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Armed resistance Transnational Resistance

„Setting Europe ablaze“

„Why the British command had not until now sent a representative mission? Was it because an earlier party under Major Atherton, early the previous year, had been lost?“ Tito asked Colonel William Deakin upon his arrival at the Partisan headquarters on the 27th of May 1943. The British SOE mission reached them at the height of the German offensive, Operation Schwarz, which saw Partisan forces encircled on mountain Sutjeska. Codenamed Operation Typical, the mission consisted of six soldiers led by Colonel William Deakin to „arrange the Partisan forces to attack specific targets on enemy lines of communication“.

The SOE had been created in 1940 by the British government as a secret organization whose aim was to conduct espionage and sabotage activities in countries occupied by Germany, and to help local resistance movements. In 1941 and 1942, several SOE-agents were sent to Yugoslavia to assess the situation on the ground. They were in contact both with Chetniks and Partisans, but remained with little knowledge about the latter. The group with colonel Deakin was the first British mission fully assigned to Yugoslav partisans headquarters and Marshall Tito.

In May and June 1943, following the path of the partisan forces and their commander Tito, Deakin and his men saw the severity of the ongoing fighting during the German offensive. During one of the air raids, which saw Tito being wounded, Captain William Stuart was killed, but they managed to break the encirclement at Tjentište on the 13th of June. By the end of the month, British planes started to drop supplies, munitions, and explosives to the Partisans which „were swiftly put into use“ as Deakin reported to Cairo on the 25th. The railroad line between Brod and Sarajevo was blown up in forty places, and the track between Brod and Zenica in seventeen places, following the idea behind the mission to „set Europe ablaze“. With the capitulation of Italy, the race was on to capture and disarm the Italian soldiers in Split, and Deakin with Captain Benson went on to join the Partisans and witness the Italian surrender on the 16th of September. Later that month, another British officer Fitzroy Maclean arrived in Mrkonjić Grad to further expand the ongoing mission, linking up with Deakin who was supposed to „give us a better idea than anyone of what the partisans were worth“. Deakin continued to provide valuable insights to Maclean until the 5th of October when he left for Cairo to present his reports to his superiors.

 

Based on the reports of Deakin and later on General Fitzroy Maclean, the British command received crucial information about the situation in occupied Yugoslavia. Maclean reports stated that the Partisans „were fighting the Germans most effectively.“, compared to the Chetniks „who were largely either not fighting at all or fighting with the Germans against their countrymen”. These missions established that the Allies should “send all available arms and equipment to the partisans”.

 

Nedim Pustahija

Sources/ Further Reading
  • F.W. Deakin, The Embattled Mountain, New York, Oxford University Press, 1971
  • Heather Williams, The Special Operations Executive and Yugoslavia 1941-1945, University of Southampton, 1994, Doctoral Thesis
  • Richard West, Tito and the rise and fall of Yugoslavia. London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 2009

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