Rade Petrovic Kent:
IS IT POOR MEMORY… OR JUST ONE MORE TREASON?
AN OPEN LETTER TO THOSE AMERICAN OFFICERS ENFORCING THE CCUPATION RULE IN BOSNIA
Foreword: WHO AM I?
THAT WAS THEN
SAVING AMERICAN AIRMEN…………………………………… 13
AN UNINTENDED VISIT
TO YUGOSLAVIA………………………………………………….. 17
WE RETURN AFTER 50 YEARS
TO THANK THE SERBIAN PEOPLE
WHO SAVED OUR LIVES………………………………………. 26
THE FORGOTTEN HERO
OF A FORGOTTEN EXPLOIT………………………………….
THIS IS NOW
WHO IS WHO IN YUGOSLAVIA, AND HOW IT ALL STARTED 47
AMERICA’S WAR, A MEDIA WAR……………………………… 56
WHO AM I?
In 1941 when Hitler attacked Yugoslavia, I was a young officer in the Royal Yugoslav army. The 6th of April, on the very day of the German aggression, I was stationed with my unit at Kalni on the Bulgarian border. During the very short period of actual fighting, the Germans captured me twice, and twice I managed to escape. On April 18, the day when the Yugoslav Army capitulated, I went to the mountains in order to keep up the struggle. The first days were very difficult. I was in an area where I knew no one and nobody knew me. I started by organizing the country folk to collect the weapons and ammunition (left by the retreating soldiers). I used to tell the local people that the war was not over, that it was going on and that Hitler would eventually be defeated. Fortunately, nobody asked me how this was to come about. Whatever weapons we collected were hidden in mountain barns or buried along with the potatoes, and the peasants knew well how best to protect the metallic parts from humidity. Very soon afterwards, we heard of a rumour that some colonel who was in Eastern Serbia refused to acknowledge the capitulation and went on fighting. Soon afterwards, we learned his name: Draza Mihailovic. The news filled the peasants with enthusiasm, particularly the younger ones. On every mountain peak, groups of armed men assembled. Everybody was filled with fighting spirit and there was enough war equipment to be distributed although the German occupation authorities had warned of severe penalties if arms were to be found at anybody’s home: the house was to be burnt down and the culprit sent to a concentration camp.
Still 1942 proved to be the hardest year. My small unit had grown into a brigade and I had taken over the command of the Boljevacka brigade which was part of the Timok Army Corps under the orders of Colonel Ljubajovanovic Patak (the Duck).
During the summer of 1943, a British Mission consisting of Col. Ruteham, Greenwood and Captain Mickey parachuted on my territory at a place called Zbeg. Later on, two deliveries of arms and an munition reached us. My brigade was continually fighting the Germans and later also the Communists. According to information collected by our enemies, I was to be considered as an able commander and a fierce fighter.
I was wounded twice during the war. The first time, in August 1941, while fighting the Germans, I was shot in the right-hand elbow and the second time I was shot again, but this time it was by the Communists and in the left elbow.
At the beginning of 1944, the German anti-aircraft units managed to down one US Flying Fortress and two fighter planes over the Bor mines area. The planes which had been bombing the oilfields at Ploesti in Rumania were shot down on the return leg of their trip. All the airmen managed to parachute safely, on reaching the ground they were collected by the local peasants and shepherds and by my soldiers. None of the Allied soldiers was caught by the Germans who went furious and launched a number of manhunts to retrieve the American pilots, as we called them. By the end of 1944, we managed to transfer the US airmen to West Serbia and they were sent to Italy from a hurriedly built makeshift airfield at Pranjani.
When their own government, moved by short-sighted political and strategical interests, declared war on the Serbs.
This book is a reminder of the generally unknown circumstances where such a pure and tenacious friendship was born; it is also a homage to those Americans who never lost their memory and honor, and went on defending the truth even when everyone around them was hypnotized by an unseen campaign of anti-Serb lies and defamation.
But, as a rescuer of American soldiers, as a friend whose devotion was forged in war and not in lobbies or parliaments, I have the right and the duty to tell Americans that their present Balkan policy is wrong and dangerous, and to ask them why they turned their military and political might against a small Slavic people which was their most reliable European ally. These two utterly opposite situations, only a half-century remote from each other, are the object and the limits of this testimony.
This episode of Pranjani, which was “the only allied airfield behind the German lines”, is one of the most daring and heroic feats of World War II. Thanks to the generosity and sacrifice of Serbian peasants and soldiers, 500 American airmen could be saved, although their saviours knew well then that the Allies had abandoned them and decided to support the Communist guerrilla that was fighting a civil war to grab the power in the country, which they did indeed, with the help of their Soviet, British and American godfathers.
The airmen who landed in any other part of the Balkans, i.e. on Croat, Muslim, Albanian, Hungarian or Bulgarian territory, rarely had the opportunity to tell their families and friends how they were received. For Allied crews the only chance to avoid death, torture or camps was to land among Serbian patriot troops. The ones who had that luck never forgot it, and they remained true friends of the Serbian people. Their love and friendship were still there fifty years later, when their own government, moved by short-sighted political and strategical interests, declared war on the Serbs.
This book is a reminder of the generally unknown circumstances where such a pure and tenacious friendship was born; it is also a homage to those Americans who never lost their memory and honor, and went on defending the truth even when everyone around them was hypnotized by an unseen campaign of anti-Serb lies and defamation.
But, as a rescuer of American soldiers, as a friend whose devotion was forged in war and not in lobbies or parliaments, I have the right and the duty to tell Americans that their present Balkan policy is wrong and dangerous, and to ask them why they turned their military and political might against a small Slavic people which was their most reliable European ally. These two utterly opposite situations, only a half-century remote from each other, are the object and the limits of this testimony.
THAT WAS THEN
“Those of us who know the real circumstances in Serbia are enraged at the unfair attacks on the Chetniks and their leaders. If only someone could open the poor blind eyes of the spoiled American public, a wonderful group of people might receive their due recognition. Unfortunately those of us who lived with these people are few and far between, but believe you me, never will we forget how the men and women of Serbia unquestioningly risked their very lives for us, clothed us, and gave us shelter when they themselves were ill-clad, cold and hungry…. I vowed to myself that if I could ever possibly begin to repay these people for all they had done for me, I wouldn’t hesitate to do so. Unfortunately, what little I might be able to do would not even pay the interest on my debt to the Serbian people. I suffer with them in their present plight, and in the injustice rendered to them by the American press as well as the American and British Governments.”
Letter of John E. Scroggs, First Lieutenant, U. S. Army Air Corps, Wyandotte St., Kansas City, Mo. cited by David Martin, Ally Betrayed, 1946, p. 257.
SAVING AMERICAN AIRMEN
The event I am about to recount happened in mid-April 1944. It was a lovely spring day. The light was perfect, sunny, and there was no wind. Although not everything was green, the Maljenik prairies were covered with trees, all fresh as if they had just been washed. In the early morning, the weather was warm.
I was walking with Kukurek, Pop-Cora the priest, Filozof and Dangic inside a valley set between the Rtanj and Maljenik mountain summits, on a gentle slope towards the Timok river. As we walked, we were discussing our situation, the war events, the fact that we were waiting the waiting for the Allies to come, their delay in opening the so-called Second Front in Western Europe, but above everything else, we were discussing the persistent efforts of the Communist partisans to enter Serbia (from Bosnia) in order to make contact as soon as possible with the (fast advancing) Red Army. All of a sudden, we heard a very strong and most unusual thundering noise. We looked around and could see nothing at all. When we looked heavenwards, we saw that the sky was filled with hundreds of planes, flying very high. These were bombers, Allied bombers, the American Flying Fortresses. We were very happy because we quickly understood that the planes were on a mission to bomb the enemy. These grey coloured Fortresses filled the entire sky; they were surrounded with fighter planes, all silvery in the bright sunshine, all of them gliding along in perfect order towards Romania. Yes, they were sent to Romania to bomb the Rumanian oilfields. On their return trip, while they were flying over the Bor mine (a gold and copper mine), one of these Fortresses was hit and downed by the German anti-aircraft, and we could see the American airmen jump with their parachutes over our territory. I then gave urgent orders, using my one-line field telephone, that all the flying units (made up of men on horseback or motorbikes) to hurry towards the drop zones. These units were made up of my best fighting men and their first mission was to lead the enemy forces in the wrong direction, away from the drop areas. That had been their duty whenever the Germans started their manhunts. Every man knew the grounds to perfection and the general idea was to lead the enemy to areas which were selected by us, but the standing orders also were to refuse combat.
Although it was a bright and windless day, some of the aviators fell at great distances from the rest of the group. Within a few hours, I was informed that all the US airmen had been found and their parachutes hidden (later on, peasant women used the parachute material to make shirts — and were arrested in town by the Germanswho spotted them). Five days later, all the airmen, some thirty in all (from another plane) had been regrouped in the “kolibas” (peasant straw huts) next to the Radovanska river, not far from the Jablanica village. I ordered Second Lieutenant L.A. to protect the airmen with the help of a small unit of soldiers.
