Military Wiki
Pavle Đurišić
Native name Павле Ђуришић
Born (1909-07-09)9 July 1909
Died April 1945 (aged 35)
Place of birth Podgorica, Principality of Montenegro
Place of death Independent State of Croatia
Place of burial Unknown
Service/branch Army
Years of service 1927–45
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Commands held

Pavle Đurišić (Serbian Cyrillic: Павле Ђуришић, pronounced [pâːvle d͡ʑǔriʃit͡ɕ]; 9 July 1909 – April 1945) was a Montenegrin Serb professional officer of the Royal Yugoslav Army who became a Chetnik commander (vojvoda) and led a significant proportion of the Chetniks of Montenegro during World War II. After distinguishing himself and emerging as one of the main commanders during the popular uprising against the Italians in Montenegro in July 1941, he then collaborated with them in actions against the Yugoslav Partisans. In 1943, troops under his command carried out several massacres against the Muslim population of Bosnia, Herzegovina and the Sandžak and participated in the anti-Partisan Case White offensive alongside Italian troops. He was captured by the Germans in May 1943, escaped and was re-captured.

After the capitulation of Italy, Đurišić was released by the Germans and began collaborating with them and the Serbian puppet government. In 1944, he created the Montenegrin Volunteer Corps with assistance from the Germans, Milan Nedić, and Dimitrije Ljotić. In late 1944, he was decorated with the Iron Cross 2nd Class by the German commander in Montenegro. He was killed by elements of the Armed Forces of the Independent State of Croatia near Banja Luka after he was captured in an apparent trap set by them and Sekula Drljević. Some of his troops were killed either in this battle or later attacks by the Partisans as they continued their withdrawal west. Others attempted to withdraw to Austria, were forced to surrender to the Partisans, and were killed in the Kočevski Rog area of southern Slovenia in May–June 1945. Đurišić was a very able Yugoslav Chetnik leader, and his fighting skills were respected by his allies and opponents alike.

Early life[]

Pavle Đurišić was born on 9 July 1909 in Podgorica, Principality of Montenegro, where he was raised until the death of his father Ilija.[1] Some sources state his year of birth was 1907.[2] Educated up to lower secondary school, he moved to Berane, where he lived with his uncle, Petar Radović, a judge and former Chetnik who had been a member of the band of Vuk Popović during the Macedonian Struggle. Đurišić attended a teacher training college in Berane for almost two years.[1]

In 1927, Đurišić entered a military academy and in 1930 he was commissioned as an infantry lieutenant in the Royal Yugoslav Army. He began his service in Sarajevo as part of the 10th Infantry Regiment, attending infantry officers' school. He remained in Sarajevo until 1934 when, upon his own request, he was relocated to Berane where he served first as a platoon commander and later as a commander of the first company of the 48th Infantry Regiment. On 7 April 1939, after the Italian invasion of Albania, Đurišić's troops travelled to Plav in the immediate vicinity of the Albanian border with the task of gathering intelligence. He established contact with many individuals in Albania and organized several sources of intelligence, but ultimately managed to be of little help and returned to Berane.[1]

World War II[]

Axis invasion and Italian occupation of Montenegro[]

In April 1941, Germany and Italy invaded Montenegro, the Germans from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Italians from Albania. The Germans later withdrew, leaving the Italians to occupy the area. The Montenegrins quickly developed grievances against the Italians. These grievances mainly related to the expulsion of Montenegrin people from the Kosovo region and Vojvodina, as well as the influx of refugees from other parts of Yugoslavia and those fleeing the Ustaše terror in the regions along the borders with Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Montenegrin people also had grievances against the Italians regarding their annexation of important food producing territory in Kosovo and a salt producing facility at Ulcinj to Albania, and the economic damage inflicted on many Montenegrins by the temporary removal from circulation of Yugoslav banknotes of 500 dinars and more.[3]

Uprising in Montenegro[]

