On May 29, 1944, an American B17 Flying Fortress bomber plane called Liberty Bell crashed atop an otherworldly mountain in Slovenia. The World War II bomber went down on Velika Planina, an idyllic alpine plateau where centuries of herders have grazed their sheep and cattle.
Located high in the Kamnik-Savinja Alps, Velika Planina (which means “Big Pasture Plateau”) is no ordinary mountaintop. Tourists compare it to the mythical Narnia (indeed, parts of the Narnia films were made in Slovenia) or J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and it truly is a fantasy land—a flat, rolling meadow dotted with low-slung wooden houses and backdropped by the snowcapped Alps.
This high mountain landscape also has its own unique microculture, with a traditional costume (wooden shoes and a raincoat made of pine shavings), food (Trnic, a hard, parmesan-like cheese that is intentionally made in the shape of breasts—and made in pairs, naturally), houses (low-slung against the wind, looking like Hobbit holes), and folk traditions (a local ethnographic museum has a knife carved with enchanted runes, to work against curses).
And in 1944, this enchanting landscape was the site of an extraordinary event. Ten Allied soldiers were on the plane went it crashed on Velika Planina, two of whom were killed on impact. Nazi soldiers were occupying Slovenia at the time, and the hunt was on for the remaining crew members. Two were eventually captured by the Nazis, but six others were first found by the local Slovene Partisans (an anti-Nazi resistance group). Three of these airmen were well enough to make their own way down the mountain, but three were badly hurt, including the pilot, and were taken to a secret Partisan hospital that was hidden in the thick forests below the mountain.
The American soldiers needed an IV drip, so supplies were precariously smuggled from the nearest town, Kamnik, by Partisans. Two of the Allies successfully recovered from their injuries over the course of a 10-day stay in hiding at the foot of Velika Planina. In the end, the captain, Oto H. Hinds of Boulder, Colorado, could not be saved. He was buried near the secret Partisan hospital. The gravesite that can be visited today, along with the ruins of the hospital, along a beautiful walk from Kamniška Bistrica up towards Velika Planina.
Scrap metal from the crashed Flying Fortress was gathered by locals and used to construct buildings. Look closely and you’ll notice that one of the cowherd huts on Velika Planina is fitted with a very special door, which was once the hatch to the bomber.
Know Before You Go
Velika Planina can be accessed by car (a long circuitous drive to the top), or by a 10-minute gondola ride from Kamniska Bistrica, near the town of Kamnik. It is open for skiing in the winter, and you can rent cottages there (most without electricity or running water). There are numerous good mountain huts that serve food and drink, and it is great for hiking. Once you're at the top, Velika Planina is almost completely flat, making it good for walking, even with children. Visitors should be informed, that even if arriving by car, they cannot drive the last leg of the trip. Be prepared for an uphill walk to this magnificent site. Locals can drive there, and hitchiking can be successful!