The Partisans staged a guerrilla campaign which enjoyed gradually increased levels of success and support of the general populace, and succeeded in controlling large chunks of Yugoslav territory. These were managed via the "People's committees", organized to act as civilian governments in areas of the country controlled by the communists, even limited arms industries were set up. At the very beginning, Partisan forces were relatively small, poorly armed and without any infrastructure. They had two major advantages over other military and paramilitary formations in former Yugoslavia:
Occupying and quisling forces, however, were quite aware of the Partisan threat, and attempted to destroy the resistance in what Yugoslav historiographers defined as seven major enemy offensives. These are:
Partisans operated as a regular army that remained highly mobile across occupied Yugoslavia. Partisan units engaged in overt acts of resistance which led to significant reprisals against civilians by Axis forces. The killing of civilians discouraged the Chetniks from carrying out overt resistance, however the Partisans were not fazed and continued overt resistance which disrupted Axis forces, but led to significant civilian casualties.
Later in the conflict the Partisans were able to win the moral, as well as limited material support of the western Allies, who until then had supported General Draža Mihailović's Chetnik Forces, but were finally convinced of their collaboration fighting by many military missions dispatched to both sides during the course of the war.
To gather intelligence, agents of the western Allies were infiltrated into both the Partisans and the Chetniks. The intelligence gathered by liaisons to the resistance groups was crucial to the success of supply missions and was the primary influence on Allied strategy in Yugoslavia. The search for intelligence ultimately resulted in the demise of the Chetniks and their eclipse by Tito's Partisans. In 1942, although supplies were limited, token support was sent equally to each. The new year would bring a change. The Germans were executing Operation Schwarz (the Fifth anti-Partisan offensive), one of a series of offensives aimed at the resistance fighters, when F.W.D. Deakin was sent by the British to gather information. On April 13th 1941, Winston Churchill sent his greetings to the Yugoslav people. In his greeting he stated:
His reports contained two important observations. The first was that the Partisans were courageous and aggressive in battling the German 1st Mountain and 104th Light Division, had suffered significant casualties, and required support. The second observation was that the entire German 1st Mountain Division had traveled from Russia by railway through Chetnik-controlled territory. British intercepts (ULTRA) of German message traffic confirmed Chetnik timidity. All in all, intelligence reports resulted in increased Allied interest in Yugoslavia air operations and shifted policy. In September 1943, at Churchill's request, Brigadier General Fitzroy Maclean was parachuted to Tito's headquarters near Drvar to serve as a permanent, formal liaison to the Partisans. While the Chetniks were still occasionally supplied, the Partisans received the bulk of all future support.
Thus, after the Tehran Conference the Partisans received official recognition as the legitimate national liberation force by the Allies, who subsequently set up the RAF Balkan Air Force (under the influence and suggestion of Brigadier-General Fitzroy Maclean) with the aim to provide increased supplies and tactical air support for Marshal Tito's Partisan forces. During a meeting with Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Combined Chiefs of Staff of 24 November 1943, Winston Churchill pointed out that:
With Allied air support (Operation Flotsam) and assistance from the Red Army, in the second half of 1944 the Partisans turned their attention to Serbia, which had seen relatively little fighting since the fall of the Republic of Užice in 1941. On 20 October, the Red Army and the Partisans liberated Belgrade in a joint operation known as the Belgrade Offensive. At the onset of winter, the Partisans effectively controlled the entire eastern half of Yugoslavia – Serbia, Vardar Macedonia and Montenegro, as well as the Dalmatian coast.
In 1945, the Partisans, numbering over 800,000 strong defeated the Armed Forces of the Independent State of Croatia and the Wehrmacht, achieving a hard-fought breakthrough in the Syrmian front in late winter, taking Sarajevo in early April, and the rest of the NDH and Slovenia through mid-May. After taking Rijeka and Istria, which were part of Italy before the war, they beat the Allies to Trieste by two days. The "last battle of World War II in Europe", the Battle of Poljana, was fought between the Partisans and retreating Wehrmacht and quisling forces at Poljana, near Prevalje in Carinthia, on 14–15 May 1945.
