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on November 16, 2007
I am the radio operator, "Jibby" in this book. We owe a debt to Mihailovich and the Serbian people for saving so many American lives. The SERBIANS WERE THE ONLY ONES IN THE FORMER YUGOSLAVIA THAT FED, SHELTERED, AND RISKED THEIR LIVES FOR THE AMERICANS. Mihailovich's abandonment by the Allies and subsequently being labeling a traitor was, in Winston Churchil's words, "...My greatest blunder in WWII..". I am proud of being a part of the Halyard Mission and, FINALLY, seeing the truth regarding Mihailovich's contributions in WWII being publicized. This book will go a long way in clearing his name.....and it is exciting, easy reading, and hard to put down once you start it.
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on October 17, 2013
This book surprised me. I was prepared for a solid narrative of an apparently exciting wartime event about which I knew little. Instead, the core of the story--the rescue of hundreds of allied airmen in World War II Yugoslavia--was greatly diminished by the author's stop-and-start character development and strange fascination with Draza Mihailovich. Freeman begins with a competently told story of an American airman, Clare Musgrove, downed in Nazi-controlled Serbia while flying one of the heroic and blood-curdling missions over the Ploesti oilfields. Yet as I settled in to follow the interesting tale of Musgrove and other fliers on the run in Yugoslavia, the story shifted to a biography of the OSS agent who eventually headed the rescue operation, George Vujnovich, and his "sophisticated, learned, beautiful blond" Serbian wife (these sorts of character descriptions turned out to be unpleasantly frequent). This story too is mildly interesting. I started thinking to myself, "Oh, THIS is what this book is about--the effort of Vujonvich and his OSS colleagues in getting the fliers out of Yugoslavia. Usually, at this point in a World War II book of this kind, the author immerses his reader in the fascinating details of a secret mission that will supply the book's main source of appeal. Nope. Not that either. In fact, what this book is really about (as other reviewers have noted) is a defense of Serbian wartime political leader Draza Mihailovich.
I'm by no means an expert on modern Serbian history, and I definitely don't want to be, but the universally held historical opinion among people who are expert seems to be that the dubious Mihailovich was at best an opportunist. The general weight of opinion about his actions during the war is that, through people in his senior leadership, he collaborated with the Nazis and oversaw troops involved in the kind of Serbian "ethnic cleansing" that made its dreadful reappearance in recent history. Freeman invests much of the book with his own anti-communist agenda, and in doing so, he misrepresents the actions of both American and British secret services. Essentially, Freeman appears to be a resurrected post-war right-wing True Believer, who is be smitten with the CIA in its particularly paranoid post-war incarnation. There's also a weird and paranoid anglophobic slant to his description of British activities in Yugoslavia, where the British were clearly far more knowledgeable and far more effective than their naive (to put it politely) American cousins. The British supported Tito, and with good reason: The Chetniks, Mihailovich's "rebels," spent most of their time fighting Jews, Croats, Muslims, and communists, very often courting their fellow anti-semites the Nazis, and recurrently bidding for German aid in the shared noble cause of ethnic cleansing. Tito was no angel. His show trial of Mihailovich was despicable. But unlike the Chetniks, ensconced in their mountain fastnesses, waiting for the Allies to rescue them, and posing no threat to the Germans, Tito and the Partisans were fully engaged in fighting and dying, like the Maquis in France, the Polish Home Army, and the Dutch, Norwegian and Greek Resistance movements, fighting their no-quarter clandestine war against Nazism.
Finally, I have to point out that the book is rife with errors, which I'm surprised haven't been called out by the World War II buffs among the reviewers. A typical example: On page 216, Freeman devotes a long paragraph to the German Stuka dive bomber, calling it "one of the most advanced and successful planes used in World War II." This is isn't just wrong--it's embarrassingly wrong. The Stuka is universally treated with contempt by historians of the air war in Europe. Stukas were incapable of taking on any Allied warplane of any kind by 1941, by which time it was a woefully out-of-date death-trap for its pilots.
Finally, the book is also rife with truly outstanding examples of stating the obvious. A typical instance: "They climbed into a C-47 painted black to make it harder to see at night."
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on August 19, 2011
I am currently reading this book and the author has done an outstanding job of describing the conditions and what was happening during WW2 with the aiplanes and the crews that were shot down and survived with the help of the local civilians
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on December 13, 2008
Even if one ignores the fact that the book tries to rewrite history and is unbelievably biased towards Chetniks there are a lot of errors, incorrect claims, etc. The author simply doesn't do a favor to this operation because writing in this fashion puts big question marks over all the facts in the book even those that might be true. The reader simply cannot distinguish facts from fiction or chetnik propaganda.
I'll simply list couple of problems ranging from simple ones to very questionable ones:
- The author should have consulted the map. About 80% of the names of places in the book are misspelled. Some of the places are misplaced. According to author except for Belgrade all other places were small villages (e.g. Novi Sad - prosperous town and capital of Vojvodina is a small village according to author as are all the others)
- 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
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on November 17, 2013
I can't rate it because I bought it as a gift for someone else and don't know if they enjoyed it or not.
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on December 16, 2011
I was disappointed by the multitude of technical inaccuracies in the first few chapters. It makes one wonder how much of other material is accurate. The book apparently wasn't edited, or at least fact-checked. I was flying missions in the area at the time, and this book has little similarity to my own experience. It turns into an open editorial to support the reputation of the Partisan leader.
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on December 11, 2008
An exciting read about the downed US airmen who were shot down behind enemy lines and later were rescued by Yugoslavian Partisans and Militia. An emotional read for WW II history buffs and this is thus far the best book on the secret missions to save allied airmen from behind the Nazis and Italians' front lines. Every airman saved was later returned to serve the cause of freedom. The sad part however is that these Partisans were left without any support or life-line after the war was over and a few of them, wrongfully, tried for their alleged crimes. The Eastern European experience should not be done again. Poland, Yugoslavia, Czech republic and ... could very well be saved from the grips of the Stalinists if FDR had not left them alone. All in all, this is a great read on WW II and the politics of Balkans during the war. Highly recommended...
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on March 3, 2008
I enjoy WWII history and this untold story was no exception. Gregory A. Freeman makes a valiant effort to set the record straight on Draza Mihailovich's contribution to our war effort by telling the story of this miraculous rescue operation. It is amazing to me to this day, that some in our government still dispute that it was the Soviet propaganda machine supporting Tito that perpetrated the "Big Lie" about Mihailovich being a collaborator. It is clear that none of these aviators felt that way.

