Liberators Over the Balkans: Arrival in Cairo


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.

Escaping Hitler: Peter II’s Flight to Paramythia

Peter II and Air Force General Dusan Simovic after the March 27, 1941 coup.

Peter II and Air Force General Dusan Simovic after the March 27, 1941 coup.

Following the March 27, 1941 coup against the pro-German government of Regent Prince Paul, Adolf Hitler vowed to destroy Yugoslavia militarily and as a country. On March 25, the Yugoslav government had joined the Axis with the signing of the Tripartite Pact in Vienna by Prime Minister Dragisa Cvetkovic and Foreign Minister Aleksandar Cincar Markovic. Peter II, who was 17 years old at the time, emerged as the head of the new government, which was recognized by Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin signed a treaty of friendship and alliance with the regime in Moscow. One of the key organizers and leaders of the coup was Royalist Yugoslav General Dusan Simovic who became the Prime Minister in the new government and the Chief of the General Staff.

Yugoslavia was attacked and invaded on April 6 by German troops in multi-pronged offensives. Belgrade was bombed the same day. On April 11, Italy and Hungary invaded the country. German troops advanced rapidly on Ljubljana, Zagreb, Sarajevo, and Belgrade. With defeat imminent, Peter and his cabinet were forced to flee the country.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill opposed the plan to flee the rapid German advance. He sent a telegram to the British Minister in Belgrade, Ronald Ian Campbell, who had lost contact with Peter and the Yugoslav Government by that time, in which he stated his objections:

“We do not see why the King or Government should leave the country, which is vast, mountainous, and full of armed men. German tanks can no doubt move along the roads and tracks, but to conquer the Serbian armies they must bring up infantry. Then will be the chance to kill them. Surely the young King and the Ministers should play their part in this.”

Churchill underestimated the speed of the German advance on Belgrade. Belgrade had been taken by German troops the day before on April 12. Zagreb had been taken on April 10, at which time an Independent State of Croatia had been proclaimed which was sponsored by Adolf Hitler. If Peter and the cabinet remained in Belgrade they faced certain capture by German occupation troops. Churchill did not want to accept the fact that Operation Punishment and Operation Marita were Allied military and political disasters of Dunkirk proportions. The British military disaster in Greece would follow the Yugoslav debacle.

Like Hitler, Churchill perceived that the military resistance in Yugoslavia was mainly by the “Serbian armies”. Croatian troops had largely deserted and had offered no meaningful resistance. The resistance was essentially Serbian. He also highlighted that the objective for the Yugoslav resistance was to kill German soldiers. Even if this achieved no military purpose, this was what Churchill emphasized throughout the war in Yugoslavia. Finally, after supporting regime change in Belgrade, he did not want to accept responsibility for the consequences or aftermath. Instead, he placed the blame on Peter and the Yugoslav Government, who were in an untenable position. If they stayed and fought, they would face almost certain capture or death. If they escaped, they would be seen as uncommitted to the struggle. Churchill was unwilling to accept blame for the Yugoslav and Greek disasters, which were on the order of the Dunkirk disaster in 1940 and the Gallipoli disaster in World War I.

Peter left Belgrade with staff by automobile headed for Zvornik in eastern Bosnia. They passed through Banja Koviljaca en route. In Zvornik he was briefed by General Simovic, who informed him that German aircraft had continued to bomb Belgrade and that German troops were on the outskirts of the city. He also met with Vladko Macek who had arrived from Uzice, where the government had been evacuated. Next Peter traveled to Han Pijesak where he stayed until departing for Sarajevo. En route, his party was diverted to Niksic in Montenegro.

On Monday, April 14, 1941, Peter arrived in Kopino Polje airport in Niksic, Montenegro from where he left for the British base in Paramythia in northwest Greece. Peter escaped to Greece aboard an Italian-made Savoia-Marchett SM.79K Sparviero or Sparrowhawk medium bomber which was part of 7 Puk of the Royalist Yugoslav Air Force. He was accompanied by the Minister of Court, his adjutant Colonel Miodrag Rakic, his aide, his physcian, and his bodyguard Iager Zizic. Peter was met by RAF Flight Lieutenant William Patrick Griffin, the senior British officer and commander of the base. Prime Minister Dusan Simovic and Yugoslav Air Force chief Borivoje Mirkovic would also flee Yugoslavia by air. Peter’s plane was preceded by a German-made Royalist Yugoslav Air Force Dornier Do17K of 209 eskadrila which had arrived in the morning. Peter and the members of his government arrived safely at Paramythia where they were received by British Royal Air Force airmen. Peter was photographed exiting the plane at the airfield, bareheaded and wearing a tweed jacket. The new Yugoslav Prime Minister Dusan Simovic would meet up with Peter in Athens.

Peter arrives at the secret British airbase at Paramythia, Greece on an Italian-made Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparrowhawk. He is fourth from the left facing the camera. R.J. Dudman.

Peter arrives at the secret British airbase at Paramythia, Greece on an Italian-made Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparrowhawk. He is fourth from the left facing the camera. R.J. Dudman.