In mid-July 1941, there was a general uprising against the Italians, initiated by the . The event that triggered the uprising was the proclamation of a restored Kingdom of Montenegro headed by an Italian regent and led by Montenegrin separatist Sekula Drljević and his supporters, known as "Greens" (zelenaši).[4][5] The insurgents also included large numbers of Serb nationalists known as "Whites" (bjelaši), who "stood for close ties to Serbia",[5] and former Royal Yugoslav Army officers, some of whom had recently been released from prisoner-of-war camps. Officers were in command with the communists doing the organisation and providing political commissars.[6] The rebels seized control of small towns and villages in the early phase of the uprising. Amidst the worst of the fighting during the successful attack he led on Berane, then-Captain Đurišić distinguished himself,[7][8] and emerged as one of the main commanders of the uprising.[9] A force of 67,000 Italian troops regained control over all towns and communication routes within six weeks, assisted by Muslim and Albanian irregular forces from border areas who provided flank security. The Italian military governor of Montenegro General Alessandro Pirzio Biroli issued the orders to crush the revolt, but directed his forces to avoid "acts of revenge and useless cruelty". Nevertheless, in crushing the revolt dozens of villages were burned, hundreds were killed and between 10,000 and 20,000 inhabitants were interned. For a while, the Muslim and Albanian irregulars were permitted to pillage and torch villages.[10]

A split then developed between the communist leaders of the uprising and the nationalists that had participated.[11] The nationalists recognized that the uprising had been defeated and wanted to stop fighting, unlike the Partisans who were determined to continue the struggle.[5] During the autumn the nationalists contacted the Italians and offered to assist them to fight the Partisans.[5] Subsequently, the nationalists, including Đurišić who was popular in his own Vasojević clan of northern Montenegro, withdrew into the hinterland.[12] The focus of the nationalists such as Đurišić was to avoid provoking the Italians but to protect the mountain villages if they were attacked.[13] In northern Montenegro, there was a marked distinction between the communists and nationalists, with the nationalists having closer ties with Serbia and a "frontier" mentality towards Muslims. The communists wanted to continue with the revolution by turning against their class enemies, whilst Ustaše manipulation of the Muslims in the Sandžak and the expulsion of Serbs from the areas annexed by Albania combined to make Đurišić and his Chetniks impatient to continue with the uprising by turning on the Muslims and Albanians in the region.[14] The uprising continued to a reduced extent until December 1941.[6]

Collaboration with the Italians against the Partisans in Montenegro[]

In October 1941, Draža Mihailović, a prominent Chetnik leader later supported by the Yugoslav government-in-exile, appointed Đurišić as the commander of all regular and reserve troops in central and eastern Montenegro and parts of the Sandžak.[15] During 1941 he was awarded the Order of the Karađorđe's Star by the Yugoslav government-in-exile on the recommendation of Mihailović.[16]

Traveling to Serbia in late December 1941 and early January 1942 to meet with Mihailović, Đurišić returned with detailed instructions which bore Mihailović's signature. These instructions included directives for "cleansing the Muslim population from Sandžak and the Muslim and Croat populations from Bosnia and Herzegovina" amongst other orders.[17] Historians Lucien Karchmar, Stevan K. Pavlowitch and Noel Malcolm believe that the document was a forgery made by Đurišić after he failed to reach Mihailović, who, because German forces in Serbia had mounted an operation targeting Mihailović's forces, had been driven out of Ravna Gora.[18][19][20] In contrast, historians Matteo J. Milazzo, Jozo Tomasevich and Sabrina P. Ramet consider the document to be authentic and attribute the instructions to Mihailović.[21][22][23]

Despite his possession of these instructions, Đurišić initially had very little influence on the non-communist elements of the Montenegrin resistance and was unable to develop an effective strategy against the Italians or Partisans in the first few months after his return to Montenegro. In early 1942, his Chetnik detachment became more active, especially in eastern Montenegro and the Sandžak against local Muslims.[24] The Partisans occupied Kolašin in January and February 1942, and turned against all real and potential opposition, killing about 300 of the population and throwing their mangled corpses into pits they called the "dogs' cemetery". Due to this and other examples of communist terror, the Montenegrin population turned against the Partisans. Đurišić soon recaptured Kolašin and held it as a Chetnik bastion until May 1943.[25]

Đurišić making a speech to the Chetniks in the presence of General Pirzio Biroli, Italian governor of Montenegro.

