Royal Yugoslavian Guards Battalion serving Africa'42

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Andy H
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Royal Yugoslavian Guards Battalion serving Africa'42

Postby Andy H » 21 Sep 2010 13:09

Hi

The following is an extract from the 4th Indian Divisional History Pg161

On March 15th (1942) when the Hamra positions were nearing completion. 4th Division relieved the 2nd South African Division in the Salum Box. A battalion of Royal Yugoslav Guards came under (our) command.


They are not mentioned again. I know they didn't fight when under 4th Divisions command, but anyone with some further info would be gratefully recieved

Regards

Andy H

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Re: Royal Yugoslavian Guards Battalion serving Africa'42

Postby Ironmachine » 21 Sep 2010 17:14

There is some information here: http://www.feldgrau.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=55&t=3125

If memory serves me correctly Italy recruited Slovenes from Venezia Julia into its army just like any other Italian citizens. I believe that the British took in over 4,000 Slovene deserters or prisoners from the Italian Army in North Africa, 300 of whom already formed the nucleus of 1st Yugoslav Royal Guard Battalion by August 1941.


According to my information only 35 Yugoslav officers and 20 Yugoslav other ranks had succeeded in escaping to British lines in the Middle East by late 1943. If so, it is still probable that the Yugoslav Royal Guard Battalion was initially largely formed from ex-Italian Slovenes. There were about 100,000 Italian prisoners in British hands by August 1941, so it is not too unlikely that there were 300 Slovenes amongst them.


It was not until the Operation "Compass", when two prominent Slovene politicians who were politically active in Egypt even before the war, pressed on the Royal Yugoslav Government to allow Slovene POWs from the nearby Al-Agamy Camp to enlist themselves into the 1st Royal Yugoslav Guards Battalion, which was at that time badly understrength with only about 100 men, most of them army officers. Soon new recruits were pouring into the battalion, including those from Italian East Africa, Somalia, India, Kenya, South Africa, Palestine and some even from Argentina and the French Foreign Legion in French North Africa. When enlisting into the battalion, each recruit swore to the King Petar II. and received a Yugoslav citizenship, thuis revoking the Italian one, so that by September 1943 all soldiers were technically Yugoslav citizens.


In mid-June 1942 the Royal Yugoslav Guards Battalion was formed in Agami Camp next to the barracks of the Czechoslovaks. At the beginning of August 1942 came into the battalion more than 100 Slovenes who had returned from Tobruk, where they have served with the Polish Brigade. At about that time the battalion's strength was arounf 300 men. Alone on 2 January 1942 some 150 new Slovene POWs came, raising the strength of the battalion up to 500. The battalion saw very little action. As a part of the 10th Brigade of the 5th Indian Infanty Division they were sent to the oasis Kennels Box in the Libyan Desert, later to Halfaya Pass, never encounbtering any enemy afterwards they were pulled back to Trandjordan.


According to my source, around fifty specially selected men from the Royal Yugoslav Guards Battalion in Palestine and Jordania were sent to Eastbourne, England, in early 1943 to complete command traning and to form a special troops inside the 10th (Inter-Allied) Commando.


After September 1943, when the story about Tito fighting against the Germans and Mihailovic not, majority of the men of the Royal Yugoslav Guards Battalion, Royal Yugoslav Navy Squadron and various supply units joined to some of the Tito's forces which were at that time headquartered in Southern Italy. Only a small contigent of men remained loyal to the Royal Government, probably less than a company and several warships in Taranto. They were mostly drafted into the American or British armed forces in Southern Italy and saw some combat in Southern and Northern Italy in 1943-1945. However, they should not be mistaken for "Yugoslav" labour companies in Sardinia, Corsica and Southern France in 1943-1945.

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Re: Royal Yugoslavian Guards Battalion serving Africa'42

Postby David W » 21 Sep 2010 19:25

Nice work. Thanks for that.

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Re: Royal Yugoslavian Guards Battalion serving Africa'42

Postby Andy H » 26 Sep 2010 17:18

Thank you Ironmachine for that

Regards

Andy H

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Re: Royal Yugoslavian Guards Battalion serving Africa'42

