CHAPTER SIX: BOSNIA-HERCEGOVINA DEFEATS GREAT SERBIA, c. JUNE 1942-OCTOBER 1943This is the final chapter of this excellent book, documenting the triumph of the Partisans over the Chetniks in Bosnia. This event was an important turning point in the history of Yugoslavia, but also a telling event in the national history of Bosnia itself. One of the main themes of this book is the specifically Bosnian character of the Partisan movement there, and how Bosnian characteristics and realities helped shape it. In fact, Dr. Hoare even shows that the Bosnian Chetnik movement, despite its allegiance to a "Greater Serb" ideology, was fundamentally a Bosnian movement, often at odds with the Serbian leadership (including Mihailovic himself). The culmination of the events and dynamics mapped out in the preceding five chapters is the unity and institutional strength of the Partisan movement in western Bosnia, and a string of military successes against both the NDH and the Chetniks, which solidified the supremacy of the Partisans and helped assure their eventual victory.
There is little need for a detailed summary--the narrative arc of this chapter is relatively simple and straightforward. First, the author details the temporary ascendancy of the Chetniks in eastern Bosnia-Hercegovina, which was ultimately transient for reasons Dr. Hoare neatly encapsulates:
"Yet the Great Serb project rested on shaky foundations: poor organization, primitive leaders, an administration riddled with Partisan sympathizers, a popular base that could not expand beyond the Serb minority of the population, and an often bitter animosity between its Serbian and its Bosnian adherents. The pyrrhic Chetnik victory merely set the scene for the subsequent Partisan resurgence."
And so, the avowedly provincial and self-limiting Chetnik movement would not be able to overcome its intrinsic limitations, nor would Bosnian Chetniks be able to transcend their own Bosnian loyalties in order to cooperate fully with a pan-Serb movement run by a Serbian and Montenegrin leadership.
Meanwhile, in western Bosnia, the Partisan movement--in a move driven by native Bosnian Partisans as much as by the Supreme Staff and Tito--would succeed in their greatest military triumph to date; the liberation of Bihac, which would allow for the creation of a nascent Partisan state in an area of Bosnia where it would be possible to draw a large number of Croats and Muslims into their ranks. The Partisans were then able to hold the first 'Anti-Fascist Council of the People's Liberation of Yugoslavia' in this liberated territory; this council was an important step towards the goal of creating a truly pan-Yugoslav, multinational movement.
These developments were followed by a series of military moves as the Supreme Staff sought to move back east and take the Chetniks on; these moves were initially successful, including the great victory of the Battle of the River Neretna, during which the Partisans both managed to hold off a coordinated Axis/Chetnik/Ustasha offensive and break the back of the Chetniks (although by no means completely destroy them as a military threat). An ill-advised attempt to return to Serbia ended in the near-catastrophe of the Battle of the River Sutjeska, at which the Partisan forces had to fight desperately just to escape a fierce Axis/Chetnik attack, one which still managed to destroy fully a third of the Partisan forces involved. Yet they did escape, and survived to link up with other Partisan forces.
Bosnia was won. The Chetniks, while not finished, could not hope to prevail. And then the Italian surrender to the Allies took their forces out of the equation, leaving the Partisans free to deal with the wholly inadequate Ustasha and NDH forces in western Yugoslavia. Serbia itself would not fall to the Partisans until the arrival of Soviet military power in 1944, but by then it had long been clear who was the dominant domestic power in the country.