Behind Enemy Lines: 1944

By Carl Savich    In 1944, eight U.S. airmen bailed out of their B-24 bomber behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia. They were rescued by Serbian Chetnik guerrillas under Draza Mihailovich. The navigator, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant James M. Inks, kept a diary of the mission.

Book Review. Eight Bailed Out by Major James M. Inks.

Edited by Lawrence Klingman. Illustrations by S/Sgt. Morton D. Rosenfeld and M/Sgt. John H Schuffert. NY: W.W. Norton and Company, 1954.  Reprint: NY: Popular Library, 1963.

On July 28, 1944, eight members of a Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber bailed out over German-occupied Yugoslavia after the plane sustained damaged following a bombing mission on the Ploesti oil installations in Romania. The American crew landed by parachute behind enemy lines in German-occupied Montenegro where they were rescued by Serbian Chetnik guerrillas, who hid the downed airmen from German troops. The Chetnik guerrillas attempted to return the rescued fliers to their base in Italy. The navigator of the bomber, Lieutenant James M. Inks (1920-2004) of Llano, Texas, kept a diary of the ten and a half months spent in the “protective custody” of the Chetnik guerrillas as they sought to escape from German troops. Inks spent three months with guerrilla leader General Draza Mihailovich at his headquarters in Loznica in Serbia. Inks provided an invaluable personal account of the final months of World War II in Yugoslavia. He proffered his appraisal and assessment of the Serbian guerrilla movement led by Mihailovich and the policy of the U.S. and Britain towards his resistance movement.

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The cover of the 1954 Norton hardcover edition, published in March, 1954.

Major James M. Inks dedicated the book as follows: “Dedication: To the memory of General Draja Mihailovich and to those of his followers, dead or alive, who aided us.” Major James M. Inks spent three months with Draza Mihailovich and his Chetnik guerrilla forces behind enemy lines in Serbia. Draza Mihailovich rescued over 500 U.S. airmen during the war. Major James M. Inks was one of those U.S. airmen rescued by Draza Mihailovich and his guerrilla forces. In Eight Men Bailed Out, Inks recounted that rescue.

The book was originally published in March, 1954 by W.W. Norton and Company in New York. It was reprinted in November, 1963 by the Popular Library as an Eagle Book edition. A Library Journal reviewer noted: “One of the great escape stories of World War II. ‘Dash, romance, and plenty of excitement. Recommended.’”

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U.S. Air Force Major James M. Inks (1920-2004) dedicated the book to Draza Mihailovich and his guerrilla forces: “Dedication: To the memory of General Draja Mihailovich and to those of his followers, dead or alive, who aided us.”

James M. Inks was born in Llano, Texas on November 9, 1920. His father Roy Banford Inks had been the mayor of Llano. After his father died in 1935, his family settled in Austin, where he attended Austin High School. He graduated from the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, after which he enrolled in the University of Texas, majoring in Geology.

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Major James M. Inks, seated, with copies of the 1954 first edition of Eight Bailed Out, published by W.W. Norton.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor induced him to join the U.S. Army Air Force. He was assigned to the 464th Bomber Group in Pocatello, Idaho after being appointed an Aviation Cadet and graduating from Selman Field in Monroe, Louisiana in 1943 as a navigator.

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The cover of the 1963 Popular Library Eagle Books paperback edition, published in November, 1963.

His bomber group was stationed in Tunis, Tunisia in North Africa in 1944. They later were transferred to Italy from where they conducted bombing missions over Yugoslavia and Ploesti, Romania. During his 43rd bombing mission with the 15th Air Force, commanded by General Nathan F. Twining and based in Italy, his Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber was struck and damaged by German anti-aircraft fire over Ploesti. Two of the crew members, waist gunner Cpl. Ben Pizion of Jackson, Michigan and bombardier Lieut. Francis R. Morley of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, bailed out immediately after the aircraft was hit and were presumed dead. As the damaged bomber limped back to the airbase in Italy, with one engine out, the left wing missing a tip and aileron, and a part of the tail burned away, the aircraft began to lose altitude. The crew began throwing out everything that they could from the plane. With the second engine giving out, the eight crew members who remained bailed out and parachuted over German-occupied Montenegro near the Adriatic Sea.  They were rescued and hidden from German occupation forces by Serbian Chetnik guerrillas under the command of General Draza Mihailovich.  They were housed, fed, and clothed by Chetnik guerrillas in a hut west of Podgorica and south of Danilov Grad. German forces found the plane wreckage and began a search for the crew after no bodies were recovered. The Germans offered a reward of $50,000 for the capture of the U.S. airmen. Inks was injured in the parachute jump and suffered from a punctured kidney.

