My orders came through late in September.
Italy's forces had secretly surrendered to the Allies on September third—a surrender that was announced to the world five days later when our American landing near Naples had been completed. The guerrillas in the Balkans, Tito's Partisans in particular, were still disarming Italian garrisons.
I read the orders several times and each time with mounting excitement, for they marked the end of a long period of planning and conferring, they inaugurated a new phase in my work . . . action.
Since early in the year I had been responsible for the American part of certain combined British and American secret operations in the Balkans. Headquarters in Cairo had despatched Allied liaison officers, supplies and equipment by parachute to many points in Jugoslavia and Greece where the forces resisting the Axis were most active. I had personally selected and "briefed" American officers sent in for many of these operations and had planned their activities.
During most of this time I was the only American officer to see all correspondence between men in the field and the Headquarters to which they reported in Middle East—an ideal spot from which to study the unfolding events, and
throughout that time Tito's name, still little known to the public, loomed ever larger in despatches.
The new orders relieved me of my desk job and directed that I join my friends in the Balkans. I should get to see Tito now and find out for myself what explained the success of his fabulous troops. First, however, I was to proceed to southern Italy to see what could be done about establishing advanced bases there from which future operations in Jugoslavia could be launched and controlled.
For weeks we had been waiting to shift our bases to Italy. All our sorties were from North Africa and most of our work was done by air. Moving to new ports and airdromes just across the narrow Adriatic from our objectives would give us a terrific impetus.
Bombers based in southern Italy would carry to points in the interior of the Balkans four times as much parachute cargo in any given month as they could transport from bases across the Mediterranean in Africa.
One small wooden schooner sailing across the Adriatic would take more medical supplies and clothing and weapons and food to the besieged guerrillas in one night than fifty of the biggest bombers could ferry over in three weeks.
In September, as the war itself entered a new phase with the Russians shattering German forces in the Dnieper Bend and the Allies working their way north toward Rome, every effort to rush aid to the heroic defenders of the Balkans had to be accelerated to the limit if we were to get there in time. At the end of the month a particularly acute and threatening situation existed in Jugoslavia.
In July and August Tito had deployed his forces between the Germans in the interior and the Italians who garrisoned the Adriatic coast. When news of the armistice reached him
on September eighth he had rushed most of his troops to the sea and overwhelmed or obtained the surrender of virtually every garrison from Dubrovnik in the south to Susak (Fiume) in the north, and he had also succeeded in delaying German columns that attempted to fight their way through, thus acquiring control of virtually the entire coastal reach, including all the oudying islands.
How long would these intrepid Slavs be able to maintain their hold on this vital area which had now, in a sense, become the right flank of the Allied forces advancing in Italy?
By the end of the month one German column, driving south through Knin, had already fought its way to the sea and regained control of the key city of Split, which the Partisans had held for a fortnight. In those late September days no Allied vessel had yet made contact even with the islands off the Dalmatian coast. Indeed, no Allied vessel had yet conducted a reconnaissance of Jugoslav waters.
My first impulse was to rush to Italy, borrow a ship from somebody and hurry across to the other side of the Adriatic to see what could be done about opening sea-routes for Tito's supplies, but innumerable obstacles stood in the way.
First was the fact that the Adriatic itself was the boundary line between two separate theatres of war. At that time the North African Theatre of Operations under General Eisenhower included everything on the southern side of the Mediterranean as far east as Tripoli, all of Sicily and Italy and southern France. The Middle East Theatre included the entire Balkan peninsula as well as Egypt, Libya, Cyrenaica and, of course, the Middle East proper.
The line of demarcation was clearly drawn between these separate commands and no officer in one theatre crossed into the other without first obtaining permission. Lieutenant-
General Sir Maitland (Jumbo) Wilson was as definitely in command in the Balkans and the Middle East as General Eisenhower was in North Africa and Italy.
Wanting bases in southern Italy, the first thing to do was to obtain General Eisenhower's permission to put them in. His approval was necessary before we could even go to Italy on reconnaissance, and when we returned he or his officers would have to specifically approve every detail of our plans, sanction our requests paragraph by paragraph.
Meanwhile, the Allied Forces working their way north in Italy against very heavy opposition would be straining the facilities of the forward ports and airfields to the limit. It might be difficult for us to obtain docking facilities in the larger Adriatic ports, like Brindisi and Bari. There are few all-weather airdromes in southern Italy and it might be weeks before suitable airports could be made available for squadrons of heavy bombers whose operations would not contribute directly to the Italian campaign.
It was certain, too, that in Italy there would be a shortage of the type of supplies the Partisans needed. Such supplies were at least theoretically available in North Africa, but there would be a great shortage of transport to carry them across to Adriatic ports from which they could be run through in small boats to Tito. Even if we succeeded in having them brought over would we be able to dock them? store them? trans-ship them in the crowded harbors?
