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One of the engines faltered on the take-off and our C-54, the Air Transport Command's giant Douglas airliner, made altitude very slowly as we worked our way across the city toward the pyramids. Up front in the control compartment they were fussing with knobs and reading pressures. There was something wrong.
For a while we cruised westward on our course but number three engine seemed "out of sync" and backfired from time to time. Presumably the engineer expected that the trouble, whatever it was, would right itself after a little while, but suddenly the number one engine, out on the far side of the port wing, began to show signs of similar indisposition. Ours was an inauspicious start, but we persisted toward the west.
The pyramids sailed by in the moonlight, scarcely a thousand feet below as we began to make altitude, but suddenly the number two engine coughed and sputtered. Then all the engines roared as the pilot opened his throttles and banked us over in a steep turn.
A few minutes later we were back at the Cairo airport, piling out with our equipment.
"Keep in touch with us," the skipper said. "We ought to get off later today; but when three out of four God-damned engines are temperamental it's time to quit."
"Check!" Tim said, with a big grin. "I'm glad you feel that way about it."
By five o'clock we were back in Cairo and by eight o'clock we were both on the job, attending to details that had been washed out at the last minute on the previous evening because there had been no time for them. At dinner they had seemed unimportant; now they appeared to have some screaming urgency about them. We worked frantically all day long, keeping in touch with the airport. Departure time was finally set for one o'clock in the morning and we were both completely worn out as we rode back to the airport soon after midnight, hoping that this time "it would take," as Tim put it. There are good seats on the C-54's and we would get some rest aboard since Algiers was nine hours away. There was little likelihood of any rest there until after our first day's work was done.
We got off that night, but not until almost three o'clock in the morning. Tim was still sustained by a sense of adventure, but I was beginning to think we were taking a lot of trouble to rush to a place where there would be nothing waiting for us but bad news and frustration and delays when we could delay a day or two and fly quietly out with General Royce in his private plane. Fatigue is a saboteur in wartime. It's a soldier's worst enemy. It deprives him of his will to get things done, unless he is constantly on his guard.
By noon the next day we were circling the airport at Maison Blanche—"White House," the airport of Algiers. An hour later we had lunched and were ready for business, freshly shaved, at AFHQ.
There we were told that all the "Special Operations" in the theatre, such as commando raids, the provisioning and controlling of guerrilla bands behind enemy lines, the gathering of intelligence about the enemy's strength and position, and
other activities, were all under G-3—the division of a headquarters staff which is concerned with plans and operations. We hurried to the indicated office and there met an American Lieutenant-Colonel, Kenneth Mann, who proved to be familiar with Middle East's desire to obtain bases in southern Italy; certain reports and recommendations had already come to his desk and he gave them to us to read.
Colonel Mann sent us on to various other offices that afternoon and by evening the pattern of the next few days was clear. There would be a conference with General Eisenhower as soon as General Royce arrived; our plans would receive official blessing—at least we hoped they would; then we would be free to make a reconnaissance trip to the east coast of Italy.
Indeed, there was already a plan afoot for such a reconnaissance. It was the only action envisioned in the reports Colonel Mann had been kind enough to show us. A motor launch or some other small vessel of this type would be made available to all the special operations officers from Middle East. As soon as the meetings in Algiers were over it would ferry them across to Brindisi.
This procedure was strictly logical and sane . . . but slow. Yet there seemed no way to avoid these preliminary steps, no way to move directly toward our objective without submitting to routine and "going through channels."
Late in the afternoon Tim and I found a billet. We got some dinner and turned in early, both tired and a bit discouraged. We were dealing with big wheels and so we knew they must turn slowly, but was there not some way in which we could get on with our part of the work? There seemed no way, that Tuesday night, but the events of the next twenty-four hours were to precipitate a flood of action that would sweep us away right into the heart of Jugoslavia, that would
carry us to Italy by air and across the Adriatic in a matter of hours, leaving us in possession of a fleet of ships and thousands of tons of supplies. . . .
We needed rest that night and we slept better, no doubt, because of our state of mind: neither of us would have slept at all had we known what the next day had in store for us.
Early Wednesday morning as we hurried through a meager breakfast the telephone rang. Colonel Mann was asking for me.
"Can you get down here right away?" he said. "There's an interesting development in your affairs."
"Yes, sir, I'll be right down."
Tim was on his feet and ready when I got back. "Is Royce here?" he asked.
"No. I don't know what's up. Mann says it's important. Got to get down there right away."
Tim and I parted company at the door of AFHQ. Our commanding officer was coming through Algiers that morning on his way to Washington. We had decided during the night to see him and explain the situation, asking his blessing for any slightly unorthodox measures we might employ to force the pace and get on with the job. Tim would have to go to the airport at Maison Blanche alone. He promised to hurry back. I rushed up to the Special Operations office.