The Axis invasion led to the division of Yugoslavia between the Axis powers and the Independent State of Croatia. The largest part of Serbia was organized into the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia and as such it was the only example of military regime in occupied Europe. The Military Committee of the Provincial Committee of the Communist Party for Serbia was formed in mid-May 1941. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia arrived in Belgrade in late May, and this was of great importance for the development of the resistance in Yugoslavia. After their arrival, the Central Committee held conferences with local party officials. The decision for preparing the struggle in Serbia issued on June 23, 1941 at the meeting of the Provincial Committee for Serbia. On July 5, a communist party proclamation appeared that called upon the Serbian people to struggle against the invaders. Western Serbia was chosen as the base of the uprising, which later spread to other parts of Serbia. A short-lived republic was created in the liberated west, the first liberated territory in Europe. The uprising was suppressed by German forces by 29 November 1941. The Main National Liberation Committee for Serbia is believed to have been founded in Užice on 17 November 1941. It was the body of the Partisan resistance in Serbian territory.
The Anti-fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Serbia was held 9–12 November 1944.
Tito's post-war government built numerous monuments and memorials in Serbia after the war.
Serbian Partisan detachments entered Bosnian territory after the Operation Uzice which saw the Serbian uprising quelled. The Bosnian Partisans were heavily reduced during Operation Trio (1942) on the resistance in eastern Bosnia.
The National Liberation Movement in Croatia was part of the anti-fascist National Liberational Movement in the Axis-occupied Yugoslavia which was the most effective anti-Nazi resistance movement led by Yugoslav revolutionary communists during the Second World War. NOP was under the leadership of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (KPJ) and supported by many others, with Croatian Peasant Party members contributing to it significantly. NOP units were able to temporarily or permanently liberate large parts of Croatia from occupying forces. Based on the NOP, the Federal Republic of Croatia was founded as a constituent of the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia.
Aside from ground forces, the Yugoslav Partisans were the only resistance movement in occupied Europe to employ significant air and naval forces.
Naval forces of the resistance were formed as early as 19 September 1942, when Partisans in Dalmatia formed their first naval unit made of fishing boats, which gradually evolved into a force able to engage the Italian Navy and Kriegsmarine and conduct complex amphibious operations. This event is considered to be the foundation of the Yugoslav Navy. At its peak during World War II, the Yugoslav Partisans' Navy commanded 9 or 10 armed ships, 30 patrol boats, close to 200 support ships, six coastal batteries, and several Partisan detachments on the islands, around 3,000 men. On 26 October 1943, it was organized first into four, and later into six, Maritime Coastal Sectors (Pomorsko Obalni Sektor, POS). The task of the naval forces was to secure supremacy at sea, organize defense of coast and islands, and attack enemy sea traffic and forces on the islands and along the coasts.
The Partisans gained an effective air force in May 1942, when the pilots of two aircraft belonging to the Air Force of the Independent State of Croatia (French-designed and Yugoslav-built Potez 25, and Breguet 19 biplanes, themselves formerly of the Royal Yugoslav Air Force), Franjo Kluz and Rudi Čajavec, defected to the Partisans in Bosnia. Later, these pilots used their aircraft against Axis forces in limited operations. Although short-lived due to a lack of infrastructure, this was the first instance of a resistance movement having its own air force. Later, the air force would be re-established and destroyed several times until its permanent institution. The Partisans later established a permanent air force by obtaining aircraft, equipment, and training from captured Axis aircraft, the British Royal Air Force (see BAF), and later the Soviet Air Force.
Yugoslav Partisans were a predominantly Serb movement into 1943. Also, it should be kept in mind that until the middle of the war the Partisans were in control of relatively large liberated areas only in parts of Bosnia. Over the entirety of the war according to the records of recipients of Partisan pensions from 1977, the ethnic composition of the Partisans was 53 percent Serb, 18.6 percent Croat, 9.2 percent Slovene, 5.5 percent Montenegrin, 3.5 percent Bosnian Muslim, and 2.7 percent Macedonian. Much of the remainder of the NOP's membership was made up of Albanians, Hungarians and those self-identifying as Yugoslavs. According to Tito, by May 1944, the ethnic composition of the Partisans was 44 percent Serb, 30 percent Croat, 10 percent Slovene, 5 percent Montenegrin, 2.5 percent Macedonian, and 2.5 percent Bosnian Muslim. Italians were also in the army: 20,000 Italian fighters were in 9th Corps (Yugoslav Partisans), Partisan Battalion Pino Budicin, Partisan Division "Garibaldi" and Division Italia (Yugoslavia) later. Following the Soviet-Bulgarian offensive in Serbia and North Macedonia in the autumn of 1944, mass Partisan conscription of Serbs, Macedonians and eventually Kosovo Albanians increased. The number of Serbian Partisan brigades went up from 28 in June 1944 to 60 by the end of the year. In regional terms, the Partisan movement was therefore disproportionately west Yugoslav, particularly from Croatia, while until the autumn of 1944, Serbia's contribution was disproportionately small. During 1941 until September 1943 from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina 1,064 of Jews joined the Partisans, and largest part of Jews joined the Partisans after the capitulation of Italy in 1943. At the end of the war 2,339 of Jewish Partisans from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina survived while 804 were killed. Most of the Jews who joined the Yugoslavian partisans were from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and according to Romano this number is 4,572 while them 1318 were killed.
