The evacuation of Pranjani

A unique rescue operation known as Operation Air Bridge in military history, code named Halyard and kept top secret for almost 60 years, is now considered one of the largest military operations. 

The

The evacuation of Pranjani

A unique rescue operation known as Operation Air Bridge in military history, code named Halyard and kept top secret for almost 60 years, is now considered one of the largest military operations. 

autor teksta
Sara Marinković | Demostat | Beograd 30. Nov 2017 | In focus

During the Second World War, the Allied forces have been using the sky above Yugoslavia as an air corridor for bombing strategic targets, above all the German Wehrmachts oil plants around Ploesti in Romania. According to historical sources from the US, 350 Allied bombers were brought down by August 1944. A large number of pilots downed by the Nazis ended up in the village of Pranjani, in a region held by the Chetniks, under the command of General Dragoljub Draza Mihailovic. The American pilots, who found themselves in a territory occupied by the Nazi Germany, were taken care of not only by the Chetniks, but also by the residents of the village of Pranjani, near Gornji MIlanovac.

As the end of the Second World War was nearing (year 1944), the locals of the Takovo area, along with General Mihailovics forces, the US military intelligence service team and the Allied air forces, built an improvised airstrip in the Galovica Poljana location. The construction of the runway was led by Lieutenant General George W. Muslin, more commonly know as "Djordje Amerikanac" (George the American), assisted by the captain of the homeland Yugoslav Army, Zvonko Vuckovic. The Galovica Poljana was less than a kilometer long and 200 meters wide, and needed flattening and extending in order to serve for landing transport planes.

The operation ran from 9th August to September the 5th 1944, when hundreds of Allied troops were evacuated in day and night flights. The Allied planes took off and transported the pilots from Galovica Poljana to the Italian port of Bari. Without the support of the locals, the pilots, among whom there were Americans, Canadians and Britons, would have difficulties not only to survive, but also evacuate. Operation Haylard is therefore considered one of the most successfull rescue missions of the pilots brought down behind the enemy lines in occupied Europe during the Second World War.

In gratitude for the efforts made to save the Allied pilots, General Dragoljub Draza Mihailovic was posthumously awarded Legion of Merit by the US President Harry Truman on March 29, 1948. Legion of Merit is the highest award the US give to foreigners, and in its rationale it stated that "General Dragoljub Mihailovic stood out extraordinarily as the chief of the Yugoslav armed forces and later as minister of defence, organizing and leading the great resistance forces against the enemy that occupied Yugoslavia from December 1941 to December 1944. Thanks to the fearless efforts of his troops, many American aviators were saved and safely returned to the Allied side. General Mihailovic and his forces, despite insufficient supply and fighting in extremely difficult conditions, materially contributed to the Allied struggle and witnessed the final victory of the Allies." The order was discovered in 1968 in the State Department archive, labeled "strictly confidential".

Although Titos partisans also helped evacuate Allied pilots in the south of Serbia, due to the ideological motives and the legacy of the Second World War, burdened with elements of civil conflict in the post-war Yugoslavia, Operation Air Bridge was completely invisible and hidden from the domestic public in the utmost secrecy for decades.

 

Speaking of the anniversary of the Operation Halyard, Co-Chairman of the congressional caucus for Serbian issues Ted Poe said: "During the long, dark and sad days of World War II, Serbs and Americans succeeded in a mission secreted for nearly 60 years. Operation Halyard has become the largest rescue operation of American aviators in history." According to him, the mission would not be successful without the courage of the Serbian people. "In 1944, when Allies advanced to the fortress of Europe, American bombers based in southern Italy began attacks on German vital oil supplies in Romania. Fifteenth Air Force have launched nearly 20,000 planes to Eastern Europe in order to degrade Hitlers war machine. To do this, they had to fly above Yugoslavia occupied by the Nazis. Serbs who resisted German forces since 1941 risked their own lives to save American pilots and hide them from the Nazis," said Poe. Speaking of the evacuation, Ted Poe stated: "On August 10, unarmed American C-47, flying over enemy territory, landed at an improvised airport, built and protected by local Serbs near the village of Pranjani. More than 500 Allied pilots were secretly rescued and transferred to Italy." Congressman Poe believes it is necessary to point out that the alliance with Serbia and the Serbian people dates back to the period of the First World War.

"About a century ago, Serbia opposed aggression from the larger Austrian-Hungarian Empire and we should admire that. Serbian fight against tyranny has created conditions for the United States to join the First World War in Europe and fight for freedom." said Poe. His view is that the shared commitment to freedom and the spirit of the Halyard Mission continues to live in close ties between the United States and Serbia. "Just like in both World Wars, Serbia and the United States continue to face common threats. We are also working today to preserve common security. Serbian soldiers serve together with US forces in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan, and Serbia is a partner in preventing the spread of terrorism in Serbia and Europe," says Poe. "With our joint events in Operation Halyard, our combined history and our struggle for freedom, the American people are forever grateful to the Serbs who came to save the Americans during the dark days of World War II," stressed Poe at the end of his speech.

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