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Faking History: Tito’s Phony War

In the November, 2011 issue of the military history magazine World War II History, published in Herndon, Virginia, an article entitled “Tito’s War” by Australian author John Brown purports to chronicle the conflict in Yugoslavia between Draza Mihailovich’s Chetnik guerrillas and Josip Broz Tito’s Communist Partisans during World War II.

This account is fake. It is a phony history of World War II. John Brown makes many factual errors. More importantly, however, are the conceptual errors and misconceptions. He presents an overly simplified and simplistic picture that is selective and biased. He does not examine the complex issues entailed. Moreover, his portrayal of the Communist and Stalinist Partisans is misleading and inaccurate to the point of absurdity and nonsense. His claims that the Partisans took Belgrade in October, 1944 and that they single-handedly drove out the Germans from Yugoslavia are patently ridiculous and absurd. He concedes that whenever the Partisans engaged German troops they barely survived total annihilation. The Partisans never achieved any military successes but focused their attention on taking over Yugoslavia and turning it into a Communist and Stalinist state, a totalitarian dictatorship on the Soviet model. The Partisan “offensives” were merely bloodbaths to garner PR and propaganda points. The whole conceptual framework or paradigm for his analysis is fake. Not only do his facts lie. His whole conceptual framework is a lie.

The article begins with a lie. The first photograph in the article “Tito’s War” on page 54 has the caption: “German soldiers fight with Yugoslav Partisans who have fortified a farmhouse. Tito’s Communist guerrillas battled the Nazis and the monarchists for control of the country.” The photo credit is: “The Granger Collection, NY.” This appears to be a dramatic black and white photograph from World War II showing the Communist and Stalinist Partisans under Josip Broz “Tito” engaged in battle with German troops. The only problem is that this photo is a fake. It is a phony photograph. The photo is actually a movie still from the 1943 British war film Undercover made by Ealing Studios in London. This scene does not depict a “farmhouse” in Yugoslavia but a scene shot in Wales, in the UK, in 1942. These are not “Yugoslav Partisans” fighting “Nazis” but British actors. Undercover was re-released in the United States in 1944 under the new title Underground Guerrillas by Columbia Pictures. Ironically, the original shooting title for Undercover was Chetnik. The movie was initially written and conceived by Milosh Sekulich as a chronicle of the Chetnik guerrilla movement led by Draza Mihailovich. Here we have John Brown using this movie still as an actual World War II photograph to show Tito’s Partisans in combat. This is fake history. This is one of the most serious, outrageous, and egregious “mistakes” on Yugoslavia during World War II.

A Fake Photograph: A scene from the British movie Undercover (1943) used as an actual photograph of Tito’s Partisans in combat with German troops.

Is this merely a mistake or error or is it an instance of outright fabrication and falsification of history? John Brown counted on no one being able to detect this obvious falsification and forgery. There are no photographs of Tito’s Communist insurgents fighting German troops. So he had to make them up or manufacture them. How do you do this? Go to an obscure and forgotten British World War II movie on Yugoslavia. No one will catch the phony photo. He almost got away with it.

The same scene from the movie Undercover (1943) from the October 10, 1942 Picture Post magazine photographed on the set during filming.

What was the 1943 British war movie Undercover about? The movie was a generic account of the guerrilla resistance movement in Yugoslavia against the German occupation. Nuances in terminology are important. The German military and government did not refer to the Yugoslav guerrillas as “guerrillas” or “insurgents” or “rebels” but as “Partisans” or “Partizans”, which is derived from the French word partizane, from Italian partigiano, from parte, “faction”, from Latin pars, “part”. The Germans used the term “Partizan” to describe the Yugoslav insurgents regardless of whether they were Chetnik guerrillas or Communist and Stalinist guerrillas under Tito. There is ambiguity in that term. German occupation troops had encountered a large-scale guerrilla insurgency by Soviet Partisans in the Soviet Union. But Undercover is careful to avoid both words. In the movie, all references to “Chetniks” and “Partisans” are deleted. The movie is very generic in its terminology. The movie producers wanted to hedge their bets because in 1942-1943 they did not know who would come out on top in Yugoslavia. But there are certain dead giveaways. They could not delete all the images of the Chetnik shubara cap. You can still see it in some scenes. And the Serbian Orthodox priest with the cross on his chest is a dead giveaway that this movie is about the Chetniks and Draza Mihailovich. They could not delete that scene. What use did Communist and Stalinist Tito have for religion or priests?

