Peter II in Detroit: The Second Visit

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Peter II first visited Detroit in 1942, at the height of World War II, when the U.S. had entered the war. The U.S. was then gearing up for total war. Peter visited Detroit as part of an official state visit to the U.S. as the exiled leader of German-occupied Yugoslavia. He was an ally who was shown the industrial capability of the country with a stopover in Detroit, the Arsenal of Democracy. Wearing a military uniform, he had been accompanied by the Yugoslav ambassador to the U.S., Constantin Fotich. He was upbeat with an expectation of eventual victory of the Allied Powers who would restore him to power.

The second visit occurred in 1959 at the height of another global conflict, the Cold War. The Josip Broz Tito post-war Communist government of Yugoslavia had abolished the monarchy in 1945. Peter was made a king without a country. He was now known as the exiled ex-king of Yugoslavia. Moreover, after the 1948 split between Josip Broz Tito and Joseph Stalin, the U.S. welcomed Yugoslavia as a potential ally against the Soviet Union in the the Cold War. Peter was forced to walk a fine line. In the second visit, the theme was support for the U.S. in the Cold War. The expectation was regime change in Yugoslavia with the return of the monarchy.

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Miodrag Mijatovich, Peter, Bishop Dionisije, and Rudy Kordich.

He arrived in Detroit on Saturday, March 14, 1959 and left on Thursday, March 19, for a tour of Windsor and Toronto, Canada. He arrived at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. He was greeted at the airport by V. Rev. Miodrag “Pop Micho” Mijatovich, the pastor of the Ravanica Serbian Orthodox Church in Detroit, Bishop Dionisije of the Serbian Orthodox Church of America, and Rudolph “Rudy” Kordich, the Ravanica Church President.

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Bishop Dionisije of the Serbian Orthodox Church of America, right, and Peter.

His tour was sponsored by the Serbian Orthodox Church of America. The event was in the context of the Cold War conflict against Communism and the overthrow of the Communist governments of Eastern Europe. At that time, Peter was living in Monaco.

A press conference was held at the Sheraton-Cadillac Hotel after his arrival. He later attended a dinner sponsored by Detroit Edison president Walker L. Cisler on Saturday at the Detroit Athletic Club.

On Friday, March 13, 1959, the day before his arrival, The Detroit News featured an anticle, “Yugoslavia’s Ex-King to Begin Visit in City”, by James K. Anderson, which detailed his itinerary in Detroit. He is to begin a five day visit as “a geust of the city’s Serbian community”. This is his second visit to Detroit. He visited during World War II “before he abdicated in favor of the Communist leader of Yugoslavia, Marshal Tito.” The term “adbdicated” is incorrect. Peter did not give up the throne. The Communist government abolished the monarchy in 1945.

On Saturday, after his arrival at 4PM at Detroit Metro Airport and a press conferance at the Sheraton-Cadillac Hotel at 5PM, he will attend a meeting at the Detroit Athletic Club hosted by Walker L. Cisler, the President of the Detroit Edison Company. On Sunday, he will go to the American Serbian Hall for mass at the Ravanica Serbian Orthodox Church. On Wednesday afternoon he will attend a dinner as the guest of honor at the Detroit Press Club. Then he will leave for Windsor and Toronto.

Peter “is the last of his Karageogevich dynasty to rule Yugoslavia.” The goal of his 1959 tour of America and Canada sponsored by the Serbian Orthodox Church in America “is to create goodwill for him and the anti-Red Yugoslav forces he represents.”

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Peter was photographed dancing the “King’s kolo” in the basement hall at the American-Serbian Memorial Hall in Detroit, Michigan, at Van Dyke and Outer Drive with Mrs. Rudy Kordich, the wife of Rudy Kordich. The photograph appeared in the Detroit Times newspaper in the Monday, March 16, 1959 issue. He was also photographed with Detroit Police Officer Stanley Perich. He was also photographed at the banquet at the Ravanica Hall, at the dinner at the Detroit Athletic Club, in the back seat of a car as he traveled in the city, and on his arrival at Metro Airport.

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Detroit Police Officer Stanley Perich and Peter.

Detroit was a highlight of his North American tour. Of his 1959 Detroit visit, Peter II said: “This is the greatest assembly I ever saw of Serbs in America. … This will live in my memory.” Peter toured the Henry Ford River Rouge plant, Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, the Chrysler Plymouth engine plant on Mound, the Palmer Park Greek Orthodox Church, and the Detroit Press Club.

The banquet in his honor at the American Serbian Hall was attended by members of the Detroit Serbian community and prominent Detroit and Windsor political leaders. The attendees included Bishop Dionisije, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North America, Rev. Miodrag Mijatovich, the pastor of the Ravanica Serbian Orthodox Church in Detroit, Walker L. Cisler, the president of the Detroit Edison Company, the mayor of Windsor, Canada, Michael Patrick, Mitchell S. Jachimski, the Secretary of the Detroit Welfare Commission and the representative of Detroit mayor Louis Miriani, Detroit City Council President Mary V. Beck, Rudy Kordich, and President Bronislaw M. Stachura and Wladislaw Rylko of the Michigan Chapter of the Polish American Congress. The attendance was 1,500.

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Peter’s visit was detailed in The Detroit News in the Monday, March 16, 1959 issue, in the story “Ex-King Peter Calls U.S. Autos Much ‘Too Big'” on page 20, by James K. Anderson. The article provided a biographical sketch as well as his view on American cars. As on his 1942 visit, Peter toured the major automobile plants in Detroit.

Peter said that American cars would be much too big for the roads in Monaco. During his tour of the Ford Motor Company Rouge plant, Anderson reported that he looked so much like “an ordinary American tourist” that workers asked: “Which one is the king?” Peter stated: “Too big, too big” as the cars rolled off the assembly line. The next day he toured the GM Tech Center in Warren and a Chrysler plant.

He had arrived in Detroit on Saturday. The speech at the American Serbian Hall was on Sunday night. He toured the Ford Rouge plant on Monday. On Tuesday he toured the GM Tech Center and a Chrysler plant.

He noted that his 1959 American and Canadian tour was sponsored by Serbian religious, fraternal, and civic organizations to raise money for “Yugoslavian refugees from communism.”