At the first meeting, each airman was asked to recount what had happened to him, how he had parachuted and what his thoughts were when he first met the Chetniks (Serbian fighters) and the shepherds. They were all frightened but when they heard the name of Draza Mihailovic, they knew they were among allies. Some of them were astounded at seeing goats and sheep for the first time in their lives.
One of the airmen, a short, swarthy man from Chicago whose name I have forgotten, had fallen near a koliba, on a small hill. The grounds were very steep, and the shepherd’s dogs that rushed towards him looked huge to him, all the more so that these dogs had iron collars around their necks to protect them from the wolves. Never having seen beasts of that size, he kept rolling on the ground to escape them over and had been scratched all over his face and hands.
Almost all the airmen had had problems with the dogs. The parachute of another airman had been caught in the upper branches of a tree above a ravine. There too the dogs attacked and probably saved the man’s life as the dogs’ barking brought the shepherds running.
The airmen spent their first night sleeping in the kolibas with the sheep and goats. The food they were given consisted mainly of dairy and although the food was strange for them, they all found it to be delectable.
One pilot named Thomas Oliver told me that he knew of a guerilla fighting in Yugoslavia and he also knew about the Chetniks. Still, he added that he had been given no advance information that the Bor area included so heavy anti-aircraft German units.
A wing from one of the US planes fell down near a koliba and killed a young heifer. A baby was sleeping in the open a few meters from that and went on sleeping. When we arrived on the spot, we were greeted by a smiling woman who told us she was happy that the baby was safe and that her house now welcomed an Allied officer. As for the heifer, she said “We shall roast it as soon as Major Kent arrives”. She had no idea that I was standing there in front of her.
Knowing that one Fortress has been downed and the airmen safely on the ground, the German commander at Bor ordered a squadron of light planes to search for the Fortress. In the meantime, my men had managed to dismantle from it the machine guns and collect the ammunition belts. The machine guns were modified for ground use and we frequently shot at the German positions. As every third bullet was a tracer, the Germans were deeply perturbed by this new phenomenon. The remaining parts of the Fortress were then buried all over the territory of M. Izvor village.
Finally the Germans came to know that the American airmen had been sheltered near the village of Jablanica (Boljevac) so that one afternoon they attacked the village were I was at the time with my brigade. We succeeded in throwing them back and even managed to shoot down one of their observation planes. We captured the German pilot and as he had machine-gunned a village, killing a small child, he was judged, sentenced to death and shot. My fourth batallion ambushed the retreating Germans and took away all their guns. The very next day, the Germans attacked the Valakonja village and led away 200 peasants along with the local priest and school teacher to a concentration camp.
The American airmen were then taken away from our positions and they were passed under escort from brigade to brigade until they reached the Pranjani village. There, an airfield had been cut into the forest and Allied planes coming from Italy managed to land there and evacuate all of the 500 American airmen who had been saved by the Serbian Chetniks.
Before they left the Jablanica village, a group of airmen gave us a one-dollar note covered with their signatures. Most of them entered their names and home addresses in my diary, expressing their thanks to the Serbian people who saved them despite the knowledge that the German occupiers would shoot any man who helped the Americans together with his family. Some of them even promised that they would come back to Serbia after the war. Unfortunately, that diary of mine is buried somewhere in Serbia, deep under ground, together with most of my war documents and memorabilia.
While the Americans were on my territory, I used to take them around to visit the various batallions and even in town to meet the locals, among them Mrs Dara who was the owner of the local pharmacy. On May 6, 1944, the day when we celebrate Saint George, the patron saint of all those Serbs who went on fighting the Turks over the centuries, those Americans who had learned how to ride horses came with us to take part in the religious festivities that were then followed by a hearty lunch in the open.
The Jablanica villagers were very sad when they heard that the Americans whom they had promised to protect with their lives would soon leave. In memory of their stay among them, they renamed the local river which is now known as “The American river”.
On the day the Americans were due to leave, all the village was up in arms. The men, carrying their guns and ammunition belts, watched for the enemy from the top of the surrounding mountains, while the women and children had gathered around the airmen. The pilot whose name was Thomas Oliver spoke in the name of all his comrades and said: “Serbian brothers, we want to thank you for saving our lives. We shall never forget you and neither will America ever forget you.”
MAJOR RICHARD L. FELMAN USAF (RET)
AN UNINTENDED VISIT TO YUGOSLAVIA
May 6, 1944, was the fateful day. I was a B-24 pilot in the 756th Squadron, 459th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force, flying out of southern Italy. My crew and I had finished about half of our missions and considered ourselves veterans. That day we were breaking in a new copilot, Camillus Rechtin, taking him on his first mission. Little did he know what was to come.
The remainder of my crew were: Pilot-Thomas K. Oliver, Navigator-John Thibodeau, Bombardier-Charles Gracz, Engineer-Jodie Oliver, Radio Operator-Donald Sullivan, Ball Turret-Franklin Bartels, Tail Turret-Edgar Smith, Nose Turret-Griffin Goad, Gunner—William Keepers.
The airplane normally flown by my crew was the Fighting Mudcat, so named because the catfish is a survivor. It must have been out of commission that day as we flew a borrowed airplane. My wife tells me I should never borrow things.
I had a little superstition going. At the briefing before the mission I always made it a point to enter the estimated time of arrival back at our home base on the briefing sheet or pilot’s flimsy and carry the sheet in my pocket on the mission. If for some reason I missed getting the official pilot’s flimsy, I wrote the time of arrival on a scrap of paper and carried that. It seemed good to have an estimated time back at home base written down somewhere on my person. As we taxied out for takeoff on May 6 the paper blew out the open cockpit window. I remember the flight engineer saying “We didn’t need that, did we?” I bravely said “No” and on we went. It was 96 days before we saw home base again. It was enough to make one wonder.
The mission was to the Campina Marshalling Yards, near the Ploesti oil fields. Our group led the 15th Air Force over the target and caught the full benefit of flak and German fighters before the gunners or the fighter pilots got tired. The fighters came right through their own flak to make a nose attack on us. One FW-190 had our airplane singled out. After he passed just beneath us the gunners on my crew said he went down trailing smoke. We will never know for sure whether we hit him fatally or not.
We will also never know whether the damage to our plane was done by the fighter or by flak. Shortly after “bombs away” number three engine was losing oil pressure. I tried to feather it, without success. A look at the engine showed why. The prop governor had been hit and was hanging by one bolt. The drag and vibration forced us to slow down and lag behind the formation. Two P-38’s came and flew alongside us until we were beyond danger from German fighters. I would like to have hugged those pilots, whose names I probably will never know.
The next excitement came when number three engine seized from turning over without any oil. The vibration was horrendous. The right wing shook in a sine wave pattern as though one took one end of a rope and tied it to a tree, and then gave a good shake to the other end. Finally something snapped. I was later told that the reduction gear must have failed. The propellor now spun freely on just its own bearing and things went more smoothly for a while.
But not for long. Number four engine now began to lose oil pressure. Not wishing to repeat the experience with number three, we got it feathered in a hurry. With two engines dead on the same side we threw out guns, flak suits, etc., anything to reduce weight.
We managed to maintain about 8000 ft. altitude, just enough to clear the Dalmatian Alps near the Adriatic Sea. I was figuring that I might be the first to bring a B-24 back from the Ploesti area with two engines dead on the same side. That should be good for a Distinguished Flying Cross and a little respect back at home base. But all that was not to be.
John Thibodeau, the navigator, was trying to keep us on a course that would not take us over any flak batteries. Just after we crossed the DanubeRiver near Turnul Severin and the Iron Gates we encountered flak at the Yugoslavian town of Bor. It had not been noted on our charts. One blast set the number two engine on fire. The crew said that the bomb bay doors looked like the top of a salt shaker. With only one good engine and no way to put out the fire, the only course of action was to bail out.
I gave the order to bail out on the intercom and hit the bail out bell. Then I took one more look at the burning engine. It did not look any better. I turned and looked back to see how the crew were coming along at bailing out. All were gone except John Thibodeau, who was standing in the bomb bay motioning me to come on. I waved to him to get out. I did not want anyone in my way when I let go off the wheel. He jumped and I jumped.
As I tumbled through the air I remember saying to myself that even if the parachute did not open, I was no worse off than when I was in the plane. It did open. My attention was drawn to a noise like the loudest siren I ever heard. The free propellor was winding up as the plane dove toward the ground. The plane hit ground and there was a huge fireball. Cecil B. DeMille never put on a better show. After the fireball cleared all I could see was a large black spot.
At first I seemed to be descending very slowly. I feared the Germans would have time to have a patrol waiting for me when I reached the ground. As the ground came closer I realized that it was approaching at an alarming speed. I made a good landing, but did have a sore shin for a week or so.
I almost landed on top of a group of Yugoslavian peasants who were having a picnic lunch. The table was set near a farmhouse. On the table was a sheep’s head, eyeballs and all. As the honored, if uninvited, guest I was offered the eyeballs. Somehow I lost my appetite. Then they offered me a glass of wine and it was a marvelous idea.
