Independent State of Croatia

Independent State of Croatia
Independent State of Croatia
Nezavisna Država Hrvatska
De jure protectorate of Italy (1941-1943)
De facto puppet state of Germany (1941-45)

Flag Coat of arms
Independent State of Croatia (dark red) in its 1941-43 borders, within Axis-occupied Yugoslavia (the German-Italian military demarcation line is in light grey)
Capital Zagreb
Language(s) Croatian
Religion Catholic,
Lutheran, Islam,
Croatian Orthodox
Government Constitutional monarchy, single-party state
 - 1941–1943 Aimone, Duke of Aosta[1][2][3]*
 - 1941–1945 Ante Pavelić
Prime Minister
 - 1941–1943 Ante Pavelić
 - 1943–1945 Nikola Mandić
Legislature Parliament
Historical era World War II
 - Established 10 April 1941
 - Disestablished 8 May 1945
 - 1941 115,133 km2 (44,453 sq mi)
 - 1941 est. 6,966,729 
     Density 60.5 /km2  (156.7 /sq mi)
Currency NDH Kuna
Today part of  Bosnia and Herzegovina
* Aimone, Duke of Spoleto accepted nomination on 18 May 1941, abdicated 31 July 1943 and renounced all claims on 12 October 1943.[1][2][3] Subsequently, the state was no longer a technical monarchy. Ante Pavelić became head of state, and his title as leader of the ruling Ustaše movement, "Poglavnik", officially became the title of the NDH head of state.

The Independent State of Croatia (Croatian: Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, NDH) was a World War II puppet state of Nazi Germany,[4] established on a part of Axis-occupied Yugoslavia. The NDH was founded on 10 April 1941, after the invasion of Yugoslavia by the Axis powers. All of Bosnia and Herzegovina was annexed to NDH, together with some parts of Serbia. The state was technically a monarchy and Italian protectorate from the signing of the Rome agreements on May 19, 1941 until the Italian capitulation on September 8, 1943, but the king-designate, the Prince Aimone of Savoy-Aosta, refused to assume the crown in opposition to the Italian annexation of the Croat-populated Yugoslav region of Dalmatia.[1][2][3] The state was actually controlled by the governing fascist Ustaše movement and its Poglavnik,[note 1] Ante Pavelić, which in turn were primarily under German influence. For its first two years up to 1943, the state was also a territorial condominium of Germany and Italy.[5] Additionally, central Dalmatia was annexed directly into Italian territory as part of the irredentist agenda of an Italian Mare Nostrum (Our Sea). Italian influence collapsed in 1943, with the ousting of Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Racial targets of the NDH were Jews, Serbs and Roma people, against whom large-scale genocide campaigns were conducted in places such as the Jasenovac concentration camp.[6][7][8]



The absolute leader of the NDH was Ante Pavelić, who was known by his Ustaše title, Poglavnik, throughout the war, regardless of his official government post. From 1941 to 1943, while the country was a de jure monarchy, Pavelić was its powerful Prime Minister (or "President of the Government"). After the capitulation of Italy, Pavelić became the head of state in the place of Aimone, Duke of Aosta ("Tomislav II") and retained the position of Prime Minister until early 1944, when he appointed Nikola Mandić to replace him.[9]


Upon the formation of the NDH, Pavelić conceded to the accession of Aimone, the 4th Duke of Aosta, as a figurehead King of Croatia under his new royal name, Tomislav II. Tomislav II was not interested in being the figurehead King of Croatia,[10] never actually visited the country and had no influence over the government. In the summer of 1941, Tomislav II declared that he would accept his position as King, only if certain demands were met:

  1. that he should be informed about all Italian activities on NDH territory;
  2. that his reign should be confirmed by the NDH Croatian State Parliament; and
  3. that politics should play no part in the Croatian armed forces.[11]

The demands for German and Italian military departures were obviously impossible to be met by the Italian and German governments, and Tomislav II thus avoided taking up his position in Croatia.

Following the dismissal of Italian leader Benito Mussolini on 25 July 1943, Tomislav II abdicated on 31 July on the orders of King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. Shortly after the armistice with Italy in September 1943, Ante Pavelić declared that Tomislav II was no longer King of Croatia.[12] Tomislav II formally renounced his title in October 1943 after the birth of his son Amedeo, to whom he gave the name Zvonimir II.[13][14]

Tomislav II's full title was "King of Croatia, Prince of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Voivode of Dalmatia, Tuzla and Knin, Duke of Aosta (from 1942), Prince of Cisterna and of Belriguardo, Marquess of Voghera, and Count of Ponderano."


Inauguration of the Government of NDH

The NDH Parliament was established by the Legal Decree on the Croatian State Parliament on 24 January 1942.[15] The parliament members were not elected and meetings were convened just over a dozen times after the initial session in 1942. Its president vas Marko Dosen.

This decree established five categories of individuals who would receive an invitation to be a member of parliament from the Ustaše-appointed government: living Croatian representatives from the Croatian Parliament of 1918, living Croatian representatives elected in the 1938 Yugoslavian elections, members of the Croatian Party of Rights prior to 1919, certain officials of the Supreme Ustaše Headquarters and two members of the German national assembly.[15] The responsibility for assembling all eligible members of parliament was given to the head of the Supreme Court, Nikola Vukelić, who found 204 people to be eligible.[15] In accordance with the decree, Vukelić ruled that those who had received the position of senator in 1939, had been part of Dušan Simović's government, or had been part of the Yugoslav government-in-exile forfeited their eligibility.[15] Two hundred and four people were declared eligible for the parliament, with 141 actually attending parliamentary meetings. Of the 204 eligible parliament members, 93 were members of the Croatian Peasant Party, 56 of whom attended meetings.[15]

The Parliament was only a deliberatory body and was not empowered to enact legislation. However, during the eighth session of the parliament in February 1942, the Ustaše regime was put on the defensive when a joint Croatian Peasant Party-Croatian Party of Rights motion, supported by 39 members of parliament, questioned about the whereabouts of the Peasant Party's leader Vladko Maček.[15] The following session, Ante Pavelić responded that Maček was being kept in isolation to prevent him from coming into contact with Yugoslav government officials. In less than a month, Maček was moved from the Jasenovac concentration camp to house arrest at his property in Kupinec.[15] Maček was later called upon by foreigners to take a stand and counteract the Pavelić government, but he refused. Maček fled the country in 1945, with the help of Ustaše General Ante Moškov.[16]

After its February 1942 session, the Parliament met only a few more times, and the decree was not renewed in 1943.

