The Air Force of the Independent State of Croatia
|Air Force badge|
The NDH Air Force was established on April 19, 1941, with the appointment of Vladimir Kren as Commander of the Air Force Department. In June 1941, an agreement was reached with the Germans on the establishment of permanent airports and the takeover of captured aircraft from the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia. As a result of this agreement, the NDH Air Force established two airports: Zagreb and Sarajevo. On September 14, 1943, Adalbert Rogulja became the head of the Battalion, who remained in that position until the disintegration of the Independent State of Croatia. During its existence, the NDH Air Force was reorganized several times, and during the reorganization, the name was also changed, so that from February 1943 it was called the Croatian Air Force (HBZ). The command published the semi-monthly magazine Hrvatska krila.
|The Breguet 19 was a French-designed aircraft built under license in Yugoslavia for the Royal Yugoslav Air Force. The ZNDH made use of some 50 captured Breguets for an attack, re-supply, and reconnaissance missions against the Yugoslav Partisans.|
After the creation of the NDH Air Force, it was necessary to procure aircraft. Due to the impossibility of procuring aircraft from Germany, an agreement was reached to recruit obsolete aircraft that were part of the army of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia into the Air Force of the Independent State of Croatia. The planes were collected at various airfields throughout Serbia so that the Air Force received many different models, which created many problems during pilot training as well as during maintenance. Due to the impossibility of procuring parts, losses, and defections to the partisan side, the NDH Air Force always had problems with the number of sufficiently correct aircraft to perform basic operations. Later, the NDH Air Force procured aircraft from Italy (since 1942), and after the capitulation of Italy, the possibility of procurement was reduced so that only in 1944 complete squadrons (flocks) of Messerschmitt Bf 109 arrived from Germany.
|Line-up of ZNDH Caproni Ca.310 light bombers at Zagreb's Borongaj airfield, 1942.|
Zagreb: Lučko, Borongaj and Sveta Nedelja
Banja Luka: Zalužani
Mostar (after the capitulation of Italy)
In co-operation with the German military, the NDH Air Force invited officers and NCOs of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia who were ethnic Croats (there were about 500 of them among the officers and about 1,600 among the NCOs) - and who were mostly in German captivity - to join in the ranks of the NDH Air Force; which also made available a significant number of aircraft, which mostly fell into the hands of the Germans at captured airports in Serbia. Most of the best among about 300 Yugoslav aircraft - especially the very modern Bristol Blenheim I light bombers - ended up with other German allies (20 in Finland, 6 in Romania). 6 good Dornier Do 17s ended up in the Bulgarian Air Force and 6 Hawker Hurricane fighters in the Romanian Air Force. The NDH Air Force received much obsolete light aircraft from the RZ of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but it still got hold of 8 Bristol Blenheim.
|The Italian designed and built Fiat G.50 was the first relatively modern fighter aircraft available to the ZNDH in reasonable numbers. Some were still in service in 1945.|
The beginning of the anti-partisan war was greeted by the NDH Air Force with several dozen obsolete French scouts / light bombers Potez 25 and Breguet 19, which could carry up to 200 kg (Potez 25) and 400 bombs (Breguet 19), respectively. In reconnaissance and bombing operations against the enemy, which had no air defenses, these planes proved suitable and were used extensively for logistical support to isolated military positions that were difficult or not at all supplied by land. Dozens of Yugoslav biplanes Zmaj Fizir will soon be used for similar functions, which, thanks to their simplicity, will prove to be durable: some of these aircraft will survive the war and will then be "inherited" from the NDH Air Force by the Yugoslav Air Force.
The NDH Air Force was trying to procure more modern aircraft, the first of which were one excellent Italian three-engine bomber Savoia Marchetti SM.79, and one Czech Avia Fokker. It was not until 1942, when the NDH area was already affected by heavy fighting, that the NDH Air Force procured 10 new Italian Caproni Ca.311 M light bombers, which had been previously ordered and paid for by the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. A dozen Fiat G.50bis fighters arrived from Italy, and about twenty Avia F.l.3 school planes arrived from the Czech Republic. By then, 11 Dornier Do 17K medium bombers had arrived from the repair, and an additional three Bristol Blenheim Ikarus, which were previously part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but were badly damaged. Thanks to these reinforcements, at the end of 1942 and in the first half of 1943, the NDH Air Force was able to provide air support even for German military forces deployed in the NDH area. However, nearly 40 aircraft were lost due to breakdowns and infantry fire. On May 23, 1942, Franjo Kluz and Rudi Čajavec fled with the Potez 25 and Breguet planes to the partisans.
|The Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 was a French-designed fighter aircraft captured by Germany in 1940 and sold to the NDH in 1943.|
Further aircraft were difficult to reach, and it was not until mid-1943 that about 30 overhauled Dornier Do 17 light bombers were sent from Germany. By the end of the year, over 40 captured French Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 fighters would arrive from Germany. The Germans also delivered 25 Beneš-Mráz Beta-Minor, which increased the fleet of light aircraft suitable for reconnaissance and modest anti-partisan actions. After the capitulation of Italy, the Germans handed over about 60 relatively modern Italian aircraft to the NDH Air Force. By the end of 1943, the NDH Air Force had almost 10,000 members, with almost 300 aircraft, of which perhaps a third were modern fighter aircraft.
From the end of 1944 until the middle of 1945, the NDH Air Force would lose about 250 planes in Allied attacks, mostly while they were on the ground. Several planes were destroyed in partisan attacks on airports. Deliveries of 39 new Messerchitta Bf 109s and various other aircraft from Germany made up for these losses to some extent, but fuel was getting weaker. In April 1945, the NDH Air Force practically disintegrated, with several pilots fleeing by plane to the side of the partisans or to the Allies in Italy.
Part of the NDH Air Force personnel was sent to Germany in 1941, where they were trained to fly German bombers and fighters, wear German uniforms, take the German military oath, and act as members of the German Air Force. They performed tasks in the territory of the USSR, as the Croatian Air Legion. Of the pilots of that legion, Mato Dukovac had 44 recognized victories in air battles, and Cvitan Galić 28.