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Royal Yugoslav Air Force Detachment

Royal Yugoslav Air Force Detachment

The Yugoslav Detachment of the 376th Bombardment Group, 512th Bombardment Squadron stationed in Italy, was formed from a group of Royal Yugoslav Air Force personnel in exile. After the capitulation of Yugoslavia in 1941 these men risked their lives and instead of surrendering to the Germans, decided to leave their occupied country, hoping to find another opportunity to fight Hitler's forces. The pilots made their decisions based in part on the type of the aircraft they flew and their location when the call to surrender reached them. The air craft they were trained to fly were British made Blenheims; German-made two-motor bombers Dornier Do-17; Italian-made tri-motor bombers, (Savoia-Marchetti); and US-made Lockheed Model l0s, used in commercial aviation. The latter type were used to evacuate the King and the members of the Royal Government to Cairo, Egypt. Four other aircraft fully loaded (Savoia Marchettis) managed to reach the Soviet Union. They landed separately at different points in Ukraine and near the Black Sea. Surprised by this escape the Russians brought the crews to Moscow where they spent four months waiting to be allowed to join the Yugoslavian military forces in exile. In August 1941, because of the intervention of the British Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Sir Stafford Cripps, this group of twenty-three men left the Soviet Union. It took seven long days to reach the Turkish border at Leninakan.


By this time, there were about 300 Yugoslav Air Force personnel in exile living allover the Middle East. Most of the pilots began flying for the British Royal Air Force.


In the summer of 1942, King Peter ll of Yugoslavia came to the United States to seek military and humanitarian aid for his occupied country. He was very warmly received in Washington D.C, and was invited for dinner at the White House. President Roosevelt promised to give four B-24s to the exiled Yugoslav Government to help the resistance fighters in Yugoslavia.


In Egypt in September 1942, twenty-six Royal Yugoslav officers and fourteen enlisted men were selected to go to the United States for training. They were active duty and reserve military pilots, navigators, com munications personnel, and mechanics.


This Group assembled in Miami Beach for English lessons in November, then went to gunnery school at Fort, Myers, Florida, in December and in February of 43 left Fort Myers for various training schools. By June they assembled again at Salinas AAF Base in California and then on to Blythe AAF Base, California, in August 43 where they finished training and received their U.S. Air Force Wings.


Out of the forty Yugoslav fliers sent to the USA in October of 1942, only thirty-five completed the prescribed training to be used as crew-members. About 65% were pilots with various trainings, experiences and thee flying time. Everybody wanted to be a pilot and in the end rank and experience prevailed. The rest, for the sake of unity and purpose, grudgingly accepted assigned training, supposedly, only temporally so they were told.


Roosevelt presented four new B-24Js to the assembled Yugoslav flyers.

In his speech President Roosevelt said: let these aircraft fulfill their mission under your guidance. They were made for two purposes: one to bomb our common enemy, second to make available to your countrymen necessary material for which they were waiting too long: food, medical supplies, weapons and ammunition. I am sure that you will be successful in this assignment which you have accepted. Do not forget that we shall always be comrades in arms.


The following day the four B-24s and their crews left the U.S. The aircraft were flown to Cairo, Egypt the next day where presented to Yugoslav king Peter II. Presentation ceremony held at John Payne Airfield, Cairo, Egypt. King Peter was welcomed by Major General Ralph Royce, Commanding General, USAFIME.


The Yugoslav detachment was under the command of the U.S. Army Air Force. It was aached to a B-24s Liberator squadron of the 15th American Air Force. The Yugoslav detachment was integrated into the American squadron with the Yugoslav airmen living and flying together with the American crews. The Royal Yugoslav government in exile agreed that the four B-24s and their crews should join the Allied forces in Africa. On November 8, 1943, the Yugoslav flying personnel were attached to the 376th Bombardment Group, stationed in Enfidaville, Tunisia.


In the middle of December ,1943, in order to achieve a better equilibrium of the pilot personnel a change was made. Maj. D. Milojevich left his crew of the aircraft #20 and took over as a pilot of the crew #21. Capt. B. Radosavljevich moved from the co-pilot to pilot position. Captain Mucich Decame co-pilot of the crew #21. Capt. Vulich remained co-pilot on #20. Further composition of the crew remained relatively the same, except for a few minor plays of the musical chairs as the situation required. In some instances when the Yugoslav personnel were unavailable due to illness or the like, they were replaced by the USAAF personnel. The war must go on!


After a week of training the Yugoslavs flew their first combat mission on November 15 to strike the Eleusis Airport, Athens. Then on November 24, in their first combat mission from San Pancrazio a Yugoslav crew was shot down by enemy fighters en route to bomb a target at Sofia, Bulgaria. The crew bailed out of the burning B-24, over the part of Yugoslavia occupied by Bulgaria. Within two days they were all caught, mostly by German soldiers and later turned over to Bulgarians. It took several weeks before they were taken to the POW camp at Schumen, Bulgaria, where they met the US survivors

of the first raid on Ploesti.


B-24 (42-73137 #22) shot down November 24, 1943 over Sofia, Bulgaria.

B-24 (42-73089 #21) shot down December 19, 1943 over Augsburg, Germany.

B-24 (42-73085 #20) shot down on August 22, 1944 on mission to Lobau, Austria.



