Yugoslav government-in-exile

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Claridge's Hotel in London, where the Yugoslav government-in-exile was based during the war.

The Yugoslav government-in-exile was an official government of Yugoslavia, headed by King Peter II. It evacuated from Belgrade in April 1941, after the Axis invasion of the country, and went first to Greece, then to Palestine, then to Egypt and finally, in June 1941, to the United Kingdom.


Further information: World War II in Yugoslavia

Bearing in mind the worsening of the international situation, regent Pavle Karadjordjevic, Prime Minister Dragisa Cvetkovic, and Vlatko Macek, leader of the Croatian Peasant Party, which was the main opposition party reached an agreement for which to end nationalist disputes and strengthen the country. The agreement foresaw the creation of a new Croatian ban with an autonomous Croatian government, the dissolution of the National Assembly and hold new free elections. Although the National Assembly dissolved, the elections were not held and an agreement was revived under the authority of the crown which was in line with the constitution adopted during the royal dictatorship in 1931.

British support for proposed future changes of the Yugoslav border at Italy's expense in a future peace conference after the war in an attempt to prevent the convergence of Germany and Yugoslavia, but failed to prevent the rapprochement between the two countries. Even then, in the spring of 1939. Yugoslavia had transferred much of its gold into the United Kingdom and the United States, contrary to its declared neutrality and the dissatisfaction of Berlin.

After the Yugoslav government signed the Tripartite Pact 25th March 1941 in Vienna, a day later in a coup almost without bloodshed, a group of aviation officers overthrew the government, expelled Regent Paul and prematurely declared an adult King Peter II, six months before his eighteenth birthday.

Macek, considering that the motives of the coup were hostile to the agreement, conditioned its joining the new government of General Dusan Simovic confirming the validity of the agreement. Almost all the new Yugoslav parties were extremist. With regard to the diversity of political views of the parties that formed the new government, it failed to address the issues. A large government was formed in order to give each party equal importance, since it was formed without elections. The diversity of the parties prevented the government to adopt a common program. The new cabinet had not had time to modify existing laws and had to base their actions on the Constitution of 1931, which was adopted during the dictatorship.

Simovic tried to appease Hitler's rage stating their intention to comply with all the obligations it has assumed Yugoslavia before the coup, including the accession to the Tripartite Pact. However, German leaders ignored the guarantee of a new government, which is openly sympathetic to the Allies, and ordered that immediately organizes an invasion of Yugoslavia.

In the night between the 5th and the 6th of April, the Wehrmacht began the invasion, while the German air force bombed Belgrade. Poor armed and led Yugoslav army was quickly defeated. In Zagreb on April 10, the Axis declared the Independent State of Croatia, Belgrade fell on April 12th, and the remnants of the Yugoslav armed forces capitulated on April 17 and 18.

The king and the remains of Government went into exile between the 14th and 16th of April, on Churchill's disappointment, who wanted to rule the king stay home and to continue to provide resistance to the Axis powers. A lack of consensus among the parties that were formed would eventually be accentuated and weakened it.

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was soon divided by the Axis into several entities. Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria annexed some border areas outright. A Greater Germany was expanded to include most of Slovenia. Italy added the Governorship of Dalmatia and more than a third of western Slovenia to the Italian Empire. An expanded Croatia was recognized by the Axis as the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, NDH). On paper, the NDH was a kingdom, and the 4th Duke of Aosta was crowned as King Tomislav II of Croatia. The rump Serbian territory became a military administration of Germany run by military governors, with a Serb civil government led by Milan Nedić. Nedić attempted to gain German recognition of Serbia as a successor state to Yugoslavia and claimed King Peter II as Serbia's monarch. Puppet states were also set up in Montenegro and southern Yugoslavia. Hungary occupied several northern regions.

King Peter II, who had escaped into exile, was still recognized as king of the whole state of Yugoslavia by the Allies. Starting on 13 May 1941, the largely Serbian "Yugoslav Army of the Fatherland" (Jugoslovenska vojska u otadžbini, or JVUO, or Četniks) resisted the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia. This anti-German and anti-communist resistance movement was commanded by Royalist General Draža Mihailović. For a long time, the Četniks were supported by the British, the United States, and the Yugoslavian royal government in exile of King Peter II.

However, over the course of the war, effective power changed to the hands of Josip Broz Tito's Communist Partisans. In 1943, Tito proclaimed the creation of the Democratic Federative Yugoslavia (Demokratska federativna Jugoslavija). The Allies gradually recognized Tito's forces as the stronger opposition to the German occupation. They began to send most of their aid to Tito's Partisans, rather than to the Royalist Četniks. On 16 June 1944, the Tito–Šubašić agreement was signed, merging the de facto and the de jure governments of Yugoslavia.