Paramythia was a secret British air base located near the Albanian and Yugoslav border. In 1941, the RAF 211 Squadron was deployed in Paramythia, located in a valley 3,000 feet on a mountain range in the northwestern part of the country. The base was established to support military action over Albania after the invasion of Greece by Italy in 1940. Greek forces were able to counterattack and to advance into Albania, which Italy had occupied in 1939. British forces sought to exploit the Greek breakthrough. The base was only a make-shift installation. Only tents had been set up to accommodate the crews and personnel. It was a brief stopover for Peter and the members of his government. British forces had augmented the base as the war between Italy and Greece intensified. RAF Wing Commander Paddy Coote had arrived on February 19 to establish an Advanced Operations Wing. The airfield was a strategically important installation during the early phases of the war which was visited by British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden and Field Marshall Archibald Wavell, the Commander of Middle East forces, in February, 1941.

The day before Peter II’s plane arrived on April 14, there had been an engagement of the RAF and the Luftwaffe. Paddy Coote was killed in the battle.

Peter leaves his plane at the Paramythia airbase in northwestern Greece. He is first on the left. R.J. Dudman.

Peter leaves his plane at the Paramythia airbase in northwestern Greece. He is first on the left. R.J. Dudman.

On the morning of April 13, 1941. 211 Squadron attacked Axis vehicles and troop concentrations in the Florina area near the northern Greek border escorted by Hurricane fighters.

King Peter II made his escape in this aircraft, a Savoia Marchetti S79K “White 12” of 7 Puk JKRV, to Paramythia, Greece, on April 14, 1941.

King Peter II made his escape in this aircraft, a Savoia Marchetti S79K “White 12” of 7 Puk JKRV, to Paramythia, Greece, on April 14, 1941.

Six Bristol Blenheim light bombers attacked advancing German troops. Hurricane fighter escorts did not support this attack against the Wehrmacht. The formation was led by Squadron Leader Anthony Irvine, the commanding officer.

The Bristol Blenheim light bombers approached Lake Prespa at the nexus of the borders of Yugoslavia, Greece, and Italian-occupied Albania. They were intercepted by three Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf109E fighter planes of 6/JG27 based at Gazala in Libya. The German fighter planes shot down all 6 RAF Bristol Blenheim aircraft in less than 4 minutes. Coote was killed in this attack. Only two of the 18 RAF airmen survived.

Prince Regent Paul followed a pro-German and pro-Italian foreign policy which enabled him to purchase state-of-the-art German and Italian aircraft for the Yugoslav Air Force. Yugoslavia had purchased 40 Savoia-Marchetti bombers from Italy. Yugoslavia also had the state-of-the-art German Messerschmitt Bf 109E-3a fighters in its air fleet. Yugoslavia had also purchased 69 Dornier Do 17K light bombers from Germany in the late 1930s which were outfitted and customized in Yugoslavia. The Dornier Do 17 had been superceded by the Junkers Ju 88 in the Luftwaffe fleet, but remained a core light bomber in the Yugoslav fleet. The Luftwaffe had destroyed 26 of the Yugoslav Dornier Do 17 aircraft on the ground in Yugoslavia during the initial attacks. The remaining Yugoslav Dornier Do 17 aircraft attacked German and Bulgarian forces. By the end of the invasion, the total number of Yugoslav Dornier Do 17 aircraft lost was 4 destroyed in air battles and 45 destroyed on the ground.

On the left is Yugoslav pilot Dusan Milojevic of the Royalist Yugoslav Air Force. On the right is a British airmen of the RAF 211 Squandron at Paramythia on April 14, 1941.

On the left is Yugoslav pilot Dusan Milojevic of the Royalist Yugoslav Air Force. On the right is a British airmen of the RAF 211 Squandron at Paramythia on April 14, 1941.

On April 14-15, the seven remaining Do 17K flew to Niksic airfield in Montenegro and took part in the evacuation of King Petar II and members of the Yugoslav government to Greece. During this operation, Yugoslav gold reserves were also transported to Greece by the seven Dornier Do 17 bombers, as well as by SM-79K and Lockheed 10 Electra aircraft. Italian attack aircraft destroyed five Yugoslav Dornier Do 17K light bombers on the ground when they bombed the Paramythia airfield. Only two Dornier Do 17Ks escaped destruction in Greece and later joined the RAF in Egypt.

British troops examine a Royalist Yugoslav Air Force Dornier Do 17K light bomber, 3363, at the British air base at Paramythia, Greece. April 14, 1941.

British troops examine a Royalist Yugoslav Air Force Dornier Do 17K light bomber, 3363, at the British air base at Paramythia, Greece. April 14, 1941.

Peter’s escape route took him from Niksic, Montenegro in Yugoslavia to the British air base in Paramythia, Greece, then to Athens, then to Alexandria, Egypt, then to Jerusalem in British Mandate Palestine, finally to the British base in Cairo, Egypt. From Cairo he went to the UK, arriving on June 21, 1941. He had escaped Hitler. He would spend the remainder of the war as the leader of the Yugoslav Government-In-Exile based in London.

