Pavle Đurišić

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Pavle Đurišić
Pavle Durisic.jpg
Native name Павле Ђуришић
Born (1909-07-09)9 July 1909
Podgorica, Principality of Montenegro
Died April 1945 (aged 35)
Independent State of Croatia
Place of burial Unknown
Service/branch Army
Years of service 1927–45
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Commands held

Pavle Đurišić (Serbian Cyrillic: Павле Ђуришић, pronounced [pâːvle d͡ʑǔriʃit͡ɕ]; 9 July 1909 – April 1945) was a Montenegrin Serb regular officer of the Royal Yugoslav Army who became a Chetnik commander (vojvoda) leading a significant proportion of the Chetniks of Montenegro during World War II. After distinguishing himself and emerging as one of the main commanders during the popular uprising against the Italians in Montenegro in July 1941, he then collaborated with them in actions against the Yugoslav Partisans. In 1943, troops under his command carried out several massacres against the Muslim population of Bosnia, Herzegovina and the Sandžak and participated in the anti-Partisan Case White offensive alongside Italian troops. He was captured by the Germans in May 1943, escaped and was re-captured.

After the capitulation of Italy, Đurišić was released by the Germans and began collaborating with them and the Serbian puppet government. In 1944, he created the Montenegrin Volunteer Corps with assistance from the Germans, Milan Nedić, and Dimitrije Ljotić. In late 1944, he was decorated with the Iron Cross 2nd Class by the German commander in Montenegro. He was killed after he was captured by elements of the Armed Forces of the Independent State of Croatia near Banja Luka in an apparent trap set by them and Montenegrin separatist Sekula Drljević. Some of his troops were killed either in this battle or later attacks by the Partisans as they then continued their withdrawal west. Others attempted to withdraw to Austria, were forced to surrender to the Partisans, and were killed in the Kočevski Rog area of southern Slovenia in May–June 1945. Đurišić was a very able Yugoslav Chetnik leader, and his fighting skills were respected by his allies and opponents alike.

Early life[edit]

Pavle Đurišić was born on 9 July 1909 in Podgorica, Principality of Montenegro, where he was raised until the death of his father Ilija.[1] Some sources state his year of birth was 1907.[2][3] Educated up to lower secondary school, he moved to Berane, where he lived with his uncle, Petar Radović, a judge and former Chetnik who had been a member of the band of Vuk Popović during the Macedonian Struggle. Đurišić attended a teacher training college in Berane for almost two years.[1]

In 1927, Đurišić entered the 55th class of the Military Academy, and in 1930 he was commissioned as an infantry potporučnik (second lieutenant) in the Royal Yugoslav Army. He began his service in Sarajevo with the 10th Infantry Regiment Takovska, and attended infantry officers' school. He remained in Sarajevo until 1934 when, upon his own request, he was transferred to Berane where he served first as a platoon commander and later as a commander of the 1st Company of the 48th Infantry Regiment. On 7 April 1939, after the Italian invasion of Albania, Đurišić's company was sent to Plav near the Albanian border with the task of gathering intelligence. He established contact with individuals in Albania and obtained intelligence, but the information he obtained was not very useful for the defense of Yugoslavia, and he returned with his company to Berane. Contacts he made during this period would prove important a few years later.[4]

World War II[edit]

Axis invasion and Italian occupation of Montenegro[edit]

In April 1941, Germany and Italy invaded Yugoslavia and occupied Yugoslavia. The Germans soon withdrew from the region of Montenegro, leaving the Italians to occupy it. The Montenegrins quickly developed grievances against the Italians. These grievances mainly related to the expulsion of Montenegrin people from Kosovo and Vojvodina, as well as the influx of refugees from other parts of Yugoslavia and those fleeing the Ustaše terror in the regions along the borders with Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Montenegrin people also had grievances against the Italians regarding their annexation of important food producing territory in Kosovo and a salt producing facility at Ulcinj to Albania, and the economic damage inflicted on many Montenegrins by the temporary removal from circulation of Yugoslav banknotes of 500 dinars and more.[5] By the time of the invasion, Đurišić had been promoted to the rank of kapetan prve klase (captain first class).[6]

Uprising in Montenegro[edit]

In mid-July 1941, there was a general uprising against the Italian occupiers, initiated by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (Serbo-Croatian: Komunistička Partija Jugoslavije, KPJ). The event that triggered the uprising was the proclamation of a restored Kingdom of Montenegro headed by an Italian regent and led by Montenegrin separatist Sekula Drljević and his supporters, known as "Greens" (zelenaši).[7][8] The insurgents also included large numbers of Montenegrin Serb nationalists known as "Whites" (bjelaši), who "stood for close ties to Serbia",[8] and about 400 former Royal Yugoslav Army officers, a significant number of whom were willing to work with the communists.[6] Some of the officers had recently been released from prisoner-of-war camps by the Germans and Italians, having been captured during the invasion. Officers were in command with the KPJ doing the organisation and providing political commissars.[9] When the uprising commenced, Đurišić joined the committee that had been organised to lead military operations in the Berane district.[6] The rebels seized control of small towns and villages in the early phase of the uprising. Amidst the worst of the fighting during the successful attack he led on Berane, Đurišić distinguished himself,[10][11] and emerged as one of the main commanders of the uprising.[12] During the attack on Berane, Đurišić fought alongside communist insurgent forces,[13] and following nearly two days of house-to-house fighting to capture the town, he was involved in negotiating the surrender of the surviving Italians. Following the Italian surrender, he objected to the instructions from the communist leadership of the uprising regarding the handling of the Italians.[14] During the uprising, Đurišić also fought against Drljević's forces.[15] After the Lim valley had been cleared of Italians, Đurišić wanted to march on Rožaje and Kosovska Mitrovica to attack the Muslim and Albanian population in that region, whom he considered "anational". The leaders of the uprising made it clear that they considered this action unacceptable.[14]

