Mihailovich against Romel
By Miloslav Samardzic
ON FILE: Lesson 3: Sabotage and Diversions during the “Battle for Supplies”
In the second half of 1942 and at the beginning of 1943, railroads became the most important battlefields. At this time, the Allies fought the German Afrika Korps in northern Africa, and the outcome of the campaign depended on the Germans’ ability to supply their troops. The shortest route for supplying the German troops in Africa went through occupied Serbia. In the summer of 1942, General Mihailović began planning for an extensive sabotage and diversion campaign. In the fall of 1942, at the request of Western Allies, the royal Yugoslav government in exile instructed him to execute the plans.
These are the known instances of operations during the “Battle for Supplies”.
In the night of November 15-16, 1942, Rasina Corps Chetniks blew up the Kraljevo –Trstenik railroad in three places, and the Trstenik–Kruševac railroad in two places. Additionally, one main and one bridge near the village of Čitluk were blown up. The following night, the Kraljevo– Raška railroad was cut in two places near Lopatnica station, and in three places between Polumir and Ušće stations. Between these two stations one main was blown up. The same night, between Dedina and Mrzenica stations of the Kruševac – Stalać railroad, a train with ammunition was blown up; three rail cars were destroyed. A bridge was demolished near Markešan, and a rail shunt damaged near Dedina.
In the night of November 24-25, Rasina Corps Chetniks demolished two bridges at the Kraljevo –Kruševac railroad: one near Počekovina 30 yards long, and one near Stopanja, 50 yards long.
Because of these diversions, Germans hanged six persons, and shot twenty “DM followers” in Kruševac. A massive roundup followed: on December 16, 200 hostages were seized. Many were later shot.
Following the Chetnik sabotage of the Lapovo – Kragujevac railroad on December 5, 1942, the Germans shot five citizens of Kragujevac.
On December 10, in a Chetnik action near Zlatovo, a German Sergeant was killed. In reprisal, the Germans shot “50 followers of the DM movement”.
The bridge on the Požarevac–Petrovac railroad was blown up by Chetniks on December 13, taking down a telephone line as well. A German news sheet indicated that “According to retaliatory measures, on December 15, 1942, 50 followers of Draža Mihailović were shot”.
In the night of December 27-28, three bombs exploded under Train 173, at the Stalać – Niš railroad between Vitkovac and Đuniš. The railroad was damaged, but not the train. “The gunfire lasted until 2:30 a.m.” states a Nedić government report, and the traffic was interrupted for six and half hours.
Saboteurs of Timok Corps, which were trained locally and by one British expert, set out dozens of British mines called “little frogs” for trains traveling the Belgrade–Thessaloniki and Zaječar-Niš lines, as well as the Bor railroad.
Another standard sabotage tactic at this time was concealing explosives in the engines’ coal supply.
Chetniks “legalized” as Nedić’s militia in Kragujevac mined the Belgrade – Niš railroad between Brzan and Bagrdan in September 1942. They were then transferred to Kruševac and mined the railroad near Stalać. Escaping German pursuit, they took to the woods again in the area around Kragujevac.
Chetniks in southern Serbia demolished railroads many times before November 1942, but the documents detailing these actions are yet to be discovered. Around January 1, 1943, saboteurs of South Serbia Commander Radoslav Đurić, headed by Ratko Popović, demolished the bridge near Gnjilane at the Priština – Skoplje railroad.
A time-bomb planted by Major Đurić’s saboteurs exploded at the railroad station in Sophia, Bulgaria, while another was discovered when the train was held in Bela Palanka. Also around New Year, timed bombs were set aboard two trains headed to Thessaloniki: one German fuel transport, and one transporting German soldiers.
In the public warning to “certain criminal elements” on February 27, 1943, regarding the explosion in Sophia and explosives discovered in Bela Palanka, Gen. Bader, the German Commander of Serbia, wrote: “It was conclusively determined that infernal devices were planted in Serbian territory”.
Maj. Simeon Ocokoljić reported on January 3, 1943 of the collision of passenger and cargo trains between Velika Plana and Smederevska Palanka, where 90 German soldiers were killed – certainly an exaggerated estimate. The station manager was shot in reprisal.
Gen. Mihailović received an extensive report from Maj. Radoslav Đurić on January 24, 1943, stating among other things: “At the station Predejane, repeat Predejane, an engine was disabled. Near Pirot an engine was demolished … On the 6th of this month near Veles, the entire fuel train was blown up… We have not yet seen results from other incendiary bombs and devices which were planted. They traveled far away. It is hard to find out about the results. Effects of some, in Croatia and Greece, as soon as I confirm, I’ll report.”
