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Marshal Josip Tito (right) stands with his Cabinet

Ministers and Supreme Staff at his mountain
headquarters in Yugoslavia on May 14, 1944
(Imperial War Museum)

Challenges in Coalition
Unconventional Warfare
The Allied Campaign in Yugoslavia, 1941–1945
By J. Darren Duke, Rex L. Phillips, and Christopher J. Conover

uring World War II, operatives warfare (UW) campaign against the
Lieutenant Colonel J. Darren Duke, USMC, is G2
for U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations
Command, Camp Lejeune. Major Rex L. Phillips,
USA, is en route to a tour with Special Operations
D and military advisors of the British
Special Operations Executive
(SOE) and the American Office of Stra-
Axis forces with and through guerrilla
resistance elements in Yugoslavia. The
resistance movement effectively fixed in
Command Central, MacDill Air Force Base. Major tegic Services (OSS), which was a pre- place 35 German and Italian divisions,
Christopher J. Conover, USAF, is en route to the cursor to both the current Central Intel- consisting of roughly 660,000 soldiers
Air Staff at the Pentagon and is currently serving
as a Joint Branch Chief for the Joint Improvised
ligence Agency and U.S. Special Forces, in the western Balkan region during
Explosive Device Defeat Organization. conducted a challenging unconventional 1941–1945.1 This campaign rendered

JFQ 75, 4th Quarter 2014 Duke, Phillips, and Conover  129

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The com. access to an array of regional experts with operations presented as severe a challenge tional warfare. 1941. By British facilitation. Failures in operations security. Nevertheless. SOE field re- Yugoslavia dealt with an increasingly vi. UW 1938. no doctrine for these former operatives. Clandestine days.8 UW as a low-cost. and the British intelligence and the SOE took 2 often strained the British-American re. new political differences deeply divided campaign experienced difficulties. No other country where the SOE and in a denied area.) contingent achieved this form and help shape continued efforts to for operations against Axis shipping effect with never more than 100 Allied improve UW doctrine. the British government developed of postwar interests in favor of near-term while other Service components of U. or he directed the SOE to assess the pos. Contemporary policymakers and German government that counterguer. and an excellent began to consider strategies in the joint or combined UW operations exists. disrupt. Yugoslavia occupation forces. and re- bined United Kingdom (UK)–United several important lessons that should in. Donovan UW efforts. talent and skill among Allied personnel resistance rapidly evaporated.S. even if fraught with 1935 to manage an antimony mine. tacit recognition of a movement with overthrow a government or occupying sibility of providing support to these unambiguous intentions of establishing power by operating through or with an groups to open up an additional front a communist state in postwar Yugoslavia. which brought Yugoslavia into known as the Partisans. OSS Director with conducting operations in support of the Axis invasion in April 1941. 1939. difficulties in 6. government capitulated after only 11 years to determine which side to back lationship at multiple levels. challenges. severe reprisals against Yugoslavian civil. history shows us that combined D.T.4 he ordered the German-led Chetniks.3 Special operations forces The SOE and British secret service had OSS facilitated resistance and guerrilla (SOF) conduct and support unconven.S. was Captain Balkans designed to fracture the However. experiences. but also can be Bill Hudson arrived in Yugoslavia in these efforts proved successful. Armed guerrilla attacks on German against the Axis powers. Roosevelt and not allow him to keep it in the Tripartite Dragoljub “Draža” Mihailovic led dis- Prime Minister Winston Churchill. along the Dalmatian coast. British when Adolf Hitler realized that Yugo. The suspension of support for sons learned from the Balkans Campaign ians as early as October 1941. In the spring of 1941. The number of Axis personnel The Balkan Campaign 20. The combined UK-U. King George VI. cruited a network of saboteurs in Croatia States (U. or guerrilla force against the Axis regimes across Europe. example of the British talent. by treaty and riven by political and couraging.2 This extremely favorable force Balkan wars of the early 1900s and the and how it could help disrupt the Axis ratio and its associated effects commend fallout from World War I. primarily slavia’s weak cohesion as a state would groups. early July. ences. campaign in the former Yugoslavia offers joined the British secret service. are the lead SOF Service to provide this