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Saturday, October 20th 2018, 6:12pm

Novosti News Service, Bar, Wednesday, 24 November 1948

Today saw several milestones in the renaissance of the Royal Yugoslav Navy. The Adriatic Shipyards saw the launch of Ammunition Auxiliary C and Ammunition Auxiliary D, the latest pair of Project 1948 Alpha vessels ordered by the navy. It is expected that they will be completed in the early spring of next year. The fast minelayer Banat has completed its operational training, and will undertake a cruise in company with her sister, Vojvodina, to the Greek port of Corfu.


Thursday, October 25th 2018, 12:40am

Yugoslav News and Events, December 1948

Novosti News Service, Slavonski Brod, Wednesday, 1 December 1948

The first production M48 “Kurjak” medium tank was handed over to representatives of the Royal Yugoslav Army today by the Special Vehicles Works of First Yugoslav Heavy Engineering Ltd. The Army has placed orders for an initial quantity of three hundred M48 tanks, production of which is to be shared with the Jasenica Equipment and Machinery Company of Smederevska Palanka.


Sunday, October 28th 2018, 1:37am

Novosti News Service, Bar, Monday, 6 December 1948

Yesterday saw special ceremonies to mark the launching of the latest two vessels intended for the Royal Yugoslav Navy – Landing Ship G and Landing Ship H. Both vessels are of the Project 1948 Gamma type. They are slated for completion in February of next year.


Thursday, November 15th 2018, 3:42pm

Lagny-sur-Marne, France, Friday, 10 December 1948

The postman had brought the letters the day before; Petar Baranov had left the one addressed to his daughter unopened, for she had not yet returned home from Paris for the winter holiday. The one addressed to him and his wife he had opened immediately, and the two of them had had long discussion over the contents. But they had reached a conclusion.

“Papa! Mama!” The slamming of the door occasioned by the strong wind outside announced Xenia’s arrival. She hung up her winter coat and joined her parents in the parlour where a few moments idle talk preceded serious matters.

“A letter has come for you my dear.” Baranov indicated the envelope on the sideboard, his look conveying a mix of love and concern. Xenia snatched it up and opened it, quickly scanning its contents.

“It is from Petar! He has invited… us… to visit Yugoslavia…” Baranov watched the play of emotions pass over his daughter’s face – surprise, elation, doubt, understanding. She did not speak for a moment, but looked first to her mother, and then to her father.

“What does your heart say child?” Her mother, of course, understood the matter.

“I wish to go, but…”

Grand Duchess Olga had chosen to follow her own heart, turning her back on ‘duty’ to find happiness with her husband away from courts and ceremony. Her daughter stood at a crossroads, but need to clearly see the choices ahead of her.

“If we go, you will have a clear view of the options ahead of you. I believe this man cares very much for you, but that alone does not mean that the path offered is the only one, or the happiest one, for you. To say no out of fear a most unwise course.”

Xenia considered her mother’s advice, and looked to her father.

“We shall go if it is your wish. As simple citizens of France, of course.”


Thursday, November 29th 2018, 1:42am

The Yugoslav Frontier, Thursday, 16 December 1948

The train sat on a siding just inside the Yugoslav border while the customs officials did their work of checking the papers of passengers, and the railway officials theirs of replenishing the water and the coal that the locomotive had consumed on its journey from Belgrade. Beyond the windows of the carriage snowflake fell on the flat fields of the Vojvodina. Xenia peered out the window, trying to form an impression of Yugoslavia.

“Papa, I thought Yugoslavia was a land of mountains?”

“This part of the country, I understand, is one of the richest, in terms of the crops grown here, the output of its farms, and the great herds of cattle. The mountains are further south; you will see them soon enough.”

A knock at the door of the compartment broke the chain of thought. It opened to admit a uniformed officer of the Yugoslav customs, who asked to examine the papers of the Baranovs. He received them, examined them, stamped them, and handed them back. With a few words of welcome, he exited the compartment and continued to the next.

Madam Baranova breathed a small sigh of relief; Monsieur Baranov merely shrugged. He was about to speak when a knock at the door announced another visitor, who entered and swiftly closed the door to the compartment, then bowed.

“Good afternoon, permit me to introduce myself. I am Adem Čejvan, chief equerry to His Majesty. I trust your journey thus far has been enjoyable.”

Xenia recognised Čejvan. “You accompanied the King when he visited Denmark in the summer.”

“Yes Your Grace…” then he corrected himself. “Yes Mademoiselle. I have been instructed to accompany you to Belgrade to assure that you are not unduly bothered.”


