Number of rescued pilots

Number of rescued pilots

By Miloslav Samardzic

024 Saveznici-7

Rescued pilots on The Ravna Gora

According the report of OSS director General Donovan to President Roosevelt from the end of October 1944 from the territory of Kingdom of Yugoslavia was rescued 1088 allied pilots. From this number Chetniks rescued 561, and Partisans rescued 527 pilots. 41

Donovan counted here the crews which landed at Vis island. Because the airport at Vis was enabled and held by British, besides other to be served for pilots in need, among allied ranks usually was not considered that communists took part in the rescue of aviators which had to make emergency landing at this island. This explicitly emphasizes Captain William Emmet, deputy of intelligence OSS officer at 43rd Bombers Group of 15th Airforce. Emmet’s duty was to organize rescue and evacuation of the pilots downed over Yugoslavia, regardless if they fall on side of Chetniks or partisans. Besides they kept the records, Emmet and his colleagues debriefed pilots about circumstances of downing and about everything they went through until their return to Italy.

Emmet’s conclusion follows:

Some two thirds of rescued aviators were evacuated from the territory under control of Chetniks forces, and one third from the territory under control of partisans. As far I know, some 1000 pilots are rescued at the territory of Yugoslavia. This number doesn’t include pilots which landed at Vis island in Adriatic Sea, at the airport built for this purpose in 1944 by Anglo-Americans. 42

In this book data is provided for about 690 Allied pilots rescued by Chetniks as follow:

–     11 pilots which left walking from Pranjani toward Adriatic Sea on April 19th 1944,

–     40 pilots which British airplanes picked up from Pranjani on May 29th 1944,

–     515 pilots evacuated from Pranjani on August 9th and 10th and then on 12th, 15th, 18th, 26th, 27th and 29th of August 1944.

–     About 10 pilots evacuated from Pranjani on September 4th 1944,

–     17 American and couple pilots of other nationalities evacuated from Pranjani on September 5th 1944

–     20 pilots evacuated from Koceljeva on September 17th 1944

–     15 pilots evacuated by boats from Boka Kotorska to Bari during September and October 1944,

–     15 pilots evacuated from Boljanici on November 1st 1944,

–     20 pilots evacuated from Boljanici on December 27th 1944 and

–     25 pilots evacuated from Boljanici at the end of February 1945.

Also there were number of individual cases which slip through the record. For example it happened with Lieutenant William Lane Rogers, downed on September 8th 1944 above Avala mountain. Chetniks rescued Rogers and his crew and then they protected them in area of Ripanj. When Germans found out where are the pilots, they fight broke out where three German soldiers and four Chetniks were killed, and many Chetniks were wounded. In month of October in this area come partisans and Red Army, so Chetniks taking with them American pilots, retrieve toward Bosnia. Because during the landing Lieuteinant Rogers broke leg, he stayed in one village. Over there partisans found him and later evacuated him, taking in account that they rescued him, as well as the group of 11 pilots which left Pranjani to be evacuated from the airport which was at partisan’s territory in Berane. 43

Chetniks rescued three American pilots, seargent Woodland, seargent Poland and private Cool, and then partisans found them in Chetniks’ hospital in village Klayich at Kukavica mountain, when they had to leave under the pressure. The pilots were taken in Toplica, where they were evacuated in April of 1944 from the improvised air strip where Western Allies brought war material to partisans. 44

Chetnks of Nishava Corp rescued American Lt. Colonel William Hofman on September 2nd 1944. Because the unit was getting ready for retreat to Bosnia, commandant of the corps decided simply to surrender Americans to the Communsts. Of course, they attributed this case to their tally. 45

Therefore, it can be concluded that Chetniks rescued over 700 allied pilots, of whom about 85% were Americans. This figure coincide with estimates of Captain William Emmet that two thirds of the pilots bailed at Chetniks’ territory and one third bailed at Partisans’ territory. 46

The largers rescue action of downed Allied pilots behind enemy lines, not just at the territory of Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but all together during WWII, was one in Pranjani, when 515 aviators were evacuated during August of 1944.

American named this action “Halyard” (a rope on a ship for hoisting and lowering something, as main sails)

With note that documents “were not preserved and appropriately kept”, using their usual methods, communist historians state the number of even 1585 downed allied pilots which partisans supposedly rescued. Rescue of the pilots by Chetniks they don’t even mention or they minimize it. Furthermore they write that Chetniks killed downed pilots, and even that partisans rescued the pilots from Chetniks. 47

Although even number of 300 pilots rescued at the territory under control of the communists is high, in American Army and to the degree in the public is created myth of pilots rescue just by the Chetniks. The pilots rescued by Chetniks demonstrated already in 1946 in New York. One of them, David O’Connelly held large sign: “Tito’s propaganda says: “Michailovich killed me”! Actually he saved me”. Actually, claiming that Chetniks killed allied pilots, communists mentioned O’Conelly. 48

In American press was published many articles about the pilots rescued by Chetniks, and it was written about their initiative to erect monument to Draza in Washington, in front of White House. Association of Air Force war veterans invited to its annual events members of Chetnik and not communist movement.

