack Yugoslavia. The Hungarian Cabinet resolved in a meeting on April 1st 1941 to attack Yugoslavia, the excuse being the probable secession of Croatia, arguing that as a result of the conflict Yugoslavia would no longer exist and thus their pact would no longer have any validity. But two days after this cabinet meeting, the then President of the Hungarian government, Count Teleki, committed suicide, apparently motivated by remorse for his failure to oppose more firmly the decision to attack Yugoslavia, In fact Teleki had received a cable from London advising him that a high ranking person in England had remarked that the good name of Hungary would be besmirched were Hungary to become an accomplice of Germany by attacking Yugoslavia. Faced with this Teleki shot himself, leaving a letter addressed to Regent Horthy, in which he explained that he had decided to take his life as "the course to which the Hungarian government was about to commit itself was not consistent with his honour or his conscience".[68]

This tragic decision had far-reaching repercussions, making it even more difficult for Hungary to attack Yugoslavia. Therefore, immediately after the suicide, April 3rd 1941, Regent Horthy sent "a letter to Hitler explaining what had happened, and the difficult position Hungary now found herself in as a result. But from the contents of this letter it is possible to deduce that the attitude of Croatia during the armed conflict could make Hungary's position considerably easier"[69], because at the meeting of the Hungarian cabinet everybody "shared the opinion the once the German troops have entered Yugoslavia, Croatia would probably sever its ties with the Yugoslav State, whereby facto cease to exist (for Hungary) as cosignatory of the treaty".[70]

With their intimate knowledge of the Croats, the Hungarians were well aware that the Croats would use the German attack on Yugoslavia to rebel and proclaim their independent state. But they also knew what Hitler thought, because seven day earlier he had explained his ideas to the Hungarian ambassador Döme Sztójay.

Consequently they knew that Hitler was not thinking in terms of Croatian independence. This is the reason why Horthy's letter to Hitler was in fact a veiled suggestion that Germany should recognise the future Croatian State once the Croats had proclaimed it, thus enabling Hungary to justify her attack on Yugoslavia. The Hungarians continued to push this idea and so, on the day, on the following day, the Hungarian ambassador in Germany paid a visit to the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he had an interview with Secretary of State von Weizssäcker "On that occasion too Croatia was mentioned, with the Hungarian ambassador pointing out that the proclamation of the independence of Croatia might provide a motive for setting into motion the Hungarian attack against Yugoslavia".[71]

On April 9th, only one day before the proclamation of the Independence of Croatia, and three days after Germany had launched her attack on Yugoslavia, there was still no sign of an imminent attack by Hungary. On the contrary, in a Hungarian communiqué we can read "Hungary has no other intention than to see to it that the war be fought as far as possible away from Hungarian soil".[72] But only a few hours after the Croatian declaration of Independence, on April 10th, "at 21.00 hours the Hungarian liaison officer informed [the German Second Army - Author's Note] that Hungary planned to send one brigade towards the city of Osijek".[73] That same night of April 10th, in a message to the Hungarian army and nation Regent Horthy said: "With the creation of the Independent and Sovereign Croatian State, Yugoslavia has ceased to exist, collapsing into its constituent parts. This places us under an obligation to assume responsibility for the fate of the territories that were taken away from Hungary in 1918 and also to ensure the security of the Hungarians who live there".[74] In fact, on the following day, "in the early hours of April 11th, units of the Hungarian southern army, (the 4th and 5th Infantry Corps and the 1st Motorized Cavalry Corps) commenced their advance..."[75]

But how could the Hungarian attack be justified without the recognition of the Independent State of Croatia by Germany? What attitude could Germany adopt in view of the immediate recognition of the independence of Croatia by Regent Horthy in his message of April 10th?

The weight of these arguments and the important part they play in Germany's decision to recognize Croatian independence, can be seen from the communication the German Minister of Foreign Affairs von Ribbentrop sent to Mussolini on April 14th.

In it Ribbentrop explains that Hitler and he were convinced that the moment had come to recognize the independent state of Croatia and that this decision was based on two premises. One was that "this recognition would persuade every Croatian soldier to the last man not to use their weapons"[76] against the German and Italian troops, and the other that the Hungarians had used the declaration of Croatian Independence as an excuse to "justify their penetration of Yugoslav territory, based on the assumption that the Yugoslav State had ceased to exist as such".[77]


The Why and Wherefore of Germany's Recognition

We shall now analyse how the interests of Germany happened to coincide with those of Croatia, and why Germany acceded to the Croatian point of view.

