So much has been written about the Messerschmitt Bf 109, a true epitome of German aircraft engineering, yet very little about its role on one particular battlefield, a side show to major operation theatres, but nonetheless one of the bloodiest and most atrocious of the Second World War.
The Bf 109 roamed the Yugoslav skies for fourteen years in the hands of Yugoslav, German, Italian, Hungarian, Romanian and Bulgarian pilots. A study of its service and the men who flew it and fought in and against it was on our mind for decades. Our intention was to tell the whole Yugoslav Bf 109 story in a single book, but this confronted us with organizational and logistical challenges which we couldn’t cope with. To keep the momentum, we decided to divide it into two volumes. The first one is here. Work on the second is progressing well and it will cover the training and operations of the Croat Air Force Legion on the Eastern Front, the Air Force of the Independent State of Croatia, Bulgarian Gustavs over Serbia and Macedonia, both with and against the Germans, those of ad-hoc Partisan units with captured machines, and finally the post-war service of the Bf 109 in the Yugoslav Air Force.
Another dilemma we faced was what territory our story should cover. Before the war, Istria, town of Zadar and a number of Adriatic islands were part of Italy. After the invasion in April 1941 the Yugoslav Kingdom disappeared from the political map, its carcass lacerated by the Axis beast. The Partisan army, which grew to more than 800,000 combatants in 1945 had enough credibility and strength to conquer and hold some territorial gains. Eventually, as the second volume will cover, among other themes, the service of the Bf 109 in the post-war Yugoslav Federation, we decided to take its borders as the frame of action.
One of the greatest challenges encountered in this volume was the question of balance of sources for the two main parties described: the Royal Yugoslav Air Force and the Luftwaffe. In the Yugoslav case, so little remains in the form of official documents. And when some fragments dealing with the peace period could be found, there was almost nothing from the time of war. Only a portion of air combat claims could be considered officially documented – those submitted by successful pilots who escaped to the Middle East. No combat reports, unit diaries or official communiqués could be traced. Consequently, our main sources were written memoirs, testimonies and interviews with former Yugoslav airmen and these were often unreliable. Not only the claims attributed to those who failed to return, which in many cases seem to have been made up by their surviving comrades, as a sort of honor of their sacrifice, but also the claims of some of the survivors had to be scrutinized. Particular difficulties were caused by ideological, national and personal divisions of former colleagues after the war and blame games, which lead to deeds and merits of some men being contested or passed over, and others receiving undeserved tribute.
When it comes to the German part of the story, most of it is based on preserved documentation and published sources. These sources were also far from complete, especially for 1944 and even more for 1945. Adding to the problem, living far from Germany we had the chance to interview just a few of the former Luftwaffe aviators. That’s where our friends and colleagues came in with help, enabling us to reproduce their painstakingly collected materials.
Our work would never have been possible without the generous help of people from around the world who share the same passion as we do: Andrew Arthy from Australia, Harald Dorner, Martin Handig and Renato Schirer from Austria, Eric Mombeek and Jean-Louis Roba from Belgium, Jordan Andreev (+) and Manko Vasilev from Bulgaria, David Wadmann from Canada, Mario Raguž, Josip Novak, Danijel Frka, Lovro Peršen, Radomir Živanović, Željko Boček, Tomislav Aralica, Tomislav Haraminčić and Dragan Frlan from Croatia, Jan van den Heuvel from Holland, Antonio Inguscio, Roberto Gentilli and Giancarlo Garello from Italy, Eddie Creek and Samir Karabašić from United Kingdom, Gerhard Stemmer, Peter Petrick, Sven Carlsen, Jochen Prien, Ingo Möbius, Robert Fabry, Phillip Hilt and Christian Kirsch from Germany, György Punka, Csaba Stenge and Dénes Bernád from Hungary, Lucian Dobrovicescu from Romania, Čedomir Janić (+), Petar Bosnić (+), Vojislav Mikić (+), Zoran Miler (+), Šime Oštrić, Đorđe Nikolić, Aleksandar Kolo, Aleksandar Ognjević, Ognjan Petrović, Aleksandar Radić, Vuk Lončarević, Mario Hrelja, Dejan Vukmirović, Miodrag Savić and Aleksandar Stošović from Serbia, Marko Ličina, Marko Malec and Sašo Rebrica from Slovenia, and Russel Fahey, Mark O’Boyle, Craig Busby and Carl Molesworth from the United States. There are not enough words to describe our gratitude to them.
