The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II Info

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The astonishing, never before told story of the
greatest rescue mission of World War II—when the OSS set out to
recover more than 500 airmen trapped behind enemy lines in
Yugoslavia...


During a bombing campaign over Romanian
oil fields, hundreds of American airmen were shot down in Nazi-occupied
Yugoslavia. Local Serbian farmers and peasants risked their own lives
to give refuge to the soldiers while they waited for rescue, and in
1944, Operation Halyard was born. The risks were incredible. The
starving Americans in Yugoslavia had to construct a landing strip large
enough for C-47 cargo planes—without tools, without alerting the
Germans, and without endangering the villagers. And the cargo planes had
to make it through enemy airspace and back—without getting shot
down themselves.
 
Classified for over half a century for
political reasons, the full account of this unforgettable story of
loyalty, self-sacrifice, and bravery is now being told for the first
time ever. The Forgotten 500 is the gripping, behind-the-scenes
look at the greatest escape of World War II.
“Amazing
[and] riveting.”—James Bradley, New York Times
bestselling author of Flags of Our Fathers

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II:

5

Mar 31, 2009

I'm very biased about this book because my dad, Joseph Peter Hoffman, was one of the forgotten 500. I'm so appreciative to Gregory Freeman for bringing this event to a potentially large audience. My father never spoke much about his experience, but we would hear more about it from the more vocal crew members that he kept in contact with throughout his life. His crew bailed out due to mechanical issues with their plane. One of his crewmates broke his leg during the landing, and he was carried by I'm very biased about this book because my dad, Joseph Peter Hoffman, was one of the forgotten 500. I'm so appreciative to Gregory Freeman for bringing this event to a potentially large audience. My father never spoke much about his experience, but we would hear more about it from the more vocal crew members that he kept in contact with throughout his life. His crew bailed out due to mechanical issues with their plane. One of his crewmates broke his leg during the landing, and he was carried by his crewmates to safety (many miles). These men were bonded with one another in ways that I will never understand.

I had no idea the level of politics that was involved in this entire situation. The beginning of the book was heavy on this politics, but I understand how important it was to giving the rationale for why no one had ever heard about it. I would have enjoyed hearing more about the trials and tribulations of the 500.

My father died a few months before this book was published. I only wish that it had come out a few years earlier. ...more
3

Feb 01, 2016

I live in Serbia so everything in this book was familiar to me. I found it light reading that neither taxed nor insulted my intelligence.

Today, between Italy and Greece, there's a series of sovereign nations: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo. But back in 1941, it was all one country called Yugoslavia. The Nazis invaded and conquered Yugoslavia and divided it up between themselves and their Axis partners. Within Occupied Yugoslavia there were two distinct I live in Serbia so everything in this book was familiar to me. I found it light reading that neither taxed nor insulted my intelligence.

Today, between Italy and Greece, there's a series of sovereign nations: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo. But back in 1941, it was all one country called Yugoslavia. The Nazis invaded and conquered Yugoslavia and divided it up between themselves and their Axis partners. Within Occupied Yugoslavia there were two distinct resistance movements: the Partisans and the Chetniks.

The Partisans were Communist and sought to remake Yugoslavia in the image of the Soviet Union. The Chetniks were exclusively Serb and sought to re-establish the status quo, in which they were the boss most of the time.

In addition to fighting the Axis, the Partisans and Chetniks also fought each other. Initially, the Allies began supplying the Chetniks with arms but gradually switched the bulk of their support to the Partisans, whom they judged to be more effective.

Despite being dumped, the Chetniks went out of their way to rescue Allied airmen shot down on their way to bomb oil refineries in neighboring Romania. By the summer of '44 there were over 500 of these, mostly American. The OSS (precursor to the CIA) devised a plan to rescue them, over the objections of the British, who didn't wish to antagonize the Partisans. The Chetniks and airmen made, by hand, a landing strip in the middle of the Serbian mountains for transport planes to land and pick up the soldiers. Amazingly, it worked. Yet this story is not well-known, for various reasons. This book seeks to clarify those reasons and set the record straight about the Chetniks.

Overall, this history is well-written, although repetitive in some parts. It also gets a lot of Serbian phrases wrong, which is weird because it gets all the Italian ones right (one of the rescued airmen was Italian-American). Also, since this isn't meant to be a scholarly tome, I didn't like it when the author presumes to record what's going in the mind of a subject, switching to first-person. If you're recording another's actual thoughts, just put quotations around the damn thing.

What I did like about this book, though, is what I'll call its Game of Thrones approach. It hops from person to person, revealing a little more of the overall story through each. It's an excellent approach to organization; and since I'm writing an historical novel these days (years?), it gives me ideas.

I'm not sure how much the general reader or WWII fan will like this. I dug it mostly because I know everything the book is talking about, and have even been to the area where it takes place. The mountainous region of Serbia is indeed isolated. One visit and it's easy to imagine resistance fighters hiding by the thousands.

To be sure, the Chetniks were not angels. Neither were the Partisans. Nor, for that matter, were the Allies in their dealings with them. But just because a group of men often do bad things doesn't mean they're incapable of doing a good thing. The Chetniks put themselves at great risk hiding the downed airmen, and got nothing for it in the end. At the end of the war, the Partisans were triumphant (thanks to the Allies) and the Chetniks were executed. But in the testimonies recorded in this book, you're confronted by nothing but sincere gratitude on the part of the rescued airmen for the men who saved them, a passionate gratitude that has lasted all their lives.
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3

May 22, 2012

The subject matter of this book is very interesting and certainly worthy of learning about. However, I found this author to be maddeningly juvenile in his style of writing. I felt like he was writing to four year olds.

