Name: Monument to the Partisan Air Squadron
Location: Medeno Polje, FBiH, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Year completed: 1982(?)
Coordinates: N44°34'18.7", E16°17'23.1" (click for map)
Dimensions: 8m tall monument
Materials used: Poured concrete and rebar
This spomenik at Medeno Polje, Bosnia commemorates not only fallen fighters of the National Liberation War (WWII) from the area, but also the beginnings of the Partisan Air Force, which had their start in Medeno Polje.
World War II
As Yugoslavia was invaded in 1941 by Axis forces, the Luftwaffe, Germany's aerial warfare division of the Wehrmacht, had complete dominance of the skies. The Partisan resistance was given an opportunity to counter this massive air dominance when Italy was conquered by Allied forces in September of 1943, which finally allowed for an outside supply connection. By Feburary of 1944, the first airfield was established in the open pastures on the outskirts of Medeno Polje (in present day NW Bosnia) which was called "Aerodrom Medeno Polje". The airfield was rather crude, with runways of grass which was lit by gas torches and bonfires, a tactic intended to keep the airfield discreet and hidden from Axis bombing. In addition, a large bonfire was often kept burning on the summit of the nearby Mt. Oštrelj in order to act as a directional beacon for planes flying on night missions. While few combat or bombing missions originated from Medeno Polje (which were mostly directed from the main Partisan air command in Bari, Italy), the primary function this airfield served was to evacuate sick and wounded soldiers and civilians.
A notable aspect of the location of the airfield at Medeno Polje was that it was of great strategic importance, as the Partisan resistance Commander Josip Tito was coordinating his operation headquarters in nearby Drvar, roughly 30km to the south of the airfield. Furthermore, the Medeno Polje airfield was also an important platform to disperse humanitarian and military aid coming in from Bari to Partisan command and to fighters across occupied Yugoslavia. For example, one of the first major covert supply missions flown was named 'Operation Manhole' on February 23rd, 1944, when C-47s of the US 51st Troop Carrier Wing launched three Waco CG-4A gilders from Bari, Italy, who were then escorted to the Medeno Polje airfield by fighters of the 64th Squadron. The mission successfully delivered not only over 4,500kg of military supplies (airdropped by the C-47s), but also nearly 30 British and Russian military advisors via the gliders.
While the exact total volume of war-time aid delivered to this airfield is not known, what is know is that over the course of the war, over 2000 wounded soldiers and civilians were evacuated to safety from this spot to newly Allied-liberated towns in Italy. During May of 1944 alone, the US 60th Operation Group evacuated over 1,000 people from the Medeno Polje airfield, including over 700 wounded Partisan fighters. Also during that month, the Balkan Air Terminal Service (BATS) arrived in Medeno Polje. BATS was a branch of the newly created Balkan Air Force tasked to improve airfields behind enemy lines who, after their arrival, went on to create over a dozen additional airstrips across the Medeno Polje valley. These expansions more than doubled troop carrier missions into the valley by the US 60th Group. Furthermore, this airfield was also a strategic location in which rescue missions for downed airmen originated who were shot down during the 1944 Oil Campaign raids on the Ploieşti oil fields in Romania (Photo 1), the source of over 25% of Germany's petroleum. From the point of its creation, the Medeno Polje airfield operated nearly every single night until May 25th, 1944. It was on that day when Partisans were subsequently driven out of the valley by the incoming German offensive named 'Operation Rösselsprung', which was aimed at descending upon Drvar to capture and eliminate Tito.
Photo 1: B-24Ds dropping bombs over Ploieşti oil fields in Romania, 1944
Photo 2: Poster for 1979 film "Partizanska eskadrila"
After a considerable amount of time after the war, a monument was built as part of a spomenik complex near the airfield to commemorate and honor its war-time efforts. The primary monument element consisted of three concrete arcs combining to make a large U-shape roughly 8m tall. Unfortunately, due to the degradation, marginalization and neglect many WWII monuments faced in this part of Bosnia after the fall of Yugoslavia and the onset of the bloody Yugoslav Wars, it is not known exactly under what circumstances this spomenik was built, who designed it, or even what year it was completed. Presumably, it was built at some point around 1982, which was when an adjacent memorial was also built, which consisted of a retired Douglas C-47 airplane (this memorial will be discussed in detail in the next section). If this concrete monument element was indeed built around 1982, the impetus for its construction may have been the release of the 1979 Hajrudin Krvavac film "Partizanska eskadrila" ("Partisan Squadron" in the English language market) (Photo 2), which dramatized the events that occurred at the Medeno Polje airfield during WWII (with it actually being filmed right on this location). As such, the popularity of the film may have instigated the local population to advocate for a suitable monument be built which could commemorate these events. If you have more information about any aspect of this spomenik complex, especially knowledge of the designer of the central sculptural memorial, please contact me.