The other main commanders of the uprising included the former Royal Yugoslav Army officers Colonel Bajo Stanišić and Major Đorđije Lašić. A force of 67,000 Italian troops regained control over all towns and communication routes within six weeks, assisted by Muslim and Albanian irregular forces from border areas who provided flank security. The Italian military governor of Montenegro, General Alessandro Pirzio Biroli, issued orders to crush the revolt, but directed his forces to avoid "acts of revenge and useless cruelty". Nevertheless, in suppressing the revolt dozens of villages were burned, hundreds were killed and between 10,000 and 20,000 inhabitants were interned. For a while, the Muslim and Albanian irregulars were permitted to pillage and torch villages.[16] As soon as the Italians launched their offensive, politicians in Berane abandoned their support for the uprising and began to criticise it. Former Royal Yugoslav Army officers deserted their units, and Đurišić left the military committee organising the uprising in the Berane district. The politicians and officers formed their own committees and approached the Italians to express their loyalty and denounce the communists.[17]

A split then developed between the communist leaders of the uprising and the nationalists that had participated.[18] The nationalists recognized that the uprising had been defeated and wanted to stop fighting, unlike the Partisans who were determined to continue the struggle. The nationalists contacted the Italians during the autumn and offered to assist them in fighting the communists, who had since been renamed the Yugoslav Partisans.[8] Subsequently, the nationalists, including Đurišić who was popular in his own Vasojević clan of northern Montenegro, withdrew into the hinterland.[19] The focus of the nationalists such as Đurišić was to avoid provoking the Italians but to protect the mountain villages if they were attacked.[20] In northern Montenegro, there was a marked distinction between the communists and nationalists, with the nationalists having closer ties with Serbia and a "frontier" mentality towards Muslims. The communists wanted to continue with the revolution by turning against their class enemies, whilst Ustaše manipulation of the Muslims in the Sandžak and the expulsion of Serbs from the areas annexed by Albania combined to make Đurišić and his Chetniks impatient to continue with the uprising by turning on the Muslims and Albanians in the region.[21] The uprising continued to a reduced extent until December 1941.[9] During 1941, Đurišić was awarded the Order of the Star of Karađorđe by the Yugoslav government-in-exile on the recommendation of Mihailović.[22]

Mihailović's instructions[edit]

In October 1941, Draža Mihailović, a prominent Chetnik leader later supported by the Yugoslav government-in-exile, appointed Đurišić as his commander for all regular and reserve troops in central and eastern Montenegro and parts of the Sandžak.[23] The nationalist leaders in Montenegro quickly became aware of the split between the Chetniks and Partisans in Serbia in early November 1941, and later that month they sent Đurišić to visit Mihailović. During this visit, Đurišić received verbal orders from Mihailović, and was appointed as the commander of all Chetnik detachments in the Sandžak. Major Đorđe Lašić was appointed as commander of all Chetnik forces in "Old Montenegro".[24] Đurišić's appointment was also included as part of instructions dated 20 December 1941 that were received from Mihailović. The instructions included the following objectives:[25]

  1. the struggle for the liberty of our whole nation under the scepter of His Majesty King Peter II
  2. the creation of a Great Yugoslavia and within it of a Great Serbia which is to be ethnically pure and is to include Serbia [meaning also Macedonia], Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Srijem, the Banat, and Bačka
  3. the struggle for the inclusion into Yugoslavia of all still un-liberated Slovene territories under the Italians and Germans (Trieste, Gorizia, Istria and Carinthia) as well as [of areas now under Bulgaria], and northern Albania with Scutari
  4. the cleansing of the state territory of all national minorities and a-national elements
  5. the creation of contiguous frontiers between Serbia and Montenegro, as well as between Serbia and Slovenia by cleansing the Moslem population from Sandjak and the Moslem and Croat populations from Bosnia and Herzegovina

These instructions stated that the objectives of the Partisans meant there could be no cooperation between them and the Chetniks,[25] and they also appointed Đurišić as a Chetnik vojvoda.[26] The authenticity of these instructions has been challenged by some historians, who claim that the document was a forgery made by Đurišić after he failed to reach Mihailović.[27][28][29] Other historians either do not mention any controversy about the provenance of the instructions,[25][30][31] mention evidence supporting their authenticity,[23] or explicitly state they consider them to be authentic.[32]

Collaboration with the Italians against the Partisans in Montenegro[edit]

Đurišić making a speech to the Chetniks in the presence of General Pirzio Biroli, Italian governor of Montenegro.

In January 1942, Đurišić met with the representatives of the commander of the Italian 19th Infantry Division Venezia, Generale di brigata (Brigadier) Silvio Bonini. Đurišić's brother Vaso was responsible for liaison with the Italian division, and was stationed at their headquarters in Berane. At this meeting, Đurišić was granted freedom of action against the Partisans in the division's area of responsibility, and an agreement between Đurišić and the Italian representatives was signed by Vaso on his behalf. Đurišić also met with the staff of the division in March.[33] In the same month, Đurišić assembled a group of former Royal Yugoslav Army officers, politicians and other non-communists and passed on Mihailović's instructions. His headquarters was given the code-name "Mountain Staff No. 15" by Mihailović,[a] and Đurišić selected the village of Zaostro, near Berane, for its location. By 5 January, Đurišić had assumed command over the Berane district, and had established seven Chetnik detachments in the area. Soon after this, a district political committee was formed, with responsibility for organising propaganda and finding recruits.[34] Đurišić soon gained control over all anti-communist militia groups in the Berane district, numbering 500 members, and two smaller groups from Kolašin and Bijelo Polje, totalling 120 men. After a week of preparation, on 13 January he launched attacks on the two battalions of Partisans operating in Berane district. After four days of fighting, supported by the Italians and Muslim militias, Đurišić virtually cleared the district of Partisan forces.[35] This was completed on 24 January, when Đurišić's forces captured the remaining Partisan-held village in the district, killing 15 Partisans, and summarily executing another 27 who had been captured. A Chetnik force led by Lašić conducted successful operations against the Partisans in the Andrijevica district during January, but Lašić suffered a severe head wound during the fighting. The wounding of Lašić meant that Đurišić soon became the most prominent and important Chetnik commander in Montenegro.[36]