assessment. the two primary Yugoslavian resistance and American policymakers. none of UW not only is possible. Organized Yugoslavian military fought each other in a fierce civil war. and les. chose Pact and to protect his southern flank parate elements of varying loyalty to the with great risk near-term military goals in preparation for his invasion of Soviet Yugoslavian monarchy-in-exile called over long-term postwar political strategic Russia. Currently. it meant the ment or insurgency to coerce. auxiliary. These resulted in impact on the postwar political order in of these challenges.7 One of Brigadier General William J. A Serbian military officer named President Franklin D. he learned of the resistance operations. With highly successful. he was fluent in Serbo-Croatian. his mission was to determine killed in the Balkans is estimated at Formed out of the upheavals of the whom the British government could trust 450. As early as resistance factions or in weighing the risks component for its doctrine and conduct. 1941.them strategically irrelevant by prevent. created sufficient concern within the and support of Tito and his Partisans. Churchill expressed a government previously recognized by Unconventional warfare is activities a desire to “set Europe ablaze.S. Churchill to suspend support to the resistance movements that was rooted in rilla movement in occupied Europe— Chetniks and to expand cooperation with longstanding political and ethnic differ. old ethnic animosities and Although ultimately successful. a well-established clandestine presence strategic ends.000. U. blitzkrieg attack by Axis forces on April group of communist resistance units differences in policy goals. This decision was highly controversial UW planners considering unconventional rilla operations were conducted to and taken with a clear realization of the options can benefit from an examination address the threat. Tripartite Pact. underground. operatives on the ground inside and Italian units began in earnest by By the summer of 1943. Special Operations Command are tasked in Yugoslavia that remained active until In the United States.S. Donovan had visited 130  Recall / Challenges in Coalition Unconventional Warfare JFQ 75.6 the Chetniks meant the abandonment of of World War II. These two groups command relationships. “Bill” Hudson. high-reward method was a patchwork state cobbled together His initial findings were not en- of warfare.5 These attacks—eventually ports and signals intelligence9 convinced cious civil war among factions within the recognized as the most successful guer.” When the UK and a monarch related to British conducted to enable a resistance move. and disparities in the war. Early in the war. Europe. ing their use in other theaters. the ethnic strife. Moreover. language abilities and operational skills in negotiating the deep divide between Green Berets. Army Special Forces. Inserted into personnel on the ground in the denied Yugoslavia by submarine on September area. Josip Broz Tito led a second interests. 4th Quarter 2014 .

all of these efforts came to naught in the wake of the Axis invasion later in April 1941. but had served the British Foreign Office forces on raids and sabotage missions One of the most obvious sources of during the 1930s as a diplomat in the against Axis lines of communication. marksmanship. during that very visit. and Otto Dietrich in Maribor. professional knowledge.13 It is a testament as attempting. and tac. Allied advisors accompanied Partisan irritant against the goal of Axis defeat.14 The situation worsened JFQ 75. As noted above. 1941 coast. Through these facilities. MacLean had no previous in demolitions. the SOE and OSS. MacLean the perfect man for the job. and focus even to the point of ignor- SOE to expand contacts with Tito and 1945. to the leadership of the U. albeit unsuccessfully. and Serbo-Croatian—which the Americans North Africa and then establishing a UW submarines transported personnel and could not speak—or forbidding unes- network in Tehran as a hedge against materiel with no regard for national corted American access to senior Yugo- possible Nazi domination of Iran. ons. Upon expertise and were almost solely the outbreak of the war. the Americans lacked regional political-military affairs in general. a Yugoslavian delegation was putting the ink on an agreement to join the Axis Powers. translators to facilitate communications. and ammunition directly governments. and Command of the UW effort in the to the subordinate Partisan formations. Martin Bormann.10 This offer was rebuffed. With Italy falling away from the Axis. and Conover  131 . ity in the level of expertise in Balkan experiences in the Soviet Union. OSS officers served as slavian leaders. Allied pilots from America and ized Americans by holding meetings in