Probably within ten minutes or less a couple of men approached wearing military caps and with rifles slung over their shoulders. They mentioned Draza Mihailovic and indicated that I was to mount the horse. It had not taken the organization long to find me.
That afternoon we kept moving rather steadily and a few times I heard shots fired over the hill. Once we stopped for a few minutes to talk with a Yugoslavian medical doctor who had been educated in France. I discovered that it is much easier to communicate in French with a Yugoslavian educated in France than with a Frenchman. He was very helpful at putting the words in my mouth. For example he would ask in French “Is it that you are worried about your comrades?” All I had to supply was “Oui”. He told me that all were well with one, lightly wounded. It was to be two days before I saw the rest of the crew again.
In the evening we stopped at a peasant farmhouse. The lady of the house offered me a cup of hot goat’s milk with some kind of scum all over it. I was getting very hungry. So I said to myself “You have to eat to live. Furthermore these people eat it and they survive.” It tasted better than it looked.
After supper I was put to bed on a pile of straw. At some time during the wee small hours they woke me up and it was time to move on again. By this time there were about six Chetniks escorting me. We all rode horses with about three of them in front, then me, then three more of them bringing up the rear. We proceeded single file winding through the hills by moonlight. The Chetniks wore Cossack style fur hats and tight jackets. Each had a rifle slung over his shoulder. The only sound was of the horses’ harness jingling. I pinched myself and silently asked “What am I doing in the middle of this Grade B, black and white movie?”
The next day our pace was more relaxed. We seemed to go from one outdoor cafe to the next, with a round of drinks at each. I was carrying two hunting knives, one on my belt and one strapped to my leg. The Chetniks would ask, via gestures, “Why two knives?” Then one of them supplied the answer. He pointed to one and said “Ah Hitler” with a throat-cutting gesture and an appropriate noise like a death rattle. Then he pointed to the other and said “Ah Mussolini” with the same gesture and noises. I later used the same line among other groups and it always went over well.
That evening there was a religious ceremony. They took me to what obviously were the graves of two American airmen who had been shot down and killed. A Serbian Orthodox priest conducted the service. It was evidently a sort of requiem mass for the dead. This took place at the graveside. A cup of wine was passed around. Each person took a sip and spilled a small amount on the grave.
That night I was put to bed in a house in a little village. In the wee small hours I was roused again. There was alarm that the Germans were coming. “Heidi, heidi” they cried to me, which by that time I had learned meant “Hurry, hurry”. In my underwear I was taken out and hidden in the woods until the danger was over. The stark terror convoyed by their voices is something I will never forget.
The next day I was reunited with the rest of my crew. There were in fact parts of three crews, about 24 of us, all billeted in one place, a peasant farmhouse. We had an interpreter, an old man who much earlier in life had spent several years in the United States. He had worked in Wisconsin in the logging business, obviously surrounded with Swedes. It was unusual to find a Yugoslavian who spoke English with a “My name is Yon Yohnson, I come from Visconsin” Swedish accent.
The local Chetnik commander was a man called Kent. He was young, handsome and dynamic, a Chetnik’s Chetnik. We were in the region of the Timok corps.
Nothing great occurred for about a month. We were still fairly close to the DanubeRiver, close to the Eastern border of Yugoslavia. The local Chetnik commander was hoping to get us evacuated from there and hoping to get some sort of aid or supplies from the Allies in return. Finally he was persuaded to send us West to the center of old Serbia, the region where General Mihailovic’s headquarters was.
Captain Ivan Milac was assigned the job of leading us over about 150 kilometers to the middle of old Serbia. He was a Chetnik who had been an officer in the Yugoslav Regular Army. He had learned English on his own, largely by listening to radio broadcasts in English. A finer gentleman has never lived.
We were issued rifles to carry on the march West. It began on a section of mountain railroad which evidently was considered safe. We travelled for some distance and got off just before the train went into a town of some size.
That was the only easy part of the march. The rest is all mixed together in my memory: walking in the sunshine, walking in the rain, sleeping on haystacks, sleeping on hardwood schoolhouse floors. John Thibodeau reminded me of one incident. About lunchtime we came upon a place where there were three city girls. The usual peasant girls in their babushkas were not all that attractive. But these were beautiful and they invited us to lunch and indicated that we could spend the night. It seemed like heaven. As we sat down to lunch the Chetniks indicated that we had to leave immediately, the Germans were coming. That was the last we saw of the three beautiful city girls.
We arrived in the general area of General Mihailovic’s headquarters and were divided up into small groups and billeted at various peasant farmhouses. We had lots of time to kill and would whittle out corncob pipes and smoke whatever local blend of tobacco we could lay our hands on. It was explained to us that cigarettes were in short supply because we had bombed the cigarette factory at Nis.
I remember watching a peasant lady baking bread. It was in a little square house made of timbers. The roof sloped up steeply on all four sides with a hole at the top. The floor was of clay and in the center a fire had been burning. Most of the smoke rose and went out the hole at the top of the roof. The lady swept hot coals away from a spot on the hearth. The bread dough, on a plate, was then set on the clay hearth. She then placed a large earthenware bowl upside down over the plate with the bread dough. Finally hot coals were shoveled over the inverted bowl. That way the bread got baked.
In Yugoslavia we saw real genuine Gypsies. I never saw anyone who needed a bath more than they. They would come into the village carrying an accordion and a couple of violins. Then that evening the whole village had a party. Food was brought out and everyone had dinner. Then the Gypsies played and there was dancing in the public square. Next day the Gypsies moved on.
It was an impressive event each time the 15th Air Force flew overhead on the way to targets in the Ploesti area. We would first hear a faint buzzing sound, like bees. The sound would get louder and louder until it became a roar and the sky was filled with airplanes. We knew we could count on another two or three crews to join us on the ground. Once we saw a B-24 overhead flying in large circles. All four engines were running. It kept flying in large circles until it eventually went out of sight. I would love to have had a long rope ladder to climb up into that airplane and fly it home.
Meanwhile no great progress was being made at getting us back to Italy. One reason for this was that the British, who controlled the Mediterranean Theater of operations, had recalled their mission and severed all relationship with Mihailovic. Some of the Yugoslavian officers who spoke English would tell us that they had notified their government in Cairo about our presence in Yugoslavia, and they in turn had notified the British, and that was all they could do. We gradually got the idea that we ought somehow to get a message to the 15th Air Force as to how many of us were in Yugoslavia, and that they would be more likely to act than the British in Cairo.
To send a message involved getting General Mihailovic’s personal approval. By this time (late July, 1944) there were close to 150 allied airmen in our group including the crew of one British Wellington. So far as I knew as a first lieutenant I was as high-ranking as any of our group. So I started saying that as the commander of the Americans I wanted to see the commander of the Chetniks, General Mihailovic himself.
Finding the general in a guerrilla outfit is not easy and it is not supposed to be easy. The lieutenant knows where the captain is and no more. The captain knows where the major is, etc. Finally I got to see General Mihailovic himself. We spoke through an interpreter. He assured us that he had notified his government in Cairo, etc., but was very willing to help us send a message directly to Italy.
Now it turned out that among the downed airmen the idea of sending a message to Italy was very controversial. Some said “Don’t send any message. The Germans will intercept it and home in on it and capture us.” Those on my side felt that the Germans already must have known that there were Allied airmen in the hills. But the Germans were taking a beating on two fronts and did not have their finest troops stationed in Yugoslavia. They probably did not want to pay the price involved in trying to capture us.
My right hand man in the whole process of getting to see Gen. Mihailovic and composing and sending a message was a fighter pilot named Jack Barrett. If we accomplished anything worthwhile he deserves a full measure of credit.
Partially as a concession to the cautious group we decided to formulate a message in American slang which would accomplish our purpose and at the same time be as puzzling as possible to any Germans who might pick it up.
The resulting message went something like this (explanations are in parentheses):
Mudcat driver to CO APO520 (My airplane was named The Fighting Mudcat. APO520 was the 15th Air Force)
150 Yanks are in Yugo, some sick. Shoot us workhorses. (The workhorse of the US Air Force was the C-47. We hoped the literal-minded Germans would picture executing old dobbin.)
Our challenge first letter of bombardier’s last name, color of Banana Nose’s scarf. Your authenticator last letter of chief lug’s name, color of fist on wall.
(The challenge and authenticator were to be done with signal lights and could be transmitted ground-to-air or air-to-ground so that each party would know they were dealing with the right people. Banana Nose was Sam Benigno, a pilot in our squadron who wore a white scarf. The commander of the 459th Bomb Group, Col. Munn, once wrote on the wall of the officers’club at our base “Each lug in the 459th sign here” and then signed “M. M. Munn, Chief Lug”. The fist on the wall was a red fist on the club wall, part of the 15th Air Force emblem.)
Must refer to shark squadron, 459th Bomb Croup for decoding. (Our squadron had shark teeth painted on the noses of our B-24s) signed, TKO, Flat Rat 4 in lug order. (My tentmates and I back at our base called our tent “poker flat”. When I signed on the wall below Col. Munn’s signature, I had signed “T. K. Oliver, Flat Rat 4”)
This message was sent by a Yugoslav radio operator and picked up by a British operator in Italy. Eventually it came to Walt Cannon, who was then the CO of the 756th Squadron. He deciphered it and recognised it as genuine. This led to a reply which we got from 15th Air Force Hq.
