Yugoslavia – Operation EPSOM
Six days (or nights) after landing at Luqa, Austin makes the first attempt to drop the two agents plus a pair of containers. The containers are loaded on to Austin’s Whitley immediately he lands in Malta, and on the 8th he is told by the AOC (Air Officer Commanding) Malta that his orders are to come directly from the AOC. A Halifax also arrives to be tasked with the same operation, though which aircraft it was, where it had come from, and who was flying it, remains unknown.
Austin takes off from Luqa at 20.10 in fine weather. He flies a course similar to his November sortie, pinpointing on Saseno Island (now called Sazan Island) and Durazzo (now Durres) on the Albanian coast, where he heads inland for Mitrovicë. The target is close to Cacak, in Serbia, not the Cetnik citadel at Ravna Gora.
Shortly after midnight Austin and his crew arrive over the target, which they positively identify. They circle for 35 minutes, flashing the recognition signal ‘R’, but they see no lights that might be interpreted as a signal. However, they do see the Halifax over the target area, a good indication that they’re in the right place. Like Austin’s Whitley the Halifax is flashing Morse letter ‘R’ with its downward-facing signal-lamp, but a like response is not forthcoming from the ground. In Austin’s Whitley the Second Pilot claims to see a red light on the ground in the target area, but it isn’t confirmed by anyone else in the crew. The Whitley leaves the target area with both containers and the two agents still aboard. Course is set for Malta, where they land at 07:00.
The reception-committee no-show might be explained by the state of Partisan-Chetnik-German relations in early November 1941. The Partisans and Chetniks are hidden in the mountains with their respective headquarters less than twenty miles apart. They have cooperated on attacks against the Germans in September and October. The Partisans are more active in attacking the Germans and Croat militias, but German reprisals are brutal in the extreme. A Führer-order has demanded 100 hostages to be executed for each German soldier killed, and 50 for each one wounded: in October more than five thousand hostages have been murdered, from just two towns. The Partisans appear to treat this as the price that has to be paid, but the scale of German atrocity persuades Mihailovic, who relies more on local support, to seek some sort of accommodation with the occupiers while saving his powder and energies for action against the Partisans, the Royalists’ real enemy. Once the Russians and British have defeated the Germans the Partisans will have to be dealt with. So why wait?
Mihailovic and Tito have met on October 27, but they agreed only on minor matters. Mihailovic strikes at Partisan troops on November 1. Two days later he postpones a planned meeting with the Germans, but meets them at Divci on December 11th, offering cooperation and making clear that the Communists were his main enemy. The Halifax and Whitley arrive over the mountains that very night, just when the Chetniks might have their hands full.