There is another serious mistake in John Brown’s description of the war. The Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941 was known as Operation Punishment not Operation Marita. Marita was the Nazi invasion of Greece. Both began on April 6, 1941 so it is easy to confuse them. But Marita was the invasion of Greece, not Yugoslavia. This is an obvious and flagrant and blatant flub or mistake. Operation Marita, launched on April 6, 1941, was the German code name for the invasion of Greece. Operation Punishment, on the other hand, was the German code word for the invasion of Yugoslavia.

The same scene on a lobby card from the U.S. re-release of the film entitled Underground Guerrillas (1944) by Columbia Pictures.

Brown began his article with a brief history of Yugoslavia. He described the formation of Yugoslavia as the merging of nations and regions into a single country. In fact,Yugoslavia was a union of independent Serbia and Montenegro with Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Hercegovina, which were parts of Austria-Hungary, not independent states. But he implies that Yugoslavia was formed by independent states when, in fact, only Serbia and Montenegro were independent states.

He noted that Draza Mihailovich was the first guerrilla leader to emerge in Yugoslavia: “The first to organize, under the leadership of a career Army officer, Colonel Drazha Mihailovich, were Serbian Chetniks.” He sought to preserve the monarchy and “the Serbs’ traditional dominance in the Yugoslav government”. This is misleading because Serbs were the largest group in Yugoslavia. Serbia was the first to achieve independence from Ottoman Turkey and the first to establish a military force and political institutions. Serbs were concentrated in the other regions of Yugoslavia as well, such as in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia. It was natural that Serbia should and would be the center of the new country.

The reason Draza Mihailovich eschewed direct military confrontations with German troops was because it was useless from a military point of view and because it resulted in German reprisals against Serbian civilians, men, women, and children. Mihailovich was cautious and wanted to prevent German retaliation against civilians. The Kragujevac and Krajlevo massacres in 1941 showed that the German occupation forces were determined to target the Serbian civilian population to deter guerrilla activity.

 General Draza Mihailovich with Chetnik guerrillas.

Brown noted that Tito did not resist German forces until the Soviet Union was invaded on June 22, 1941. Brown then offers an apologia and far-fetched rationalization for this inaction. He argues that Joseph Stalin had ordered him to “stay out of the war.” According to Brown, “Stalin said” World War II “was a war between two imperialists, Britain and Germany.” This was not something Stalin just “said” but was the position of Communists across the globe. This was the Communist view or position on the war as an imperialist conflict between Britain and Germany for territory and colonial spheres of influence.

Brown implies that Tito’s insurgents were tying down much-needed German troops who were vital for the Russian Front, Fall Barbarossa. German occupation troops in Yugoslavia, however, were not elite troops, but Volksdeutsche, ethnic Germans from Yugoslavia and the Balkans, and Croatian, Bosnian Muslim, and Albanian recruits and volunteers, and German garrison troops.

He noted that Tito was a hardcore, committed Communist and Stalinist dedicated to creating a Communist state. Tito would suffer any losses to achieve this goal. Many of his hardcore followers were Espanoles, Communist veterans of the Spanish Civil War.

When Partisans took towns, they turned them into Communist strongholds, destroying the archives and records and infrastructure. Tito’s objective was to seize power and to transform Yugoslavia into a Soviet-style Communist state.

The Bill Hudson mission to Mihailovich pledged British support for the Chetniks and Mihailovich. Serbian civilians were murdered in retaliation for guerrilla resistance, 4,000 on “Hitler’s order that 100 Yugoslavs must die for every German soldier killed.” This order applied effectively only to Serbs, not “Yugoslavs”. There was an insurgency or uprising against the German occupation only in Serbia. Brown is incorrect in placing blame for the order directly to Adolf Hitler. Hitler did not issue that specific order. German commanders on the ground had discretion in how to combat the guerrilla insurgency in Serbia.