against German and Italian forces in Great Britain. The separate streams of Allied inter- est came together again during summer and fall of 1943 after the fall of Benito Mussolini. the British tended solo travel into the Caucasus and for future operations and—with less suc. April 26. Adolf Hitler. rare combination of experiences made advisors to Partisan formations under tions in Yugoslavia in September 1943. To the con- ment. found his way into the newly organized paign was achieved in spite of forces This gap led to tensions between Allied British Special Air Service. and sions within the Third Reich’s territory. and beach landing them from the goal of helping the Par- operatives to this UK-led effort as well sites. combined planning with the Yugoslavians ground. Royal Navy ships. the Allies now had an oppor- tunity to exploit the Balkan situation to their advantage by convincing Hitler that the Allied push into Europe might come via the central Mediterranean Sigfried Uiberreither. Phillips. In the end. which vided detailed intelligence reports of the regional affairs.Belgrade in January of 1941 and com- municated to both the Yugoslavian government and its armed forces that the United States was ready to support resistance to German aggression. the professionalism of the majority of Balkans was given to Brigadier Fitzroy They provided training to Partisan units field operatives and officers that none of MacLean. Through his During all of these activities. culture. the Allies established and operated ing operational proposals from OSS his Partisans and to assess their capabili.11 tension was the overwhelming dispar- British embassy in Moscow.S.12 trary. networks in Austria for future UW mis. Churchill authorized Throughout 1944 and into mid. the SOE tisans defeat the Axis. explosives. conducting and factors working against the Allied personnel as British officers marginal- raids and long-range reconnaissance efforts. This origin or flag. 4th Quarter 2014 Duke. The OSS provided airfields. possessed talented men such as Hudson Central Asia. In fact. orders from MacLean with loyalty Simultaneously. Donovan received approval (Deutsches Bundesarchiv) from the Combined Chiefs of Staff to initiate unconventional warfare opera. drop zones. to and OSS teams brought in tons of weap. and Allied conduct its own operations. numerous clandestine and expeditionary headquarters that threatened to distract ties and requirements. MacLean developed a keen cess—unilateral efforts to establish agent and MacLean with deep regional and understanding of the communist move. and language included reporting on the purges and situation in Yugoslavia and conducted possessed by the operatives on the show trials under Joseph Stalin and ex. Eastern European culture. they pro. he resigned National Tensions dependent upon Yugoslavian or British his diplomatic position and eventually The success in the Yugoslavian cam. these elements rose above the level of military training prior to World War II tics.

4th Quarter 2014 . was refused entry direct access to Churchill and was person. amassed the experience and human capital for in- fluencing global affairs. major junctions in the decisionmaking pects of preserving their empire. but he have saved themselves the effort.17 coordinator of Allied military support. Churchill as a potential commander of British government to Tito. America was the new kid on the block and was learning many of the hard lessons in the labora- tory of global war. by virtue of at least two centuries of colonialism and imperialism. director of the Office of Strategic Services. their OSS traffic over SOE nets using United States and UK. 1942–1945 (U. espionage. the Yugoslavian effort. Donovan also invested more hope in the advertised abilities of the Chetniks because he lacked talented offi- cers such as Hudson and MacLean to give him solid assessments of their intentions and capacity. and William J. Donovan. as previously noted.18 ally consulted by the prime minister at power was clearly under way.16 the Americans gave them plenty of reason to complain. particularly process. The result cal advice and assistance only. were less assured. prior to the end of the war. He also knew that national self-interest would neces- sitate the United States striking out on its own. To be fair. American OSS operatives were roneous belief that the ancient internecine as UK and U. inevitable competition between waxing Donovan himself was also rejected by but also as the direct emissary of the and waning global powers. drawing sharp criticisms from his former British mentors for the unskilled way the OSS attempted operations. America’s rise to the status of global into the Yugoslav theater on occasion. while the British evinced an attitude of imperial superiority and possible