August 27, 1944 Lt. Colonel Richard Fellows, then commanding officer of the 376th Heavy Bomb Group (H) paid a tribute to the men of the Yugoslav Air Force Detachment. The tribute, given by the colonel in the form of a commendation read as follows:


Headquarters- 376th Bomb Group (H) AAF

It is desired to commend the Royal Yugoslavian Air Force detachment, attached to the 512th squadron of the 376th Bomb Group (Heavy) and the 15th Air Force for outstanding performance of duty in action in strategic support of allied forces in the Mediterranean theater.


From November 1943 to August 1944 four (4) crews made up of forty (40) Officers and Enlisted men forming the Detachment flew regular and frequent combat missions attacking vital enemy installations; exhibiting the greatest bravery, stamina and skill completing eighty eight (88) successful missions. During this period the Detachment lost three (3) of their B-24 aircraft, and sacrificed three of their four crews, all lost over enemy targets. The Royal Yugoslavian Air Force Detachnments by its actions has constantly given its utmost in devotion to duty for the allied cause, and will always be worthy of emulation.


R.W Fellows, Lt. Col.

Air Corps, Commanding

In the spring of 1944, after the loss of two aircraft and crews #22 shot down on November 24, 1943, over Sofia, Bulgaria, # 21 shot dawn on December 19, 1943, over Ausburg, Austria, some crew members got cold feet and left the Detachment: Gunners: Lt. Pajich, Nedeljko; It. Marinovich, Milosh; Sgt, Peshich, Jovan. Left to join the Yugoslav Partisans. They were members of the crews #22, #20, and #23, respectively.


Bombardier Lt. Markovich, Momcilo, crew #23 left for Egypt to join recently acquired in-laws saying that he does not need American medals.


During the summer of 1944 some other members quit and disappeared: Gunner Sgt Kolega, Stefan, crew #23 - just disappeared. Gunner Sgt Poje, Dragutin, crew #20, had some dispute with his pilot. He left and eventually found his way to the USA in order to join his wife whom he had married while on training in Tucson, Arizona, Navigator Capt. (Major at that time) Sabadosh, Kiril, crew #20 bailed out, maybe over Austria.


On May 24, 1944, the flight engineer of the crew #23 was killed in the air over Wienner-Neustadt, Austria. Tis name was Warrant Officer Madjarevich, Bogdan. On the same mission, aircraft #23 was badly damaged and made it to the friendly base with a great difficulty. At the same time, a gunner Lt. Jovanovich, Bogdan was seriously wounded and required a longer hospitalization.


In this crisis of personnel Capt. Skakic, with a permission ot the USA military authorities, went to Egypt to recruit volunteers. As a replacement for his killed flightengineer he brought back Warrant Officer Radich, Dejan. For gunners he recruited:

For the crew #23: T/Sgt Starc, Victorgt Arzenshek; Sgt Miklush, E.

For the crew #20: T/Sgt Babek, Milutinand sgl. Irampus, Emil.

These men were all ot the slOVine origin (from Istria and Trieste) and the former members ot the Italian Armed Forces, held as POWs by the British. Sgts Babec and Tranmpus were killed on August 24, 1944 with the crew #20. Sgts Arzenshek and Miclush left the Yugoslav Detachment and went home to the Trieste are.


Sgt. Starc, Victor remained with the crew #23 to complete its 51st mission. He came to the USA with the rest of us as a S/ Sgt USAAE


In the late September of 1944, the crew of #22 returned from the POW camp and rejoined the unit. In November, 1944, four members of the crew #22 left the Detachment and went to join the Yugoslav partisans: Bombardier Capt. Vecherina, Dinko; Gunner Lt. Korosha, Ivan; Radio Operator Sgt Halapa Ivan; Flight Engineer Sgt. Timo- tijevich, Miodrag.


B-24 (42-73065, RCL #23), was the sole surviving airplane of the Royal Yugoslav Air Force Detachment. In the spring of 1945, the crew of #23 completed its combat flying but continued flying so called weather missions. At this time the Detachment consisted of fourteen members of crews #22 and #23 combined: Capts: Stanisavljevich and Skakich; Lts: Jelich, Milojkovich, Milovanovich, Radovich, Jovanovich, Lackich, Trailov, Stojkovich, and Vidanovich Warrant Officer Raddich; Sgts Starc and Benderach.


In June, 1945, the remaining members of the Yugoslav Detachment took the physical for the transfer into the USAAE Sgt. Vasa Benderach did not pass. It was found that he had developed TB and was air-evacuated to the USA. He died in 1947 at the Fitzsimmons Hospital, Colorado. The remaining thirteen were inducted into the USAAF on August 24, 1945. Thus ended the "Yugoslav Detachment" with 376th Bombardment Group, US 15th Air Force in Africa and Italy.


In January 1947, United States Senator William E. Janner of Indiana introduced his first bill before the Congress. It proposed American citizeship for seven Yugoslav members of the US Army Air Force, serving in the Washington area. They were Vojislav Skakich, Milosh M. Jelich, Zivko T. Miloykovich, Dejan D. Radich, Viktor A. Starc, Momchilo M. Markovich and Sava J. Milovanovich. Skakich and Jelich were retired as USAAF Colonels, whilst Miloykovich (John Milloy) reached the rank of Lt Colonel.