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A Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber.

The rescued U.S. airmen evaded capture by joining the Chetnik guerrillas and posing as guerrillas themselves. They engaged in skirmishes and battles with the communist Partisans, “sometimes fighting against and sometimes having to blend in with the Germans.” They were part of the northward trek as German forces retreated from Montenegro where they experienced severe hardship of hunger and sub-zero temperatures. They witnessed the flow of refugees and guerrillas who died from hunger, cold, and from bombing and strafing attacks by U.S. and British aircraft. In one harrowing account, Inks described how two Percheron draft horses were butchered on the spot after they were hit during an air attack: “We were on the horses as they fell, whinnying and thrashing. The lieutenant put one out of his misery and I shot the other, and then we were all hacking, cutting away at the warm and bloody flesh. … I came away with a dripping piece of hindquarter that weighed about eight pounds. … It could not have been twenty minutes before both horses were skeletons.”

He described the agony of the retreat in explicit detail as civilians and Chetnik guerrillas died of hunger, exhaustion, from the cold, and  from Allied bombing: “The dead, civilian and Chetnik, lie by the side of the road at random intervals, and we no longer look at them as we plod by. They lie stiff, and there are usually little beaded ice drops on their eyelids, around their nostrils, at the sides of their mouths, the last warmth of humanity frozen solid. …They lie as they fell, in grotesque and horrible and often obscene positions.”

Eventually, the rescued crew reached Mihailovich’s headquarters near Loznica in western Serbia. Inks spent three months with Mihailovich and saw him on a daily basis, recording his observations in the diary he kept. As Inks noted, the situation in Yugoslavia was complex and evolving with the sides engaged in “the five-sided war in Yugoslavia.”  He spent a total of ten and a half months with the Chetnik guerrillas in Yugoslavia. After the war, his diary was confiscated and classified “Top Secret” following his debriefing. The U.S. State Department reportedly relied on the diary in creating the U.S. foreign policy position on Yugoslavia after the war.

By 1954 the diary was declassified and Inks rewrote it into a book that was published by W.W. Norton as Eight Bailed Out, which was on the best seller list and was a book-of-the-month-club selection. The book was published in Britain by Methuen the same year. The book was reprinted in 1963 by the Popular Library in the Eagle Book series.

Inks dedicated the book to Draza Mihailovich  and described his meetings with him as the climax of the book. Inks described the first meeting with Mihailovich:

“But our most exciting experience was meeting Gen. Draja Mihailovich…. He is tall, with a heavy beard and piercing eyes. He speaks softly and has more the air of a professor than of a general commanding thousands of guerrillas.

“He came and talked to us, mostly about the political situation, and promised to return us to Allied lines. His talk, explaining how it happens that he is formally at war with the U.S. and Britain while he is fighting on the same side, helped explain why our Air Force has been so laggard about rescuing us.”

Inks and the other airmen saw Mihailovich every day. Inks described him during a battle with approximately 500 Ustashi troops in 1945.

“He was in a woods about half a mile from the front. It was like a Civil War scene, and with his beard, the General looked right out of an old engraving. Calm and collected, he watched the battle through field glasses, maintaining constant supervision of the action by an endless stream of runners who commuted between the front and headquarters. Bullets and mortar shell fragments whizzed through the trees, but the General never faltered in his decisions.”

He described a meeting with Mihailovich in which he explained his role in the Yugoslav resistance:

“That night, an aide summoned us to Draja. The meeting was the most moving experience of our ten months in Yugoslavia. I do not think I shall ever forget how he looked, what he said, that night. I can hear him now, speaking in his soft, slow, professorial voice…Then he talked to us about world politics and about the history of the Balkans, and of the importance of the Balkans in terms of world strategy. He told how for centuries the British and the Russians and the French had sought to dominate the Balkans and so control the Near East and the East. He spoke to us about Tito, told us how Tito had been trained in Moscow, for Moscow’s purposes. Now, he said, Tito had been sent back to Yugoslavia, not for Yugoslavia’s interests but for Moscow’s.

