July 15th, Part 2 - In enemy hands
B-24 No. 42-64354 was flying to its target, Ploesti, when it was hit by flak. Many of the aircraft systems were damaged, but the plane could still fly in the group formation, so it proceeded. However, after dropping its bombs over the target, the pilot lost control, and the plane lost 6500 feet of altitude. After finally managing to bring the aircraft under control, the crew headed back to Italy. Due to damage, the plane continued to slowly lose altitude, and when they were near Montenegro, the pilot ordered the crew to bailout.
On the ground, the crew was gathered by a group of civilians who were not friendly and were more interested in their possessions than in providing assistance. Soon a group of Chetniks arrived and drove away the men. One of the airmen, Donald Olson, was captured by the Germans.
There was a lot of fighting in the area between Germans, Partisans and Chetniks. The airmen were moved by Chetnik guides to Zlatibor mountain, where they stayed for two weeks. The crew soon moved to Pranjani where they were evacuated on August 10th.
The crew of the second aircraft was less fortunate. Liberator No. 44-40265 was damaged over the target. They managed to fly with the formation for a while longer. The pilot decided to continue to fly to Yugoslavia in order to contact guerrillas, but they did not have a map of safe areas. They continued to fly and bailed out near the city of Peć, close to the border with Albania, and far from any friendly guerrilla forces. They were all captured by the Germans.
Some areas in Yugoslavia, Kosovo, and parts of Macedonia, were annexed by the Italy-occupied Albania after the Axis occupation. These areas were controlled by Axis troops and loyal Albanian militias. Only a few airmen that fell in this area managed to escape. Fortunately for those captured, the Germans controlled local militias and forced them to treat the prisoners fairly and turn them over to German control.
Photo: Grottaglie airfield near Taranto was base of 449 bomb group and 5th Photo reconnaissance group