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The highlight of his visit was a speech delivered at the American-Serbian Hall which was quoted in the Detroit newspapers. He thanked the Serbian community of Detroit for their support. He castigated the Communist regime of Josip Broz Tito, framing his criticisms within the larger Cold War conflict against the Soviet block and Communist ideology. Paradoxically, the U.S. government was economically and militarily backing the Tito regime as a bulwark against the USSR. By 1959, however, Yugoslav dependence on the U.S. had lessened due to the rapprochement between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union after meetings between Tito and Nikita Khrushchev. Peter’s supporters were now primarily Serbian. The appeal was thus to Serbian religious, cultural, and political customs and traditions. He upheld the legacy of Draza Mihailovich and the Chetnik guerrillas of World War II. Chetnik songs were sung at the ceremony.

 

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At the American Serbian Hall on Van Dyke and Outer Drive, he saw dances and singing “reminiscent of the days when Peter’s great-great-granfather expelled the Turks from old Serbia.” Peter sang and “applauded lustily” after each performance. The “high point was reached” when Milan Tomcic, a “former Belgrade singing star, broke out with the Chetnik song, ‘Mother, I am coming home without my right hand, but my left hand will still bring death to Tito’.” Peter and the audience sang along. There were shouts of “zivio”. Everyone clapped “furiously” when the song was over.

Then Ravanica priest Pop Micho and Momcilo Golubovich, a former member of the Yugoslav Royal Guard living in Detroit, escorted Peter to the stage. Peter opened his speech by praising the Detroit Serbian community: “Thank you for keeping alive our church and religion in this blessed country. … Be good Serbs, but above all be good Americans.”

The Ravanica church choir then sang “an ancient song” that honored dignitaries with the hope of a long life. Then he danced the “King’s kolo” with the wife of Rudy Kordich. Finally, the Polish American Congress representatives presented him with a resolution.

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Speaking in Serbian and wearing glasses, Peter said: “I tried always to be one of you. I love you more, than you love me. … This is the greatest assembly I ever saw of Serbs in America. I saw rich America and her beautiful cities and I saw and felt the hearts of the people. … This will live in my memory. … I saw people united against this enemy [Communism]. … And in a democracy the people have the last word. If your leaders are not united you should elect new leaders.”

A member of the audience shouted: “All they want is money.”

Peter smiled and continued: “Be good Serbs but above all be good Americans.”

Members of the audience shouted “zivio” during his speech.

Peter stated: “I will write in our national paper and maybe the American press of my impressions. … I’m going to tell you then how and what to do in our common fight against communism.”

The program lasted two hours and featured singing and dancing.

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Walker Lee Cisler, the President of the Detroit Edison Company, right, and Peter.

The newspaper accounts focused on Peter’s unpretentious demeanor. When offered a cigarette which fell on the floor, Peter picked it up, saying “That’s all right.” The Detroit Times reporter Bernard Mullins in the story “King Peter has ’53 car. He’s a humble fellow” noted that he was “a humble fellow”. He looked more like a “mild-mannered bookkeeper”. Peter owned a 1953 Jaguar at the time with 135,000 miles on it. After a tour of the Ford Ford Company Rouge plant, Peter insisted that he was not interested in buying a new American car in Detroit: “No sir, I couldn’t afford it. In fact, I couldn’t even afford a trip like this. I’m a guest. Otherwise I couldn’t be here.”

Bernard Mullins wrote in the Detroit Times news article “King Peter Makes a Promise. I’ll tell how to fight Reds” that his speech at the American Serbian Hall was “the most spirited speech of his American tour.”

His financial assets and his family were described. He has savings and trust funds to support his wife Alexandra and his son Alexander. Peter recounted: “They’re both wonderful skiers. I just got a letter from my boy in which he told me he’d won a medal for skiing. I’m very proud of him. But I can’t ski myself. My hobby is skin diving.” He lived in Monte Carlo in Monaco at the time.

The Michigan chapter of the Polish American Congress presented Peter with a resolution welcoming him to Detroit and espoused the “fervent hope that both our nations will attain freedom and full sovereignty.” The snag was that Poland was a Communist “Captive Nation” but Yugoslavia, on the other hand, was a Communist nation that was an ally and a proxy of the U.S. This is missing in the news accounts of the visit.

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Peter’s speech at the Hall was covered in a news article in The Detroit News, “Ex-King Peter Hailed by 1,500 at Serb Rally” by James K. Anderson. Peter was described as the “35 year old former monarch who has become to them a symbol of the hope that Red-ruled Yugoslavia will again be free.”

The activities that night were detailed: “They saw Balkan national dances and heard ancient Serbian songs.” Serbian singer Milan Tomcich sang. There were “jubilant cries” of “Zhivio Kralj”, “Long live the King”. One song sung “dated from ancient times when men like Peter’s ancestor Black George fought for their land.” Another song hailed the Chetniks. “Spremte se spremte, Chetnici”. “Prepare, prepare, Chetniks”, a song that “was revived during World War II when Gen. Drazha Mihailovich’s Chetniks were fighting in Yugoslavia.” Another song sung was “The King’s Guards Are Getting Ready” on the death of a family in the war. Peter sat in front of the stage during the festivities. The Polish American Congress presented him with a reoslution read in Polish by Wladyslav Rylko, a former Polish colonel, and in Serbian by former Draza Mihailovich adjutant Jaksa Djelevich.

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Earlier that day 600 had attended a dinner held in Peter’s honor. Peter had toasted President Dwight D. Eisenhower and “this land of liberty that has been so hospitable to all our people and has given them a chance for a new life.”

Detroit political leaders portrayed Peter as an avatar of the conflict against the Soviet block and the expansion of Communism into Eastern Europe. Mitchell J. Jachimski, secretary of the Detroit Welfare Commission and the representative of Detroit Mayor Louis Miriani, called Peter “a symbol of free nations fighting communism and an important figure for freedom for all oppressed nations.” Detroit City Council President Mary V. Beck said: “I hope the dark cloud of oppression will disappear and liberty will return to the world.”

Rudy Kordich recalled meeting Peter on his first visit to Detroit in 1942. Kordich stated: “America always has a heart that beats for freedom and democracy.”

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Peter and the other speakers espoused the Cold War objectives of rolling back Communism in Eastern Europe and in the Balkans. This meshed well with U.S. Cold War policy overall but was inapplicable to Communist Yugoslavia which was buttressed by the U.S.

Peter remained confident that the Tito regime would collapse and the prewar status quo would be reinstated. This, however, would not happen. Tito and his regime would outlive Peter.

