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on June 30, 2016
The Forgotten 500
By
Gregory A. Freeman

Every once in a while you discover a book that envelopes your emotions and you wonder how those events could happen. This is one of those stories, a true story.

During WWII one of the Nazis’ main sources of fuel was an oil refinery in Ploesti, Romania. The Allied Powers made it their mission to destroy this refinery by sending countless missions from Brindisi, Italy, over Yugoslavia to Ploesti to bomb the facility. In the course of these missions, many B24 bombers were shot down and hundreds of Allied flyers (mostly Americans) were stranded behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia, a country that most did not know the language or customs.

At that time in Yugoslavia there were two ruling factions. Draza Mihailovich, a staunch friend of the United States hated the Nazis and wanted to free his country from their grasp. Josip Broz Tito, a communist and ally of Russia also hated the Nazis, wanted to get rid of them and, interestingly enough, the two men hated each other. You had a dramatic triad, Mihailovich and Tito, each commanding thousands of soldiers fighting each other for control of Yugoslavia and each fighting the Nazis, their common enemy.

Flyers would parachute into Yugoslavia, not having any idea how they would be received by the populace and wondering if they would be turned over to the Nazis. Much to their surprise and relief villagers would welcome them, hide them in their homes and share their meager supply of food. These villagers would risk their lives guiding them through the mountains of Yugoslavia to the troops of Mihailovich. English speaking Yugoslavians were few and far between and most communication was with gestures and pantomime.

After days and, sometimes weeks, the group would reach Pranjane, Yugoslavia and be united with other flyers. This was Mihailovich’s accumulation point and ended up holding approximately 500 airmen. They would spend months with nothing to occupy their time and no communication with the allies.

During this time, on a political front, Mihailovich was falling out of favor with the British because of the machinations of a Russian mole named James Klugman placed high in British intelligence. This had the effect of spoiling his relationship with the Americans, as well, though totally unfair. The few Americans who had spent time with Mihailovich behind enemy lines and had made it back knew the truth and were a small group trying to salvage the relationship and put together a rescue for the downed flyers.

After several failed attempts to land an initial team at Pranjane to help prepare for the rescue as a combined British and American effort, the Americans decided to go it alone because of their belief of British sabotage. The Americans were able to land the team and, using the men there, built a runway in the mountainous region with hand tools which was no small effort. C-47 cargo planes were the ones chosen for the exfiltration and required a landing strip of 700 feet. The one built was exactly 700 feet with trees and mountains all around it. There was no room for error.

Considering the fact that each plane only would hold 12 passengers and held just enough fuel to make the round trip from Brindisi to Pranjane, it is no small miracle that between August 9, 1944 and December 28, 1944, the Americans rescued over 500 airmen, 345 of them Americans with no fatalities. This, despite the fact they were flying over enemy territory in slow planes, easy targets for German Messerschmitt fighters.

The trumped up case of Mihailovich collaborating with the enemy got worse because of Klugman and other communists in the ranks and he was cut off from the United States. Despite this, he remained a friend to the end and saw to it the airmen were protected at Pranjane through the entire operation.

Not much longer the war ended and Tito gained control of Yugoslavia. He still hated Mihailovich and had him executed. Though Mihailovich was a friend to the very end, we aided in his execution and the eventual Communist control of Yugoslavia. Not our finest moment in history.

Winston Churchill was later quoted saying that his handling of Yugoslavia was his biggest mistake of the war.

In 1997 declassified British papers confirmed the Klugman/Mihailovich story and the truth was official. Mihailovich deserved much better.

Sixty years after this travesty on May 9, 2005 the Legion of Merit was presented to Gordana Mihailovich for the actions of her father for the United States in WWII,