Brown’s claim that Mihailovich was “essentially a bureaucrat rather than a field commander” is inaccurate. Mihailovich was a career military man who was an early advocate of guerrilla tactics and who lectured at the Belgrade Military Academy on guerrilla tactics with experience in World War I. Tito, on the other hand, was a political activist and a Communist Party ideologue, not a military man at all.

Josip Broz was a Croat-Slovene born a Roman Catholic in Croatia. His nom de guerre “Tito” is derived from the Roman and Latin name “Titus”, which was common in Roman Catholic Croatia. He had used an earlier pseudonym of “Walter”. “Titus” was a common and popular praenomen or personal name during the Roman Empire and continued to be a popular name in Latin and Roman Catholic countries in its variant form as “Tito”. Emperor Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus had been Roman Emperor from 79 to 81 AD. To obscure and to obfuscate the non-Slavic origins of his name, a fictional and phony derivation was manufactured by Broz’s Communist cronies. In this mythology, “Tito” was, indeed, a Slavic name, derived from the Serbian-Croatian terms ti to, “you that”. Broz himself dispelled this inane hoax, but, nevertheless, the lie stuck. People believed what they wanted to believe. The image was superior to the reality. Myths and images had greater influence and power than facts and reality.

Brown set the stage for the conflict in Axis-occupied Yugoslavia. He noted that Bosnia was made part of a Greater Croatia. “Pavelich had been eliminating ‘alien elements’—Serbs, Jews, gypsies, communists, and non-Ustashi Croats—from his Independent State of Croatia. Serbs, about 30 percent of the population and nearly all members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, were being dealt with under the formula one-third to be expelled to Serbia, one-third converted to Catholicism, and one-third exterminated.” The obvious term that comes to mind for these mass murders is “genocide”. But Brown scrupulously avoids that term. The Serbian population was to be completely and entirely exterminated and eliminated from Bosnia and Croatia. Why not use the obvious and natural term “genocide”?

Brown noted that Bosnian Muslims participated in the genocide against Serbs as did Roman Catholic priests and clergy: “In their campaigns to eliminate the Serbs, Ustashi troopers, notorious for their murders, torture, and rape, were assisted by many Muslims who were old enemies of the Serbs, and abetted by some Catholic clergy.” Even the Germans were “sickened” by the genocide against the Serbs. “When the killings did stop, the number of Serb dead was estimated at 350,000.” Brown will not, however, call it a genocide. He chooses the figure of 350,000 which is the low-end estimate. Estimates range to 750,000 and higher.

He claimed the Chetniks were not “at war with Germany and its allies” but fought only against the Partisans. This is incorrect. He contradicts himself. The key sentence is: The “Germans were planning to destroy both the Chetniks and the Partisans” in January, 1943. The German plan was to destroy the Partisans and then the Chetniks during Operation White, Fall Weiss. If the Chetniks were not a threat, as Brown erroneously asserted, why would the German forces focus on destroying them?

The Germans had a reward of 100,000 Reichsmarks (RM), or $40,000 on both Mihailovich and Tito. He discussed the Frederick Deakin and Fitzroy Maclean missions to Tito. He failed to note or mention the other missions, particularly the American missions, such as the mission by U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Robert H. McDowell and U.S. Colonel Albert B. Seitz to Mihailovich. Brown also neglects to mention that Mihailovich and his Chetnik guerrillas rescued over 500 downed U.S. airmen and other Allied pilots and crew.

Brown noted that 120,000 German troops had “orders to annihilate both Partisans and Chetniks” in Operation Black, Fall Schwartz. But if Chetniks were collaborating and not fighting German forces, why did they need to be annihilated? Brown’s logic is contradictory and convoluted. Winston Churchill was not concerned that Yugoslavia would end up a Communist totalitarian dictatorship and Stalin satellite only that Partisans were allegedly killing more Germans. All Churchill cared about was preservingBritain as a colonial and imperialist power, preserving British colonial possessions and imperial spheres of influence.