Postby BryanK » 21 Nov 2010 03:58

Hi all
I've been reading all the correspondence about the Royal Yugoslavian Guards and their involvement in the Africa and Italy campaigns. The reason is to gain some understanding of history surrounding my father, who was born in 1918 in Gorenja Trebusa in Slovenia.
When Germany invaded "Yugoslavia" he was doing military service in the army. After the surrender, he and his brother fought as partisans until he decided that fighting two wars - Germany and Communists - was not to his liking. In his own words he "left and found his way to Palestine". His brother stayed with the partisans, becoming a communist, and somehow survived. Now I know little of how this was accomplished, but dad was in the 8th Army, and was definitely at El Alamein, and from what I can remember may have been at Tobruk too - not at all sure here if he were in the Royal Yugoslav Guards at all - but from the small bits of information he gave up, he was in a "commando" role and a sergeant platoon leader.
One thing I am sure of, he was one of the Slovenes recruited into No. 10 Inter-Allied Commando, trained at Fort William and based at Eastbourne. He held the rank of sergeant. He was in Algeria prior to the invasion of Italy, and was at Anzio and Monte Cassino, being attached to a Scottish regiment. He entered Rome with that regiment.
Being a stout anti-communist, he declined the offer of repatriation to "Yugoslavia", and joined the RAF, being stationed for a while at Klagenfurt in Austria. From there he was transferred to Algeria, where he met my mother, who was serving in the WRAF.
Would welcome anyone who can fill in some details.
Regards - bryank

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Re: Royal Yugoslavian Guards Battalion serving Africa'42

Postby 312MSO » 06 Mar 2011 13:47

This may help BryanK:
My father was a TA officer in the Royal Army Service Corps commanding 543 Transport Coy RASC in the Tobruk area Jan 42 to Mar 42.
The unit's War Diary (file WO169/6056 at the National Archives Kew) records that on 8 March 42 they "loaded !st Bn Royal Yugoslav Guards whilst under enemy air attack".
The RASC company was in the rapid retreat leaving the Tobruk area 27 March and arriving near Cairo 31 March. There is no further mention of the Yugoslavs. That RASC transport company alone would have had 200-300 vehicles, including 61 'non-runners' they towed 369 miles from Matruh to Cairo.

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Re: Royal Yugoslavian Guards Battalion serving Africa'42

Postby David W » 11 Oct 2012 16:27

Any idea when they left N.A for TransJordan?

At a bayonet strength of approx 500 are we assuming just three companies?

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Re: Royal Yugoslavian Guards Battalion serving Africa'42

Postby David W » 12 Feb 2015 14:08

Anyone?

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Re: Royal Yugoslavian Guards Battalion serving Africa'42

Postby trekker » 13 Feb 2015 07:52

David W wrote:At a bayonet strength of approx 500 are we assuming just three companies?

There were four rifle companies (A, B, C and D).

In January 1943 the number of men was 850 but then 250 were sent to RAF base in Kasfareet in February 1943.

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Re: Royal Yugoslavian Guards Battalion serving Africa'42

Postby David W » 13 Feb 2015 07:55

What about 1942?

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Re: Royal Yugoslavian Guards Battalion serving Africa'42

Postby trekker » 13 Feb 2015 08:07

David W wrote:Any idea when they left N.A for TransJordan?

»When the news of Italy's surrender reached 8/King's Own in Egypt a joint celebration took place with the neighbouring unit, a battalion of the Royal Yugoslav Guard.«

25th Indian Infantry Brigade was sent to Italy »having in the interim been strengthened by a fifth battalion, and a strange addition at that, namely the 1st Royal Yugoslav Guards, composed almost entirely of previous members of King Peter’s personal bodyguard.«

When the 1 st Royal Yugoslav Guards Battalion dissolved in the beginning of 1944 because most of its soldiers declared themselves to be members of Tito's NOVJ (National Liberaton Army of Yugoslavia) and were allowed by the British to go not much was left of the unit.

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Re: Royal Yugoslavian Guards Battalion serving Africa'42

Postby David W » 13 Feb 2015 08:09

Thanks.

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Re: Royal Yugoslavian Guards Battalion serving Africa'42

Postby trekker » 13 Feb 2015 13:51

One should be aware of the following facts regarding the 1st Royal Yugoslav Guards Battalion:
1) Officers were Yugoslav citizens of Serb and Slovene nationalities with Serbs prevailing.
2) Soldiers were Italian citizens of Slovene and Croatian nationalities with Slovenes prevailing.
3) Soldiers were Italian POW for whom the British government was responsible.

Here's some background:
According to the secret agreement of 1915 among Italy, Britain, France and Russia Austrian territories inhabited predominantly by Slovenes and Croats were annexed by Italy after WWI. In Italy they constituted the Julian March administrative unit. Italy adopted the policy of cultural annihilation of her Slovene and Croat citizens whom the Italian government in its documents called allogeni (of different ethnicity) and alloglotti (of different language). The policy was best illustrated by the slogan »Qui si parla soltanto Italiano« (Only Italian is spoken here) which was visible in all public places and any Slovene saying words in his mother tongue could be harassed by anyone passing. As a result, strong antagonism was created between Italians on one side and Slovenes and Croats on the other side.