All these difficulties had to be overcome before we could get to the problem of the supply lines themselves, and when we did get to it there could be no question of boldly sending ships loaded with guns and ammunition across from Italy. The Luftwaffe would see to that! The Luftwaffe and the coast patrols. The job before us then would be a delicate gun-
running operation. We would have to use small ships, little wooden schooners and fishing boats, and slip them through the ever-changing mine-fields in the darkness, probably in spite of patrolling E-Boats, submarines and destroyers. . . .
Any and all these problems could be solved, presumably, but how long would it take? It might be weeks, even months, before the first shipload of supplies could be sent across. Would Tito be able to hold on until we got there?
Nevertheless, mine was a coveted assignment and officers who had been working with me in Cairo were green with envy. To a man they had been counting the days until they could abandon their responsibilities at Headquarters to some newcomer from Washington and join their friends in Jugoslavia, Albania or Greece.
"Who's going with you?" was the first question asked by every one of them.
Well, it was clear there would be jobs for most of them in Italy, at least—and that was a little closer to the field—as soon as the new bases were put in; meanwhile, there was a job for one of them as my assistant, and competition for that duty was keen.
That night, while I was trying to decide whom to take with me, Lieutenant Tim Faulkner called at my billet to plead his case.
"There are plenty of good men and good officers around," he said, modestly, "but you need somebody with you that's got brains as well as guts. This is no easy job you're tackling, and your assistant's job won't be easy either: it's made to order for me."
He had only recently arrived in Cairo and was not as well known to me as some of the other officers in the section, but everything I knew about him was good. He had determina-
tion, resourcefulness, a great deal of guileless charm and absolute integrity.
Tim is big and loosely made. His is not the compact strength of the athlete but rather the flat-muscled big-framed stamina of a farmer. His head is big, too; broad at the forehead and narrow at the chin. His eyes are deep-set and expressive, as serious as a thoughtful child's at some moments, full of merriment at others, and always very direct. He is accustomed to making an impression, conscious of his forceful-ness, but sensitive and careful not to be a bully in the use of it.
His approach on this occasion was characteristic. He had not lived thirty-one years without discovering that his intelligence was above the average. Allusion to that fact, if strictly relevant, would not seem to him boastful. Failure to mention it in listing his assets, as he was doing now, would seem to him a lack of moral courage rather than an expression of modesty—almost a form of dishonesty.
He had a peculiar deadly-earnest way of presenting his arguments in a low voice, without emphasis, setting his words out carefully and watching the person to whom he was speaking with a level and unblinking gaze, like a hypnotist. As he talked that evening I recalled a scene that had taken place in the office some days before, soon after his arrival from the States.
On that day he had come in with a sheaf of maps under his arm to talk about a group of industrial installations he wanted to destroy in the Balkans. There were four of them, some distance apart, and a real blow would be struck at the enemy if they could be put out of commission.
"I've done a little work on these targets," he had said, as he came in. "I believe they deserve a high priority." Then very deliberately he had selected a map from the bundle
under his arm and spread it before me on the desk. There were four little red circles to indicate the location of his mills and mines. Production figures and statistics were on the tip of his tongue.
"If this data is of any value," he had remarked, in conclusion, "I could summarize it briefly in a written report." I had asked that he do so and observed: "The operations seem feasible, although everything would depend upon the support we could rally in the target areas. The plant that appears most important would be difficult to get at."
"If we proceed against them," he had replied, "that's the one I should like to tackle myself."
That was my first real conversation with Faulkner and I had been rather surprised by the turn it had taken as he sprawled in the chair on the far side of my desk studying the effect of his soft-spoken words.
"I don't want to remain here in an office," he had blurted out suddenly. "I didn't join the army to do that."
He had, I knew, been trained in field-craft, sabotage and demolition, but I had always thought of him as a planner, an executive. He, obviously, had other ideas.
"If you could get in and do the job the odds are probably five to one against your getting out again," I had observed, watching him as sharply as he had been watching me. He had countered, "But the odds are ten to one that a few determined operators would get the job done, and it would be a real kick in the bottom for Hitler. There's a sporting chance of getting out afterward. That's about as good as the odds ever are in this business."
As he sat at the foot of my bed I remember thinking he would get it done, all right; that or anything else he tackled. He was talking now with the same low-pitched intensity,
following my expression with the same unblinking Svengali gaze, still trying to get out of an office and into the field.
I was deeply pleased that he should be eager to come with me on a mission that presented so many difficulties. His "targets" had proven momentarily inaccessible, and should we decide to proceed against them later we would start from the Italian coast, in any case.
So three days later, on October 4 at one o'clock in the morning he and I left Cairo by air, bound for Algiers and General Eisenhower's Headquarters.
The American officer commanding in the Middle East, Major General Ralph Royce, who was, of course, familiar with our projects, would be down in a day or two to attend the conferences and support our requests.