King Alexander's son, Crown Prince Peter, was only 11 years old at the time of his death when he became King. Peter became Peter II of Yugoslavia. As Peter was still a young boy, a regency had to be established. Three Regents were appointed. His great-uncle Prince Paul became the Prince Regent. Prince Paul was married to Princess Olga of the Hellenes (Greece). She was a daughter of the late Prince Nicholaos of Greece, and a grand-daughter of the late King George I of Greece. He was not, however, politically experienced. Not only was Yugoslavia a difficult country to rule in the best of times. And the 1930s was not the best of times. Hitler seized power in Germany (1933). The counties of the Balkans were gradually forced into the NAZI orbit. Prince Paul resisted more than most other Balkan countries. Constant pressure from The German Government after the NAZI rise to power brought Yugoslavia increasingly into the German orbit through a series of trade and diplomatic agreements. Germany even after World War I was the largest economy in Europe. Neigboring countries had to trade with Germany and the NAZIs were able to use this economic power to force concessions from countries like Yugoslavia. After World War I began, especially the fall of France (1940), the NAZIs were able to flagerently threaten military action. This policy was unpopular, especially with the Serbs who had fought Austria and Germany in World War I. Prince Paul attempted to resist the NAZIs. I am not sure to what extent Prince Paul involved King Peter in government activities. Prince Paul finally was called to Berchesgarten and forced by Hitler to accept his terms. This caused a violent reaction in Yugoslavia. Students rioted in Belgrade. lPrince Paul was unseated, leading to a German invasion.
Yugoslavia is a short-lived country, an amalgamation of the southern Slavs. It was born in the peace settlement after Worlds War I which had begun with Austria's attempt to punish Serbia for the assasination of Arch Duke Fraz Ferdinand. The royal family of Serbia, the largest constituent of Yugoslavia, begame the royal family of the new Yugoslavia. The most populace province was Serbia, but other provinces, primarily former Austrian territories were added to form the new cuntry. Some of the provinces, especially Croatia chafed under Serbian domination which made the country very difficult to govern.
Alexandar I was crowned King in 1921 after the death of his father King Alexander I, who had acted as Regent for his ailing father since 1914, had earned national fame as a soldier in the Balkan Wars and the First World War. He married Princess Marie of Romania in 1922. They had three sons: Crown Prince Peter, Prince Tomislav, and Prince Andrej. I have little information on how the princes were raised and dressed. Peter I had one younger brother, Arsen Karadjordjevic born in 1859 who lived until 1938. Arsen had one son, Paul Kara-Georgevic (1893- ), who became Prince Regent of Yugoslavia in 1929. He died in 1976.
The new kingdom faced many threats. Neighboring states coveted many countries territories and internal rivalries between the Serbs and Croats increased tensions still further. Some Yugoslavs believe that it was clear by 1929 that the King had no option but to impose a Royal dictatorship. Serbian domination of the government had caused resentment by Croats, Slovenes, and other natiionalities. Yugoslav politics is very complicated. Quite a bit has been written on this period, but of it by writers exposing the case of their particular ethnic/religious group rather than objectively addressing the subject. One excellent historian lays much of the blame on the "centralist" Serbs trying to forge a "national oneness" on the different federal components of the kingdom. [Porch, p. 150.] He may well be correct, but reades should be careful about accepting simplistic assessments to a very complicated country and the political turmoil there.
The other parts of Yugoslavia reacted to the dominant Serbs. That reaction was most pronounced in Croatia where the nationalist movement began to turn to Fascist Italy for support. And Mussolini was more than willing to offer covert support to the Croats. This was not out of any support for Croatian nationalism, but because he coveted territory along the Adriatic and the only way of getting that territory was to break apart Yugoslvia. The main nationalist movemeent in Croatia became the Fascist-oriented Croatian Revolutionary Organization (Ustase). Other regions had their own local dynamic. Many Montenegrans thought they could achieve autonomy through the Italians. Many Macedonians felt more bonds with Bulgaria. Other minorities (Albanians, Germans, Hungarians, Muslims, and others) felt few ties with the Serbs.
A crisis resulted from the killing of a Croat national leader. Civil war seemed imminent. King Alexander claimed he assumed dictitorial power reluctantly and he promised to restore democracy to the newly renamed Kingdom of Yugoslavia once unity had been achieved and bureaucratic corruption expunged. His government vigorosly repressed opposition. The Ustace launched trrorist attacks. The Royal Government responded with often brutal reprisals, especially in Lika and western Herzegovina where the Ustace was particularly strong. [Porch, p. 150.]
