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Many changes had taken place in the port of Bari. As I talked with Tim and Fred in the cabin of the Bog s Noma I felt as though I had been away for weeks. Fred, I learned, had been there almost since the moment of my departure, and other Special Service officers from the Middle East had also arrived.
Our fleet had grown. Ships had been coming over from the other side and anchoring north of the pier. There was a considerable line of them there now, including the one we had brought back, which was, we learned with pleasure, our twenty-seventh vessel; and others were on the way.
Steve had rushed off to find Olga, who was well and safe, and the pair emerged a moment later, Olga looking wonderfully happy after receiving the big news of Steve's success at Jajce. She rushed up to wring my hand and thank me for my part in it. There could be little doubt now that our supply lines were firmly established and we abandoned ourselves to the luxury of congratulating one another on the prosperity of our work over the clinking rakjia glasses. It was a memorable reunion. Slim was there too, in high spirits. All these people looked good to him. We had a community of purpose—a purpose which he shared—and he therefore felt at home among us and a member of our small fraternity.
But these moments of elation were short-lived. Presently we settled down to dealing with the routine difficulties of our work—and certain others which were not routine—and although the wonderful fellowship remained the atmosphere was clouded by problems some of which should never have existed at all. There were situations that had to be faced at once, some of which were very difficult.
It is, of course, a fact that nothing can be done on this earth without crossing up someone or other, so there was nothing strange or revolutionary in this state of things. It hurt Tim, however. His purposes were so candid that he found it difficult to understand any point of view at variance with his own. Our modest show had reached dimensions where political considerations of all sorts had become a factor, and like all fundamentally honest men Tim hated politics, loathed the studied and oblique method which is sometimes the only technique that can accomplish a desired end in the time there is to reach it. Fred, who was less emotional, viewed our troubles with more equanimity.
"Don't worry," I told Tim. "Everything is under control now. We've got the hard part of the job done. We'll have difficulties galore, but nothing will stop us now. That's all that matters."
On the way over I had succeeded in persuading Slim to get to work at once on a full report. He went to our room in the Imperial Hotel and began, almost immediately, to write his report on the Partisan Movement. Once he was installed Tim, Fred, and I went off to find a quiet place where we could talk for an hour or two without interruption. I gave them an account of the visit at Jajce and showed them my notes, which I would have to take time to write out in the form of a report as soon as I could; but meanwhile we made use of much of the information in planning our work for the next few days.
Tim and Fred brought me up to date on events in Bari, where life had been lively in the extreme. They had experienced coundess difficulties in getting cargo and keeping the ships moving. Then, on Sunday afternoon, they had received a message from Jugoslavia stating that I had been captured by the Germans.
Exacdy where that report came from we never learned, but they had immediately applied for permission to go to the rescue. If I had been captured they proposed to find out how and where and what could be done about "springing" me. This had been complicated and the forthcoming permission had not been granted until Tuesday afternoon, and then only on a provisional basis: if I was not back within forty-eight hours they would be allowed to go over and investigate. I had returned some twenty hours after this authority was granted.
There had been some minor difficulties with Port Security, some coordination problems with the Air Force, which feared it might sink some of our ships because they had no ship-to-aircraft recognition signals, and there had been some trouble with our own people who had received only half of our telegrams. As both Steve and I had been away there had been questions raised about who controlled the shipping operations. Were they Jugoslav or American? Were we helping the Jugoslavs or were they helping us?—Tim's did question.
Before nightfall all these problems were straightened out and life in Bari was normal—hectic but normal. Tim and Fred were happy. Our British colleagues, who were now on the scene in strength, congratulated us all on the establishment of the supply lines. We arranged to have regular morning meetings with them to work out the day's schedules. MacLean's men were there and we were able to coordinate our plans with theirs in the fullest manner. Their chief, a Major General, was expected in the city the next day.
We lived for a week in that atmosphere, the days interminably long. The Major General arrived on the second day and called on us in Bog s Noma's smoky little cabin quite unexpectedly. He was extravagant in his praise of the initiative we had shown in organizing the supply line and congratulated the three of us warmly. We introduced him to our Partisan friends and the visit turned into a modest little party, well sprinkled with rakjia. The General told us he had just been talking with the officer in charge of supplies to the Eighth Army and had obtained from him a considerable quantity of guns and ammunition for the Partisans. They would be down, he said, within the next few days.
As we were running low on these items, this was big news. I showed him my notes on Tito's needs and we discussed the methods that might best be used to meet them. He (the General) would be going on to Cairo in a few days, he said. He would act immediately to draw any supplies that might be available there and get them shipped across to us. I volunteered to go down to Algiers to see whether there was anything that could be spared for us in the dumps in North Africa, and this program was tentatively agreed upon. I had promised Tito to do my best to get him fifty big American Army trucks. Algiers was the only place in which they could be obtained—if, indeed, they could be obtained at all; but they were vitally needed for the "Burma Road" over the mountains from the coast. What was the use of sending supplies to the coast unless we equipped the Partisans to carry them away once we landed them? And there were other items on the supply list that could only be obtained in Algiers in the quantities required—fifty thousand rifles, for example . . . tanks . . . five thousand machine guns. . . .