Let us begin by examining Hitler's objectives when he attacked Yugoslavia. Knowing that Yugoslavia was actually a small Serbian empire, and that the coup was the exclusive responsibility of the Serbs, Hitler decided to punish them by crushing their little empire, Yugoslavia. He furthermore wanted complete clarification of the Balkan situation before launching his planned attack against the Soviet Union. And lastly, he wanted a lightning strike against Yugoslavia to keep the conflict as brief as possible.

He knew how to dismember Yugoslavia and what to do with her territories; his only problem was Croatia. As an Austrian he was prejudiced by his recollections of the internal structure of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This was why, in his opinion, the Croatian territory did not exist as a unit but (as inside the Austro-Hungarian Empire) as three separate territories: Dalmatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia-Slavonia. The first two Croatian provinces he planned to hand over to Italy and the third he wanted inside Hungary, perhaps in order to offset Italy's expansionist tendencies, as suggested by Yugoslav historian Fikreta Jelić-Butić.

But when the Hungarians refused to incorporate Croatia into their state and furthermore explained to Hitler that the foundation of an independent Croatia would justify a Hungarian attack on Yugoslavia; when additionally Hitler realized that the Yugoslav army, which he as an Austrian with memories of the First World War not only respected but to an extent feared, seemed to wilt under the impact of Croatian revolutionary action; when he saw his troops enter Croatian territory almost without a shot being fired; when he realized that wherever they went they found Croatian authorities and a revolutionary government already in office; when. it became clear to him that recognition of the Independent State of Croatia would result in each and every Croatian soldier refraining from using his weapons against the Germans; then Hitler accepted the Independent State of Croatia as a solution.

But if it had not been for the Croatian revolutionary process commencing on April 6th, the day the Germans launched their Yugoslav offensive which was so soon to achieve success, with the rebellion of the 108th Infantry regiment the following day and the capture of the city of Bjelovar (where on the same afternoon the first declaration of the independence of Croatia was made) on April 8th; if that revolutionary process had not brought about, without the intervention of German troops, the practical collapse of the Yugoslav northern front; if the proclamation of the Independent State of Croatia made on April 10th in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, had not caused an immediate reaction throughout Croatia; if the revolutionary spark had not so quickly acquired the proportions of an inextinguishable revolutionary fire that devoured both the state of Yugoslavia and her army; if things had been otherwise, who knows whether Hitler would have recognized the Independent State of Croatia, and whether Kvaternik's manifesto would have served no higher purpose than to be used by the German High Command in their campaign to undermine the morale of the Yugoslav troops.

Apart from all that, there was yet another argument favouring recognition of the Independent State of Croatia; yet another coincidence of German and Croatian interests. Hitler was preparing his campaign against the Soviet Union, and consequently it was essential for him to have the main body of his army at his disposal. He therefore wanted to have as few troops as possible tied up in the territories of what had been Yugoslavia. Serbia had to be kept under military occupation, but he preferred not to have to do this in Croatia too, and consequently an independent Croatia was more convenient than a Croatia under military occupation. If, in spite of that, he was in the event obliged to maintain troops on Croatian soil, there was no one to blame but the Italians. At a meeting in Vienna on April 21st and 22nd 1941 Ribbentrop informed Ciano that Germany intended to pull her troops out of Croatia as soon as possible. However, when Ciano replied that if that were the case then he would replace them with Italian troops, the Germans changed their minds and on the following day Ribbentrop informed Ciano that Hitler had decided that Germany would after all keep some troops in Croatia.[78]


Italian Recognition

The Italians too had their reasons and interests for recognizing the Independent State of Croatia.

Italian policy was constantly opposed to the Independent State of Croatia and this policy was the cause of practically all the ensuing ills which befell Croatia, including Tito's guerrillas who, without direct or indirect help from Italy, would never have been able to subsist, and who always found refuge in territories occupied by Italian troops when fleeing from German or Croatian military operations.