Court system

Occupation and partition of Yugoslavia, 1941-43.
Occupation and partition of Yugoslavia, 1943-44.

The NDH retained the court system of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but restored the courts' names to their original forms. The state had 172 local courts (kotar), 19 district courts (judicial tables), an administrative court and an appellate court (Ban's Table) in both Zagreb and Sarajevo, as well as a supreme court (Table of Seven) in Zagreb and a supreme court in Sarajevo.[17] The state maintained men's penitentiaries in Lepoglava, Hrvatska Mitrovica, Stara Gradiška and Zenica, and a women's penitentiary in Zagreb.[18]


The NDH founded the Croatian Home Guard (Croatian: Hrvatsko domobranstvo) in April 1941 with the consent of the German armed forces (Wehrmacht). The task of the new Croatian armed forces was to defend the new state against both foreign and domestic enemies.[19] The Home Guard had an air force and a minimal navy. The NDH also created the Ustaška Vojnica, which was conceived as an elite militia, and a Croatian gendarmerie.

The Croatian Home Guard was originally limited to 16 infantry battalions and 2 cavalry squadrons - 16,000 men in total. The original 16 battalions were soon enlarged to 15 infantry regiments of two battalions each between May and June 1941, organised into five divisional commands, some 55,000 men.[20] Support units included 35 light tanks supplied by Italy,[21] 10 artillery battalions (equipped with captured Royal Yugoslav Army weapons of Czech origin), a cavalry regiment in Zagreb and an independent cavalry battalion at Sarajevo. Two independent motorized infantry battalions were based at Zagreb and Sarajevo respectively.[22]

Under the terms of the Rome Agreement with Italy, the NDH navy was restricted to a few coastal and patrol craft, which mostly patrolled inland waterways.

When established in 1941, the Air Force of the Independent State of Croatia (Croatian: Zrakoplovstvo Nezavisne Države Hrvatske) (ZNDH), consisted of captured Royal Yugoslav aircraft (seven operational fighters, 20 bombers and about 180 auxiliary and training aircraft) as well as paratroop, training and anti-aircraft artillery commands. During the course of the war on the Yugoslav Front it was supplemented with several hundred new or overhauled German, Italian and French fighters and bombers, until receiving the final deliveries of new aircraft from Germany in April 1945.[23]

Croatian Air Force Legion (HZL) aircrew pose in front of their Dornier Do 17Z bomber in recognition of the unit's 1,000th sortie over the Eastern Front, 16 September 1942. The unit returned to Croatia in December 1942.

The Croatian Air Force Legion (Croatian: Hrvatska Zrakoplovna Legija), or HZL, was a military unit of the Air Force of the Independent State of Croatia which fought alongside the Luftwaffe on the Eastern Front from 1941 to 1943 and then back on Croatian soil. The unit was sent to Germany for training on 15 July 1941 before heading to the Eastern Front. Many of the pilots and crews had previously served in the Royal Yugoslav Air Force during the Invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941. Some of them also had experience in the two main types that they would operate, the Messerschmitt 109 and Dornier Do 17, with two fighter pilots having actually shot down Luftwaffe aircraft.[24]

During operations over the Eastern Front, the unit's fighters scored a total of 283 kills while its bombers participated in some 1,500 combat missions. Upon return to Croatia from December 1942, the unit's aircraft proved a welcome addition to the strike power of the Axis forces fighting the Yugoslav Partisans on the Yugoslav Front right up to the end of 1944.[25]

Because of low morale among Home Guard conscripts and their increasing disaffection with the Ustaša regime as the war progressed, partisans came to regard them as a key element in their supply line. According to William Deakin, who led one of the British missions to the partisan commander-in-chief Josip Broz Tito, in some areas, partisans would release Home Guard soldiers after disarming them, so they could come back into the field with replacement weapons, which would again be seized.[26] Other Home Guard soldiers either defected or actively channelled supplies to the partisans — particularly after the NDH ceded Dalmatia to Italy. Home Guard troop numbers dwindled from 130,000 in early 1943 to 70,000 by late 1944, at which point the NDH government amalgamated the Home Guard with the Ustaše Army and was organised into eighteen divisions, including artillery and armoured units.[27]

Despite these difficulties, the Croatian Army, with the help of the German-commanded XV Cossack Corps and other Wehrmacht formations, held its lines in Syrmia, Slavonia and Bosnia against the combined Soviet, Bulgarian and Partisan offensives from late 1944 to shortly before the NDH collapse in May 1945.

The Air Force of the Independent State of Croatia provided some level of air support (attack, fighter and transport) right up until May 1945, encountering and sometimes defeating opposing aircraft from the British Royal Air Force, United States Air Force and the Soviet Air Force. The final deliveries of up-to-date German Messerschmitt 109G and K fighter aircraft were still taking place in April 1945.[28]

Croatian legionnaires, including many Muslims, in Bosnia heading to fight against Tito's partisans, 22 December 1943.

By the end of March, 1945, it was obvious to the Croatian Army Command that, although the front remained intact, they would eventually be defeated by sheer lack of ammunition. For this reason, the decision was made to retreat into Austria, in order to surrender to the British forces advancing north from Italy.[29] The German Army was in the process of disintegration and the supply system lay in ruins.[30]

The Croatian Army remained engaged in battle a week after the capitulation of Germany on 8 May 1945. At that time, the combined fighting forces numbered some 200,000 troops.[31]


The NDH currency was the Independent State of Croatia kuna. The Croatian State Bank was the central bank, responsible for issuing currency.