In early March 1942, Đurišić arranged one of the first collaboration agreements between the Italians and the Chetniks. This agreement was with the military governor and commander of Italian troops in Montenegro, General Alessandro Pirzio Biroli and related to the area of operations of the 19th Infantry Division Venezia. In May 1942, Đurišić attacked and defeated the last significant Partisan detachment in Montenegro.[26]

In June 1942, as the Italians and Chetniks were fighting the Partisans, Mihailović arrived in Montenegro having been forced out of Serbia by the Germans. Mihailović was accompanied by his staff and a British Special Operations Executive (SOE) liaison officer, and after moving around for a while, he established his base at the village of Gornje Lipovo, a few miles from Đurišić's headquarters at Kolašin. Mihailović and his staff had few troops and relied on Đurišić for protection. Not long after Mihailović arrived in Montenegro, Đurišić told Mihailović's SOE liaison officer that he was available to act independently and in defiance of Mihailović. While Đurišić and the other Chetnik commanders in Montenegro nominally recognized Mihailović as their supreme commander, they rarely obeyed him.[27]

On 24 July 1942, Blažo Đukanović, senior commander of all Chetnik forces in Montenegro,[28] signed a comprehensive agreement with General Biroli which officially organized and recognized three Chetnik "flying detachments" as Italian auxiliary troops for use against the Partisans. These detachments were supplied, armed and paid by the Italians, and included a total of 4,500 Chetniks, 1,500 of whom were under the command of Đurišić. The Chetniks thereby became an important part of the Italian occupation regime in Montenegro.[29] The pre-existing "Montenegrin Chetnik committee", which was led by the Brigadier General Đukanović and to which Đurišić was aligned,[30] was recognized by the Italians as the "Nationalist Committee of Montenegro". Its only political aims were to "crush communism and to safeguard law and order and the well being of the Montenegrin population". The committee was also obliged "to undertake everything that is in its power and authority to preserve order and discipline in the country and will counteract all possible actions that could be directed against the Italian authorities."[31] Arrangements were also to be made by mutual understanding for pay, rations, weaponry, and aid to the families of Chetniks.[29]

During the rest of 1942, Italian operations in conjunction with their Chetnik auxiliaries forced the remaining Partisans out of Montenegro,[32] after which the Chetnik auxiliaries were used by the Italians to police the countryside.[33] For most of this time, Đurišić operated fairly independently in northern Montenegro and was described as "a law unto himself".[34]

In December 1942, Chetniks from Montenegro and Sandžak met at a conference in the village of Šahovići near Bijelo Polje. The conference was dominated by Đurišić and its resolutions expressed extremism and intolerance, as well as an agenda which focused on restoring the pre-war status quo in Yugoslavia implemented in its initial stages by a Chetnik dictatorship. It also laid claim to parts of the territory of Yugoslavia's neighbors.[35]

Case White and cleansing actions[]

In December 1942, concerned about the possibility of an Allied landing in the Balkans, the Germans began planning an anti-Partisan offensive codenamed "Case White" in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The size of the planned offensive required the involvement of both the Croatian Home Guard and the Italians. Late in the planning, the Italians began to prepare and equip Chetnik detachments, including that of Đurišić, for involvement in the operation.[36]

Đurišić's report of 13 February 1943 informing Mihailović of the massacres of Muslims in the counties of Čajniče and Foča in southeastern Bosnia and in the county of Pljevlja in the Sandžak.

In early January 1943, the Chetnik Supreme Command ordered Montenegrin Chetnik units to carry out "cleansing actions" against Muslims in the Bijelo Polje county in the Sandžak region of north-eastern Montenegro. On 10 January 1943, Đurišić reported that Chetniks under his command had burned down 33 Muslim villages, killed 400 Muslim fighters (members of the Muslim self-protection militia also supported by the Italians), and had also killed about 1,000 Muslim women and children. Despite the fact that both Đurišić's Chetniks and the Muslim self-protection militia were supported by the Italians, these "cleansing actions" represented partial achievement by Đurišić of Mihailović's directive of 20 December 1941 to clear the Sandžak of Muslims.[37]

As Italian auxiliaries, Đurišić's detachment was so dependent on the Italians for arms and transport that it had not left Montenegro until 18 January 1943, only two days before the first phase of Case White was to begin.[38]