“At the beginning of the war, he said, when the Nazis had descended on Yugoslavia, the Communists had collaborated with them, helped them to force Yugoslavia’s king to flee. The Chetniks had taken to the hills, battled the Nazis and their Communist allies, and taken a heavy toll. But later, Nazis and Communists had split, and the Communists, too, had taken to the hills.

“The ways of international power politics were strange, Gen. Mihailovich observed, and the workings of the minds of statesmen were even stranger. He said he could not understand how the Communists had managed to persuade Britain and the United States, who had been helping the Chetniks in their struggle against the Nazis, to divert their aid to Tito’s men. Sadly, the general said that he believed himself that the U.S. and Britain could have made no more terrible mistake than to have supported Tito, the Kremlin’s tool, against the Chetniks, the friends of democracy.

“He called on us to witness that the Partisans had spent most of their energies, most of the supplies the Allies had given them, fighting not the Germans but the Chetniks.”

Inks had personally witnessed Chetnik guerrilla attacks against German forces: “[S]ome of us probably knew that he had sabotaged the Germans, fighting against them whenever he could. “ Inks recalled “the raids made by the Chetniks on the German column during the great retreat.”

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Major James M. Inks spent three months with Draza Mihailovich and his Chetnik guerrilla forces behind enemy lines in Serbia. Mihailovich rescued over 500 U.S. airmen.

Inks recalled Mihailovich’s final statements: “The general’s last words have been ringing in my ears ever since:

‘‘Soon your statesmen and your people will know how terrible their mistake has been. It will not be long. The Germans are now breathing their last gasp, and sooner than you think they will give up. And then Stalin and his servant, Tito, will no longer need you.

‘They will be strong then, with the strength you have given them, stronger with the strength you lost by giving to them, and then they will turn your strength upon you. Do not mislead yourselves that Communism and Democracy can live side by side. The day has not yet come when the lion lies down beside the lamb.

‘It will not be long. It will be sooner than you can at this moment conceive to be possible, that Stalin and Tito will turn upon you. I shall not be here then, for I shall not be here very long. I shall not be here long enough to see that I have been right. But I see it now and I know that I am right.

‘And then, you, too, will know of your terrible blindness. But then it will be too late.’”

Mihailovich then addressed the airmen: “I will say good-by to you in the morning. Now you must rest and pray for tomorrow.”

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An illustration from the book showing the departure of General Draza Mihailovich: “He said good-by to each of us. Godspeed to your homes and loved ones.”

In the morning, Mihailovich shook the hands of each airmen, gave them each a gold coin, and told them: “Godspeed to your homes and your loved ones.” Inks described the scene as Mihailovich departed on a horse: “We lined up at attention and saluted as he rode off, up the mountain, proud and soldierly on his horse, knowing that he was leading his army, the tattered remnants of the hundreds of thousands who had once punished Hitler’s Reich, to its last stand. It was a sad and moving sight.”

Inks described Partisan war crimes against Chetnik POWs which he witnessed personally. “Those Chetniks who were trapped and surrendered were not so fortunate. Their hands bound behind them, they were shot in the back of the head. A Partisan officer commandeered the pistol I had obtained in trade only a few hours before. Within minutes, he put it to use. Watching him empty it into the body of a young Chetnik boy, I understood for the first time why the Chetniks had never believed the Partisans would take us alive. The boy’s body bounced inches off the ground with each shot, and the Partisan officer just grinned.”

In a July 17, 1946 letter, Inks recounted his observations in Yugoslavia: “I spent months in Yugoslavia and came in contact with all of the factions there. I lived with General Mihailovich for three months and learned a great deal about the man and his ways of accomplishing things. I jumped in the same fox-holes with his Chetniks, when American and English planes bombed and strafed them on Tito’s information that Germans were there. … I witnessed and took part in numerous skirmishes with the Germans, which we were forced to give the Partisans credit for.

 “As for the treatment by the different groups, the Chetniks treated us like free men and allies. They gave us food that should have normally gone to their underfed troops. They gave us guns and ammunition and money and allowed us to do just about anything we were physically able to. After we were captured by the Partisans, we were treated as prisoners and certainly not like allies. They took our guns and ammunition from us, kept us with their prisoners, and even forced us to carry wounded Partisans off the field of battle under fire.

 “I kept an accurate account of what happened to me and my comrades while we were in Yugoslavia. This has recently had its secret classification removed by the army and is now cleared for publication. I hope in the near future to have it before every citizen in the United States.”