Someone in the escape and evasion office of 15th AF Hq. had a great idea. They asked us to transmit our longitude and latitude, coded by adding the numbers to my radio operator’s serial number. This we of course did. The task leads to a digression in my story. I had to get longitude and latitude off some German maps which the Yugoslavians had. The Germans did not use Greenwich as the reference point for longitude. They used Berlin. I had to figure out a conversion. I remember that at West Point I thought the two most useless things I had to learn were: (1) How to ride a horse, and (2) How to use all the ground-troop type contour maps. After all, the only thing I would need would be aeronautical charts. In Yugoslavia, what do you suppose were two of the most valuable things I had learned at West Point?
This leads to my small world story. About the time we were sending longitude and latitude to Italy I ran across my West Point room mate, Leo C. Brooks, in Yugoslavia. He had been shot down flying a B-17.
Using the serial number code 15th AF sent us a message saying what day and hour an OSS team would be dropped in to join us. It was about midnight and I remember the beautiful silhouette of a C-47 against the sky. The team was led by George Musulin, an American of Serbian parentage who spoke die language well. He had an assistant who also spoke the language and a radio operator. They were equipped with radio, code books, and everything necessary to arrange the evacuation.
The Chetniks prepared a short sod-covered runway along the top of a hill. I paced it off taking short steps to be as optimistic as possible about its length. I got 600 yards. The Chetniks filled holes with dirt and stones and tamped it all down by hand.
The evacuation started about midnight on August 10, 1944. C-47’s landed, one at a time. The first took off before the second landed. We sent out sick and wounded first. After that whoever had been in Yugoslavia longest had priority. I was scheduled for the third airplane. The first got off very nicely. The second went off the end of the strip and disappeared into the valley below. Fortunately it climbed out again. As we got on the airplane most of us threw our shoes out as a parting gift to the Yugoslavs who had risked their lives for us. We had to admire those people. They had something hard to explain. For lack of better words I will call it character and integrity.
I was told the evacuation continued into daylight hours the next morning. Some P-51s flew cover in daylight. I know that there were several ME-109s at a field at Kraljevo not far from the evacuation strip. I saw them there at one time. Evidently they wisely chose to stay on the ground.
Back at 15th AF Hq. in Bari, Italy, we were deloused and all our remaining clothes were burned. We were issued a set of khakis and given orders to return to the U.S. via the next convoy. So ends our Yugoslavian tale.
One postscript might be added. Our tail gunner, Edgar Smith, hit his head getting out of the airplane. He evidently had sense enough to pull the ripcord, but he remembered nothing until he woke up lying on the ground. He used to complain about a sore neck. We suggested he have another drink of rakija, the potent local plum brandy. After we returned to the U.S. he wrote me that on the occasion of his mustering out physical exam, his neck was X-rayed. He had had a cracked vertebra. I am just as glad that we did not know about it at the time.
MAJOR RICHARD L. FELMAN USAF (RET)
WE RETURN AFTER 50 YEARS TO THANK THE SERBIAN PEOPLE WHO SAVED OUR LIVES
My wife and I have just returned for the most exhilarating experience of our lives. For me, it was also the most deeply emotional. For the first time in over 50 years I was able to go back to the land and the people who saved my life and the lives of over 500 of my fellow Americans who were shot down in the Serbian hills during World War II.
Ours was the largest rescue of American lives from behind enemy lines in our nation’s history. Unfortunately it is a story that has been covered up all these years because our State Department never wanted to offend the post-war Communist government of Tito by honoring the anti- Communist freedom fighters of General Mihailovic who saved us. As World War II veterans throughout the U.S. were returning in droves to former battle areas to commemorate the 50th anniversary of V-E Day, I called my former buddies and said “How about going back to Serbia?… If we don’t do it now, we never will”.. Most of the old soldiers in their seventies regrettably declined due to their aching backs, arthritis or were in wheel-chairs or nursing homes. I did, however, manage to stir up the patriotic juices of 2 other senior citizens. One was fellow Airman, Lt. Col. Charles Davis USAF (Ret.) who was shot down with me. The other was former Capt. Nick Lalich, the OSS intelligence officer who was commander or the “halyard” rescue team that parachuted into enemy-occupied Yugoslavia to effect our evacuation. Nick, at 79, was slowed down by his injured leg and a cane but as a fiercely proud Serbian-American, said he wouldn’t miss it for the world. Our group was then joined by my ever-loving wife, Mary Anne, who, after hearing my war stories for years, insisted on coming along to see the people who saved me and to personally thank them.
The next step was checking with our State Department to get clearance for our team of four. We were officially warned not to travel to Serbia because of “security reasons, economic sanctions, unavailability of essential items, assaults, robberies continuing trend toward lawlessness, a police protection that is almost non-existent, etc.” The list was endless, but we were determined not to be deterred from this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Our next step was airplane tickets. All airlines in this country-domestic and foreign-told us that by presidential order they were not permitted to give us any information about flying to Belgrade. It was as if Serbia had dropped off the face of the earth. The closest they could take us was Budapest. After that we would be on our own. How twisted we thought was a foreign policy that allows us to fly to Hungary, as well as Germany, Italy and Croatia, all former enemies, but closes Serbia to us (our most loyal ally in World War I and War World II) in our effort to commemorate “Victory-In-Eu-rope” with our friends.
In spite of all the obstacles, we were determined to share this historic day with the people who saved us. Many of whom had had family members killed by the Germans for shielding us. In may own case, I watched a village of 200 women and children being burned down by the Nazis because Mihailovic would not turn me and my crew over to them.
Having no other choice we flew to Budapest via Delta and arranged for the 5 hour drive to Belgrade that was delayed an additional 3 hours at the border. From that time on our entire visit was electric with excitement and emotion. Word had gone out throughout Serbia that the American flyers were coming back after 50 years. Everywhere we went, in towns, cities and villages, people turned out to cheer.
The emotional peak of our trip was returning to the mountain top plateau near Pranjani that served as a makeshift airstrip for our evacuation. The entire village, many of whom remembered our 1944 rescue, turned out to welcome us back. Flags were flying and accordions played while children danced in the unpaved street, suddenly, appearing out of the crowd, was a villager who introduced himself as Miso Stefanovic, the son of Corporal Miodrag Stefanovic, my personal bodyguard throughout the entire time after I was shot down. He told me that after the war the Communists arrested his father and killed him for allegedly selling me to the Germans. He still had the 2 escape maps I had given his father and had been trying to contact me since the end of the war. (It was the thrill of a lifetime when 2 days later, while passing a newsstand in downtown Belgrade, I saw a picture of our tearful embrace on the front page of “Srpska Rec”, Serbia’s only non-government controlled newspaper.) Just before we left Pranjani we were all invited by the local priest to his church to give thanks for allowing us to return.
The following day was the 44th anniversary of the day General Mihailovic stood on the mountain top at Ravna Gora and proclaimed his resistance to the German invasion of his country in 1941. At the commander-in-chief of the Royal Jugoslav Army he was the first Allied leader of an invaded country that refused to surrender. Every year on that day Serbians throughout the world gather to commemorate that event. It was a sight impossible to describe. Much like an army of ants, thousands upon thousands of people were making their way up a narrow path to get to the top where a statue of Mihailovic had been erected. The American airmen were invited to speak and we could not believe the mass of humanity spread out before us that cheered every word we said…
The Associated Press was at Ravna Gora that day and reported that 50.000 people were there in attendance. Although the story was sent to the U.S. wire service under the headline “Grateful Americans Join Serbian World War II Commemoration”, not one word appeared in American newspapers. Subsequent investigation into this glaring omission revealed that our government sanctions extend to preventing the truth from being reported from Serbia. So much for censorship. One would think an event of this magnitude certainly deserves at the very least as much coverage in the American press as space devoted to stories about Heidi Fleiss, the Hollywood Madam.
Beside The Associated Press Report, interviews were granted and press accounts reported in “Politika”, “Vesti” (A daily newspaper printed in Serbian from Frankfort and circulated world wide), “Studio B” (The only independent TV News Channel in Serbia), “Srpska Rec”, etc. We were often asked what we thought about the current political situation in the former Yugoslavia. I always replied that as visitors to their country it would be totally inappropriate for me to make any comment whatsoever on that subject. I made it crystal- clear that the one and only purpose of our visit was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of victory in Europe by sharing it with the Serbian people who saved our lives and to honor the Allied leader who made it possible: General Draza Mihailovic.
Just before leaving on our trip, I called His Eminence Metropolitan Iriney at Grayslake, to ask for his blessing. By happy coincidence he said he would be in Belgrade at the same time to attend a Sabor and perhaps we could meet there. When we did get together in Belgrade at the Serbian Patriachate I could not contain my emotion. Seeing Him once again, so far from home, heavily burdened amid so much suffering in his homeland was for me the most moving moment in our warm 35-year friendship.