In mid-February, during their advance north-west into Herzegovina in preparation for their involvement in Case White, Đurišić's Lim-Sandžak detachment received further orders for "cleansing actions" against Muslims. It committed further atrocities against the Muslim population, this time in part of the Pljevlja county in Sandžak, and Čajniče county and part of the Foča county in Bosnia. In a report to Mihailović dated 13 February 1943, Đurišić reported that his forces had killed 9,200 Muslims, including approximately 1,200 Muslim combatants and about 8,000 women, children and the elderly.[37][39] He also reported that:

The operations were executed exactly according to orders. ... All the commanders and units carried out their tasks satisfactorily. ... All Muslim villages in the three above mentioned districts are entirely burnt, so that not one of the houses remained undamaged. All property has been destroyed except cattle, corn and hay. In certain places the collection of fodder and food has been ordered so that we can set up warehouses for reserved food for the units which have remained on the terrain in order to purge it and to search the wooded areas as well as establish and strengthen the organization on the liberated territory. During operations complete annihilation of the Muslim population was undertaken, regardless of sex and age.[40]

A further massacre of about 500 Muslims, mostly women, children and the elderly, was carried out in Goražde in March. Several women were raped.[41]

The total number of deaths caused by the anti-Muslim operations commanded by Đurišić between January and February 1943 is estimated at 10,000. The casualty rate would have been higher had a great number of Muslims not already fled the area, most to Sarajevo, when the February action began.[37]

By the end of February 1943, Đurišić's Chetniks were resisting Partisan attempts to move east from the Neretva river.[42][43] After the Battle of Neretva, during which the Partisans forced a crossing of the river against faltering Chetnik opposition, Đurišić's detachment, numbering about 2,000 fighters, fell back to Kalinovik where they were badly mauled by the Partisan 2nd Proletarian Division in late March. Falling back further towards the Drina river, Đurišić had assembled about 4,500 Bosnian and Montenegrin Chetniks around Foča by the end of the first week in April, but was in desperate need of supplies. Shortly after this, the Italians withdrew most of their troops from Foča and abandoned most of the Sandžak. For the rest of April 1943, Đurišić fought a holding action against the Partisans along the Drina river with his 3,000 remaining fighters.[44]

Case Black and capture[]

The Germans decided to follow up Case White with a further offensive, codenamed "Case Black", which had as its objectives the 'disarming of all Chetniks and the destruction of all Partisans in Montenegro and Sandžak',[45] although it became almost entirely an anti-Partisan operation.[46] In early May 1943, the Germans entered the Sandžak and eastern Montenegro area. Đurišić withdrew to Kolašin with about 500 fighters and joined forces with Serbian Chetniks commanded by Dragutin Keserović.[47] On 14 May 1943, a forward detachment of the German 1st Mountain Division entered Kolašin and seized Đurišić by deceiving the Italian troops who were guarding his headquarters.[48] Đurišić and the Chetniks did not resist their capture, and there were no casualties. The Italians vigorously protested Đurišić's capture but were overruled by the Germans.[49] Đurišić was driven away in a vehicle carrying Red Cross markings[50] before being flown from Berane to a prisoner of war camp at Stryi in the Lviv region of Galicia which formed part of the German occupation area of the General Government.[51] He escaped three months later and was recaptured by the authorities of the Serbian puppet government in October 1943 whilst attempting to cross the Danube near Pančevo in the southern Banat after a long ordeal. He was handed over to the Germans and held in the Gestapo prison in Belgrade.[52][53][54]

Release and return to Montenegro[]

Entitlement document for the award to Đurišić of the Iron Cross – 2nd Class. (left) Front page of Lovćen reporting on the award (right)