After only a few pages, the author mentioned the first Ploesti raid from North Africa and said it was a high level raid, and that the subsequent raids on Ploesti were low level raids from Italy. I read the book, Ploesti, some years ago which described that first raid in detail. As The subject matter of this book is very interesting and certainly worthy of learning about. However, I found this author to be maddeningly juvenile in his style of writing. I felt like he was writing to four year olds.

After only a few pages, the author mentioned the first Ploesti raid from North Africa and said it was a high level raid, and that the subsequent raids on Ploesti were low level raids from Italy. I read the book, Ploesti, some years ago which described that first raid in detail. As I remember, after all of the difficulties and miscommunications, the B-24s attacked the oil fields from the north at dangerously low levels and suffered mightily for it.

Another faux pas I noticed early on was that the author stated that the bombers attacking the oil fields of Ploesti flew west (look it up!) to reach the oilfields. It was then that the author's credibility waned quickly. My thought was, "This guy doesn't know what he is talking about."

At one point he describes the U.S. OSS as a bastion of "effete" academics and communists, which may or may not have been true, but which was served up so blithely and without historical context (the Soviets were our allies at the time, after all, and communism wasn't quite the dirty word in the 1930s and early 1940s that it is today) that it made me wonder if I was reading the work of a right-wing ideologue using 70-year old history to advance a more modern, anti-intellectual frame for blaming the Cold War on liberals.

- I wonder if author ever consulted a map or is aware of the fact that North is up on maps. So, the north of Yugoslavia he constantly refers to would put happenings in Slovenia or northern parts of Croatia not in Serbia, east to southeast part of Yugoslavia where it actually happened.
- Military forces and factions operating in Yugoslavia are misplaced all over the place. So, author puts Croatian ustashe in Serbian Belgrade of all places. This is hilarious actually.
- Wrong airplane descriptions and how turrets operate
- Unnecessary and invented reflections of airmen while suspended under canopy. Anyone who ever tried to jump out of an airplane, even worse bail out, knows that things are happening so fast and are so intensive that one simply goes into automatic mode of saving life not contemplating nature and political questions while ground and 50/50 chance of braking limbs or dying are coming at you very fast.
- During WWII the largest free territory in all occupied countries in Europe was in Tito's (partisans) hands stretching over large parts of Yugoslavia. There was even Allied airfield from which British Spitfires operated on island of Vis. Again, taking a look at the map would reveal a fact that all those airmen could have simply marched over to Tito's forces and would be out of Yugoslavia quickly. That is if Mihalovich would allow them or transfer them to Tito's forces instead of using them as bargaining chips with Allies.
- The book constantly treats readers as idiots trying to revision history by claiming that author knows facts better than British or American military of that time and all this by quoting pro chetnik sources exclusively. This simply kills the joy and fun of reading about one spectacular operation. If he stuck and more thoroughly researched technical and military aspects of the operation instead of writing political pamphlet it could have been a good book
- There are many more issues in the book like Mihailovich collaborating with Nazis against partisans, not quoting relevant and official military sources of that time, claiming that all the Serbs were chetniks,etc., etc., taking sides and making arguments instead of giving us facts and letting the reader be a judge and draw conclusions.

There are a number of other little errors, like the fact that the ball turret on the underside of a B-17 did not have hand cranked controls, there was no side hatch on a B-24 (people bailed out through the bomb bay doors), etc. He also claims that Halyard was the biggest air rescue of the war. Wrong. There was a airlift of 1100 airmen from an airport near Bucharest in August, 1944 that happened in THREE DAYS, under mortar fire no less. The jacket copy I remember seeing hailed Freeman as having "20 years of experience as a journalist." Geez, what kind of journalist? ...more
5

Mar 06, 2013

Just when I thought I knew all of the major aspects of WWII, along comes a book that shatters all those illusions. The Forgotten 500 is an amazing story of 500+ airmen who came down in the mountains of Yugoslavia and how they are saved from starvation and capture by the rugged Serb freedom fighters. And to that extent, I've read books like this before. But the back-story is filled with twists and turns that include espionage, lovers escaping to freedom, political wrangling between the US and our Just when I thought I knew all of the major aspects of WWII, along comes a book that shatters all those illusions. The Forgotten 500 is an amazing story of 500+ airmen who came down in the mountains of Yugoslavia and how they are saved from starvation and capture by the rugged Serb freedom fighters. And to that extent, I've read books like this before. But the back-story is filled with twists and turns that include espionage, lovers escaping to freedom, political wrangling between the US and our allies, Communist moles and a coverup that took 50 years to come to light. Gregory Freeman does an incredible job documenting the major players in this epic saga that no one today seems to know about. Churchill calls this episode his greatest mistake during WWII. A mistake (not just on his part) that led to tragic consequences for heroes, resistance fighters and for entire nations. Note: the book really takes off after chapter 7, so if you decide to read this, hold your judgment until at least then. ...more
2