Although the United Nations sanctions have taken a heavy toll on this country, the resolve of the people has not diminished. The gas stations were all closed but black market gasoline was available and cars plentiful. Travelers checks and credit cards were not acceptable. They will take American Dollars, but German Marks are preferred. Downtown Belgrade on the surface appears to be thriving although we could not understand an economy in which a member of parliament earns 200 dollars a month while one night at the Hyatt Regency costs 325 dollars (Continental Breakfast included.) There was a large variety of newspapers and magazines available for sale at newsstands however we were told that all press is subject to government control. This was made painfully obvious when we tried to see “STUDIO B’s” televised report on our appearance at the Ravna Gora commemoration but were advised by The Hyatt Regency in Belgrade that Studio B was the only TV channel they could not show.
After Pranjani and Ravna Gora the balance of our all-to-short 7-day visit was packed with once-in-a-lifetime moments. One memorable evening we were the guests of honor at The Plush Aero Club in downtown Belgrade. Among those present in the chandeliered, mirrored dining room were the representative of the American Embassy (Matthew Palmer), the leader of the opposition to the Milosevic government (Vuk Draskovic), other parliament members who oppose the current former-Communist leadership, local officials, dignitaries, etc. We were given the key to the city of Novi Sad (often called “the Vienna of Serbia”), and a plaque with the town’s coat of arms in Sremski Karlovci. Also in Novi Sad we visited a Jewish Synagogue behind which 5,000 Jews were rounded up by the Nazis and slaughtered. Although the building still stands in deference to their memory, Jews no longer conduct services there. Before leaving the colorful city we were honored by local dignitaries at Dukat, the leading Serbia restaurant. I have never see Nick Lalich so happy as when he was leading the group in singing Serbian songs. Just a few years ago it was forbidden to sing Chetnik songs in public. But no matter where we went the spotlight was always on Mary Anne. Everyone seemed to be taken by the attractive American Lady with the delightful smile and cheerful “hvala lepo” for everyone she met. The women, especially the younger ones, were interested in her dress, hairstyle, make-up, etc. It was reminiscent of Jackie’s famous trip to Paris when Kennedy was President. One of those unforgettable moments was a trip back in time as we made our way up a narrow path high up in the mountains near Valjevo to “Celije” an isolated women’s monastery built in the 14th century, where the nuns offered us the traditional spoonful of sweetened fruit and a glass of water.
A short distance from “Celije” was the men’s monastery high above the village of Lelic, the birthplace of one of Serbia’s greatest theologians, Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic, who died in 1956. At his request, his remains after his death were to be moved there from Libertyville once Serbia was free from Communist rule. This was done about 4 years ago. This visit had special significance for me as I had the honor of meeting His Grace in New York in 1946 and had visited his grave every time I was in Libertyville. At the end of our unforgettable trip, it felt good to be back home. Once again we were reinforced in our belief that ours is the greatest country in the world. And to all those Americans who constantly gripe about how unfortunate they are, I suggest they take a trip overseas to see the millions of people who would gladly change places with them anytime they desire.
Immensely satisfying as our journey was, it focused attention on a foreign policy which deeply saddens us. The Serbian people who saved us were all fine, decent, God-fearing people who endured untold sacrifice and suffering to save American lives. In the final analysis our government has rewarded them by imposing crippling sanctions on them while aiding others who, as allies of the Nazis during World War II, were shooting at us and killed many of our buddies.
May I suggest to all our anti-Serb politicians, syndicated columnists and State Department bureaucrats that before they accept the
slanted press releases of highly paid public relations firms or the political contributions of powerful foreign lobbyists, that they speak to the thousands uopn thousands of American grandchildren who are alive today solely because the Serbian people saved over 500 of their grandfathers during World War II.
As I lay in bed the night after returning home, I couldn’t help but reflect on the many wonderful moments and people I was privileged to know during my return to Serbia. It all started over 50 years before when a random German shell forced me to bail out over Yugoslavia, and eventually brought me to this point in my life. Perhaps there was some mysterious plan that guided the missile that made possible one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Nick Lalich, Charlie Davis and I will always be grateful to the dedicated group of Mihailovic supporters who were always there to assist us. Typical of famous Serbian hospitality, they left no stone unturned in catering to our every need. Many of them were born after the war and raised in a Communist school system that taught them that Mihailovic was a traitor and collaborator. They had heard stories about the rescued airmen but we were the first they met, with personal eye-witness accounts of the truth. As visitors in their land whose language we did not speak, their fluent English and knowledge of the country were invaluable. Without their help the immense success of our return trip would not have been possible.
Tucson, Thursday, June 22, 1995 Letters to the editor
Pilot didn’t have to hide
I was particularly elated by the miraculous return of Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady to a base in Aviano, Italy recently. Having been shot down myself in Serbia, his rescue was of special interest to me, as I could identify with every problem he had and every action he took. The only difference is that I, along with over 500 other American airmen, was saved by the Serbs and did not have to run away from them. I believe our fellow airman Scott O’Grady could have saved himself and our nation a lot of anguish by simply walking into the nearby village where he landed and extending his hand to the Serbs. I would bet my life he would have been welcomed with open arms. They are against the United Nations “peacekeepers” who insist on bombing them in their own land and not against the American airmen who they love. Just last month, I was one of three American airmen who returned to Serbia to commemorate the 50th anniversary of V-E Day with the Serbian people who saved our lives during World War II. We were welcomed by a crowd of 50,000 Serbs who kept cheering “U.S.A., U.S.A.” This story was reported by the Associated Press with a Serbian dateline and sent out over the U.S. wire, but was not published in the American media because of the sanctions. For those who really want to know the truth about the current situation inside the former Yugoslavia, do not be misled by the politically motivated policies of the United Nations, where the Orthodox Christians (Serbs) are outnumbered 12-1 in the world community by the Catholics (Croatians) and the Muslims (Bosnia). Ask us. We were there and saw the truth. I would bet my life he would have been welcomed with open arms!
RICHARD L. FELMAN Major USAF (Ret)
President National Committee of American Airmen
Rescued by General Mihailovic
THE FORGOTTEN HERO OF A FORGOTTEN EXPLOIT
In his late years, George Musulin often attended a Serb orthodox church in Washington. People who did not know that silent and modest old man would have been surprised if someone had told them that he led one of the most heroic operations in WWII, and that he had set up the only Allied airfield behind enemy lines in German Europe! No film was made, no novel was written on his extraordinary career. Only after his death, the American public was informed on who he was and what he had done
George Musulin, 72, freed 400 trapped GIs
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. George S. Musulin, 72, a World War II officer who commanded an operation to rescue American soldiers trapped behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia, died Saturday from diabetes and kidney failure in BethesdaNavalHospital. He lived in McLean.
Col. Musulin commanded the “Operation Halyard”, responsible for airlifting more than 400 American soldiers from Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia in August 1944. The central facts about the operations and its success based on the cooperation of General Draza Mihailovic, leader of the Yugoslav Nationalist Resistance Forces or “Chetnik” movement were not made public until 20 years later.
David Martin, author of “Patriot or Traitor: The Case of General Mihailovic”, called the mission “probably the most daring operation of its kind anywhere in Axis-occupied Europe during the whole of World War II”.
According to Mr. Martin, the events that led to Col. Musulin’s participation in the operation started in mid-October 1943, when he parachuted into Yugoslavia as a member of the American mission at the headquarters of Gen. Mihailovic.
Col. Musulin supervised the evacuation of 50 American airmen forced down in Yugoslavia and rescued by Gen. Mihailovic’s forces, while flying bombing missions against German oil installations in Romania.
The British, at this time, claimed Gen. Mihailovic was collaborating with the Germans.
Against the recommendations of over 40 British and American officers who served with Gen. Mihailovic, the British withdrew their support from Gen. Mihailovic and gave it to the Communist forces led by Marshal Josip Tito and pressured the U.S. into doing the same.
On May 31, 1944, Col. Musulin was evacuated along with 100 British and American officers, leaving Gen. Mihailovic abandoned.
Col. Musulin was reassigned to Bari, where he suggested organizing another effort to rescue additional American airmen shot down over Yugoslavia.
On Aug. 4, 1944, Col. Musulin parachuted into Yugoslavia near the town of Pranjani, where he found about 250 Americans who had been rescued and hidden from the Germans by Chetnik forces. He led them to a secret air strip where they were flown to safety.
Although they had been abandoned by the allies months before, Chetnik villagers still concealed and cared for the Americans, for which they were executed in public by the Germans.
Because of the contradiction between the British charge that Gen. Mihailovic and his forces were aiding the Germans, and the fact that his forces sacrificed their lives to save Americans from the Germans, the daring rescue mission was kept secret for 20 years.
The awarding of the Legion of Merit to Gen. Mihailovic by President Harry Truman in 1948, in recognition of his service to the Allied cause, was also kept from the public.
By the end of the mission, more than 400 soldiers had been rescued, Mr. Martin said.
Col. Musulin was born in New York and raised in Johnstown, Pa. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and played on the University’s football team. After college, he played professional football for a few years with the St. Louis Gunners and the Chicago Cardinals.
After the war, Col. Musulin joined first the Office of Naval Intelligence and then the Central Intelligence Agency, where he retired in 1974.