Besides political reasons, before all Cold War, some events in the country affected such unfold of events.

Before anything, at the territory under communists control, in Slovenia, Croatia, Monte Negro and then in Toplica in the last phase of the war there where many airstrips where Western Allies regularly delivered weapons and military equipment to partisans. For coordination there was large number of allied officers. This way downed pilots in short time reached own officers and quickly evacuated upon arrival of first airplane with the equipment. At the territory of Serbia, and perhaps in other areas, there was no any fight of partisans against occupying forces for rescue of the pilots.

When allied officers wasn’t around, communists treated pilots as a prisoners. Captain Daniel Desich, one of the American officers in charge of location of the pilots at partisan’s territory and their evacuation, testified as a guard didn’t want to let him in the house where seven aviators were kept, “saying that he got the order from the commissar that no one can’t see them. The guard let him go only when Desich threatened him “it will visit them by force”. 49

Captain William Emmet writes:

Most of pilots evacuated from territory under partisan’s control complained at cold, almost hostile treatment, especially at neglect to provide a shelter and food. When some of the pilots complained to partisans about poor food, they were told they can eat as much they want when the war is over, if they survive. 50

On the other side, pilots downed at Chetniks needed to be protected for months. Many of them had seen at least that Chetniks “started skirmishes with Germans so our people had chance to escape and not to be captured by Germans”, as for example Allen Friedberg testified. 51

Treatment of Chetniks, as well as population under their control, was exceptionally friendly toward downed pilots. The pilots had a freedom of movement, they see they got the last piece of bread, as medicine, which were in very short supply.

Besides ones which landed in emergency at island Vis, communists counted among rescued pilots ones falling at the territory where there was no occupying forces, especially after the October 1944. Characteristic is example of an American bomber, landed because of malfunction near Srpska Crnja in January 1945. Germans back then where far on the West, at Srem’s Front the crew fixed the plane and on the same day they flew away to Italy, and communists not just they moved whole campaign about rescue of allies, but they proclaimed these pilots to honorary citizens of Srpska Crnja. 52



41 M. Peshich, Draza u izvestajima americkih I britanskih obavestajaca 1941-1944, 264 (М. Пешић, Дража у извештајима америчких и британских обавештајаца 1941-1944, 264).

42, 43 M. Peshich, Mission Halyard, 206, 133 (М. Пешић, Мисија Халјард, 206, 133).

44 M. Peshich, Draza u izvestajima americkih I britanskih obavestajaca 1941-1944, 241, 242 (М. Пешић, Дража у извештајима америчких и британских обавештајаца 1941-1944, 241, 242). David Martin, Patriot or Trator: The case of General Mihailovich, 369 (Родољуб или издајник: случај ђенерала Михаиловића, 391).

45 Pogledi, August 26th 1997, article “Student Hearo” (Погледи, 26. август 1997, чланак ”Ђак јунак”)

46 The reports of Captain George Musulin and Nick Lalich are in National Archive in Washington, marked RG-226, E-99, B-34-F-170 and E99, B-22, F368. They don’t contain reports before Oeration “Halyard”, before August 1944. The reports of pilots rescue under territory controlled by communists are preserved in the same archive under markings: RG-226, E-154, B-25 and F-334 (Operation “Danklin” – about rescue of 65 pilots), and RG-226, E-154, B-25, F-34, E-99, B-23 and F-115 (operations “Redwood” and “Durand”, 162 pilots) and RG-226, E-154, B-25, F-357, E-154, B-25 and F-356 (operations “Mulberry” and “Flotsam”, 300 pilots).

47 M. Peshich, Mission Halyard, 218. According the article of Antun Miletich in Politika of June 9th 2000. (М. Пешић, Мисија Халјард, 218. Према чланку Антуна Милетића у ”Политици” од 9. јуна 2000. године).

48 M. Peshich, Mission Halyard, 338 (М. Пешић, Мисија Халјард, 338).

49 David Martin, Patriot or Trator: The case of General Mihailovich, 271-349 (Родољуб или издајник: случај ђенерала Михаиловића, 271-349).

50 M. Peshich, Mission Halyard, 206 (М. Пешић, Мисија Халјард, 206).

51 David Martin, Patriot or Trator: The case of General Mihailovich, 332 (Родољуб или издајник: случај ђенерала Михаиловића, 332).

52 M. Peshich, Mission Halyard, 219 (М. Пешић, Мисија Халјард, 219).


From the book “Halyard” and “Ranger” (American missions in Balkans in 1944),  which has not yet been published.


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