Jan 18, 2008

I'm afraid I'm going to have to burst a lot of bubbles with this review, because I know a lot of people really enjoyed this book. To be fair, the storytelling style is really gripping and chock-full of well-told war stories. I love war stories, especially when they're true. Problem is, this book is FULL of historical errors major and minor. The only reason I know is because I'm writing an article on Operation Halyard, and have talked to some of the veterans involved, including Tom Oliver and I'm afraid I'm going to have to burst a lot of bubbles with this review, because I know a lot of people really enjoyed this book. To be fair, the storytelling style is really gripping and chock-full of well-told war stories. I love war stories, especially when they're true. Problem is, this book is FULL of historical errors major and minor. The only reason I know is because I'm writing an article on Operation Halyard, and have talked to some of the veterans involved, including Tom Oliver and George Vujnovich. They tell me that one of Freeman's major sources, Felman the airman who appears in the book a lot, was a habitual liar and constantly embroidered accounts of the things he witnessed. He was only there barely a couple of months, yet he comes across as though he were the leader of the airmen. The one airman I talked to never even met Felman while there, and they were both there at the same time and were evacuated within days of each other. An example of an error: Freeman claims that Halyard was the largest rescue of downed American airmen. WRONG. There was a much bigger one that happened outside Bucharest in August, 1944 that got 1100 airmen out in three days. Also, Freeman suggests that the airmen participated in building the airstrip near Pranjani. Wrong again. The Serb villagers and the Chetniks soldiers did all the work. Another one: Freeman states that the first slang-coded message sent by the airmen included the latitude and longitude of their location along with a serial number. Wrong again! the airmen sent that info at the request of the 15th Air Force after the Air Force made their first response. And so on, and so on. It's pretty sad that though the jacket copy trumpets Greg Freeman's 20 years of work as a journalist, he did a really sloppy job. Not only that, but it was really obvious that his real intention is not to tell the story of Operation Halyard, but to rehabilitate the reputation of Gen. Mihailovich. What was funny was that when I looked at the OSS' original operational records for Operation Halyard, there was one document from the Air Force that expressed concern that Mihailovich might be using the airmen he rescued "as exhibits" to prove his loyalty and friendliness to the Allies to get back in their good graces. Freeman's whitewash job (which totally ignores evidence that Mihailovich really did collaborate with Axis forces) makes you really wonder if it was true. The last word is this: good yarn, sloppy history.
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2

Sep 28, 2013

Whilst this is a good yarn and provides some interesting back stories I felt it lacked substance.

The book descends into Brit and communist bashing where some of the facts are tenuous and at best circumstantial.

Following my own further research of the subject it's clear the author had been somewhat lax on his grip of the facts generally and totally ignores evidence that Mihailovich really did collaborate with Axis forces.

A good tale ruined by factual errors and a political agenda.

5

May 29, 2008

If you are a WWII buff this is a must read. The incredible, untold story of the rescue of over 500 US and Allied pilots from Yugoslavia over just a few weeks. Many personal stories and the heroism of the Yugoslav (primarily Serbs)people and how they gave us their food and shelter to feed and house these fliers. An important part of this book is the role of Communists in the US and British Armies and the OSS and British Secret Service and how they influenced the relationship between the US, Great If you are a WWII buff this is a must read. The incredible, untold story of the rescue of over 500 US and Allied pilots from Yugoslavia over just a few weeks. Many personal stories and the heroism of the Yugoslav (primarily Serbs)people and how they gave us their food and shelter to feed and house these fliers. An important part of this book is the role of Communists in the US and British Armies and the OSS and British Secret Service and how they influenced the relationship between the US, Great Britian and Yugoslavia. It was their influence that allowed the US and British governments to support Tito and his communists that led to his eventual rise as the head of post-war Yugoslavia. Very enlightening and somewhat frustrating at the role these moles played. And, what is really frustrating is that it was know they were communists, but the enemy at the time was facists Germany and Italy. ...more
4

Jun 01, 2018

Audio #59

I knew nothing of this secret mission. I had never heard of the save from Yugoslavia. This was very impressive.
5

Nov 05, 2007

This is based upon the audio download from www.audible.com

Narrated by: Patrick Lawlor

Wow, this is another example of why these men are known as the “greatest generation”. This book was non-stop action that script writers could only hope to come up with.

Kudos to Patrick Lawlor in his narration. I also enjoyed him in another worthy read/listen The Colony The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai. He is quickly becoming another of my favorite readers.

This is the story of downed pilots in This is based upon the audio download from www.audible.com

Narrated by: Patrick Lawlor

Wow, this is another example of why these men are known as the “greatest generation”. This book was non-stop action that script writers could only hope to come up with.

Kudos to Patrick Lawlor in his narration. I also enjoyed him in another worthy read/listen The Colony The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai. He is quickly becoming another of my favorite readers.

This is the story of downed pilots in Yugoslavia and their life with the Yugoslav peasants as they helped to hide these airmen from the Germans. Simultaneously, the story of the internal struggle for power in Yugoslavia between Tito and Mihailovich was played out along with the Allies’ analysis of which of these two was their greatest ally. Even though Mihailovich was the one who was responsible for assisting in the rescue of these men, history shows that the Allies threw their support to the communist Tito—helping communism gain a foothold in Eastern Europe that would last more than 40 years.

I was surprised to learn of the way the British (intentionally or not) sabotaged the American efforts to rescue their men. This information was jaw-dropping. In the end, Mihailovich was abandoned and not acknowledged by America for nearly 60 years.

On Veteran's Day in 1979, Ronald Reagan wrote of Mihailovich, “I wish it could be said that this great hero was the last victim of confused and senseless policies of western governments in dealing with Communism."

"Thus, the fate of General Mihailovich is not simply of historic significance -- it teaches us something today, as well. No western nation, including the United States, can hope to win its own battle for freedom and survival by sacrificing brave comrades to the politics of international expediency."

He further stated, ". . .it has been demonstrated beyond doubt that both freedom and honor suffer when firm commitments become sacrificed to false hopes of appeasing aggressors by abandoning friends."