By March, Đurišić had demonstrated to the Italians that he was uncompromising towards the Partisans, and his detachments were expanding beyond the division's area of responsibility. An agreement was then negotiated between Đurišić and with the military governor and commander of Italian troops in Montenegro, General Biroli. This agreement was signed by Đurišić himself, and also related to the area of operations of the 19th Infantry Division Venezia. The Italians agreed to supply Đurišić and his troops with arms, food and wages, and the agreement obliged Đurišić to:[37]

  1. lead the fight against the communists and their supporters
  2. to maintain contact with the Italian military authorities, so that his actions are carried out in accordance with Italian instructions. North of Lijeva Rijeka, Đurišić agreed to clear his actions with Bonini, and south of Lijeva Rijeka he was to coordinate with Biroli
  3. to maintain order and guarantee the safety of roads in their area of operations
  4. to never attack Italian troops and to limit its activities to fighting against the communists
  5. after the destruction of the communists, to return all arms provided by the Italians, except for those needed to maintain order

Despite his possession of Mihailović's instructions, Đurišić initially had very little influence on the non-communist elements of the Montenegrin resistance and was unable to develop an effective strategy against the Italians or Partisans in the first few months after his return to Montenegro. In early 1942, his Chetnik detachment became more active, especially in eastern Montenegro and the Sandžak against local Muslims.[38] The Partisans occupied Kolašin in January and February 1942, and turned against all real and potential opposition, killing about 300 people and throwing their mangled corpses into pits they called the "dogs' cemetery". According to more reliable sources, the number of persons killed in Kolašin at that time was between 16 and 38.[39] Due to this and other examples of communist terror, the part of Montenegrin population turned against the Partisans. On 23 February Đurišić captured Kolašin and held it as a Chetnik bastion until May 1943.[40]

After Đurišić's capture of Kolašin on 23 February, the Chetnik terror against political opponents intensified. Captured Partisans and sympathizers were typically killed on the spot, as was the case with 17 wounded Partisans captured in Lipovo.[41] Show trials were staged for some of the town's prominent citizens, whom the Chetniks considered opponents. In late March 1942, public show trials were staged in Kolašin against major Batrić Zečević, former Yugoslav deputy Blagota Selić, captains Đuro Raosavljević, Mileta Lakićević and Tomica Jojić, and lieutenant colonel Radisav Radević, none of whom were members of the Communist Party. They all were sentenced to death and executed.[42] Dr. Ružica Rip, captured head of the medical section of Kom Partisan Detachment, was publically hanged in Kolašin in April 1942, together with Đurđa Vlahović, another captured female Partisan.[43] Đurišić formed Chetnik prison in Kolašin, in which some 2,000 people were incarcerated and tortured. At least 74 prisoners were shot on the location Breza near Kolašin.[44] In late April 1943, 313 inmates of Kolašin Chetnik prison were handed to Italians, and 27 members of these were executed during an Italian shooting of 180 hostages on 25 June 1943.[45]

In May 1942, Đurišić attacked and defeated the last significant Partisan detachment in Montenegro.[46] In June 1942, Đurišić collaborated with the Ustaše in Foča in southeastern Bosnia.[47] In June 1942, as the Italians and Chetniks were fighting the Partisans, Mihailović arrived in Montenegro having been forced out of Serbia by the Germans. Mihailović was accompanied by his staff and a British Special Operations Executive (SOE) liaison officer, and after moving around for a while, he established his base at the village of Gornje Lipovo, a few miles from Đurišić's headquarters at Kolašin. Mihailović and his staff had few troops and relied on Đurišić for protection. Not long after Mihailović arrived in Montenegro, Đurišić told Mihailović's SOE liaison officer that he was available to act independently and in defiance of Mihailović. While Đurišić and the other Chetnik commanders in Montenegro nominally recognized Mihailović as their supreme commander, they rarely obeyed him.[48]

On 24 July 1942, Blažo Đukanović, senior commander of all Chetnik forces in Montenegro,[49] signed a comprehensive agreement with Biroli which officially organised and recognised three Chetnik "flying detachments" as Italian auxiliary troops for use against the Partisans. These detachments were supplied, armed and paid by the Italians, and included a total of 4,500 Chetniks, 1,500 of whom were under the command of Đurišić. The Chetniks thereby became an important part of the Italian occupation regime in Montenegro.[50] The pre-existing "Montenegrin Chetnik committee", which was led by the Brigadier General Đukanović and to which Đurišić was aligned,[51] was recognized by the Italians as the "Nationalist Committee of Montenegro". Its only political aims were to "crush communism and to safeguard law and order and the well being of the Montenegrin population". The committee was also obliged "to undertake everything that is in its power and authority to preserve order and discipline in the country and will counteract all possible actions that could be directed against the Italian authorities".[52] Arrangements were also to be made by mutual understanding for pay, rations, weaponry, and aid to the families of Chetniks.[50]

During the rest of 1942, Italian operations in conjunction with their Chetnik auxiliaries forced the remaining Partisans out of Montenegro,[53] after which the Chetnik auxiliaries were used by the Italians to police the countryside.[54] For most of this time, Đurišić operated fairly independently in northern Montenegro and was described as "a law unto himself".[55]

In December 1942, Chetniks from Montenegro and the Sandžak met at a conference in the village of Šahovići near Bijelo Polje. The conference was dominated by Đurišić and its resolutions expressed extremism and intolerance, as well as an agenda which focused on restoring the pre-war status quo in Yugoslavia implemented in its initial stages by a Chetnik dictatorship. It also laid claim to parts of the territory of Yugoslavia's neighbors.[56] At this conference, Mihailović was represented by his chief of staff, Major Zaharije Ostojić,[57] who had previously been encouraged by Mihailović to wage a campaign of terror against the Muslim population living along the borders of Montenegro and the Sandžak.[58] One of the outcomes of the conference was the decision to destroy the Muslim villages in the Čajniče district of Bosnia.[59]

Case White and cleansing actions[edit]

Concerned about the possibility of an Allied landing in the Balkans, the Germans began planning an anti-Partisan offensive codenamed "Case White" in Bosnia and Herzegovina in December 1942. The size of the planned offensive required the involvement of both the Croatian Home Guard and the Italians. Late in the planning, the Italians began to prepare and equip Chetnik detachments, including that of Đurišić, for involvement in the operation.[60]

Đurišić's report of 13 February 1943 informing Mihailović of the massacres of Muslims in the counties of Čajniče and Foča in southeastern Bosnia and in the county of Pljevlja in the Sandžak.