World War II in Film: Night Over Belgrade (1942)

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In 1942, a Soviet film short was released on the German occupation of Belgrade in 1941. The film was entitled Night Over Belgrade, Noc nad Belgradom in Russian, Noc nad Beogradom in Serbo-Croatian. The film was pro-Peter II and the new Yugoslav regime that had emerged after the overthrow of the pro-German Regent Prince Paul government. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were allies during the war. Like Greece, Yugoslavia was resisting the German expansion into southeastern Europe. After the German occupation and dismemberment, Serbia and Montenegro remained as centers of resistance. The Soviet film highlighted this resistance to the Axis.

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The film presented an anti-German perspective, showing the Germans as aggressive and brutal occupiers while emphasizing the Yugoslav guerrilla resistance. The film short was part of a Soviet film series that featured short films for the Armed Forces of the USSR, Boyevoy kinosbornik No. 8 in Russian. The director was Leonid Lukov. The writer was Iosif Sklyut. The film starred Tatyana Okunevskaya, Osip Abdulov, Pyotr Aleynikov, Ivan Novoseltsev, and Boris Andreyev. The second segment was entitled Three Tankmen featuring a trapped Soviet tank crew that is able to hold out until they are rescued.

The film was made at the Tashkent film studio in the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan in September, 1941 as German troops were advancing across the USSR and two resistance movements had emerged in German-occupied Serbia. It was released on February 7, 1942.

The first scene is of a Soviet foxhole with Soviet armored troops. They are huddled during a lull in the fighting with advancing German troops. A soldier is eating from a can on his knees with a spoon. A Soviet soldier asks that he be given bread. He announces that he is a Serb named Kotic. Another Soviet soldier is talking over the phone. “I’m listening. So. So. Yes.” The Serbian soldier was forcibly conscripted into the German Army as a “Serbian volunteer”. He has defected. He recounts to the Soviet tank crews the story of the underground resistance in Belgrade.

Billows of white smoke drift across the screen in the foreground. Belgrade appears in the background. Buildings can be seen in the distance. A song is sung in Russian over the opening credits. “For pity, Belgrade is destroyed.”

In the first scene in Belgrade, a German staff car stops at the top of stairs on a Belgrade street. A German occupation soldier opens the back door as a civilian exits the automobile and starts walking down the stairs. As he does so, he is shot dead in the back by the German officer who comes out of the car and fires a revolver. The car drives off. The prisoner dies on the steps.

In the next scene, two German soldiers are shown on patrol on a Belgrade street at night while it is raining with rifles over their shoulders with bayonets. Then three German Wehrmacht soldiers are shown walking behind two prisoners down a Belgrade street with their rifles pointed at them. The third soldier has a revolver. They then stop and execute the two prisoners by shooting them in the back of the head at point blank range. The scenes are at night. These scenes show the nature of the German occupation of Belgrade, emphasizing the brutality and the elimination of all resistance and opposition.

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The three German soldiers run into two other soldiers. The first three depart while the camera follows the two as they walk down a deserted street in Belgrade.

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They enter a Belgrade restaurant or cafe. They try to intimidate the proprietor Mirko. One soldier breaks off the ends of wine classes. One goes to the wine rack but the bottles are empty. Mirko brings out a wine bottle. They drink the wine. One tells Mirko that the Serbian people are swine and that the Germans are a superior race. They say that the Fuehrer has explained this. One draws his rifle and points it at Mirko threatening to shoot him. Mirko tells him that Oberleutnant Fischer, the German commanding officer in Belgrade, is a patron of the restaurant. The two German soldiers leave.

A resistance fighter enters the cafe through an opening in the cabinet bringing a message. The second resistance fighter that emerges is Kotic. They read from a proclamation. German fascism seeks the physical destruction and extermination of the Slavic peoples. This is the goal of the German war. The Germans have set up concentration camps.

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In the next scene a German officer, Oberleutnant Fischer, the commander in Belgrade, who looks like Adolf Hitler, is in a room where a violinist plays for him. The song is sorrowful. The Hitler-like character complains that the song is about of crying. There is a close-up of the violinist’s face. The Hitler-like character blows smoke into his face from a cigarette to bring real tears to his eyes.

There are continuity issues with the Nazi swastika armband. In the earlier scenes, the Nazi swastika is reversed. In the later scenes, the Nazi swastika is not reversed on his left arm.

The resistance are able to infiltrate the restaurant and to seize Fischer’s gun. They are able to capture Fischer and to use him to gain entrance in the Radio Beograd studio.

The entrance gate to Radio Beograd is shown in an exterior shot with a German sentry at the gate. Mirko and the other resistance fighters are able to get past the German guard at the Radio Beograd studio because they recognizes Fischer. They enter the building and seize the German soldier at the studio wearing headphones and a reversed Nazi swastika armband.

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The Joseph Stalin-like character Mirko makes a speech over the radio exhorting Serbs, Croats, and Montenegrins to resist the German occupation in a radio address. The German fascist plan is the extermination of all the Slavic peoples, Russians, Ukrainians, and White Russians. Hitler and Mussolini seek to destroy the Slavic peoples. The Soviet Union and the Red Army are now fighting Hitler. “Krov za krov, smert za smert.” “Blood for blood, death for death.”

A German truck transporting troops is shown hitting a land mine and being blown up.

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The Tatyana Okunevskaya character sings a song over Beograd Radio exhorting the people to resist. German troops and Fischer hear the message. German troops are sent to take the radio station. Tatyana Okunevskaya is shown next to the studio microphone singing. In the background, German troops can be seen through the glass window as they enter the studio to stop the broadcast. One soldier shoots the Tatyana Okunevskaya character in the back. Her eyes close as she falls back dead. Her corpse is then seen horizontally across the floor. German troops are shown looking on in the back through the glass window.

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A woman carrying a lifeless child in her arms is shown moving towards the camera with billowing black smoke in the background. A girl is shown beside the body of her dead mother.

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In the next scene, Serbian guerrillas are shown with rifles emerging from the debris. A man in civilian clothes is shown with a rifle. A woman is shown joining the resistance carrying a rifle. One woman is shown carrying a child in her left arm and a rifle in her right which she has slung over her shoulder. Serbian guerrillas are shown advancing with rifles over their shoulders.

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Fischer is taken out of a car by Kotic and another resistance fighter. He is told that for the crimes committed by German troops the “people” or “narod” of Yugoslavia have decreed the death penalty. They both shoot him dead. He falls forward.

