Arso Jovanović in 1943
24 March 1907|
Zavala near Podgorica, Montenegro
|Allegiance||Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Democratic Federal Yugoslavia, Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|Service/branch||DF Yugoslavia, FPR of Yugoslavia|
|Years of service||1924–1948|
|Commands held||Chief of the General Staff|
Educated through the Yugoslav Royal Army academies, General Jovanović was one of the best-educated generals among the partisan forces in Yugoslavia, speaking French, Russian and English. His military reports distinguished him, sometimes running to as many as ten pages, and he stayed close to the partisan High Command, lecturing in the first partisan officer school in Drvar, 1944. After the war, when Josip Broz Tito broke with Moscow and Stalin in 1948, General Jovanović openly sided with the Soviet Union. He was killed by Yugoslav border guards while trying to escape to Romania.
Arso Jovanović was born in Zavala village near Podgorica, Principality of Montenegro on March 24, 1907 into a family with a strong military tradition, belonging to the Piperi clan. His father was, until 1910, an officer of the Kingdom of Serbia army, stationed with the artillery regiment in Topčider, a suburb of Belgrade. Jovanović went to school in Nikšić, and then progressed to the Yugoslav Royal Army's military academy in Belgrade in 1924. There he was a contemporary of Velimir Terzić and Petar Ćetković, who would later also become significant commanders in the partisan forces during World War II. He graduated the top of his class, and was recommended to go to France for 'professional perfection'. He finished with top grades at the academy and went on to its higher school, graduating in 1934.
By this time he had reached the rank of lieutenant and continued with his studies. He completed the additional course of the military academy in 1940, being promoted to the rank of captain on January 18, 1938 and then to first class captain on December 20, 1938. On the recommendation of military experts and the minister of defense, Milan Nedić, and in recognition of his abilities, Jovanović was transferred to become troop commander of the school of reserve infantry officers.
Not long before the Nazi German invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, he was posted as commander of the school battalion of the infantry school of active officers. In the meantime, he had met and married Senka, a law student at the Belgrade Law School. They were separated when the war started, meeting up again in Drvar in 1944.
The German invasion
When the German invasion started, Arso Jovanović was commander of the school battalion. He was subject to the Second Army Group under General Dragoslav Miljković. His task was to take action in the direction of Sarajevo - Travnik. An interesting fact is that here he served with a number of future high commanders in the army such as Dragoslav Mihailović, Major Miodrag Palošević and Major Radoslav Đurić. Following the breakdown of the front at Sarajevo on April 15, and the entry of a German armoured group into the city, Captain Jovanović did not go forward to support Colonel Mihailović who was being attacked near Derventa. Instead he returned to his birthplace, unwilling to surrender to the enemy. There he awaited the famous 13 July uprising in Montenegro, in which he participated.
In these actions other active officers of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia who subsequently crossed over to the partisan lines also excelled themselves. Examples include infantry Colonel Savo Orović, reserve Lt. Colonel Veljko Bulatović, infantry Captain 1st Class Velimir Terzić and infantry Captain 1st Class Petar Ćetković. All fought then in the Royal Yugoslav Army that renounced the country's capitulation to the invaders, and later alongside the partisan units commanded by Peko Dapčević, Vlado Ćetković, Jovo Kapičić and others.
Since Montenegrins had traditionally held great affection for Russia, when the Soviet-German war broke out Montenegro rose in revolution. Despite the fact that plans and preparations for guerrilla warfare had not been made, a universal uprising was under way. Jovanović commanded his forces in a drive against the Italians near Crmnica, where they defeated one Italian battalion. Alone, Jovanović's unit captured 2,000 Italians and a significant amount of war equipment. Captain Jovanović then joined the partisan forces.
The partisan war
Jovanović was well received among the partisans. Due to his experience, he was assigned as chief of staff of the partisan guerrilla units for Montenegro and Boka. Until December, he was chief of staff for Montenegro.
Meanwhile, the Italian army had managed to transfer one army corps and three squadrons from Albania in order to quell the uprising. Jovanović found himself pressed between strong forces that slowly cleared the partisan units from the territory. He ordered a move towards Cetinje, where partisan units even managed to surround the Italian governor. The Italians however succeeded in deblocking Cetinje. Captain Jovanović then ordered an attack on Kolašin and Šavnik but the enemy forces were too strong, and the partisans were forced to retreat.
Arso Jovanović faced the ire of the people due to the deteriorating military situation. In this situation, he ordered a retreat on the entire front until the arrival of troops from Sandžak. For this action, 3,500 people were mobilised in Montenegro. On November 20, these forces commenced a march-manoeuvre in all parts of Montenegro. The main objectives were Kolašin, Mojkovac, Mioče, Donja Morača, Gornja Morača, Boan, Đurđevića Tara, Nikšić, Šavnik and Žabljak. Jovanović ordered his troops to take the city of Pljevlja at any cost, and manoeuvres were made to surround the city. The battle for Pljevlja commenced on December 1 when the majority of the forces entered the city itself. Arso Jovanović was among his fighters, and ordered charge, then retreat, and charge again. The Komski, "Bajo Pivljanin" and "Zetsko-lješanski" battalions all participated in this battle. The city was almost taken, but the enemy counter-attack was so strong that Jovanović had to order a retreat. The Axis forces suffered 74 dead, compared to 253 among the partisan units. Following this defeat partisans plundered villages and executed captured Italians, party "sectarians" and "perverts".
After the unsuccessful battle for Pljevlja, which was intended to connect the communist-controlled territory in Sandžak and Montenegro, Jovanović was called to supreme command. He thought that he would be relieved of duty, but (instead of Captain Branko Poljanac) Jovanović was appointed on December 12, 1941 as head of the Supreme Command of Yugoslavia's partisan forces. He held this post until the end of the war. Jovanović wrote an extensive report on the uprising in Montenegro and the reasons for the unsuccessful attempt on Pljevlja. In this report he described the shortcomings of the partisan forces.
After the war
|Chief of the General Staff of People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia
1 March 1945 - 15 September 1948
| Succeeded by|
as Chief of the General Staff of Yugoslav Army
- Pavlowitch, Stevan K. (March 2008). Hitler's new disorder: the Second World War in Yugoslavia. Columbia University Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-231-70050-4.
The partisans' disastrous attempt to capture Plevlja from its Italian garrison on 1 December 1941 was followed by widespread desertion, terror, plunder of villages, the execution of captured Italian officers, of party 'fractionalists' and even of "perverts".