The NDH formed the Croatian State Railways after the Yugoslav Railways was dissolved, and Serbian State Railways in Serbia was devolved.[32][33]


Under the Independent State of Croatia all parties but the Ustaše party were banned.[34]

Foreign relations

The NDH was granted full recognition by the Axis Powers and by countries under Axis occupation, it was also recognized by Spain.[35] The state maintained diplomatic missions in several countries, all in Europe. Embassies of Nazi Germany, Italy, Tiso's Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Finland, Spain, and Japan, as well as the consulates of Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Portugal, Argentina and Vichy France were located in Zagreb.[36][37]

In 1941, the county was admitted to the Universal Postal Union. On August 10, 1942 an agreement was signed at Brijuni which re-established the Society of Railways Danube-Sava-Adriatic between the Independent State of Croatia, Germany, Hungary and Italy.[38] After the 11 December 1941 declaration of war by the Germany against United States, the Independent State of Croatia declared war on the United States and the United Kingdom on December 14.[39]

The Independent State of Croatia signed the Geneva Conventions on 20 January 1943.[40]


German influences

In the Independent State of Croatia, which the Germans formally treated as a sovereign state, most, if not all, industrial and economic activity was either monopolized, or given a high priority for exploitation, by Germany.

Agreements between the two governments in mid 1941 regulated foreign trade and payments and the export of Croatian labour to Germany. Germany already controlled a large number of industrial and mining enterprises in Croatia that were owned in part or in full by German citizens or citizens of German-occupied countries. Many other enterprises in Croatia, especially in the bauxite mining and timber industries, were leased to the Germans for the duration of the war. The Germans also held large interests in Croatian commercial banks, exercised either directly by banks in Berlin and Vienna, or indirectly, by German banks that had large interests in Prague and Budapest banks.[41]

From the beginning, the Germans showed great interest in the high-quality iron ore mines of Ljubija in northwest Bosnia, in the industrial complex (steel, coal and heavy chemicals) in the SarajevoTuzlaZenica triangle in northeast Bosnia, and in bauxite. As the war advanced and German military involvement in Croatia expanded, more and more Croatian industry was put to work for the Germans. The bauxite mines in Hercegovina, Dalmatia and western Bosnia, were in the Italian zone of occupation, but their total production was earmarked for German needs for the duration of the war under the German-Italian agreement of 1941.[42]

Other Croatian industrial assets utilized by the Germans included the production of brown coal and lignite, cement (major plants in Zagreb and Split), oil and salt. Crude oil production, from fields to the east of Zagreb developed by the American Vacuum Oil Company, only started in November 1941 and never reached a high level, averaging 24,000 barrels (3,800 m3) a month in mid 1944.

The most important commodities manufactured in Croatia for German use were prefabricated barracks (utilizing the large Croatian timber industry), clothing, dry-cell batteries, bridge construction parts and ammunition (grenades).

The Vares iron ore mine supplied the steel mill at Zenica, which had a capacity of 120,000 tons of steel annually. The Zenica mill, in turn, supplied the state arsenal in Sarajevo and the machinery and railroad car factory in Slavonski Brod, both of which produced various items for the Wehrmacht during the war, including grenades and shell casings. Some Vares iron ore was also exported to Italy, Hungary and Romania.[43]

Italian influence

The region of the NDH controlled by Italy had few natural resources and little industry.[dubious ] There were some important timber stands, several cement plants, an aluminium plant at Lozovac, a carbide and chemical fertilizer plant at Dugi Rat, and a ferromanganese and cast iron plant near Šibenik, ship building operations in Split, a few brown coal mines supplying fuel to railways, shipping and industry, and rich bauxite fields.[44]


Independent State of Croatia, borders 1941-43
Independent State of Croatia, borders 1943-44 (after the Italian capitulation of September 1943)

Geographically, the NDH encompassed most of modern-day Croatia, all of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and part of modern-day Serbia. It bordered the Third Reich to the north-west, Kingdom of Hungary to the north-east, Serbian administration (a joint German-Serb government) to the east, Montenegro (an Italian protectorate) to the south-east and Italy along its coastal area.

Establishment of borders

The exact borders of the Independent State of Croatia were unclear when it was established.[45] Approximately one month after its formation, significant areas of Croat-populated territory were ceded to its Axis allies, the Kingdoms of Hungary and Italy.

  • On 13 May 1941, the NDH government signed an agreement with Nazi Germany which demarcated their borders.[46]
  • On 19 May the Rome contracts were signed by diplomats of the NDH and Italy. Large parts of Croatian lands were occupied (annexed) by Italy, including most of Dalmatia (including Split and Šibenik), nearly all the Adriatic islands (including Rab, Krk, Vis, Korčula, Mljet), and some smaller areas such as the Boka Kotorska bay, parts of the Hrvatsko Primorje and Gorski kotar areas.
  • On 7 June the NDH government issued a decree that demarcated its eastern border with Serbia.[46]
  • On 27 October the NDH and Italy reached an agreement on the Independent State of Croatia's border with Montenegro.
  • On 8 September 1943, Italy capitulated and the NDH officially considered the Rome contracts to be void, along with the Treaty of Rapallo of 1920 which had given Italy Istria, Rijeka and Zadar.[47] German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop approved of the NDH retaking the territory from the Rome contracts.[47] By now most of the territory was controlled by the Yugoslav Partisans, since the cessions of these areas made them strongly anti-NDH (a third of the total population of Split is documented to have joined the Partisans).[citation needed] By 11 September 1943, NDH foreign minister Mladen Lorković received word from German consul Siegfried Kasche that the NDH should wait before moving on Istria. Germany's central government had already annexed Istria and Rijeka into the Operational Zone Adriatic Coast a day earlier.[47] Zadar was occupied solely by the Germans, and was probably considered a part of the puppet Italian Social Republic.