Sincere thanks are also extended to Barbara and Colin Huston for reviewing our English text.
We would especially like to thank the late Yugoslav, German and US aviators and their families, both those that we had the privilege to meet or contact in person as well as those known by our friends and colleagues, foremost Dušan Božović, Boris Cijan, Pavle Crnjanski, Mile Ćurgus, Milan Delić, Zlatko Dimčović, Stanislav Džodžović, Franc Godec, Milutin Grozdanović, Josip Helebrant, Aleksandar Janković, Vukadin Jelić, Bruno Južnić, Tomislav Kauzlarić, Đorđe Kešeljević, Božidar Kostić, Dragoslav Krstić, Otmar Lajh, Slavko Lampe, Kosta Lekić, Mihajlo Nikolić, Miloš Maksimović, Radenko Malešević, Ivan Masnec, Borivoje Marković, Borislav Milojević, Dobrivoje Milovanović, Dragoljub Milošević, Ivan Padovan, Milutin Petrov, Svetozar Petrović, Miladin Romić, Josip Rupčić, Milisav Semiz, Milan Skendžić, Albin Starc, Zlatko Stipčić, Đorđe Stojanović, Alojz Šeruga, Boško Šuković, Franjo Tudurić, Milisav Velikić, Nikola Vučković, Milan Žunjić, Miloš Žunjić, Ernst Georg Altnorthof, Hans-Ekkehard Bob, Hans Deuschle, Heino Emmerstorfer, Richard Hausmann, Armin Köhler, Emil Omert, Karl Rammelt, August Rohlfs, Georg Schirmböck, Günther Scholz, Walter Seiz, Günther Tschertner, Wilhelm Westhoff, Helmut Vogel, James Hare and Richard Munsen.
Finally, this work would not have been possible without the historical heritage that we managed to find in numerous institutions, foremost Vojni arhiv (Military Archive), Muzej vazduhoplovstva – Beograd (Belgrade Aviation Museum), Muzej ratnog vazduhoplovstva (Air Force Museum), Vojni muzej (Military Museum), Biblioteka grada Beograda (Belgrade City Library), Arhiv Srpske akademije nauka i umetnosti (Archive of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts) and Narodna biblioteka Srbije (Serbian National Library) in Serbia, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Austrian National Library) in Austria, Muzej novejše zgodovine (Museum of Contemporary History) in Slovenia, Bundesarchiv Militärarchiv (Federal Military Archive) in Germany, The National Archives of the United Kingdom, National Archives and Records Administration and Air Force Historical Research Agency in the United States, Archivo Centralle delo Stato in Italy, and Muzej revolucije naroda Hercegovine (Museum of the Revolution of the People of Herzegovina) in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The sources we had to hand often could not provide a clear and complete image of all that happened. We have tried to present as realistic a picture of the events as possible, without embellishment, distortion or hiding of facts, yet we cannot rule out that in some instances too much trust was given to some of the sources, whilst some facts might have been misinterpreted or even completely omitted. We are not claiming to present the ultimate historical truth and sincerely hope that this won’t be the last work on this subject, moreover it is intended to be a helpful asset for further research in this field. Accordingly, we look forward to any new data that could question some of the conclusions and assumptions presented on the pages that follow.
The 6 April this year will mark 75 years since the beginning of the invasion on what was once Yugoslavia. As the remaining survivors leave us incontinently at an alarming rate and the historic memory of the Second World War fades away, this is an attempt to preserve from oblivion a fragment of the remembrance of young men who tamed some of the best fighting machines in harsh times, the most tragic and horrid in the history of mankind. We hope that our effort won’t be in vain.
Belgrade, 20 January 2015
Boris Ciglić, Dragan Savić, Milan Micevski & Predrag Miladinović