Don Kosovac, Colonel, USAF (Retired)
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on July 9, 2013
I gave it two stars because it is an engaging book. Like a few other reviewers, I question the legitimacy. For example on page 97, he says that there was a boat 12 miles inland that could take refugees to a British cruiser. I gave the author the benefit of a doubt and assumed that he meant upstream, but then came page 99 where he says that the British citizens who had made it on board the cruiser were arrested by the Italians. I chalked that up to an editing error but started doubting the author's credibility, and then came page 115. Here he tells us that a man flew in the Yugoslavian air force in WWI, when Yugoslavia only became a country after that war. I was hardly surprised when he says on page 122 that Draza Mihailovich was voted Time Magazine's Man of the Year: an assertion directly contradicted by Time Magazine itself. In the second half of Amazon's description of the author, they tell us that Hollywood is making movies out of two of his books. Perhaps the tail wags the dog when it comes to his research and his engaging anecdotes. I was left with serious doubts about the anecdotes themselves due to the author's author's inability to accurately record verifiable facts and an acute fear for the future because Hollywood seems to form the common man's knowledge of history these days.
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on January 3, 2015
Operation Halyard is a great story and I would have enjoyed hearing more about the logistical and technical challenges in pulling off the extraction. But the historical perspective was largely from the point of view of those rescued, and they were arguably in the dark about such details.

However, the main thrust of the book seemed to be focused on clearing the name of Chetnik leader General Draza Mihailovic, who was executed as a collaborator by the Communist Partisan forces under Tito who prevailed in post-war Yugoslavia. Again, the evidence offered to exonerate Mihailovic was largely through the eyes of the rescued airmen, most of whom never met Mihailovic and none of whom were in a position to evaluate the full context of Mihailovic's activities during the war. Even if the Brits (and through them, the Americans) were duped by Pro-Soviet agents like Klugmann as to the respective stances of Tito and Mihailovic, and we became aware of this at the height of our awareness of the horrors of Communism, it doesn't change the facts on the ground.

The fact is that, by his actions, Mihailovic (and through him a cobbled-together coalition of primarily pro-Serbian factions under various leaders) accepted aid and arms from the Germans and Italians so long as the Chetniks agreed to actively fight the more rebellious Partisans, which they did, sometimes side by side with the Germans. The book doesn't refute this view, it merely ignores it, which makes the conclusions of the author very suspicious. Clearly, both Tito and Mihailovic had the ability to look beyond the temporary occupation by the Fascists and were focused on the post-war endgame and their own ethnic civil war, which had been simmering for nearly a millennium. Tito just chose his horse better and managed the politics and his message to the Allies better, consistently demonstrating his militant opposition to the Germans. The book suggests this was largely politically motivated and, in true Communist fashion, was done without regard to German reprisals against civilians (and may in fact have counted on them to build anti-Fascist resolve among the people). None of that changes the fact that history shows that Mihailovic was more focused on defeating Tito, regardless of the strange bedfellows that created. That local Serbs and some Mihailovic supporters were extremely supportive of the downed US/Allied airmen, at great sacrifice and risk to themselves, was not inconsistent with that goal of defeating Tito. In fact, it might have been one of the few cards Mihailovic had to play to gain Allied support. But he appears to have only passively supported the extraction effort, as evidenced by his almost complete absence from Pranjani leading up to the mission. And the official US military record reflects that more than twice as many airmen were recovered with aid from the Partisans than from that of the Chetniks.

The question remains of what might have happened in Yugoslavia if we had backed Mihailovic instead of Tito. It is logical to assume that supporting Mihailovic would have caused more Partisan casualties than German ones. And my educated guess, having spent a year in the former Yugoslavia in Operation Joint Endeavor and seeing the deep-seated ethnic hatred firsthand, is that it would have simply accelerated the ethnic cleansing that eventually returned after Tito passed away in 1980 and Slobodan Milosevic picked up what was essentially a Chetnik torch.
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