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In the next scene a guerrilla takes off his hat. He then crosses himself. The Serbian guerrilla makes the sign of the cross by touching his forehead, then the center of his chest, then the right side to the left side. This is a custom of Serbian Orthodox Christianity. This religious imagery is unusual in a Communist or Soviet film.

The last scene shows Serbian guerrillas armed with rifles moving across a ledge as they head into the mountains.

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Then there is a return to the Soviet foxhole in the USSR as Soviet troops are listening to the account by the Serbian soldier Kotic as he finishes the story of the Belgrade resistance in 1941. Then a shell blast is heard. Then the troops leave the foxhole as shells crash all around. The film ends here.

The film was made at a time when Operation Barbarossa was in full swing and the German forces were advancing all across the front towards Moscow. In the earlier Soviet film short on Yugoslavia, A Hundred For One, made in August, 1941, the emphasis was on the guerrilla resistance and German reprisals against civilians in Yugoslavia. In Night Over Belgrade, the theme of resistance is continued. As a Soviet ally, Yugoslavia, particularly Serbia and Montenegro, was supported and shown in the most positive aspect. In turn, Yugoslavia was also shown as an example of resistance and implacable determination. The Soviet Union was not alone and isolated. Yugoslavia, in Serbia and Montenegro, was portrayed as a model. The movie was made to instill solidarity and to encourage resistance in a common struggle.

World War II in Film: A Hundred for One (1941)

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In 1941, a Soviet film short was released on Yugoslavia entitled A Hundred for One, 100 za Odnogo or Sto za Odnogo in Russian, Sto za Jednog in Serbian, Hundert für Einen in German, by Austrian-born Soviet director Herbert Rappaport. The film drama was on the German occupation of Yugoslavia. The plot revolved around the German policy of shooting 100 civilians for the death of a German soldier in Yugoslavia. The film was released on August 11, 1941 in the Soviet Union. This film was also released in the United States on July 3, 1942 under the title This is the Enemy as part of an anthology. The film was also released in Mexico as Este es el enemigo on February 17, 1943. This segment was part of the series Boyevoy kinosbornik from 1941 as No. 2. This was a film collection for the Armed Forces of the Soviet Union approximately an hour in length usually consisting of two approximately thirty minute film shorts.

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In the prologue to the segment, the following appears on the screen in Russian: “Son for father, brother for brother, bitter is the German retribution.” The scene is a town in Yugoslavia under fascist occupation. The back of the helmet of a German soldier on sentry duty is shown. Then German troops are patrolling a street in the town. A man and his two children peer out of a window and then close the shutters.

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In a German occupied town in Yugoslavia, a couple is walking on a deserted street. They are stopped by two German soldiers. They are accused of violating the 10:00 PM curfew. The German soldier is shown moving the hands of the clock to 10:10 PM. One soldier accosts the woman. They both eventually sexually assault her. One of the soldiers is knocked out cold. Her companion attacks the other soldier. The soldier wrestles him to the ground and pulls out his dagger. The woman takes the gun from the other German soldier and shoots the soldier attacking her companion in the back. He is killed. They then flee. The other soldier rouses himself and fires his weapon to alert other German troops.

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The commanding German officer decrees that for the death of the German soldier, one hundred civilians will be executed. German troops begin rounding up civilians in the town, men, women, and children. A woman nursing a child is also taken into custody.

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The civilians are being shown marching off to the execution site in the woods led by German troops. In two scenes, a German officer is heard counting off the number of civilians to reach the number of one hundred. The commanding officer follows the civilians to the execution site in a vehicle.

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The couple who killed the German soldier witness the plight of the hostages and surrender. They both confess to the killing. The commanding German officer strikes down the man. He is determined to go through with the executions.

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The civilians take shovels from the truck and begin digging their own graves. Making prisoners dig their own graves was something German troops did routinely in the Soviet Union but was not a feature of the Yugoslav conflict. They devise a plan to attack the German troops. They use the shovels to attack the soldiers. One of the German soldiers shoots the elderly man. He is then shot by the woman with a rifle. The hostages are able to kill the German troops. They shout slogans of defiance as they battle against fascism, emerging victorious. A guerrilla war is to be conducted. The Russian word for “guerrilla” is used, “Partisan”. In the final scene, the woman who appeared earlier is shown nursing her child. The film has a triumphant and a victorious ending.

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The segment was written by Yevgeni Ryss and Vsevolod Voyevodin. The film featured Lev Bordukov, Boris Poslavsky, Larisa Yemelyantseva, and Elena Kirillova. The cinematography was by Khecho Nazaryants. The art direction was by Semyon Mejnkin. The sound was by Ilya Volk. The film was made by Lenfilm Studio. The alternate title was Victory Will Be Ours, Part 2, or Pobeda budet za nami, seriya 2. A translation of the Russian title of the series is: A Collection of Films for the Armed Forces #2.

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The Yugoslav segment A Hundred for One was released in the U.S. on July 3, 1942 as part of the anthology This is the Enemy. Two U.S. posters for the 1942 American release were also produced as 14″ x 22″ theatrical window cards. The segment on Yugoslavia, A Hundred for One, was illustrated in the top right corner of one of the posters and was featured extensively in the second. Archer Winsten, the film critic of the New York Post, wrote a positive review for the film: “It is the immediate duty of every American to see this film”.

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The anthology featured seven Soviet directors: Yevgeni Chervyakov, Viktor Eisymont, Vladimir Feinberg, Ivan Mutanov, Aleksei Olenin, Tamara Sukova, and Herbert Rappaort, as Gerbet Rappaport. The other segments included “Meeting”, “At the Old Nurse’s/Saboteur”, “One of Many/Air Raid”, and “Three in a Shell Hole”. The goal of the film was to expose what the enemy was like. “What does the enemy look like? …. How does he treat women and children? See Europe’s little people holding the Hitler beast at bay!” The film starred Boris Chirkov, Vladimir Lukin, Boris Blinov, Aleksandr Melnikov and Ivan Kuznetsov. The film consisted of eight re-edited short segments from the Soviet series illustrating the Nazis, including a lead off segment called “The Hitler Beast”, which was an animated cartoon by Russian animator Ivan Ivanov-Vano. The final segment was a fantasy with the spirit of Napoleon sending a telegraph to Adolf Hitler telling him what happened when he invaded Russia in 1812. The movie was shown and promoted in the U.S. in 1942 with the tagline “The Soviet Mrs. Miniver” because both contained similar scenes and because they both sought to mobilize the country for total war against Nazi Germany depicting the enemy as ruthless and without any mores.