Words that still have meaning today.
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5

Jan 30, 2019

Fab must-read! As another reviewer said—this is a nonfiction book that reads like a novel. Suspenseful, uplifting real-life story . . . (Why is there not a movie about Operation Halyard?)
5

May 15, 2016

Excellent history book of a forgotten events that should be remembered

I was fascinated with this World War 2 book. There are many unsung heroes that history forgot. This book shows that kind people do good when no praise or recognition is given. The failure of the government to acknowledge this war hero was very sad.
5

May 18, 2015

This book was an awesome collection of perspectives on a topic I was previously unaware of. I thought I knew most of the war until I picked this book up and saw the events and the impacts of this region. Moving towards more of the structure of the book, It was a relatively quick read with no unnece...Full Review
5

Nov 02, 2018

I highly, highly, highly recommend this book. I've read a lot of WWII books and even though I like them, I tend to get sick of them. What the Jewish people under Hitler was unimaginable and horrific. I am amazed by their stories. However, I appreciate that this book covers a completely different aspect of the war.

I had no idea that Romania played any part in WWII. I learned that Romania had oil refineries that the Germans took over for fuel supply. The Allies sent missions to bomb those oil I highly, highly, highly recommend this book. I've read a lot of WWII books and even though I like them, I tend to get sick of them. What the Jewish people under Hitler was unimaginable and horrific. I am amazed by their stories. However, I appreciate that this book covers a completely different aspect of the war.

I had no idea that Romania played any part in WWII. I learned that Romania had oil refineries that the Germans took over for fuel supply. The Allies sent missions to bomb those oil refineries. In the course of this action several hundred men jumped out of their planes being shot down by the Germans and became stranded in Yugoslavia. This book uncovers the struggles those men faced to get out of enemy territory. It was the biggest successful rescue mission, but the story was hidden by the State Department for political reasons.

The reason the State Department covered up this story from the public says a lot about history and slander. The book raises lots of issues with politics, trust, and how history is written and taught. It also exhibits heroism, humanity, and how love breaks the bounds of culture and language. ...more
3

Feb 24, 2011

The Forgotten 500 tells an interesting yet largely unknown story of World War 2. During countless Allied bombing runs of Germany, hundreds of downed airmen found themselves caught behind enemy lines in Axis-controlled Yugoslavia. Once on the ground, many of these airmen found themselves caught in the middle of yet another conflict between warring factions of Serbians: the Royalist Chetniks led by Draza Mihailovic and the Communist Partisans led by Tito. Each fought the Germans, but with The Forgotten 500 tells an interesting yet largely unknown story of World War 2. During countless Allied bombing runs of Germany, hundreds of downed airmen found themselves caught behind enemy lines in Axis-controlled Yugoslavia. Once on the ground, many of these airmen found themselves caught in the middle of yet another conflict between warring factions of Serbians: the Royalist Chetniks led by Draza Mihailovic and the Communist Partisans led by Tito. Each fought the Germans, but with different means and different aims while also battling for control of post-war Serbia. Freeman's history focuses on airmen protected by Mihailovic.

It is difficult to do brief justice to this excellent history, but Freeman focuses on several concepts/themes:
1. The moving, self-sacrificing service rendered sincerely by the Serbian people to the downed American airmen;
2. The formation of the OSS and its eventual plan to evacuate 500 downed airmen from the Serbian village on Pranya
3. The dark machinations and conspiracy by pro-Communist elements in the OSS and the British secret intelligence to betray Mihailovic and to favor the pro-Communist Partisans in the Serbian Civil War. Mihailovic would be "black-balled" by the Allies and sold out to Tito even while he and his rebels risked their lives to save the Allied airmen.

What interested me most was the author's description of the creation and identity of the OSS and the level of Moscow-controlled infiltration of the British intelligence service. His account of the rescued Americans desperate attempts to clear Mihailovic's name and rescue him from his post-war fate was pretty sad. ...more
5

Aug 22, 2016

The Forgotten 500

A Review by Anthony T. Riggio of the book “The Forgotten 500” written by Gregory A. Freeman

I purchased this book on Amazon in a paperback edition. It was recommended to me by a fellow lover of history.

I am so glad I read this book, which I unhesitatingly give Five Stars as a rating. This book is well written and follows a logical story line. I have an Uncle (now deceased) who flew missions over Yugoslavia during World War II and had many great stories. By the time I read this The Forgotten 500

A Review by Anthony T. Riggio of the book “The Forgotten 500” written by Gregory A. Freeman

I purchased this book on Amazon in a paperback edition. It was recommended to me by a fellow lover of history.

I am so glad I read this book, which I unhesitatingly give Five Stars as a rating. This book is well written and follows a logical story line. I have an Uncle (now deceased) who flew missions over Yugoslavia during World War II and had many great stories. By the time I read this book he was gone so I could not ask him about his knowledge of the thousands of downed crews over this area.

It is a story about real people both in the Army Air Corps., the OSS, the partisan leadership both pro the Soviet Union and Pro the other Allies fighting the Nazi’s.

The brave crews who flew bombing missions over the former Yugoslavia, suffered great losses in life and many survived after bailing out in the mountainous areas. They were trained on what to do and warned about partisans who were pro Soviet Union and those that were sympathetic to the Nazi’s and what precautions they should take after landing in these territories. How they negotiated these hurdles depended upon the training and instincts of the individual airmen. They were warned against falling into the hands of one faction led by General Draza Mihailovich and believed that the partisan General Josip Broz Tito was the better of the two partisan factions and supported by British intelligence. The opposite was the reality and because of the post was politics it was Mihailovich who was tried as a war criminal. The rescue of most of the surviving air crews was truly facilitated by Mihailovich and his cooperation with the OSS.

The book was intense in its presentation and the reader will be pleasantly surprised at how fast a read this book is. The book also outlined some of the struggles and brave risks taken by members of the OSS.

I gave this book five Stars and highly recommend its reading.
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5

Jun 15, 2012

They don't realize what Communism really is, the way it works to overpower a country's people and take everything from them. They don't understand that Communism is a cancer that can spread all over if you don't stop it.