Liberators Over the Balkans: The Yugoslav Airmen


October 6, 1943, Bolling Field, Washington, DC. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Yugoslav Ambassador to the U.S. Constantin Fotich watch as four Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers are presented to 40 Yugoslavian airmen.

In June, 1942, King Peter II of Yugoslavia began an official state visit to the United States to seek military and humanitarian aid for the Yugoslav guerrillas led by Draza Mihailovich. In Washington, DC, Peter spoke before the U.S. House of Representatives and attended a dinner at the White House as a guest of the President. As part of the negotiations then and subsequently, President Franklin D. Roosevelt pledged to give four Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers to the exiled Yugoslav Government to help the Chetnik resistance forces in German-occupied Yugoslavia.


“King Peter of Yugoslavia (left) on rostrum with Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, as he addressed House of Representatives this PM.” Acme Newspictures, Inc./Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives, Photography Collection.

Forty Yugoslav airmen would fly combat missions as a Yugoslav detachment as part of the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II.

The story of the Yugoslav airmen who flew with the U.S. Army Air Force began in April, 1941. When Yugoslavia surrendered to Germany, there was a group of Yugoslav pilots who managed to escape capture. The Royalist Yugoslav Air Force fleet consisted of British-made Blenheim aircraft, Italian-made Savoia-Marchetti medium bombers, the German-made Dornier Do 17 light bpmber, and the U.S.-made commercial Lockheed 10 models. Peter and his staff escaped from Yugoslavia aboard a Savoia-Marchetti which was flown to a Britsh base in Paramythia in northwestern Greece on April 14, 1941. From here, the airmen were able to fly King Peter II and the members of the cabinet to Cairo, Egypt after German forces seized Belgrade.

Four Savoia Marchetti aircraft escaped by flying to airfields in Ukraine and the Black Sea in the Soviet Union. The Yugoslav Royal Government had a pact of friendship and alliance with the USSR. Joseph Stalin had signed the agreement in Moscow just days before the German invasion. A crew of 23 Yugoslav men were taken to Moscow where they remained in limbo for four months. A Yugoslav Government-In-Exile had been established in London. Stafford Cripps, the British Ambassador to the USSR, was able to secure their transfer to British forces in August, 1941. The total number of exiled Yugoslav airmen of approximately 300 men joined the Britsh Royal Air Force in the Middle East. Cairo, Egypt was a major British base. Moreover, King Peter and his cabinet transferred the headquarters of the Yugoslav Government-In-Exile from London to Cairo on September 28, 1943, only months before the arrival of the airmen.


A total of 40 exiled Yugoslav airmen stationed in Egypt were chosen to fly the four Liberator bombs as part of the U.S. Air Force, 26 officers and 14 enlisted men, consisting of former Yugoslav Royal Air Force pilots, navigators, and mechanics.

They were brought for training to military bases in the United States in November, 1942. Their military training began in December at the gunnery school at the base east of Ft. Myers in Florida. They were then sent to training bases in Salinas, California. They finished their training in August, 1943 at the Blythe base also in California.


Fotich wanted the airmen to fly as a separate Yugoslav unit. Instead, they were supposed to receive commissions and be incorporated into the U.S. Army Air Force. Fotich worked to have this changed. On June 28, 1943, he contacted the Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles. On July 28, he contacted Assistant Secretary Adolf Berle. Fotich filed a memorandum on August 3 and called on Welles on August 11 and contacted the State Department on August 14. The issue was eventually discussed by President Roosevelt, Bill Donovan of OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, General Henry H. Arnold, Commanding General, U.S. Army Air Forces, General George C. Marshall, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, and Admiral William D. Leahy, the Chief of Staff to the President. Donovan was able to convince them to create a separate Yugoslav detachment.

On September 7, the Yugoslav Ambassador called on Roosevelt and asked him to make the presentation of the four Liberators “personally, with an appropriate ceremony, instead of sending the Yugoslav airmen in a routine way to their new assignment.” FDR was “very interested” as was Harry Hopkins.


The presentation ceremony was held at Bolling Field, Washington D.C., on October 6, 1943. President Roosevelt and Ambassador Fotich were in attendance. The four Liberator bombers were lined up in the background with the airmen standing at attention in rows. Both President Roosevelt and Fotich spoke at the ceremony using stand-up microphones.


President Roosevelt watched from his automobile as the four-engined Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers were dedicated and turned over to the first Yugoslav combat unit in the U.S. Army Air Forces. Constantin Fotich sopke at a microphone positioned near the hood of the car on the far left. U.S. Army Major General Barney M. Giles, Chief of Staff, Army Air Forces, also spoke at the ceremony. Major Milivoje Misovic or Mishovich was in the front of the assembled Yugoslav airmen. Because of his polio, Roosevelt was only able to move around in a wheelchair or with crutches. He spoke from his Packard Twelve convertible limousine which had the top down using a microphone which had been placed beside the car.


“Mr. Ambassador, General Giles, members of the first Yugoslav air force trained in this country:

I am very happy to take part in this most interesting ceremony. I am happy also that you gentlemen are going to wear as members of the Yugoslav air force the wings of the United States air force.