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Mrs. Miniver came out on June 4, 1942 in the U.S. This is the Enemy came out on July 3, 1942. The Soviet segments were filmed earlier. Mrs. Miniver was an American movie by MGM directed by William Wyler about World War II in Great Britain. The Soviet segment “Saboteur” has a similar theme. An elderly woman lets in a guest into her home who is a German agent. He has a gun with him that a sleeping child in the house is able to take and hide. Eventually, the woman is able to expose the guest and to capture him. This is similar to a major scene in Mrs. Miniver where a German pilot is able to enter her home.

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The Soviet Union had signed a treaty of alliance with the royalist Yugoslav government of Peter II in 1941. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were allies during World War II. The Soviet film short A Hundred for One supported the royalist Yugoslav government’s resistance against Nazi Germany. A second Soviet film short in support of the Peter II Yugoslav government would be released in 1942 entitled Night Over Belgrade or Noc nad Belgradom. A Hundred for One demonstrated the Soviet Union’s commitment to Yugoslavia as an ally during the war.

World War II in Film: People in the Storm (1941)

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In 1941, a German film, Menschen im Sturm, People in the Storm, Ljudi u oluji, an anti-Yugoslavian and anti-Serbian film, was made in Germany to justify the invasion, destruction, and subsequent dismemberment of Yugoslavia. The film starred Olga Chekhova or Tschechowa and Gustav Diessl. The plot of the movie centered around the alleged persecution of the German minority, volksdeutsche, in Yugoslavia by the Yugoslav, particularly Serbian, leaders during the March Crisis in 1941. It was in German and Serbo-Croatian, made by the German production company Tobis Filmkunst. It was directed by Fritz Peter Buch. The screenplay was by Georg Zoch from an idea by Karl Anton and Felix von Eckardt.

The film is set in Yugoslavia in March, 1941. It is during the period of the crisis with Germany. The film opens with a scene of Yugoslav leaders meeting behind closed doors in Belgrade. The pro-German Regent Prince Paul government is overthrown in the March 27 coup. Peter II is proclaimed king. Yugoslav leaders wish Peter II (Petar drugi) a long life as they stream out of the room.

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The major scenes take place along the Slovenian border with Austria in the Upper Cariola region of Slovenia. Austria was annexed to the Third German Reich in 1938. Until now, the Slovenian landowner Alexander Oswatic, played by Gustav Diessl, and his ethnic German wife Vera, played by Olga Chekhova, have never experienced any conflict or been in danger in Yugoslavia. But when their region is plagued by clashes between Serbs and ethnic Germans, they feel threatened and are concerned for the German minority. Everything changes for the worse.

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Olga Chekhova plays the protagonist in the film. She was a major German film star in the Third Reich during the 1930s and 1940s. She was born in Russia. He father was an ethnic German. Her husband was the nephew of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov.

Siegfried Breuer played Yugoslav Hauptmann or Army Captain Rakic. Franz Schafheitlin was the Yugoslavian Commissioner or Kommisar Subotic. Kurt Meisel plays Yugoslav Oberleutnant Dusan.

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Yugoslav troops are shown harassing an ethnic German farming family. The soldiers sieze livestock and intimidate the ethnic Germans. This is all in the wake of the new anti-German policies of the Yugoslav regime controlled by Serbs.

Vera and her family begin to experience the anti-German measures. In one scene, her daughter, Marieluise Kornberg, played by Hannelore Schroth, is listening to a radio program from Vienna but is pressured to turn it off.

Yugoslav royalist troops wearing French Adrian helmets are shown marching against the volksdeutsche community in one scene. The film depicts the charged atmosphere following the March 27 coup when an anti-German regime under Peter II replaced the pro-German regime under the Regent Prince Paul. There were news accounts at the time of ethnic Germans fleeing to Austria as refugees because of the anti-German government. There were expressions of anti-German sentiment in Yugoslavia. The film exaggerates and magnifies these cases.

Yugoslav troops are shown searching ethnic German houses in Yugoslavia. Ethnic Germans in Yugolavia are forced to flee towards the Austrian border.

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Vera decides to help Yugoslav citizens of ethnic German origin, the volksdeutsche, who are threatened with persecution. Her daughter accuses her of being a “cosmopolitan”, a euphemism for a Communist. Vera lacks any ethnic consciousness about her own people. She turns into a champion for the German cause after witnessing the persecution of the ethnic German population in royalist Yugoslavia. She manages to seduce a Serbian captain to such a degree that she is able to extract confidential plans and information from him. She is able to turn the information over to the ethnic German community.

Vera joins forces with the teacher of the local ethnic German school, Hans Neubert, played by Heinz Welzel, and together they help numerous ethnic German citizens escape from Yugoslav forces. In one scene, an elderly Croatian druggist, Paulic, played by Rudolf Blumner, is depicted as friendly and tolerant, wishing peace for everyone. He is subsequently brutally murdered by Serbian thugs because of his support of Germany.

The Serbian commanders grow suspicious and put out a spy to determine the source of the leaks in their own ranks. Only by a hair does Vera escape discovery. She is finally found out and flees in a horse-drawn coach with her daughter. They are pursued by Yugoslav military forces on a motorcycle. The Yugoslav pursuer is killed just before they reach the German border. Vera herself had been struck by gunfire and is seriously wounded. She dies as they reach the German border but she dies happy as a German patriot and savior of the persecuted German community in Yugoslavia. The film ends here on a note of triumph and national victory.

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The film is similar to the 1941 German film Heimkehr or Homecoming which focused on the alleged persecution of the German community in Poland. The film sought to rationalize and to justify the German destruction of Poland in 1939 by alleging that the Polish government sought to destroy the ethnic German minority in the country. This was the same paradigm used in Menschen im Sturm.

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Part of the film was shot in Croatia. The German film crew and cast arrived in Zagreb in July, 1941 to begin shooting the film. The NDH was allied to Germany and was part of the Axis. The NDH thus highly supported the production of the film. NDH Poglavnik Ante Pavelic reportedly met with the German film crew. Ustasha NDH Education Minister Mile Budak was photographed on the set of the film, which was entitled Ljudi u oluji in Croatian. Budak was photographed with Olga Chekhova and other cast and crew of the film.