Međimurje and southern Baranja were annexed (occupied) by the Kingdom of Hungary. NDH disputed this and continued to lay claim to both, naming the administrative province centred in Osijek as Great Parish Baranja, despite none of the region lying within its control. This border was never legislated, although Hungary may have considered the Pacta conventa to be in effect, which delineated the two nation's borders along the Drava river.

When compared to the republican borders established in the SFR Yugoslavia after the war, the NDH encompassed the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with its majority of non-Croat (Serbian and Bosniak) populations, as well as some 20 km² of Slovenia (villages Slovenska vas near Bregana, Nova vas near Mokrice, Jesenice in Dolenjsko, Obrežje and Čedem)[48] and the whole of Syrmia (part of which was previously in the Danube Banovina).

Administrative divisions

The Independent State of Croatia had three levels of administrative divisions: great parishes (Velika Zhupa), districts and municipalities. At the time of its foundation, the state had 22 great parishes, 142 kotars and 1006 municipalities.[49] The highest level of administration were the great parishes (Velike župe),[50] each of which was headed by a Grand Župan.

1 Baranja
2 Bilogora
3 Bribir and Sidraga
4 Cetina
5 Dubrava
6 Gora
7 Hum
8 Krbava - Psat
9 Lašva and Glaž
10 Lika and Gacka
11 Livac and Zapolje
12 Modruš
13 Pliva and Rama
14 Pokupje
15 Posavje
16 Prigorje
17 Sana and Luka
18 Usora and Soli
19 Vinodol and Podgorje
20 Vrhbosna
21 Vuka
22 Zagorje


Influences on the rise of the Ustaše

Ante Pavelić, self-proclaimed "Poglavnik" of the Independent State of Croatia.

In 1915 a group of political emigres from Austria-Hungary, predominantly Croats but including some Serbs and a Slovene, formed themselves into a Yugoslav Committee, with a view to creating a South Slav state in the aftermath of World War I. They saw this as a way to prevent Dalmatia being ceded to Italy under the Treaty of London (1915). The committee was succeeded by a national council which in 1918 sent a delegation to the Serbian monarch to offer unification within a State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. The leader of the Croatian Peasant Party, Stjepan Radić, warned on their departure for Belgrade that the council had no democratic legitimacy. But a new state, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, was duly proclaimed on 1 December 1918, with no heed taken of legal protocols such as the signing of a new Pacta Conventa in recognition of historic Croatian state rights.[51][52]

Croats were at the outset politically disadvantaged with the centralized political structure of the kingdom, which was seen as favouring the Serb majority. The political situation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was fractious and violent. In 1927, the Independent Democratic Party, which represented the Serbs of Croatia, turned its back on the centralist policy of King Alexander. On 20 June 1928, Stjepan Radić and four other Croat deputies were shot while in the Belgrade parliament by a member of the Serbian People's Radical Party. Three of the deputies, including Radić, died. Resultant outrage threatened to destabilise the kingdom. In January 1929, King Alexander responded by proclaiming a royal dictatorship, under which all dissenting political activity was banned and renaming the state the "Kingdom of Yugoslavia".

One consequence of Alexander's 1929 proclamation and the repression and persecution of Croatian nationalists was a rise of support for the Croatian extreme nationalist, Ante Pavelić, who had been a Zagreb deputy in the Yugoslav parliament and who was to be implicated in Alexander's assassination in 1934, went into exile in Italy and gained support for his vision of liberating Croatia from Serb control and racially "purifying" Croatia. While residing in Italy, Pavelić and other Croatian exiles founded the Ustaša insurgency.[53]

Establishment of NDH

Following the attack of the Axis powers on the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1941, and the quick defeat of the Yugoslav Army (Jugoslavenska Vojska), the country was occupied by Axis forces. Slavko Kvaternik, deputy leader of the Ustaše proclaimed the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH - Nezavisna Država Hrvatska) on April 10, 1941. Pavelić, who was known by his Ustaše title, "Poglavnik" returned to Zagreb from exile in Italy on 17 April and became the absolute leader of the NDH throughout its existence (the Axis powers had offered Vladko Maček the opportunity to form a government, since Maček and his party, the Croatian Peasant Party (Croatian: Hrvatska seljačka stranka - HSS) had the greatest electoral support among Yugoslavia's Croats. Maček refused that offer.) [54][55]

Acceding to the demands of Benito Mussolini Fascist regime in the Kingdom of Italy, Pavelić reluctantly accepted Aimone the 4th Duke of Aosta as a figurehead King of the NDH under his new royal name, Tomislav II. Tomislav II never visited the NDH and had no influence over the government, which was dominated by Pavelić. Tomislav II was not interested in being the figurehead King of Croatia.[10] On learning that he had been named King of Croatia, he told close colleagues that he thought his nomination was a bad joke by his cousin King Victor Emmanuel III though he accepted the crown out of a sense of duty.[56] Tomislav II's position was intended by the Italian Fascist regime to legitimize the presence of Italian armed forces on Croatian soil.

From a strategic perspective, establishment of the NDH was a means by Mussolini and Hitler to pacify the Croats, while reducing the use of Axis resources, which were more urgently needed for Operation Barbarossa. Meanwhile, Mussolini used his long-established support for Croatian independence as leverage to coerce Pavelić into signing an agreement on 19 May 1941, under which central Dalmatia and parts of Hrvatsko primorje and Gorski kotar were ceded to Italy.[57] Under the same agreement, the NDH was restricted to a minimal navy and Italian forces were granted military control of the entire Croatian coastline. After Pavelić signed the agreement, other Croatian politicians rebuked him. Pavelić publicly defended the decision and thanked Germany and Italy for supporting Croatian independence.[58] This concession to Italy sowed the seeds of discontent between the "home" and "emigre" elements of the Ustaša that continued through the lifetime of the NDH.