May these planes fulfill their mission under your guidance. They are built with two great objectives. The first is to drop bombs on our common enemy successfully and at the right points. The second is to deliver to your compatriots in Yugoslavia the much-needed supplies for which they have waited for so long — food, medicine — yes, arms and ammunition.

And so you fare forth on one of the greatest odysseys of this war. I count on you to bear yourselves well. And I am sure you will have every success in this great mission that you are undertaking. Remember always that we are comrades in arms.”

General Barney M. Giles pinned wings on the airmen and spoke at the ceremony: “They will fly from airdromes in North Africa and from our newly-won bases in Italy which adjoin their homeland. They will drop supplies to their fighting countrymen and engage in combat in their native skies. … [T]hey symbolize Yugoslavia’s determination to continue the fight until victory has been achieved.” He commended their commander, Major Milivoje Mishovich. Mishovich and the Yugoslav pilots were given U.S. Army Air Force wings.

In his speech to the Yugoslav airmen which he had cleared by the U.S. State Department, Fotich told them that “they would have the privilege of carrying supplies to Mihailovich and his courageous fighters.” By this time, Allied support for Draza Mihailovich was waning. The British Government was putting increasing pressure on the U.S. to abandon Mihailovich. Fotich’s statement of support for Mihailovich was, however, allowed to stand.


The four bombers were assigned to the 376th Bombardment Group based in the Middle East. The day after the ceremony, they flew out to the Middle Eastern Theater of Comabt.

The 1945 Gavrilo Princip Plaque


In 1945, flush with victory, the Communist Partisans led by Josip Broz Tito put up a memorial plaque to Gavrilo Princip on the same spot where the 1930 and the 1916 plaques stood, on the facade of the former Moritz Schiller delicatessen where the assassination occurred. This plaque was replaced by the 1953 plaque which was a panel of the wall at street level.

This plaque had a Communist Partisan red star or crvena zvezda or petokraka on top. In other respects, it was a replica of the 1930 plaque.

Like the 1930 plaque, this one was also dedicated to Gavrilo Princip. It was in Serbian Cyrillic. The immediate goal was to restore the memorial to Gavrilo Princip which German occupation forces had removed in 1941. That had been the 1930 plaque which volksdeutsche had taken down after German troops occupied Sarajevo. That plaque had been presented to Adolf Hitler who ordered that it be placed in the Zeughaus or German Military Armory in Berlin where it remained during the war. That plaque was presumed destroyed and irrecoverable. The 1945 plaque was its replacement.

This plaque read: “The youth of Bosnia and Hercegovina dedicate this plaque as a symbol of eternal gratitude to Gavrilo Princip and his comrades, to fighters against the Germanic conquerors.” The date on the plaque read May 7, 1945

This was the inscription on the 1945 plaque in the original Serbo-Croat: “U znak vjecite zahvalnosti Gavrilu Principu i njegovim drugovima borcima protiv Germanskih osvajacaposvecuje ovu plocu omladina Bosne i Hercegovine. Sarajevo 7. maja 1945. godine.”


There were ceremonies when the plaque went up and the event was covered by the Sarajevo newspaper Oslobodjenje. As an official Party newspaper of the new Communist or Partisan regime, the newspaper presented Gavrilo Princip as a founder and precursor of the brotherhood and unity movement, bratstvo i jedinstvo, which guided the Communist or Partisan cause. Gavrilo Princip became a central figure for the Partisan movement. The unveiling of the new memorial was sponsored by the First Youth Congress.

The official unveiling of the new memorial took place on May 7, 1945 at 4:00PM in the afternoon. The ceremony was held at the Park of the Emperor Dusan. It had been known as At Mejdan and had been a horse track located on the left bank of the Miljacka River, between Cumurija Bridge and the Latin Bridge, then known as Principov most, Princip’s Bridge. The park was across the river from the former Moritz Schiller delicatessen where the assassination had occurred. “At Mejdan” is Turkish for “horse square”. It had been renamed the Park of Emperor Dusan. Oslobodjenje characterized Gavrilo Princip as “the great national hero and martyr, fighter for freedom and brotherhood of all peoples of Yugoslavia”.


There was a large crowd of youth with flags and banners who portrayed Gavrilo Princip as a role model and example to the Partisan guerrillas who had fought the German occupation since 1941: “They had deservingly followed ideals of our young hero, Gavrilo Princip, and members of the organization Mlada Bosna.”

The highest level Partisan and Communist leaders of Bosnia attended the unveiling. Those present included Vojislav Kecmanovic, President of the National Assembly of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Rodoljub Colakovic, the Vice President of the Peoples’ Government of Bosnia and Hercegovina, members of the National Assembly, representatives of the USAOBiH, or United Alliance of Antifascist Youth of Bosnia-Hercegovina, and Communist youth groups from Greece and Bulgaria.

