Balkan Troubles II – 15th May 1945

Negotiations with the Yugoslavs.

By the morning of the 15th, it was pretty obvious that some sort of climax would be reached fairly soon. I could get not answer about what the aids were if the Croats would not surrender to the Yugoslavs. I had been told by the Croat Liaison Officer that there was no question of their surrendering to the Yugoslavs.

(NA 25174) Original wartime caption: Yugoslav forces marching through the town of Klagenfurt Copyright: © IWM.

The Yugoslavs on their side, I was told by the 17th Field, were equally determined that the Croats were not going to get out of their clutches and were taking up warlike positions to make quite sure that they did not.

I reached Bleiburg at 1230 and had a drive around the area. A desultory clatter of musketry seemed to be going on in various directions but I think it was only the “heartening” type, so dear to the Yugoslavs and fortunately quite harmless as a rule. I could not see anything except the Yugoslavs and so withdrew to Bleiburg castle and sent for the opposing contenders with whom I knew Rupert Lecky, commanding 17 Field Regiment, was in touch. Within half an hour, he had rounded up both generals and turned up at the castle and altogether sorry to pass the baby.

Our total resource at Bleiburg at that time was Paul Lunn-Rockliffe’s battery, a troop or two of 46 Reconnaissance Regiment, a couple of armoured cars of 27 Lancers and two or three tanks. The battery of guns was deployed in the most open place that could be found in case anyone should overlook this big display of force and another battery was moved south of the river Drava to support them – just in case.

The head boy of the Yugoslavs was a commissar, a most determined young man in his early twenties who, I gathered, ranked as a major general. He informed me, with some emphasis, that the Yugoslav Army was ready to fight and that he had issued orders for the battle to start in half an hour’s time.

His intention was to defeat the Croat Army on the field in battle.

Under no circumstances would he allow any delay in achieving this estimable objective.

He did not request any military assistance, as he said that the very large Yugoslav forces, which were now deployed in the hills round about, were quite adequate to deal with the situation. Moreover, he said, fresh troops were arriving every minute.

It certainly looked as if we were well situated for a front row in the stalls for the ensuing conflict. I had noticed, with relief, that the hills of the castle were exceedingly thick and the approaches to it extremely difficult.

I suggested to this firebrand that the elimination of the Croatian Army, which no doubt was highly desirable, would be more satisfactorily achieved if the Croats laid down their arms than if it became necessary to attack a force of such large dimensions. They agreed that this was so, but reiterated their desire to start the battle in half an hour

I did not think it was very likely that the battle would start while he was still with me and I had taken adequate steps to ensure that he did not leave until I was ready.

I pointed out that my only object in being there was that I, like all other British soldiers, in having a high regard for the way the Yugoslav Army had been fighting a lone battle for so long, was only out to do my utmost to prevent any more gallant Yugoslavs getting killed if there was anything I could do to find any easier way out. The commissar eventually agreed that if I would be good enough to try and make the Croats surrender to them, he would be very pleased but, if I did not mind, he could only wait for quarter of an hour before he would have to give orders for the battle. I congratulated him on the excellence of communications, which enabled him to launch such a mighty army from so many directions with such exactness.

He then withdrew and I sent for the Croatian party.