The extension of World War II to Yugoslavia happened quite unexpectedly: on March 26 and 27, 1941, mass demonstrations organized chiefly by the CPY showed that the people of Yugoslavia opposed any inclusion of Yugoslavia within the Axis. On the morning of March 27, the regency of Prince Paul was overthrown by a coalition of army officers, Peter II became king and the Cvetkovich and Machek government was brought down-invalidating existing protocols between Yugoslavia and Germany which called for Yugoslavia to align with the Axis.
Angry as he was, Hitler's greatest emotion at the time was shock. The potential of a hostile Yugoslavia posed a real danger to Operation Maritta (the planned attack on Greece) and Operation Barbarossa (the planned attack on the Soviet Union). On March 27, at a meeting with the Supreme Military Council of the Third Reich, it was decided that a military campaign to subdue Yugoslavia and punish its capriciousness was in order. Hitler received Bulgarian Ambassador to Germany Draganov in Berlin, and in a short 5-minute talk informed Draganov that "in view of the new situation in Yugoslavia, the Macedonian issue will be solved in accordance with Bulgarian ideas and demands." The second partition of Macedonia in less than 23 years was sealed, and the previous discussions between Hitler, King Boris and President Bogdan Filov were realized to Bulgaria's advantage.
What was the actual course of talks about the partition of Macedonia?
During his visit to Berlin on July 14, 1939, Tsar Boris took the opportunity to ask Hitler's intervention with the Yugoslav government for the cession of some Yugoslav regions around Tsaribrod (present-day Dimitrovgrad) to Bulgaria. Only eight months later, he made a similar request for Hitler to intervene with the Romanian government for the cession of Southern Dobruja. By mid-1940, through Ambassador Draganov the Bulgarian government made a "small step" forward, demanding an outlet to the Aegean Sea, restoration of Southern Dobruja and "certain minor alterations of the Yugoslav-Bulgarian border." Step by step, Bulgaria was announcing the price for its public sympathy for the Axis, and the price tag for it to join the Axis. Negotiations held on July 22, 1940, between former Bulgarian Finance Minister Riyaskov and the Nazi State Undersecretary presented Bulgarian claims to restoration of Southern Dobruja, an outlet on the Aegean Sea (at Dedeagach) and alterations of the Yugoslav-Bulgarian border at Tsaribrod, Bosilgrad and Strumica. The Macedonian Question was not raised at all during later talks between Hitler and Ribbentrop with President Filov and Foreign Minister Popov, but this does not necessarily mean that Hitler did not as alleged promise that "Germany will support the demands of its Bulgarian comrade-in-arms of the Great War".
Italy, thwarted in its desire to extract territory from defeated France, stressed its interests in regions lying on the Adriatic Sea and raised the possibility of joint German-Italian intervention in the Balkans. Hitler responded simply that "The Yugoslav problem must be solved according to Italian demands, when the time comes for it." This statement was of decisive influence on Hitler's decision to declare war after hearing the news of March 27, that the Yugoslav peoples had annulled Yugoslavia's entry into the Axis. A few months before on December 3, 1940, Draganov had advised the Führer that Bulgaria's entrance into the Axis might be considered certain in so far as a solution were reached on "the minorities issue in Macedonia," and a month later on January 4, 1941, Prime Minister Filov emphasized to Hitler and Ribbentrop that the Greco-Italian war brought the issue of Macedonia into play. Hitler hedged in his answers as he still sought Yugoslav entrance into the Axis and any incautious word or promise might have far-reaching consequences. Hitler tried to sit on two chairs-to representatives of both the Yugoslav and Bulgarian governments he declared that each would obtain Aegean Macedonian.
On March 1, 1941, Bulgaria joined the Axis and on the afternoon on the same day, the first German officers crossed the Danube River at the town of Ruse. Their mission was to prepare Bulgaria as a military strongpoint for upcoming attacks against Greece and Russia, and as a reward for their entrance into the Axis, Bulgaria received German arms and captured Polish aircraft.
The termination of protocols for Yugoslavia's entrance into the Axis enraged Hitler, who considered it a slap in the face before the world stage. While deciding that only war could wash out such shame, he was not yet sure what to do about Yugoslavia and its borders-the March 27 coup was unexpected. It was not until April 12 that Hitler decided in his "Provisional Guidelines on the Partition of Yugoslavia" to take into account the demands of Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria, and it may be stated that on this date a third partition of Macedonia was begun, completed on April 21 and 22 in Vienna between Ribbentrop and Cianno, when the finishing touches were put on the new geopolitical map of defeated Yugoslavia. Most of the conference consisted of bargaining by the Bulgarians to obtain as much of Vardar and Aegean Macedonia as possible, particularly Thessaloniki and Ohrid, "the precious national stone of the Bulgarian crown."
On April 18, Ambassador Draganov dispatched a telegram to Sofia with the exciting news that "Ribbentrop, by order of Hitler, instructed me to advise you of the Führer's wish that we are to enter Serbian Macedonia with three divisions as occupying forces and to take over the administration, in order for German armies to be free from that concern and be ready for action!"
