We slept like the dead and awoke soon after seven, greatly refreshed and eager for the new day. It was Sunday, October twenty-fourth. The sun was shining and a near-by church bell rang sweetly, calling the Catholics to early mass.
Steve was aglow with happiness. He looked five years younger now that the anxiety which had clouded his face for days had been replaced by his normal air of self-assurance. He sang and splashed about, giving himself a sponge-bath from head to foot before climbing into his clothes.
When we set out for headquarters the streets were full of picturesque peasants, most of them on their way to church, dressed in their finest clothes. Most of the women wore the typical Bosniak dress of red and white flannels, but a few wore costumes of silk. This puzzled us, until we saw one litde girl whose pretty two-piece outfit explained the fashion: both skirt and blouse were of silk, the former white, the latter a mottled green and brown—parachutes! That was it. I remembered hearing that the peasants were always ready to exchange a horse for a parachute and that they used the fine material to dress their women and children.
We found hot coffee waiting for us at the mess and Tito already busy in his office. He waved to us gaily through the open door, inviting us to bring our cups to his desk.
Thus auspiciously the day began. We settled down to work at once, Ilic and the commissar joining us after a little while, and I regretted that Tim was not there, for his sake and because I missed his note-book.
Most of the ground we covered in the next eight hours is irrelevant to the purposes of this record. Tito was as good as his promise. He answered all questions and supplied as much information as I wanted on every subject we touched. From time to time he sent for one of his staff officers if the desired data was not immediately available on the maps he spread before us and could not be supplied from memory, but most of the time he knew the answers and produced them without hesitation. His patience was inexhaustible.
We began with order-of-battle, the organization and position and strength of his armies, the strength and disposition of the German forces with unit identifications. This took two hours. From there we proceeded to questions about the organization of his own forces. I learned much more about conversion of regular Partisan Brigades to regular military units under professional officers. His new armies were being constituted roughly on the Russian pattern with commissars attached to every command, jointly responsible, with the CO, for the well-being and morale of the troops.
This subject brought us to the problems of coastal defense and the measures that would be necessary to safeguard the Adriatic supply routes. Here we planned our tactics in some detail, Tito asking support and assistance of various kinds from the Allies, I promising to bring his needs to the attention of the proper authorities and expressing the belief that we .could meet most of his requests. (We met them all.) He wanted certain cities bombed, certain positions strafed, air support from time to time at key points for his own forces.
I took some trouble to explain very fully the reasons why I had taken over the Jugoslav ships we found on the Italian coast. Steve looked worried during this part of the interview and watched Tito's face intently, but the soundness of the procedure was never questioned. There were still a few big ships hidden by the Partisans in the deep fjords among the islands, and I asked that they be sent across to us to be incorporated in our fleet, or, if they were too big to be useful to us, to be turned in to the Mediterranean shipping pool.
We devoted several long hours to the problem of priorities and supplies, compiling a detailed list of his armies' needs in the order of their importance, and when this was finished the urgent work was done. It was already the middle of the afternoon and after another hour devoted to questions about the political organization and objectives of the National Liberation Movement the conference was over. I had writer's cramp and we were all tense and tired from so many hours of smoking and talking. Although our lack of a common language had troubled us little on the previous evening, it had been a serious difficulty throughout the day, absolutely precise answers having been necessary. Steve and the Colonel and Tito had been endlessly patient and would, no doubt, have allowed me to continue with them for hours more, but this was enough for one session—as much as I was able to assimilate.
Our work had been interrupted very pleasantly by lunch, which was much like dinner the previous evening, except that it had the atmosphere of an interlude in the middle of a busy day rather than the relaxed pause that comes rewardingly at the end of it.
Word had been sent to Benny (an officer it seems best to p>identify no further) during the morning, summoning him to headquarters for lunch. He had no idea why until he walked into the garden and found me there, taking a bit of air in the quarter hour before going in to table. It was a joyful reunion and we strolled away down the hill-side to take a look at the waterfall that made Jajce a famous beauty spot and a Mecca for tourists in the pre-war days. He gave me an interesting account of his months with the Partisans. He had joined them when they lived a fugitive existence in the forests. I remembered well the first message he sent back after landing by parachute, a message in which he told of being Tito's guest of honor at a dinner served under the pine-trees around a camp-fire.
After lunch Benny sat with us in Tito's office throughout the afternoon.
There was one interesting interruption during that afternoon session. It came at about three o'clock and constituted a further sidelight on the peculiar value assigned by Partisans to the word "danger." I had, at one point, inquired where the nearest Germans were and been told that they were at Trav-nik, about twenty miles away, but that there was no "danger" from them in Jajce. It was a few minutes later that we heard the crack of a rifle below us in the town.