Washington Post, February 25, 1987.
THIS IS NOW
The war in Bosnia was America’s war in every sense of the word. The U.S. administration helped start it, kept it going, and prevented its early end. Indeed all the indications are that it intends to allow the war to continue in the near future, as soon as its Muslim proteges are fully armed and trained. How it did so is common knowledge. Why it did so, and the implications for American defense and foreign policy generally remain to be elucidated.
Sir Alfred Sherman
WHO IS WHO IN YUGOSLAVIA, AND HOW IT ALL STARTED
What is Bosnia?
Before her recognition as a State in its own right, Bosnia-Herzegovina was a socialist republic. She was one of the six republics in the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia and included three communities with equal rights: Serbs, Croats and Muslims. According to the Yugoslav Constitution, it had a great deal of autonomy, secession was even possible. However, this right of secession was to be exerted provided it had 1) the agreement of the other components of the Federation together and 2) the agreement of the three peoples involved. The 1992 Secession much desired above all by the Muslims who were backed by the Islamic states, and supported by the Croats for tactical reasons, did not take these two prerequisites into consideration. Bosnia-Herzegovina, however, became independent thanks to a violation of a constitution that had been ratified by the West. However, this region of Europe had not had the status of a state since the Middle Ages.
The last sovereign State of Bosnia dates back to the XVth century. It was then ruled by a Serbian Prince of the Kotromanjic Dynasty. During the Turkish invasion, a great number of Serbs, Christian Orthodox as well as Roman Catholics who lived there and were less numerous, converted to Islam to avoid persecutions and gain social advantages. Most of the Muslim families still remember their Christian ancestors.
This region was ruled with a rod of iron by the Ottoman Empire until the end of the XlXth century when the drawing back of the Turks on European soil gave birth to the Eastern Question. During the Berlin Congress in 1878, Austria was entrusted with the administration of Bosnia and Herzegovina, this being done against the clearly-stated will of the majority of the populations who wanted to become part of Serbia. Until the Second World War indeed, the Serbs were the biggest community in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and their constant desire was to unite the whole of their people in a common State.
Austria refused to abide by the population’s request and governed this region like a colony. In 1908, she simply annexed it, despite the opposition of other powers.
Bosnian Serbs, treated like second-rate citizens, were desperate. In 1914, a group of young Serbs (and Muslims) organized an assassination attempt against the Austrian Archiduke Franz-Ferdinand. Austria was the mortal enemy of Serbia. The latter was an ally of Western democracies. Austria took this pretext to take revenge upon this small independent state. Without any ground she accused Serbia of having ordered the Sarajevo attempt and attacked her. This was the event that unleashed the First World War.
Serbia was victorious, together with France, Britain and the USA. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismantled. Bosnia-Herzegovina was integrated into the new state of the Southern Slavs, created around Serbia and that was to become Yugoslavia.
What was Yugoslavia?
Between the two World Wars, Yugoslavia was a monarchy ruled by the pro-Western Serbian dynasty of the Karageorge. It was a Unitarian state based upon citizenship and not upon religious or ethnic membership. The Serbian rulers and the majority of their population thought they could create a harmonious state with all the Balkan Slavs, notwithstanding their religious or their cultural background: the idea that inspired Yugoslavia is very much the same that is inspiring modern Europe nowadays.
At the beginning of the XXth century, Serbia was famous for her exemplary parliamentary regime and for the freedom her citizens enjoyed. It was one of the rare states in Europe where freedom of the press was total. Yugoslavia, founded in 1918 as a parliamentary monarchy, kept the same traditions. However, confronted right from the start with secessionist movements-mostly Croatian-it rapidly became an authoritarian State. Hoping to preserve the union of peoples, King Alexander sacrificed democracy.
In 1934 the Ustashis of Ante Pavelic, a Croatian fascist movement, murdered King Alexander of Yugoslavia and French minister Louis Barthou in Marseilles. In 1939, Croatia was given a large autonomy in Yugoslavia. In 1941, the Yugoslav government that had been forced to join the Axis, was overthrown by a group of anti-nazi Serbian generals and politicians. This coup was hailed in democratic states as a heroic gesture of resistance to nazism. The Serbs had to pay a high price for their fight for freedom: Hitler occupied Yugoslavia and divided her up among his satellite states. He treated Serbia as an occupied province. In contrast, he rewarded the Croats-who had welcomed him with enthusiasm-by giving them an “IndependentState” to which he added Bosnia-Herzegovina. A policy of systematic extermination of religious and racial minorities was instigated by the Croat state: this led to the murder of 700,000 Serbs, 35,000 Jews and 25,000 Gypsies.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croats-who were a minority-became the masters while Serbs were persecuted, slaughtered in their homes or sent to concentration camps. Muslims, for the most part, took the side of Croatia and Germany, creating two SS divisions infamous for their fanaticism and their utter savagery.
In the Spring of 1941, Serbian Colonel Draza Mihailovic created the “Yugoslav Land Army” an underground movement faithful to the royal Yugoslav government in exile in London. The Chetniks of Mihailovic were the first and at the beginning the only movement of resistance to nazis in occupied Europe. In the free world, their struggle was much admired. Hollywood even dedicated a film to their feats: Chetniks, the Fighting Guerillas (1942).
During the war, Mihailovic’s army siding with the Allies, saved hundreds of American and British pilots whose planes had crashed in Yugoslavia. For these men, falling in Serbian territory meant that they saved their lives. D. Mihailovic was decorated by President Truman (Legion of Merit, in 1948) and by General de Gaulle (Citation a I’ordre des Forces Frangaises Libres 1943-Distinction of the Free French Forces) for his pro-Allies exploits during the war.
At the end of the war, Yugoslavia fell into the hands of the Communists led by Josip Broz Tito, a Croat. The latter had Mihailovic shot and established a totalitarian regime after fake elections. Tito constructed his power on the weakness and rivalries of the Yugoslav peoples.
The Serbs, the people who founded Yugoslavia, and courageously resisted Nazism in WWII, were particularly persecuted by the Communist regime. Tito never allowed any inquiry into the Croat crimes against humanity during the Nazi period. The obvious policy of genocide of the 1941-1945 Croatian State was hushed up and treated as if it never happened by the revisionist regime of Tito.
For the Communists, the Serbs were the only threat. Since the middle of the sixties until the end of the Communist state, no important leader of Communist Yugoslavia was Serbian.
In order “to divide & conquer”, Tito split the country into six republics. These republics were ruled by a soviet-type nomenklatura using both police oppression and corruption to remain in power. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, this nomenklatura was recruited among the Muslim families who had collaborated with the Ustashis and the nazis. After the 1992 secession, the very same people became the masters of the newly recognized fundamentalist Muslim Bosnia.
Who are the Serbs?
The Serbs are a Slavic Christian Orthodox people, whose presence in the Balkans has been traced back by historians to the 6th century. According to most reliable sources, at the end of the Middle Ages, the Serbs lived in the area that includes Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia in their entirety.
In the early 14th century, the Serbian Emperor Dusan, “Emperor of the Serbs, Greeks and Albanians” ruled over a territory that covered most of the Balkan peninsula. However, this state was soon attacked by the Turks. In 1389, at the Battle of Kosovo, Serbia lost almost all her noblemen, and eventually became a province of the Ottoman Empire.
In the 16th century, many Serbs, fleeing the Turkish terror, settled in the South of the Austrian Empire, in the regions called Krajinas (Borderlands). There, they served the Austrian Emperor as elite troops and border guards against the Turks. In the Austrian Empire, they enjoyed a particular status. Since they were Orthodox Christians, they obeyed their own Church, and they enjoyed more freedom than most of the Roman Catholic Austrian subjects.
From the beginning of the 19th century, the Serbs started a series of revolts in order to free themselves from the Turks. Their struggle was supported by all enlightened intellectuals in Europe. In 1878 there were two free sovereign Serbian states: Serbia and Montenegro.
Because of their national tradition of freedom and civil equality, Serbs preferred democracy and progress to authoritarian regimes. From the beginning of the 19th century until the Second World War, their country was a constant and faithful ally of western democracies. Because of their ethnic and religious affinities, the Serbs were always very close to Russia too.
Numerous authors and chroniclers, from Churchill to Toynbee, from Rebecca West to De Gaulle, have described the Serbs’ struggle for freedom and dignity during the last two World Wars. But in the recent years, the Serbs have lost all their allies and have been sacrificed to the interests of world’s powers. On top of the embargo, they had to suffer from a mediatic taboo too, and they were badmouthed by the press and television on a daily basis.
Who are the Croats?
The Croats are a Slavic people who appeared in the Balkans at about the same time the Serbs did. They united with the Church of Rome and have been for ten centuries among the most fervent of Roman Catholics.
The Balkans have always been the scene of a religious war between the Church of Rome and the Orthodox world gathered around Byzantium, and then Russia. In this confrontation, Croats and Serbs being neighbors, were directly opposed.