After refusing leadership of the NDH, Maček called on all to obey and cooperate with the new government. The Roman Catholic Church was also openly supportive of the government. According to Maček, the new state was greeted with a "wave of enthusiasm" in Zagreb, often by people "blinded and intoxicated" by the fact that the Germans had "gift-wrapped their occupation under the euphemistic title of Independent State of Croatia". But in the villages, Maček wrote, the peasantry believed that "their struggle over the past 30 years to become masters of their homes and their country had suffered a tremendous setback". (Maček pp. 220–231).

Dissatisfied with the Pavelić regime in its early months, the Axis Powers in September 1941 asked Maček to take over, but Maček again refused. Perceiving Maček as a potential rival, Pavelić subsequently had him arrested and imprisoned in the Jasenovac concentration camp. The Ustaše initially did not have an army or administration capable of controlling all the territory of the NDH. The Ustaše movement had fewer than 12,000 members when the war started. While the Ustaše's own estimates put the number of their sympathizers even in the early phase at around 40,000.[59] The northeastern half of NDH territory was in the so-called "German Zone of Influence" where the German armed forces (Wehrmacht) exercised de facto control. The southwestern portion of the NDH was controlled by the Italian army until capitulation of Fascist Italy in 1943, when the NDH acquired control of northern Dalmatia (Split and Šibenik).

Role of existing organizations

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Previously important organizations, the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) and the Catholic Church, were relatively uninvolved in the creation and maintenance of the Independent State of Croatia. Many organizations that opposed or threatened the Ustaše were eventually outlawed.[citation needed] For example, the Croatian Peasant Party was banned on 11 June 1941 in an attempt by the Ustaše to displace the party as the primary representative of the Croatian peasantry[citation needed] and its leader, Vladko Maček, was sent to the Jasenovac concentration camp. The Catholic Church initially participated in state mandated religious conversions, but eventually the main branches of the Church stopped when it became obvious that these conversions were merely a form of punishment for the undesirable population.

Italian influence

Prince Aimone, Duke of Aosta known as King Tomislav II (1941-1943).

Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and Ante Pavelić had close relations prior to the war. Mussolini and Pavelić both despised the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Italy had been promised, in the London Pact of 1915, that it would receive Dalmatia from Austria-Hungary at the end of World War I. The peace negotiations in 1919, however, influenced by the Fourteen Points proclaimed by Woodrow Wilson, called for national self-determination and determined that the Yugoslavs rightfully deserved the territory in question. Italian nationalists were enraged. Italian nationalist Gabriele D'Annunzio raided the Croatian town of Fiume (which held a mixed population of Croats and Italians) and proclaimed it part of the Italian Regency of Carnaro. D'Annunzio declared himself "Duce" of Carnaro and his blackshirted revolutionaries held control over the town. D'Annunzio was known for engaging in passionate speeches aimed to draw Croatian nationalists to support his actions and to oppose Yugoslavia.[60] Croatian nationalists, such as Pavelić, opposed the border changes that occurred after World War I. Not only was D'Annunzio's symbolism copied by Mussolini but also D'Annunzio's appeal to Croatian support for the dismantling Yugoslavia was copied and implemented as a foreign policy approach to Yugoslavia by Mussolini.

Pavelić had been in negotiations with Fascist Italy since 1927 that included advocating a territory-for-sovereignty swap in which he would tolerate Italy annexing its claimed territory in Dalmatia in exchange for Italy supporting the sovereignty of an independent Croatia.[61] In the 1930s, upon Pavelić and the Ustaše being forced into exile by the Yugoslav government, Mussolini offered Pavelić and the Ustaše sanctuary in Italy and allowed them to use training grounds to prepare for war against Yugoslavia. In exchange for this support, Mussolini demanded that Pavelić agree that Dalmatia would become part of Italy if Italy and the Ustaše successfully waged war on Yugoslavia. Although Dalmatia was a largely Croat-populated territory, it had been part of various Italian states, such as the Roman Empire and the Republic of Venice, for centuries and was part of Italian nationalism's irredentist claims. In exchange for this concession, Mussolini offered Pavelić the right for Croatia to annex all of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had only a minority Croat population. Pavelić agreed to this controversial exchange.

After the invasion and occupation of Yugoslavia, Italy annexed numerous Adriatic islands and a portion of Dalmatia that was formed into the Italian Governorship of Dalmatia including territory from the provinces of Split, Zadar, and Kotor.[62] Though Italy had initially larger territorial aims that extended from the Velebit mountains to the Albanian Alps, Mussolini decided against annexing further territories due to a number of factors, including that Italy held economically valuable territory within its possession while the northern Adriatic coast had no important railways or roads and because a larger annexation would have included hundreds of thousands of Slavs who were hostile to Italy, within its national borders.[62]

Italy intended to keep the NDH within its sphere of influence by forbidding it to build any significant navy.[63] Italy only permitted small patrol boats to be used by NDH forces. This policy forbidding the creation of NDH warships was part of the Italian Fascists' policy of Mare Nostrum (Latin for "Our Sea") in which Italy was to dominate the Mediterranean as the Roman Empire had done centuries earlier.

Italian armed forces assisted the Ustaše government in persecuting Serbs. In 1941, Italian forces captured and interned the Serbian Orthodox Bishop Irinej of Dalmatia.[64]

German influence

At the time of the invasion of Yugoslavia by Germany, Adolf Hitler was uneasy with Mussolini's agenda of creating a puppet Croatian state, and preferred that areas outside of Italian territorial aims become part of Hungary as an autonomous territory.[65] This would appease Germany's ally Hungary and its nationalist territorial claims and would also avoid the creation of a Slavic puppet state, as Hitler viewed all Slavs as racially degenerate.

The German position on Croatia changed after the invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941. The invasion was spearheaded by a strong German invasion force which was largely responsible for the capture of Yugoslavia. Military forces from other Axis powers, including Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria made few gains during the invasion. The invasion was precipitated by the need for German forces to reach Greece to save Italian forces, which were failing on the battlefield against the Greek armed forces. Upon rescuing Italian forces in Greece and having conquered Yugoslavia and Greece almost single handedly, Hitler became frustrated with Mussolini and Italy's military incompetence. Germany improved relations with the Ustaše and supported the NDH claims to annex the Adriatic Coast in order reduce Italy's planned territorial gains.[65] Nevertheless, Italy annexed a significant central portion of Dalmatia and various Adriatic Islands. This was not what had been agreed with Pavelić prior to the invasion; Italy had expected to annex all of Dalmatia as part of its irredentist claims.

