The Malta Independent 21 October 2021, Thursday

Yugoslav Partisans In Malta

Malta Independent Sunday, 2 September 2012, 00:00 Last update: about 8 years ago

On 8 May 1944, the first batch of Yugoslav partisans left Malta after hospital treatment and military training to go home as combatants. At the camp those departing waved goodbye to those who stayed on, and climbed into lorries. The soldiers sang on their way to the Grand Harbour. On arrival they disembarked on the quayside and boarded the tender as they waved farewells to their comrades

Way back in 1977, as part of completing a project assigned to me as an MCAST student, I toured the Malta War Museum at Fort St Elmo and I remember glancing at one of the exhibits on display, which I recall, was a German machine gun, an Mp40, on display with a caption that said that it had been donated by the Yugoslav Partisans, which included female veterans of General Tito’s forces. These partisans came to Malta not only to recover from their wounds but also to prepare for their return to the fighting front.

The Colonial Film: moving images of the British Empire

Since that time I delved further on this chapter of Maltese Second World War history and discovered the existence of the Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire that holds detailed information on over 6000 films showing images of life in the British colonies. There are over 150 films available for viewing online and these can be searched or browsed for films by country, date, topic, or keyword. Over 350 of the most important films in the catalogue are presented with extensive critical notes written by the academic research team.

The Colonial Film website is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and features films from the British Film Institute, the Imperial War Museum, and the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum. Some of the films are related to the presence of Yugoslav Partisans in Malta.

British Official Photographs from the War Office show Yugoslav partisans (including women) learning how to handle weapons in Malta. One of the official captions reads as follows:

“Yugoslav Partisans making good use of their stay in Malta to learn the use of both Allied and enemy small arms. They are being taught by British instructors. They are also taught to handle Bren carriers by Maltese officers and other ranks of the Kings Own Malta Regiment. All these Yugoslavs are ex-hospital cases who were sent to Malta for treatment and now after convalescing are sent to their own camp for training. Their Commanding Officer is a Yugoslav Major.”

Another official photo shows wounded Yugoslav girl partisans on arrival in Malta. With regard to the films, these include footage of celebrations at the opening of a Yugoslav camp at Bingemma. Major Jerko Juricic read a speech and the flag was blessed by a Maltese Army chaplain. It is then handed over to a Yugoslav sailor who hoisted it. The Yugoslavs then marched.

At the Malta Command Weapon Training School the Yugoslav men and women fighters were taught by English instructors to handle and fire all common small arms used by the Allies, Italy and Germany. Maltese soldiers of the King’s Own Malta Regiment including Lieutenant Caruana gave instruction in the operation of Bren carriers. The Yugoslavs drive the carriers.

Other footage shows the burial of a Yugoslav soldier who died from his wounds at a Military Cemetery. A Guard of Honour from the Lancashire Fusiliers is present and the ceremony is conducted by a Maltese military padre. Wounded partisans arrive by bus to watch the service.

Origins of the

Partisan Resistance

The commander of the Partisans was Marshal Josip Broz Tito who was President of Yugoslavia from 1953 until his death in 1980. He was one of only two Communist European Presidents to visit Malta, the other President being Nicolae Andruta Ceausescu of Romania. The Yugoslav Partisans or simply the Partisans were a Communist-led anti-fascist resistance movement in Yugoslavia. The Partisans were the military arm of the People’s Liberation Front (JNOF) coalition, led by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and represented by the AVNOJ (Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia), the Yugoslav wartime deliberative assembly.

The Partisans’ goal was to create a communist state in Yugoslavia. To this end they attempted to appeal to all the various ethnic groups within Yugoslavia, by preserving the rights of each group. The rival resistance movement, the Chetniks, emerged earlier, were united by their desire to ensure the survival of the Serbian population, the ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs from areas under Chetnik control, and their loyalty to the old Royalist regime. Relations between the two movements were uneasy from the start, but from October 1941 they degenerated into full-scale conflict. To the Chetniks, Tito’s pan-ethnic policies seemed anti-Serbian, whereas the Chetniks’ royalism was anathema to the Communists.

Despite the fact that their name suggests the partisans fought as a guerrilla force, this was only true for the first three years of the conflict. From the second half of 1944, the total forces of the Partisans numbered 800,000 men and women organized in four field armies and 52 divisions, which engaged in conventional warfare. When referring to this period, sources often use the term People’s Liberation Army.

Increase of partisan

activities 1943-45

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 Uzice 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.

The “last battle of World War Two 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.

Composition of the

Partisan Movement

and casualties suffered

As the Partisan movement penetrated the Croatian mainstream and reached critical mass, by 1943 the majority of Partisans from Croatia were Croats. In late 1944, statistics show that the Croats represented 61% of the Partisan troops in Croatia, thus while the Serbian contribution of 28% represented above their proportion of the local population, the majority were Croat. The partisans also had a small navy and air force. According to statistics on partisan casualties by, amongst others, Strugar, Vlado (1969) in his book titled Jugoslavija 1941-1945, total of 245,549 partisans were killed in action, 31,200 died from their wounds and 28,925 went missing in action between 1941 and 1945.

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