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The film had its premiere in Zagreb in March, 1942. The film was a huge box office hit in the NDH. Ante Pavelic reportedly claimed that a character in the film was based on him. There is a Croatian character in the film named Paulic. Paulic is the Latin form of the name, the root being “Paul”, or “Pavle”. In Croatian and Slavic, the name is Pavelic. Paulic is the pro-German druggist in the film who is murdered by Serbian thugs. The NDH regime highly endorsed the movie.

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The film was released on December 19, 1941 in Germany. In Italy, it was entitled Uomini nella tempesta. It was a popular movie in Germany, Italy, and the NDH. It was banned after the war in Communist Yugoslavia.

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The film was not much different from the wartime movies made in the United States, Great Britain, or the Soviet Union. They were all Manichean, black and white, and one-sided, subjective movies that divided the world into Us and Them. “We” were always good. The “enemy” was always evil. It was always Good versus Evil. And those that made the movies were always on the side that represented good. In this respect, Menschen im Sturm is the same as the movies made in the Allied countries, only from a German perspective. The film presents a view of Yugoslavia from the perspective of Nazi Germany.

Liberators Over Vratnica: Rescue and Survival

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The Ploesti old fields in southeastern Romania were a vital strategic bombing objective for the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Located 35 miles north of the capital Bucharest, Ploesti had formerly supplied one-third of Germany’s oil. The U.S. had targeted Ploesti to deprive the German military of petroleum. The U.S. first bombed Ploesti on June 12, 1942 during the HALPRO bombing raid. Then on August 1, 1943 during Operation Tidal Wave, a major bombardment was launched.

The Soviet Red Army advance on Yugoslavia and the capital Belgrade in 1944 was launched from Romania. Russian troops had captured Ploesti on August 30, 1944. But before its capture, Ploesti remained a major bombing target for U.S. forces.

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The captain, 1st Lt. Edwin Kieselbach, second from right kneeling, and gunner S/Sgt. Bruce Tuthill, first on right standing.

On August 26, 1944, a U.S. B-24 Liberator crew conducted a bombing mission in Romania. On its return flight, it was shot down over the village of Vratnica in the former Yugoslavia, then occupied and annexed by Bulgaria. The Liberator bomber crashed in the wooded hills overlooking the village. Civilians from Vratnica were able to help the survivors and to bury those who were killed.

Vratnica was a village located in northwestern Macedonia at the border with Kosovo and Metohija. It had been part of Serbia after the First Balkan War in 1912. Before 1912, it had been part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, the region known as Turkey in Europe. In 1915, it was occupied by Bulgarian troops during World War I. In 1918, it became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In 1929, the name of the country was changed to Yugoslavia. Vratnica was made a part of the Vardar or Vardarska Banovina from 1929 to 1941. Vratnica was part of a region called Southern Serbia or Stara Srbija, Ancient or Old Serbia. Claims were made on the area by Serbia and Bulgaria who fought three wars over the region, in 1913, 1915, and 1941. After 1945, Vratnica was part of the Republic of Macedonia created by the new Communist regime under Josip Broz Tito. In 1992, Macedonia seceded from Yugoslavia. A dispute remains with Greece over the name of the country because there is a region in Greece called “Macedonia”. Greece, thus, objects to the use of the name. Internationally, the country is officially known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYRM).

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Edwin Kieselbach is standing, center, and Bruce Tuthill is kneeling, first on left.

During World War II, Vratnica was occupied by Bulgarian troops who seized large swaths of territory in Macedonia which were annexed. Albanian nationalists and separatists also seized Vratnica and incorporated the village and surrounding area into the Nazi-fascist Greater Albanian state for a brief period during World War II. During the 2001 Albanian insurgency, Vratnica was again attacked and besieged by Albanian separatists of the so-called National Liberation Army.

The U.S. Army Air Force launched its attack on Ploesti from bases in Bari, Italy. The Liberator crew that crashed in Vratnica was part of the 15th Air Force, 455th Bomber Group, 732 Bomber Squadron, based in Bari, Italy.

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The captain, 1st Lt. Edwin Kieselbach, survived the crash and Bulgarian imprisonment as a POW.

The captain of the bomber crew was 1st Lt. Edwin Carl Kieselbach of Ravenna, Oklahoma. The rest of the crew was made up of eight members:  2nd Lt. John T. Edwards, the co-pilot, from of Gleason, Tennessee, 1st Lt. Richard T. McCauley, the bombardier from Providence, Rhode Island, T/Sgt. Edward Ambrosini, the radio operator and gunner from Brooklyn, New York, Sgt. David C. Koblitz, the engineer and gunner from Erie, Kansas, S/Sgt. Willis C. Stephenson, the assistant radar operator and Ball Turret gunner from Topeka, Kansas, S/Sgt. Bruce B. Tuthill, the assistant engineer and gunner from Seaford, New York, S/Sgt Harold L. Viken, the armorer and nose gunner from Denver, Colorado, and S/Sgt William M. Rhodes, the tail gunner from Cray Court, South Carolina. Their aircraft was a Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber named “Our Love” with the Airframe designation #42-78240.

Their bombing objective on August 26, 1944 was a train depot marshaling yard in Bucharest, Romania from where oil was shipped. It was also a hub for troop movements and weapons transports. Four squadrons participated in the attack. Each squadron had up to nine bombers. The bomb payload was three tons for every plane.

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S/Sgt. Bruce B. Tuthill, the assistant engineer and gunner, was killed and buried in Vratnica.

Over the target, the Our Love Liberator crew was attacked by anti-aircraft. The plane was hit. One of the engines was damaged. This resulted in the plane losing speed and falling behind while the rest of the squadron headed for the Bari base. The bomber was now descending and vulnerable to attack by German fighter planes. Five German Messerschmitt ME 109 fighters attacked the plane with machine guns. The tail and waist gunners were hit. The co-pilot was also injured and died from his wounds.

As the plane flew lower, it sought to avoid the Shar Planina range of mountains by flying over valleys. This allowed anti-aircraft batteries to zero in on the plane. The captain ordered the crew to bail out. The bomber’s two vertical tail assembly rudders were struck which put the plane in a spin. The crew used the bomb bay door to jettison equipment and ammunition and to parachute out of the badly crippled plane.

The captain hit a tree but managed to land safely on the heavily wooded mountainside just over the village of Vratnica. He had suffered a shoulder injury. The turret gunner, however, was killed when he struck the mountain. Both Tuthill and Koblitz had been ejected from the plane and had died instantly on impact. The body of Koblitz was found in a tree still strapped in the harness.

Two Bulgarian soldiers spotted the captain hiding in the woods. He was able to shoot them and flee into the mountains.

