National Liberation War in Yugoslavia of 1941–45

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

National Liberation War in Yugoslavia of 1941–45


the war of liberation of the Yugoslav peoples against the fascist occupation troops, closely related to the revolutionary struggle against the Yugoslav bourgeoisie, which opposed the national liberation movement and committed itself to the policy of collaborationism. The war was also a struggle for national and social liberation and for the creation of a new, socialist Yugoslavia; the struggle was led by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY).

On Apr. 10, 1941, soon after the fascist aggressors attacked Yugoslavia (Apr. 6, 1941), the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPY met in Zagreb and formed a military committee, headed by J. Broz Tito, general secretary of the CPY. Military committees formed by antifascist combat groups began operating throughout Yugoslavia. The struggle of the Soviet people against fascist Germany, which attacked the USSR on June 22, 1941, bolstered the morale of the Yugoslav peoples and opened up prospects for a victory over the aggressors.

On June 22, 1941, the CPY called on the peoples of Yugoslavia to rise up in armed struggle against the occupation troops. On June 27, 1941, the Central Committee of the CPY formed the Main Headquarters (renamed the Supreme Headquarters in September 1941) of National Liberation Partisan Detachments, headed by Tito. On July 4, 1941, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPY adopted a decision to begin an armed uprising. (In the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, July 4 is celebrated as Soldier’s Day.) In July the uprising engulfed many areas of Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Hercegovina, and in October it broke out in Macedonia. During the uprising, areas liberated by the partisans took shape in various regions of the country. (The most significant of them was the Republic of Uzice, which existed in 1941 in western Serbia.) National liberation committees, which were organs of popular power, were formed in the areas in 1941; in the occupied territories they operated underground. The United National Liberation Front was formed in 1941, on the initiative of the CPY. By late 1941 there were about 80,000 partisans in Yugoslavia. On Dec. 22, 1941, the first regular military unit was formed—the 1st Proletarian Brigade.

In 1941–42 the occupation troops and their accomplices (six German, 18 Italian, five Bulgarian, and three Hungarian divisions, as well as the quisling units of M. Nedić and A. Pavelic) tried repeatedly to crush the partisan forces. In addition to the occupation forces, the partisans were opposed by the Chetniks of D. Mihajlović (from January 1942, war minister of the Yugoslav émigré government), who wanted to restore the prewar bourgeois monarchy in Yugoslavia. In late 1941 and early 1942 the partisan forces retreated from Serbia to Sandžak and Bosnia. They liberated a large area and created a new center of antifascist struggle in western Bosnia.

The successes of the Soviet Army during the winter campaign of 1942–43 fostered an upsurge in the national liberation struggle in Yugoslavia. In November 1942 the Supreme Headquarters began forming the first divisions and corps of the Yugoslav National Liberation Army (NOAJ). By late 1942 the size of the NOAJ and the partisan detachments and groups reached 150,000; the national liberation committees had grown stronger. The result of the development of the system of national liberation committees was the formation, in November 1942, of an all-Yugoslav political body, the Antifascist National Liberation Council of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ); the executive committee of the AVNOJ was the embryo of the first people’s government of Yugoslavia. In 1943 the occupation troops, quislings, and Chetniks tried hard to crush the main forces of the NOAJ and the partisans. There was bitter fighting in the summer of 1943 in the Sutjeska River valley. A group of NOAJ divisions broke out of an encirclement and liberated new territories in eastern Bosnia. The Western powers, who were supporting the Yugoslav émigré government and D. Mihajlović’s Chetniks, were forced, considering the strength and position of the NOAJ, to establish contact with the NOAJ Supreme Headquarters.

After Italy’s surrender in September 1943, the national liberation movement made new advances. Soviet, Czechoslovak, Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Italian partisan battalions fought as part of the NOAJ. By late 1943 all the regions liberated by the partisans in different parts of the country equaled about half of Yugoslavia. In addition to the national liberation committees operating in the provinces, councils and assemblies of national liberation were formed for the national regions of Yugoslavia. A unified system of new government was taking shape. The 2nd session of the AVNOJ in November 1943 adopted a decision to build a democratic federal state on the principles of equality and fraternity among the peoples of Yugoslavia.