According to the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum,
By April 1945, there were some 800,000 soldiers in the Partisan army. Composition by region (ethnicity is not taken into account) from late 1941 to late 1944 was as follows:
According to Fabijan Trgo in the summer of 1944 National Liberation Army has about 350,000 soldiers in 39 divisions, which are grouped into 12 Corps. In September 1944 about 100,000 soldiers in 17 divisions was ready to enter the final phase of the battle for the liberation of Serbia, overall in all Yugoslavian areas National Liberation Army has about 400,000 armed soldiers. That is, 15 corps, ie 50 divisions, 2 operational groups, 16 independent brigades, 130 partisan detachments, the navy and the first aviation formations. At the beginning of 1945, the number of soldiers was about 600,000. On March 1, Yugoslav Army has more than 800,000 soldiers, grouped in 63 divisions.
The Chetniks were a mainly Serb-oriented group and their Serb nationalism resulted in an inability to recruit or appeal to many non-Serbs. The Partisans played down communism in favour of a Popular Front approach which appealed to all Yugoslavs. In Bosnia, the Partisan rallying cry was for a country which was to be neither Serbian nor Croatian nor Muslim, but instead to be free and brotherly in which full equality of all groups would be ensured. Nevertheless, Serbs remained the dominant ethnic group in the Yugoslav Partisans throughout the war. Italian collaboration with Chetniks in northern Dalmatia resulted in atrocities which further galvanized support for the Partisans among Dalmatian Croats. Chetnik attacks on Gata, near Split, resulted in the slaughter of some 200 Croatian civilians.
In particular, Mussolini's policy of forced Italianization ensured the first significant number of Croats joining the Partisans in late 1941. In other areas, recruitment of Croats was hindered by some Serbs' tendency to view the organisation as exclusively Serb, rejecting non-Serb members and raiding the villages of their Croat neighbours. A group of Jewish youths from Sarajevo attempted to join a Partisan detachment in Kalinovnik, but the Serbian Partisans turned them back to Sarajevo, where many were captured by the Axis forces and perished. Attacks from Croatian Ustaše on the Serbian population was considered to be one of the important reasons for the rise of guerrilla activities, thus aiding an ever-growing Partisan resistance. Following the capitulation of Italy and subsequent Belgrade Offensive, many members of the Ustaše joined the partisans.
At the beginning of the war, the dominant Serb composition of the Partisan rank and file and alliance with the Chetniks, who were engaged in atrocities and killing of Croat and Muslim civilians, forced Croats and Muslims not to join the Bosnian Partisans. Until early 1942, the Partisans in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who were almost exclusively Serbs, cooperated closely with the Chetniks, and some Partisans in eastern Herzegovina and western Bosnia refused to accept Muslims into their ranks. For many Muslims, the behavior of these Serb Partisans towards them meant that there was little difference for them between the Partisans and Chetniks. However, in some areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina the Partisans were successful in attracting both Muslims and Croats from the beginning, notably in the Kozara Mountain area in north-west Bosnia and the Romanija Mountain area near Sarajevo. In the Kozara area, Muslims and Croats made up 25 percent of Partisan strength by the end of 1941.
According to Hoare, by late 1943, 70% of the Partisans in Bosnia and Herzegovina were Serb and 30% were Croat and Muslim. At the end of 1977, Bosnian recipients of war pensions were 64.1% Serb, 23% Muslim, and 8.8% Croat.