That was what the Bulgarian Fifth Army had been waiting for: parts of its First Cavalry Division and the Sixth and Seventh Infantry Divisions occupied Yugoslav territory along the Pirot-Vranje-Skopje-Vardar River Valley line, Ohrid and the Radusha mines. The Italians occupied parts of Macedonia including Tetovo, Gostivar, Debar, Kichevo and Struga, taking position behind the Lerin-Pindus-Arta-Preveza line in Aegean Macedonia. But the fate of Macedonia was far from settled.
Neither the Italians nor the Bulgarians were satisfied with the morsels given to them by Hitler in the April 23, 1941 agreement: the border between the two Axis members extended from Kachanik, across Shtrpce (Bulgarian) to the Leshok (Bulgarian)-Rastesh (Bulgarian)-Srbica-Veliko Tsrsko (Italian)-Liska (Bulgarian) line, then continued along the coastline of Ohrid Lake on to Resen (Bulgarian), turned toward the former Greek border to the south of Bitola, and continued as far as the former Greek border. Competition between the Bulgarian and Italian armies to seize a greater portion of Macedonian territory resulted both in disputes and even armed clashes on the local level. For that reason, the creation of a line of demarcation took more than a month and a half-until the beginning of June.
The Bulgarians were particularly loud in voicing their displeasure with such a partition of Macedonia, and in September 1941 Prime Minister Filov stated that "We are not satisfied with the border in western Macedonia; neither we are satisfied with the Italian attitude. Such a border is not adequate for us either in historical, strategic or economic aspect and it is unsustainable." Some time later, Minister of Defense General Daskalov stated sharply that "We do not recognize the border on Italy as final, neither we are going to recognize it!"
On April 15, 1941, in Zagreb, the Central Committee of the CPY (CC-CPY) issued a proclamation to the peoples of Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Macedonia and Voivodina. This emphasized that "all of you who are fighting and giving your lives in the struggle for one's own independence know that that struggle will be crowned with a success." In the same year the May Consultation Conference of the Central Committee of the CPY was held, stressing that "it is the duty of the Macedonian Communists to gather the people in the struggle against the forced annexation and partition of Macedonia, and for the free national determination of the Macedonian people and its national independence and freedom." On July 4, the Politburo of the CPY called for a united uprising.
The uprising unleashed on October 11, 1941, fired its first shots in Prilep and Kumanovo. The First Skopje Partisan Detachment had already begun to smuggle explosives out of the Radusha mines that summer and clashed with occupying troops near Bogomila. The delay in the Macedonian partisan uprising is justified by contemporary Macedonian historiography as due to misunderstandings caused by the Political Secretary of the Regional Committee of the CPY for Macedonia, Metodij Shatorov Sharlo. By order of the Comintern, of which he had been a member for years, he accepted the annexation of Macedonia by Bulgaria as necessary and attached the Macedonian Communist Party to the Bulgarian Communist Party, with the motivation "one state, one party." Upon the intervention by the CC-CPY with the Comintern in Moscow, the Macedonian Communist Party was again included in the framework of the CPY and in September 1941, a new Regional Committee for Macedonia was formed. Its members included Lazar Kolishevski (as Secretary), Mara Naceva, Borka Talevski, Blagoj Mucheto and Bane Andreev. In the course of 1941, local military staffs were formed in Skopje, Veles, Kumanovo, Prilep, Bitola, Krushevo, Shtip, Strumica, Gevgelija, Kavadarci, Negotino, Tetovo, Kichevo, Debar, Struga, Ohrid and Resen as well as a number of military commissions in the villages. In 1942 the Regional Staff of Macedonia was already raised to the level of a General Staff with the following members: Lazar Kolishevski, Mihailo Apostolski, Cvetko Uzunovski, Mirche Acev and Strasho Pindzhur.
In 1942 there were nine active partisan detachments on the territory of Macedonia. In clashes with the enemy they succeeded in liberating the mountainous territories along the Skopje-Veles-Prilep-Krushevo line from Bulgarian occupation, and on August 18, 1943, the first Macedonian military unit-the Mirche Acev Battalion-was formed. On November 1, the First Macedonian-Kosovo Brigade was formed by combining existing battalions and joined on December 20 the Second Macedonian Brigade.
In Debarca and Mavrovo the first free territories were established and the towns of Kichevo and Debar were liberated. In the spring of 1944 the Headquarters of the National Liberation army of Macedonia began "the Spring Offensive" which lasted until June and engaged about 60,000 German and Bulgarian troops. With the liberation of Tetovo on November 19, 1944, Macedonia was completely liberated. At that time, the Macedonian partisans numbered some 66,000 fighters and were organized into seven divisions and three corps. Concurrently with the armed combats a complete network of about 500 National Liberation Regional Councils was organized throughout the country. These were the first cells of the new people's government, which allowed the establishment of the Initiatory Committee for the proceedings and the convocation of the First Session of the Anti-fascist Assembly of the National Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM) in October 1943.
The uprising in Macedonia was victorious, and its ultimate goals expressed in the decisions of ASNOM.
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