During his exile, King Peter II was educated at Cambridge University, served in the Royal Air Force and married Princess Alexandra of Greece and Denmark, who was the only child of the late King Alexander I of Greece and Princess Aspasia of Greece and Denmark.

Armed forces[edit]

In exile, the Royal Yugoslav Forces were initially under the command of General Bogoljub Ilić as minister of the Army, Navy and Air Force and chief of the General Staff, and General Borivoje Mirković as commander of the Air Force. There were initially about 1,000 men in these forces in Cairo. On 12 January 1942, the king dismissed the prime minister, Ilić and Mirković, provoking a mutiny by officers supportive of the Air Force general.[1] The king then appointed Colonel Dragoljub Mihailović, leader of the Četniks in Yugoslavia, as minister and chief of staff to replace Ilić in absentia; he then appointed General Petar Živković to act as Mihailović's deputy in London and Cairo.[1] Mihailović was dismissed in August 1944 as Allied support shifted away from the Četniks. On 7 March 1945, the king dissolved the government and disbanded the armed forces, proclaiming Tito's Partisans on the ground to be the sole legitimate government and military.[1]

The first unit of the Royal Yugoslav Army to be formed in exile was the 1st Battalion, Royal Yugoslav Guards, under Major Živan Knežević. It comprised a headquarters and four rifle companies (A, B, C and D). Of its original complement of 505 men, 411 were Slovenes who had been conscripted into the Royal Italian Army and subsequently captured by the British.[1] In January 1942, command of this unit passed to Lieutenant Colonel Miloje Dinić, and on 19 February to Lt. Col. Milan Prosen, after Dinić was implicated in the pro-Mirković mutiny. (He and 57 other Guards were interned by the British at the Torah camp in March, along with all 346 of the Yugoslav Air Force's ground personnel.)[2] In late February, the unit was ordered to relieve the Czechoslovak contingent at the siege of Tobruk, but was diverted to join the 11th Brigade, 4th (Indian) Division in Libya. In April, it retreated to Halfaya Pass and then to Mersa Matruh. In July, it was reassigned to the 9th (British) Army in Mandatory Palestine to guard the oil refinery at Haifa.[1] In January 1943, when Lt. Col. Franc Stropnik assumed command, the battalion was 850 strong and well-trained. It was attached to the 25th Brigade, 10th (Indian) Division. Before the end of the year, monarchist and communist (pro-Tito) factions had appeared in the ranks; numbers dwindled. Barely the size of a company, a rump unit was sent to the Italian theatre with its brigade in March 1944.[2] It was disbanded soon after, despite the recruitment of 2,000 captured Slovene conscripts assembled in Algiers by Prosen. The British refused to ferry these men to Cairo, so they were assigned labour duties.[2]

After the fall of Yugoslavia, 105 personnel of the Royal Yugoslav Navy, under Commander Z. V. Adamić, joined the Mediterranean Fleet at Alexandria in Egypt.[2] Two motor torpedo boats (MTBs), Durmitor and Kajmakčalan, and a submarine, Nebojša, ran the gauntlet of the Adriatic, evading the Italian Navy, and arrived in Suda Bay on 22–23 April before proceeding to Alexandria.[3] The MTBs participated in the Syria and Lebanon campaign, while Nebojša undertook training exercises.[2] Ten floatplanes of the Naval Air Force also escaped. On 3 June 1941, eight Dornier Do 22kj and two Rogožarski SIM-XIV-H formed the 2 (Yugoslav) Squadron of the No. 230 Squadron RAF, based in Aboukir. They participated in the Battle of Crete and patrolled the African coast until the unit was disbanded on 23 April 1942.[2] In late 1943, Commander J. Saksida was given command of a torpedo boat flotilla based at Malta, which included some former Yugoslav MTBs that had been captured by Italy in 1941 and then surrendered to the Allies after Italy's armistice, as well as three minelayers: Melinje, Miljet and Villa. The Yugoslav Navy was also operating eight former American PT boats and, after 11 January 1944, the ex-HMS Mallow (renamed Nada), out of Livorno in Italy. In March 1945, all Royal Yugoslav vessels assembled at Ancona in preparation for the handover to Tito's forces, which occurred in August.[2] The negotiations for the transfer of the vessels under British command took place on Vis. The royal representative was Captain Ivan Kern, whom Tito later promoted to rear admiral.