In 1941–42, the majority of Partisans in Croatia were Serbs, but by October 1943 the majority were Croats. This change was partly due to the decision of a key Croatian Peasant Party member, Božidar Magovac, to join the Partisans in June 1943, and partly due to the surrender of Italy. At the moment of the capitulation of Italy to the Allies the Serbs and Croats were participating equally according to their respective population sizes in Yugoslavia as a whole. According to Goldstein, among Croatian partisans at the end of 1941, 77% were Serbs and 21.5% were Croats, and others as well as unknown nationalities. The percentage of Croats in the Partisans had increased to 32% by August 1942, and 34% by September 1943. After the capitulation of Italy, it increased further. At the end of 1944 there were 60.4% Croats, 28.6% Serbs and 11% of other nationalities (2.8% Muslims, Slovenes, Montenegrins, Italians, Hungarians, Czechs, Jews and Volksdeutsche) in Croatian partisan units. According to Ivo Banac, the Croatian Partisan movement in the second half of 1944 had about 150,000 combatants under arms, while 100,070 were in operative units where Croats numbered 60,703 (60.66%), Serbs 24,528 (24.51%), Slovenes 5,113 (5.11%), and others. The Serb contribution to Croatian Partisans represented more than their proportion of the local population.
Croatian Partisans were integral to overall Yugoslav Partisans with ethnic Croats in prominent positions in the movement since the very beginning of the war; According to some researchers writing during 1990s, like Cohen, by the end of 1943, Croatia proper, with 24% of the Yugoslav population, provided more Partisans than Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia combined (though not more than Bosnia and Herzegovina). In early 1943 Partisans took steps to establish ZAVNOH (National Anti-Fascist Council of the People's Liberation of Croatia) to act as a parliamentary body for all of Croatia – the only one of its kind in occupied Europe. ZAVNOH held three plenary sessions during the war in areas which remained surrounded by Axis troops. At its fourth and last session, held on 24–25 July 1945 in Zagreb, ZAVNOH proclaimed itself as the Croatian Parliament or Sabor.
By the end of 1941 in the territory of the NDH, Serbs comprised approximately one-third of the population but about 95% of all Partisans. This numerical dominance lessened later, but until 1943 Serbs formed a majority of Partisans in Croatia (including Dalmatia). Territories in Croatia proper with a substantial number of Serb inhabitants (Lika, Banija, Kordun) formed the most important source of manpower for the Partisans. In May 1941 the Ustasha regime ceded northern Dalmatia to Fascist Italy, which caused increasingly massive support for the Partisans among the Croats of Dalmatia. In other parts of Croatia Croat support toward the Partisans gradually increased due to Ustasha and Axis violence and misrule, but much more slowly than in Dalmatia. There were only 1,492 Partisans from Serbia out of the 22,148 Partisans of Tito's Main Operational Group at the Battle of the River Sutjeska in June 1943, and 8,925 were from Croatia (of which 5,195 were from Dalmatia), but in ethnic terms, 11,851 were Serbs against 5,220 Croats. At the end of 1943 all 13 Dalmatian Partisan brigades had a Croat majority, but among the 25 Partisan brigades from Croatian proper (without Dalmatia) only 7 had a Croat majority (17 had a Serb majority and one had a Czech majority). According to historians Tvrtko Jakovina and Davor Marijan the main reason for massive participation of Croats in Battle of the Sutjeska in June 1943 was ongoging terror of Italian fascists.
According to Tito, one-quarter of Zagreb's population ie more than 50,000 of citizens participated in the Partisan struggle during which over 20,000 of them were killed (half of them as active fighters). As Partisan combatants 4,709 citizens of Zagreb were killed while 15,129 were killed in Ustasha and Nazi prisons and concentration camps, and another 6,500 were killed during anti-insurgency operations.
In the final offensive for the liberation of Yugoslavia, from Croatia was engaged 165,000 soldiers mostly for the liberation of Croatia. On Croatian territory after 30 November 1944 in combat with the enemy participated 5 corps, 15 divisions, 54 brigades and 35 Partisan detachments, a total of 121,341 soldiers (117,112 men and 4239 woman) which at the end of 1944 made up about third of the entire armed forces of the National Liberation Army. At the same time, on the territory of Croatia there was 340,000 of German soldiers, 150,000 of Ustasha and Home Guard soldiers while the Chetniks at beginning of 1945 withdrew towards Slovenia. According to the ethnic composition of Partisans, most were Croats 73,327 or 60.40%, followed by Serbs 34,753 or 28.64%, Muslims 3,316 or 2.75%, Jews 284 or 0.25% and Slovenes, Montenegrins and others with 9,671 or 7.96%, (number of Partisans and ethnic composition does not include 9 brigades which were engaged outside of Croatia).