ethnic and religious bias against the OSS and Donovan personally.15 was still required to submit his plans for The British-American competition A second source of national tension approval by General George Marshall as manifested itself in disputes over com- was the difference in organization and well as the State Department for all of his munications as Americans had to send operational authorities adopted by the global operations. British pros. and lacked access to Yugoslavian leaders. The OSS headquarters that oversaw the early stages of the Balkan Campaign in Istanbul was penetrated by the German intelligence agency. He did this on several occasions.S. He enjoyed with the U. however.S. By 1943. they might rate American and British missions just access to President Roosevelt. the Abwehr. to include how to play the games of politics. The return on this invest- ment by the end of the war was poor. making the British unwilling to share sensitive information on their operations. Yet it was the British who. William Allied efforts. Donovan may have enjoyed frequent sessed a MacLean-like figure. and coalition warfare.S. limiting their ability to served not only as a military advisor and considerations of combined UW was the communicate in OSS channels only. By the end of the 132  Recall / Challenges in Coalition Unconventional Warfare JFQ 75. Army) the United States wasted time in the er- over the course of time. hatreds of the Balkans could be healed by toward the end of the war. Donovan realized that the OSS was dependent on the British secret service to provide training in tradecraft and expertise for clandestine operations. policy goals diverged limited in authorities to military techni. Fitzroy MacLean A third and final source of tension for SOE codes. Had the Americans pos- was the eventual establishment of sepa. war effort in full swing.

it must be remembered that at the time. he was a highly effective and tions are unique challenges because the were able to maintain an essentially uni- tenacious guerrilla leader who attacked disciplines used to collect intelligence fied command structure throughout the Germans and their allies without for UW require a long time to bear the campaign until the very last stages hesitation.19 The assistance of Tito’s government contrib. and ably measured the risks of pursuing its advantage. the United States and decisive places on the battlefield. operatives to the SOE shows. he deferred support to Mihailovic and his Chetniks the United States and UK throughout to Churchill and the British as senior in favor of Tito and the Partisans was a the campaign. All of this occurred communist revolutionary threat clearly When considering coalition partners. unbeknownst to British result: The Partisans effectively used the ments achieved by the other. the other hand. however well it may the tactical level demonstrated the ability mitigated this risk. the OSS placed an agent in support provided by the Allies to achieve included sensitive sources and methods. “the cousins”—as Donovan Lessons for Future Efforts over time. severely hampering their ability against the Nazis. velop mid. bined UW operations during World intelligence assessments of likely areas of War II in the former Yugoslavia present future operations long before crises arise Strategic Choices and Risks today’s UW policymakers. This sharing authorities. who recognized in liberated areas of Eastern Europe to to participate in or conduct indepen. Intelligence is the criticality of unity of command and clearly a committed communist intent critical to the success of any endeavor. An effort was proposed that sought and had limited means to collect the OSS proposals for propaganda operations to heal or at least ameliorate the Chetnik. had little understanding An excellent example of this focus is there was at least one other course of ac. dent intelligence operations can create unilateral American goals until the ap- Churchill’s final choice to suspend all tension similar to that seen between propriate time. The unity of command This course of action offered the possibil. At the ligence required to support UW opera. The British superiority partners in the endeavor. Additionally. The key to this success was would be second. uted to the moderation exhibited by Tito cess promptly and in a way that builds vived the war and far beyond. The challenges associated with com. the Allies same time.and third-order related to conventional operations. others in the OSS. Whatever the decision. The Americans. American leaders at cal hindsight that other factors may have envy and distrust. Both of to effectively support policymakers. and Conover  133 . The third lesson is the criticality of tiple levels of command. 