The Republic of Uzice was the first free territory in occupied Europe in 1941, and the best proof that the Nazi German Army was not invincible. Existing for only 67 days, this short-lived liberated Yugoslav territory was remembered as a heroic attempt at resistance against a much stronger enemy, even after its fall following a strong German offensive. During the existence of the Republic of Uzice, a factory of weapons and ammunition in the town of Uzice was working full time to produce weapons to fight against the Nazis. In 1941, it was the only factory in occupied Europe where weapons were produced to fight against the Wehrmacht (Nazi forces). Zorica Jovanovic explains.
Axis forces occupied Yugoslavia in April 1941. The rebellion against the occupiers, which began in Serbia in the summer of 1941, reached wide proportions. By the end of September 1941, almost all major towns in western Serbia were liberated.
The so-called Republic of Uzice is the name that settled in post-war communist Yugoslavia for the first liberated territory inside war-torn Europe in World War II. This "republic" lived, for one fall, for 67 days, from September 24 to November 29, 1941. It was located in Yugoslavia, in Western Serbia, and was part of the Nazi-run ‘Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia’. The Republic of Uzice didn’t have a permanent border, the borders changed almost daily with every movement of the resistance on one side and the occupier on the other side. In this territory, nearly a million inhabitants lived in an area of approximately 19,000 square kilometers.
The united forces of the Partisan (communist) movement and the Chetnik movement (a guerrilla organization that was loyal to the Yugoslav government in refuge) took part in the creation of the free territory in Western Serbia. The newly-appointed German commander in Serbia, Franz Böhme, decided that German soldiers should leave Uzice on September 21. The Germans left the town under the pressure of the uprising, leaving untouched the most important weapons factory in Serbia. The line of Germans was 6 kilometers long and consisted of 1,217 soldiers.
The Republic of Uzice wasn’t a homogeneous territory with one authority and a single armed force. There were two different powers in the Republic of Uzice, one from the Partisan movement and the other from the Chetnik movement. For the time that the Republic existed, there was dual authority, army and command, but the Partisans gave the most significant contribution to the organization of authority and defense, especially due to their military strength (25,000 fighters against several thousand Chetniks). The Partisan center of this free territory was located in Uzice (hence the name Republic of Uzice), and the Chetnik center was in the town of Pozega.
The economy was under war conditions in the town of Uzice. There was a weaver workshop, where the linen, towels and some medical supplies were made. Also, the town had a tailor's workshop for making military clothes, a footwear workshop, a partisan bakery, and a leather workshop. Three small hydroelectric plants were continuously operating on the Djetinje River, and the town and all key facilities were regularly supplied with electricity. There was also a railway that was primarily used for military purposes (soldiers were transported to the front), but also served for civilian needs. Workers made an armored partisan train for safer transport.
In this free territory there were established kitchens for the disabled. The influx of population and the evacuation of the wounded to the towns, led to the organization of free health care in hospitals in free towns. An intense cultural life also developed. In Uzice, the Partisans printed newspapers,which posted news of battles. There was even an arts section within the Partisan Company, which had active drama, art and music sections.
An ammunition factory was set-up after the entry of Partisan forces into the town of Uzice on September 24, 1941. Since frequent German bombings prevented consistent production, the factory was displaced several times in different locations in the town to hide its location. Machines of one part of the ammunition department and tools were placed in underground facilities that were built before the beginning of the war for the needs of the National Bank.
In the Republic of Uzice, partisans produced and fixed weapons and ammunition for the front including:
Special rifles for the supreme headquarters: 40
Ammunition for rifles: 2.7m
Ammunition for handguns: 90,000
Bulletproof ammunition: 20,000
Grenade guns: 300
Hand grenades: 30,000
Fixed machine guns: About 300
Fixed cannons: 3
Repaired cannon grenades: 5,000
Made landing mines: 2,000
Bottles filled with gasoline: 3,000
Hitler was angry because of the rise of the largest and only free territory in occupied Europe. The command for the suppression of the Republic of Uzice came from the highest point of the Third Reich. On September 16, Hitler gave an order to reclaim the liberated territory. Command was entrusted to General Franz Böhme, the commander of the 18th Army Corps. The attack by the German 342nd Division began on September 28, 1941. Wehrmacht units fought against rebels for one month. Although the Partisans and Chetniks repeatedly negotiated during the autumn, they did not agree firmer co-operation. Conflicts between the groups and the weakening of resistance forces were going hand-in-hand, and the Germans who launched an offensive on November 25, 1941.
The Germans, who were more numerous, technically more equipped, and better military-trained, quickly broke the resistance. The Wehrmacht Army reached the Kadinjača Ridge where a large battle took place between the Germans and the Partisans on November 29. The German forces surrounded the Partisan battalion and all the fighters lost their lives in the battle. After World War II a monument was set up for the fallen soldiers at Kadinjača ridge. Just five days after the start of the final offensive, the German division occupied the center of the Republic of Uzice. The German 342nd Infantry Division agreed a demarcation line with the Italians on December 1, with three hunt groups, and that effectively ended the German offensive. After the offensive, the Germans attacked the Chetnik headquarters in Ravna Gora. About 1,500-2,000 partisans from western Serbia retreated with the Supreme Headquarters, to the south of Serbia.
In post-war communist literature, First Enemy Offensivewas the name for the operations that the Wehrmacht occupying forces led against the rebels in the Republic of Uzice, a name that the older citizens still remember today, while the Germans named this operation - Operation Uzice. In the memory of the Yugoslav people, the Republic of Uzice was remembered and celebrated for its glory.
In Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavia, glorious battles of World War II were turned into films, so in 1974,the Uzice Republicfilm was made. However, it was more political than action-based. The film wasn’t about the resistance and heroism – politics was the main theme as it was made to glorify the Partisan movement.
Although this free territory did not last long, there was hope in the minds of the Allies that the struggle against the Axis Powers would be successful. The Soviet Union supported the Partisans, and the United Kingdom supported the Chetnik movement, so their attention was piqued with the uprising and the creation of this large free territory. This event also showed the importance of the Balkans and even influenced the creation of resistance movements in other parts of war-torn Europe.
What do you think about the Republic of Uzice? Let us know below.
Petranović, Branko (1992). Srbija u Drugom svetskom ratu 1939—1945 (http://znaci.net/00001/92.htm)
Uzice'sNational Museum, Partizanska fabrika oružja i municije (http://www.nmuzice.org.rs/index.php/sr/izlozbe/partizanska-fabrika-oruzija)