When one of us interviewed a former Messerschmitt Bf 109 pilot in 1978, little could he have imagined that it would take four decades before the ‘Yugoslav’ part of the story about the iconic German fighter would be completed and presented to the public. Finally, we have done it.
Just as with the first volume, we encountered many difficulties, unknowns and dilemmas in our research.
When reconstructing the war record of the Croat Air Force Legion, it was not only the lack of documents – as in the time frame between early April and late July 1942 – and personal statements that presented the major problem, but rather our intention to compare these sources with those providing the Soviet side of the story. A small fragment of it was accessible in the form of digitalized documents through the ‘Pamyat naroda’ (Memory of the People), ‘Podvig naroda’ (Accomplishment of the People) and OBD Memorial web portals, as well as a few published sources. Although we failed to find comprehensive data for most engagements in the early period, our friends from Russia and Ukraine provided us with details, which shed a new light on activities of the Legionnaires on the Eastern Front.
Especially complicated was our effort to find modern names for locations mentioned in documents and interviews. Many small places have long vanished, others had their names changed, some were written in their German version and more than once there were several villages with exactly the same names. Archival sources are few when dealing with the short saga of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 in the Air Force of the Independent State of Croatia. For this reason, we had no option but to rely heavily on personal statements and interviews, made long after the events in question, and therefore less reliable.
The work on the Bulgarian fighter operations was helped by several excellent, recently published books, which combined with Bulgarian, Yugoslav, US and German archival finds, and helping hands of our associates from Bulgaria, Czechia and Germany, provided many, albeit still not all, of the answers we were looking for.
Finally, although some episodes from the early period could not be fully reconstructed, persistence in exploring various Serbian archives and assistance of the veterans enabled us to come out with a detailed history of the Bf 109 in service with Partisans and its post-war role in the air arm of the Yugoslav Socialist Federation.
Colleagues from around the world provided unselfish assistance and shared with us the wealth of their painstaking research: Eric Mombeek from Belgium; Yordan Andreev (+), Dimitar Nedialkov, Simeon Tsvetkov and Teodor Konstantinov from Bulgaria; Nenad Goll (+), Mario Raguž, Marko Jeras, Josip Novak, Danijel Frka, Siniša Pogačić, Robert Čopec, Amir Obhođaš, Lovro Peršen and Dragan Frlan from Croatia; Jaroslav Kreč and Martin Vyroubal from Czechia; Carl-Fredrik Geust from Finland; Michel Ledet from France; Gerhard Stemmer, Peter Petrick, Sven Carlsen and Zvonimir Freivogel from Germany; Ferdinando D’Amico (+) from Italy; Svetozar Jokanović from Montenegro; Andrey Kuznetsov, Sergey Feoktistov and Aleksandr Gartman from Russia; Čedomir Janić (+), Vojislav Mikić (+), Šime Oštrić, Ognjan Petrović, Aleksandar Radić, Predrag Miladinović, Aleksandar Kolo, Miodrag Ristić, Dragan Šaler, Mario Hrelja, Dragan Munižaba, Nebojša Simović, Dejan Vukmirović, Vuk Lončarević, Predrag Lažetić, Slobodan Bošković, Ljubiša Pavlović and Aleksandar Ognjević from Serbia; Mitja Maruško, Marko Ličina, Tomaž Perme, Sašo Knez and Marko Malec from Slovenia; Stefaan Bouwer and Tinus le Roux from South Africa; Ivan Lavrinenko from Ukraine; Eddie Creek and Samir Karabašić from the United Kingdom; Russell Fahey and Henry L. de Zeng from the United States. A huge thanks to all of them, as well as to David Isby from the United States who was kind enough to review our English text.
We would especially like to thank the former aviators, aircrew and their families, both those that we had the honour to meet or contact in person as well as those interviewed by our friends and colleagues: Albin Starc, Tomislav Kauzlarić, Josip Helebrant, Vladimir Ferenčina, Bogdan Vujičić, Vladimir Kreš, Zdenko Avdić, Ivan Baltić, Desimir Furtinović, Stjepan Radić, Ignacije Lucin, Zlatko Stipčić, Slavko Boškić, Nikola Vučina, Mato Dukovac, Franjo Džal, Janko Čurilović, Josip Jelačić, Ivan Mezdjić, Vladimir Bosner, Tihomir Simčič, Šerif Mehanović, Đuro Gredičak, Đuro Perak, Marjan Kokot,Dragutin Žauhar, Mihajlo Nikolić, Petar Obradović, Dušan Martinović, Radovan Daković, Nikola Kuprešanin, Nikola Milekić, Miloš Milikić, Slavko Lampe, Stanislav Džodžović, Dušan Prašnikar, Marko Flajs, Viktor Tomić, Ciril Rupert, Dobrivoj Petrovski, Teodor Bukovnik, Miladin Zečević, Branko Galić, Anđelko Košuta, Petar Novković, Zdravko Marušič, Stanko Bečejac, Stevan Krnjajić, Franc Rupnik, Slobodan Nikolić, Tomaš Samardžić, Branko Vujičić, Tomaž Baraga, Branko Kovačević, Janez Kavčič, Miloš Kondić, Živko Erdoglija and Albin Pibernik from the former Yugoslavia; Petar Bochev, Stoyan Stoyanov and Todor Rozev from Bulgaria; and Raymond Clark from New Zealand.
Last but not least, this work would not have been possible without documents and photographs obtained from numerous institutions around the world, foremost Military Archive (Vojni arhiv), Aviation Museum – Belgrade (Muzej vazduhoplovstva – Beograd), Air Force Museum (Muzej ratnog vazduhoplovstva) and Serbian National Library (Narodna biblioteka Srbije) in Serbia; Croatian State Archives (Hrvatski državni arhiv), Croatian History Museum (Hrvatski povijesni muzej) and Museum of Military and War History (Muzej vojne i ratne povijesti) in Croatia; Central Archives of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (Центральный архив Министерства обороны Российской Федерации) in Russia; State Military History Archives (Държавният военноисторически архив) in Bulgaria; Museum of Contemporary History (Muzej novejše zgodovine) in Slovenia; Federal military Archives (Bundesarchiv Militärarchiv) in Germany; The National Archives of the United Kingdom; National Archives and Records Administration and Air Force Historical Research Agency in the United States; and Muzej revolucije naroda Hercegovine (Museum of the Revolution of the People of Herzegovina) in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In the foreword of the first volume, we emphasized our intention to present as realistic a picture of the events as possible but also that, with sources available, some facts and events will unavoidably be misinterpreted or omitted. Back in 2002, two of us published a book covering some of the events described in this volume. When returning to the subject, after many years, we were surprised at the many corrections we had to make. New sources, not only provided clues about matters previously unknown, but also enabled us to better understand other sources and scrutinize them from a new perspective. As much as we tried to prevent it, we are aware that this will happen again. After all, the search for historical truth never ends. We eagerly await new evidence that would fill gaps and correct mistakes we might have made this time.
The Second World War was unfortunately not the final armed conflict experienced by Yugoslavia and its people. It influenced the decades to follow; its wounds proved too deep to heal. No lessons were learned and differences proved stronger than common values. Eventually the second joint state of the South Slavs disappeared in a destructive, sad way and with it, many secrets of its rich, colourful and unusual aviation history. By writing these two volumes, we hope that a small but important segment of this aviation history has been preserved, to serve as a reminder of the lives, deeds and sacrifices of the mostly gone generation, which once believed in a better tomorrow, just as we do today.
Belgrade, 30 August 2018
Boris Ciglić, Dragan Savić & Milan Micevski