4th Quarter 2014 Duke. London who reported information on the most critical campaign objectives. the defeat of the Axis. to bring their expertise and understand. The United States must de- liked to call them—had become an alli. both in their were allowed and debate was encouraged. This level clear that where the clandestine arts were of sharing is built through commitment concerned. the coordination of policy and plans. gave them an advantage that bred leaders. on establishing a postwar political order but the breadth and specificity of intel. intelligence to educate them. The lesson here is that coalition members British government intentions toward Additionally. The correctness ligence with each other so that both talent at the operational level for the JFQ 75. The OSS in favor of supporting MacLean’s plan Partisan rift by bringing the two groups analysts were also kept in the United for facilitating Partisan lethal operations under the Combined Allied Command. planners. on of time and effort on nonessential tasks. and create intelligence networks and part- The thorniest of all the challenges and practitioners with several relevant nerships for effective intelligence-sharing facing the Allies in the conduct of the lessons for consideration. Consequently.war this competition developed to the of the decision can be measured by the governments were aware of develop- point where. As the American subordination of OSS consistent with those beliefs. Unlike general military intelligence of the war. there fruit. under the steady and calm leadership of intent on exploiting the political turmoil an imbalance in each side’s ability either President Roosevelt. Phillips. lowed resources to flow efficiently to the these options had their adherents among Fortunately. Differing views conscious acceptance of risk to long-term in intelligence operations. Churchill’s recognition and must develop ways to share the important Yugoslavia after the armistice. interests of the democratic West in order pool of talent and the way they put but serious threats to smooth operations to achieve a more rapid defeat of Nazi their talent far forward into the denied were dealt with quickly by American Germany. information required for operational suc- special British-American relationship sur. area. confidence in the long-term operational and ance of equals. demonstrated by the Allies allowed for ity of avoiding any ceding of Yugoslavia ing to bear on day-to-day operations or collegial planning that consequently al- to the Soviets after the war. UK were committed to sharing intel. States. British and Americans alike and at mul. Tito was and intelligence-sharing. but it was toward the West during the Cold War. the ability of both British and American consequences for Allied (particularly the admixture of political and cultural leaders to suppress national and personal British) interests and for the future of factors creates the need for detailed ambitions and to maintain the priority on the Yugoslavian peoples in the face of a intelligence long before the crisis erupts. the importance of precrisis intelligence The second lesson for the future is sion to support the Partisans. of the areas required to conduct UW American Franklin Lindsay’s resistance to tion. Yugoslavian campaign was the deci. The first is in those potential areas of operation. such as MacLean’s have been suppressed by Donovan and to avoid national agendas and diversions excellent handling of relations with Tito. Although it is clear in histori.

In fact. 1941–1945 (Rahway. undergrounds. Furthermore. 1982).co. cal karma. Closely related to this principle is the it is reasonable to conclude that America 17 Roberts. and many others. 1993).html>. 27. 2001). 45–46.independent.. Hudson. requires news/people/obituary—colonel-d-t-hud- acquaintance. and tactical considerations domain and method of warfare must 5 Ilija Jukic. 1941–1945: Occupation and Collaboration sessed all of these traits. and the success auxiliaries. be done successfully and how to manage the ability of those British SOE officers ments. will conduct UW operations within coali. NJ: Rutgers require technical military knowledge but way that national policy. qualifications of these extraordinary indi. 13 Ibid. forging effective command December 16. JFQ these SOE officers had formal military persuaded the Allies to expand aid and training. Beacons in the Night (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 99–>. cultural. reputation. Donovan. 457. 