Sunday, December 2nd 2018, 12:51am

Belgrade, The Hotel Moderne, Saturday, 18 December 1948

Baranov was pleased that Čejvan had proven to be a man of his word. Their arrival at the hotel on Thursday evening had not attracted the attention of the press; indeed, the Hotel Moderne, while living up to its name, lacked a prestigious entry in the Michelin Guide; it was solid, respectable, and middle-class – as Baranov had insisted before agreeing to the trip. He also appreciated that he and his wife and daughter had been allow most of Friday to acclimate to their present surroundings, though King Petar had visited them that evening – incognito, of course – to welcome them to his country and discuss what they might wish to see. From Baranov’s perspective the King’s willingness to listen to their desires and interests scored high; it showed his inclination to treat his daughter as an equal.

It was agreed that the Baranovs might tour Belgrade, with Čejvan as their guide, and make their own estimates of the tenor of the populace, and that they had done. But it was also planned that on the morrow they would visit the King’s mother, Maria Karadoredevic, at her dacha outside the city. Despite the expectation that King Petar and other members of his family would visit as well, Čejvan seemed confident that protocol would not be burdensome.

“I wonder how they will manage that.”


Wednesday, December 5th 2018, 5:37pm

Outside Belgrade, “The Little House”, Sunday, 19 December 1948

Queen Maria Karadoredevic, widow of King Aleksandr and mother of King Petar, had received her dacha some years before as a gift from her husband, as an informal retreat. There, with but a small staff she could find relief from the political squabbles that so often consumed Aleksandr’s time and energy, and to indulge her own interests – painting and sculpting. It also provided a most convenient venue for the Baranovs to judge for themselves about Yugoslavia and – though it was unspoken – what life as its queen might offer the young Xenia.

Madam Baranova – who might otherwise be addressed as Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna – found “The Little House” surprisingly refreshing. The queen mother was her near contemporary – actually five years her junior – and a distant kinswoman. After some awkwardness at the initial introductions, Olga and her husband found Maria to be an intelligent, caring person in her own right – traits she seemed to have passed on to her sons.

For his part, Monsieur Baranov was relieved that the discussions did not dwell on the misfortunes of the Romanovs or “the old days” at the court of the Tsars. The queen mother was patroness of a program that encouraged young people – “Volunteers in Service to the Nation” – to spend up to a year working to raise standards of literacy among the peasantry or helping disseminate improved agricultural techniques to raise living standards. It was a policy she had advocated to her late husband, and which had been adopted by the Yugoslav Government.

Both the elder Baranovs noted that their daughter and the young king spent much time in animated conversation, discussing things ranging from the construction of great hydroelectric dams to the important work done by the Royal Oceanographic Institute in the southern port of Durrës. King Petar showed his high hopes for his country in his words and obvious enthusiasm. It was also clear that he desired a help-mate to make those dreams possible.


Monday, December 10th 2018, 1:20am

Sarajevo, Wednesday, 22 December 1948

Her parents were appalled when Xenia first suggested that they visit the city of Sarajevo – the city was so linked with the tragedies of the Great War that the Baranovs were against it – but the spirit of their daughter prevailed and overcame their misgivings.

“Petar has told me of the many challenges he faces in ruling over a kingdom of so many disparate elements, but that Sarajevo is the best place to see those challenges play out, and how citizens of Yugoslavia, of different faiths, can work together to build a better future. I want to see them for myself.”

Adem Čejvan, their guide and semi-official escort, had misgivings as well. He had suggested Zagreb, or Novi Sad, as places better suited to show the modern face of Yugoslavia. When he conveyed the young Baranova’s desire to the King, Petar shrugged. “She will see, and judge us, according to what we have accomplished. But I would not hide from her the truth.”

They had arrived the previous evening, and spent their first day exploring the city’s Centar district – a creation of the Hapsburgs from before the Great War. Amongst its many administrative buildings were at least four different houses of worship; and there were no outward signs – at least – of animosity between them. The shops and streets were filled with people conversing in a babel of tongues – for Sarajevo attracted many tourists – in this respect the Baranovs stood out not a jot.

Xenia was particularly fascinated by the many market stalls of the Baščaršija, the grand bazaar in the old quarter of the city. She picked out and purchased gifts for her friends back in Paris, as well as for members of the family. It was much the same in the Gazi-Husrev-Beg-Bazaar. Here again she found the merchants friendly and, though not speaking a word of any the local languages, discovered that French would carry her through – so long as she spoke clearly and listened carefully.


