Fighting Fronts



Fighting Fronts
How RAF Gun-Runners Armed Tito's Men


A summary of the RAF's operations to support Tito's Partisan army in Yugoslavia.

Spatial Coverage




Four typed sheets


IBCC Digital Archive


This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit and





September 27th
[underlined] FIGHTING FRONTS [/underlined]
[underlined] How RAF Gun-Runners Armed Tito’s Men [/underlined]
BARI, September 27 (PEO) – In the background of recent successes by the Yugoslav Army of National Liberation and the crumbling of the German and Quisling forces in the Balkans, lies a patient and hazardous task which the RAF has been carrying on quietly for two years.

Tito’s Army owes much to the gun and supply runners of the RAF who, under the enemy’s nose, have taken thousands of tons of supplies by air to the Partisans, ranging from anti-tank guns and vehicles to needle and thread, from mules to paper-clips.

Wothout [sic] that vast variety of supplies, the Partisan armies would most likely have remained guerrillas, their losses would have been heavier and the Balkans would have remained a German bastion instead of a morass which threatens to engulf all the enemy forces left there.

This supply effort, which for security reasons has had to remain in obscurity for so long, is now directed and co-ordinated by Balkan Air Force from bases in Italy. Since its formation in June, Balkan Air Force has taken more than 5,000 tons of arms and supplies by air to the forces of resistance in several European countries. In one recent month, its aircrews helped by Americans, took 2,000 tons of supplies --- a remarkable figure when it is remembered that much of the supply running has to be done by parachute dropping.

In a year, the rate of supply has increased tenfold. This is partly due to the development of secret landing grounds in enemy occupied territory to which transport planes fly at night, but delivery by parachute is still necessary in the wooded and mountainous areas where the construction of landing strips is impracticable.

The business of packing the supplies has grown phenomenally from a couple of huts staffed by two officers and a handful of men in a the Nile Delta area in 1942, to the present packing station in Italy which covers acres of ground and where hundreds of men, including Jugoslav Partisans are hard at work every day.

Supplies could be – and have been – taken to the Partisans by sea, but as the Germans held all the main lines of communication, supplies could not be transported far inland. Air transport was the only answer.

In the early days of the supply effort, arms and ammunitions were the prime needs. Thearms [sic] the Partisans received helped them to capture more from the Germans. And now that the Partisans have good supply of small arms and equipment, the emphasis of airborne supplies has changed.

The development of landing strips in Yugoslavia, Greece and Albania to accommodate relays of Dakota transport is also saving a lot of effort in the packing of parachute containers, and in the expense of parachutes. In a normal night’s operations, about 250 parachutes of various types swing down from Halifaxes [sic] to the eager Partisans. The parachute usually costs far more that [sic] its load, but the supplies are vital. Only a small proportion of the parachute are undamaged enough to be worth recovering. The material is so valuable to the Partisans women for clothing that parachutes are one of the chief forms of currency in the Balkans.


[page break]

September 27th


[underlined] FIGHTING FRONTS [/underlined]

[underlined] How RAF Gun-Runners Armed Tito’s Men [/underlined] (cont’d) page 2

A convenient use has been found for the huge quantities of equipment captured from the Italians and Germans in the push from El Alamein. Already the Partisans were using captured enemy rifles, so it was much simpler for us to provide them with the ammunition for these than to waste precious air loads on the provision of British rifles. Italian ammunition, equipment and clothing goes every day. In extensive packing sheds, Italian anti-tank guns – and “still a very effective weapon” says the sergeant major in charge – are continually being dismantled and packed for transit.

This business of packing into containers for parachute dropping has been evolved into a fine art. There are packs for every purpose. There is a medical pack. There is a “complete soldier’ kit arms, clothing and bedding. There is a rations pack. There is even an office pack – the complete office for the field, containing stationery, scissors, pens, pins. There are packs for radio sets, packs of fuel to run generators. There are boot repair packs and comfort packs.

The targets for all these supplies are arranged by the British military mission working inside the Balkans. They also indicate the type of supplies most needed, and on the basis of this the night’s operations are planned.

With the list before them of places needing supplies in order of urgency, staff officers of a Balkan Air Force wing which does the supply carrying, assemble each morning at the conference. When the target has been decided, in the light of the weather forecast the crews are briefed.