The Forgotten 500 tells the story of the American airmen who were trapped in Nazi territory during World War II and the courageous citizens of Yugoslavia who risked everything to help them. With riveting details, undeniable truths, and downright appalling military policy, the They don't realize what Communism really is, the way it works to overpower a country's people and take everything from them. They don't understand that Communism is a cancer that can spread all over if you don't stop it.

The Forgotten 500 tells the story of the American airmen who were trapped in Nazi territory during World War II and the courageous citizens of Yugoslavia who risked everything to help them. With riveting details, undeniable truths, and downright appalling military policy, the story Freeman tells here should not be ignored.

I will admit that parts of this made me angry, but it had nothing to do with the author's writing style or anything of the sort. I was angry at America. I was angry at the Allies for being so stupid and trusting mere suspicions more than they trusted their friends. Parts of the book had me screaming, crying, and just downright heartbroken when I learned of the horrible things the Nazis would do to the poor Serbian villagers when a Nazi soldier was wounded or killed. Such horrifying truth that no one can deny any longer.

Being Serbian myself, this story drew my attention because no one ever talks about the Balkans anymore. If you tell someone you're Serbian, they just look at you like, "Oh...so you're from Siberia?" It's almost sad how little people know about the beautifully rich history of the region. Time and time again the Yugoslav peoples have triumphed over their enemies, and time and time again they have resisted and risked everything to help their allies. It really is a shame that no one knows our story, but kudos to Freeman for telling that story! It truly warms my heart to know that someone out there cares about our history. :)

I recommend this to any and all who are interested in the Balkans and/or World War II history. The conversational, story-telling tone of the story makes it easy to read for those of us who aren't historians out there, and the suspense kept me turning page after page to find out the fates of the airmen and their new allies in Serbia.

Loved it! Fabulous, riveting, chilling, and just downright elucidating! Wonderful read that I will definitely come back to a few more times in the coming years! ...more
5

Mar 02, 2009

When I asked author Gregory Freeman what drew him to the story of ‘Operation Halyard’, he didn’t hesitate:

“My interests as an author usually lead me to stories of heroism and sacrifice that went unrecognized for too long, and the story of Operation Halyard fits the bill perfectly. I was drawn to the idea that not only was this an amazing tale of intrigue and bravery, but it had been purposefully hidden from the American people for decades. A dramatic story is one thing; a dramatic story that has When I asked author Gregory Freeman what drew him to the story of ‘Operation Halyard’, he didn’t hesitate:

“My interests as an author usually lead me to stories of heroism and sacrifice that went unrecognized for too long, and the story of Operation Halyard fits the bill perfectly. I was drawn to the idea that not only was this an amazing tale of intrigue and bravery, but it had been purposefully hidden from the American people for decades. A dramatic story is one thing; a dramatic story that has been kept secret is even more intriguing. The story of Operation Halyard is one of the last great stories of World War II and it is high time that the American people learn about the heroic sacrifice of Draza Mihailovich and the Serbian people.”

There are men who fight for their country who are truly a personification of dedication, determination, courage and heroism. Some of them we come to know, and their names are immortalized in our historical consciousness. There are others who most people never hear of and their deeds never become legend, though they deserve to be known and remembered and permanently included in the historical record. The Forgotten 500 by author Gregory Freeman is a new and important book that not only introduces the public to such men, but explains why they and their rescuers deserve a prominent place in history. This book is a celebration of human fortitude and integrity and is so much more than just another book about World War Two.

‘Heroes’ has become an all too common term in this day and age, to the point that heroism has become trivialized. Gregory Freeman reminds us what true heroism is really all about, the kind of heroism that can, and should, leave us in awe. He doesn’t just tell us, he shows us. That would have been enough to make this a valuable book in any library, but Freeman strove for more and has accomplished it. He was bothered by the fact that these heroic acts that he had discovered had not only been virtually ignored, but were actually deliberately suppressed as if they never happened. His research led him to painful discoveries that he could not help but include in this story of heroism, and the light that he sheds on the dark side of ‘Operation Halyard’ makes The Forgotten 500 not only a valuable book, but an essential one. Just as he reminds us of the great things that men in the worst situations are capable of, he also exposes the lengths taken to cover up acts that should have been widely heralded as triumphant examples of the human spirit but instead were sacrificed to the manipulations of political expediency. We owe both the dead and the living to move, once and for all, ‘Operation Halyard’, possibly the greatest rescue of American lives from behind enemy lines in the history of warfare, from being a mere footnote in history to being a shining example of what men of integrity are capable of. Mr. Freeman, with The Forgotten 500, is paying the long overdue debt.

During the second half of World War Two, hundreds of American airmen were sent on dangerous missions over Europe during which their job was to cripple the oil production that was feeding the Nazi war machine. Freeman describes in vivid detail the nature of these missions and by tapping the memories and experiences of the airmen and faithfully capturing them on the pages of The Forgotten 500 he paints a graphic picture of what was endured by these patriots who did their job and followed their orders regardless of the retaliation that was sure to follow. These missions would cost many of their lives. Those who survived the Nazi retaliations had to bail out of their planes over foreign territory in order to get a shot at survival and they did so, not knowing what their fate would be. Their desperation landed them in the hills of Yugoslavia, mainly in Serbia, enemy occupied territory that was, luckily for them, also the land of General Draza Mihailovich, his Chetnik forces, and the peasants who were loyal to them. When they landed in the hills and forests of Serbia, the airmen were now among freedom fighters, loyal above all else, to the democratic Allies, though they did not know it as they fell. Among the hundreds who fell, most were Americans.

