Sunday, March 08, 2009

Alan Friedberg Testifies Before Mihailovich Commission of Inquiry

"Also they asked us for our names, ranks and serial numbers. They told us they would transmit that information through their radio back through Cairo, and back to Washington, and down through the rest of the channels that would let our people and commanders at the base know that we were safe."

From the testimony of Alan
Friedberg before the Commission of
Inquiry, New York, May 16, 1946

On May 13, 1946, the Committee for a Fair Trial for General Mihailovich announced that a Commission of Inquiry had been established in New York for the purpose of taking testimonies of American officers and airmen whose request to be heard as witnesses at the trial of General Draza Mihailovich in Belgrade, Yugoslavia had been refused by the Tito government.


Committee for a Fair Trial for Draza Mihailovich
Commission of Inquiry in the Matter of Depositions of American and
Allied Military Personnel
New York County Lawyers Association
New York, May 16, 1946
Met pursuant to adjournment
Present: Arthur Garfield Hays, Esq., member of the Commission of Inquiry; Porter R. Chandler, Esq., and William H. Timbers, Esq., Adolph Berle, Esq.

NEW YORK, MAY 16, 1946.



Q. Where do you live, Mr. Friedberg?

FRIEDBERG: Lawrence, Long Island.

Q. Did you have occasion to parachute into Yugoslavia during the war?

A. I did.

Q. What air force were you attached to?

A. The 15th Air Force.

Q. When did you enlist in the Army?

A. September 5, 1942.

Q. Were you assigned immediately to the Air Corps?

A. That is right.

Q. After preliminary training did you find yourself stationed at Manduria, in southeast Italy?

A. Yes.

Q. In May of 1944?

A. That is correct.

Q. How old are you?

A. 22.

Q. On May 31, 1944, were you a member of a crew which had as its target the Ploesti oil fields?

A. That is right.

Q. What was your job on that plane?

A. Navigator.

Q. Tell us in your own words where you took off from, when, and briefly what happened up to the point where you parachuted into Yugoslavia.

A. Well, we left Manduria at the usual time, about 6 o’clock more or less—

Q. Six A.M.?

A. Yes, 6 A.M. At the old fields we were pretty badly hit by flak, but everything seemed to be all right until we were approximately halfway back, when one of the engines got on fire, all the oil drained out of it, and we had no oil pressure, we could not feather the propellers, which created quite a drag, and we were losing altitude quite rapidly; and because of the fact that there were mountains at the coast line that we would have had to cross over we knew that by the time we reached the coast we would not be up high enough to cross over them, so we were forced to bail out.

Q. Approximately where did you bail out?

A. In the area, as we later discovered, near Ivanjica.

Q. Could you point to that area on the map?

A. I believe so.

Q. Perhaps you could turn it around so the Commission can see the point you are indicating.

A. Yes, this is it.


Q. Where was it in relation to Belgrade?

A. Southwest. I see all the towns around it.

Q. Near what town?

A. It was southwest of Chacak and Kraljevo. Here it is right here. It is on the Moravica River.


Q. In the province of what?

A. I really do not know. I do not know which one it is on here. It is in Serbia; perhaps there is another smaller community, I do not know.

Q. And did you learn that it was within the territory held by General Mihailovich?

A. Shortly afterwards, yes.

Q. What happened to the other members of your crew in connection with bailing out?

A. Four of us bailed out approximately at the same time, within a few seconds of each other. Then there was a short wait and five more bailed out. Then there another short interval and the last man, which I judged to be the pilot, and it was later proved correct, bailed out. The first four landed close together. As I later found out the other five landed close together. And also as I later learned the pilot landed in the main street of Ivanjica. We landed on one side of the mountain and he, being the last one on the plane, came out on the other side of the mountain and landed right in the main street. They were waiting for him and he was captured.


Q. By whom?

A. They called them the Turks; I imagine they meant the Moslems there. And later they turned him over to the Germans.


Q. Those were the quisling troops?

A. Yes.


Q. Were any other members of your crew captured by the Germans?

A. No.

Q. The other nine succeeded in escaping?

A. Yes.


Q. Do you know what happened to the pilot subsequently?

A. I was told that he had been paraded through the main street of Ivanjica as an example to the populace.

Q. Was he killed.

A. No, I understand—as far as I know he was not killed; I understand they removed his rings; and I do not know whether this is gospel or not, he had some gold teeth and they removed those. That is just the story that I heard.