King Alexander was assassinated in Marseilles (October 9, 1934). Alexander was arriving in Marseille for a state visit to the Third French Republic. The two countries were allies as part of the Little Entente. While being driven through the streets, a gunman stepped forward and shot both Alexander and French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou as well as the chauffeur. It was all caught on film and was featured in movie newsreels around the world. The assasin was struck down at the scene by a mounted French policeman and then attacked by the croed. The French police apparently panicked and fired wildly, killing and wounding bystanders. As a result significant discrepancies emerged in the balistic assessment. There were variations in reports on the number and direction of shots fired. The press immidiately began writing about Balkan terrorism and blood oaths. It was not lost upon the French that World war I had been ignited by Balkan terrorism. King Alexander's son, Crown Prince Peter, was only 11 years old at the time of his death when he became King, Peter II of Yugoslavia.
As Peter II was still a young boy, a regency had to be established. Three Regents were appointed. The leading figure in the regency was Prince Paul. Major changes were made in government policy aimed at ending the political deadlock that had derailed government programs. Jevtitch, Minister of the Royal Court, was appointed prime minister. He was tasked with dissolving the National Assembly which had no members of the political opposition. Mew elections were organized. Opposition political leaders who had been interned were released. The Government declared an amnesty for many individuals who had been comvicted of political offenses. [Tsvetkovitch]
Prince Paul was the only son of Prince Arsen Karageorgevich, a younger son of Alexander Karadjordjevic. Paul was thus a brother of King Peter I. His mother was Princess Aurora Demidov. He married Princess Olga of the Hellenes (Greece) and Denmark. She was a daughter of the late Prince Nicholaos of Greece, and a grand-daughter of the late King George I of Greece. This also brought connections with the British throne. She was a sister of British Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent. Prince George (future George VI) as Duke of York served as best man at his wedding in Belgrade (1923). Paul was made a Knight of the Garter and educated at the University of Oxford. He had many close friends in Britain and in many ways he was more British than Yugoslav. As King Peter's great-uncle, Prince Paul became the Prince Regent. Prince Paul had not played a major role in King Alexander's Government. Paul was not, however, politically experienced. He probably understood Britain better than Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia a difficult country to rule in the best of times. And the 1930s was not the best of times. The problems escalated with the onset of the Great Depression. The escalating conflict between Serbs and other groups (especially the Croats) paralized government efforts to address economic and other problems. I am not sure to what extent Prince Paul involved King Peter in government activities. Peter was still quite young in 1934, but by the yime World war II broke out he was 16 years old.
Hitler seized power in Germany (1933). The counties of the Balkans were gradually forced into the NAZI orbit. Prince Paul resisted more than most other Balkan countries. Constant pressure from The German Government after the NAZI rise to power brought Yugoslavia increasingly into the German orbit through a series of trade and diplomatic agreements. Germany even after World War I was the largest economy in Europe. Neigboring countries had to trade with Germany and the NAZIs were able to use this economic power to force concessions from countries like Yugoslavia. Hitler's policy was to bring the Balkans into the NAZI orbit through economic and diplomatic methods. The countries involved resisted to varying degrees. Resistance was possible before Munich (1938). After Munich it was much more difficult.
Germany invaded Poland, launching World War II (September 1939). The Yugoslavian Government, like the other Balkan states, sought to remain neutral. After the fall of France (1940), however, the NAZIs were able to greatly intensify pressure on the Balkans. The NAZIs wee able to more flagerently threaten military action. Hitler still hoped to accomplish his goals with out invading the Balkans. Here his diplomatic offensive was complicated by Mussolini who invaded Greece (October 1940). The Italian invasion pushed the Greeks into seeking British aid. What Hitler wanted was to secure his soithern flank for the upcoming onvasion of the Soviet Union. Romania offered oil. Yugoslavia had many important natural resources, especially non-ferrous metals need by Germany indusxtry. This NAZI policy policy of coopting Yugoslavia was unpopular, especially with the Serbs who had fought Austria and Germany in World War I. The NAZIs by 1940 were pressed the Balkan countries to adhere to the Axis. Prince Paul attempted to resist the NAZIs.
Yugoslavia finally joined the Axis. the Regent, Prince Paul was summoned by Hitler to the Berghof. This was a treatment given by Hitler to other recalitrant neighbors. Prince Paul traveled in total secrecy (March 4-5, 1941). At the Berhof threatened Prince Paul with what would happen if he continued to defy him. He was also offered the emducement of the Greek port of Salonika if he cooperated. Hitler was adroit in offering the territory of other countries to those who cooperated with him. The Royal Government was fully aware of the reaction in Serbia to a pact with the NAZIs. Yugoslav Premier, Dragisha Cvetkovic, and Foreign Minister Aleksander Cincer-Markovic, departed Belgrade in secrecy for Vienna (March 25). They know that public announcement of an impending pact with the NAZIs would provoke demonstrations if not riots. In Vienna they met with Hitler and Ribbentrop and formally signed the documents acceding to the Axis (Tripartite Pact) (March 25). The Yugoslav officials were given written assurance by Ribbentrop assuring them that Germany would to respect "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia at all times" and that the Axis would not insist on transit rights across Yugoslavia "during this war". [Schrier, p 823.] After the War, historians have debated the importance of Salonika. Was this enducement really important in the Government's decesion to to join the Axis or was it Hitler's threat of invasion. Prince Paul and his adbisors may have thought that the acquisition of Salonika might make the arrangement more palitable to Yugoslav nationalists. If so, they misjudged the situation in Belgrade/.