The first speaker was Braco Kosovac. Then Dragoslav Ljubibratic spoke. He had known and worked with Gavrilo Princip and had himself been a member of the revolutionary organization Young Bosnia, Mlada Bosna. He would write biographies of Gavrilo Princip and Vladimir Gacinovic. He emphazied the crucial role that the radicalized and revolutionary youth movements of Bosnia had played and noted that Gavrilo Princip was inspired and motivated by the ideas of brotherhood and unity of all the peoples of Bosnia and Hercegovina and the unity of all Yugoslavs. He concluded by declaring that the Partisans had achieved the goal in 1945 which Gavrilo Princip had sought in 1914: “By his ideas, Gavrilo Princip belongs to the young generation of today, which has finally and completely realized the same aspirations Gavrilo Princip initiated in his time.”

Bosnian Serb Cvijetin “Majo” Mijatovic spoke to the gathering. He was the Organisational Secretary of the Communist League of Bosnia and Hercegovina after the war and would be the 3rd President of the Presidency of Yugoslavia in 1980-1981. The next speaker was a Croat, Mile Cacic, followed by a Bosnian Muslim, Nadja Biser. This was meant to show that Gavrilo Princip was a national hero and role model not only for Serbs, but for Croats and Bosnian Muslims as well.

After the ceremony, those gathered walked in a long line to the place of the assassination at the bridge renamed Principov most, or Princip’s Bridge. They declared: “Glory to the undead national hero Gavrilo Princip and his comrades!'”

The Sarajevo newspaper Oslobodjenje saw the Communist Partisan victory in 1945 and the erection of the new plaque as a culmination of the assassination by Gavrilo Princip, who was perceived as a national hero and martyr: “The Gavrilo Princip memorial plaque, removed by the hated occupier in the first days of the occupation, was replaced by a new memorial plaque in the same place. It was unveiled by comrade Borko Vukobrat, a youth from Bosansko Grahovo, with the words: ‘I am proud and greatly honored as a countryman of Gavrilo Princip to have this opportunity to unveil this memorial plaque to his name at this first day of the First Youth Congress of Bosnia and Hercegovina. Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated Ferdinand, was only the first in a line of many national heroes. Gavrilo Princip showed heroism when he leapt at the car with gun in hand. Grahovo also gave birth to new heroes of today, who leapt at the tanks in the same way. On their arrival to Sarajevo, the Schwabe gangs removed the memorial plaque to Gavrilo Princip. But those heroes, inspired by ideas of Gavrilo Princip and his comrades from Young Bosnia, fought and struggled once again to liberate our dear city of Sarajevo and all of our homeland. The ideas for which Gavrilo Princip fought, became reality, and today we are again unveiling this memorial plaque to Gavrilo Princip and other heroes. May there be eternal glory and thanks to the national hero Gavrilo Princip’.”

Gavrilo Princip’s “dream” and vision were not fulfilled by the royalist Yugoslav government that emerged in 1918, according to the Communist view. It was only realized by the Partisans and “Tito’s Army” in 1945.

Oslobodjenje also enunciated how Gavrilo Princip would be perceived in Communist Yugoslavia and how the assassination would be viewed: “On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip killed the nephew of Emperor Franz Joseph, the heir to the throne Ferdinand and his wife, announcing the uncompromising fight of the people of Bosnia and Hercegovina against the Austro-Hungarian conquerors. The vindictive shot fired on the bank of the Miljacka River spoke of inextinguishable hatred toward the foreign power and love for the enslaved homeland borne in the hearts of the progressive Bosnian-Hercegovinian youth. The heroic accomplishment of Gavrilo Princip inspired hundreds and thousands of young sons of Bosnia and Hercegovina to join the liberation war against fascist conquerors and their servants to fight for a better future and for a happier, brotherly Bosnia and Hercegovina like the one Gavrilo Princip had also wanted, and for which he gave his life.”

Gavrilo Princip was perceived and enshrined as the founder of brotherhood and unity, bratstvo i jedinstvo, becoming a national hero and unifying symbol of Communist Yugoslavia. The 1945 plaque was the physical manifestation of this fact. In 1953, a new Communist plaque embedded in the wall of the building would replace it with the same message. The image and perception created by the Communist Partisan movement would last from 1945 until 1992 when it would suffer the same fate as the 1916 and 1930 plaques. It would be removed and disappear from history without a trace.

Ante Pavelic’s Mercedes


Adolf Hitler gave Ante Pavelic a Mercedes Benz limousine in 1942 as a present for the Croatian contribution to the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa. The NDH contributed ground troops as well as naval troops and pilots. Croatian Ustasha troops fought fanatically on the Eastern Front. The Germans rewarded them with Iron Cross awards. They were picked to participate in the battle for Stalingrad, arguably the most important battle of World War II. Ante Pavelic emerged as one of Hitler’s most committed allies and fervent supporters. Hitler returned this dedication to the Poglavnik.

Adolf Hitler’s gift to Ante Pavelic was for the courage and honor of Croatian and Bosnian Muslim troops fighting in Russia during Operation Barbarossa. Croatian and Bosnian Muslim troops distinguished themselves at Stalingrad. The car was a Mercedes Benz 770K four door convertible model similar to Adolf Hitler’s own 770K.

There was a Croatian newsreel that documented the delivery of the Mercedes from Berlin to Zagreb.