Hitler sparred with his army commanders over what policy should be undertaken in Croatia regarding the Serbs. German military officials thought that Serbs could be rallied to fight against the Partisans. Hitler disagreed with his commanders, but pointed out to Pavelić that the NDH could create a completely Croat state only if it followed a constant policy of persecution of the non-Croat population for at least fifty years.[66]

Joachim von Ribbentrop and Pavelić, June 1941.

According to reports by General Glaise-Horstenau, Hitler was angry with Pavelić, whose policy inflamed the rebellion in Croatia, thwarting any prospect of deploying NDH forces on the Eastern Front.[67] Moreover, Hitler was forced to engage large forces of his own to keep the rebellion in check. For that reason, Hitler summoned Pavelić to his war headquarters in Vinnytsia (Ukraine) on 23 September 1942. Consequently, Pavelić replaced his minister of the Armed Forces, Slavko Kvaternik, with the less zealous Jure Francetić. Kvaternik was sent into exile in Slovakia - along with his son Eugen, who was blamed for the persecution of the Serbs in Croatia.[68] Before meeting Hitler, to appease the public, Pavelić published an "Important Government Announcement" (»Važna obavijest Vlade«), in which he threatened those who were spreading the news "about non-existent threats of disarmament of the Ustashe units by representatives of one foreign power, about the Croatian Army replacement by a foreign army, about the possibility that a foreign power would seize the power in Croatia ..."[69]

General Glaise-Horstenau reported: "The Ustaše movement is, due to the mistakes and atrocities they have committed and the corruption, so compromised that the government executive branch (the home guard and the police) shall be separated from the government - even for the price of breaking any possible connection with the government."

Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler is quoted characterizing the Independent State of Croatia as "ridiculous": "our beloved German settlements will be secured. I hope that the area south of Srem will be liberated by [...] the Bosnian division [...] so that we can at least restore partial order in this ridiculous (Croatian) state."[70]

The Ustaše gained German support for plans to eliminate the Serb population in Croatia. One plan involved an exchange in 1941 between Germany and the NDH, in which 20,000 Catholic Slovenes would be deported from German-held Slovenia and sent to the NDH where they would be assimilated as Croats. In exchange, 20,000 Serbs would be deported from the NDH and sent to the rump Serbian State.[64] The German occupation forces allowed the expulsion of Serbs to Serbia, but instead of sending the Slovenes to Croatia, they were also deported to Serbia.[64] In total, about 300,000 Serbs had been deported or fled from the NDH to Serbia by the end of World War II.[64]

The atrocities committed by the Ustaše stunned observers, Brigadier Sir Fitzroy MacLean, Chief of the British military mission to the Partisans commented, "Some Ustaše collected the eyes of Serbs they had killed, sending them, when they had enough, to the Poglavnik ['head-man'] for his inspection or proudly displaying them and other human organs in the cafés of Zagreb."[71]

The Nazi regime demanded that the Ustaše adopt anti-Semitic racial policies, persecute Jews and set up concentration camps. Pavelic and the Ustaše accepted Nazi demands, but their racial policy focused primarily on eliminating the Serb population. When the Ustaše needed more recruits to help exterminate the Serbs, and the state broke away from Nazi anti-Semitic policy by promising honorary Aryan citizenship, and thus freedom from persecution, to Jews who were willing to fight for the NDH.[72] As this was the only legal means allowing Jews to escape persecution, a number of Jews joined the NDH's armed forces. This aggravated the German SS, which claimed that the NDH let 5,000 Jews survive via service in the NDH's armed forces.[72] German anti-Semitic objectives for Croatia were further undermined by Italy's reluctance to adhere to a strict anti-Semitic policy, which resulted in Jews in Italian-held parts of Croatia avoiding the same persecution facing Jews in German-held eastern Croatia.[73]

After Italy abandoned the war in 1943, German forces occupied western Croatia and the NDH annexed the territory ceded to Italy in 1941.

Partisans and the Yugoslav front

Marshal Josip Broz Tito and Major-General Koča Popović in Drvar, 1943.

The Ustaše's genocidal onslaught on its minorities provoked mass movements of resistance, inspired in part by royalist (Četnik) and – more effectively – communist (Partisan) ideologies, but driven primarily by a determination to fight back by any means. The uprisings were particularly strong in rural areas where many village populations fled from the terror and then mounted guerilla operations from vantage points in the mountains and forests. On 22 June 1941, the First Sisak Partisan Brigade was formed in the Brezovica forest near Sisak, Croatia; this was to be celebrated as the first armed resistance unit formed in occupied Europe during World War II. Croats, Serbs, Bosniaks, and citizens of all nationalities and backgrounds began joining the pan-Yugoslav Partisans led by Josip Broz Tito. The Partisan movement was soon able to control a large percentage of the NDH (and Yugoslavia) and before long the cities of occupied Bosnia and Dalmatia in particular were surrounded by these Partisan-controlled areas, with their garrisons living in a de-facto state of siege and constantly trying to maintain control of the rail-links.[74]

Croats were significantly more numerous than Serbs among the Partisan ranks.[75][76][77] In 1944, the third year of the war in Yugoslavia, Croats formed 60% of the Partisan operational units originating from the Federal State of Croatia.[78] The Partisan movement was generally multiethnic, although at least one Croatian unit was overwhelmingly Serbian (the 6th Lika Proletariat Division "Nikola Tesla").[79] FS Croatia also had the highest number of detachments and brigades among the federal units, and together with the forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Partisan resistance in the NDH made up the majority of the movement's military strength. The Partisan commander, Marshall Josip Broz Tito, was half Slovene, half Croatian.