One rifle shot is nothing, but there was a brief pause in the conversation while everyone strained his ears waiting for the next one, and when it came it was a volley—forty or fifty shots. This caused our host to assume a slightly anxious look, but he remained at his desk.
A moment later a fresh volley clattered below. Tito called one of his orderlies in and told him to find out what was going on, but this time the firing continued, growing in volume. The conversation stopped and we all listened, then Tito got to his feet and we followed him out into the cedar grove and across to the parapet which looked down into the town. There was nothing alarming to be seen, but the firing continued, and a moment later a German plane passed over us at low altitude.
Tito called a sharp command to his orderly who dashed back into the office and returned a moment later on the double, carrying a bulky parcel which he unwrapped as he ran. It was an American Tommy-gun, Tito's personal weapon. The commander took it from his orderly and snapped the magazine into place then cradled the heavy gun under his arm. His features relaxed. The half-dozen other officers and the orderlies in the cedar grove were all moving briskly now, everyone arming himself with a sub-machine gun. Our Marlins were brought to us by the orderlies.
"What is it?" I asked Ilia "What's going on?"
"I don't know," he said. "It's probably nothing at all, but of course you never can be sure."
When the firing had subsided a few minutes later we returned to the office and resumed our conversation where it had left off. Tito dispatched an officer to find out exactly what had happened and was annoyed with the report he received when his messenger returned. The incident was dismissed as a false alarm. I thought it indiscreet to persist in my inquiries, but it seemed to me those riflemen must have been shooting at something. The best carbine in Jugoslavia will not shoot twenty miles! And although there was absolutely no "danger" in Jajce it was evident that there was comfort to be derived at Headquarters from the weight of a sub-machine gun in the hands.
Later, when I had the opportunity, I said to Benny: 'Wfliere did the Old Man get the Tommy-Gun?"
"I gave it to him," Benny said. "He lost his German submachine gun in a raid and was miserable without it, but the only way you can get one here is by killing a German, so he would not allow anyone to give him his. He loves that Tommy-Gun with its big slugs and wouldn't part with it for anything."
"What do you do for a weapon when you travel?" I asked.
"I've got a German Schmeiser," Benny grinned.
When the conference broke up it had been agreed that Benny would move down to the coast to take charge of shipping operations at Vis. He would stop for a few days along the way and familiarize himself with the command to fit himself for the liaison duties his new post would involve.
Tito was also eager that the senior American liaison officer in Jugoslavia should meet me on my way out, presumably at Livno, to report on his experiences. I suggested that it might be a good idea to take him out with me temporarily in order that he might make a comprehensive report, and the commander agreed at once, but there was one circumstance that made these arrangements a little awkward: Fitzroy MacLean, the Brigadier in charge of the combined British and American mission in Jugoslavia, was absent from Jajce. Ordinary military courtesy would require that he be consulted before these officers, who were under his orders, should be moved. The only justification for proceeding without first taking this step was expediency and the necessity to gain time and for a while I debated in my mind what to do, then I decided to go ahead. I would see the Brigadier in a few days on the coast and explain the circumstances. He would, I felt sure, accept my apologies.
Before leaving Jajce I called on the members of MacLean's staff who were at their villa, across the little river from Tito's headquarters on the hill. Colonel Bill Deakin, who has since come out, was there. He was the first to go in by parachute and was probably closer to Tito himself than any of those who came in later. On one occasion, early in the days of the Partisan struggle, he and Tito were wounded by the same bomb while lying together in a shell-hole. Tito's dog was with them at the time and the explosion that wounded them killed the animal.
Deakin had heard of our operations on the coast and was full of enthusiasm. I told him of my plans for Benny and said I hoped soon to see the Brigadier.
"He'll be in Bari in ten days or so," Deakin said. "You'll see him there."
We had a cup of tea, then I went back to Headquarters, for it was already late and we wanted to get to the coast that night if possible.
Our leave-taking was a pleasant ceremony. Tito put his hand on Steve's shoulder as he said good-bye, and I was unable to follow what he said to him but it made my friend blush with pleasure. Colonel Hie had noticed that I was full of admiration for the German Walther pistols worn by most of the ranking officers of the Partisan Armies and presented me with one of them as a souvenir of my first trip to Jajce. And just before we left his office Tito asked me for my card. Unfortunately I had none with me.
Perhaps it embarrassed him to inquire about the orthography of my name at that late date. ... I perceived with regret a moment later that he had wanted my card to autograph his picture for me. Instead, he simply signed the photograph in his own characteristic way, diagonally across the lower right-hand corner, as he signs all his papers.
He walked with us to where our cars were waiting just outside the gate and shook hands with us all again, then we drove away down the hill followed by the usual chorus of Zdravos.