Ante Pavelic was shown giving the “Heil Hitler!” salute in Zagreb as he received delivery of his Mercedes Benz 770K. The camera zoomed in on the front of Ante Pavelic’s Mercedes Benz 770K in the square in downtown Zagreb. The Daimler Star on the grille of Ante Pavelic’s Mercedes Benz 770K was also highlighted in a close-up shot.


The Mercedes Benz 770K model was also owned by Adolf Hitler, Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering, SD chief Reinhard Heydrich, Finnish Marshal Gustav Mannerheim, and Vidkun Quisling.

Ante Pavelic was shown inspecting his Mercedes Benz 770K with a German Nazi swastika flag and an NDH flag on a building in the background. Siegfried Kasche, Slavko Kvaternik, and Mladen Lorkovic were also in attendance.

Ante Pavelic was shown with Siegfried Kasche as he leaves the building to inspect the car.


There was also a German newsreel in 1943 which showed Ante Pavelic standing in the back seat of the car with the top down during a parade in Zagreb. Ante Pavelic gives a facist/Nazi salute as the car passes cheering crowds.

Ante Pavelic’s Mercedes Benz 770K can be seen in a color photo at the reception of a foreign high delegation on the Borongaj military airfield in Zagreb. The Poglavnik’s car is in front with his personal standard, a red checkerboard flag, attached on the right fender. The front license plate reads “NDH – Zagreb”.


The 770 was first produced in 1930. The car was redesigned in 1938 as the W150. The chassis was reconfigured consisting of oval section tubes. It was suspended from coil springs with front independent suspension and a rear de Dion axle.

The engine retained the structure of the superceded W07. It produced 155 brake horsepower (116 kW) at 3000 rpm and 230 brake horsepower (170 kW) at 3200 rpm. The transmission had five forward ratios with a direct fourth gear and an overdrive fifth.

The 770 model was considered the most expensive German passenger car by 1938 although no price was listed, the price being offered as “’auf Anfrage” or “by request”.


The car was a favorite of Adolf Hitler’s. Hitler used the 770 model, known as the Grosser Mercedes, the Large Mercedes, in parades. The car had Hitler’s personal standard on the right fender, a Nazi swastika flag. Ante Pavelic modeled his car on Adolf Hitler’s limo. Like Hitler, Ante Pavelic’s personal standard was attached to his Mercedes Benz 770K. It consisted of a checkerboard flag with white and red squares with the letter “U” in the top, left hand corner.


The NDH had at least two 770K limousines. In the 1943 German newsreel of the parade, Pavelic’s 770K follows another 770K at the front of the parade. From the photographic evidence, Pavelic is seen in the car that Adolf Hitler gave him and in another 770K.


PavelicBenzmosque2Like Hitler, Pavelic used his car for parades and public appearances. He was photographed in what appears to be the Mercedes Benz 770K he received from Adolf Hitler with the top down at the mosque in downtown Zagreb that he constructed for the Muslim community of the NDH. The minarets that the NDH constructed can be seen on the left and in the center.


Production of the car ended in 1943. By that time, 88 W150 series cars had been produced. The last cars were delivered in March, 1944.The whereabouts of the car after World War II are not known. There were reports that it was placed in the Technical Museum in Ljubljana, Slovenia in 1987. There was a request made by the Croatian Ministry of Culture in 2008 that the car be returned to Zagreb. Subsequently, no information has emerged on the location or even the existence of the car.

Disputed Legacy: The Destruction of the 1953 Gavrilo Princip Plaque


A Bosnian Muslim soldier and a civilian walk past the destroyed 1953 Gavrilo Princip plaque in Sarajevo during the 1992-1995 Bosnian civil war.

In 1992, at the start of the civil war in Bosnia, one of the earliest objects targeted for destruction was the 1953 Communist Yugoslavia era monument to Gavrilo Princip. Bosnian Muslim forces under the Alija Izetbegovic regime demolished the memorial. Based on photographic evidence, the plaque was destroyed purposely and intentionally. Bosnian Muslim forces targeted for destruction all traces of Serbian culture or history in Sarajevo. The footprints memorial was also removed from the sidewalk in front of the plaque and is presumed destroyed as well. Bosnian Muslims ransacked the museum and destroyed all the contents. There are conflicting reports about whether the footprints were destroyed or not. In one account, the footprints were removed and placed in the museum from where they were stolen. A copy or replica is in the renamed Sarajevo Museum: 1878-1918 dedicated to the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg period according to Fran Markowitz in Sarajevo: A Bosnian Kaleidoscope (Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2010, p. 45). In other accounts, the footprints were destroyed outright when the plaque was demolished during the civil war. In some accounts, they were destroyed by Bosnian Muslim forces, in other accounts, due to Bosnian Serb shelling.

The photographic evidence shows that the 1953 plaque was deliberately and meticulously removed from the museum wall by Bosnian Muslim forces. The plaque was shattered into fragments. This occurred at the start of the civil war in 1992 when all symbols of the Yugoslav or Serbian past were chosen for destruction and elimination by the Bosnian Muslim faction. The photographs reveal that the footprints were removed. In one photograph, there is a gap in the sidewalk where the footprints concrete slab once stood. There is no trace of the footprints. Where they once stood there is a gaping hole with overgrown green foliage. Both the plaque and the footprints were eliminated from the historic site. There is no trace of them.