Italian interference in Croatian internal matters is not the subject matter of this essay. Nevertheless it should be pointed out that the Italian military authorities not only created grave internal problems in those zones of Croatia under Italian occupation but that they also furthered the growth of those problems until they became unmanageable and finally resulted in the loss of Croatian independence.

The first and nearly fatal blow inflicted by Italy on the newly formed Croatian State was the "Agreements of Rome", a set of stipulations imposed by Italy on Croatia which, amongst other things, implied the loss of Dalmatia and of virtually all the Adriatic coast. Enemies of the Croats and of the Croatian Liberation Movement blamed the Independent State of Croatia for this loss, accusing its government of high treason for "trading off" Dalmatia. But at that time Italy could have merely occupied Dalmatia without recognizing Croatian independence, since as long ago as 1936 Hitler had relinquished primacy over the Mediterranean to Italy, which implied that the Adriatic (and Dalmatia) came into the Italian sphere of influence. On several occasions Hitler had confirmed to the Italians that their hands were free as far as Dalmatia was concerned. We have already seen that on March 27th 1941 he still believed Dalmatia should belong to Italy. Furthermore, Italy had effected the military occupation of Dalmatia at a time when the Croatian army was not yet in existence. So who or what could prevent Italy annexing Dalmatia? And what difference did the recognition of the Independent State of Croatia make, in view of the fact that Italy had already secured Dalmatia as part of its spoils of war?

Truly, as regards Dalmatia, there was no need for Italy to recognize the Independent State of Croatia and indeed it would have been more convenient for Italy not to recognize it. But in that case, to whom would the remaining Croatian territories have gone? The only thing the Hungarians were interested in was an outlet to the Adriatic, (which was precisely what the Italians were determined to deny them, or anyone else for that matter). Hence, the only ones who would have been capable of occupying these lands were the Germans, who would in any case never have allowed then to fall into Italian hands as they were already, since the existence of Yugoslavia, obtaining key raw materials from these territories Furthermore, German communications, very important from a military standpoint, passed through these lands, another reason to keep them out of Italian hands. We have already seen that some historians argue that Hitler had offered the Croatian lands to Hungary precisely to avoid them falling into the clutch of Italy.

As for the Italians, they lived in a constant state of fear bordering on panic that the Germans might get a foothold on the Adriatic coast or at least nearby, and they preferred the devil, horns, tail and all, or even the Independent State of Croatia, to Germany.

This then is the only reason that Italy recognized Croatia, and later events show that Italy was Croatian's worst enemy.


Who then Should Get the Credit for the Creation of the Independent State of Croatia

As we have seen, on the basis of documents recently made public, the Independent State of Croatia was not the result of the decision, the wish or the actions of Italian Fascists or German Nazis, rather it was the result of the long struggle of the Croatian people, a struggle everyone knew about but nobody was prepared to support. At a historic moment, on Croatian soil, four separate interests, those of Croatia, Germany, Hungary, and Italy, became intertwined; four dissimilar interests, coinciding in one aspect; the convenience of recognizing the Croatian State because it represented a mutually acceptable territorial solution. This is the only reason that the Croatian State, established as the result of a long struggle by the Croats, was recognized as an independent nation.


Translated by Vera Korsky-Poli



* Quotations from documents which were originally written in English have been retranslated into English from other languages; unfortunately it has not been always possible to quote verbatim from the original sources.

[1] "Izvještaj od 29.X do 17.XI.1928" ("Report from October 29 to November 17, 1928"), written by Ante Trumbič after his return from abroad. A-JAZU, Trumbić's collection, fascicle 60; quoted from Bogdan Krizman Ante Pavelič i ustaše (Ante Pavelič and the ustaša), Zagreb: Globus 1978, p. 35.

[2] Ljubo Boban: Maček i politika Hrvatske Seljačke Stranke 1928-1941 (Maček and the policy of the Croatian Peasant Party 1928-1941), Zagreb: Liber 1974, Vol. I., p. 63.

[3] Zbirka Trumbić (Trumbić's collection), note dated November 5, 1930, regarding his conversation with Maček, not registered: according to Lj. Boban, op. cit., I, p. 53.

[4] Politischer Archiv des auswärtigen Amtes (Political Archives of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs), (henceforth PA), DK Zagreb VI A Bd. 13, February 12, 1935: According to Lj. Boban, op. cit., I, p. 400.