The thesis or conclusion of the Inks’ diary is that the U.S. committed a blunder in abandoning Mihailovich that had political and moral ramifications. Inks found that “there were lessons in the experience that could be of value. There was the lesson, first, of how the human spirit can bear up under the most formidable burdens and never be vanquished, but fight on against odds to victory. And there was the lesson of hope and faith and courage, and of trust in friends.”

Inks placed the abandonment of Mihailovich in the context of the Cold War: “I had just returned from Korea, though, and there was one lesson that struck me most of all. That was the lesson of Gen. Mihailovich, of our betrayal of a great ally and how we reaped destruction as a result. We betrayed a man who might have been a stalwart friend, and I believe the war in Korea was one result of that betrayal. We were not far-seeing, because we were not loyal to our principles. Because we compromised our principles, we are living today in Gen. Mihailovich’s last prophecy, come true.”

After the war, Inks began training as a pilot in 1947.  He saw service as a Troop Carrier pilot during Airborne Operations when he was deployed to Asia after the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. He took part in the Inchon Invasion and the evacuation of U.S. Marines from the Chosin Reservoir. In 1962, he retired from the Air Force with honors with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. His Service Record showed that he had flown 43 combat missions in Word War II and 92 combat missions during the Korean War. After retirement, he settled in Llano County in Texas, where he had been born, owning and running a realty company that specialized in ranching properties up until his death on January 31, 2004.

Josip Broz Tito established a Communist dictatorship modeled on the Soviet Union in Yugoslavia following the end of the war. He made himself the leader for life. He broke with Joseph Stalin in 1948 and during the Cold War manipulated and exploited Yugoslavia’s position as a pawn in the Superpower rivalry to maintain his power.

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On March 29, 1948, Draza Mihailovich was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit by U.S. President Harry S Truman for his role in the rescue of U.S. airmen behind enemy lines. The Legion of Merit Award had been established by an Act of Congress on July 20, 1942. The President of the United States, under such rules and regulations as he shall prescribe, may award the Legion of Merit to “personnel of the armed forces of friendly foreign nations who … shall have distinguished themselves by exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services.” The President’s approval is required for the award when given to non-U.S. personnel.

The award citation by President Harry S. Truman read as follows: “LEGION OF MERIT – CHIEF COMMANDER: General Dragoljub Mihailovich distinguished himself in an outstanding manner as Commander-in-Chief of the Yugoslavian Army Forces and later as Minister of War by Organizing and leading important resistance forces against the enemy which occupied Yugoslavia, from December 1941 to December 1944. Through the undaunted efforts of his troops, many United States airmen were rescued and returned safely to friendly control. General Mihailovich and his forces, although lacking adequate supplies, and fighting under extreme hardships, contributed materially to the Allied cause, and were instrumental in obtaining a final Allied victory.”

The award, however, was kept secret until 1967, when then U.S. Rep. Edward Derwinski of Illinois requested that it be made public.

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The Legion of Merit award was presented to Draza Mihailovich’s daughter Gordana Mihailovich by rescued U.S. airmen on May 9, 2005 in Belgrade. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell gave permission on behalf of the U.S. State Department for the presentation of the award in Belgrade. The U.S. government had approved the presentation of the award. In the Croatian newspaper Novi List, Rijeka, May 10, 2005, Boris Pavelic and Bojana Oprjan-Ilic acknowledged and conceded that the ceremony was tantamount to official U.S. government recognition of Draza Mihailovich’s role as an ally of the U.S. during World War II in the news dispatch: “USA Nevertheless Decorates Chetnik Leader Draza Mihailovic”.

Eight Bailed Out is invaluable as an account of the unprecedented rescue of U.S. airmen behind enemy lines during World War II by Chetnik guerrillas under Draza Mihailovich. Major James M. Inks offered his personal, eyewitness account of the conflict in Yugoslavia. Based on his wartime experiences in Yugoslavia, like U.S. Air Force Major Richard L. Felman and U.S. Navy radioman Arthur Jibilian, U.S Air Force Major James M. Inks emerged as the most outspoken and vociferous supporter and advocate of Draza Mihailovich and his legacy. He concluded that the abandonment of Mihailovich and his forces was a major U.S. foreign policy blunder and tragedy from which lessons should have been learned: “At this late date, it does not matter greatly, I think, what or who it was who influenced that betrayal. Recriminations over the past only distract us from the job that lies ahead. What matters now is that we should have learned the lesson of the past.” Was the lesson of the past learned?