Once on the ground these men were soon found by the Serbian peasantry and it was these strangers who spoke a foreign language on foreign soil who would shield them, soothe their wounds, feed them, house them, and protect them, even at the sacrifice of all that they owned and even their lives. The fallen airmen would soon learn that their benefactors were acting on the orders of General Draza Mihailovich, the Serbian hero, who in the beginning darkest moments of the war, had been heralded as being a legendary warrior for the whole free world, but who, in recent times, had been abandoned by the very democracies to whom he had been so loyal. Though he had been abandoned and left to the wolves, both the Yugoslav communists who were bent on destroying him and everything his organization stood for, and the Germans who continued to view him as their primary enemy in Yugoslavia, Mihailovich, upon learning of the fallen airmen, gave out the order to do whatever necessary to protect them, heal them, and in the ensuing months, evacuate them to safety regardless of the cost to himself. This man, whom the airmen had been told to avoid, would end up being the man who would save them. In cooperation with American OSS personnel, whose struggles and ultimate triumphs are faithfully recorded by Freeman as ‘Operation Halyard’ came to fruition over the course of 1944, General Mihailovich and his forces would prove just how profound ‘doing the right thing no matter what’ is.

Though this story has been competently tackled by other historians and authors genuinely interested in doing justice to the events of 1944 in enemy occupied Serbia, this story has never been appropriately publicized in the western world because it has not been “politically correct” to do so. It has remained a taboo theme in many political and publishing circles which has dismayed and frustrated so many of the veterans of ‘Operation Halyard’, both the rescued and their rescuers, for decades. Many spent the duration of their postwar years striving to right this wrong. Many have since passed away without ever experiencing the contentment of seeing justice done and a debt repaid. Mr. Freeman and his publishers, with The Forgotten 500, may well be the catalyst for finally changing all of this. When one becomes familiar with the obstacles that have been pervasive in getting this story told over the last six decades, one cannot help but appreciate the courage and the fortitude that it took to produce and publish this book. As much as I admire Freeman’s talent for telling a great true story as it deserves to be told and for his attention to detail that makes this story come alive on the pages, I admire his publishers even more. Instead of dismissing this story, they have chosen to bring it out in the light, thus vindicating all of those both on this side of the world and on the other who lived this story.

The heroic details of the bombing missions and the subsequent bailouts over enemy occupied territory and the great rescue evacuations that followed in 1944 are the “easy part” of this story. Author Freeman didn’t settle for the easy part. In The Forgotten 500 he delves into the more complicated tangential issues that cannot be ignored in the telling of the story of the Halyard Mission.

A primary such issue is that in the name of political expediency, enforced by both the Yugoslav postwar regime and the British, the Americans stayed silent about this chapter of the great heroism of their own sons and the selfless sacrifices of their rescuers. Not only did they stay silent, they kept it silent. Classified.

Another difficult issue that Freeman addresses is the abandonment of General Mihailovich by the Western Allies to whom he had been so loyal. British spies and traitors, such as James Klugmann, had a role in the story that was pivotal, even though he was not directly involved in ‘Operation Halyard’. It takes an astute researcher to piece together the relevant collateral elements of the ‘Halyard’ story that make the deeds of the rescuers all the more extraordinary. Freeman clearly did his research in piecing together the often convoluted chain of events that led to the Allied abandonment of Mihailovich. For that, any serious student of World War Two history should be grateful.

Freeman writes:

“Not until 1997 would the world understand that the switch of allegiance was orchestrated largely by a Soviet operative who convinced the British that Mihailovich could not be trusted… Communist moles had infiltrated both the OSS and the SOE, working to besmirch the name of Mihailovich to promote the postwar Communization of Yugoslavia under Tito…Klugmann, who was closely associated with the infamous British traitors known as the Cambridge Five,…was principally responsible for sabotaging the Mihailovich supply operation and for keeping from London information about how much Mihailovich forces were fighting the Germans and how much success they were having.”

James Klugmann, a devout communist and ultimately a traitor to his country of Great Britain, is among the many collateral players in the Mihailovich story and Freeman doesn’t shy away from exposing his role in influencing the misguided British policy that would have tragic consequences for General Mihailovich and ultimately the fate of Serbia itself.

Freeman writes:

“The recently declassified files reveal that, for instance, Klugmann had great influence over Colonel Sir William Deakin, the senior intelligence officer in Yugoslavia…”

It was Deakin who was mainly responsible for convincing Churchill to switch sides from Mihailovich to Tito. In this endeavor he was greatly supported by Fitzroy Maclean, who became the chief of the British mission at Tito’s headquarters. Freeman explains who these people were and just how strongly they influenced the disastrous British policy in Yugoslavia during the war. The author could have determined that this was all material for another separate story, but he chose to include it in this one, The Forgotten 500, because he understood from the very beginning that there was more to ‘Operation Halyard’ than met the eye. He competently weaves politics and the story on the ground together in such a way as to give the reader the big picture. Freeman, unlike many historians, is able to see the forest, not just the trees.

He understood, too, the significance of Mihailovich’s integrity in rising above and beyond the betrayal perpetrated upon him and his people.

“Klugmann and his fellow traitors may have been driving the efforts to defeat Mihailovich from abroad, but there were many more British officials who unwittingly helped them along the way…Meanwhile, Mihailovich and the peasants in the hillsides who were loyal to him watched over the downed American boys with a stoic determination. Their abandonment by the Allies would not cause them to abandon these young men who were helping them to fight back the Nazis.”