Unlike the Serbs who were, during their entire history, staunchly animated with a will to become independent, the Croats preferred to come to terms with their oppressors. In the 12th century, they gave the Croatian crown to a Hungarian king. Later, and until 1918, they were subjects of the Austrian Empire and they never tried to achieve independence through their own means: they preferred to wait until it was granted to them by their sovereign as due payment for their services.
Croats at first, lived in a relatively small area around Zagreb, their present capital. On the Adriatic coast and in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in regions that are now “purely” Croat, there lived in the old days populations who were Roman Catholic but who simply called themselves “Slavs” or “Serbs”. Because of the diplomatic and
political action of the Roman Catholic Church however, all these populations have been linked with the Croatian community since the 19th century, when belonging to the Roman Catholic Church became the distinctive mark of the emerging Croat nationality among the South Slavs.
During the First World War, the Croats fought together with the Austro-Hungarian army. They accepted to be part of the same state with the Serbs in 1918, because it was a way for them to switch from the losers’ to the victors’ camp, so they avoided the dismantlement of their territory between Italy and Serbia. However, immediately after Yugoslavia was created, the Croat leaders started to object to their being part of the Yugoslav state and they proceeded to sabotage this state. The most extreme of these movements, the Ustashis whose leader Ante Pavelic had been sentenced to death by the French justice for the Marseilles assassination, came to power in 1941 when the Croats obtained an “Independent State” under the Third Reich protectorate. The four years of Croatian “independence” were marked by crimes that horrified the world and an internal chaos that scandalized even their German allies.
At the end of the eighties, during the first pluralist elections, Croatia voted in favor of a nationalist and separatist movement, the HDZ, whose leaders hardly concealed their admiration for the fascist UstasheState. As soon as it came to power, this party started rehabilitating the “independent” Croatia of Pavelic and created its own army.
In 1991, on the Croats’ initiative, and under the protection of Germany and Vatican, Yugoslavia was dismantled in very much the same way this was done in 1941: the Croats seemed to be the allies of the great power of the time (Germany!) whereas the Serbs, a people with a relatively bigger majority, became pariahs in their own country and none of their States were recognized! The only difference with 1941, was that Germany had no need to send her own army to put Yugoslavia to fire and sword.
Who are the Bosnian Muslims (“Bosnians”)?
Most of the Muslims in Bosnia are Slavs who converted to Islam during the Turkish period. Only a small minority are Turks who came with the conquerors. Under the Communist regime, these Muslims of Bosnia were proclaimed a nation in its own right and
they were cut from their original Serbian or Croatian nation. The “Muslim” nation, the one nation in the world to be defined only by its religion, is a pure product of totalitarian Communism.
Since the secession of Bosnia-Herzegovina, these Muslims and they alone, insist on being called Bosnians in order to deprive the Serbs-and the Croats-of the legitimate status of natives! Nevertheless, the three communities of Bosnia-Herzegovina have an equal right to be called “Bosnians”.
Faithful supporters of the Communist regime that had raised them to the dimension of a nation, a majority of Bosnian Muslims voted in favor of the SDA, the Islamic Party of Alija Izetbegovic. The dividing of Bosnia along religious criteria then became unavoidable.
How did Yugoslavia fall apart?
Yugoslavia was since 1945 a non-democratic state ruled by a Communist regime. The Yugoslav dictator, Tito, who was an ethnic Croat, skillfully pleased the West, without ever resigning his Communist ideology. He had universal ambitions and tried, with the Non-Aligned movement, to become the leader ot the Third World. After a short unitary period, Tito’s Communist Party divided Yugoslavia into six ethnic republics. Exciting and opposing interests was a fundamental principle of their rule. In order to weaken the largest Yugoslav community, the Serbs, Tito’s regime created with a part of the Serb peuple two new “nations”, the Montenegrins and Macedonians, and prevented their national unity by placing Serb-populated territories under the rule of the newly created ethnic republics. At the same time, Tito created two very aggressive “autonomous regions”, for Albanian and Hungarian minorities, within the Republic of Serbia itself.
The ethnic minorities were strongly favored in Communist Yugoslavia. While the Serbs (a relative majority) were considered only as “Yugoslav citizens”, other peoples were treated as “ethnic communities” and were allowed to promote their national interests.
When Croatia and Slovenia decided to secede from Yugoslavia in 1991, they already had their own local governments, police, armies and customs. No province or region in a democratic country could ever be granted such an autonomy vis-a-vis the central Government.
In 1991, Croatia and Slovenia enjoyed far higher living standards than the other Yugoslav republics. These under-developed provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had found in Yugoslavia everything they needed for their upgrading to national sovereignty. On the other hand, Serbia and Montenegro, who resigned their sovereignty in 1918 to join the new Yugoslav state, sunk slowly to the bottom of Europe’s nations, with a ruined economy, a perverted national consciousness, and undefined borders.
While the new states of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, strongly backed by their foreign sponsors, were granted immediate admission to the United Nations, the Serbo-Montenegrin state, sole remnant of the Yugoslav federation, a founding member of the SDN [Societe des Nations] and of the United Nations Organisation, is still waiting for its international recognition!
In the late eighties, the secessionist movements started to exert terror and violence against the Serbs and the Federal authorities. They were deliberately waving symbols and ideas reminding of World War II, when Nazi Croatia genocided its Serbs, Jews and Gypsies. Through fear and insecurity, they expelled tens of thousands of Serbs from Croatia even before the war began. The Yugoslav government did nothing to prevent a violent end that appeared obvious to any observer. The state had been ruled for 40 years by a Croat and his proteges; since the mid-sixties, no Serb had acceeded to the key functions of the Federal state.
So, when the North-Western republics proclaimed their secession in June, 1991, they had their men on both sides of the field: the Federal President was Stipe Mesic, a Croat, the Prime minister was Ante Markovie, a Croat, the Defense minister was Gen. Kadijevic (a half-Croat), the Foreign minister was Budimir Loncar, also a Croat, the Army Intelligence was commanded by Admiral Stane Brovet, a Slovene, and the Air Force by Gen. Tus, a Croat…
The Federal government which was supposed to react to a violent dismantling of Yugoslavia was “ethnically clean”: there were no Serbs in it!
Thus, the actions undertaken in the Summer 1991 by the ethnically divided and ideologically blinded Yugoslav Army (JNA) were contradictory and unefficient. Numerous treasons happened; targets were bombed without necessity; victorious units were forced to withdraw and shot in the back. In Serbia, only 16% of the troops could be mobilized, while 200’000 young people left the country, refusing to serve an army they did not consider as their own. Nevertheless, the Western media never made any difference between this despised Communist army and the Serb guerillas fighting for their homes in the disputed zones.
In fact, the only real resistance to the dismantling of Yugoslavia was offered by the Serb popular militias in Krajina, where people unanimously felt threatened by a renewal of the WWII genocide.
This popular resistance crumbled only four years later, in 1995, under a massive, U.S.-supported Croat attack, and a massive treason by the Belgrade headquarters, which had been supporting the hopes and fears ot the Western Serbs only in order to preserve themselves from the powerful streams which were blowing away all the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe.
This view of the Yugoslav civil war would have seemed unfounded only a few years ago, when the Western opinion was submitted to a daily brainwashing about the “ugly Serbs”. But now the bare facts show that it is the correct one: the only “ethnically clean” state in the Balkans today is Croatia, which expelled about half a million Serbs in four years. Even the American press has admitted that Croatia is an aggressive, militarized state, with fascist behaviours, culture, and symbols. Unfortunately, that regime is still protected by Germany and the United States, and no international court has indicted its political leaders for war crimes.
The other “victim”, once unanimously praised in the Western media as a peaceful and democratic community, the Muslim regime in Bosnia, has also shown its real face—which was obvious from the very beginning: hatred, islamic fundamentalism, and aggresiveness towards its Christian neighbours. But still after the horrendous discovery of the Kazani pit near Sarajevo, where hundreds of Serb civilians were slaughtered by members of the Bosnian army, the West seems unwilling to raise the question of the Muslim war crimes.
AMERICA’S WAR, A MEDIA WAR
On On February 23, 1992, in Lisbon, the three peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina reached an agreement on the principle of a peaceful division of that former Yugoslav republic into three ethnic regions. These talks were led under EC sponsorship by a Portuguese diplomat, Ambassador Cutilheiro.
One month later, still with the approval of the European community, the leaders of the three national parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina signed a document on the future arrangement of the country. Three constituent nations were then officially recognized.
This decision was easy to understand in the European context. Less than a year before, when ethnic troubles started to tear up the Yugoslav federation, the EC named a Commission led by the French lawyer and ex-minister Robert Badinter, in order to examine the legal problems caused by the dismantling of a state which had been a founding member of the United Nations. Under ferocious German pressure, the EC Commission stated that the inner boundaries of the country, arbitrarily traced by a Communist regime, were to be considered from then on as international borders. This legalized the armed secession of Croatia and Slovenia (the all-time proteges of Germany), and thus favoured the creation of a large number of small ethnic states in the Balkans. Nevertheless, this did not lead to any serious ceasefire on the battlefield, because Croats and Serbs exclusively relied on military arguments in settling their mutual borderlines.