Vratnica residents carrying shotguns and pitchforks located him. One of the Vratnica residents could speak English. He told the captain that he had lived in Detroit, Michigan. The captain recalled that Bulgarian and German troops soon arrived and took him prisoner. He was taken to the Bulgarian prison camp at Shumen in northeastern Bulgaria. With Russian troops advancing on Bulgaria, the guards fled, allowing the captain to escape. He managed to get to Greece, Turkey, Syria, and Cairo from where he was returned to the air base in Italy.

There were three survivors of the crash, Kieselbach, the captain, Richard McCauley, the bombardier, and Edward Ambrosini, the radar operator. The rest were killed. Vratnica residents were able to bury those who were killed in the village cemetery. From here they were moved to Belgrade and finally returned to the U.S.

On Wednesday, November 26, 2014, on the 70th anniversary of the crash, a memorial plaque was placed in the Vratnica cemetery to commemorate the crew. The U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia, Paul Wohlers, commended the residents of Vratnica at the unveiling:

“The residents of this small village risked their lives when they decided to bury the killed airmen and help the survivors. The United States of America and the families of the US pilots will be eternally grateful for what they did.

Today we honor the memory of those who perished in the fight for freedom and we honor the friendship between the people of Macedonia and the USA. The Americans and the residents of Vratnica were close friends and allies back in 1944 and the USA and Macedonia are even more so today.”

Bibliography

Bassemir, June Tuthill, “A Case For Peace”. 2013. The More Stories Place.
Fields, Spencer. “Unearthing History. Discovery of fallen WWII bomber unleashes memories.” Cerignola Connection. Fall, 2014. 455th Bomb Group Association Newsletter, pp. 17-18. Reprinted from State Magazine, December, 2013.
Kieselbach, Captain Edwin C. “The Last Flight”. 2013. The More Stories Place.

Liberators Over the Balkans: Arrival in Cairo

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King Peter II of Yugoslavia, fourth from left, and Major General Ralph Royce, Commanding General, U.S. Air Force in the Middle East (USAFIME), fifth from left, under the propeller of one of the U.S. B-24 Liberator bombers presented to the King by General Royce, on a tour of inspection at John Payne Airport, Cairo, Egypt, 1943.

Following the presentation of the four B-24 Liberator bombers by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Bolling Field in Washington, DC, on October 6, 1943, the aircraft were flown to Cairo, Egypt the next day where they were presented to Peter II.

The Yugoslav government had moved from London to Cairo on September 28, 1943. The Greek government in exile was already based there. Peter had proposed the move in a letter to Winston Churchill on March 31, 1943. The government was now headed by Bozidar Puric after the resignation of Slobodan Jovanovic in July, 1943. Lincoln MacVeagh was appointed the new U.S. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Yugoslavia and to Greece on November 12, 1943 after the move to Cairo, replacing Anthony Biddle.

Peter thought that the “likelihood of an Allied landing in Yugoslavia to be strong” in early 1943. The move of the exile Yugoslav government from London to Cairo “seemed to me to be the first step back to Yugoslavia”. He felt that the time for “action” had come and was “ready to give the whole of my energies” to the effort. On March 31 he wrote a letter to Winston Churchill about the proposed move to Cairo. Peter also proposed to Churchill that he be parachuted into Yugoslavia to join up with Draza Mihailovich’s troops. In his view, this would be “of great moral help” and would contribute to “rally all resistance forces in the country”.

Churchill replied on April 15 stating that he saw the move to Cairo as a good plan that would encourage Yugoslav troops there and the people in Yugoslavia as well. Churchill did not, however, support Peter’s plan to return to Yugoslavia, arguing that he should wait until liberation and then return.

British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden informed the Yugoslav cabinet that a major offensive was being planned and that landings in Yugoslavia were “under preparation”. Eden also suggested that the government should move to Cairo. Peter agreed. Peter had been considering this earlier and saw the move as “more effective action” on the part of himself and the government. He saw the liberation of Yugoslavia as imminent.

The Croat Banovina issue, however, divided the government. Vice-President Juraj Krnjevic, a Croat member, refused to go to Cairo until the Banovina issue was resolved. There was thus a divide between the Serbian and Croatian members of the government.

Peter set off for Cairo by ship from Liverpool. He arrived at Port Said in Egypt from where he set off along the Suez Canal by car to Cairo.

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When he arrived at the airport, Peter was welcomed by Major General Ralph Royce, Commanding General, USAFIME, at the Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers presentation ceremony held at John Payne Airport, Cairo, Egypt, in October, 1943. Peter was photographed exiting a car with insignia on the door of the Yugoslavian Royal Air Force. The B-24 Liberator bombers were assigned to the 376th Bomber Group of the U.S. Army Air Force, to be flown by Yugoslavian flight crews. The Yugoslav detachment was under the command of the U.S. Army Air Force. It was attached to a B-24 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.

John Payne Field was developed by the USAAF as an air base for the Air Transport Command in 1943 located 13 miles east of Cairo. The land was obtained from the RAF. The U.S. Air Force in the Middle East (USAFIME) was based in Cairo, Egypt, originally set up by General George C. Marshall in 1942 during the Egypt and Libya operations in North Africa.

The Royal Yugoslav Air Force (RYAF) crews were assigned to the 376 Bomber Group (BG)/512 Bomber Squadron (BS) in October, 1943. This detachment of the Yugoslav Air Force continued to operate under the operational control of the North-West African Air Forces and flew on equal terms with American bombers.

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An inspection tour was part of the presentation ceremony of the Liberator bombers. The Yugoslav detachment was under the command of the U.S. Army Air Force. It was attached to a B-24 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 presentation ceremony was featured in a British War Pictorial News newsreel, November 15, 1943, No. 132. The film segment was entitled “Egypt” with commentary by Rex Keating.

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The national flags of the United States and Yugoslavia were shown at Heliopolis Airport in Cairo during the aircraft presentation ceremony attended by King Peter II of Yugoslavia and Major-General Ralph Royce, Commander United States Army Air Force (USAAF) in the Middle East. A USAAF guard of honor was shown standing at attention armed with M1903 Springfield .30-in rifles and holstered M1911A1 .45-in automatic pistols.

King Peter is shown getting out of an official 4X2 Ford 21A Light Sedan automobile accompanied by Major-General Royce. A parked and chocked Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber can be seen in the background. The bomber is equipped with an Emerson defensive nose turret. No national markings are visible.