As Italian citizens Slovenes and Croats (from Istria) had to serve the Italian army. They were sent to North Africa were they were captured by the British army and put in POW camps. There, their story interfered with the story of the Royal Yugoslav Government/Army in exile. In POW camps in Egypt, East and South Africa and India they were approached by Royal Yugoslav officers assisted by the British and were offered to join the Royal Yugoslav Army. Most of them accepted and signed to join volunterily. They did it bacause due to the reasons mentioned above they were anti-Italian. They were also pro-Yugoslav because they wanted their home territory to become part of Yugoslavia so they could join with their nationals in Slovenia and Croatia. Royal Yugoslav officers knew it and made them believe they would fight for it as the Royal Yugoslav Army soldiers.

In August 1941 the first lot of about 150 Slovenes and Croats from British POW camps joined the 1st Royal Yugoslav Guards Battalion. With their constant influx the battalion's strength increased but occasionally some soldiers were sent to other Royal Yugoslav Army units.

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Re: Royal Yugoslavian Guards Battalion serving Africa'42

Postby trekker » 13 Feb 2015 14:00

In one of the above posts the following was written:
When enlisting into the battalion, each recruit swore to the King Petar II. and received a Yugoslav citizenship, thuis revoking the Italian one, so that by September 1943 all soldiers were technically Yugoslav citizens.
I have never read about it and I would appreciate any word or source about it. Until I find more of it I doubt it.

It refers to the legal side of the matter. According to 1907 Hague convention and 1929 Geneva convention the British government was responsable for all Italian POW, including those of Slovene and Croat nationalities. The responsability was to keep them in good shape until repatriation. In my opinion, it was not legal to pass them to the Yugoslav government and involve them into military activities even though they signed to join the Yugoslav Army voluntarily. The British were probably aware of it and kept Italian POW of Slovene and Croat nationalities in their hands as Royal Yugoslav officers were actually subordinate to British officers. In addition, the 1st Royal Yugoslav Guards Battalion was kept out of the battlefield. General Auchinleck wrote: »The Royal Yugoslav Guards battalion did useful work in guarding important installations and in preparing defensive positions in the Western Desert. Towards the end of the period under review the battalion was moved to Haifa. As more than half of the personnel were ex-Italian prisoners of Slovene origin who had volunteered to serve against the Axis, it was considered desirable to remove them from the possibility of contact with their former employers.«

It has to be noted that the act of joining the Royal Yugoslav Army was an act of treason. By committing it Slovenes and Croats accepted not to return to their homes in Italy again as they would've been immediately imprisoned. In the end it turned out differently but that couldn't have been known in the Summer of 1941.

In January 1944 many Slovenes and Croats in the Royal Yugoslav Army units declared
a) to regard themselves members of Tito's National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NOVJ);
b) to disobey Royal Yugoslav Army officers;
c) to obey British army officers until joining NOVJ.
In the 1st Royal Yugoslav Guards Battalion it happened 18.1.1944.

They were all taken to Gineifa camp by the British. There were 1150 men on 15.4.1944. On 29.4.1944 they were transfered to NOVJ units and training centres: 414 men were assigned to tank units, 40 men to air force units, 122 men to the navy and 582 to infantry.

The main reason that many Slovenes and Croats in the Royal Yugoslav Army wanted to join Tito's National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia was rooted in their anti-Italian and pro-Yugoslav feelings described above. In January 1944 it was clear to many of them that
1) Italy was defeated;
2) Tito's army was fighting to liberate Yugoslavia and to annex the territory of Julian March to Yugoslavia;
3) Royal Yugoslav Army in exile would only return to Yugoslavia at the end of WWII to support the Yugoslav King with no influence on determining future borders.

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Re: Royal Yugoslavian Guards Battalion serving Africa'42

Postby trekker » 14 Feb 2015 09:44

trekker wrote:In August 1941 the first lot of about 150 Slovenes and Croats from British POW camps joined the 1st Royal Yugoslav Guards Battalion.

Here's a correction and addition to the above wrong statement:
1st Royal Yugoslav Guards Battalion was formally established at the end of May 1941 when it lacked soldiers.
In the first half of June 1941 the first 250 Slovenes and Croats from British POW camps joined the battalion.
1.8.1941 additional 100 men who had previously joined the Polish brigade came to Agami camp where the battalion was stationed. The battalion was 400 men strong.
21.1.1942 additional 115 Slovenes and Croats joined the battalion. Besides, about 50 Yugoslav citizens from the Middle East were drafted.
In February 1942 there were about 500 men in the battalion.

4.3.1942 1st Royal Yugoslav Guards Battalion was sent to Kenels Box south of Sidi el Barani. (see the above post of 312MSO)
23.3.1942 it was moved to Halfaya pass.
4.5.1942 the battalion was transferred to El Dabb to guard airfields.
23.6.1942 the battalion retreated to Palestine and camped in Atira near Haifa.


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