Relations with the Chetniks

Representatives of the Chetniks, Ustaše, and Croatian Home Guard meet in occupied Bosnia

After the 1941 split between the Partisans and the Chetniks in Serbia, the Chetnik groups in central, eastern, and northwestern Bosnia found themselves caught between the German and Ustaše (NDH) forces on one side and the Partisans on the other. In early 1942 Chetnik Major Jezdimir Dangić approached the Germans in an attempt to arrive at an understanding, but was unsuccessful, and the local Chetnik leaders were forced to look for another solution. The Chetnik groups were in fundamental disagreement with the Ustaše on practically all issues, but they found a common enemy in the Partisans, and this was the overriding reason for the collaboration which ensued between the Ustaše authorities of the Independent State of Croatia and Chetnik detachments in Bosnia. The first formal agreement between Bosnian Chetniks and the Ustaše was concluded on 28 May 1942, in which Chetnik leaders expresseed their loyalty as "citizens of the Independent State of Croatia" both to the state and its Poglavnik (Ante Pavelić). During the next three weeks, three additional agreements were signed, covering a large part of the area of Bosnia (along with the Chetnik detachments within it). By the provision of these agreements, the Chetniks were to cease hostilities against the Ustaše state, and the Ustaše would establish regular administration in these areas.[72][80] The main provision, Art. 5 of the agreement, states as follows:

As long as there is danger from the Partisan armed bands, the Chetnik formations will cooperate voluntarily with the Croatian military in fighting and destroying the Partisans and in those operations they will be under the overall command of the Croatian armed forces. [...] Chetnik formations may engage in operations against the Partisans on their own, but this they will have to report, on time, to the Croatian military commanders.[72]

The necessary ammunition and provisions were supplied to the Chetniks by the Ustaše military. Chetniks who were wounded in such operations would be cared for in NDH hospitals, while the orphans and widows of Chetniks killed in action would be supported by the Ustaše state. Persons specifically recommended by Chetnik commanders would be returned home from the Ustaše concentration camps (Jasenovac concentration camp). These agreements covered the majority of Chetnik forces in Bosnia east of the German-Italian demarcation line, and lasted throughout most of the war. Since Croatian forces were immediately subordinate to the German military occupation, collaboration with Croatian forces was, in fact, indirect collaboration with the Germans.[72][80]

End of the war

In August 1944, there was an attempt by the NDH Foreign Minister Mladen Lorković and Minister of War Ante Vokić to execute a coup d'état against Ante Pavelić. The Lorković-Vokić coup failed and its conspirators were executed.

By early 1945, the NDH army withdrew towards Zagreb with German and Cossak troops, and continued fighting for a week after the German surrender on May 9, 1945.[citation needed] They were soon overpowered and the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) effectively ceased to exist in May 1945.

The advance of Tito's partisan forces, joined by the Soviet Red Army, caused mass retreat of the Ustaše towards Austria. In May 1945, a large column composed of anti-communists, Chetniks, Ustaša followers, NDH Army troops and civilians retreated from the partisan forces, heading northwest towards Italy and Austria. Ante Pavelić detached from the group and fled to Austria, Italy, Argentina and finally Spain, where he died in 1959. The rest of the group, consisting of over 150,000 soldiers (including Cossak troops) and civilians, negotiated with the British forces for passage to the Austrian side of the Austrian-Slovenian border. The British Army, however, turned disarmed soldiers and civilians over to the partisan forces.

The end of the war resulted in the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Yugoslavia (which later became the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), with the Constitution of 1946 officially making each of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina one of the six constituent republics of the new state.


Although far right movements in Croatia inspired by the former NDH reemerged during the Croatian War of Independence, the current Constitution of Croatia does not recognize the Independent State of Croatia as the historical or legitimate predecessor state of the current Croatian republic.[81] Despite this, upon declaring independence from Yugoslavia, the Republic of Croatia rehabilitated the Croatian Home Guard, who now receive a state pension.[82] German soldiers who died on Croatian territory were not commemorated until Germany and Croatia reached an agreement on marking their grave sites in 1996.[83] The German War Graves Commission maintains two large cemeteries in Zagreb and Split.



According to data calculated by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the creation of the state the population was approximately 6,285,000 of which 3,300,000 were Croats, 1,925,000 were Serbs, 700,000 were Muslims, 150,000 Germans, 65,000 Czechs and Slovaks, 40,000 Jews, and 30,000 Slovenes. Croats comprised slightly over half of the population of the Independent State of Croatia. With Muslims treated as Croats the Croat share of the total population was still less than two-thirds.[84]

Displacement of people

A large number of people were displaced due to internal fighting within the former Yugoslav republic. The NDH had to accept more than 200,000 Slovenian refugees who were forcefully evicted from their homes as part of the German plan of annexing parts of the Slovenian territories. As part of this deal, the Ustaše were to deport 200,000 Serbs from Croatia military regions; however, only 182,000 had been deported when German high commander Bader stopped this mass transport of people because of the uprising of Chetniks and partisans in Serbia[citation needed]. Because of this, 25,000 Slovenian refugees ended in Serbia.

Internal colonization to the region of Slavonia was encouraged during this period from Dalmatia, Lika, Hrvatsko Zagorje and Bosnia and Herzegovina.[85] The state maintained an Office of Colonization in Mostar, Osijek, Petrinja, Sarajevo, Sremska Mitrovica, and Zagreb.[86]

Racial legislation

An Ustaše guard poses among the bodies of victims in Jasenovac concentration camp.

On the first day of his arrival in Zagreb, Ante Pavelić proclaimed a law that remained in effect during the entire period of the Independent State of Croatia. The law, which was enacted on 17 April 1941, declared that all people who offend, or try to offend, the Croatian nation are guilty of treason — a crime punishable by death.[80] One day later, the first Croatian antisemitic racial law was published. This law did not create panic among the Jewish population, because they believed it was merely a continuation of the antisemitic laws of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which were proclaimed in 1939.[87] However, the situation quickly changed on April 30, with the publication of the Aryan race laws.