By the end of September 1941, 24 detachments have been established with approximately 14,000 soldiers. By the end of 1943, 97 Partisan brigades existed overall, while in the eastern parts of Yugoslavia (Vojvodina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia) 18 Partisan brigades existed. In Serbia during the spring and summer of 1944, many Chetnik deserters and prisoners joined Partisans units. When the Soviets liberated Serbia at the end of 1944, mass Partisan mobilization of Serbians, Macedonians and eventually Kosovo Albanians began, which led to a balanced geographical contribution between the eastern and western Yugoslavian Partisan movements. Serbia’s contribution to the Partisan movement prior to the autumn of 1944 was disproportionately small. At the end of September 1944, Serbia had about 70,000 soldiers under the command of the Main Staff of Serbia of which in the 13th Corps were about 30,000 soldiers, in the 14th Corps 32,463 soldiers and in the 2nd Proletarian Division 4,600 soldiers.
During World War II, Slovenia was in a unique situation in Europe. Only Greece shared its experience of being trisected; however, Slovenia was the only country that experienced a further step – absorption and annexation into neighboring Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Hungary. As the very existence of the Slovene nation was threatened, the Slovene support for the Partisan movement was much more solid than in Croatia or Serbia. An emphasis on the defence of ethnic identity was shown by naming the troops after important Slovene poets and writers, following the example of the Ivan Cankar battalion.
At the very beginning the Partisan forces were small, poorly armed and without any infrastructure, but Spanish Civil War veterans amongst them had some experience with guerrilla warfare. The Partisan movement in Slovenia functioned as the military arm of the Liberation Front of the Slovene Nation, an Anti-Fascist resistance platform established in the Province of Ljubljana on 26 April 1941, which originally consisted of multiple groups of left wing orientation, most notable being Communist Party and Christian Socialists. During the course of the war, the influence of the Communist Party of Slovenia started to grow, until its supremacy was officially sanctioned in the Dolomiti Declaration of 1 March 1943. Some of the members of Liberation Front and partisans were ex-members of the TIGR resistance movement.
Representatives of all political groups in Liberation Front participated in Supreme Plenum of Liberation Front, which led the resistance efforts in Slovenia. Supreme Plenum was active until 3 October 1943 when, at the Assembly of the Slovenian Nation's Delegates in Kočevje, the 120-member Liberation Front Plenum was elected as the supreme body of the Slovenian Liberation Front. The plenum also functioned as Slovenian National Liberation Committee, the supreme authority in Slovenia. Some historians consider the Kočevje Assembly to be the first Slovene elected parliament and Slovene Partisans as its representatives also participated on 2nd session of the AVNOJ and were instrumental in adding the self-determination clause to the resolution on the establishment of a new federal Yugoslavia. The Liberation Front Plenum was renamed the Slovenian National Liberation Council at the conference in Črnomelj on 19 February 1944 and transformed into the Slovenian parliament.
The Slovene Partisans retained their specific organizational structure and Slovene language as the commanding language until the last months of World War II, when their language was removed as the commanding language. From 1942 till after 1944, they wore the Triglavka cap, which was then gradually replaced with the Titovka cap as part of their uniform. In March 1945, the Slovene Partisan Units were officially merged with the Yugoslav Army and thus ceased to exist as a separate formation.
The partisan activities in Slovenia started in 1941 and were independent of Tito's partisans in the south. In autumn 1942, Tito attempted for the first time to control the Slovene resistance movement. Arsa Jovanović, a leading Yugoslav communist who was sent from Tito's Supreme Command of Yugoslav partisan resistance, ended his mission to establish central control over the Slovene partisans unsuccessfully in April 1943. The merger of the Slovene Partisans with Tito's forces happened in 1944.
In December 1943, Franja Partisan Hospital was built in difficult and rugged terrain, only a few hours from Austria and the central parts of Germany. The partisans broadcast their own radio program called Radio Kričač, the location of which never became known to occupying forces, although the receiver antennas from the local population had been confiscated.
Despite their success, the Partisans suffered heavy casualties throughout the war. The table depicts Partisan losses, 7 July 1941 – 16 May 1945:
According to Ivo Goldstein, 82,000 Serbs and 42,000 Croats was killed on NDH territory as partisan combatants.