Pin-studded maps disclose dozens of landing strips and dropping points in Eirope [sic]. Their number would astonish the Germans. The targets are known by code names. At “Country Club”, for instance, it is known that the Partisans need demolishing charges and clothing. Word goes to the packing centre, and in a few hours all the necessary containers are being loaded into the Halifaxes [sic] and Dakotas.

After dark the transports are threading their way among the Balkan mountains. When near the pin-point the pilot gives his recognition signal and when he gets the right response, down go the containers, some from the bomb bay, some pushed through the a hatch by a member of the crew acting as dispatcher. Sometimes several runs over the targets are needed before all the cargo is cleared.

If the pilot is not sure the reception parties are waiting, he brings his load back. In the earlier days of supply dropping there were many disappointments and frustrations of this kind, but now the system of communication with the Partisans is so certain that fruitless missions through any cause but the weather are rare.

The packing organisation, too, has not reached its present efficiency without many headaches. Once, when a special footwear mission was ordered in response to an urgent signal for 30,000 pair of boots, it was discovered that the mixture of the normal sizes was useless, because the Partisans have bigger feet than the British.


[page break]

September 27th


[underlined] FIGHTING FRONTS [/underlined]

[underlined] How RAF Gun-Runners Armed Tito’s Men [/underlined] (cont’d) page 3

No sizes less than nines would do, so there was a hectic hunt for adequate supplies of the larger boots. It was also found that the Partisans preferred bully beef to luxuries such as tinned chicken and some even preferred V cigarettes to the more classical brands.

The Balkan Air Force wing which does the supply running operates Halifaxes [sic], Dakotas, Lysanders, and some Italian aircraft, and receives substantial assistance from a, American group, which with Dakatos [sic] does a lot of the actual landing of supplies. The nationalities of the crews engaged in this daring work of supply running embrace British and Dominions, Americans, Greeks, Yugoslav, Poles, Free French, and Italians.

The Lysanders play a small but important part in the operations. For a long time they have been running the gauntlet to take in liaison personnel, all of whom are known to the Royal Air Force crews by the generic term of “Joe’s”. Lysanders have also done some excellent rescue work, bringing out single casualties and urgent medical cases. There is no corner of the Balkans into which the adaptable Lysanders cannot squeze [sic].

Development of supply running has a romantic history, and was not achieved without the loss of the lives of some pioneers. Supplies to the underground forces in the Balkans first trickled in during the summer of 1942. Only four Liberators were employed then, working from the desert, but at the same time a band parachute jumpers was being trained by the army in Egypt, to become the contact men. Facing many risks in their efforts to contact the underground forces, they laid the foundations of the co-ordinated sistem [sic] now running do efficiently under the British military missions.

In the winter of 1942 – 2, contact men were dropped in Greece. Probing unknown territory, they endured many hardships for they had to live in the open. Some of the brave men, having run out of supplies, perished through exposure in the mountains.

In the spring of 1943 began the real build up of the gun running by a squadron of Halifaxes [sic] working from the western desert. They had much experimental work to do, the technique of locating a few persons in a remote part of the Balkans was still in its infancy. The Germans, became aware of what was happening, sent up Stukas when supply aircraft were about. When the recognition lights came from the ground and the parachutes floated down bombs fell as well. But the RAF soon evolved counter measures, and now a steady flow of arms, equipment and food goes in every night to help the Partisans weaken still further the enemy’s faltering grip. And not only to the Balkans, the RAF squadron which has such a distinguished record n gun running played a notable part in the recent supply dropping in Warsaw. It was not the first time they had been to that area. They had done the long and hazardous trip to Poland from Italy many times.

The work of this squadron adds another fine chapter to RAF history. The Acknowledged “ace” supply dropper was the former commanding officer, W/Cdr. James Blackburn, who received the D.S.O. for his work.

[page break]

September 27th


[underlined] FIGHTING FRONTS [/underlined]

[underlined] How RAF Gun-Runners Armed Tito’s Men [/underlined] (cont’d) page 4

He flew 600 hours on such missions and once did 8 night operations in succession. He solved many of the problems involved in supply running.

The present Commanding Officer of the Squadron is W/Cdr. Douglas George Haywood, a pathfinder pilot who has done previous tours of operations in Bomber Command and in Italy.

When it was doing almost all the supply running by itself, last, year, the squadron had the satisfaction of knowing that but for its efforts, the Germans would not have needed as many as 25 divisions in the Balkans.



“Fighting Fronts,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 21, 2023,

Item Relations

This item has no relations.