A notable part of the racial legislation was the religious conversion laws, the implications of which were not understood by the majority of the population when they were published on 3 May 1941. The implications become clear following the July speech of the minister of education, Mile Budak, in which he declared: "We will kill one third of all Serbs. We will deport another third, and the rest of them will be forced to convert to Catholicism." Racial laws were enforced until 3 May 1945, when they were abolished.[80]

The NDH government cooperated with the Nazi Germany in the Holocaust and exercised their own version of the genocide against ethnic Serbs living in their borders. State policy about Serbs has been first declared in words of Miroslav Žanić minister of NDH Legislative council on 2 May 1941: "This country can only be Croatian country, and there is no method we would hesitate to use in order to make it truly Croatian and cleanse it of Serbs, who have for centuries endangered us and who will endanger us again if they are given opportunity."[88]

At least 330,000 Serbs, 30,000 Jews and 30,000 Roma were killed during the NDH (see Jasenovac) [89][90] and the same number of Serbs were forced out of the NDH. Although the Ustase's main target for persecution were the Serbs, it also participated in the destruction of the Jewish population. The NDH deviated from Nazi anti-Semitic policy by promising honorary Aryan citizenship to some Jews, if they were willing to enlist and fight for the NDH.[72]

According to the 1931 and 1948 census, the Serb population declined in Croatia and Bosnia:

Serbs Croatia[91] Bosnia and Herzegovina[92] Srem, Serbia[93] Total
1931 Census 633.000 1.028.139 210.000 1.871.000
1948 Census 543.795 1.136.116 unknown[93][94] 1.672.000+


Soon after establishment of the NDH, the Yugoslav Academy of Science and Arts was renamed the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts. The country had four state theatres: Zagreb, Osijek, Dubrovnik and in Sarajevo.[95][96] The Croatian State Theatre in Zagreb played host to the Berlin Philharmonic and the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma in the 1941/42 season.[97] Volumes two to five of Mate Ujević's Croatian Encyclopedia were published during this period. The NDH was represented at the 1942 Venice Biennale, where the works of Joza Kljaković, Ivan Meštrović, Ante Motika, Ivo Režek, Bruno Bulić, Josip Crnobori, Antun Medić, Slavko Kopač and Slavko Šohaj were presented by Vladimir Kirin.

The state had one university, the University of Zagreb, then known as the Croatian University. The university established a pharmaceutical faculty in 1942,[98] and a medical faculty in Sarajevo in 1944.[99] It also opened the Clinical Hospital Centre, which would become the largest in Croatia. The Croatian Red Cross was established in 1941, with Kurt Hühn serving as its president.[100][101] After the NDH signed the Geneva Conventions in 1943, the International Committee of the Red Cross named Julius Schmidlin as its representative to the country.[101]

The state had two secular holidays; the anniversary of its establishment was commemorated on 10 April and the assassination of Stjepan Radić was commemorated on 20 June 1928.[102] In addition, the state granted holidays to several religious communities:

The state film institute, Hrvatski slikopis, produced many films, including Straža na Drini and Lisinski.[103] The Croatian cinema pioneer Oktavijan Miletić, was active during this period.[104][105] In 1943, Zagreb hosted the I. International Congress for Narrow Film.[106]

On 29 April 1941 the Decree on building Croatian workers' family homes was issued which resulted in the development of so-called Pavelić neighbourhoods in the state's larger northern cities: Karlovac, Osijek, Sisak, Varaždin, and Zagreb.[107] The neighbourhoods were largely based on similar workers housing in Germany.[108] They are characterized by their wide avenues and lots, and for largely being made up of semi-detached homes.[109]


The official publication of the government was the Narodne novine (Official Gazette). Dailies included Zagreb's Hrvatski narod (Croatian Nation), Osijek's Hrvatski list (Croatian Paper) and Sarajevo's Novi list (New Paper).[110] The state's news agency was called the Croatian News Office "Croatia" (Hrvatski dojavni ured "Croatia") which took on the role formerly performed by the Avala news agency in Yugoslavia.[111] After the war's end, out of 330 registered journalists in the state, 38 were executed, 131 emigrated, and 100 were banned from working as journalists in the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia.[112]

The state's main radio station was Hrvatski Krugoval, known before the war as Radio Zagreb.[113] The NDH increased the transmitter's power to 10 kW.[113] The radio station was based in Zagreb, but had branches in Banja Luka, Dubrovnik, Osijek and Sarajevo.[114] It maintained cooperation with the International Broadcasting Union.[115]


The most popular sport in the NDH was football, which had its own league system, with the highest level known as the Zvonimir Group.[116] Top clubs included Građanski Zagreb, Concordia Zagreb and HAŠK. The Croatian Football Federation was accepted into FIFA on July 17, 1941.[117] The national football team played 15 matches representing the NDH as an independent state.

The NDH had other national teams. The Croatian Handball Federation organized a national handball league, and a national team.[118] Its boxing team was led by African-American Jimmy Lyggett.[119] The Croatian Table-Tennis Association organized a national competition as well as a national team which participated in a few international matches.[120] The Croatian Olympic Committee was recognized as a special member of the International Olympic Committee, with Franjo Bučar acting as its representative.[121] The Croatian Skiing Association organized a national championship, held on Zagreb's Sljeme mountain.[122] A national bowling competition was held in 1942 in Zagreb which was won by Dušan Balatinac.[123]

See also


  1. ^ "Poglavnik" was a term coined by the Ustaše, and it was originally used as the title for the leader of the movement. In 1941 it was institutionalized in the NDH as the title of first the Prime Minister (1941-43), and then the head of state (1943-45). It was at all times held by Ante Pavelić and became synonymous with him. The translation of the term varies. The root of the word is the Croatian word "glava", meaning "head" ("Po-glav(a)-nik"). The more literal translation is "head-man", while "leader" captures more of the meaning of the term (in relation to the German "Führer" and Italian "Duce").


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