The first version of the 1953 plaque with the words “tiranije” and “naroda” hyphenated on four wall panels, which was replaced circa 1987 with a new, second version.

Although the plaque was constructed by the Yugoslav Communist regime, the writing was in Serbian Cyrillic. The building was known as the Museum of Young Bosnia or Muzej Mlade Bosne, or as The Museum of the Assassination. The footprints were an artistic creation by a Bosnian Serb artist who sought to memorialize the event. From the Bosnian Muslim perspective: The plaque was a Serbian symbol, regardless of its Communist or Tito regime origins. It was in Serbian Cyrillic. How were Bosnian Muslims and Croats supposed to read it? Their writing was in the Latin script. It is clear and incontrovertible from the color photograph that the plaque was deliberately and knowingly destroyed by Bosnian Muslim forces. There is no bomb damage on that side of the wall. Only the plaque was damaged. Bosnian Muslim Government forces maliciously and willfully demolished the plaque. This has not received any coverage in the mainstream media in the U.S. or internationally because it exposes the ultra-nationalist animus and enmity of the Bosnian Muslim faction. They were not always victims but victimized others. They were fighting not for multiculturalism and tolerance, but for a narrow and exclusive Bosnian Muslim or Bosniak state.


The first version of the 1953 plaque which was replaced circa 1987 with a new version with a white background on a single panel.

The destruction of the 1953 monument was largely suppressed and covered up or even falsified in the U.S. and the mainstream Western press and even in historical accounts. A certain portion can be ascribed to lack of knowledge and unavailable facts. There was also a conscious and systematic goal to implicate the Bosnian Serb faction in the destruction of the plaque and of the footprints. Tony Fabijancic in Bosnia: In the Footsteps of Gavrilo Princip (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: University of Alberta Press, 2010, p. 158) claimed that the footprints had been destroyed by Bosnian Serb shelling. He did note, however, that the Mlada Bosna or Young Bosnia bas-relief of figures and the name itself in Serbian Cyrillic letters were removed by the Bosnian Muslim government officials. Greg King and Sue Woolmans in The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013, Epilogue, p. 277) noted that the plaque was “sandblasted” by Bosnian Muslim forces


Richard Holbrooke commented on the 1953 Gavrilo Princip plaque in To End a War (New York: Modern Library, 1999): “When I reached the war-torn city [Sarajevo], I ran into John Burns, the great war correspondent of the New York Times, and asked if he could take me to Princip’s footprints in the pavement. Impossible, he said with a laugh: they had been destroyed by the Bosnian Muslims. But the spirit behind their inscription had been revived — murderously so.” John Burns placed the blame for the destruction of the footprints on the Bosnian Muslim forces. The plaque was also undoubtedly and unquestionably destroyed by Bosnian Muslim Government forces.

Richard Holbrooke confused the 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque with the 1953 Communist one in his book. He also failed to distinguish that one plaque was erected by a monarchist regime while the second was erected by a Communist or Socialist regime. They were two different plaques by two different and completely opposite regimes or governments politically.


A copy or replica of the footprints in the Sarajevo 1878-1914 Museum in a 2014 photo by Midhat Poturovic. RFE/RL.

The footprints were designed by local artist Vojo Dimitrijevic. Gavrilo Princip’s footprints were removed in 1992 by Bosnian Muslim forces. The trail becomes murky at this point. In one account, the original footprints were stolen from the Mlada Bosna Museum after being placed there. A copy was made. The copy was returned to the site in the late 1990s. They were then removed a second time and put inside the Sarajevo museum. There were plans by the Bosnian Muslim Government to return the footprints to the site in 2003. But the replica footprints remain inside the museum. The original footprints were set in the sidewalk in 1951, two years before the memorial went up. Needless to say, these are not Gavrilo Princip’s actual footprints nor are they intended to be but are meant to be a memorial to the assassination created during the Communist Yugoslavia or Josip Broz Tito era reflecting the Communist Yugoslavia image of Gavrilo Princip as a “national hero” of Yugoslavia. It is an artistic conception of the event.


Sarajevo-born artist Vojo Dimitrijevic constructed the Gavrilo Princip footprints memorial in 1951/1952. Three factors that explain why the Bosnian Muslim government wanted to preserve the footprints memorial: First, they were an artistic work. Second, the work was created by a recognized Bosnian artist. Third, there was no writing in Serbian Cyrillic letters associated with them.

Principplaque1953The 1953 Gavrilo Princip plaque and the footprints memorial in 1960 at the height of the Communist Yugoslavia Josip Broz Tito era.

The new 1953 plaque had been erected in 1953 by the Communist Yugoslav government during the Josip Broz Tito regime era as a memorial to Gavrilo Princip. It consisted of red lettering on a white side panel of the wall of the then newly constructed Young Bosnia or Mlada Bosna Museum which had formerly been the Moritz Schiller delicatessen at the time of the assassination. It had replaced the 1945 plaque put in the same location as the 1930 plaque. The 1945 plaque had a Communist Partisan red star or crvena zvezda above it which sought to encapsulate and to vindicate the Partisan victory. The memorial represented or symbolized the Communist Josip Broz Tito government’s consensus on Gavrilo Princip, regarded as a Yugoslav nationalist, proto-Communist revolutionary.