Q. But you never heard of him since?

A. No.

Q. Not since the end of the war?

A. That is correct.

MR. HAYS: Go ahead.


Q. Had you any preliminary briefing before you went on this mission, as to the nature of this territory in which you found yourself?

A. Geographically?

Q. Did anybody tell you that it was controlled by Mihailovich or by Tito?

A. Our briefing men were more explicit as to the doings and activities of the Partisans. They told us that if we did bail out in that territory and we should contact the Partisans, that everything would be all right. They did not give us any explicit information at all about the Chetniks. And also they did not specify the areas where we would find either of the two different factions. There were large maps in our briefing room and they tried to keep them up to date with whatever limited information they had as to the different areas controlled by those factions; and they told us that those lines were changing all the time; so there was nothing concrete about that.

Q. Will you tell us in your own way just what happened upon your landing near Ivanjica when you parachuted?

A. I was the third member of the plane out; it was very hilly country, partly cultivated, partly rocky, partly woods. I landed on the edge of a small woods; and I immediately ran down into the woods and removed my parachute and attempted to hide it. I stayed in the woods, people were speaking and shouting as though calling to one another from great distances in a language I had never heard before; I knew it was not German because I am familiar with German. I stayed in the woods for a short time and then decided I would go out and see what was happening. I crept out to the edge of the woods, and I do not believe I was seen and I looked out and there were several old men and several young boys and girls, very young children, there; none of them were armed; they looked like farmers or peasants. I went out and said “American” in every language Iknew; and also attempted to ask them if there were any Germans in the vicinity. When they finally made out the fact that I was an American they became tremendously cordial, they threw their arms around me and kissed me; and I had a few cigarettes with me and I passed them out and we became fast friends. And also I did manage to make them understand what I was asking them with regard to the Germans, and they said that there were none around.

Q. What uniform did you have on?

A. I had on my flying outfit, on top a heavy green jacket, heavy green trousers and fur-lined flying boots.


Q. Did these peasants eventually lead you to some of General Mihailovich’s soldiers?

A. Yes.

Q. Where?

A. First they took me down to where another member of the crew had landed, who had injured his ankle pretty badly in landing, and as I went down there I noticed they were bathing it and attempting to strap it up. Then they brought another man down who was all right. And then we started out to walk, and there was another man there who supported this fellow who was injured, helped him along as he walked, he had his arms around him and was holding him up—this fellow’s leg was pretty bad. We got to a small house, after about an hour’s walk, a very bare plain house; we were there a few minutes and some one came in, armed, whom they all treated with great respect; as he walked in they all jumped up—I mean it was easy to see that he was a man of authority in that area.

Q. Who was he?

A. He was Captain Pavlovic. He was the local corps commander as I later found out of the Chetniks in that area. There was a young man there who spoke French, and I was fairly fluent in French, so I was able to converse with the captain. Naturally, the first thing I told him was that we would like to get back to our base; and it was very peculiar, but I had no thought at that time that these people would turn us over to the Germans at all, because they were so cordial and friendly that a thought like that never entered my mind. I did not think of it later, but at that time I did not. They brought a fourth man into the house. We ate, and after a short time, just towards the evening, we started out to walk, along with approximately 100 men under the command of Captain Pavlovic.

Q. Were most of these 100 men Chetnik soldiers?

A. I would say they all were.

Q. And their purpose in being with you was to safeguard you from the Germans?

A. As far as I could ascertain, yes.

Q. And was their primary objective to get you to an evacuation point?

A. According to the conversation I had through this young fellow, they told me of a submarine service from the coast; as I later found out this had been in effect the previous year but they had not done anything since then.

Also they asked us for our names, ranks and serial numbers. They told us they would transmit that information through their radio back through Cairo, and back to Washington, and down through the rest of the channels that would let our people and commanders at the base know that we were safe.

During that first night’s march with this brigade we were forced several times to take cover as German scout cars were out patrolling the area looking for us.