When I got there Colonel Mann said: "Two Jugoslavs who claim to be Partisan officers blew in this morning. They claim they just got over from one of the islands. They're an odd-looking pair, but you know more about these birds than we do. Maybe they're all right. Do you think you could tell?"
He got to his feet and opened a door leading into an adjacent office. "Come in, please," he said, pleasantly.
The two who entered were Steve Mladineo and Ivo Radic. They wore a nondescript mixture of German and Italian uniforms. Both were clean shaven, both carried little blue caps tailored like the garrison caps of the American army, but with red stars sewn to the front of them. They appeared to have nothing else in common.
Mladineo was slight and of medium height. There was almost a suggestion of adolescence about his personality, although he was obviously in his early thirties. His hair was fair and wavy. His features were sensitive and handsome in a delicate, almost fragile way. He looked like a Hollywood crooner dressed up to play a part in a Balkan farce.
His companion, Radic, was thick-set and stalwart. He appeared about fifty. His features were typically Slav. Shrewdness and good-nature and ingenuousness competed with one another to rule his expression, but a certain worldliness remained. He had good hands that now twisted his cap selfconsciously.
Mladineo's pale blue eyes blazed. There was something prophetic in his appearance. A modern John the Baptist, perhaps. . . .
"Do you speak English?" I asked, shaking hands.
"I do," Radic answered. "Commander Mladineo speaks only Italian and German and French—and, of course, Serbo-Croat." Mladineo said nothing. He was studying the faces in the room.
A little investigation revealed that Radic spoke Mladineo's languages and three or four more. His English was nearly flawless and his French proved almost as good, so we adopted that tongue as the common ground and settled down to a serious conversation.
Their story was simple. On the last day of September they
had set out at dusk from Vis, an island on the coast of Jugoslavia, aboard a little steamer, a passenger vessel, loaded with wounded Partisans who needed hospitalization. On the morning of October i they entered the port of Bari and made arrangements to unload and hospitalize their wounded, then they called on the local military authorities to solicit them for aid in other forms.
Their little ship, the Bog s Noma—her name caused much mirth at Headquarters, and even more when it was learned that the phrase means "God be with us"—had empty coal bunkers, no water and no food aboard. The Partisans, with the religiously named little steamer, wanted coal and water and food—and guns, if possible—to carry back.
British authorities in the port were interested in the strange pair and felt sure that down the way, at the headquarters of the Allied Military Mission in Brindisi and at the Admiral's Headquarters in Taranto, there were officers who would have innumerable questions to ask them. They asked a good many themselves, but they were not sure just what questions to ask. Jugoslavia, across the narrow sea, was as far from their normal preoccupations as the moon. So they bundled their Partisan guests into a staff car and sent them down to see Lieutenant-General Sir Frank N. Mason-MacFarland, head of the Allied Mission in Brindisi.
"Mason Mack," as he is known in the service, received them well. He was interested in their story and promised them every assistance he could give, but he was sure they should go on to Taranto to Naval Headquarters to call on the Admiral. So he put them into another staff car and sent them on.
Vice Admiral Arthur John Power, C.B.R.N., was interested too. He saw them personally and devoted some time to
their interrogation. He promised them a couple of hundred tons of supplies—mostly food. He would, he said, be pleased to do anything he could to help them; but he thought they should go on to AFHQ to make a full report to the intelligence officers there who would be eager for fresh information from Jugoslavia. AFHQ might also be able to give them substantial assistance. So he loaded them into an aeroplane. . . .
"And here we are . . ." Radic finished.
Radic told most of the story. He finished it with a flourish of his hands and a smile which indicated pretty clearly that he and Mladineo were way out of their depth but that they were eager to do whatever was expected of them and get back to the ship they had left at Bari.
"Did Tito send you out?" I inquired.
"We were sent by Coastal Command," Mladineo answered.
"What, precisely, is your mission?"
'We were to take the wounded out and do everything possible to come back with our bunkers full of coal and as much food as we could put aboard, which is to say about seventy tons," Mladineo answered.
He looked slightly defiant. I wondered if he felt he had been kidnapped. In a sense this is precisely what had happened to him.
"How strong is the Partisan position on the coast?" I asked.
'We control all the coast but a few cities and towns," was the proud reply. "We held those too for a while, but the Germans attacked with heavy armor and we had nothing to use to stop them. They came through. They retook Split and Omis and Makarska and the mouth of the Neretva River and some other points; but we still hold all the islands and most of the coast."