Ambiguity, however, existed because he was born an Orthodox Serb. The Tito regime portrayed him as a “Yugoslav”, someone who worked for the unification of all Slavs. This view of Princip was supported by his statements at his trial and those made in 1916 to Martin Pappenheim. But another interpretation was possible. Non-Serbs perceived him as a Serbian nationalist who sought the unification of all territory settled by Serbs.

The Communist consensus was fragile. It represented a precarious balance. But it was a balancing act which the Tito regime pulled off successfully.

The 1953 plaque or memorial reflected the Brotherhood and Unity credo of the Tito regime, bratstvo i jedinstvo, the Yugoslav idea which Tito espoused and which was embodied in the Partisan Movement of World War II. Communist Partisans saw the Mlada Bosna Movement, made up of Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims, as a precursor to their own movement.

The original 1953 plaque was replaced with a new one in the late 1980s, circa 1987. The words “tiranije” are “naroda” hyphenated. The plaque was on four wall panels. This plaque stood for 35 years as a showpiece of Communist Yugoslavia. A new version which replaced it stood for about 5 years until it was destroyed in 1992 by Bosnian Muslim forces. This new plaque had a white background and had different letter spacing. The words “tiranije” and “naroda” are single words in the new plaque, unhyphenated. The new plaque was on a single wall panel.



The second version of the 1953 plaque which was erected circa 1987 on a white background with unhyphenated words on a single wall panel.

The plaque, in Serbian Cyrillic with red lettering, read: “From this place on June 28, 1914 Gavrilo Princip with his shooting expressed the protest of the people against tyranny and the centuries-long aspirations of our people for freedom.” “Sa ovoga mjesta 28 Juna 1914 godine Gavrilo Princip svojim pucnjem izrazi narodni protest protiv tiranije i vjekovnu težnju naših naroda za slobodom.” This was the Josip Broz Tito or Communist Partisan interpretation of the assassination and Princip’s role in it. Remarkably, it was not much different from the Serbian monarchist Karadjordjevic plaque erected in 1930. Gavrilo Princip was portrayed as a proto-Communist or proto-Partisan anti-imperialist revolutionary in the 1953 plaque fighting for national self-determination and the liberation of all the people of the former Yugoslavia. Most conspicuously, the 1953 plaque deleted or omitted any reference to Vidov Dan which was central to the 1930 Karadjordjevic monarchist plaque. Vidov Dan had religious and Serbian nationalist connotations which the Communist regime opposed. The Serbian monarchist plaque extolled Princip as bringing “freedom” by assassinating the Archduke and Duchess. The Tito plaque was couched in more Communistic terminology, but the conclusion was the same. Princip was a Communist “national hero” of Yugoslavia. The Serbian Orthodox Church had also elevated the assassin Princip to hero status. Paradoxically, the atheistic Communist government of Josip Broz Tito and the Serbian monarchist Karadjordjevic government as well as the Serbian Orthodox Church perceived and characterized Gavrilo Princip and the assassination in almost identical terms. All used Gavrilo Princip to legitimize their rule and their history.

The assassination was perceived by the Communists as a “protest” against the occupation of Bosnia by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Gavrilo Princip’s motives and goals were characterized as those of a patriotic nationalist who sought to free the South Slavs from a foreign oppressor or from an illegal occupation.

History is a picture or conception we agree on. It is a perception, judgment, or assessment that there is a consensus on.  Not everyone agrees with it but enough believe or acquiesce in it that it becomes the official, dominant, or the generally accepted paradigm, the accepted or conventional wisdom.

That consensus can change. Not everyone sees an event in history the same way. How we remember or perceive the event is determined or dictated by the uses we make of it.

With the collapse of Yugoslavia and of the Yugoslav idea, the assessment or perception of Gavrilo Princip’s role or place in history changed.

For Serbs, he retained his significance as seeking the end of the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia. For non-Serbs, however, his role was now perceived differently. He was seen in negative terms. His role was now contrary to the national aspirations of non-Serbs who wanted to establish their own nations and states. The Yugoslav idea, which the 1953 memorial represented, was, thus, antithetical to that objective.

Very simply, for Bosnian Muslims and Croats, Gavrilo Princip had no use. He represented the Yugoslav idea, the unification of all South Slavs. In 1992, that idea was dead on arrival. It died with Communism and with Yugoslavia. With that Yugoslavism patina removed, he was exposed as a Serb. As such, any traces of Princip had to disappear. That is why Bosnian Muslim troops demolished the 1953 plaque in 1992. That is why Croatian Army troops burned down Gavrilo Princip’s house in the Grahovo Valley in 1995 during Operation Storm.


Gavrilo Princip’s role has changed from “national hero” of Yugoslavia to “national hero” of Serbia. Statues are erected to him in Republika Srpska and in Serbia. But he is no longer a “national hero” to non-Serbs. The destruction of the 1953 plaque is the physical manifestation of this fact.