In the summer of 1944, because of destructive but successful British political manipulations, it was no longer ‘politically correct’ for the Allies, including the Americans who deferred to the British in policy relating to the Balkan sphere, to deal with Mihailovich in any way. Yet, there were now hundreds of downed Allied fliers, most of them Americans, who were being protected by Mihailovich and his men and had to be evacuated. This presented quite a political dilemma. Thanks to the efforts of American officers such as George Vujnovich and George Musulin, an ACRU organization (Air Crew Rescue Unit) was created and it was decided to send Musulin to the hills of Serbia, accompanied by Mike Rajachich and OSS radio operator Arthur Jubilian, to run the evacuation operation that would come to be known as the ‘Halyard Mission’.

It was going to be a rescue attempt unlike any ever attempted by the OSS or anyone else, and indeed that’s exactly what it turned out to be. Over the course of several months in 1944, hundreds of Allied airmen would be evacuated and not one would be sacrificed. All, without exception, would make it back to their homes and their families alive. Not one American would be turned over to the Nazis, even though the Germans were offering substantial rewards to the local natives to give them up. Though the Allies had turned their back on General Mihailovich, he refused to turn his back on them.

Gregory Freeman describes the evacuations in vivid detail and with the due well-deserved respect that is appropriate given the magnitude of the obstacles that were faced, both politically and on the ground, to make Halyard a success. The reader is put in the middle of it all as an observer and the reader cannot help but wonder how it was possible to keep such a magnificent true story in the darkness for so long.

The reader will also be struck by the irony of the concentrated attempts that were made by Allied officials to sabotage this rescue operation, a rescue operation that was intended to save the lives of their own boys. In The Forgotten 500 Gregory Freeman makes sure that the irony is not lost on the reader.

Freeman writes:

“Musulin, Rajacich, and Jibilian soon realized that the British were not just unenthusiastic about the mission. They were actively sabotaging it, or at least that’s how it appeared to the American team.

The outright hostility of the British was made evident on the next attempt to jump into Pranjane, a few days later. Musulin learned that on the first attempt, when there were no ground signals, the problem actually was that the pilot had flown to the wrong coordinates. They were in the wrong place, so that explained why there was no welcoming party. Knowing that, Musulin wanted to double-check the coordinates soon after they took off on their third attempt to go rescue the airmen. He went forward and asked the pilot to confirm their destination. The pilot read out the coordinates he intended to take the men to and, as soon as he checked the spot on his own map, Musulin exploded in anger.

‘That’s Partisan territory!’ he yelled. ‘Where the hell did you get those coordinates?

The pilot, visibly intimidated by the large and very angry American, explained that he had been briefed on the mission by his British superior and he was just following orders…”

The mission was aborted. Then Freeman writes:

“The three Americans were astounded that British had so completely fouled up their efforts to get into Pranjane, but they still had a hard time believing that their tea-sipping allies were actually trying to sabotage Operation Halyard…”


They didn’t give up, however, and eventually, everything was in place, despite the obstacles, and the series of evacuations would proceed. Success, pure and complete, was achieved.

Freeman doesn’t just capture the events of ‘Operation Halyard’, he is able to capture the essence of General Mihailovich as well. He describes the impression that Mihailovich left on the Americans, such as on OSS radioman Arthur Jibilian:

“Like every other American who met Mihailovich personally, however, Jubilian was taken by the way a man of such simplicity could at the same time give such an impression of grandeur. Jibilian and the other Allied soldiers were most impressed by Mihailovich’s sense of dignity in the face of extreme hardship and insurmountable odds and the humble way he received accolades from his followers, consistently coming away with the same unshakable impression that they were standing in the presence of greatness.”


The drama of ‘Operation Halyard’ would end in December of 1944, and due to the perseverance of men with the names of Vujnovich, Musulin, Petrovich, Rajachich, Lalich, Jibilian and others, it would end as a virtually perfect success story in the face of almost insurmountable odds. Every downed airman survived. General Mihailovich, however, would not share their fate. His life would come to an end a year and half later, when he was executed by the Yugoslav communists. The airmen whom he had saved were left to their tears, devastated by the news, and many would dedicate the rest of their years to vindicating Mihailovich, his Serbian people, and to seeking justice for the man to whom they felt they owed their very lives. Many in the Allied world who were following the capture, trial, and execution of Mihailovich, were left to wonder “how it could have been allowed to happen.” Gregory Freeman’s The Forgotten 500 goes a long way in shedding light on “how could this have been allowed to happen.”

Freeman does not accept the fact that “it was allowed to happen.” With the publication of The Forgotten 500 he is doing his part to make things right. Given the truths contained in this book, I wondered who Gregory Freeman was. He accommodated my curiosity with the following response:

“As you probably know already, I am not of Serbian descent and have no personal connection to this story at all. Instead, I was drawn to the opportunity to bring some measure of justice to a hero and local Serbs who risked their lives for my country and who ultimately were betrayed by history. I wrote this book because that wrong should be made right, not just for Mihailovich and the Serbian community, but for the American public as well. After all, we can't say "thank you" if we don't know what they did.”

I highly recommend The Forgotten 500, not just to my American and Serbian friends, but to anyone interested in historical accounts that are not tarnished with propaganda, lies, and political correctness. I also recommend this book to anyone who is inspired by a great story about great people who did great things. Those of us who know the “Halyard” story and its significance will smile with satisfaction. We should, indeed, be pleased. It’s about time.


Aleksandra Rebic



Note: To learn more about The Forgotten 500 and author Gregory Freeman, please visit www.gregoryafreeman.com

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1

Nov 19, 2009

This book covers some of the experinces of American fliers forced to crash-land behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia/Hungary/etc., and the top-secret rescue effort to airlift them out. However, I never got that far to find out how they pulled it off...