The European Community had been intervening in the Yugoslav affairs before the bloodshed started. In early 1991, it threatened the Federation with reprisals if the Federal presidency persisted in preventing a Croat nationalist from becoming the Federal president. The short presidency of the overt secessionist Stipe Mesic, formally imposed by the Constitution, but enforced from outside, rang the knell of a state deeply undermined by ethnic and religious hatreds.
By favouring the North-Western republics versus the mainly Serb federal government, the EC had been pouring oil on a still tiny flame, until it spread to an unlimited civil war. And the actions the EC waged to put out the fire showed widely less efficient than those that led to its outburst.
The Yugoslav civil war was a tremendous failure of the EC, which on this subject showed inner divisions so deep that they might raise the question of its political survival. When ethnic troubles passed over to Bosnia, the main concern for the Europeans was to avoid another violent dismantling of a part of former Yugoslavia. This is why Europe very quickly recognized the real state of facts. A quiet divorce of the Yugoslav peoples was much better than a hazardous common life.
Had the Lisbon agreement been respected, there would have been no war in Bosnia, no persons forcibly displaced, no villages burned. But it failed a few days after it had been signed, because one of the parties withdrew its signature. This party was the Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic, who thus bears a major responsibility in the outburst of the Bosnian war. In fact, he shares mat historical responsibility with those who advised him to commit perjury.
After the Lisbon peace talks, namely, Warren Zimmermann, the American ambassador to former Yugoslavia, called on Izetbegovic to assure him that the U.S. preferred a unitary Bosnia, and that he could get much more than what he had obtained in Lisbon. The Muslim leader, from then on called the “President of Bosnia” by the press, publicly renounced the agreement.
This was the first direct intervention of the United States in the Yugoslav crisis. When German-backed Croatia and Slovenia announced that they were seceeding from the Yugoslav federation, the Bush Administration cautiously advocated the maintaining of the Yugoslav state, but basically considered the Serbo-Croat quarrel as an internal European problem.
The United States started considering the Balkan troubles as a “matter of national security” only when Muslim interests got involved. And to this day it has obstinately favoured these particular interests, against any objection of justice, peace, truth, or humanity. So the American “peacekeepers” not only allowed massive weapons deliveries from Iran, but became the sophisticated Air force of a primitive Muslim army, and are overtly preparing it for the conquest of non-Muslim territories.
In order to conceal the true responsibilities of the Bosnian tragedy, the Muslim party orchestrated a massive media campaign with Arab money and American know-how. American PR agencies were paid to spread false or exaggerated news about Serb crimes. Every great issue of the Bosnia conflict was preceded by a TV-covered tragedy.
On May 27, 1992, three days after Secretary of State James Baker called for UN sanctions against FR Yugoslavia for supporting the Bosnian Serbs, an explosion killed 20 persons waiting in a breadline queue in Sarajevo. The crime was immediately attributed to a “Serb mortar”, although there was no trace of a shell impact on the ground. In his book Peacekeeper. The Road to Sarajevo, Canadian General Lewis T. MacKenzie, who was then commanding the UNPROFOR in Bosnia, describes the massacre as a previously organized “media event”, with a TV team waiting nearby.
Under the emotional pressure raised by the breadline massacre, the Security Council voted cruel economic, political, and cultural sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro. The UN report on this event, however, was never published and cannot be obtained from the UN library.
In similar circumstances, a series of spectacular massacres took place in Sarajevo, and were automatically used as propaganda material against the Serbs. Although most of the high UN and UNPROFOR officers (Generals MacKenzie, Nambiar, Briquemont, Rose, and Lord Owen) expressed doubts about Serb responsibilities, the U.S. Government stood firmly behind the most unbelievable allegations. In summer 1992, during the media campaign about “death camps”, the State Department seriously stated that 70’000 Muslim inmates were being displaced in “mobile prisons” all over the Serb part of Bosnia-which was supposed to explain the lack of evidence proper to all the horrendous stories spread by the media.
After this propaganda hoax had been used to the bone, no one ever mentioned those 70’000 wandering POWs. A similar silence fell on the “60’000 Muslim women” allegedly raped by the Serbs.
The last great media campaign occurred when NATO decided to reverse the power balance in the Balkans in favor of its proteges. From May to October 1995, tens of thousands of Serbs died or disappeared, hundreds of thousands were expelled from their homes, their army abandoned strategic cities and vast territories. But, while Croats and Muslims, assisted by American advisors and NATO bombers, were burning down Serb villages one by one and massacring civilians by hundreds, the world opinion was hypnotised by a dubious mortar explosion at the Markale market of Sarajevo (Aug. 28), or by unverified rumours about “thousands of Muslims” killed after the Srebrenica assault.
After the Srebrenica rumour was raised to an official level by then U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright, the Hague Tribunal issued a special indictment against the political and military leaders of the Bosnian Serbs, and sent impressive scientifical teams and materials in Bosnia to investigate alleged “mass graves”. Two years later, the places where 8’000 to 12’000 unarmed men should have been bluntly gathered and killed revealed less than 500 corpses-which was even less than the human losses the Serb headquarters admitted to have caused to the Muslim army during the battle.
People working in the Western diplomacy, governments, and intelligence reviews do not give any more credit to the anti-Serb war propaganda than to the Timisoara mass graves or the alleged massacre of Koweiti babies by Iraqi soldiers. Stories about Serbian “ethnic cleansing”, “mass rapings”, “death camps” and “genocides” were designed for a short and medium-range use, and they worked perfectly well on the dramatic scene of a civil war. Now they are merely media food for blunt CNN-consumers, whom the political and media powers are-because they are not willing to recognize their professional faults, or perhaps even because they still have not dared to draw up a reliable and credible account of all these events.
The Dayton Agreement, which is being enforced against the people’s will by a foreign administrator, does not offer Bosnia and Herzegovina any real and definite future. It is based on the myth of a unitary Bosnia, a myth that has already caused so many deaths and destructions. Who, for instance, could believe in a “Croat-Muslim Federation” knowing how Croats and Muslims fought against each other (and still are fighting through politics and provocations) in the Mostar region? Dayton stems from a long record of manipulations, propaganda, and outrageous lies. Lies and propaganda seem to be a substitute for justice and courage in international politics. But those who use them should know that they will not bring them credit and respect, only hatred, scorn and contempt.
For us Serbs, as well as for many other Europeans, present day’s America has very little in common with the nation that was our ally, and with the idea of liberty and human dignity that she brought us back across the Ocean when our civilisation was threatened by Nazi or Communist totalitarianism.
We needed America to protect us. We still needed her in 1989, after the Iron Curtain fell down, because the end of Communism did not mean immediate peace and prosperity for the Old World. But in the last decade, the faith we owed to her went cold and finally dried out: America proved to be a greedy and high-handed empire.
Since they became the only power on the world scene, American leaders seem to use justice and morality merely as means to extend and consolidate their influence. While imposing harsh moral criteria to other nations, they do not even consider applying these criteria to themselves and to their temporary allies.
It is not my purpose to discuss the United States foreign policy as a whole. My concern is that my people and myself were allies of the American people. Not because of strategic interests, but because we had—on different scales, of course—the same ideas about national pride and independence.
When Serbs rebelled against Austrian diktat in 1914, they did not look after their interests, but defended their dignity. When they rejected those who joined Hitler’s Axis, in 1941, they knew what sufferings they would have to endure.
Serbs were a people of peasants and soldiers. In a sense, they still are simple and true people, without any skill for flattery and social sense. But Serbian armies never lost a battle because of cowardice or faint-heartedness. Only treason and deceit could prevent them from defending their honor to the very end.
It is the second time now that we are being deceived and betrayed by those whom we considered as our friends, our allies, and our brothers-in-arms.
By abandoning General Mihailovic in favour of a Communist dictator, the Allies have betrayed the whole Serbian people, and they deceived themselves and their public. We thought that this had been quite a clear lesson.
But in the mid-nineties, the President of the United States declared 9 million Balkan Christians a “threat for U.S. national security” and ordered his Airforce to bomb villages in the Bosnian mountains. The United States trained, approved and politically covered the authoritarian Croat regime when it decided to expell hundreds of thousands of Serbs from their homes, pursuing the same goals as the 1941 nazi regime of Croatia. NATO planes destroyed roads, bridges, town halls and schools in a country exhausted by a three year war. They even contaminated regions with uranium-enriched ammunition, as they recently admitted. Why?
Are we really the most dangerous enemy that America could find all over this violent and chaotic world? Or are we merely a scapegoat with horns too short to ever reach the Washington white collars?
It is hard to believe that Americans could have forgotten all their ties with people who fought on their side and were proud to give their lives to save those of American airmen. Are US Navy Tomahawks the reward of such sacrifices, which remained hidden as a shameful story for fifty years? Or is it possible that the freedom fighters greeted by Truman, De Gaulle and Nixon have suddenly become a tribe of monstrous criminals? In the last five decades, who changed more: you or us?
I am asking myself. All the Serbs are asking themselves. Furthermore, many Americans, whether they are war veterans or simply responsible citizens, are now posing the question: how long can America fail in its moral duties as a world leader without encurring the dire consequences on its pride and dignity?