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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Balkan Air Force Formed

June 1944 to May 1945

Theatre: Balkans
Location: Southern Italy and Yugoslavia
Players: Allies: Air Vice Marshal William Elliott's Balkan Air Force; General Nathan Twining's 15th US Army Air Force (USAAF); Marshal Josip Tito's Yugoslav People's Liberation Army (Partisans).
Outcome: The harassment of the German occupiers and assistance to Yugoslav Partisans.

The Balkan Air Force (BAF) was established by Eisenhower in June 1944. Based in Bari in liberated southern Italy, the BAF was tasked with co-ordinating Allied operations in the Adriatic.

William Elliott, BAF Air Officer Commanding, set out three goals: providing air support to the Partisans; establishing a base on the Dalmatian coast; and organising attacks on German forces in Yugoslavia and the Adriatic.

The BAF's first success was the establishment of the Balkan Air Terminal Service (BATS). Five BATS teams were parachuted into Yugoslavia, where they made contact with the Partisans and set up a network of concealed airstrips. The flow of Allied supplies to the Partisans increased dramatically, while a base for irregular Allied land operations was established on the Partisan-controlled island of Vis.

As the Germans, under pressure from Russia, withdrew from Greece through Yugoslavia, the BAF launched a major attack on German communications, dubbed Operation Ratweek. BAF fighter attacks - co ordinated with Partisan operations on the ground and 15th USAAF heavy bomber raids - destroyed aircraft, lorries and locomotives as well as severely damaging the rail and road network.

Meanwhile the Royal Navy, Special Boat Service and Long Range Desert Group, an irregular group formed in North Africa, carried out harassment and sabotage operations along the Dalmatian coast.

Following the success of Ratweek and subsequent air and sea attacks, relations with the Partisans began to deteriorate, with ground troops meeting political and even physical resistance. While the Allies had greatly enhanced Tito's military strength, his political authority was not to be diluted.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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