The Partisans were responsible for the successful and sustained evacuation of downed Allied airmen from the Balkans. For example, between 1 January and 15 October 1944, according to statistics compiled by the US Air Force Air Crew Rescue Unit, 1,152 American airmen were airlifted from Yugoslavia, 795 with Partisan assistance and 356 with the help of the Chetniks. Yugoslav Partisans in Slovene territory rescued 303 American airmen, 389 British airmen and prisoners of war, and 120 French and other prisoners of war and slave laborers.
The Partisans also assisted hundreds of Allied soldiers who succeeded in escaping from German POW camps (mostly in southern Austria) throughout the war, but especially from 1943 to 1945. These were transported across Slovenia, from where many were airlifted from Semič, while others made the longer overland trek down through Croatia for a boat passage to Bari in Italy. In the spring of 1944, the British military mission in Slovenia reported that there was a "steady, slow trickle" of escapes from these camps. They were being assisted by local civilians, and on contacting Partisans on the general line of the River Drava, they were able to make their way to safety with Partisan guides.
A total of 132 Allied prisoners of war were rescued from the Germans by the Partisans in a single operation in August 1944 in what is known as the Raid at Ožbalt. In June 1944, the Allied escape organization began to take an active interest in assisting prisoners from camps in southern Austria and evacuating them through Yugoslavia. A post of the Allied mission in northern Slovenia had found that at Ožbalt, just on the Austrian side of the border, about 50 km (31 mi) from Maribor, there was a poorly guarded working camp from which a raid by Slovene Partisans could free all the prisoners. Over 100 POWs were transported from Stalag XVIII-D at Maribor to Ožbalt each morning to do railway maintenance work, and returned to their quarters in the evening. Contact was made between Partisans and the prisoners with the result that at the end of August a group of seven slipped away past a sleeping guard at 15:00, and at 21:00 the men were celebrating with the Partisans in a village, 8 km (5.0 mi) away on the Yugoslav side of the border.
The seven escapees arranged with the Partisans for the rest of the camp to be freed the following day. Next morning, the seven returned with about a hundred Partisans to await the arrival of the work-party by the usual train. As soon as work had begun the Partisans, to quote a New Zealand eye-witness, "swooped down the hillside and disarmed the eighteen guards". In a short time prisoners, guards, and civilian overseers were being escorted along the route used by the first seven prisoners the previous evening. At the first headquarters camp reached, details were taken of the total of 132 escaped prisoners for transmission by radio to England. Progress along the evacuation route south was difficult, as German patrols were very active. A night ambush by one such patrol caused the loss of two prisoners and two of the escort. Eventually they reached Semič, in White Carniola, Slovenia, which was a Partisan base catering for POWs. They were flown across to Bari on 21 September 1944 from the airport of Otok near Gradac.
SFR Yugoslavia was one of only two European countries that were largely liberated by its own forces during World War II. It received significant assistance from the Soviet Union during the liberation of Serbia, and substantial assistance from the Balkan Air Force from mid-1944, but only limited assistance, mainly from the British, prior to 1944. At the end of the war no foreign troops were stationed on its soil. Partly as a result, the country found itself halfway between the two camps at the onset of the Cold War.
In 1947–48, the Soviet Union attempted to command obedience from Yugoslavia, primarily on issues of foreign policy, which resulted in the Tito-Stalin split and almost ignited an armed conflict. A period of very cool relations with the Soviet Union followed, during which the U.S. and the UK considered courting Yugoslavia into the newly formed NATO. This however changed in 1953 with the Trieste crisis, a tense dispute between Yugoslavia and the Western Allies over the eventual Yugoslav-Italian border (see Free Territory of Trieste), and with Yugoslav-Soviet reconciliation in 1956. This ambivalent position at the start of the Cold War matured into the non-aligned foreign policy which Yugoslavia actively espoused until its dissolution.
The Partisans massacred civilians during and after the war. On 27 July 1941, Partisan-led units massacred around 100 Croat civilians in Bosansko Grahovo and 300 in Trubar during the Drvar uprising against the NDH. Between 5-8 September 1941, some 1,000-3,000 Muslim civilians and soldiers, including 100 Croats were massacred by the Partisan Drvar Brigade. A number of Partisan units, and the local population in some areas, engaged in mass murder in the immediate postwar period against POWs and other perceived Axis sympathizers, collaborators, and/or fascists along with their relatives, including children. These infamous massacres include the Foibe massacres, Tezno massacre, Macelj massacre, Kočevski Rog massacre, Barbara Pit massacre and the communist purges in Serbia in 1944–45.
