This year we are marking the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War, which began on the territory of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the so-called April war, from April 6th, 1941, when the German air force bombed Belgrade, to April 17th, when the capitulation of Yugoslavia was signed.

Faced with the supremacy of German weapons on the European battlefields in the first years of the Second World War, as well as the pressure to declare for inclusion in the Tripartite Agreement, with the fact that with the Anschluss of Austria and the addition of Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria to the aforementioned agreement, it was surrounded almost along its entire borders by members or allies of the Axis Powers, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was forced to accede to the Tripartite Pact. Regent Prince Paul, although pro-British, received the consent of the Crown Council and on March 25th, 1941 in Vienna, in the Belvedere Palace, Dragiša Cvetković, Prime Minister and Alexander Cincar-Marković, Minister of Foreign Affairs, signed the Protocol on the Accession of the Kingdom Yugoslavia to the Triple Alliance. During the negotiations, and with the letter of the signed agreement, Adolf Hitler showed unusual tolerance towards the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which was conditioned by the need to avoid military engagement on the eve of the attack on the Soviet Union and the need to peacefully persuade Yugoslavia to cooperate and exploit its resources. Namely, in three special notes, Yugoslavia is guaranteed the establishment of a territorial connection with the Aegean Sea and the right to the city and port of Thessaloniki, then that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia will be respected forever, that the Axis powers will ask the Kingdom for permission to cross or transport of troops across its state territory, and Germany and Italy assured the Yugoslav government that they would not demand military assistance from it.

The act of annexation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia to the Axis powers caused great dissatisfaction, and as early as March 25th, demonstrations began in Belgrade and other cities, including Kraljevo. Under the influence of that mass anti-fascist wave, strong dissatisfaction in the army, secret conspiracy officer groups, haste of British political, diplomatic and intelligence factors, a coup mechanism was launched. At the head of the conspiracy were air force officers, generals Borivoje Mirković and Dušan Simović, and officers of the Belgrade garrison and the royal guard. On the night between March 26th and 27th, 1941, a coup was carried out, in which, without resistance, the Cvetković-Maček government was replaced, King Peter II Karađorđević was declared an adult and the next day he received the crown, and Dušan Simović, commander of the air force, was appointed Prime Minister. Prince Paul was returned from Zagreb to Belgrade, from where he was confined in Kenya via Greece. The new government did not cancel the decision on the accession of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia to the Triple Pact, it saw the coup as a domestic political event and assured the Germans and Italians of its loyalty and desire to maintain good relations with them.

Adolf Hitler reacted decisively and without hesitation to the events in Yugoslavia. In order to ensure peace in the background before the attack on the Soviet Union, to prevent the possibility of organizing the southern European front and, in the end, to punish the unreliable government, which ruthlessly rejected the Triple Alliance, it was decided to break the resistance of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Based on the directive of Field Marshal Wilhelm von Keitel, the head of the German Supreme Command, a plan of attack on Yugoslavia was prepared. 52 German, Italian and Hungarian divisions with 870,000 soldiers and superior and modern military doctrine and techniques will take part in the war operations. Opposite the Axis forces, 600,000 Yugoslav soldiers were deployed under arms. The unpreparedness and weak armament of the army, the immaturity of the command staff for waging a modern war, fierce national divisions, numerous political and social confrontations and general dissatisfaction will reduce the resilience of the Kingdom.

The Germans attacked Yugoslavia without declaring war, brutally bombing Belgrade on April 6th, 1941, even though it was declared an open city. The attack of the air army of Colonel-General Alexander Lehr brought death among the civilian population and ruthless destruction, which the National Library was not spared. Enemy troops rushed across the Yugoslav borders from Germany, Italy, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. The main strikes were carried out from two directions: the Second German Army, strength 11 divisions, under the command of Colonel-General von Weiks, moved from the Klagenfurt and Graz areas in the direction of Zagreb, Belgrade and Sarajevo, while the Twelfth German Army with 19 divisions, under the command Field Marshal von List attacked from Bulgaria to cut ties between Greece and Yugoslavia. The southeastern front disintegrated under the first blow of the enemy, and on April 9th, the Germans took control of Macedonia. The northwestern front, north of the Sava and the Danube, disintegrated between April 6th and 10th. The fascist Independent State of Croatia was formed in Zagreb on April 10th, and German troops entered Belgrade on April 13th.

During the April war, the entire military organization of the Kingdom canceled, the mobilization centers did not function, so the mobilization was carried out with a delay, there were no weapons, ammunition, clothes, betrayal and defeatism appeared. The Yugoslav Army Supreme Command did not appear to have control over the situation. Individual examples of heroism, especially among members of the Yugoslav aviation, could not affect the general defeat and destruction. In confusion, the government withdrew from Sevojno to Sarajevo and, finally, Nikšić, where a decision was made to evacuate the king, court, government, generals, party leaders, a total of about 200 people, first to Greece, and then to Palestine and London. The newly appointed Chief of Staff of the Supreme Command, Army General Kalafatović, was given the task by the government to request a truce. The armistice agreement, essentially an act of unconditional capitulation, was signed on April 17th, 1941 in the building of the Czechoslovak embassy in Belgrade, on the German side, Colonel General von Weiks, and on the Yugoslav side, Alexander Cincar-Marković and General Radivoje Janković. About 375,000 Yugoslav officers and soldiers were captured in the short-lived April war. The territory of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was divided between the occupying forces, with the organization of the puppet fascist Independent State of Croatia.

Darko Gučanin
historian, archivist
Director of the National Museum Kraljevo

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