"Yugo" (South) slavia, is actually a motley collection (mixed bag in the American idiom) of groups such as the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Dalmatians, Macedonians, Bosnians, and others.

During World War II, "Yugoslavia" first "signed on" with the Axis, then switched to the Allies, leading to an invasion and occupation of the country by Germans, Italians, and Hungarians.

Were the different Yugoslav groups more or less UNIFORMLY ambivalent between the Axis and Allies in this regard? Or did this "ambivalence" stem from the fact that some Yugoslav groups favored the Axis and others the Allies, with the end result being determined by the infighting between them? Put another way, did the Germans and Italian occupiers regard some Yugoslav groups as being more "friendly"/collaborationist or hostile than others?

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    Both major forces in Croatia at the time, the Croatian Peasant Party (a legit party) and the Ustaše (a terorrist organization) were pro-Axis. After the Anschluss Germany suddenly became a neighboring country and started pressuring the (then) Kingdom of Yugoslavia for the creation of an autonomous Croat state. A year later that happened (sort of) with the creation of the Banovina of Croatia.
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 22:37
  • The Wikipedia article on the Ustaše is very revealing as to whether there was infighting or not.
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 22:42
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    Interesting question and there would be quite good answer based on this comment. Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 1:42
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    The short answer to this IMO definitely must be "yes". In terms of a religious pattern, the region to this day consists of a Catholic North and a otherwise (Orthodox and Muslim) South -- kind of like Nigeria in our time, but flipped aroun. This played out in lots of ways during history and even shows its traces e.g. in modern EU politics (e.g. whom does Germany tend to support, whom Russia?) Tito, a Croat himself, must have been quite a genius in a way to hold the thing together for several decades. But underneath the surface there were lots of tensions, I'm sure also during WW II.
    – Drux
    Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 6:40
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    @Drux Ah, there's your mistake, you are trying to apply logic to the Balkans. ;)
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 10:11

5 Answers 5


The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (the official name) or Kingdom of Yugoslavia was created after WW1 by the victor states by joining parts of Austro-Hungarian Empire populated by ethnic Slavs with Kingdom of Serbia under the dynasty of Karađorđević. That way the Habsburg monarchy was dissolved and the Serbian Kingdom is rewarded for being allied to the victor states in WW1.

From the start of the new parlamentary monarchy state, situated on Balkan penninsula, there were tensions between its people because of the latent serbian hegemonistic ambitions within the joint kingdom that culminated in assasination of Croat leader Stjepan Radić in the middle of Parlament in Belgrade by a serbian unitarist and royalist.

What followed was even worse -

On 6 January 1929, using as a pretext the political crisis triggered by the shooting, King Alexander abolished the Constitution, prorogued the Parliament and introduced a personal dictatorship (known as the "January 6 Dictatorship", Šestosiječanjska diktatura, Šestojanuarska diktatura). He changed the name of the country to "Kingdom of Yugoslavia", and changed the internal divisions from the 33 oblasts (županije) to nine new banovinas on 3 October. A Court for the Protection of the State was soon established to act as the new regime's tool for putting down any dissent. (source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Yugoslavia)

So you see, at the beginning of the WW2 the kingdom was already very much divided and polarised across ethic and religious differences of its peoples. The western parts of the kingdom were catholic (ethnic Croats and Slovenes) while the east (ethinic Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians) were orthodox with muslim majority in the middle (Ottoman turks and local Muslim in Bosnia). Add to that the economic tensions as well and you get the proverbial "The Balkan's barrel of gunpowder".

Germany and Italy tried to exploit Yugoslavia's domestic problems, [...]. In the end, the regency agreed to the formation of the Banovina hrvatska in August 1939. This did not put an end to the pressures from Germany and Italy, while Yugoslavia's strategic position deteriorated by the day. It was increasingly dependent on the German market (about 90% of its exports went to Germany), while in April 1939 Italy invaded and annexed Albania. In October 1940 it attacked Greece. by that time, France had already been eliminated from the scene, leaving Britain as Yugoslavia's only potential ally - given that Belgrade had not recognized the Soviet Union. London however wanted to involve Yugoslavia in the war, which it rejected. (source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Yugoslavia)

The act of aggression by Axis force in April 1941 was the spark that ignited the whole country into the civil war and caused the definitive end of the kingdom.