While the topic is fascinating, I found the writing so melodramatic and repetitive that I've quit a couple of chapters into it. Granted, I'm listening to this on CD while commutting, so much of that drama is due to the overwraught reading style of the This book covers some of the experinces of American fliers forced to crash-land behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia/Hungary/etc., and the top-secret rescue effort to airlift them out. However, I never got that far to find out how they pulled it off...

While the topic is fascinating, I found the writing so melodramatic and repetitive that I've quit a couple of chapters into it. Granted, I'm listening to this on CD while commutting, so much of that drama is due to the overwraught reading style of the actor. I really don't enjoy having somebody yelling dialogue at me, particularly in cheesy accents, so that turned me off from the book. The writing itself is repetitive and a bit too simplistic, and when I find myself yelling back, "Get on with it!" that's just not a good sign. I doubt I'll be putting the disks back into my player before they're due back at the library. I think I'll try to find out more about this aspect of the war from other more credible sources. ...more
3

Nov 02, 2016

A good story, but a little to biased for my tastes. It's clear the author wants to rehabilitate Draža Mihailović's reputation, and it is definitely possible that he was treated badly, but Freeman goes on and on about what a friend he was to the American airmen without even mentioning any of his faults. Undoubtedly he was a great ally during the war, and his trial was definitely rigged, but I would have preferred to read about a real man with ideals and failings than this glorified saint-figure.
5

Apr 08, 2013

LOVED this book!!! I know my grandfather went through something similar to this and it makes me want to research his past and see if he was one of these men!!!! Great great great read, thoroughly enjoyed learning about such brave men.
5

Jan 08, 2014

Excellent! L am a little obsessed with World War II books. This one reads like a fiction novel. Such a great story about the rescue mission that went on in Yugoslovia, and the politics behind it.
5

Jun 17, 2018

This was written as a true, untold story of American pilots who had to parachute down into Yugoslavia during World War II. The pilots had been sent on missions to bomb German camps and artillery holdings. After dropping their bombs, many planes did not have the fuel to return to the base of Italy, or they had a mechanical failure due to being shot or not. The Serbian townspeople protected the servicemen, moving them eventually under the care of Mihailovich. It is there where they were grouped This was written as a true, untold story of American pilots who had to parachute down into Yugoslavia during World War II. The pilots had been sent on missions to bomb German camps and artillery holdings. After dropping their bombs, many planes did not have the fuel to return to the base of Italy, or they had a mechanical failure due to being shot or not. The Serbian townspeople protected the servicemen, moving them eventually under the care of Mihailovich. It is there where they were grouped and where they awaited their rescue, eating scarcely and with many sleeping in barns.

Mihailovich was trying to get the word out that the Americans were in Panjane, but the British and American governments thought that it was a military trick and they were not responding. Until Vujnovich’s wife heard a rumor that Americans were really being held and Vujnovich acted on it, nothing was done. Once it was confirmed that indeed the Americans were in Panjane, instructions were given to start creating a runway for C-47s. The Americans and the Chetniks worked night and day on the runway, scampering into the woods whenever a German flyer flew by.

A rescue team was created and men were picked for the mission. Brave pilots landed on the makeshift short runway to pick up the downed pilots.

In the end, the governments abandoned Mihailovich and let him be sent to a firing squad to be killed for collusion with the Germans when they believed that not to be true. Even though the men who were rescued all gave statements stating the facts about how Mihailovich had saved them all and they had never seen him talking with the Germans. Mihailovich was executed on July 17, 1946 and buried in an unmarked grave. His last words were, “I strove for much, I undertook much, but the gales of the world have carried away both me and my work”. This was a bearded 50-year-old Chetnik leader who electrified the Allied World in 1941 by organizing the first Yugoslav resistance to the Nazi invaders. He was found guilty of treason and collaboration with the Germans.

The book contains pictures taken of the pilots and the names of the 345 Americans, 4 British, 4 French, 7 Italians and 12 Russians rescued in “Operation Halyard”, which was the first rescue mission. Another 167 were rescued before the mission ended in 1944.

Even though this book is said to be completely historical, I am reading that some facts may be a little off. Even so, it was an enlightening book to read and showed the bravery of the American pilots. That much was true.
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4

Feb 25, 2019

Fascinating WWII documentary about those who risked their lives to save downed American airmen over the highlands of rural Yugoslavia (present-day western Serbia). Readers will gain an appreciation for the generosity and bravery of the Serb people. They will thank Draza Mihailovic and his Chetnik freedom fighters who were steadfast supporters of the Allied mission, despite sabotage by power-hungry Tito, misinformed Allied leaders, Germans on their doorstep, and deteriorating conditions. It's Fascinating WWII documentary about those who risked their lives to save downed American airmen over the highlands of rural Yugoslavia (present-day western Serbia). Readers will gain an appreciation for the generosity and bravery of the Serb people. They will thank Draza Mihailovic and his Chetnik freedom fighters who were steadfast supporters of the Allied mission, despite sabotage by power-hungry Tito, misinformed Allied leaders, Germans on their doorstep, and deteriorating conditions. It's amazing that in the Halyard Mission alone, over 250 airmen were rescued. Having lived in Serbia and traveled to the region where some of the battles occurred, the story had a particularly personal connection. ...more
5

Feb 18, 2019

While dry in some places, this was, none-the-less an excellent book, telling the story of the rescue of almost 500 fliers who were shot down over the Balkins during WWII. It also shows some of the shortsightedness and narrow-mindedness of the military and governments of the Allies in that time period too.

5

Mar 20, 2017

I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but I really enjoyed this book. I listened to the audiobook and was completely enthralled from beginning to end - the narrator did a great job (I never would have been able to pronounce names and places correctly in my head if I'd read the hard copy). I found it very informative and eye opening since I'm not a history buff and I really didn't know much about this region and the part it's people played in WWII. Highly recommended!

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