In early January 1943, the Chetnik Supreme Command ordered Montenegrin Chetnik units to carry out "cleansing actions" against Muslims in the Bijelo Polje county in the Sandžak region of north-eastern Montenegro. On 10 January 1943, Đurišić reported that Chetniks under his command had burned down 33 Muslim villages, killed 400 Muslim fighters (members of the Muslim self-protection militia also supported by the Italians), and had also killed about 1,000 Muslim women and children.[61]

As Italian auxiliaries, Đurišić's detachment was so dependent on the Italians for arms and transport that it had not left Montenegro until 18 January 1943, only two days before the first phase of Case White was to begin.[62] On 3 January 1943, Ostojić issued orders to "cleanse" the Čajniče district of Ustaše–Muslim organisations. According to the historian Radoje Pajović, Ostojić produced a detailed plan which avoided specifying what was to be done with the Muslim population of the district. Instead, these instructions were to be given orally to the responsible commanders. Delays in the movement of Chetnik forces into Bosnia to participate in Case White alongside the Italians enabled the Chetnik Supreme Command to expand the planned "cleansing" operation to include the Pljevlja district in the Sandžak and the Foča district of Bosnia. A combined Chetnik force of 6,000 was assembled, divided into four detachments, commanded by Vojislav Lukačević, Andrija Vesković, Zdravko Kasalović and Bajo Nikić. Mihailović ordered that all four detachments be placed under the overall command of Đurišić.[63]

In early February 1943, during their advance northwest into Herzegovina in preparation for their involvement in Case White, the combined Chetnik force massacred large numbers of the Muslim population in the targeted areas. In a report to Mihailović dated 13 February 1943, Đurišić wrote that his Chetniks had killed about 1,200 Muslim combatants and about 8,000 old people, women, and children, and destroyed all property except for livestock, grain and hay, which they had seized.[64][65] Đurišić reported that:[66]

The operations were executed exactly according to orders. [...] All the commanders and units carried out their tasks satisfactorily. [...] All Muslim villages in the three above mentioned districts are entirely burnt, so that not one of the houses remained undamaged. All property has been destroyed except cattle, corn and hay. In certain places the collection of fodder and food has been ordered so that we can set up warehouses for reserved food for the units which have remained on the terrain in order to purge it and to search the wooded areas as well as establish and strengthen the organization on the liberated territory. During operations complete annihilation of the Muslim population was undertaken, regardless of sex and age.

— Pavle Đurišić

A further massacre of about 500 Muslims, mostly women, children and the elderly, was carried out in Goražde in March. Several women were raped.[67]

The total number of deaths caused by the anti-Muslim operations commanded by Đurišić between January and February 1943 is estimated at 10,000. The casualty rate would have been higher had a great number of Muslims not already fled the area, most to Sarajevo, when the February action began.[64] The orders for the "cleansing" operation stated that the Chetniks should kill all Muslim fighters, communists and Ustaše, but that they should not kill women and children. According to Pajović, these instructions were included to ensure there was no written evidence regarding the killing of non-combatants. On 8 February, one Chetnik commander made a notation on his copy of written orders issued by Đurišić that the detachments had received additional orders to kill all Muslims they encountered. On 10 February, the commander of the Pljevlja Chetnik Brigade told one of his battalion commanders that he was to kill everyone, in accordance with the orders of their highest commanders.[68] According to Tomasevich, despite Chetnik claims that this and previous "cleansing actions" were countermeasures against Muslim aggressive activities, all circumstances point to it being Đurišić's partial achievement of Mihailović's previous directive to clear the Sandžak of Muslims.[64]

By the end of February 1943, Đurišić's Chetniks were resisting Partisan attempts to move east from the Neretva river.[69][70] After the Battle of Neretva, during which the Partisans forced a crossing of the river against faltering Chetnik opposition, Đurišić's detachment, numbering about 2,000 fighters, fell back to Kalinovik where they were badly mauled by the Partisan 2nd Proletarian Division in late March. Falling back further towards the Drina river, Đurišić had assembled about 4,500 Bosnian and Montenegrin Chetniks around Foča by the end of the first week in April, but was in desperate need of supplies. Shortly after this, the Italians withdrew most of their troops from Foča and abandoned most of the Sandžak. For the rest of April 1943, Đurišić fought a holding action against the Partisans along the Drina river with his 3,000 remaining fighters.[71]


The Germans decided to follow up Case White with a further offensive, codenamed "Case Black", which had as its objectives the "disarming of all Chetniks and the destruction of all Partisans in Montenegro and Sandžak",[72] to secure important bauxite, lead and chromium mines. Tomasevich asserts that the basic reason for the offensive was the threat of an Allied landing in the Balkans, and the need to eliminate the resistance groups that could assist the Allies in the event of such a landing.[72] In early May 1943, the Germans entered the Sandžak and eastern Montenegro area. Đurišić withdrew to Kolašin with about 500 fighters and joined forces with Serbian Chetniks commanded by Dragutin Keserović.[73]

On 10 May 1943, Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel) Heinz, the commander of the 4th Regiment of the Brandenburg Division, met Đurišić at Kolašin with the intent of engaging him to assist the Germans against the Partisans. Đurišić expressed a willingness to do this, and once the Partisans were defeated he indicated that he would be ready to fight alongside the Germans on the Russian Front. During the meeting, Đurišić told Heinz that Mihailović had left Kolašin at the end of 1942, and that he refused to accept Mihailović's current policy. Đurišić said Mihailović had been distracted by propaganda, was "over-rated", and described him as "an unsteady visionary wandering through the land".[74] Đurišić also said that Josip Broz Tito and his Partisans were the only serious enemy. On 11 May 1943, Heinz submitted a proposal to the German Commanding General in Croatia, General der Infanterie (Lieutenant General) Rudolf Lüters regarding those Chetniks that had been "legalised" by the Italians. He suggested that the Germans also "legalise" Đurišić's Chetniks and use them to help disarm those Chetniks groups that had not been "legalised" by the Italians. Heinz also proposed that after the Partisans had been destroyed, the Germans "legalise" only weak detachments of Đurišić's Chetniks. Subsequent events indicate that Heinz's approach to Đurišić may not have been authorised by his superiors, and that his suggestions were not acted upon.[75]

