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