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PRESERVING THE ITEMS THAT WITNESSED HISTORY

WW2 Operation Halyard

WW2 Operation Halyard

Operation Halyard was the biggest rescue operation in history of the US Air force. Several hundred American and Allied pilots had been rescued and airlifted with the help of General Mihailovich’s Yugoslav Chetniks.

 

Following Italy’s capitulation in the second world war, the United States’ 15th Air force was effectively rebased from Tunisia to southern Italy, thus the USAF had the ability to operate over Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. Romanian oil fields and refineries provided the Axis armies with much needed fuel, which made them prime targets for the Allies, some 20,000 sorties were carried out from October 1943-44. German forces set up formidable air defences and managed to inflict heavy losses to Allied Air forces. Despite losing almost a half of all aircraft at their disposal, the USAF bomber crews bore minimal losses in comparison.

 

American pilots who had successfully bailed out of their downed aircraft suddenly found themselves in a precarious situation, many of them were stranded in hostile territory and hunted down by the enemy and their collaborators. German and Bulgarian authorities in Serbia placed bounties on US airmen and offered hefty rewards to villages in return for turning American pilots in. The sympathy for the Allied cause compelled the Serbian peasants to harbour American pilots until they could be rescued. The locals even made improvised hospitals for the sick and wounded airmen in the Pranjani village, which became particularly famous. The pilots were taught Serbian customs and behaviour in order to better blend in with the locals.

 

General Nathan F. Twining, commander of the 15th and the Office of Strategic Services managed to convince their superiors to form an Air Crew Rescue Unit. The ACRU was headed by colonel Kraigher, an ethnic Slovene who had served with the Royal Serbian Air force in the Great War. Kraigher dispatched 2 envoy parties, one that would work with the Chetniks and the other that would work with Tito’s Partisans. The first envoy party was to become known as ACRU 1 and was led by lieutenant George Musulin, a Serbian American officer of the OSS. His operation was subsequently named “Halyard”.

 

Following Musulin’s arrival in Pranjani, preparations were made to gather dozens of airmen located in the area. Rescuing American pilots was of utmost importance for general Mihailovich and his movement, as the pilots themselves were a strategic asset that could be used to secure further American support for the Chetniks, to compensate for the growing British support for the Partisan movement.

 

General Mihailovich tasked his First Ravna Gora corps to secure the area and protect the airmen. The Chetniks would later construct an airstrip to accommodate incoming Allied aircraft, which was later deemed unusable by the British, which delayed the airlift operation significantly. The operation was soon bolstered by the recently rescued USAF captain Leo C. Brooks. Captain Brooks reached the airstrip and used his rank to better organise the US airmen present. He had the Chetnik forces establish a defensive perimeter around the village of Pranjani and the airstrip, with further work on the airstrip being underway. Brooks finally made contact with the 15th Airforce and secured a successful airlifting operation.

 

In total, 417 pilots, of which 343 were American, were successfully rescued from Yugoslavia by the Chetniks. General Mihailovich was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit by president Truman for his contribution to the rescue. Today exists a memorial complex in the village of Pranjani dedicated to the entire rescue operation.

Operation Halyard was the biggest rescue operation in history of the US Air force. Several hundred American and Allied pilots had been rescued and airlifted with the help of General Mihailovich’s Yugoslav Chetniks.

 

Following Italy’s capitulation in the second world war, the United States’ 15th Air force was effectively rebased from Tunisia to southern Italy, thus the USAF had the ability to operate over Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. Romanian oil fields and refineries provided the Axis armies with much needed fuel, which made them prime targets for the Allies, some 20,000 sorties were carried out from October 1943-44. German forces set up formidable air defences and managed to inflict heavy losses to Allied Air forces. Despite losing almost a half of all aircraft at their disposal, the USAF bomber crews bore minimal losses in comparison.

 

American pilots who had successfully bailed out of their downed aircraft suddenly found themselves in a precarious situation, many of them were stranded in hostile territory and hunted down by the enemy and their collaborators. German and Bulgarian authorities in Serbia placed bounties on US airmen and offered hefty rewards to villages in return for turning American pilots in. The sympathy for the Allied cause compelled the Serbian peasants to harbour American pilots until they could be rescued. The locals even made improvised hospitals for the sick and wounded airmen in the Pranjani village, which became particularly famous. The pilots were taught Serbian customs and behaviour in order to better blend in with the locals.

 

General Nathan F. Twining, commander of the 15th and the Office of Strategic Services managed to convince their superiors to form an Air Crew Rescue Unit. The ACRU was headed by colonel Kraigher, an ethnic Slovene who had served with the Royal Serbian Air force in the Great War. Kraigher dispatched 2 envoy parties, one that would work with the Chetniks and the other that would work with Tito’s Partisans. The first envoy party was to become known as ACRU 1 and was led by lieutenant George Musulin, a Serbian American officer of the OSS. His operation was subsequently named “Halyard”.

 

Following Musulin’s arrival in Pranjani, preparations were made to gather dozens of airmen located in the area. Rescuing American pilots was of utmost importance for general Mihailovich and his movement, as the pilots themselves were a strategic asset that could be used to secure further American support for the Chetniks, to compensate for the growing British support for the Partisan movement.

 

General Mihailovich tasked his First Ravna Gora corps to secure the area and protect the airmen. The Chetniks would later construct an airstrip to accommodate incoming Allied aircraft, which was later deemed unusable by the British, which delayed the airlift operation significantly. The operation was soon bolstered by the recently rescued USAF captain Leo C. Brooks. Captain Brooks reached the airstrip and used his rank to better organise the US airmen present. He had the Chetnik forces establish a defensive perimeter around the village of Pranjani and the airstrip, with further work on the airstrip being underway. Brooks finally made contact with the 15th Airforce and secured a successful airlifting operation.

 

In total, 417 pilots, of which 343 were American, were successfully rescued from Yugoslavia by the Chetniks. General Mihailovich was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit by president Truman for his contribution to the rescue. Today exists a memorial complex in the village of Pranjani dedicated to the entire rescue operation.


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