Brown argued that Tito received no assistance from the Soviet Union and was merely taking orders from Joseph Stalin. But then he noted that on September 18, 1944 Tito went to Moscow to discuss with Stalin the Soviet offensive that would result in the Soviet takeover of Belgrade on October 20, 1944. Tito moved his headquarters to Romania “from where he could control the movements of Russian forces moving in from conquered Romania.” Is this credible? Tito had “control” of the Soviet Red Army? That is ridiculous and preposterous. Brown then described the fall of Belgrade: “Partisan and Russian troops smashed their way into the city.” This is a classic example of the tail wagging the dog. The Partisans, a ragtag group of insurgents with no heavy weapons, drove heavily-armed German troops out of Belgrade? This is laughable. But Brown even goes further. Tito’s Partisans would eventually drive the German occupation troops out of Yugoslavia, “forcing them out of the country.” This is ludicrous and without any foundation in fact.

Tito’s government that emerged after the war “was patterned on the Stalinist model.” He then settled accounts with Chetniks. “Many thousands were executed.” But Ustasha war criminals—Croats and Bosnian Muslims—responsible for genocide escaped. He passes over the Draza Mihailovich show trial and execution with little comment or analysis. He says that Mihailovich was “sentenced to be shot”. There is no mention of the Halyard mission and rescue. No mention is made of the U.S. missions to Mihailovich and the efforts of rescued U.S. airmen to testify in his behalf.

“Yugoslavia’s wartime death toll” was 1,750,000. This is an inflated figure. He cited the low figure of 350,000 for the number of Serbs murdered by the Ustasha but gives the maximum number for the total number of Yugoslavs killed. This is inconsistent and arbitrary. As a historian, he needed to explain that these figures were based on estimates that varied greatly.

The map of Yugoslavia during World War II by Philip Schwartzberg is good, but there are several anomalies. The Kosovo town of Vucitrn, “wolf’s thorn” in Serbian, is given its Albanian form as Vushtrri. Kosovo was annexed to a Greater Albania during World War II. The NDH was a “German & Italian Puppet State” while Serbia was “under German Occupation.” These are accurate descriptions. Srebrenica is marked on the map but not Uzice or Foca, which are discussed in the article.

Significantly, Brown suppresses the fact that Tito collaborated with the Nazis. This was documented in the seminal book by American historian Walter R. Roberts in his 1973 book Tito, Mihailovic and the Allies, 1941-1945 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1973). Milovan Djilas in his memoirs Wartime (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1977) also confirmed that the Partisans had collaborated with the Nazis in 1943 in Bosnia. It was Adolf Hitler who ordered that there could be no collaboration with the Partisans. Brown leaves this out of the article. This is an important fact that he omits.

Russian Red Army troops in Belgrade after taking the city on October 20, 1944.

Finally, Mr. Brown writes that the Partisans captured Belgrade and drove the Germans out of Yugoslavia. This is very misleading and not accurate in the context. It was the Soviet Red Army that forced the Germans to abandon Belgrade and to retreat to Bosnia and Croatia. It was the Russian Army that drove the Germans out of Belgrade, not Tito’s ragtag insurgents. The Germans held Sarajevo and Zagreb until the last days of the war. The only reason the German forces left Yugoslavia was because of the German collapse in 1945. Tito had nothing to do with this. He never won any battles or engagements with the German troops. They always annihilated his forces and inflicted heavy casualties.

Brown’s analysis and presentation, in addition to being inaccurate, is conventional and hackneyed. It is oversimplified to the point of absurdity. It is based on the notion that hindsight is 20/20 where he goes back and attempts to justify and rationalize support for a hardcore Communist and Stalinist and lifetime dictator. It is a falsified or fake history of Yugoslavia during World War II. It is a phony history, a made-up or fabricated history using movie stills to document battles that never occurred. It is a delusional fantasy masquerading as history.

Russian Red Army troops hold German Wehrmacht POWs in Belgrade after the fall of the city, October, 1944.


By Carl Savich

Review: “Tito’s War” by John Brown, World War II History, November, 2011, Volume 10, No. 7, pp. 54-61.





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