The American and British air force bombed Belgrade and various Serbian towns on Sunday, April 16, 1944, during Christian Serb holiday of Easter. The bombing was performed in a fashion more savage than Hitler did it three years earlier on Sunday, April 6, 1941.
There is no easy explanation and certainly there is no excuse for this barbarity. To make it even more shocking – while number of Serbian cities were mercilessly bombed on this Eastern Orthodox holiday – none of the Croat cities saw the same destiny. Why were the Serbs – the nominal allies bombed while the nominal enemy was not? Theories are many and we can only guess.
Michel Lees was one of the British liaison officers dropped by the special forces into Axis-occupied Yugoslavia in 1943. He spent a year among the Chetniks. Chetniks were Serb Royalists loyal to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and to King Peter. They were anti-Nazi guerrila fighters lead by Serbian patriot General Draza Mihajlovic. This is a quote from Mr. Lees’ book…
What should be so secret
about an air force operation?
“THE RAPE OF SERBIA,
The British role in Tito’s Grab for Power 1943-1944“
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, 1990
Kicevska street, Belgrade
QUOTE, pp 301-302:
The theory [in some Serbian circles] is that strikes by Western Allied aircraft of the Balkan Air Force were called down specifically against Serbian towns and villages, cynically choosing Serbian Orthodox religious holidays for the bombing. It is an undeniable fact that there was carpet bombing of Belgrade for three consecutive days coinciding with the Orthodox Easter in April 1944, the intensity of which surpassed even the Luftwaffe attacks of April 1941. On Saint George’s Day 1944 the Montenegrin towns of Niksic, Podgorica, and Danilovgrad were blasted by Allied planes, allegedly because there were strong Loyalist concentrations around those areas, but, in truth, to demoralize the pro-Mihailovic populations. The same was done even to Zara [Zadar] to demoralize the Italian population. [British liaison to Tito’s partisans] Maclean’s book Eastern Approaches gives his impressive and horrifying eyewitness account of the devastation of [central Serbia city of] Leskovac on the opening day of Ratweek, purportedly in order to destroy a concentration of German armor and motor transport. But fifty Flying Fortresses were used, and Maclean “tried not to think of the population of small farmers, shopkeepers and railway workers, of the old people, the women and children, who at this moment would be going about their everyday business in the streets. … the whole of Leskovac seemed to rise bodily into the air … the civilian casualties had been heavy.”
Belgrade, 16. April 1944.
Militarily it was using a sledgehammer to kill a gnat. … But to the Partisan leadership the purpose of that bombing and others was not military, it was political. It was to show the strongly pro-Loyalist population of Jablanica who were the masters now.
The nominal bombing procedure was that Tito and his commander specified the targets through the British mission and their RAF advisors. One wonders why the BLOs, or the Balkan Air Force advisors at base, did not question the necessity of extensive bombings of Yugoslav [actually exclusively – Serbian] areas, of hospitals, and of churches — and on religious holidays too — it there was not some political motive. Why did Maclean not question the need to flatten [the Serbian town of] Leskovac? Massive bombing of civilians in German cities was one thing. Germans lived there, and the German morale had to be broken. But bombing Belgrade or Leskovac on the odd chance of hitting a German barracks or tank and with the certainty of killing massive numbers of Yugoslav [actually – Serb only] allies was surely something very sinister. I feel certain that the Allies would never have contemplated a blanket bombing of Paris, for example, on Easter Sunday — or any other day — however many German tanks were passing through.
But of course Tito had made it clear from the start that his was a sovereign army and that he would decide. Did that go for ordering out massive formations of allied bombers too?
… Regrettably, the Balkan Air Force files are permanently closed like the main SOE files and those of SIS. One wonders why. What should be so secret about an air force operation?
History seems to repeat itself again. It was Bosnian Muslim forces that, in 1995, issued target lists to NATO pilots when Bosnian Serbs were to be bombed to submission. Four years later, during NATO’s assault on Yugoslavia in 1999, Albanian KLA terrorists were to provide NATO aviation with data how to bomb Serbs [again] in the very cradle of the Serbian culture – Kosovo.
To summarize: the Western allies were always ready to provide their proxies on the ground with air cover. It is not only the case with recent Yugoslav civil wars. It is true – different times – round the globe. In the second half of twentieth century, the Serbs – nominal allies of United States and Great Britain in WWII struggle against the Nazis – were target of vicious “ally” air attacks at lest three times. Again, this simply because the “allies” had found themselves proxies they wanted to help:
- Tito’s Communists in 1944
- Croat new Nazis in their attack on Krajina in 1995
- Islam fundamentalists in Bosnia in 1995
- Albanian terrorists and drug dealers in 1999
Each one of the chosen proxy is more astonishing than the next. Each choice of the proxy is more puzzling than the next.
The National Museum of Serbia in Belgrade
That Tito was Churchill’s hand-picked proxy in the Balkans is not a secret any more. From declassified letters Churchill sent to Roosevelt we see that Churchill insisted Roosevelt should stop supporting Serbian Royalists.
CHURCHILL TO ROOSEVELT
April 6, 1944
It is said that OSS [U.S. Office of Strategic Service] have received instructions, which have been approved by you, to arrange for a small intelligence mission to be infiltrated to General Michailivic’s headquarters, and we have been asked to organize the necessary arrangements.
We are now in process of withdrawing all our missions from Mihailovic and are pressing [Yugoslavia and Serbia] King Peter to clear himself of this millstone,… If, at this very time, an American mission arrives at Michailovic’s headquarters, it will show throughout the Balkans a complete contrariety of action between Britain and the United States. The Russians will certainly throw all their weight on Tito’s side, which we are backing to the full. Thus we shall get altogether out of step. I hope and trust this may be avoided.
“Roosevelt and Churchill,
Their secret wartime correspondence,” page 482
Saturday Review Press / E.P. Dutton Co.
New York, 1975
Immediately, in the letter (Doc #346, No. 515) two days later (April 8, 1944) President Roosevelt agrees and says: “My thoughts in authorizing an OSS mission to the Mihailovic area was to obtain intelligence and the mission was to have no political functions whatever… I have directed that the contemplated mission be not repeat not sent.”
Not much persuasion needed. In English, whether British or American version of it the word “ally” actually means – a useful fool. Only months before, and maybe even during the time when the American President penned the above letter, the Royalist Chetniks were saving lives of American pilots fallen over Yugoslavia. Some six hundred of them! To viciously bomb Serbian cities by another group of American pilots was a typical cowboy way to say thanks.
In 1941 Churchill asked Serbs to commit suicide and say “No!” to Hitler at the time when he was at the peek of his power. The Serbs did it and paid with more than million lives! Churchill praised them at the time. Only three years later he was expressing his gratitude to the same astonishing people of Belgrade who dared chant to Hitler’s face “Rather war than the pact; rather death than slavery…” by viciously bombing them on their most important Christian holiday. On Easter Sunday!
Such is Western morality and every future ally of the Brits and Americans should know the above story.