Howard Fast

Tito and His People

Italian Arms in Partisan Hands

The surrender of Italy that summer came as a windfall to the Liberation Front. Marshal Tito knew, with the invasion of Sicily, that sooner or later the battered and consistently defeated Italian fascist army would have to lay down its arms. He made his preparations accordingly and when the surrender came, he was ready. Partisan troops or emissaries approached Italian garrisons in all parts of Yugoslavia. In each case they were given one of three choices: to fight the Partisans; to surrender their arms and supplies and leave Yugoslavia; or to join the Partisans in their fight against the Nazis.

In only a few isolated cases did the Italians resist the Partisans. In Slovenia, for example, six Italian divisions surrendered their arms and were escorted to the Italian border. In Croatia, three Italian brigades went over to the Partisans. In parts of Serbia, Germans reached the Italians first and disarmed them, but there were some instances where the Italians fought off the Germans and joined the Partisans.

Never before had such a quantity of arms and supplies come into Tito's hands. He had enough tanks to equip an entire tank brigade. For the first time, he had an ample supply of anti-aircraft guns and heavy artillery. Howitzers, siege guns, and even a few pieces of coastal artillery fell into his hands. Armored cars and an armored train; locomotives. Great stores of food. Several thousand machine guns; tommy guns. Millions of rounds of ammunition, and whole dumps of artillery shells.

Tito did not pause or rest on his laurels. With the captured arms and the added recruits, he launched a heavy attack on the Dalmation coast. Striking hammer blows, he liberated almost all of Dalmatia, and then drove north into Istria. He cleared all of this neck of land except Trieste of the enemy, and in one place smashed across the border into Italy. From there, he swung eastward and liberated Slovenia. In Slovenia, the people rose to join him, and in a matter of weeks almost all of that province was cleared of Germans. By late September, 1943, two-thirds of Yugoslavia was in the hands of the Liberation Front.

The Germans attempted counter-attacks. Panzer units that slashed into Slovenia were cut-off and destroyed; and at that time, Russian pressure was growing. The Germans could not afford a full-scale Yugoslav offensive against Tito's strengthened forces. Allied troops were hammering at them in Italy and the air attacks from the British Isles were assuming huge dimensions.

In addition, American and British liaison with Tito had been tremendously improved. Now, when Tito undertook a military action, flights of American and British planes supported him. Rumor had it that varied supplies were being transported by the Allies across the Adriatic in small boats.

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