Operation Halyard

U.S. Airmen with Dragoljub Mihalović

Operation Halyard was the largest Allied airlift operation behind enemy lines, of over 500 Allied airmen downed over Nazi occupied Serbia by Serbian Chetnik guerrillas, led by General Dragoljub Mihailović, with the assistance of American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) liaison officers. Most of the airmen had been shot down during numerous bombing runs, most of which were on their way from Italy to bomb German occupied oil fields in Romania. They were not captured, but instead practiced escape and evade until coming into contact with the Chetniks.

This operation took place between August and December 1944 from a crudely constructed airfield created by Serbian peasants in Pranjane, Serbia. It is little known today, and largely unknown to most Americans. It is the subject of the 2007 book The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All For the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II, by author Gregory A. Freeman. In his book, he describes it as one of the greatest rescue stories ever told. It tells the story of how the airmen were downed in a country they knew nothing about, and how the Serbian villagers were willing to sacrifice their own lives to save the lives of the air crews.

The OSS planned an elaborate rescue involving C-47 cargo planes landing in enemy territory. It was an extremely risky project, involving the planes not only entering enemy territory without being shot down themselves, but also landing, picking up the downed airmen, then taking off and flying out of that same territory, again without being shot down themselves. The rescue was a complete success, but received little to no publicity. Part of this was due to the timing, and the world being focused on the D-Day operations in France.

Because of this operation, and due to the efforts of Major Richard Felman, U.S. President Harry S. Truman posthumously awarded General Mihailović the Legion of Merit award for his contribution to the Allied victory during World War II. The award was presented to Mihailović's daughter Gordana by the U.S. State Department on May 9, 2005.

For the first time in history, this high award and the story of the rescue was classified secret by the U.S. State Department so as not to offend the then Communist government of Yugoslavia. Such a display of appreciation for the Chetniks would not have been welcome as the Allies switched sides to Josip Broz Tito's Partisans during the war.

On September 12, 2004, four American veterans, Clare Musgrove, Art Jiblian, George Vujnovich and Robert Wilson visited Pranjani again for the unveiling of a commemorative plaque at the Pranjani airfield. 


Source: General Draza Mihailovich: Unsung World War Two Hero:



Resources on Marzabotto, Sant'Anna di

McBride, James.  Miracle at St. Anna (Riverland Trade, 2003).

Following the huge critical and commercial success of his nonfiction memoir, The Color of Water, McBride offers a powerful and emotional novel of black American soldiers fighting the German army in the mountains of Italy around the village of St. Anna of Stazzema in December 1944. This is a refreshingly ambitious story of men facing the enemy in front and racial prejudice behind; it is also a carefully crafted tale of a mute Italian orphan boy who teaches the American soldiers, Italian villagers and partisans that miracles are the result of faith and trust. Toward the end of 1944, four black U.S. Army soldiers find themselves trapped behind enemy lines in the village as winter and the German army close in. Pvt. Sam Train, a huge, dim-witted, gentle soldier, cares for the traumatized orphan boy and carries a prized statue's head in a sack on his belt. Train and his three comrades are scared and uncertain what to do next, but an Italian partisan named Peppi involves the Americans in a ruthless ploy to uncover a traitor among the villagers. Someone has betrayed the villagers and local partisans to the Germans, resulting in an unspeakable reprisal. Revenge drives Peppi, but survival drives the Americans. The boy, meanwhile, knows the truth of the atrocity and the identity of the traitor, but he clings to Train for comfort and protection. Through his sharply drawn characters, McBride exposes racism, guilt, courage, revenge and forgiveness, with the soldiers confronting their own fear and rage in surprisingly personal ways at the decisive moment in their lives.


Miracle at St. Anna (2008), Director: Spike Lee, Running time: 160 minutes.

In the fall of 1944, four African-American soldiers find themselves caught behind enemy lines and surrounded by German soldiers. They take refuge in a small Italian village that has been temporarily vacated by the Germans. In their company in a small boy, obviously shell-shocked and feverish, who seems only to speak to his invisible friend Arturo. Tensions rise among the four men not only because of their life-threatening situation but also because two of them become rivals for the attention of an attractive young woman. When they manage to make contact with their unit, they are told to capture a German soldier for questioning and with the aid of the Italian partisans, have a candidate. What they don't realize is that there is a traitor in the partisan group, one that will have major repercussion on one of the men 40 years later. Written by garykmcd for IMDb.


Olsen, Jack.  Silence on Monte Sole (I Books, 2002).

Monte Sole -- Mountain of the Sun -- had the bad luck to lie on the main route of withdrawal of the retreating German armies in the fall of 1944. As the Allied advance stormed up Italy to the very shadow of Monte Sole, Axis frustration over their retreat and the harassing Italian partisans reached its peak.

With full authorization of Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, and with an infusion of dread SS reinforcements, the Germans determined to neutralize Monte Sole. The result was, in Kesselring's chilling words, "a war operation." In brilliant, page-turning prose, Olsen re-creates the unspeakable three-day butchery of innocent Italian civilians that ranked among the blackest atrocities in the history of man's inhumanity to man.

Jack Olsen served in the U.S. Army Air Force and the OSS. Olsen is the award-winning author of thirty-one books. A former Time bureau chief, Olsen has been described by the Philadelphia Inquirer as an 'American treasure'.


Revenge and Retaliation

School children of Sant'Anna di Stazzema

The massacres of Italian civilians were in revenge and retaliation for the resistance carried out by the Italian population and groups of partisans against the German occupation. According to the orders of the Nazi and Wehrmacht leadership, 50 Italians were to be killed for every German victim. In the course of the operations in the Marzabotto area this ratio became one hundred to one.

The massacres of Sant’Anna di Stazzema and Marzabotto were two of many war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Wehrmacht, the SS and other German forces during the Second World War in the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Eastern Europe and in other occupied areas. In Italy, this massacre counts among innumerable other war crimes that became all the more brutal, cruel and reckless as the German troops were pushed back by the allied advance and the resistance of the partisans.

Walter Reder

After the war, only SS Sturmbannführer Walter Reder, who led the 16th Armored Infantry Division, was held legally accountable for the massacres of Sant’Anna di Stazzema and Marzabotto.

On October 31, 1951, an Italian military court in Bologna sentenced him to lifelong imprisonment. An appeal confirmed the judgement in 1954. Following massive pressure behind the scenes from the German government and Vatican representatives, a military court in Bari heard his case again in 1980, reducing his sentence. Five years later, on January 24, 1985, Waffen-SS officer Walter Reder was a free man who could return to his homeland Austria, where he was greeted by Defence Minster Friedhelm Frischenschlager, a member of Jörg Haider’s far-right Austrian Freedom Party.

This unleashed a wave of indignation in Italy. Survivors and relatives of the victims had opposed this war criminal being granted a pardon. Heaping yet more scorn on his victims, one year after his release Reder rescinded the apology he had given the municipality of Marzabotto during his detention, as well as the expression of “regret” during his trial in Bari. Reder died in Vienna in 1991 at the age of 75 years.




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