On 22nd June operation Barbarossa begun, triggering all communist cells in occupied Yugoslavia that were mostly based in Serbia. Work and propaganda of Commissioner Government, police raids and speeches and lectures held by Dimitrije didn’t prevent communist revolt. In early July, communist bandits have begun taking actions against Commissioner Government and Germans in central and western parts of Serbia. They were so sudden and fatal that it caused the government to fall. Ljotić ordered that two of ZBOR members resign from such an incapable government, as he saw it do more damage than good and didn’t want any part in a governing body that was partially responsible for German retaliations.
Serbia was on verge of being under absolute German control. Many of the former participants of Commissioner Government would prefer that, but some, including Ljotić, found out that that wouldn’t be an option. Germans were now busy on Eastern Front and had no time or resources to establish peace and order in occupied Serbia. Under the threat that what was left of Serbia would be given to absolute rule of Bulgarians, Albanians, Ustashe and Hungarians, Serbian politicians were forced to find a man that would take the leading role. Dimitrije Ljotić was the first choice for the Germans of someone to occupy that lead position. He had proven himself capable as a politician, had good relation with the Germans in the interwar period and was generally a man who would be easy to work with. Ljotić denied the offer and instead named army general Milan Nedić for the role. He explained that Serbs needed someone with authority and respect among the common folk, someone without a background in any political party and Nedić was the right person for the job. Germans protested, saying that he was a German enemy as he commanded parts of Yugoslav army during the April War. Ljotić dismissed it saying:
“You declared war to us, you attacked us and Nedić, as former minister of war and commander of army group, had a duty to defend his fatherland. Besides, all of us did that, except for communists.”
This was true as many communists refused or even in some cases greeted German forces, honoring the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Germans had to agree and on 27th of August, Ljotić invited Nedić to accept his new assignment. He was greeted in a presence of 80 representatives of different parties, science, economy and other fields. He demanded that Germans allow them to form an armed force to establish peace and order in the country. It was to be made up of 10 000 gendarme and reinforcement units of 30 000 men. It was also requested that all sick captives, invalids and individuals over 55 years be released from their captivity back to Serbia and for the end of persecution of Serbs in places occupied by Hungarians, Bulgarians and Ustashe. Special request was that the fight against communism be entirely a matter of Serbian people and its government and that in case of sabotage against Germans, innocents must be spared from occupant retaliations. The very next day Germans agreed and the government was formed on the 29th of August. Two ZBOR members took part in it as ministers of justice and economy.
It is safe to say Ljotić was responsible for this Government of National Salvation. In truth Nedić wasn’t really interested in politics, let alone a role of a nation’s leader. But because Ljotić put him on spot, thus facing reality of danger his people found themselves in, he took the responsibility for Serbia.
Fighting the communists was one of the main goals of new government and it begun badly. As city of Šabac was taken by joint communist – “chetnik” attack, Nedić sent the gendarme. Instead of combating them, almost the entire gendarme joined “chetniks” of Dragoljub Mihailović. This was a total failure and embarrassment for the government. Germans were already planning to dismantle the government and leave Serbia to the mercy of their neighbors. On the 15th of September, Nedić called a session asking for the government to resign, but this catastrophe was prevented by a member of ZBOR and Minister Mihailo Olćan. He proposed that a special anti-communist armed force be formed from ZBOR members. He claimed that in 24 hours he can have up to 500 armed men ready to combat communists everywhere and that those first couple of hundred men will be a core that would later gather more volunteers. Ljotić accepted this idea and more than 200 men answered his call to volunteers. This elite armed force would be named Serbian Volunteer Corps, and their members simply as “Volunteers”.
This was the last chance for Serbs to establish peace and order in their crippled country .
Men of Serbian Volunteer Corps (SDK), members of ZBOR and „students“ of their great Teacher – Dimitrije Ljotić, went to their first combat operation on 17th September 1941. Before their departure to combat, Ljotić held a speech to them:
I feel sorry for your youth, because many of you will die. But more than that, I feel sorry that you have to kill. You were given weapons, but you must know it is powerful and blessed only in the hands of Heroes. Don’t riot with it and never use it as thugs or even worse as murderers. You are fighting to establish peace and order in your country and that your people do not suffer anymore. You must know your place: every morning that you wake up, you must tell yourselves that you are slaves to your fatherland.
Out-gunned, they entered a village of Dražanj that was in grip of communists. Very quickly they have beaten the Partisan unit and declared that the communists are not unbeatable as they claimed to be. This was the beginning of great cleansing in Serbia and civil war has officially begun. Where both German and previous gendarme failed, men of SDK prevailed. They were taught and trained to fight the communists. Many of them combated them on universities before the war. The communists in Serbia finally met their match, an elite armed force dedicated to eradicating Communism in their fatherland!
Village after village was cleansed of red pest: Dubona, Rudnik, Gornji Milanovac, Volunteers were claiming victory after victory. Battle at Varovnica was a major victory against communist partisans, where the Volunteers after 3 hour long combat liberated the place from communists, captured a large amount of ammo and machine guns and many prisoners among whom couple were foreigners and two of them Germans. This would show to the German occupant that the partisans are not made up of pure Serbian population and would have more understanding toward new Serbian leadership and SDK.
In very short time, during September and October of 1941, 12 SDK detachments were created and 4 000 men were armed to combat the reds. Their uniforms were the uniforms of royal Yugoslav army. On the right side of their chest, every volunteer carried a cross with St. George on it, shape inspired by Serbian “Takovo cross”. Around the image of the saint it was inscribed With faith in God, for King and Fatherland – Volunteers. A common Serbian motto. The Cross was always present on their flags which didn’t had Yugoslavian but Serbian colors. The new elite armed force also took St. George as their patron saint and as tradition requires, they commemorated it with Slava. Some special assault squadrons had skull and crossbones badge on their black collars of uniform, inspired by chetnik insignia.
The army was clerical; Svetosavlje was imbued in its men through the spiritual and moral teachings of Dimitrije Ljotić. Officially he had no power or command over the volunteers, but all of them looked up to him as true Christian teacher. The army even received its own priests who would keep the moral and spirit high among the men while simultaneously encouraging the Christian way of life. They were the God’s army, new crusaders that have taken on the new enemy. Serbia has finally joined in the great crusade against Bolshevism!
First victories of the volunteers sparked hope and encouraged other national armed groups such as chetniks of voivode Kosta Pećanac to engage into combat against the communists. Civilians and peasants found hope after getting rid of their Bolshevik oppressors.
But as these victories seemed to mark something big and good for the Serbian people, deep in the Serbian forests, general Draža Mihailović was about to meet with Josip Broz Tito, he will be signing a pact with the Devil himself.
Optimism of Ljotić and Serbs and a relief of Germans was about to be shaken again.
“The one thing that gives me strength to overcome all these troubles is a sense of duty and faith that our fate is still in our hands and that we can and must struggle to make things right! “