The birth of people’s Yugoslavia was marked by the decisions of the AVNOJ concerning the transformation of the AVNOJ into the highest representative, legislative, and executive body and concerning the formation of the first people’s government of the country—the National Committee for the Liberation of Yugoslavia (NKOJ). The Soviet Union supported the establishment of the new Yugoslavia. The Soviet government gave the NKOJ diplomatic support and military and economic assistance. In February 1944 a Soviet military mission arrived in Yugoslavia. On June 16, 1944, on the island of Vis an agreement was signed between Tito, chairman of the NKOJ, and I. Subasić, the new émigré prime minister, who condemned the collaborationism of the Chetniks and was ready to cooperate with the national liberation movement. The right of the AVNOJ and NKOJ to exercise supreme power in the country was confirmed by the Tito-Ŝubaŝić agreement. In September 1944 the Soviet Army reached the borders of Yugoslavia. At that time Tito was in Moscow, and an agreement was reached through Soviet-Yugoslav negotiations for the Soviet Army to enter Yugoslav territory. On Oct. 20, 1944, Belgrade was liberated as the result of joint action by Soviet and Yugoslav forces.

By late 1944 the NOAJ had completely liberated Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro and partially liberated Bosnia and Hercegovina from the occupation troops. Liberated regions in Croatia and Slovenia were significantly expanded. Troops from people’s democratic Bulgaria took part in the fighting to liberate some regions of Yugoslavia. On Nov. 2, 1944, Tito and I. Ŝubasic signed an agreement creating a unified Yugoslav government. On Mar. 7, 1945, the first government of Democratic Federal Yugoslavia was formed in Belgrade, with Tito at its head. On Apr. 11, 1945, in Moscow a Soviet-Yugoslav treaty of friendship, mutual assistance, and postwar cooperation was concluded.

By May 15 the Yugoslav Army (about 800,000 men) completed the liberation of the entire country. The heroic struggle of the peoples of Yugoslavia against the fascist aggressors was a great contribution to the rout of Hitler’s Germany. The armed forces of the national liberation movement suffered 305,000 killed and 425,000 wounded. Under the leadership of the CPY the alliance of the working class and peasantry was strengthened, and power passed into the hands of the working people. At the same time during the war of liberation the tasks of the socialist revolution were accomplished; the capitalist order was eliminated and the foundation was laid for the postwar socialist development of Yugoslavia. On Nov. 29, 1945, the Constituent Assembly in Belgrade finally abolished the monarchy and proclaimed Yugoslavia a Federal People’s Republic. November 29 is Republic Day, a national holiday in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.


Zbornik dokumenata i podataka o narodnooslobodilačkom ratu Jugoslovenskih naroda, vols. 1–13. Belgrade, 1949–71.


Tito, Josip Broz. Izbrannye stat’i i rechi. Moscow, 1973.
Istoriia Iugoslavii, vol. 2. Moscow, 1963.
Belgradskaia operatsiia. Moscow, 1964.
Istoriia Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny Sovetskogo Soiuza, 1941–1945, vols. 2–6. Moscow, 1961–65.
Slavin, G. M. Osvoboditel’naia voina ν Iugoslavii. Moscow, 1965.
Zelenin, V. V., and G. M. Slavin. “Vklad narodov Iugoslavii ν razgrom fashizma.” Novaia i noveishaia istoriia, 1970, no. 6.
Ratnikov, A. N., and V. I. Zav’ialov. Vooruzhennye sily Iugoslavii. Moscow, 1971.
Tito, J. Broz. Djela, book 1: Borba za oslobodjenje Jugoslavije, 1941–1945. Belgrade, 1947.
Tito, J. Broz. Vojna djela, books 1–3. Belgrade, 1961.
Oslobodilački rat naroda Jugoslavije, 1941–1945, 2nd ed., books 1–2. Belgrade, 1963–65.
Strugar, V. Jugoslavija, 1941–1945. Belgrade, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
Encyclopedia browser ?
Full browser ?