Maj. Đurić sent another extensive report on February 11, 1943, announcing the largest action so far:
“For around February 20, we have organized the following: 105 incendiary devices on military cargo trains headed to Thessaloniki and Sophia; thirty incendiary devices in fast military trains heading to Thessaloniki, Sophia and Zagreb. In that period we expect strong effects. All explosions are set for beyond the area of Serbian settlements.”
Then Major Djurić states confirmed reports of explosions for the previous period:
“Third class car number 34614 en route to Sophia exploded, Bulgarian soldiers among the casualties. Bulgarians strengthened controls.
December 26, 1942, rifle ammunition car aboard Train 178 exploded south of Veles.
December 27, 1942, an entire train of military supplies destroyed south of Veles.
The same day, explosive device derailed a military supply train in Demir Kapija. A rifle ammunition car exploded between Kraljevo and Kosovska Mitrovica.”
Maj. Đurić reported of new diversion on February 23, 1943: “In Grdelica mounted explosive at the salvage crane out of Skopje, which exploded in Ristovac.”
There was only one other such vehicle on the Belgrade–Thessaloniki railroad, noted Đurić, adding: “measures undertaken to destroy it as well”.
About the effects of 135 devices planted around February 20, Maj. Đurić sent a detailed report on March 22, 1943:
“Sabotage Command reports: on February 25 and 26, 1943, 34 explosive devices activated, derailing eight trains on the Thessaloniki railroad:
Fuel train 186, with explosive devices at cars 4270 and 5459;
Cargo train 188, devices at cars 4070 and 4108; ...
for the total of eight military transports. Because of these events traffic is disrupted so the trains are late 24 to 48 hours. Interruption is still in effect. Aleksinac, Popovac and Crveni Krst stations are overcrowded with trains waiting in line.
On the railroad toward Sophia in Bulgaria, five trains derailed by explosions:
First the Fast train 702, with explosive devices at first class car 14574, second class car 24047 and third class car 4056. According to unconfirmed reports, soldiers were among the casualties.
Second, the Cargo train 772, at cars 22060 and 99764...
This has caused traffic disruptions, but we do not yet have detailed information on extent of damage.
Because of the aforementioned 13 explosions, the occupier has tightened control at all cars for all trains, and guards at the trains are quadrupled. At border crossing points detailed inspections of every car and every train are done by Bulgarian police and military, all under Gestapo leadership.”
Đurić then writes that reports of these 13 incidents were sent to all German and Bulgarian commanders of railroad stations, with a note that “according to gathered intelligence, the center of sabotage activities is located in Serbia.” Further, he reports on two actions at the Zagreb-bound railroad:
“On March 1, 1943 a fast train engine exploded at Zemun station because of explosive device.
On February 28, 1943 near Ruma, explosive device derailed a fast military train; about 20 soldiers killed.”
After this, saboteurs planted another 17 explosive devices at the Kraljevo – Skoplje railroad in the night of March 14-15, but results were unknown at the time.
In the night of March 17-18, 1943, Chetniks demolished another bridge along the Belgrade-Athens railroad, near Vranjski Priboj. A document about the event escaped destruction after the war only because it remained concealed in the file of Aleksandar Dočev, Bulgarian intelligence officer who was put on trial in Niš in 1949. This was the Bulgarian Security Service report for Vranje Municipality, which states:
“Last night (March 17th 1943) at 23:00, Serbian Chetniks attacked the military post which securing the railroad bridge at Morava, south of Priboj railroad station and after they disabled personnel, wounding two soldiers, they planted 150 kg of explosive and demolished the bridge. According to information from the soldiers, Chetniks came from the direction of Stajkovac village and retreated in the same direction.
Signature: Commander of Security Service for Vranje Municipality, Lieutenant S. Miltenov.”
Other sorts of sabotage were carried out as well. “Chetniks of D. Mihailović destroyed the cable life at Majdanpek in night attack on Rajkovo Station, between February 27 and 28, 1943”. In retaliation, “30 followers of D. Mihailović from the Negotin camp were shot,” states the letter of General Bader to Milan Nedić on March 3, 1943.
Since the supplies for Afrika Korps were also transported by riverboat along the Danube, these too became targets of Chetnik attacks. Mihailović praised Maj. Ocokoljić by radiogram on November 22, 1942 for one successful action, and requested more detailed information. A month later, on December 22, 1942 Mihailović received a report of one ship sinking, and the escape of one Sergeant who had been captured by the Germans during the attack:
“Sgt Vojislav T. Jevremović, who sunk the German ship on the Danube, escaped in Zagreb from a German transport”. By mid-February, the Chetniks attacked the riverboat “Jupiter” with barges. According to report of Supreme Command, “the captain and the crew were killed, and 150 barrels of gasoline set on fire”. A convoy of barges on the Danube was attacked on May 4, 1943, killing a captain and injuring the engineer. In retaliation, “50 followers of D. Mihailović” were shot in Belgrade on May 7, as noted on the German news sheet.