On 14 May 1943, a forward detachment of the German 1st Mountain Division entered Kolašin and seized Đurišić by deceiving the Italian troops who were guarding his headquarters.[76] Đurišić and the Chetniks did not resist their capture, and there were no casualties. The Italians vigorously protested Đurišić's capture but were overruled by the Germans.[75] With the capture of Đurišić's Chetniks and another Chetnik group west of Kolašin a few days later, Case Black became almost entirely an anti-Partisan operation.[77] Đurišić was driven away in a vehicle carrying Red Cross markings,[78] before being flown from Berane to a prisoner-of-war camp at Stryi in the Lviv region of Galicia which formed part of the German occupation area of the General Government.[79] He escaped three months later and was recaptured by the authorities of the Serbian puppet government in October 1943 whilst attempting to cross the Danube near Pančevo in the southern Banat after a long ordeal. He was handed over to the Germans and held in the Gestapo prison in Belgrade.[80][81][82]

Release and return to Montenegro[edit]

In September 1943, the Italians capitulated and the Germans occupied Montenegro, establishing an area command (German: Feldkommandantur 1040) under Generalmajor (Brigadier) Wilhem Keiper.[83] Soon after, the German Special Envoy in Belgrade Hermann Neubacher, Milan Nedić, and the German Military Commander in south-east Europe General Hans Felber arranged for Đurišić to be released from prison.[84] Neubacher had developed a plan for the establishment of a union of Serbia and Montenegro and submitted it to Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in October 1943.[85] Đurišić was an important part of this plan. As he was well regarded by the Chetniks and pro-Chetnik populace in Montenegro, and Stanišić and Đukanović had been killed, Neubacher, Nedić and Felber believed Đurišić could be used to fight the Partisans in Montenegro and assist in forming closer relations between Serbia and Montenegro.[86] Although Neubacher's plan did not gain Hitler's approval, Đurišić received supplies including arms and ammunition from the Germans and returned to Montenegro in November 1943 to fight against the Partisans.[84] At this time he established closer ties with Dimitrije Ljotić, whose Serbian Volunteer Corps (SDK) provided him with weapons, food, typewriters, and other supplies. He also worked with Nedić, who promoted him to the rank of lieutenant colonel,[87] and appointed him assistant to the commander of the Serbian Volunteer Corps.[88] Pajović states that Đurišić was promoted in the first half of 1944 by the Yugoslav government-in-exile, on the advice of Mihailović.[89]

Collaboration with the Germans against the Partisans in Montenegro[edit]

In February 1944, Nedić sent the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Regiment of the SDK to Montenegro to supplement Đurišić's forces.[90] In the first half of 1944, the Germans in Montenegro and Sandžak organized offensive actions against Partisan territory, largely relying on the forces under the command of Lašić and Đurišić. Due to the weakness of their own forces, the Germans contributed by commanding and supplying the forces involved, and providing smaller mobile armored units with heavy weapons, while the Chetnik leaders provided the bulk of the troops. In February and March, the Germans along with numerous Chetnik units undertook a series of operations around Podgorica, code-named Bora, Baumblüte and Vorfrühling. In April, they launched Operation Frühlingserwachen in the northern parts of Montenegro and Sandžak. However, due to the weakness of the Chetnik forces involved, the success achieved by these operations was short-lived. After the Germans deployed their units to other tasks, Partisan units quickly forced the Chetniks to withdraw and regained control of the area.[91]

When the Partisan 2nd Proletarian and 5th Krajina Divisions advanced into Serbia in March 1944, the Partisan forces in northern Montenegro and the Sandžak were reduced to the 37th Sandžak Division. In order to exploit this weakness, Đurišić proposed to the Germans that they launch an offensive operation. The operation was code-named Frühlingserwachen, and its primary objectives were to capture Kolašin through concentric attacks from Pljevlja, Prijepolje and Pešter, to link up with forces advancing from Podgorica in the south, and to drive a wedge through the middle of Partisan-held territory. Operation Frühlingserwachen involved an Axis force of about 5,000 men, comprising some of Đurišić's forces, the SS Polizei-Selbstschutz-Regiment Sandschak, the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Regiment of the SDK, and two reinforced German motorized companies. The operation began on 9 April, and on 12 April reached Bijelo Polje. On 17 April, Đurišić's forces seized Berane, but the 37th Sandžak Division managed to halt the advancing forces on the line of the Tara river at Mojkovac. On 24 April, after nine days of attacks and counter-attacks, the 37th Sandžak Division, reinforced by the 7th Montenegro Youth Brigade "Budo Tomović" of the 3rd Shock Division, regained the initiative. It retook Bijelo Polje on 30 April, and Berane on 5 May.[92] This reverse cemented the strategic weakness of the German–Chetnik position in Montenegro, with their forces in the south completely isolated from their forces in the north.[91] Chetnik forces and their allies suffered heavy casualties, with the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Regiment of the SDK reduced from 893 to 350 men.[93][94]