"Transport across from Cairo or Algiers is going to be one of the toughest problems," the General said. "Even with a high priority it takes a long time to bring things over from the other side."
'We could split the fleet in two," Tim suggested. "Some of the ships are too big to be used on the cross-Adriatic run anyway. They're too difficult to camouflage effectively for the lay-over during the daylight hours. Those ships could be sent to Cairo and Algiers."
Throughout the week there were new problems every hour. The Partisans were fighting like tigers on the coast and in the islands. There were SOS messages from them every day and we rushed strategic materials like heavy machine guns and mortars across to them in the night, wherever they were most hotly besieged. We were able to give them air support, at times, too.
It was in this period when the Germans were trying to cross the narrow strip of water between the tip of the Pele-jesac Peninsula, which they controlled, and the island of Korcula, which the Partisans still held, that one of the American fighters was shot down into this reach of water. He landed between the Germans and the Jugoslavs, and found shelter from the German machine guns behind a jagged rock that stuck out of the water.
No sooner was he down than the Partisan commander called for volunteers to go out in a boat and get him. The whole brigade volunteered, so ten men were chosen for the task.
German machine guns raked the several hundred yards of open water across which they moved, but without preventing them from carrying out their mission. The flier was brought safely to shore—but when the boat landed nine of the Partisans were dead and the tenth was wounded.
We sent human reinforcements over too, in those days. And we brought back the badly wounded for hospitalization in Italy.
Our armies, driving north, were freeing Jugoslavs that had been held in Italian prison camps. They tramped south afoot, stopping at the big refugee center on the outskirts of Bari, and it was here that Steve recruited one full Partisan Brigade of two thousand men whom we equipped and sent across to fight.
When Brigadier MacLean arrived, our plans were well-defined. As soon as the conferences with him were over—as soon as the work we were organizing on our side of the Adriatic had been fully coordinated with his plans and operations in the interior of the country—he and the Major General would leave for Cairo and I would go down to AFHQ in Algiers.
We met on the morning of his second day in Bari. By this time all the interested services were present in the port. The conference lasted throughout the morning and covered every phase of our plans and operations. A score of officers attended.
It was the end of the month. Twenty days had passed since Tim and I had arrived in Bari and the first part of our task was done.
We were able to report that day that more than a thousand tons of cargo had already been safely delivered on the coast of Jugoslavia and that ships were continuing to sail at the rate of one a day.
The Rah lay out of harm's way now on the bottom in the deep water off the coast of Brae. The Snell-Boat base had been strafed out of existence. Permanent secret bases for the MTB's had been established among the islands on the far shore of the Adriatic and an adequate supply of fuel had been accumulated for their operations.
(A few days later they sank, in the thirty-six hours of one week-end, one German cruiser, the old Dalmatia, a siebel Ferry, a German guntboat, three E-Boats and two armed schooners.)
We had established secret fuel dumps for all the little inter-island craft that carried our supplies from Vis (and other points) where we unloaded them, to the coast, and maintained liaison among the various garrisons on the coast and in the islands.
We had evacuated several hundred wounded Partisans for hospitalization in Italy, in addition to fitting up one base hospital at Vis.
We had a clear understanding with the Partisans, all of which was confirmed by Tito himself, regarding our control of their ships and the operation of the supply lines—a route that reached not only to the coast but would continue into the interior as soon as trucks would be available for our "Burma Road."
That morning, as we planned a much fuller program of aid for the Partisan forces, Tim and Fred and Steve and I were proud of the contribution we were able to make to the collective effort of the weeks to come.
The next few days passed according to plan. When the last details of our program had been fixed, I went to Algiers to AFHQ where, after some difficulty, I was able to talk with Major General Rooks, the officer in charge of G-3, the division of General Eisenhower's staff which had to do with plans and operations. General Rooks listened with sympathy to an account of the Partisans' needs and agreed not only to supply the fifty "six-by-sixes" needed for the haul across the mountains on the coast but gave us all the captured enemy materials in Sicily as well. (We found Tito's fifty thousand rifles and much other precious booty, including light tanks, in these dumps.) I agreed that we would call for these supplies—the captured enemy materials, mostly guns and ammunition, as well as the fifty trucks—with our own ships, as Tim had suggested, then I thanked the General and left. As I walked out of his office I knew that the third and last leg of the supply route—the Burma Road stretch—was now safe and that nothing would prevent our delivery of the materials so desperately needed by "Marshal Tito and his gallant hands."
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