Yugoslavia Armed Forces

Strength and organization of the Yugoslav Army, Air Force and Navy in 1941.
Divisions and equipment, aircraft and types, warships.

Men of the Belgrade 'Iron Regiment' on the march
Men of the Belgrade ‘Iron Regiment’ on the march. Uniform consists of the double-breasted tunic, French-pattern helmet, trousers and puttees.

The titular head of the armed forces was the King. At the end of March 1941 a group of Army officers overthrew the Regent Prince Paul and declared Crown Prince Peter King, although technically he was underage. This coup was seen abroad as a spontaneous patriotic rejection of the unpopular alliance with Germany, although the coup had been planned long before negotiations for the alliance began. The Germans immediately prepared to invade.

Yugoslav Army

When the Germans attacked at 5.15 am on 6 April 1941, from bases in Bulgaria, the Yugoslav Army (including some 400,000 recent draftees) was spread out along 1800 miles (ca. 2,897 km) of border. The front soon crumbled and on 9 April further massive attacks were launched from Austria, Hungary and Romania.

Two days later the Italians and Hungarians joined in the fray. By 13 April organized resistance was coming to an end and on 17 April 1941 Yugoslavia capitulated. 6,028 officers and 337,684 other ranks were captured by the Germans.

Army organization of Yugoslavia in April 1941

Yugoslavia had a standing army and the male population was liable for military service from the age of 20. The first one and a half years was done in the active army, followed by 18 years in the reserve, and a final ten years in the reserve of the reserve army. The peacetime strength of the Army was 148,000 and mobilized strength approximately 1,400,000 men.

The Army was divided into five army corps with headquarters in Neusatz, Sarajevo, Uskup, Agram and Nis.

Division types Yugoslav Army:

Infantry divisionGuard divisionCavalry division
Total units1612
Infantry regiments 2-4 (each with 2,400 men, armed with 7.9mm M1924 rifle which is actually the Czech ZB made under license)11 bicycle battalion
Cavalry brigades-12
Total men???
Machine guns168 per regiment (336-672 total)168?
Infantry guns4 per regiment (8-16 total)4-
Artillery (a total of 32 regiments with 90 battalions and 213 batteries existing) 1-2 artillery regiments (each 6-7 batteries)1 artillery regiment (c.6-7 batteries)1 battalion horse artillery
Technical troops, engineers number unknown ?engineer unit of unknown strength

Yugoslav tank commander
A Yugoslav tank commander wearing the early version of the French helmet for motorized troops which was the standard issue.

Additional, there were two armored battalions, one with French Renault and one with Czech Skoda tanks.


The invasion of Yugoslavia had obliged Hitler to postpone the invasion of Russia by one – possible vital – month.
The Germans were so anxious to redeploy that the task of rounding-up, disarming and demobilizing the Yugoslav Army was incompletely carried out. Thousands of Yugoslav soldiers, perhaps as many as 300,000, retained their arms and either went home or joined bands of soldiers in the mountains. It was these men and their officers who, as the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland, were the first to raise the banner of partisans resistance in German-occupied Europe.

Air Force of Yugoslavia

Me 109 of Yugoslav Air Force.
Me 109 of Yugoslav Air Force.

The Army Air Service, which included balloon companies and the anti-aircraft artillery, came under the Minister of War. In 1938 the Air Force was organized in three brigades with a total of 14 bombers, eight fighters and 21 reconnaissance flights.
Aircraft strength was estimated at 500 with a further 300 reserve and training aircraft.

These totals include bombers:

73 fighters were German Me 109Es (although only 46 were serviceable when war broke out) and 40 were Hawker Hurricanes.

Pitted against the might of the Luftwaffe the Yugoslav Air Force had little chance and by 13 April 1941 had almost ceased to exist. However, around 25 planes could be evacuated to Egypt where they did service with the RAF.

Personnel strength in the flying branch was 980 officers, 1600 non-commissioned officers, 720 air gunners and 7500 other ranks

Navy of Yugoslavia

Yugoslav cadets on the bowsprit of the training vessel Jadran
Yugoslav cadets on the bowsprit of the training vessel Jadran, as the ship is entering Portsmouth in 1939.

The Yugoslav Navy, under the command of Vice Admiral Marjan Polic, had an active strength at the beginning of the war of 625 active officers and 5700 men with a further 400 reserve officers and 900 men. Because of its small size the Navy was not expected to carry out offensive operations, but to provide support for land operations.

It comprised:

  • 1 training cruiser
  • 1 Yarrow Class destroyer
  • 5 destroyers
  • 6 old torpedo boats
  • 2 submarines
  • 6 mine sweepers
  • 2 old motor torpedo-boats

The Navy was quickly overwhelmed in the Balkan Campaign with only one submarine and a few smaller craft escaping to join the Allies, while those craft still afloat in or near harbors were taken over by the Italians.

References and literature

The Armed Forces of World War II (Andrew Mollo)
World War II – A Statistical Survey (John Ellis)

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