In the spring of 1944, Đurišić, with assistance from the Germans, Nedić, and Ljotić, established the Montenegrin Volunteer Corps, which was formally a part of the Serbian Volunteer Corps.[95] The Corps consisted of some of Đurišić's former soldiers who had been released from German captivity, but the majority were Chetniks that had remained in Montenegro and were gathered under the umbrella term "national forces". By this time, although he still formally owed allegiance to Yugoslavia through Mihailović,[96] he also owed some allegiance to the Germans and to Nedić[97] who had released, promoted and supported him. The German 2nd Panzer Army formed Đurišić's troops into a formation named the Montenegrin Volunteer Corps on the model of the Serbian Volunteer Corps, with three regiments, numbered 6th, 7th and 8th, following the five regiments of the SDK. The Corps was subordinated to 2nd Panzer Army.[98] Đurišić was appointed commander, with Corps headquarters in Prijepolje, and regiment headquarters in Prijepolje, Pljevlja and Podgorica. The strength of the Corps was between 7,000 and 8,000 men.[88] The 8th Regiment of the CDK was nearly destroyed by the 7th Montenegrin Youth Brigade in August during Operation Rübezahl.[99] The Corps suffered heavy losses in fighting, and 2nd Panzer Army ordered its re-formation on 21 September 1944.[100] Đurišić and his forces also conducted reprisals against the population in Pljevlja, Prijepolje, Priboj and Nova Varoš.[89] Nedić reinforced Đurišić's Montenegrin Volunteer Corps with the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Regiment of the Serbian Volunteer Corps, numbering nearly 900 men, to assist him in operations against the Partisans in Montenegro.[90]

In mid-May 1944, Đurišić visited Belgrade and asked Nedić, Neubacher and Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) Maximilian von Weichs, German Commander-in-Chief Southeast, to urgently send arms and other supplies to his unit, which was authorised to a strength of 5,000 men.[101] Lieutenant Heusz, former German liaison officer for Lukačević, was assigned to watch Đurišić. On 30 May 1944, Heusz sent a detailed briefing with instructions that Đurišić was responsible "for control and assuring of the execution of the directives issued by the German command posts" and "liaison between the staffs and units of the Montenegrin Volunteer Corps on the one hand and the German command posts on the other, especially in the course of operations against the bands [the Partisans]".[88] In the first half of June 1944, Đurišić established the three regiments of the Montenegrin Volunteer Corps (Serbian: Crnogorski dobrovoljački korpus, CDK). The 6th Regiment was based in Prijepolje, was commanded by Captain Vuksan Cimbaljević, and including Chetniks from the districts of Andrijevica and Berane. The 7th Regiment was headquartered in Pljevlja, was commanded by Captain Radoman Rajlić, and consisted of Sandžak Chetniks. The 8th Regiment was based in Podgorica, was commanded by Captain Miloš Pavićević, and consisted of Chetniks from Podgorica, Danilovgrad and Nikšić. Each regiment was planned to consist of two "corps" of 800 men each.[102] Collaboration between Đurišić's forces and the Germans continued through the summer and on into autumn of 1944.[80] On 13 July 1944, Radio Belgrade praised Đurišić "for his services to the Axis cause".[22]

2nd Panzer Army Command appointed Second lieutenant Heuss has set as a liaison officer with Đurišić. In mid-June, with the consent of the 2nd Panzer Army Command, Đurišić, with a group of associates, moved to the Podgorica area, in order to personally direct the formation of the 8th Regiment of the CDK.[103] On 24 June, he visited Keiper in Cetinje.[104] In addition to his work on organizing CDK, Đurišić conducted a reorganization of other Chetnik forces under his command, dividing them into two territorial structures: one under the Command Montenegro and Boka, and other under the Command of the Stari Ras. For Chetnik commander of the armed formations of Montenegro and Boka Recently promoted Lt. Col. Blažo Gojnić was appointed the commander of the Montenegro and Boka.[105]

In addition to the fighting against the Partisan units, the Četniks were also performing raids on villages with the aim of intimidation and eradication of Partisan sympathizers. In one such action in early July in Bjelopavlići, Gojnić's troops uncovered the local SKOJ organization, and arrested 48 local young males and females. On July 13 Martial Court established by Gojnić sentenced all of them to death, and they were immediately executed.[106]

Đurišić had remained in Montenegro until the end of the Operation Rübezahl, in late August, and after that he returned to Sandžak. Following the Operation Rübezahl, the presence of Partisan and German forces in northern Montenegro and Sandžak was reduced, as the focus of the operations shifted to Serbia. Remaining Partisan units quickly re-established domination over temporarily lost territories, and German 181st Division Command ordered its three battalions, that remained isolated in Pljevlja area, to break through the Partisan held territory, to re-unite with the rest of the division at Mateševo. This plan, code-named Nordsturm, relied on the substantial participation of the Đurišić's units. It fitted well with the Đurišić's general orientation to move towards the coast, where Allied landing was expected.[107] It began on 31 August, and Germans and Četniks took Kolašin on 5 September, and Berane on 11 September. 181 Division established a strong defensive position in Mateševo for the protection of Podgorica. Cities of northern Montenegro and Sandžak were left to Četnik forces, reinforced with small German groups, with the intention of slowing down the Partisan advance. Partisans attacked within days, and on 15 September, the 3rd Shock Division finally captured Berane, defeating strong Chetnik forces along with 70 Germans, and killing 143 Chetniks and 8 Germans.[108] On the same day, the 5th Proletarian Montenegrin Shock Brigade took Kolašin, which was defended by some 400 Chetniks and 50 Germans.[109] Nikšić was captured on 18 September, and the 37th Sandžak Division took Prijepolje on 29 September and Pljevlja on 1 October. The 29th Herzegovina Division finally captured Gacko on 1 September, Bileća on 2 October and Trebinje on 7 October. With this, a large gap was created between the German XXI Mountain Corps and Đurišić's forces, which were concentrated in Podgorica and the coastal area, and other German and Chetnik forces.[110][111][112]

Đurišić maintained contact with Lukačević, who at that time, with his forces, began to attack the Germans in Herzegovina. Đurišić considered the possibility to join Lukačević in this activity, with the expectation of the Allied landing.[113] However, since the Lukačević was quickly defeated, and no Allied landing occurred, Đurišić remained fast tied to the Germans. German intelligence tracked closely Đurišić's communication and movements, German commands continued to make use of his forces. Army Group E Headquarters in the survey of available forces under its command on November 16, counted Đurišić's into its own. In the survey, German forces in Montenegro at that time were estimated at 47,000 soldiers, with 10,000 Đurišić's men included.[114]

Entitlement document for the award to Đurišić of the Iron Cross – 2nd Class. (left) Front page of Lovćen reporting on the award (right)