In writing a review, it can be hard to decide what to include and not to include. It is a review, after all, not the book itself. Gregory Freeman has so much in this book that is not in this review and does a great job in telling this story that every American should hear. I appreciate him writing it.
33 people found this helpful
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on August 4, 2016
This is a great book and reveals the inequities of USand British Policy during WWII. The US State Department turned away from the downed US airmen and those who saved them. Had it not been for the brave Serbian Villages and Soldiers under the leadership of Serbian General Mihailovich, fighting against the Wehrmacht, our downed airman would have ended up in enemy hands. If not for those brave Serbians and the US OSS, who put together a very risky plan to rescue the Forgotten 500 and it worked, most would have either not survived or been captured to suffer in POW Camps! All involved were heros. Our policy of the State Department and the administration, would have for political expediency just look the other way. The travesty of selling General Mihailovich down the river, having not supplied him in his efforts and then when he was given a show trial by Tito, Stalin's puppet, was a terribly sad day in American History. This book sheds the light on an amazing part of WWII history covered up by Washington intentionally sacrificing our heros and the heros who saved them!
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on February 3, 2018
Interesting story about a little known event of WWII, where General Draza Mihailovich of Yugoslavia, a Nazi-occupied nation helped the rescue of American (and other nationalitiies) flyers when their planes were shot down after bombing runs on the heavily defended Ploesti oil fields of Romania. Also a study in how America failed to come to the aid of the courageous and patriotic leader of this effort when he was jailed and killed by his political enemy, Marshall Josip Broz Tito who orchestrated the takeover of Yugoslavia by Stalin and the Soviet Union as part of the division of Europe and Asia by Churchill and Roosevelt/Truman at the end of WWII.
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on March 13, 2016
Very interesting story for me, but hard to follow, the story was imbedded with the intricate politics of Pre-WWII to the modern day and jumped around a bit. Still it was a untold story that deserved to be told. I managed to acquire a smoldering hatred for the British SOE and their ilk along with our own State Department. If you read the book I think you will latch on to the same resentment. The actual rescue was a marvelous feat, very exciting and suspenseful as you did not really know it's outcome except from the book title. People who have served in the Balkans would certainly agree with bits and pieces, parts and possibly parcels in the book, It does jump from the 90's to the 20's to the 40' to the 30's to the 50's and to modern day and back and forth till your mind is completely jumbled. The research and subject deserve five plus stars, but you have to dedicate yourself to paying attention, a quality I lack.
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on April 14, 2018
An outstanding book that covers a coverup by both the US and British governments and what a mess they created for decades since. This piece of history deals with downed US airman over areas of Yugoslavia already occupied by Germans during WWII. This piece of history exemplifies what happens in our world when the powers that be back the wrong horse. In this case, Tito, the staunch communist ally of Stalin's. Without the grit, determination, and sheer courage of all the players involved, 500 US airman may not have made it out of Yugoslavia. The Serbian peoples did give the downed airman food that was scare and in short supply, their clothing and shelter from the Nazi's, risking torture and death which was always present. The Nazi's burned whole villages and executed their occupants for sheltering allied forces. Post WWII Tito took brutal hold of Yugoslavia, and it remained communist and under the power of the Kremlin for decades as we know. A historical event that magnifies the tragedy, heroism and courage of village folk, military personnel and the stupidity of both Roosevelt and Churchill. British intelligence was rife with double agents all working for Stalin. The most famous of these being the Cambridge Five post WWII. This reader notes that its ridiculous to realize that Ian Fleming the famous creator of James Bond worked in "intelligence" during WWII and neither he nor any other of the brilliant minds of the day picked up or suspected Klugmann or any other of the highly adept spies working for them (but reporting and loyal to Russia). This book does make mention of the spy Klugmann, who is believed to be responsible for feeding the erroneous information to Churchill who then fed it to Roosevelt. A fantastic true event of precision piloting, brave people and stupid politicians.
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on February 12, 2018
The title says it all: these men as well as their courageous protectors have truly been forgotten among the many tales of WWII. I experienced that war as a child in Europe, have since then learned a lot about this world-wide conflict in other areas, but had never heard for this group of heroes.
The book is well researched and the author was able to obtain many personal background stories for the various participants. It delves into the now incomprehensible attitudes of major political figures of the time and explains how they came by these.. Gutsy decisions were made and actions taken on both sides of the Atlantic, eventually leading to to a very wonderful ending. I was fascinated by this book which explained and also corrected many of my childhood snitches of memories of that time.
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on November 21, 2015
This is a well researched book by the author, Adam Makos. I have read and enjoyed
all 4 of his books; three covering events in World War 2, and one that occurred during
the Korean war.
The daring rescue of downed allied airmen was made possible by the help of the
Serbian people of Yugoslavia under the leadership of General Michailovich, some
highly skilled American pilots and a team from OSS (now our CIA).
Unfortunately, the Nazis had occupied the country in spite of a civil war existing
between the aforementioned general representing the elected
government, and the communist opposition under Tito. However, the allies favored Tito,
and that caused an unfortunate outcome that did not give the proper credit for the role
played by the Yugoslav government forces.
This is one of those stories that keeps beckoning us to read on and not put it down.
I highly recommend it.
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on December 21, 2013
This is a book that I could not stop reading. The story is about airmen who were shot down while on bombing raids to Romanian oil fields and refineries that were absolutely vital to the Axis war effort. There refineries were guarded by crack German fighter pilots.
These pilots had orders to shoot down anything that flew and the pilots did exactly that. There were terrible losses of aircrew and bombers during there operations,the real story centres around the aircrew that bailed out into a hostile enemy country.
The story outlines the political arguing between the English and American governments, with each government favouring different Partisan groups fighting a rear guard against the Germans. Finally an escape plan is hatched to smuggle out about 250 aircreww out from under the German's eyes. This book is an absolute MUST read for anyone who is interested in WW2 history. The book is very well researched and written. If you saw a movie about this operation, you would think it could never happen but in fact it did and was suppressed by the English and American governments so as not to upset the Russians post war. Please read this book.
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on March 29, 2015
Gregory Freeman's The Forgotten 500 offers the reader something new in the history of World War II. It is the story of dramatic rescue of airmen, of espionage, and petty politics at the highest level of government.

Much of the material Freeman relied upon did not become fully disclosed until, in some cases, decades after the war. Each chapter is exciting and well-written. Moreover, complex ideas are explained clearly and with neither too much, nor, too little detail. However, the storyline begins in August 1944. It would have much, much clearly and more powerful if the storyline began before the outbreak of the war.

Too many books, like The Forgotten 500, start with an exciting, but chronologically out-of-place chapter. This is a marketing ploy to get the reader to buy the book. Quality and clarity are sacrificed for the sake of profit.

However, even with this "flaw" The Forgotten 500 merits four stars. Freeman can't be faulted for writing in the way publishers want books written, not how they should be written.
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on June 28, 2015
Freeman writes a thorough and very readable account of the largest, riskiest, and most successful rescue of U.S. Servicemen behind enemy lines in history. He respectfully discusses backgrounds of many of the airman who were downed in Yugoslavia during bombing runs and the behind the scenes activities within the US and the British intelligence services. He provides context for the internal politics of Yugoslavia, particularly the animosity between Draza Mihailovich, the nationalist commander who was abandoned by the U.S. and Great Britian and yet was a loyal ally that risked his life and those of the Serbian people to protect the downed airmen, and the corrupt communist Tito, who ended up allowing the Russians to take over the country after the war. He brings to light the corruption, petty bickering and politics that occured among the allies, with serious consequences. If you enjoy history, this is a great and moving read.
2 people found this helpful
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