Half an hour's interrogation yielded abundant proof that
they had both been in recent actions and knew the situation on the coast. Mladineo knew quite a little about the Allied Mission at Tito's Headquarters in Jajce. He knew the names of several of the British and American officers there. Radic appeared to have less knowledge of the Partisan movement as a whole, but it was difficult to judge. It was impossible to ascertain absolutely from their answers that they were bona-fide Partisans and not a pair of German agents; but the impression that they were perfectly honest and authentic grew. Mladineo, in particular, was convincing. By ten o'clock I was ready to give them a clean bill of health.
"They're all right," I told the Colonel. "What do we do next:'"
"G-2 and ONI" (the Offices of Military and Naval Intelligence) "want to see them," he answered. "Will you take them down?"
I agreed at once. These conversations would provide a further opportunity for interrogation. They would also give me a chance to find out what those officers had in their files about Jugoslavia and the Dalmatian coastal waters.
Tim got back from the airport just before noon. By that time the interviews with G-2 and ONI were over and I had released my Jugoslav friends until three o'clock. Our Colonel from Cairo, he reported, sent his best wishes. He approved in advance any reasonable measures we might adopt to hurry things along and get our supplies moving across to Tito.
We lunched hurriedly and returned to AFHQ to inquire whether General Royce was expected during the afternoon and were pleased to learn that he would arrive soon after three o'clock. At Colonel Mann's offices we also learned with pleasure that an officer—a major—from our special detachment in Middle East, who had been loaned to AFHQ to go
into Corsica ahead of the invasion, was now back from that detail and once more available for duty with us. So there were now three of us instead of two in Algiers. That might prove useful. I hurried to his billet to say hello and see what sort of condition he might be in. There was a report that he was ill.
I found him suffering from dysentery and in need of hospitalization for a few days. He looked pretty shaky but he had enough spirit left to regale me with a hilarious account of his Corsican adventures in his own extraordinary profane and scientific style. He was glad to be back in Africa and eager to be with us again.
"If we should decide to push on to Italy without waiting for all the conferences to take place could you sit in for us?" I asked him, when he had finished his story and I had explained our mission.
"I can for a few days, until I'm well enough to get out of here and join you in Italy," he grinned.
We could hear the doctor coming in so I said good-bye and promised to keep him informed about our plans and movements. Things were looking up, I thought, on the way back to AFHQ. A plan was beginning to take form in my mind. If the Eisenhower conference should come off well . . . then we might get going. . . .
When I met Tim twenty minutes later I had a plan.
"If this afternoon's conference conforms with our expectations," I told him, "we can leave the Major here for the rest of the meetings and catch a plane to Italy tomorrow. You and Mladineo and Radic and I had better get up to Bari and find out what's happening there. Until we know a great deal about the Adriatic that we can't find out there we must phrase all our requests in general terms, and that won't get us anywhere.
We must find out precisely what we want to do and how we want to operate."
Tim's eyes were shining. "Say the word," he answered, "and I'll attend to everything. I'll have our orders out and obtain the necessary priorities."
"Get the orders out and attend to all the details except the actual priority: we'll leave that until after the meeting."
He went off then with "the jugs," as he called Mladineo and Radic, leaving me to stand by for General Royce's arrival. And it was while waiting for the General outside the offices of G-3 that I was overtaken by another stupendous piece of luck. Lieutenant-Colonel Jerry Benson strolled up the passage.
"What the hell are you doing here?" was his boisterous greeting. "You Middle-Easters haven't at last decided to take an interest in Italy, have you?"
I answered his question as briefly as I could, telling him of our haste to establish supply routes to Tito.
"That's fine," he said. "I've been worried sick about operations into Jugoslavia."
Jerry's job in Algiers was exactly comparable with the one I had just left in Cairo. His operations were the same as ours but geared to the Italian campaign, focussed on northern Italy and France.
"How's that?" I countered. "You haven't been burning your fingers on Balkan affairs, have you? I thought that territory was exclusively reserved to us."
"We don't want to have anything to do with your Balkan affairs," he answered sharply. "We don't want to tinker with them at all, and we don't want to be dragged into them either."
Then he explained that Middle East—or perhaps it was London acting on behalf of Middle East—had cabled asking that he obtain a shipload of supplies for the Partisans in Jugoslavia. The order called for ten thousand rifles and several million rounds of ammunition, machine guns, light field guns mounted on rubber wheels, several thousand battle dress, several thousand pairs of boots, heavy socks, shirts, medical supplies, chocolate, cigarettes . . . the sweetest assortment of guerrilla bon-bons anyone heard of!
All this he had managed to obtain, taking time out from his own urgent affairs to get it done; then he had arranged for one of the Royal Navy's net layers to take it all aboard and ferry it across to Brindisi. The ship would be leaving a port on the African coast that very night.