Thursday, December 13th 2018, 4:19am

Zagreb, Friday, 24 December 1948

The Baranovs found this cosmopolitan city a highlight of the visit; that they were there to witness the city’s Christmas celebrations certainly helped confirm the good impression it made on them. The Christmas market was in full swing, and all the Baranovs found more than sufficient souvenirs to fill their luggage. The bustle of the city – a centre of finance and industry – also created a favourable impression. With its long connections with the Hapsburgs, and the many buildings dating to that period, gave Zagreb a familiar feeling to the Baranovs, who had spent so many years in France. Xenia was particularly interested to find that the University of Zagreb was founded in 1669, and wondered if it might be possible to continue her studies there.

Petar Baranov, however, noted the concern of ordinary citizens for the threat posed by the Italians, who had seized much of old Croatia and Slovenia from the putative Yugoslav state at the end of the Great War. Despite the tranquillity of the season people seemed to fear that Italy might at any time try to grasp more territory, and they were willing to skimp to assure that the nation’s defences remained strong. He himself felt that these fears were misplaced, but then, he did not live the threat hovering over his head like the Damocles of legend.

Such thoughts were wiped away when the Baranovs attended a performance of The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky at the Croat National Theatre.


Wednesday, December 19th 2018, 3:32am

Novi Sad, Monday, 27 December 1948

Their guide, Adem Čejvan, had suggested that the Baranovs visit the city of Novi Sad before concluding their visit to Yugoslavia, and they had heeded his recommendation. The contrast between Croat Zagreb and Serb Novi Sad highlighted the dichotomy that was Yugoslavia. In Zagreb, the Christmas celebrations were winding down, in Novi Sad, they were still days away from completion, Epiphany being the day of greater importance. Of course, in Sarajevo, which they had visited earlier, Christmas was not of general importance.

Once renowned as the ‘Serbian Athens’ Novi Sad was at once a cultural and industrial centre of northern Yugoslavia, filled with museums, theatres, and, on its outskirts, modern factories which supported the buoyant Yugoslav economy. Newspapers available in street kiosks were filled with reports of royal visits in the southern portion of the country – inspections of troops in Cepotina, the dedication of several new schools, awards to scholars. King Petar, his brother Prince Tomislav, and even young Prince Andrew, were very much in the public eye.

It was surprising then when at the dinner hour Čejvan guided the Baranovs to a restaurant in one of the quieter neighbourhoods of the city – one which almost seemed closed for the evening.

“Petar!” Xenia rushed to embrace her ‘Prince Charming’.

Baranov turned to the equerry. “I don’t want to think what had to be done to permit the king to come here without the press catching wind of it.”

“Officially His Majesty is in route to visit the naval facilities at Kotor…”

Conversation at the small, intimate dinner, revolved around the impressions the Baranovs had formed about Yugoslavia, and what else they might wish to see before their return to France. For Xenia’s part, it seemed as if she had fallen in love with the country.


Thursday, December 27th 2018, 12:51am

The Soko Works, Mostar, Thursday, 28 December 1948

Major General Lav Rupnik watched with evident satisfaction as the three initial production examples of the Soko Strsljen single-seat fighter were rolled onto the tarmac at Soko’s test runway. If they successfully completed their acceptance he was on hand to personally receive them on behalf of the Royal Yugoslav Air Force; it they failed, he was quite prepared to superintend the sacking of Soko’s management.

The ground staff preparing the aircraft for testing were well aware of how important the day was – for the country as a whole and for their own jobs – and proceeded at a deliberate pace. When the first aircraft was readied the company’s test pilot personally briefed the experienced Air Force service pilot who would perform the acceptance test flight. As the day wore on he would repeat this process as the other two aircraft were readied.

It was about noon when the engines of the first Strsljen were spooled up and the aircraft taxied to the end of the runway. The pilot ran the engines to full power and the aircraft thundered down the runway, and then leapt into the air. Its pilot put it through the prescribed test plan without incident, and returned to the ground after thirty minutes.

“That is the first; will luck hold for the other two?” The subsequent test flights answered Rupnik’s question in the affirmative. All three Strsljens successfully completed their acceptance tests.

The winter sun was setting in the west when Rupnik signed the documents of formal acceptance. The Soko management gave a collective sigh of relief, and the company could proceed to the manufacture of the initial batch of two hundred aircraft. For his part, Rupnik departed to return to Belgrade to personally inform the Minister of Defence and His Majesty.