Prince Paul's decesion to join the Axis caused a violent reaction in Yugoslavia. Salonika did not sway public opinion. The Slavs wanted nothing to do with Hitler. One of the participants in the coup wrote after the War that Salonika made it a matter of honor. [Tsvetkovitch] It was one thing to be forced into the Axis. It was another matter to become an active participant in the desmemberment of a neigboring state. I am not sure how strongly this issue was felt, but it is clear that many Serbs and other Yugoslavs did not want to join the Axis. (Other Yugoslavs especially the Croats who the Italians had been courting were less hotile.)
Massive riots broke out in Belgrade. Students played an umportant role. He was unseated in a coup d'état (March, 27 1941). Tito and the Communists claimed after the War that they had played the central role in the coup. [Politika]
The new government was formed by pro-British officers and middle class politicians. I am not sure what role young King Peter played in the coup. Peter II was declared of age. King Peter at the time was only 17 years of age. The British supported the coup and new Government. General Dušan Simović was appointed prime minister. The new Goverment opposed the NAZIs, but realised that the British could offer not effective support if Hitler invaded the country. Thus they moderated their statesments and attempted to placate Hitler by not renoucing Prince Paul's decesion to join the Axis in a vain effort to avoid Hitler's rath.
All but one of Yugoslavs neighbors by 1941 were under NAZI domination or influence. Prince Paul to avoid bloodshed felt obliged to sign a formal pact with Germany and Italy. Shortly afterwards, however, on March, 27 1941, he was unseated in a coup and the young King Peter II was declared of age. Within a week, Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Italy invaded Yugoslavia and the government was forced to surrender. While a military disaster for the Yugoslavs, the Germans action in forced them to delay the planned invasion of Russia. The precious weeks of delay was a critical element in the German failure to smash the Red Army before the onset of winter in 1941.
King Peter II, with the Yugoslav Government, made his way via Athens, Jerusalem and Cairo to London where he joined numerous other governments in exile from NAZI occupied Europe. The Germans divided Yugoslavia to satisfy Italian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, and demands and established a puppet Croat state proclaimed. The atrocities which followed, primarily directed at the Serbs is an important element in the emnity which emerged after the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1992. After the collapse of the Yugoslavian army in 1941, two rival resistance groups to the occupying forces eventually formed. The first was the Royalist Chetniks, led by the loyalist General Draza Mihailovic, Minister for Defense in the exile government. The other was the revolutionary Partisans led by the communist Josip Broz, known to the world later as Tito. A bitter civil war followed as the same time they fought the Germans. Yugosalvia became one of the most terrible killingfields of World War II he Allies, having initially supported Mihailovic, then threw their support behind Tito. Yugoslavia was the only occupied country to liberate pats of the country with partisan forces. The Germans were finally cleared from the country when Partisans entered Belgrade during 1944 in the wake of Soviet tank brigades and established a Communist Government, but one independent from Moscow.
Prince Paul escaped Yugoslavia with King Peter after the NAZI invasion. Because he had caced into Hitler, he was not allowed to play a role in the Yugoslavian Government-in Exile. The British kept him with his family, under house arrest in South Africa during the War (1941-45). Prince Paul had one daughter, Princess Elizabeth. She obtained information from the Special Operations Executive files in the Foreign Office in London and used then to expand the World war II coverage of a biography of her father, Prince Paul mever returned to Yugoslavia. He died in Paris (1976).
Balfour, Neil. Paul of Yugoslavia (Eaglet Publishing: London, 1980). Prince Paul's daughter Elizabeth obtained information from the Special Operations Executive files in the Foreign Office in London and used then to expand the World War II coverage in Balfour's book. This version was the Serbo-Croatian languafe edition published in 1990.
Politika (March 27, 1950). Published on the anniversary of the coup, the writer claims, "the coup d'état of 1941 was the deed of the Yugoslavian Popular Masses led by the Communist Party."
Porch, Douglas. The Path to Victory: The Mediterranean Theater in World War II (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York, 2004), 796p.
Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1960).
Tsvetkovitch, Dragisha. "Prince Paul, Hitler, and Salonika," International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 27, No. 4 (Oct., 1951), pp. 463-469
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site royal pages:
[Return to the Main Peter II page]
[Return to the Main Yugoslav World War II page]
[Return to the Main royalty page]
[Austria] [Belgium] [Denmark] [France] [Germany] [Greece] [Italy] [Italy] [Luxemburg]
[Monaco] [Netherlands] [Norway] [Romania] [Russia] [Spain] [Sweden] [United Kingdom]