[5] Zbirka Trumbić (Trumbić's collection), note dated April 26, 1935: according to Lj. Boban, op. cit., I, p. 402.

[6] Ibidem, note dated December 24, 1936, regarding his conversation with Maček, not registered: according to Lj. Boban, op. cit., I, p. 239.

[7] Lj. Boban, op. cit., I, p. 419; quoted from the Public Record Office, Archive of the Foreign Office, London (henceforth F.O.), 371, f-21196 R 5201, letter from the Duchess of Atholl dated July 27, 1937.

[8] Embassy of the Republic of Czechoslovakia in Belgrade, No. 1461/confidential 37: Regular political report, number 103, Belgrade, December 10, 1937: according to Lj. Boban, op. cit., I, p. 309.

[9] Ibidem: according to Lj. Boban, op. cit., I, pp. 314-315.

[10] Lj. Boban, op. cit., 1, p. 429, quoted from the Trumbić's collection, note dated April 23, 1938, regarding his conversation with Tomo Jančiković.

[11] Hugh Seton-Watson "Položaj u Jugoslaviji" ("Situation in Yugoslavia") F.O.-371, f-23875, R 2704, April 7, 1939: according to Lj. Boban, op. cit., II, p. 102

[12] Lj. Boban, op. cit., I, p. 423.

[13] Ibidem, II, p. 453, F.O. 371, f.22476, R 5193, Report from Campbell to Halifax, May 23, 1938.

[14] PA DK Zagreb Pd IV 60 Bd. 1, March 23, 1938: according to Lj. Boban op. cit., I, p. 424.

[15] Ibidem.

[16] PA Pol. IV 60 Bd. 1, April 11, 1938: according to Lj. Boban, op. cit., I, p. 424.

[17] Lj. Boban, op. cit., II, p. 81.

[18] Lj. Boban, op. cit., II, p. 420: quoted from Archiv Ministerstva zahraničnych veci Slovenskej republiky, Zprávy politicke (Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovakia, Political Documents), Bratislava, Č. 3564/P. 141/40. Report by the chargé d'affaires of the Slovak embassy in Belgrade of October 9, 1940.

[19] According to Lj. Boban, op. cit, I, p. 474.

[20] F.O. 371-37651: According to Staniša R. Vlahović: Zbomik dokumenata iz Britanske arhive. Anglo-jugoslavenski odnosi 1941-1948 (Collection of Documents from the British Archives: The Anglo-Yugoslav relations 1941-1948), Birmigham 1985, p. 30.

[21] The New Cambridge Modern History, Volume VIII, A. Goodwin, The American and French Revolutions 1763-93.

[22] Ibidem, pp. 495 and 496.

[23] Ibidem, pp. 500 and 501.

[24] Ibidem, p. 505.

[25] Velimir Terzić: Slom Kraljevine Jugoslavije 1941 (Collapse of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1941), Second Edition, Beograd, Ljubljana, Titograd: Partizanska knjiga, Narodna knjiga, Pobjeda, 1984, I, pp. 302-303.

[26] Ibidem, I, p. 420 and p. 422.

[27] S.R. Vlahović, op. cit., p. 40.

[28] V. Terzić, op. cit., I, p. 453, note quoted from Alfredo Breccia's book: Jugoslavia 1939-1941, Diplomazia della neutralitá (Yugoslavia 1939-1941, Diplomacy of Neutrality), Milan: Giuffré 1978, p. 548.

[29] S.R. Vlahović, op. cit., p. 314.

[30] Elisabeth Barker: British Policy in Southeastern Europe in the Second World War, New York: Barnes & Noble, 1976, p. 85.

[31] V. Terzić, op. cit., I, p. 406.

[32] E. Barker, op. cit., p. 90.

[33] S.R. Vlahović , op. cit., pp. 31 and 32.

[34] E. Barker, op. cit., p. 92.

[35] Vjekoslav Vrančić: Branili smo Državu (We Defended the State), Barcelona-Munich: Knjižnica Hrvatske Revije, 1985,1. p. 235: Quoted from Akten zur deutschen auswäigen Politik 1918-1941 (Documents Related to the German Foreign Policy 1918-1941), (henceforth ADAP), D, XII/1, p. 383, No. 281.