From late 1940, Hitler wanted Belgrade to unequivocally choose sides. Pressure intensified, culminating in the signing of the Tripartite Pact on 25 March 1941. Two days later, Prince Paul was deposed in a coup d'état and his nephew Peter II was proclaimed of age, but the new government, headed by General Simović, assured Germany it would adhere to the Pact. Hitler nonetheless ordered the invasion of Yugoslavia. On 6 April 1941, Belgrade was bombed; on 10 April, the Independent State of Croatia was proclaimed; and on 17 April, the weak Yugoslav Army capitulated. (source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Yugoslavia)

After the capitulation, the king went to exile, puppet governments were installed in Zagreb and Belgrade by the axis powers and parts of the country were annexed by Italy, Germany and Hungary.

In addition to WW2 destroying the continent and civil war raging in the country, shortly after the invasion started the communist revolution which additionally complicated already very complex theater.

I've written all this only to illustrate one major point: there was no single parameter, single allegiance or commitment to single goal for the military and political groups to adhere to. Because of that it is extremely hard to define the behaviour of any group according to only one parameter - helping the axis or the allies to win the war.

In general, we can try to conclude that the armed forces of the puppet states were loyal to the Axis, especially true for Independant state of Croatia and with Serbia under general Nedić. However if we inspect matters more closely, the situation is more complex.

In Croatia, regular army of conscripts was called Domobrani while the political extremists volunteered under the name of Ustaše. Within the Domobrani there were all kind of people with only one agenda - to survive the war. Ustashe had ideology and agenda to get rid of the Serbs and to create the first Croatian state after centuries of living under Austro-Hungary.

Ustashe were the most organized group and as such, and we know how Germans value organization, they were regarded a marginally better ally by the Germans. What would have happened to that alliance after the war we will never know for sure, but Ustashe were Croats and Croats were Slavs so we can now only speculate of how that fact would have reflected on mutual relations if the Axis had won the WW2.

The struggle between the Serbs and the Muslims/Ottomans lasted for centuries and during the Kingdom of Yugoslavia Serbs took partial revenge for the humiliation of having to live under Ottoman rule for five hundred years, so when WW2 started many muslims in Bosnia joined Croatian Ustashe to repay for recent atrocities.

In all of Yugoslavia, the communist party under Josip Broz tito organized local rebellions - the guerilla movement called Partisans with many communists who were experienced fighters from the Spanish civil war acting as officers. The agenda and the political marketing of the rebellion was primarily resistance to the occupation and the liberation of a country under the motto "Death to fascism, freedom to the people". In the background the foundation for the communist state after the war was laid firm. We can say about the partisans that they were allied to western forces as much as the Russians were - they had the common enemy.

Regarding the Serbia, general Nedić was installed as prime minister and was in control of the army but at the same time there are allegations that he secretly financed the royalist rebellion - the Chetniks.

The Chetniks are the most controversial group emerged in WW2 on former Kingdom of Yugoslavia soil and in general.

  • They were rebels who fought the occupation on paper, but collaborated with Italians in Croatia and Germans in Serbia while at the same time saving american airforce pilots who fell on serbian territory.
  • They were against the communist partisans but there are allegations and some evidence that many Chetniks converted to Partisans towards the end of the war.
  • They were royalists but did not honored exiled government deal with Tito (before the battle at Neretva river they collaborated with the Partisans).
  • They were created to protect the Serbs, but also collaborated with Ustashas and Italians who killed Serbs, and themselves killed many Serbs (entire Serb villages) who opposed them.

So to conclude, the alliance with either the Allies or the Axis was not top priority for any of the groups involved.

Further reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasion_of_Yugoslavia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yugoslav_Front_(World_War_II)

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    That was one of the most interesting answers I've read yet on here. Thanks. :-)
    – Kobunite
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 14:04
  • While you provided profound historical background on WWII in Yugoslavia, I am not sure if you answered the question. Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 19:21
  • "Serbs took partial revenge for the humiliation of having to live under Ottoman rule for five hundred years" ? Can you provide some references? Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 19:26

Let me recommend the book "The Forgotten 500" by Gregory A. Freeman that describes a pro-Allied group during what was essentially a civil war in Yugoslavia. Since the pro-Allied group was also pro-communist (edit: not sure they were pro-communist, but the U.S. gov disliked their leader), postwar politics muted their contributions.

Publisher's summary:

During a bombing campaign, hundreds of American airmen were shot down in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia. Local Serbian villagers risked their own lives to give refuge to the soldiers, and for months the airmen lived in hiding, waiting for rescue.

