Croatia 1918-1929 1945-1980

The Independent Croatian State (NDH), 1941-1945

On March 25th, caving in to German and Italian pressure, the Yugoslav government formally entered into an alliance with Germany and Italy. Following demonstrations against this alliance in a number of mainly Serbian cities, a group of army officers staged a coup d'etat. On April 6th the German, Italian, Hungarian and Bulgarian armies invaded Yugoslavia; the Yugoslav army did not resist.
On April 10th, the Independent Croat State (according to Croat language abbreviated NDH) was proclaimed, formally a Kingdom. The strongman of the new government was ANTE PAVELIC, head of the USTASHA organization. Croatia ceded most of Dalmatia to Italy; the Croatian state was divided in a German zone and an Italian zone; Croat military units often were commanded by Italians respectively Germans. The NDH included all of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The NDH also ceded territory to Hungary. Croatian units under German command participated in the German invasion of the Soviet Union.
The NDH implemented race laws which were used against the country's Jewish and Gypsy populations. The country's Serbian population - c. 25 % in Croatia and over 40 % in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a major segment of the population - was also a target of ethnic policy. Pavelic and the Ustasha hardliners intended to force a major share of the NDH Serbs to emigrate, another major share to convert to Catholicism (thus to assimilate); the remainder was to be annihilated. Estimates of the number of victims of Ustasha atrocities range between 500,000 and 1,000,000, the vast majority of whom were Serbs. The Ustasha accepted Bosnian Muslims in her ranks - Ustasha ideology regarded them simply as Muslim Croats.
Atrocities against Croatias and Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serbian population created a refugee problem of such a size, that German authorities in charge of the military administration of Serbia proper complained, too many refugees from Croatia fled into the country. Another result of excessive Ustasha violence was, that the new government lost control over considerable areas, mainly Serb-populated, where resistance organizations emerged. The two mahor organizations were the Communist Partisans and the Royalist-Serbian Chetniks.
When Italy moved army units into her zone to protect Serbian-inhabited areas, the Chetniks collaborated with the Italians and the two major resistance movements faced each other in a guerilla civil war. The Chetniks' collaboration with the Italians discredited them in the eyes of the British, who now supported Tito's communists. Meanwhile the partizans had occupied a significant share of NDH territory; the NDH / Ustasha controlled the cities and the major roads.
In January 1943, a combined offensive of German, Croat and Italian forces against the partizans - 120,000 troops on the side of the Axis forces faced c. 40,000 partisans - was partially successful, in that a lot of territory was reclaimed, and in that severe losses were inflicted on the partisans. However, they were not defeated, the partizans quickly regained much of the territory they had lost, and the atrocities committed by the Axis forces during the operation only strengthened the support the partisans received from the civilian population.
When Italy surrendered in August 1943, partisans disarmed a number of Italian units, thus getting access to weapons and ammunition. They liberated areas in Dalmatia and Istria, but then were dislodged by German units coming in. In summer 1943, the German army was so wide stretched that it could not spare troops for a major anti-resistance operation in what was Yugoslavia. Tito's Communist Partizans in effect controlled a state of their own - the liberated territory.
In summer 1944, moderate Ustasha politicians planned to remove hardline politicians in order to prepare the situation for negotiations with the Allies; the conspiracy was uncovered and the figures involved executed.
Late in 1944 the Germans withdrew their forces from former Yugoslavia; when the Partisans approached Zagreb (May 8th 1945), an exodus of an estimated 80,000 refugees - Ustasha members, collaborators etc. - fled toward the Austrian border, where they were denied entry by the British army. Many of them were killed by the Partizans, others died on an enforced march; some survived.

Already during the Guerilla war, decisions were taken to shape post-war Yugoslavia, as a federal republic, democratic in a communist definition of the word, in which the various ethnic groups would have their place.

Note : The links listed below are intended to lead users to sites which provide more detailed information. The webmaster of WHKMLA is neither responsible for the information given nor for the views expressed there.

Croatia, History of, from Discover Croatia, from , from, illustrated
Yugoslavia, from Library of Congress, Country Studies
Croatia, from Axis Biographical Research, biographical data
Croatian Generals, from The Generals of World War II
Croatian Domobran Generals, from Mostar, the Balkans and Europe
Yugoslavia, from Statistics of Democide by B.J. Rummel
Article Ustase, from Wikipedia (biased)
Article Jasenovac, from Wikipedia
Independent Croatia of 1941 revisited, by Srdja Trifkovic
Croatians by Titoists 1941-1947, ugoslavs by Croatians, 1941-1945, from Genocides and Ethnic Cleansings in Central and Eastern Europe .., links
DOCUMENTS Historical Maps of Croatia, from, bilingual
The Pavelic Papers
REFERENCE Fred Singleton, A Short History of the Yugoslav Peoples, Cambridge University Press (1985) 1999
Ivo Goldstein, Croatia - a History, (1999) McGill-Queen's UP 2001 [G]
United States Holocaust Museum, Historical Atlas of the Holocaust, NY : MacMillan 1996 [G]; pp.168-177 on Croatia
Article : Croatia, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1944 p.216, 1945 p.216 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on September 6th 2003, last revised on August 25th 2007

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