In September 1943, the Italians capitulated and the Germans occupied Montenegro. Soon after, the German Special Envoy in Belgrade Hermann Neubacher, Milan Nedić, and the German Military Commander in south-east Europe General Hans Felber arranged for Đurišić to be released from prison.[55] Neubacher had developed a plan for establishment of the union of Serbia and Montenegro and submitted it to Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in October 1943.[56] Đurišić was an important part of this plan. As he was well regarded by the Chetniks and pro-Chetnik populace in Montenegro and the other two senior Montenegrin Chetnik commanders had been killed, Neubacher, Nedić and Felber believed he could be used to fight the Partisans in Montenegro and assist in forming closer relations between Serbia and Montenegro.[57] Although Neubacher's plan did not gain Hitler's approval, Đurišić received supplies including arms and ammunition from the Germans and returned to Montenegro in November 1943 to fight against the Partisans.[55] At this time he established closer ties with Dimitrije Ljotić, whose Serbian Volunteer Corps provided him with weapons, food, typewriters, and other supplies. He also worked with Nedić, who promoted him to the rank of lieutenant colonel and appointed him assistant to the commander of the Serbian Volunteer Corps.[58][59]

In the spring of 1944, Đurišić, with assistance from the Germans, Nedić, and Ljotić, established the Montenegrin Volunteer Corps, which was formally a part of the Serbian Volunteer Corps.[60] The Corps consisted of some of Đurišić's former soldiers who had been released from German captivity, but the majority were Chetniks that had remained in Montenegro and were gathered under the umbrella term "national forces". By this time, although he still formally owed allegiance to Yugoslavia through Mihailović,[61] he also owed some allegiance to the Germans and to Nedić[62] who had released, promoted and supported him. Đurišić developed the Montenegrin Volunteer Corps in Montenegro and Sandžak to a strength of between 7,000 and 8,000 men.[58] Lieutenant Heusz, former German liaison officer for Sandžak Chetnik commander Vojislav Lukačević, was assigned to watch Đurišić. On 30 May 1944, Heusz sent a detailed briefing with instructions that Đurišić was responsible "for control and assuring of the execution of the directives issued by the German command posts" and "liaison between the staffs and units of the Montenegrin Volunteer Corps on the one hand and the German command posts on the other, especially in the course of operations against the bands [the Partisans]." Collaboration between the Đurišić's forces and the Germans continued through the summer and on into autumn of 1944.[52] On 13 July 1944, Radio Belgrade praised Đurišić "for his services to the Axis cause".[16]

On 11 October 1944, the German Plenipotentiary General in Montenegro, Generalmajor (Brigadier) Wilhem Keiper, awarded Đurišić the Iron Cross (2nd Class) in the name of the Führer and the German High Command.[16][63][64][65][66][67][68][69]

Withdrawal from Montenegro and destruction[]

With the fall of Grahovo, the Partisans from Herzegovina had a way into Montenegro and Đurišić had to withdraw.[70] In early December 1944, the Germans and Đurišić's forces left, part of the way together, with the Germans going to Austria and Đurišić's forces to northeastern Bosnia to join Mihailović.[52] Đurišić had wanted to withdraw through Albania to Greece, but Mihailović had told him to prepare for an Allied landing, the return of the king and the establishment of a national government.[71] From the time Đurišić joined Mihailović in northeastern Bosnia, he was very critical of Mihailović's leadership and argued strongly for all remaining Chetnik troops to move to Slovenia. When Mihailović remained unconvinced, Đurišić decided to move to Slovenia independently of Mihailović, and arranged for Ljotić's forces already in Slovenia to meet him near Bihać in western Bosnia to assist his movement. When he left Mihailović, he was joined by Chetnik ideologue Dragiša Vasić and the detachments commanded by Zaharije Ostojić and Petar Baćović as well as a large number of refugees,[72] totaling around 10,000.[73] This force was formed into the Chetnik 8th Montenegrin Army, consisting of the 1st, 5th, 8th and 9th (Herzegovina) divisions.[74]

In order to get to Bihać, Đurišić made a safe-conduct agreement with elements of the Armed Forces of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) and with the Montenegrin separatist Drljević. The details of the agreement are not known, but it appears that he and his troops were meant to cross the Sava river into Slavonia where they would be aligned with Drljević as the "Montenegrin National Army" with Đurišić retaining operational command. Đurišić apparently tried to outsmart them and sent only his sick and wounded across the river, keeping his fit troops south of the river. He began moving his command westwards and, harassed by both the NDH troops and Partisans, reached the Vrbas river. In the Battle of Lijevče Field, north of Banja Luka, the combined Chetnik force was defeated by a strong NDH force which was armed with German-supplied tanks.[75] This was probably the largest combat action between NDH forces and the Chetniks in the previous two years.[76]

Following this defeat and the defection of one of his sub-units to Drljević, Đurišić was induced to negotiate directly with the leaders of the NDH forces about the further movement of his Chetniks towards Slovenia. This appears to have been a trap, as he was attacked and captured by them on his way to the meeting. Exactly what occurred after his capture is not clear, but Đurišić, Vasić, Ostojić and Baćović were subsequently killed, along with some Serbian Orthodox priests and others.[72] The location of Đurišić's grave, if any, is unknown.

