The youthful airmen bailed out of their plane over East Serbia in May, 1944, and 98 days later were back at their Italian air base at Foggia. With the war on, they never said how they got out of Yugoslavia, but Tuesday, ex-F.O. Reid, just back from Washington and Ottowa, told the full story.
Reid and Bradshaw, together with two American airmen and the assistance of Mihailovich, arranged for the mass evacuation from the hastily prepared airfield at Pranjani of 243 Allied airmen, all of them hiding from the Germans.
Last week, when the call came in to the city veterans from the Committee for a Fair Trial for Draza Mihailovich, they hopped a plane for Washington where they saw James Byrnes, U.S. Secretary of State.
Reid and Bradshaw were the only Canadians in a delegation of 20 speaking for more than 600 Allied fliers who were spirited out of Yugoslavia by Chetnik forces and who now wish to testify on Mihailovich’s behalf.
Reid said Mr. Brynes assured them the United States Government would appeal to the Yugoslav Government for a fair trial for the Chetnik leader. The airmen also said ‘There is a great sympathy in the United States for Mihailovich.’
Famed columnist Dorothy Thompson is honorary chairman of the Committee which paid the expenses of Reid and Bradshaw to make their appeals. The money has come from public donations all through the United States, Reid said.
Others on the Committee include Sumner Welles, Justice Ferdinand Pecora, Bishop William T. Manning, William Green, Edgar Ansel Mowrer, William Phillip Simms, Clare Booth Luce, John Dos Passos, Miriam Hopkins, Eddie Dowling, John Dewey, Roger Baldwin, Norman Thomas.
‘We’re not interested in Mihailovich’s politics. We are part of 600 airmen who were saved by him, and all we ask is a fair trial. We’re not saying the man is innocent or guilty. If the trial is going to be fair, just and democratic, we can’t see why we can’t be witnesses,’ Reid asserted.
That’s the case they laid out before Norman Robertson, Under-secretary of State for External Affairs in Ottowa, who said the matter would be taken up with the Yugoslav Government.
The airmen’s petition said that during the 98 days with the Chetniks ‘we experienced only the utmost kindness and saw only the utmost devotion to the Allied cause…the debt we owe to General Mihailovich is the greatest debt one man can possibly owe another.’
They said ‘It is our moral obligation to appear as witnesses for the defense at the forthcoming trial,’ and they ask the Yugoslav Government what arrangements can be made for them to appear.
‘There are 600 airmen and scores of veterans of the Office of Strategic Services who were parachuted into Yugoslavia to organize guerrilla warfare for the Allies – willing to testify,’ Reid said.
After Reid and Bradshaw joined forces with the Chetniks they traveled 25 hours dodging German patrols and planes, and after a time decided to get out of the country.
‘Mihailovich told us where a British Mission was located, and we went there to find it gone. Relations with Mihailovich apparently had been broken,’ Reid recalled.
‘We started hiking for the coast, but then went back to Mihailovich’s headquarters, where with two American fliers, we figured some way to get out.’
‘Mihailovich had an old transmitter and radio receiver and for days we sent messages out trying to reach Italy, but no one answered. Finally they did and after we had identified ourselves, they told help would come.’
‘Mihailovich showed us a field we could use as an airstrip, and hundreds of peasants went to work leveling off bumps, filling in holes and chopping down trees. We got some old maps from the General and over the radio sent our longitude and latitude and arranged times and signals for the rescue.’
‘On August 2nd, 1944, an American plane came over and dropped supplies and two men, complete with radio. The big night was set for a week later.’
‘Mihailovich sent out orders to his men throughout the country to bring all Allied airmen they were hiding to the airfield. On August 9th three planes landed and evacuated more than 60 Allied fliers. We put the wounded aboard first, and then those who had been shot down the longest.’
‘The day before German planes had been scouting the field and we expected trouble. On August 10th, the 15th U.S.A.A.F. made a heavy diversionary raid, and while the raid was on six transport planes with fighter escort came over the field.’
‘About 3,000 Chetniks guarded the roads all around, and the 18 Mustang fighters kept watch in the air until we were all on board…243 altogether, including two Russians,’ Reid said.
He said that Mihailovich was never repaid in any way and that despite the fact that he was getting no Allied help, he evacuated other Allied airmen at a later date.
Reid said that stories of the Chetniks turning Allied prisoners over to the Germans for cigarettes ‘make me boiling mad.’ He said ‘they had plenty of chances to do that to us, but they did all they could to help us. We saw them fight Germans to rescue airmen from the Nazis and we saw no signs of weapons or supplies received from the Germans.’
‘Even if those things were true, we want Mihailovich to get a fair trial. That’s all we ask.’
May 11, 1946
NOTE from Blog author: The airmen’s request to be present as witnesses for the defense at the Trial of Draza Mihailovich in Belgrade was ultimately denied, despite their efforts. They were not allowed to attend to present their personal accounts of what had transpired during their time in Yugoslavia in 1944 while in the company of General Mihailovich and his Chetnik forces. The trial proceeded without them and Mihailovich was found “guilty” and executed on July 17, 1946 by the Yugoslav communists.