Currently, this spomenik complex is in very poor condition, with many of its engravings and commemorative plaques destroyed and shattered. While the concrete structure of the monument itself is still relatively intact, it is completely abandoned and does not appear to be maintained whatsoever. There is no evidence of regular visitors and no indication whatsoever that any sort of commemorative or remembrance events are held here any longer. Finally, simply as an reference aside, it is notable to mention that the name of the nearby town for which the airfield is named "Medeno Polje", literally translates into English as "Honey Fields". This area of Bosnia is well known for its honey production. If you see a roadside stand while driving in this region, I suggest you buy some!
Douglas C-47 Skytrain Memorial:
Another significant element of the spomenik complex here at Medeno Polje, Bosnia was a memorial work that consisted simply of one of the Douglas C-47 Skytrain military transport aircrafts which was used during WWII by the Partisan Air Force. This memorial was originally located directly adjacent to the primary memorial sculpture (roughly 100m northwest). The plane, situated on the side of the hill facing the airfield, was open to the public to explore, examine and walk through. Photos of this plane memorial in its original condition during the 1980s era can be seen in Slides 1 & 2. Within the memorial, on one of the plane's concrete landing gear platforms there was originally installed an engraved metal plaque (Slide 3). The inscription on this plaque read, roughly translated into English, as:
Douglas C-47 Skytrain Memorial - Slideshow
"Medeno Polje, in the course of National Liberation War, served as a wartime airfield for Partisan detachments of Yugoslavia. From 1943-1945, this airfield evacuated over 2000 wounded soldiers to Italian hospitals in warplanes of this type seen here."
The people of the municipality of Bosanski Petrovac,
Air Force Command and Anti-Air Defense
Medeno Polje, July 27th, 1982
After the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, this plane memorial fell into a similar state of deterioration and destruction to that of the primary monument at this spomenik complex. Then, in 1996 the plane was destroyed with explosives, with the mangled remaining pieces of it being sold off by scavengers for scrap metal. Also during this time, the rest of the memorial complex was destroyed as well. Even the inscribed commemorative metal plaque referred to above was stolen, as can be seen in Slide 4. What ruins remain at this site can be seen in Slides 5 - 8.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
At one point in time, evidence suggests that several engraved marble plaques existed at the memorial site here at Medeno Polje. However, at present time, the majority of these engraved and inscribed memorial elements have been destroyed and shattered by vandals. In Slide 1 you can observe the only remaining fragments of the engraved stone slabs which I was able to removed from in and around the monument's vicinity. In Slide 2 you can see the spot in which I believe this engraved stone slab was once installed. From an examination of these remains, it appears that the now destroyed inscription bore the names of many fallen soldiers or airmen who may have died at this place or who may have aided in the war and rescue efforts. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any records, photos or documents which recount what any of the engraved elements here communicated or depicted.
While I was not able to find any conclusive documents or information about the symbolism of the memorial sculpture here at Medeno Polje, upon initial evaluation of its shape, first assumptions would seem to indicate that its form depicts three distinct upwards arcing flight paths of aircraft which have just taken off from the ground or possibly even landed (Photo 3). Intuitively, such symbolism would seem to be a clear and unambiguous reference to the planes which would have landed at and departed from the airfield here at Medeno Polje during the World War II rescue missions. However, many monuments of the former Yugoslavia contain motifs of reaching for the sky or upwardly stretched victorious forms, so, the shape of the Medeno Polje memorial sculpture may simply be yet another incarnation of such a triumphant symbolic gesture.
Photo 3: Aircraft take-off flight paths
Status and Condition:
This monument appears to be completely abandoned and is in a state of extreme neglect and dereliction. There are no signs or markers pointing to it from the road, and there is no indication that it is maintained or cared for in any way. All of the plaques and engravings that once existed here have either been stolen or destroyed. The remoteness and isolation of this monument may be contributing to its abuse and vandalism, as it is easily seen from the road (which makes it a target), yet it is also in such an uninhabited area that no one would be readily seen attacking or vandalizing it. While the concrete structure of the monument is still mostly intact, it is experiencing significant deterioration and natural weathering. The base of the monument being in especially bad condition, having extreme cases of cracking, chipping and flaking of the concrete. There is no evidence that any commemorative ceremonies are being held here or that any flowers, wreaths or other offerings are being left here. Furthermore, from all outward indications, there do not appear to be any plans or intentions from any groups or parties to restore or rehabilitate this spomenik complex.
Getting to the monument complex here at Medeno Polje is a relatively easy endeavor. Firstly, from the town of Bosanski Petrovac, take highway M5/E761 northwest roughly 7km. Then, once you pass the road on the left (which leads into the village of Medeno Polje), drive another 300m and you will clearly see the spomenik complex on the right hand side of the road with an overgrown stone paved pathway leading up the hill to the monument right from the foot of the road. Parking can be made in a dirt patch across the highway from where that stone paved pathway meets the road, from which point the spomenik is less than a 50m walk away. The exact coordinates for parking are N44°34'17.2", E16°17'20.8".
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Selected Sources and More Information:
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