Both the NDH forces and Drljević had reasons for ensnaring Đurišić. The NDH forces were motivated by the mass terror committed by Đurišić on the Muslim population in Sandžak and southeastern Bosnia while Drljević was opposed to Đurišić's support of a union of Serbia and Montenegro which ran counter to Drljević's separatism.[72]


A small part of Đurišić's troops escaped and went west. Some were killed by Partisan forces who were located to the south of their intended withdrawal route west to Slovenia.[77] The majority, left without a leader, were integrated into Drljević's "Montenegrin National Army" and withdrew towards the Austrian border.[74] Portions of both groups were later captured by the Partisans in Slovenia. About 1,000 of Đurišić's Chetniks successfully crossed into Austria but were forced to return to Yugoslavia,[73] where some were killed by the Partisans in the vicinity of the Austrian-Yugoslavian border. Most were taken to southern Slovenia, where they were killed and their bodies thrown into deep abysses in the Kočevski Rog area.[78]

The killing of the Montenegrin Chetniks by the Partisans at Kočevski Rog was an act of mass terror and brutal political surgery similar to those carried out by the Chetniks themselves earlier in the war. It was partly an act of revenge for the mass terror carried out by the Chetniks against the Partisans and pro-Partisan segments of the population, and partly in order to stop the Chetniks from continuing an armed struggle against the communists, perhaps with Western assistance.[79] Less than a quarter of the entire force that began with Đurišić in Montenegro and other Chetniks that joined him during the journey north and west survived. A few weeks later, Drljević, who had fled to Austria, was discovered by followers of Đurišić and killed.[72] Đurišić was one of the most able Yugoslav Chetnik leaders,[74] and his fighting skills were respected by his allies and opponents.[80][81]

Commemoration controversy[]

a concrete plinth with a bust on top of it

The monument to Đurišić erected in the Serbian cemetery in Libertyville, Illinois

The Serbian diaspora in the United States set up a monument dedicated to Pavle Đurišić at the Serbian cemetery in Libertyville, Illinois. The management and players of the football club Red Star Belgrade visited it on 23 May 2010.[82]

In May 2002, plans were prepared for a "Montenegrin Ravna Gora" memorial complex to be located near Berane. The complex was to be dedicated to Đurišić, who not only spent some of his youth at Berane but had also established his wartime headquarters there.[83] In June 2003, Vesna Kilibarda, the Montenegrin Minister of Culture, banned the construction of the monument saying that the Ministry of Culture had not applied for approval to erect it.[84] The Association of War Veterans of the National Liberation Army (SUBNOR) objected to the construction of the monument saying that Đurišić was a war criminal who was responsible for the deaths of many colleagues of the veterans association and 7,000 Muslims.[85] The association was also concerned about the organizations that backed the construction including the Serbian Orthodox Church and its militant Montenegrin wing which is led by Metropolitan Amfilohije.[86] The Muslim Association of Montenegro condemned the construction and stated that "this is an attempt to rehabilitate him and it is a great insult to the children of the innocent victims and the Muslim people in Montenegro."[87] On 4 July, the Montenegrin government forbade the unveiling of the monument stating that it "caused public concern, encouraged division among the citizens of Montenegro, and incited national and religious hatred and intolerance."[88] A press release from the committee in charge of the construction of the monument stated that the actions taken by the government were "absolutely illegal and inappropriate".[89] On 7 July, the stand that was prepared for the erection of the monument was removed by the police.[90][91]

In 2011, the Montenegrin Serb political party New Serb Democracy (NOVA) renewed efforts for a monument to be built and stated that Đurišić and other royal Yugoslav officers were "leaders of the 13 July uprising" and that they "continued their struggle to liberate the country under the leadership of King Peter and the Government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia."[92]


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