Did this journey continue from day to day and night to night from the point where you landed near Ivanjica to Pranjani, the point from which you were evacuated?


It did.

Q. Over what period of time?

A. From May 31, 1944, to August 10, 1944.

Q. How many miles did you cover, do you know, approximately?

A. Well, we went by a roundabout way, and it is very difficult to tell, I would say a minimum of 500 miles.

Q. And all during that period you were escorted during every moment of the day and night by Chetnik soldiers operating under orders from General Mihailovich, is that so?

A. That is true.

Q. Tell us in more detail what those soldiers did for you?

A. They immediately assigned one man to stay with our group of four. He took personal care of us, took care of getting our food, took care of getting extra pieces of clothing for us, socks, especially, which wore out rapidly. At one time or another all of us were sick, and he took care of us as best he could. And each time we moved from place to place there would be extra—there would be several other men, at least two or three other men, who would take us from one area to the next; they would introduce us in the next area and then go back to their original base. Then the man with the bad leg, he had horses, they supplied him with a horse for all the time he was unable to walk.

Q. Did there come a time when you joined up with the other five members of your crew?
A. Yes, sir, that was approximately within three or four days of July 25th, I do not remember the exact date.

Q. Eventually you got to Pranjani?

A. In the vicinity of Pranjani, yes.

Q. While there did you have occasion to see General Mihailovich?

A. Yes.

Q. Tell us about that.


Q. On this trip what signs of war did you see?

A. In various cities—not cities, we never went to a city, we went to small towns.

Q. You skirted around the cities?

A. Yes. We saw signs of fighting, bullet-marked homes, pieces of plaster chipped out; we saw one village that had been completely razed to the ground by fire; they told us that the Germans had done that because—I forget the reason they told us, but I saw every house in the village had been burned to the ground. In many of the homes where we stopped they brought out pictures of young men who were in German prison camps. And they showed us several postcards. One or to families had heard from their men, and I saw one or two postcards from the German prison camps.

Q. Weren’t the people afraid to give you refuge on that trip?

A. There were many who were reluctant to let us into their homes—I won’t say many, perhaps two or three; but the guides that we had with us were able to calm their fears and we were able to stay.

Q. Did you come across signs of Germans on that trip?

A. After the first night the only signs we did have—at one time we walked along on a very high embankment for several miles, and down below us we could the German trucks going up and down. We went through the woods, we would go at night, and as I say only twice did we come to any town at all; and these towns were only perhaps a collection of five or six homes, a small store and a church.


Q. Tell us about General Mihailovich at Pranjani?

A. After we were there two or three days there were Chetnik men who evidently were quite high up in the command, and they had us all assembled on day. General Mihailovich came up—

Q. Can you tell us approximately when this was, early in August or late in July, 1944?

A. I would say it was the first week in August, 1944. We saw him twice. It was the night of—I do not remember the exact date, perhaps the 4th, 5th or 6th, somewhere around then, we saw him that night; he spoke in French through an interpreter, he had a man there who could speak better English than I; he spoke of his great friendship for the Americans, how happy and pleased he was that he was able to help us to return to our base; he mentioned that there were rewards out for each and every one of us, but that no one had ever been turned over to the Germans by his men for any reason whatsoever. He mentioned that the area around Pranjani at that time was heavily guarded by his men, and he would not allow any Germans to get through or anyone to get through to upset this evacuation operation. I believe that is thegist of what I remember of what he said.


Q. How many airmen were there at that time?

A. Between 200 and 250.


Q. Captain Musulin had about that time parachuted in to supervise the evacuation operation?

A. That is correct. Captain Musulin and two other men.

Q. About the same time that General Mihailovich addressed your group was there a review put on by General Mihailovich’s soldiers?

A. That is right. He addressed us twice, once in the evening and then on the following morning. The following morning he put on a review.

Q. How many soldiers were in this review?

A. Approximately 1,000.

Q. Tell us how they were clad and armed?

A. There was a certain group of perhaps 20 or 30 men who were uniformly dressed, the uniform was very shabby, it was a faded green, and half of them had shoes, the rest of them had nondescript clothing on, very few of them were clean shaven, and not all of them were armed, some had arms and some did not. They had several men I guess they designated as medical aides, and they had a few nurses there. It did not look like very much of an army.