99.R. While the controversy over tions. November 14. in spite of modern 19 Ibid. Finally. Roberts. strategy. the politi. The Last Hero aspects. The British SOE clearly pos. 12 Ibid. Without parts explains well Yugoslavia’s relative from the past remain relevant. available at <www. petent special operations forces cannot be ful in increasing the burden borne by our 14 Roberts. tions around the globe. development in a vetted of balancing strategic choices and and ruling communist Yugoslavia were will require the United States to partner risk. political.T. Jovanovich. right combination of skills. this method of warfare. guerrilla forces.D. allies and friends in future conflicts. rapport that SOE and OSS operatives tinely in denied and politically sensitive cepts. 16 Ibid. The United States and security affairs within Yugoslavia Tito and maintained this rapport when would be wise to invest more thought was not developed at the Royal Military the relationship suffered due to political and study in order to successfully apply Academy at Sandhurst. Churchill’s decision to back the Partisans Americans being more globally aware 20 Lindsay. Their efforts the operatives showed any indication of paid off not only in defeating the German Notes prior assessment and selection for this forces in the Balkans but also in engen- particular mission other than meeting the dering goodwill toward the West that 1 Nikola Kapetanovic. experiences. 4th Quarter 2014 . created after an emergency occurs. 1973). 1974). and Jozo their reporting to inform good strategic the coalition and with the indigenous Tomasevich. 12.. accessible. Mihailovic and at that point in time and space not only boundaries. Shared privation and danger with useful. these intelligence. 2010. 28. Many were endured well into the Cold War era. 149– driving the conflict. still lingers today and while many of than the World War II generation. In UW campaigns. then 15 Brown. viduals. 10 Brown. 142–143. none of differences. 4 Anthony Cave Brown. if the United States is success... expressed desire for increasing the Understanding of Unconventional Warfare. thus limiting their usefulness in some partners in military and security opera. 453. The means to this end will (Stanford: Stanford University Press.20 burden-sharing among our international 136–138. important than hardware and that com. and University Press. they brought ethnic bias along with it. the “SOF truths” that people are more Hudson. 156. These SOE and OSS men history’s lessons. Whether by personal perhaps more than any other. MacLean demonstrated many of relationships among partner nations and to provide useful insights on the military the same strengths in his dealings with mitigate strategic risks. Tito. cal. developed through national commit. This demonstrates the veracity of and courage in the spirit of MacLean. Churchill’s decision to support the inconsistent with previous promises. 45–46. Tito and the Parti- sans: What Really Happened in Yugoslavia from general OSS requirements. Jukic. On the American side. UW operatives must have the confidence authorities. and via. Furthermore. the with nations who can operate clandes- Partisans was confirmed by signal inter. none of support Partisan operations. defining operational 9 “Off the Page—Fitzroy Maclean. Churchill would not have War.” Joint Force Quarterly 57 (2nd Quarter 2010).you- of senior policymakers who rely on structures. 11 Franklin Lindsay. sent because of their personal prewar 1952). 663. “Developing a Common possessed native language proficiency. Foot. 25. accessed at <www. The record the reporting from men such as Hudson openness to the West during the Cold of these OSS and SOE allies presents a and MacLean. perva- Tito’s postwar actions in establishing sive media and information technologies 134  Recall / Challenges in Coalition Unconventional Warfare JFQ 75. 156–157.. and detailed case study known if there was any other resistance the Partisans cemented ties already for how combined UW operations can group worthy of support. Brace. strategic.” The Independent. the lessons to act was only half the story. and building rapport within tube. or professional the development of new ways of sharing son-1581911. and although a few If the United States is sincere in its 3 Mark Grdovic. Those serving in the denied area and caveats of operating across national 7 Walter R. 1941 to 1945 (Belgrade: Jugoslovenska Knjiga. 142–143. 18 Brown. Because of the unique the Allies. also must possess the understanding of tactical concerns come together in UW 8 M. War and Revolution in Yugosla- decisions. OSS officers lacked Conclusion 2 Ibid. education in strategy. 456–457.” STV. 6 Ibid. every operating (New York: Times Books. of the campaign rested on the personal be people: men and women with the 35–36. but intelligence on Chetnik failures established with their Partisan counter. areas. The Fall of Yugoslavia (New of warfare all converge at a single focal come to grips with the complexities York: Harcourt. 76–87. point. ties to Donovan. and social dynamics operations. final lesson: the strategic benefit of tacti. 1995. Under these conditions. “Obituary: Colonel D.