The eleven aircraft of the Royal Yugoslav Air Force to make it to Alexandria were requisitioned by the British. Several Savoia-Marchetti SM.79s piloted by Yugoslavs joined No. 117 Squadron RAF and flew transport missions along the Takoradi air route.[4] On 2 July 1942, the interned Yugoslav Air Force personnel and Guards in Alexandria were formed into the 244 Temporary Battalion of the King's Own Royal Regiment, but after a pro-Tito mutiny in November 1943, the unit was disbanded. Its personnel were transferred to the diminished Royal Guards, while 224 of the Air Force men joined the Balkan Air Force in Libya.[2] Joined by Partisan volunteers, these men formed No. 352 Squadron RAF on 22 April 1944 and No. 352 Squadron on 1 July. They mainly flew Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires in operations over Yugoslavia in support of the Partisans. Both squadrons were disbanded on 15 June 1945.[2]

Prime Ministers[edit]

Portrait Name
Term of office Party Cabinet
Start End
1 Dušan Simović.jpg Dušan Simović
27 April
12 January
Independent (Royal Yugoslav Army) Simović
2 Slobodan Jovanović.jpg Slobodan Jovanović
12 January
18 June
Independent Jovanović
3 Coat of arms of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.svg Miloš Trifunović
18 June
10 August
People's Radical Party (NRS) Trifunović
4 Bozidar Puric.jpg Božidar Purić
10 August
8 July
Independent Purić
5 Ivan Subasic.jpg Ivan Šubašić
8 July
7 March
Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) Šubašić

Šubašić cabinet[edit]

Ivan Šubašić took office on 1 June 1944. He was appointed to negotiate with Tito because of his special position in the Croatian Peasant Party, his loyalty to the Karađorđević dynasty, his moderation in comparison with other Croatian politicians, and his experience in difficult situations. Nevertheless, his nomination after months of British pressure on the king depended on the elimination of Mihailovich from the cabinet.

Ten days after his nomination, Šubašić fled to the island of Vis in the Adriatic Sea in order to meet with Tito and try to form a coalition government. Tito agreed to postpone a decision on the form of government until the end of the war, and Šubašić, for his part, recognised that only the partisan administration of the Yugoslav territory would receive support. He also promised that the government would include only people who had not previously opposed Tito and his organisation, and that it would concentrate on securing international support. The agreement was signed on 16 June with no consultation by Šubašić, even with the king.

After his return, Šubašić formed a government of five ministers, with two of them proposed by Tito. Mihailovich lost his position as war minister. He refused to recognise the new government and continued to proclaim his loyalty to the king.

On 12 September, the king went on the radio to ask people to support Tito.

Šubašić met with Tito in Belgrade on 1 November. Under their agreement, the King was not authorised to return to the country until a plebiscite was held about the monarchy. After Šubašić returned to London, the king rejected the agreement and replaced Šubašić on 23 January 1945. But under British pressure, the king was compelled to call him back six days later and to accept the principle of a regency.

Two weeks later, Šubašić and his ministers went to Belgrade. A new coalition government was formed on 7 March, in which Tito controlled 20 ministers of 28. This ended the government in exile.


  1. ^ a b c d e Nigel Thomas (1991), Foreign Volunteers of the Allied Forces, 1939–45 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing), 34.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Thomas, Foreign Volunteers, 35.
  3. ^ For a detailed account of their escape, cf. A. D. Divine (1944), Navies in Exile (New York: Dutton).
  4. ^ A. D. Harvey (2015), "A Slow Start: Military Air Transport at the Beginning of the Second World War", Air Power History 62 (1): 6–15.


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  • Pavlowitch, Stevan K. (1981). "Out of Context: The Yugoslav Government in London, 1941–1945". Journal of Contemporary History. 16 (1): 89–118. doi:10.1177/002200948101600106. 
  • Pavlowitch, Stevan K. (1982). "The Foreign Office, King Peter and His Official Visit to Washington". East European Quarterly. 16 (4): 453–66. 
  • Pavlowitch, Stevan K. (1984). "Momčilo Ninčić and the European Policy of the Yugoslav Government in Exile, 1941-1943: I". The Slavonic and East European Review. 62 (3): 400–20. 
  • Pavlowitch, Stevan K. (1984). "Momčilo Ninčić and the European Policy of the Yugoslav Government in Exile, 1941-1943: II". The Slavonic and East European Review. 62 (4): 531–51. 
  • Yapou, Eliezer (2006). "Yugoslavia: Between Četniks and Partisans". Governments in Exile, 1939–1945. Jerusalem.