Mihailović’s first reports on the sabotage were sent to the Royal government in London on September 14, 1942:
“We did undertake sabotage at railroads and post offices, everywhere with very good results. Damage goes further. Trains and engines, even in foreign territory, are disabled. In just one instance, 20 of 28 cars are disabled in foreign territory, 150 kilometers from Serbian territory. Yugoslav railroad workers under our command cooperate with Bulgarian railroad workers.”
Chetniks documents from this time include detailed instructions on how to disable a train engine, and make it look like an ordinary malfunction. Chetnik underground agents at railroads created systemic confusion in traffic. “Sabotage at railroads is conducted daily in all of Serbia. All transports are delayed. Detours at stations last for hours. There are whole graveyards of damaged cars at all railroad stations,” reported Mihailović.
Railroad clerk Aleksandar Vasić, one of the leading intelligence agents, sent a report to the Supreme Command via the radio operated by Belgrade’s underground, under the command of Chetnik Maj. Aleksandar-Saša Mihailović:
“Ball bearings with sanding grain used to short-circuit phone lines, and damage water stations. Results are good. I ordered an increase in sabotage, but with daily arrests people are afraid. Leaving soon to visit all headquarters and raise morale.”
The report by Gen. Miroslav Trifunović, Commander of Serbia, from December 13, 1942 speaks of a “graveyard of disabled engines”: “The depot at Niš has hundred engines in for repairs, scheduled to be completed by February,” he wrote.
Acording to Mihailović’s radiogram to the Royal Government from January 22, 1943, “at the railroad Niš – Tessaloniki, 112 of 362 engines have been disabled; of the 166-narrow track engines, 50 have been disabled; out of 6000 regular-gauge cars, 3000 have been disabled, and narrow-gauge car losses estimated at 35 percent.”
A report by German Commander for the Balkans Gen. Aleksander Loehr, dated November 29, 1942, notes that due to the because great number of engines disabled in Serbia, 40 additional engines were sent in from Germany, but they too ended up in repair yards.
In the following months, Chetniks continued conducting “smart” sabotage, stealthily disabling hundreds of engines. “All engine shops in Serbia were ordered emergency repairs under the penalty of death. They demand 500 operational trains,” reported Gen. Trifunović on February 26, 1943.
Railroad cler Aleksandar Vasić’s radiogram on April 1, 1943 notes that in Serbian territory “intelligent sabotage has disabled 65% of railroad engines”, and their repair is not possible due to “lack of material”. Because of this, 36 replacement engines were sent in from Germany, but these were older models. Vasić continues: “They are incapable of replacing the losses, being unfit for our railways. Traffic has therefore been reduced and even canceled.”
When Loehr visited Serbia at the end of October 1942, he again thought mass executions of civilians would be the best way to stop Chetnik actions. He ordered summary executions not only for “men captured with weapons, but for every one that can be proved to actively support this fight, to everyone who professes for Mihailović, or serves him”. Loehr justified his cruel order by the importance of the situation, certainly referring to the Africa front: “Everything is at stake in this bout. There is no middle solution. It is inappropriate to consider this struggle as heroism of a freedom-loving people.”
Germans embarked on previously unseen measures of security. Along railroads they built towers equipped with floodlights and machine-guns. At the tunnel mouths, junctions and other critical points they constructed large bunkers (many of which are still in place). The Ralja Tunnel and the Rpanj viaduct were additionally protected by mine fields.
To protect the railroads, Germans also undertook special measures. In the night of September 26-27, 1942, German aircraft dropped explosives wrapped as packages, imitating the British aid drops. “Peasants lit signal fires, thinking they were the English. Several were killed”, a field report sent to the Chetnik Supreme Command indicated.
Meanwhile, Maj. Aleksandar Mihajlović informed the Supreme Command that Gestapo had sent 250 Volksdeutche “who speak perfect Serbian, to discover our organization” in Southern Serbia. “They carry forged identification and pose as our members”, wrote Mihajlović.
Maj. Đurić reported Bulgarian Army atrocities: “Bulgarians killed our best and main people… Bulgarian atrocities against the civilians are unbearable. They kill Serbs in wicked ways daily. The people are terribly bitter at the English and think that only total bombardment of Bulgaria can protect Serbdom.”
Maj. Ocokoljić wrote on December 12, 1942 about the reprisals in the area of Požarevac: “Germans post one after another the lists with names of the shot. The people are scared and in fear of the genocide. All believe that the end of the war will break over the back of Serbian people.”
On January 3, 1943, Gen. Trifunović reported on the situation in Belgrade: “Political situation at the end of December in Belgrade: Germans intensify persecution of our people. They constantly shoot our people. On December 25, 1942 they shot 250 of our people from Sajmište camp.”
Full article in printed Liberty