The Dog Responsible for Yugoslavia
Within the thousands of pictures the world has of Yugoslavia’s apex leader Josip Broz Tito are many, many photos of the Yugoslav leader in various poses and situations with his pet dogs.
Tito was well-known as an animal lover. During his time in leadership, other world leaders would send exotic beasts of all types to the island hideaway on Brioni. Pictures of Tito picking tangerines in Brioni’s orchards, a faithful German Shepherd watching, are interposed with photos of Tito wrestling with a cheetah. And then there are the hundreds of photos that showcase Tito’s riding ability and understanding of horses.
There’s no arguing that Tito’s photographed appreciation of animals was anything less than a true picture of his real feelings.
It would not be unusual for anyone born at the end of the nineteenth century in a rural Croatian village to be familiar with and comfortable around animals. Horses, sheep, dogs – all these were a necessary part of everyday life at the time, and everyone was involved in their care. But Tito had yet another reason to keep his pets by his side: his life after World War II, and indeed the nation of Yugoslavia that he founded, was all due to a dog.
The dog, Luks, came into Tito’s life completely by chance in 1942. As the Partisans rested in Prozor, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tito heard an angry barking from a nearby yard. Irritated, he asked his aide to get rid of the animal.
The German Shepherd in the yard was having none of it, and Tito’s aide couldn’t get close. Tito himself shouted at the dog in German, it responded to the command, and everyone discovered that the animal was quite well trained and had most likely been left behind by retreating Nazis.
It was obviously fate, so Tito unchained the dog, named it Luks, and it accompanied him everywhere the Partisans went for the rest of the dog’s life.
In June 1943, Tito and the Partisans were fighting harder than they had ever fought against a German foe who had decided to completely exterminate them at the Battle of the Sutjeska. Operation Case Black found the Axis fielding 127,000 troops. The Germans brought aircraft, heavy artillery and sheer numbers. Tito, the Partisan leader, had 22,000 troops, a British SOE advisor, and a dog.
Coming under heavy bombardment, the Partisans hunkered down among the mountain’s beech trees. In the flash of a moment, one of the bombs fell straight for Tito’s position.
Hearing the device falling before a human could, the well-trained Luks lept for Tito, covering his body with Luks’ own.
The bomb hit. SOE Captain Bill Stuart was killed. Another Partisan hero – Djuro Vujovic Spanac, was killed. Luks was also dead. But because Luks had acted quickly, Tito himself survived with only injuries to his arm.
In interviews later in life, Tito spoke about that moment at the Battle of the Sutjeska, giving the credit to his survival to the German Shepherd dog he had acquired by chance.
Tito soon obtained another German Shepherd, Tiger. And it is really no wonder that he did. Without Luks Tito would have died in that bomb blast, and his death would have changed the history of the Balkans, the Cold War, and the entire world.
That is probably reason enough to continue to keep well-trained dogs at close hand, just in case.