In 1944, Operation Halyard was born. The risks were incredible. The starving Americans in Yugoslavia had to construct a landing strip: without tools, without alerting the Germans, and without endangering the villagers. And the rescue planes had to make it through enemy airspace and back: without getting shot down themselves.

Classified for over half a century for political reasons, the full account of this unforgettable story of loyalty, self-sacrifice, and bravery is now being told for the first time. The Forgotten 500 is the breathtaking, behind-the-scenes look at the greatest escape of World War II.

  • Thx -- I'm always interested in book recommendations. BTW, about events leading up to the 1990s, I was impressed by Misha Glenny's The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War (although not by later books by the same author).
    – Drux
    Commented Apr 6, 2013 at 18:51
  • While your answer gives interesting insights, I am not sure if it answers the question at all. Did you mean to imply that Serbians were then pro-Allies rescuing the American pilots? Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 2:34


One can argue that the differences on that matter not only existed between the different military groups (Partizans - allied 100%, Ustashe - Nazis 100%, and Chetniks - 50/50), but also between the constitutional peoples Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. In order to illustrate my point one should check videos of Nazis entering Ljubljana, Zagreb and Belgrade - the capitals of Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia. While in the first two Nazis were celebrated as liberators, Belgrade didn't make Nazis such a warm welcome.


As others present, there three main movements of partisans during W2 in Yougslavia. While the Oustachis were not that much developed in numbers, the Tchetniks of Mihailovitch and the "partisans" (they called themselves partisans as it referred to anti fascist of Spain, Poland or USSR) of Tito.

The Tchetniks first fight the Italian garnisons, and some German ones, on their own. The partisans did the same, and the efficiency of the guerilla was very good. The Axis did not really control the mountains of Yougoslavia, however they did not try as it did not endanger their rears, far in Russia and North Africa.

From 1943, the situation has changed: the Tchetniks allied with the Axis forces and went out of the fight, while the Axis was launching an important offensive against the partisans. The situation became difficult, and Tito started to fall back in the center of Serbia, escaping the fields that his guerilleros shared with the tchetniks.

The situation was stabilized with minor but numerous fights between all the actors. At that time, the Allies, mainly represented by the English army, diplomacy and secret service, still trusted Mihailovitch, commander of the tchetniks and in favour of the king of Yougoslavia (in theory), rather than the communist Tito. Thus Tito had not that much help, in particular in terms of strategic intelligence and specific goods like medicine. But Mihailovitch lost a part of his forces that were no favourable to helping the Axis. Tito had to face a 4th offensive from the Axis that came close to destroy its forces in Serbia. He had to retreat, and on their way the Partisans faced the Tchetniks on February, 25th 1943 at the Neretva river. They crushed a force of 12 000 Tchetniks, mainly coming from Montenegro, and thus Mihailovitch lost the core of its forces and the Partisans escaped the Axis circle by mountain's paths. The 5th offensive of the Axis was even larger, but it came at a time when the Partisans had reorganized themselves and regained most of the land and hearts of Yougoslavia. If the Partisans suffered heavy losses during this offensive, it was because of tactical mistakes (they felt too strong).

To conclude, the fact that different nationalities of Yougoslavia were more pro allied or pro axis did play a role in the guerilla warfare.


In short.

Croats - mostly pro-Axis

Muslims - mostly pro-Axis

Serbs - mostly pro-Allies except Chetniks

Chetniks are very much like Russian Cossacks. Far-right, nationalist, anti-Communist, unreliable, prone to switching sides and pro-themselves.

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    @Bregalad the USSR was never part of the Axis, it is anti-Soviet propaganda.
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 13:22
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    @Bregalad Poland was more allied with Hitler to invade Czechslovakia
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 13:28
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    In 1938 yes, but not in 1939 as the war started. They just wanted a small region of polish speaking Czechoslovaika (not the whole country as you seem to imply) and that turned out to be a terrible mistake.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 13:38
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    @Bregalad USSR was by no means part of the Axis. There was Hitler-Stalin pact where they agreed not to attack each other until Hitler started the operation Barbarossa. Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 19:06
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    I am not sure if we agree here. Chetniks were the first anti-fascist movement in occupied Europe (April 1941). In the beginning they were so pro-allies and anti-fascists, but the problem was that they were also anti-communist so they couldn't agree with Partizans (communists military movement in Yugoslavia) how to fight the nazis when the two leaders Tito (Partizans) and Draza Mihajlovic (Chetniks) met even twice. They didn't agree in tactics. Later during the war, Chetniks collaborated with nazis and fought Partizans as they thought communism is a bigger threat than Nazism. Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 22:08

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