How the Yugoslav Nation Found Its Soul

The War Illustrated, Volume 4, No. 85, Page 386, April 18, 1941.

The first news of the Yugoslav revolution was given to the world by Mr. Churchill in a speech in London on the morning of March 28. "I have great news for you and the whole country", the Prime Minister told his audience of Conservative delegates; "early this morning the Yugoslav nation found its soul". Below we give a description of the principal events of that day which may well mark a turning-point in the war.

Premier Tsvetkovitch, tired no doubt after his excursion to Vienna in which he had signed away his country's freedom, had gone to bed to sleep or not to sleep, we do not know. The hours passed. Midnight struck, and with its striking ushered in Friday, March 28. Yugoslavia's day of revolution had begun.

Shortly after midnight some 40 officers of the Yugoslav Air Force surrounded Tsvetkovitch's villa in a Belgrade suburb. Their commander was Captain Rakotchevitch, who entered the house, made his way to the Prime Minister's bedroom, and told him curtly to "Please follow me". Tsvetkovitch went pale. "What right have you to give me such an order? " he demanded. "I shall certainly not obey." Rakotchevitch drew his revolver and said, "March, or I fire". Tsvetkovitch was taken away to the War Office under close arrest. There he arrogantly demanded of General Simovitch, "In whose name have you assumed power?" "In the name of those whom you never represented", flashed back the General in reply.

At the War Office the men who had planned the coup, all Air Force officers under the leadership of General Dusan Simovitch, Chief of the Air Force Staff, had assembled at midnight. Soon they learnt that certain other Cabinet Ministers had been arrested, and that the Belgrade police headquarters, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of the Interior, the telephone exchange and the broadcasting station were also in the hands of their men. "We have done the job allotted" was the message telephoned as each building was occupied and each minister was taken into custody. In every case the men concerned were Air Force officers, pilots being given the job of seizing the buildings, while officers of high rank were charged with the arrest of the ministers.

When these preliminaries had been completed, General Simovitch drove to the royal palace shortly after 2 o'clock and requested that the young king should be roused. The royal servants protested, but the General insisted. So after a few minutes King Peter, wearing a dressing-gown and with his eyes still heavy with sleep, entered one of the Palace drawing-rooms. "Your Majesty", said General Simovitch, "from now on you are King of Yugoslavia, exercising full sovereign rights". At 7 o'clock all the Yugoslav radio stations broadcast King Peter's first proclamation to his people.