German Army Group E Command ordered XXI Mountain Corps to advance through Nikšić and Trebinje to establish connection with 5th SS Corps in Mostar area. However, they were still losing ground. After a five-day battle against German relieve attempts from the south and Chetnik attempts from the west, Partisans on 21 October crushed the resistance of the besieged Grahovo garrison, consisting of the Chetnik Vučedol Brigade and reinforced 5th Company of the 2nd Battalion of the German 334th Regiment. In the attack among other units, participated 3rd Brigade of the Italian Partisan Garibaldi Division.[115] On 6 November, began the assault of the Partisan Littoral Operational Group on Cetinje, whose defense consisted of 222nd Fusilier Battalion of the 181st Division and the 2nd Battalion of the 359th Regiment, reinforced with artillery and smaller units, the 144th Black Shirts Battalion, a tank company, and about 600 Chetniks.[116] On 8 November, the German-Četnik forces in Cetinje were reinforced with a formation of some 800-1000 Chetniks, led by Đurišić himself, that broke through Partisan blockade.[117] In spite of this, the German-Chetnik defence yielded, and Cetinje was finally captured on 13 November.

On 11 October 1944, and at the suggestion of von Weichs, the German Plenipotentiary General in Montenegro, Keiper, awarded Đurišić the Iron Cross (2nd Class) in the name of the Führer and the German High Command,[101][b] for fighting against the Partisans.[15]

Withdrawal from Montenegro and death[edit]

Joint Wehrmacht/Chetnik breakout from Montenegro: Green: German XCI Corps Black: Chetniks of Pavle Đurišić Red: Yugoslav Partisans

The main attack on the German XXI Mountain Corps, from Podgorica in the direction of Nikšić, began on 14 November. This task was entrusted to the 363rd Regiment reinforced with artillery, and with two combined German battle groups and the Italian 86th National Republican Guard (GNR) Battalion, formerly the 86th Blackshirts (CCNN) Battalion. 1,200 of Đurišić's Chetniks were deployed on the left and right flank.[124] The core Partisan defense force on Nikšić direction, the 6th Montenegrin Brigade, was supported with the Artillery Group of the 2nd Shock Corps and the 211th British artillery battalion.[125] 12 days of fierce fighting resulted with significant casualties, including the commander of the 363rd Grenadier Regiment, but the Germans failed to make any progress. In addition, Germans lost Boka in the meantime, and Army Group E Commander on 25 November decided to abandon Nikšić and Mostar direction altogether, and to shift the XXI Mountain Corps attack direction to the route Podgorica - Kolašin. The German XCI Corps was ordered to attack towards Kolašin from the north to facilitate the task of the XXI Mountain Corps. Chetniks under the Đurišić's command continued to fight side by side with the Germans. On 18 December attack wedges of XXI Mountain Corps and XCI Corps finally met each other near Mojkovac, and the XXI Mountain Corps units continued their march towards Bosnia through Prijepolje and Višegrad. After Kolašin, Đurišić's formations separated from the Germans in order to relieve the pressure on the German marching road, and headed towards Bosnia marching to the west of the Germans, bypassing Pljevlja. During the fighting as well as marches, Germans and Chetniks were subjected to frequent attacks of the Allied Balkan Air Force (BAF) and U.S. 15th Air Force, whose planes bombed the roads, the bridges, and the columns on the move.[126][127] According to German documents, Đurišić's forces forcibly recruited men, beat women and looted villages during their withdrawal from Montenegro.[128]

Đurišić's forces proceeded to northeastern Bosnia to join Mihailović.[80] Đurišić had wanted to withdraw through Albania to Greece, but Mihailović had told him to prepare for an Allied landing, the return of the king and the establishment of a national government.[129] From the time Đurišić joined Mihailović in northeastern Bosnia, he was very critical of Mihailović's leadership and argued strongly for all remaining Chetnik troops to move to Slovenia. When Mihailović remained unconvinced, Đurišić decided to move to Slovenia independently of Mihailović, and arranged for Ljotić's forces already in Slovenia to meet him near Bihać in western Bosnia to assist his movement. When he left Mihailović, he was joined by Chetnik ideologue Dragiša Vasić and the detachments commanded by Ostojić and Petar Baćović as well as a large number of refugees,[130] totaling around 10,000.[131] This force was formed into the Chetnik 8th Montenegrin Army, consisting of the 1st, 5th, 8th and 9th (Herzegovina) divisions.[132]

In order to get to Bihać, Đurišić made a safe-conduct agreement with elements of the Armed Forces of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) and with the Montenegrin separatist Drljević. The details of the agreement are not known, but it appears that he and his troops were meant to cross the Sava river into Slavonia where they would join Drljević as the so-called Montenegrin National Army with Đurišić as the operational commander. Đurišić apparently tried to outsmart them and sent only his sick and wounded across the river, keeping his fit troops south of the river. He began moving his command westwards and, harassed by both the NDH troops and Partisans, reached the Vrbas river. In the Battle of Lijevče Field, north of Banja Luka, the combined Chetnik force was defeated by a strong NDH force which was armed with German-supplied tanks.[133] This was probably the largest combat action between NDH forces and the Chetniks in the previous two years.[134]

Following this defeat and the defection of one of his sub-units to Drljević, Đurišić was induced to negotiate directly with the leaders of the NDH forces about the further movement of his Chetniks towards Slovenia. This appears to have been a trap, as he was attacked and captured by them on his way to the meeting. Exactly what occurred after his capture is not clear, but Đurišić, Vasić, Ostojić and Baćović were subsequently killed, along with some Serbian Orthodox priests and others.[130] According to Pajović, the Ustaše executed Đurišić in late April 1945 at the Jasenovac concentration camp.[47] The website of the Jasenovac Memorial Site lists Đurišić as having been killed at the camp by the Ustaše in 1945.[3] The location of Đurišić's grave, if any, is unknown.