[36] Zbornik dokumenata i podatka o narodnooslobodilačkom ratu naroda Jugoslavije (Collection of Documents and Data Related to the Liberation War of the Peoples of Yugoslavia), II, 2, pp. 500-502: according to V. Terzić, op. cit., II, p. 48.

[37] Ferdo Čulinović: Jugoslavija između dva rata (Yugoslavia Between Two Wars), Zagreb: Jugoslovenska Akademija Znanosti i Umjetnosti, 1961, II, p. 240.

[38] B. Krizman, op. cit., p. 352.

[39] V. Terzić, op. cit., II, p. 277.

[40] V. Vrančić, op. cit, p. 219, quoted from ADAP, D, XII/1, pp. 304-307, No. 215, 216.

[41] Fikreta Jelič-Butić: Ustaše i Nezavisna Država Hrvatska 1941-1945 (The 'Ustaša' and the Independent State of Croatia, 1941-1945), Second Edition, Zagreb: Liber, 1978, p. 63.

[42] V. Vrančić, op. cit., I, p. 222, from the notes of Major Christian, published in ADAP, D, XII/1, pp. 307-309, No. 217. See also V. Terzić, op. cit., II, p. 31, Major Christian's records.

[43] V. Vrančić, op. cit., I, p. 222, quoted from ADAP, D, XII/1, pp. 324-326, No. 223.

[44] Zbomik dokumenata NOR-a (Collection of documents of the National Liberation War), II, 2, 427 et seq.: According to Dr. F. Jelić-Butić, op. cit., p. 63.

[45] V. Terzić, op. cit., II, p. 43.

[46] Ibidem.

[47] B. Krizman, op. cit., p. 353, quoted from ADAP, D, XII, 1. pp. 326-327.

[48] Ibidem, p. 354, quoted from ADAP, D, XII, 1, pp. 328-329.

[49] V. Vrančić, op. cit., I, p. 226; ADAP, D, XII/1, pp. 331-333, No. 228.

[50] Ibidem.

[51] F. Jelić-Butić, op. cit., p. 64.

[52] V. Vrančić, op. cit., I, p. 227, quoted from ADAP, D, XII/1, p. 350, No. 239.

[53] B. Krizman, op. cit., p. 377, quoted from PA, Büro Unterstaatssekretär Jugoslawien, Band. 1.

[54] Ibidem.

[55] ADAP, D, XII/1, No. 334: according to V. Vrančić, op. cit., I, p. 238.

[56] See V. Vrančić, op. cit., p. 238.

[57] Ibidem, p. 239.

[58] F. Čulinović, op. cit., p. 210

[59] Ibidem.

[60] V. Terzić, op. cit., II, p. 64

[61] Ibidem, p. 549.

[62] Ibidem, p. 413.

[63] ADAP, D, MI/2, pp. 440-441, No. 324: according to V. Vrančić, op. cit., p. 244 and B. Krizman, op. cit., p. 421.

[64] ADAP, D, X11/2, pp. 436-437, No. 319: according to V. Vrančić, op. cit., 245

[65] See V. Vrančić, op. cit., p. 245.

[66] Ibidem.

[67] B. Krizman, op. cit., p. 420 and V. Vrančić, op. cit., p. 245.

[68] E. Barker, op. cit., p. 79.

[69] V. Vrančić, op. cit., I, p. 233: quoted from ADAP, D, XII/1, p. 369, No. 261

[70] Ibidem.

[71] Ibidem, p. 233. Quoted from ADAP, D, XII/1, p. 372, No. 264.

[72] Arhiv Vojnoistorijskog Instituta, NAV-N-T-312, 423/800 13) 3-1304; Archiv der Gegenwart 1941 (Archives of the Present Time, 1941), p. 4968. According to V. Terzić, op. cit., p. 358.

[73] V. Terzić, op. cit., II, p. 366.

[74] B. Krizman, op. cit., p. 431.

[75] Drugi svetski rat: Pregled operacija (The Second World War - Review of Operations), I, p. 472. According to V. Terzić, op. cit., II, p. 389.

[76] B. Krizman, op. cit., p. 422-423

[77] Ibidem, p. 423.

[78] According to B. Krizman, op. cit., pp. 452-453, based on ADAP, D, XII, 2; p. 515 and pp. 505-509.