Q. You mean during the winter these men did not have shoes either?

A. Correct.


Q. Then eventually on August 10th you were evacuated?

A. That is correct.

Q. By C-47 planes?

A. That is correct.

Q. And you returned to Italy?

A. Correct.

Q. Now during the entire period of your experience in Yugoslavia did you see any act of any kind, character or description of collaboration between the Germans and the Chetniks?

A. No.


Q. Was there any opportunity for you to see any collaboration?

A. Well, it is pretty hard to say. We never did go into the cities, we stayed clear of almost every large city. The only collaboration that I could think of that they might have done that we would have known about was daring to turn us over.

Q. And you know from you own experience that just the contrary happened, that Chetnik soldiers operating under General Mihailovich exercised every precaution to keep you out of the hands of the Germans?

A. That is right. Many times we were awakened during the night and forced to beat a hasty retreat from where we were.


Q. Your point seems to be that you regarded it as very remarkable that you were not turned over by Mihailovich?

A. What is that?

Q. You would regard it as very remarkable that Mihailovich would save you if he were collaborating with the Germans, that is your point?

A. Yes.

Q. And you draw that conclusion from the fact that he saved the American airmen?

A. Correct.

Q. Is there anything else from your experience over there that would give you reason to believe that they were not collaborating?

A. No.


Q. Did you have any occasion to talk to others?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you find that their views were the same as yours?

A. There was one crew that was shot down on July 4, 1944, approximately, they did not bail out, they crash-landed their plane just southwest of Belgrade in an open field. I heard this same story from five or six members of this crew. They could not run from the plane immediately as one of the members of the crew had been wedged in when the gun turret came through the top of the plane. They had to cut him free. And by that time the Germans were coming up, approaching the plane very rapidly. They ran up to the hills in the opposite direction, and it seems from out of nowhere these men appeared, they were Chetniks, and they engaged in a brief skirmish with the Germans to prevent these men from falling into the Germans’ hands.


Q. Did you gain any knowledge of what the Chetniks were doing while you were during the period of several months?

A. I did not see anything. I heard stories.

Q. Did you see Chetniks go off on missions of any kind?

A. Yes.

Q. And come back?

A. I saw them go off. On two occasions they rushed us out of an area where they expected a battle or a skirmish to take place.

Q. A battle or skirmish with whom?

A. At another time they said it was with the Germans, and another time they said it was with the Partisans. They would not let us go near any of those skirmishes.


Q. Just one final thing: How did you come to testify here today?

A. I read of this in the paper and I wanted to volunteer any information I could, so I contacted your office.

Q. You telephoned me?

A. Yes.

Q. Has any coercion or any force or duress of any kind or description been exerted upon you in connection with your testimony?

A. None whatsoever.

Q. And if given the opportunity would you testify in a similar fashion at the trial in Belgrade of General Mihailovich for treason?

A. I would.

BY MR. TIMBERS: That is all.


Q. About how far were the German outposts from the headquarters at Pranjani?

A. I know of two German outposts, large garrisons, there was one at Chachak and a smaller one at Gucha.

Q. They would be about how far away?

A. That is what I am trying to ascertain now; Chachak was no more than 10 miles I would say south of Pranjani; Gucha was perhaps 30 miles south of Pranjani.

Q. So that if there had been any desire to collaborate by turning you fellows over to the Germans there was plenty of opportunity?

A. Definitely. At one time we were no more than a half mile from Chasin [sic], when we were assembling, there were perhaps 150 of us, and we skirted, we were on the heights overlooking Chasin.

Q. These were 150 American airmen with a sprinkling of British and Canadians.

Q. All of them shot down on emergency landings?

A. Yes.


Q. Have you any idea how large these garrisons were at these outposts?

A. I heard that the Germans had perhaps 300 in Gucha and in Ivanjica I had heard that perhaps 10 Germans in command and a large group of Turks and Moslems serving the soldiers.

MR. TIMBERS: That is all.

MR. HAYS: We will now have a short recess if you don’t mind.


Posted by Aleksandra Rebic


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