Both the NDH forces and Drljević had reasons for ensnaring Đurišić. The NDH forces were motivated by the mass terror committed by Đurišić on the Muslim population in Sandžak and southeastern Bosnia, while Drljević was opposed to Đurišić's support of a union of Serbia and Montenegro which ran counter to Drljević's separatism.[130]


A small part of Đurišić's troops escaped and went west. Some were killed by Partisan forces who were located to the south of their intended withdrawal route west to Slovenia.[135] The majority, left without a leader, were integrated into Drljević's "Montenegrin National Army" and withdrew towards the Austrian border.[132] Portions of both groups were later captured by the Partisans in Slovenia. About 1,000 of Đurišić's Chetniks successfully crossed into Austria but were forced to return to Yugoslavia,[131] where some were killed by the Partisans in the vicinity of the Austrian-Yugoslavian border. Most were taken to southern Slovenia, where they were killed and their bodies thrown into deep abysses in the Kočevski Rog area.[136]

According to Tomasevich, the killing of the Montenegrin Chetniks by the Partisans at Kočevski Rog was an "act of mass terror and brutal political surgery",[137] similar to those carried out by the Chetniks themselves earlier in the war. It was partly an act of revenge for the mass terror carried out by the Chetniks against the Partisans and pro-Partisan segments of the population, and partly in order to stop the Chetniks from continuing an armed struggle against the communists, perhaps with Western assistance.[138] Less than a quarter of the entire force that began with Đurišić in Montenegro and other Chetniks that joined him during the journey north and west survived. A few weeks later, Drljević, who had fled to Austria, was discovered by followers of Đurišić and killed.[130] Đurišić was one of the most able Yugoslav Chetnik leaders,[132] and his fighting skills were respected by his allies and opponents.[139][140]

Commemoration controversy[edit]

a concrete plinth with a bust on top of it
The monument to Đurišić erected in the Serbian cemetery in Libertyville, Illinois

The Serbian diaspora in the United States set up a monument dedicated to Pavle Đurišić at the Serbian cemetery in Libertyville, Illinois. The management and players of the football club Red Star Belgrade visited it on 23 May 2010.[141]

In May 2002, plans were prepared for a "Montenegrin Ravna Gora" memorial complex to be located near Berane. The complex was to be dedicated to Đurišić, who not only spent some of his youth at Berane but had also established his wartime headquarters there.[142] In June 2003, Vesna Kilibarda, the Montenegrin Minister of Culture, banned the construction of the monument saying that the Ministry of Culture had not applied for approval to erect it.[143] The Association of War Veterans of the National Liberation Army (SUBNOR) objected to the construction of the monument saying that Đurišić was a war criminal who was responsible for the deaths of many colleagues of the veterans association and 7,000 Muslims.[144] The Muslim Association of Montenegro condemned the construction and stated that "this is an attempt to rehabilitate him and it is a great insult to the children of the innocent victims and the Muslim people in Montenegro".[145] On 4 July, the Montenegrin government forbade the unveiling of the monument stating that it "caused public concern, encouraged division among the citizens of Montenegro, and incited national and religious hatred and intolerance".[146] A press release from the committee in charge of the construction of the monument stated that the actions taken by the government were "absolutely illegal and inappropriate".[147] On 7 July, the stand that was prepared for the erection of the monument was removed by the police.[148][149]

In 2011, the Montenegrin Serb political party New Serb Democracy (NOVA) renewed efforts for a monument to be built and stated that Đurišić and other royal Yugoslav officers were "leaders of the 13 July uprising" and that they "continued their struggle to liberate the country under the leadership of King Peter and the Government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia".[150]


  1. ^ According to Milazzo, Lašić was designated as commander of "Mountain Staff No. 15".[23]
  2. ^ There are a substantial number of sources that mention this award.[22][118][119][120][121][122][123]


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  7. ^ Pavlowitch 2007, p. 74.
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  10. ^ Caccamo & Monzali 2008, p. 186.
  11. ^ Đilas 1980, p. 150.
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  13. ^ Morrison 2009, p. 56.
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  71. ^ Milazzo 1975, pp. 135–136.
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  73. ^ Milazzo 1975, p. 144.
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  76. ^ Roberts 1987, p. 124.
  77. ^ Tomasevich 1975, p. 255.
  78. ^ Roberts 1987, p. 125.
  79. ^ Fleming 2002, p. 142.
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  81. ^ Pavlowitch 2007, p. 195.
  82. ^ Fleming 2002, p. 144.
  83. ^ Tomasevich 2001, p. 147.
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  85. ^ Ramet 2006, p. 134.
  86. ^ Tomasevich 1975, pp. 349–350.
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  100. ^ Dimitrijević 2014, p. 452.
  101. ^ a b Pajović 1987, p. 78.
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  103. ^ Pajović 1977, p. 476.
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  109. ^ Đurišić 1973, p. 163.
  110. ^ Military Intelligence Division, War Department: World War II, A Chronology (NOV 1944), Section III: Mediterranean Theater, p. 240: See-saw fighting continues in Podgorica area where Germans are isolated in narrow sector around Lake Scutari and Podgorica.
    p. 254: German positions around Scutari, Danilov Grad, and Podgorica reported critical.
  111. ^ Royal Air Force 1944, p. 64.
  112. ^ Royal Air Force 1944, p. 72.
  113. ^ Pajović 1977, p. 509.
  114. ^ United States National Archives, Record Group 242, Microfilm series T311, Roll 184, frames 000386-7, Army Group E High Command, A Survey of the Numerical Strength of the Subordinated Units on 16 November 1944
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  116. ^ Đurišić 1997, p. 173.
  117. ^ Đurišić 1997, p. 176.
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  121. ^ Minić 1993, p. 149.
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  123. ^ National Archives, Washington D.C., microcopy T-501, roll 256, frames 509, 867; Records of German Field Commands: Rear Areas, Occupied Territories and Others. Microfilm Publication T-501. 363 rolls. (GG 38, 57 and T176/roll 25, cited in Cohen 1996, pp. 45, 174
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  125. ^ Đurišić 1997, p. 218.
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  141. ^ Gudžević 2010.
  142. ^ Prijović 2002.
  143. ^ B92 2003a.
  144. ^ Sekulović 2003.
  145. ^ BBC 2003a.
  146. ^ B92 2003b.
  147. ^ Prijović 2003.
  148. ^ B92 2003c.
  149. ^ BBC 2003b.
  150. ^ Vijesti 2011.



External links[edit]