The repatriations at Bleiburg (although scholars disagree on how many people died and no number has been officially recognized or agreed upon) of retreating columns of Chetnik and Slovene Home Guard troops, and soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Independent State of Croatia and thousands of civilians heading or retreating towards Austria to surrender to western Allied forces, have been called a "massacre". The "foibe massacres" draw their name from the "foibe" pits in which Croatian Partisans of the 8th Dalmatian Corps (often along with groups of angry civilian locals) shot Italian fascists, and suspected collaborationists and/or separatists. According to a mixed Slovene-Italian historical commission established in 1993, which investigated only on what happened in places included in present-day Italy and Slovenia, the killings seemed to proceed from endeavors to remove persons linked with fascism (regardless of their personal responsibility), and endeavors to carry out mass executions of real, potential or only alleged opponents of the Communist government. The 1944-1945 killings in Bačka were similar in nature and entailed the killing of suspected Hungarian, German and Serbian fascists, and their suspected affiliates, without regard to their personal responsibility. During this purge, a large number of civilians from the associated ethnic group were also killed.[page needed]
The Partisans did not have an official agenda of liquidating their enemies and their cardinal ideal was the "brotherhood and unity" of all Yugoslav nations (the phrase became the motto for the new Yugoslavia). The country suffered between 900,000 and 1,150,000 civilian and military dead during the Axis occupation. Between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed in the partisan purges and at least 30,000 people were killed in the Bleiburg killings, according to Marcus Tanner in his work, Croatia: a Nation Forged in War.
This chapter of Partisan history was a taboo subject for conversation in the SFR Yugoslavia until the late 1980s, and as a result, decades of official silence created a reaction in the form of numerous data manipulation for nationalist propaganda purposes.
The first small arms for the Partisans were acquired from the defeated Royal Yugoslav Army, like the M24 Mauser rifle. Throughout the war the Partisans used any weapons they could find, mostly weapons captured from the Germans, Italians, Army of the NDH, Ustaše and the Chetniks, such as the Karabiner 98k rifle, MP 40 submachine gun, MG 34 machine gun, Carcano rifles and carbines and Beretta submachine guns. The other way that the Partisans acquired weapons was from supplies given to them by the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, including the PPSh-41 and the Sten MKII submachine guns respectively. Additionally, Partisan workshops created their own weapons modelled on factory-made weapons already in use, including the so-called "Partisan rifle" and the anti-tank "Partisan mortar".
The Yugoslav Partisans mobilized many women. The Yugoslav National Liberation Movement claimed 6,000,000 civilian supporters; its two million women formed the Antifascist Front of Women (AFŽ), in which the revolutionary coexisted with the traditional. The AFŽ managed schools, hospitals and even local governments. About 100,000 women served with 600,000 men in Tito's Yugoslav National Liberation Army. It stressed its dedication to women's rights and gender equality and used the imagery of traditional folklore heroines to attract and legitimize the partizanka (Partisan Woman). After the war, women returned to traditional gender roles, but Yugoslavia is unique as its historians paid extensive attention to women's roles in the resistance, until the country broke up in the 1990s. Then the memory of the women soldiers faded away.
The Partisan legacy is the subject of considerable debate and controversy due to the rise of ethnic nationalism in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Historical negationism following the breakup of Yugoslavia has rendered the movement ideologically incompatible within the post-Communist sociopolitical framework. This revisionist historiography has causing the Partisan's role in World War II to be generally ignored, disparaged or attacked within successor states.
Despite social changes commemorative tributes to the Partisan struggle are still observed throughout the former Yugoslavia, and are attended by veteran associations, descendants, Titoists, leftists and sympathisers.
The successor branches of the former Association of War Veterans of the People's Liberation War (SUBNOR), represent Partisan veterans in each republic and lobby against political and legal rehabilitation of war collaborators, along with efforts to renamed streets and public squares. These organisation's also maintain monuments and memorials dedicated to the People's Liberation War and anti-fascism in each respective nation.
According to Vladimir Dedijer, more than 40,000 works of folk poetry were inspired by the Partisans.