"You can't just send a ship to a busy port in wartime and expect it to anchor there and wait until someone thinks of something to do with the cargo," he explained. "I tried to get the Navy to take it all the way across and deliver it to the jugs, but they refused: too dangerous without fuller knowledge of the coast: so I've had to cable Commander Watson, who's in charge of our operations on the east coast of Italy, to meet the ship and get the stuff docked somewhere. It's all consigned to him and by the time he gets it unloaded everybody in the port will have a pretty good idea what line of business he's in. I can't afford to take chances like that with his security."
"Would it help you any to consign the stuff to me?" I asked. "I'm probably going up there tomorrow morning and it looks as though we already had ships enough to ferry the cargo across. With a bit of luck it might be in Partisan hands within a week."
"It's yours," Jerry answered. "Come on into the office and we'll straighten it out."
Half an hour later Jerry and I approved the telegrams—one to the net layer consigning its cargo to me, another to Commander Watson, telling him to forget the whole matter. I tried not to look too pleased, but inside I was aglow with enthusiasm. It really began to look as though Tim and I were in business.
General Royce arrived at four o'clock and was immediately taken in to see General Eisenhower. The little group of officers that had come down with him waited with me in the anteroom, expecting to be called in, but the commander of the Allied Forces had no time for big conferences: he told General Royce to advise us that every effort would be made to meet our needs; we were to go ahead and formulate our requests and take his support for granted. This was the message we received after twenty minutes of waiting. All the special services in the Middle East were represented in that group of British and American officers and several of them looked disappointed, but the situation was made to order for me. Before General Royce had finished speaking the green light was burning. ... I could hardly wait to take leave of him politely before rushing off to find Tim and check arrangements for our departure.
When I told him we were off he abandoned himself to a restrained, "Yi-pe-e-ee!" and a joyful wave of his long arms. "Tito, here we come," he cried. Mladineo and Radic contemplated him with admiration. His exuberance was a source of wonder and delight to them.
We discovered that nothing but the very highest priorities would get us out of Algiers the next morning. The airlines to Italy were clogged with high-priority traffic, but G-3 fought our case through valiantly. Colonel Mann talked with the priorities board, then gave Tim an order on that section for
our transportation. The rest would be up to him. Knowing Tim, I reckoned that would be good enough. He would do the rest.
"How much equipment have you?" the Colonel had asked before making out the order.
"Regular baggage and about two hundred pounds of excess," Tim answered, quick as a flash, before I could say anything. As we left the office I said to him: "What's this two hundred pounds of excess? The four of us don't have more than a hundred pounds of baggage between us—and we're allowed fifty-five pounds each. Where does the other two hundred pounds come from?"
"I've arranged to draw a dozen Marlin machine guns and fifty double clips, half a dozen pistols and plenty of ammo, boots, flannel shirts and some rations," he answered. "I'll pick the stuff up as soon as I get us booked out of here."
Wonderful guy! I lived to bless him for this particular bit of foresight on many occasions before the month was out.
It was ten o'clock that night before Tim and a GI driver came staggering into the billet with our arsenal. Everything was set. The car would call for us at seven o'clock in the morning. For "security" reasons we had moved our Jugoslav friends in next door, being unwilling to leave them to their own devices during the night; now Tim insisted upon turning them out for a drink before going to bed.
"Wait 'til you see those jugs," he called over his shoulder as he went out of the room in search of them. They were all three back a moment later, Mladineo and Radic immaculate in GI khaki and army boots. He had equipped them from head to foot, from the skin out, forgetting nothing—not even extra socks and underwear, they told me happily. Only the blue Partisan cap with the red star remained of the original
garb—that and one other detail: they wore rio neckties. But I learned later that this was no omission on Tim's part. No Partisan ever wears a necktie. I doubt if any Partisan owns one.
They were very pleased with their new clothes and studied themselves in the mirror like a couple of chicks with new hats while Tim poured four little cups of whiskey.
"Tito himself is not so well dressed," said Radic.
"Oh, yes! he has a proper Partisan uniform now," Mladineo protested. "Several of the big men at the Jajce Headquarters have Partisan uniforms. . . ."
"Have you ever seen a Partisan uniform?" Radic asked him.
'Well, no, I haven't," he answered reluctantly. "I've never had a chance to go to Jajce. . . ."
I asked: "Have you ever seen Tito?"
Radic shook his head negatively.
Mladineo replied: "Not yet. I have always been on the coast or on the islands. He has been continuously in the interior. Someday, perhaps, I shall meet him. . . ."
The word was magic to him. Tito! It galvanized him. We could see Radic regretted his jest. For Mladineo he had blasphemed. There was an awkward pause while Tim handed out the whiskey, then, suddenly:
"To Tito!" Mladineo cried, raising his cup and throwing his head back.
"To Tito!" Radic echoed, sturdily.
We glanced at one another and replied in chorus: 'To Tito!"
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