“Halyard” and “Ranger” (American missions in the Balkans in 1944)

Miloslav Samardzic

“Halyard” and “Ranger” (American missions in the Balkans in 1944)

General Mihailovic with the representatives of the American military (from left to right): Colonel Robert McDowell (Ranger Mission), Captain George Muslin and Captain Nick Lalic (Halyard Mission).

General Mihailovic with the representatives of the American military (from left to right): Colonel Robert McDowell (Ranger Mission), Captain George Muslin and Captain Nick Lalic (Halyard Mission).


In the summer of 1946, the so called free world passed around one strange photo. It showed younger nice dressed man with smile on his face, in New York at 5th Avenue carrying transparent in English: Tito says: Mihailovic killed me! Indeed he saved me! David O’Connell, 7553 Avenue Union.

Who was this man, confirming truthfulness of his statement by writing own address at the sign board?

He was one of over 600 downed allied, mostly American pilots, whom Yugoslav Royal Army known as Chetniks of Draza Mihailovic saved from Germans and other members of axis forces.

Couple of months earlier, through the world resound the news that Mihailovic failed in to communist hands and that they will trial him, charging him for the most horrific indictments. They claimed he collaborated with axis powers, he fought against Allies, he killed pilots downed by German antiaircraft defense. As an example they stated killing of David O’Connell.

The trail against Mihailovic was the largest in communist Yugoslavia and to this days all together, the largest at this region. Indictment was prepared by numerous crews of the best people communists had. It was expected great effect, so the trial was conducted publicly, broadcasted directly, before numerous journalists and guests from whole World.

And yet they catastrophic mistakes were done, among others stands out the case with O’Connell.

How it was possible?

The communists simply had no choice but to use lies. It was just a question which one of these lies was easier and which one of them more difficult to deny. It turned out that the weakest part of indictment is the one where they hoped the most: collaboration of Draza’s Chetniks with axis powers. By their interpretation of events, it looked like Germans were regular guests in Draza’s High Command and Commands of his units. But from September 1941 until February 1945 among Chetniks where allied officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers. At first there where members of military missions and then just in time because of “high politics” they begun to withdraw, in February 1944, among Chetniks start to fall downed allied pilots.

The pilots started to drop down at the worst time for world polititians, for the western ones as for the eastern ones. They just made deal of delivering Kingdom of Yugoslavia to communist block, based on supposedly confirmed intelligence that Yugoslav Royal Army don’t exist no longer, and that its parts smashed by “heroic” partisan units, melted in to nazi formations.

There where so many downed pilots, they failed on to such huge areas and in so long time period, that such lie couldn’t be hiden. At first allied commands, and then public of western countries, started to ask logical questions: if Yugoslav Royal Army doesn’t exist, how come that just they accepts downed pilots in most of the country: and in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Southern Serbia and in Timok’s Krajina? If it is Yugoslav Royal Army part of Axis forces, why they don’t deliver pilots to Germans, even more so they will pay for every pilot price of $50000?

Big powers make big blunders, and they admit them hardly or nothing at all. This was experience of one of the best American intelligence officers, colonel professor Robert McDowell. While American officers sent to Draza’s headquarter for coordination in action of pilots rescue (Mission “Halyard”) got strict order not to mandle in political issues and not to give any promises, it wasn’t the case with group of McDowell, that arrived right after (Mission “Ranger”). Actually McDowell should come earlier, but British prime minister Churchill personally prevented it. Despite of it, with the support of president Roosevelt, and with insistence of one of the most powerful persons in American Administration, chief of OSS (in future CIA), General William Donowan, McDowell arrives in Draza’s headquarter. His mission was the most difficult imaginable: to change events and expected resolution of WWII in Balkans, so at the peninsula would be stationed American, not Soviet troops, which would establish communism! “I came to help”, said McDowell to Draza, but after Churchill’s deal with Stalin situation deteriorated so suddenly that this courageous colonel barely avoided military court tribunal…

All of this was more than enough to missions Halyard and Ranger get covered with shroud of oblivion. But no secret can last forever. After political changes in Serbia in 2000, it was memorial plaque was set in village of Pranjani, at the place where in summer of 1944 was improvised airport where saved pilots were evacuated from to Bari, Italy. Couple of years later, American Embassy in Belgrade included remembrance to mission Halyard in one of key segments for improving relations with Serbs, which are traditionally good, but dramatically deteriorated by NATO bombing of this country in 1999. Today American marines are regular guests of Pranjani. Among others, Americans announced building of one museum in Pranjani and one in Right Paterson Airbase in Dayton, Ohio.

This way mission Halyard begins to take own real place in the History. Anyway, it was the largest rescue action behind enemy lines in WWII, and every History likes records.

Contrary to Halyard, remembrance to mission “Ranger” still comes from the back stage. The most direct reminder to this mission offered vicepresident of OEBS Willie Wimer in the letter to German cancelour Gerhard Schroeder in May 2nd 2000, where among others he said:

“The war against Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was waged to correct wrong decision of general Eisenhower from WWII. Because of strategic resons there must stationed American soldiers, to  compensate what was missed in 1945.”


The book “Halyard” and “Ranger” (American missions in Balkans in 1944),  is not yet published

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