The Forgotten 500 | Gregory A. Freeman

Summary of: The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II
By: Gregory A. Freeman


Dive into the untold story of World War II’s greatest rescue mission in Gregory A. Freeman’s ‘The Forgotten 500′. The narrative highlights the remarkable courage and collaboration between downed Allied airmen and Yugoslav guerrilla forces. Despite political differences and misinformation, it becomes a mission of hope and survival against all odds. The book sheds light on the Yugoslav Chetniks’ leader, Draža Mihailović, whose help to the stranded airmen was crucial in the daring rescue that would ultimately save their lives. Prepare to be inspired by the resilience, perseverance, and unity between the Allied airmen and their Serbian hosts in the face of adversity.

The Chetniks’ Help

In 1944, Allied bombers flew over Romania to destroy the country’s oil fields key to Nazi Germany’s war efforts. Most Allied planes returned safely, but some were shot down, leaving airmen to parachute into Yugoslavia. Despite warnings to avoid the Serbian nationalist guerrilla force, the Chetniks, they ended up helping Allied airmen evade German troops and escorting them to remote mountain villages, including the headquarters of the Chetniks’ leader, Draža Mihailović. This act of aiding the Allies was an attempt to demonstrate his allegiance and secure support in forming a government after the war. However, intelligence reports of Mihailović’s collaboration with Nazi occupiers led the Allies to ignore it. The fate of hundreds of stranded Allied airmen looked bleak until the Chetniks stepped in to save them.

Operation Halyard: The Greatest Rescue Mission of WWII

In May 1944, a letter from Mirjana, wife of American intelligence official George Vujnovich, about stranded airmen in Yugoslavia led to the codenamed Operation Halyard. The mission aimed to rescue over 500 stranded airmen who were constantly battling with depression due to scarce food supply, sleeping in barns and feeling forgotten by the world. George Vujnovich recruited a three-man team led by George Musulin to parachute behind enemy lines and rendezvous with Mihailović to confirm the existence of the stranded airmen. If confirmed, they’d coordinate the secret construction of a landing strip for Allied evacuation planes to land on for successful evacuation. Despite stormy weather and bad intelligence, Musulin and his team parachuted into enemy territory and rescued more than the expected 100 airmen. Operation Halyard became the greatest rescue mission of WWII and a testament to never giving up on one another.

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