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Peter delivered his acceptance speech from a free-standing podium in thanks for the generous presentation of four Liberator bombers to the Yugoslavian people by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Peter was shown speaking to a Royal Yugoslavian Air Force aircrew officer, part of the team of ferry pilots who collected the aircraft from the United States.

Peter and Major-General Royce posed for photographs in the defensive waist gun position of a B-24. The air-cooled .50-in Browning heavy machine gun is not mounted and has been stowed away prior to the aircraft’s ferry flight.

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Peter and Major-General Ralph Royce were photographed as Peter arrived at the airport. The American national anthem was played at the start of the ceremony.

Peter was photographed reading his acceptance speech behind a microphone at the air field. Behind him were Major-General Royce and the American and Yugoslav officers.

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American troops of the U.S. 835 Engineer Battalion were photographed passing in review before King Peter II of Yugoslavia and U.S. Major General Ralph Royce, Commanding General of USAFIME, at the B-24 Liberator bomber presentation ceremony in Cairo, 1943. Both Peter and General Royce were shown saluting the troops.

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Peter was photographed in the cockpit of a U.S. Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber at John Payne Airport in Cairo, Egypt, 1943. King Peter of Yugoslavia was photographed in the pilot seat of B-24J 42-73085 for a briefing during acceptance ceremonies for Yugoslavian flight crews of the 376th BG at Cairo Airport.

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The RYAF Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers flew as #20 through #23. #23 was the only one to survive the war. The planes were manned by Yugoslav crews with an American crewman as part of the team. The insignia of the Royal Yugoslavian Air Force was painted on the side of the aircraft left of the number “23”. The insignia of the 512th Squadron was on the right, a skull in front of propellers.

Peter described the Cairo ceremony in his account from the 1954 autobiography A King’s Heritage:

“Earlier in the year [1943] ten Liberator (B-24’s) had been presented to members of the Yugoslav forces in Washington by President Roosevelt in person. Our men subsequently flew these planes to Cairo and as I was there at the time yet another ceremony was held, at which General Ralph Royce and [U.S.] Ambassador [to Egypt, Alexander] Kirk presented me with these planes officially.”

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Peter had envisioned the role of the planes as supplying and supporting Draza Mihailovich and his guerrilla troops. The bombers were used instead on missions outside of Yugoslavia:

“I had hoped that they would be used in Yugoslavia to help Mihailovich. However, this was not to be their function. We were informed that as part of the Mediterranean Command they were vitally needed elsewhere. These planes were stationed at Foggia in Italy and were used in the first bombing of the Ploeshti oil fields, and later to raid Munich. Less than half of them came back.”

There was to be a leaflet-dropping sortie using the Liberator bombers. The British Foreign Office objected and prevented this because of the designation of “High Command of the Yugoslav Army”. This was seen as recognizing Draza Mihailovich’s guerrilla headquarters. This was in November, 1943. The Foreign Office was concerned that Tito and the Communist Partisans would be offended. The U.S. State Department was notified. The U.S. ambassador was advised that “further gifts of this character might best be avoided”. The U.S. Office of War Information in Washington agreed that leaflets “issued independently by the Yugoslav government should not be dropped by Yugoslav aviators acting on their own initiative and under their own direction”. The OWI stated that it did not want to do anything that might antagonize “one of the bravest and most effective fighting groups in occupied Europe, namely the PLA”. The PLA was the People’s Liberation Army, Tito’s Communist Partisans. It was initially recommended to issue the leaflets in Peter’s name. But this too was rejected after the British ambassador opposed it.

The Yugoslav Communist Partisans under Josip Broz Tito immediately voiced their opposition to the granting of the bombers. On the Free Yugoslavia radio station, Josip Broz Tito and Ivan Ribar attacked the presentation of the four Liberator bombers by FDR as a “blunder” because they assumed they would be going to Draza Mihailovich. “Resent ‘Gift’ of Bombers”, The Milwaukee Journal, October 19, 1943, page 2. This was what Peter and Constantin Fotich wanted. FDR was somewhat ambiguous on this point. In fact, they were not used to supply and support the guerrillas under Draza Mihailovich.

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On November 2, 1943, Peter sent a cable to FDR, thanking him for the bombers, stating that the Liberators are “truly magnificent machines”. Peter wrote: “I take this opportunity to renew my personal and my people’s warmest thanks to you Mr. President and to the American nation for this generous gift.”

The arrival of Peter and his government to Cairo was also featured in a British Movietone News newsreel, “Personalities: King Peter — Lord Wavell”, October 21, 1943. King Peter of Yugoslavia was shown exiting out of a car, greeted by Mr. Richard G. Casey, UK Minister of State, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas, at Cairo, Egypt. He was the Air Officer Commanding in Chief of RAF Middle East Command in January, 1943. Also present was British Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, whom Peter also was shown greeting. The group was shown walking into the camera. King Peter was shown on steps saluting.

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Peter met with King Farouk, King George II of Greece, and General Bernard Montgomery in Egypt. He had discussions with all three. Monty informed him that a Salonika front as in World War I was “impossible” because “it was too long and too difficult to approach” and was unnecessary because the Allies had established a landing in Italy.

Peter also met with FDR during the Cairo Conference of November 22-26. Puric and Peter were invited to Alexander Kirk’s residence. “I thanked him for handing the B-24s to our contingent in Washington — the first real aid we had received from the U.S. Air Force.” Peter asked him about a possible Allied landing in Yugoslavia. FDR was vague. Peter argued that the Allies should attack the “soft underbelly” in the Balkans as an ideal target. FDR vehemently disagreed. FDR believed that Germany should be attacked in France. This was where Germany was strongest. Moreover, France was a steadfast and longstanding ally of the U.S. Most importantly, FDR still supported Draza Mihailovich at this time according to Peter. FDR wanted the rival guerrilla groups to divide the country into a western and eastern zone. FDR wanted to reconcile or unite the Partisan and Chetnik guerrilla movements and said it was possible. Puric, however, disagreed.

At the Teheran Conference held from November 28 to December 2, 1943, the Allies recognized Tito. Peter recalled: “Mihailovich was thus denied and abandoned.”

On November 8, 1943, the Yugoslav flying personnel were attached to the 376th Bombardment Group, stationed in Enfidaville, Tunisia. After a week of training the Yugoslavs flew their first combat mission on November 15 to strike the Eleusis Airport, Athens. The Yugoslav airmen would fly missions over Greece, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia.