Draza Mihailovich

Resources on Draza Mihailovich

Craughwell, Thomas J.  Great Rescues of World War II: Stories of Adventure, Daring and Sacrifice (Pier 9, 2009).

World War II gave rise to some of history's most gripping stories of courage and heroism. Some of the rescues recounted here involve 'the greatest generation', the soldiers, sailors and airmen who risked all for their brothers and sisters in arms; others concern civilians who hid Jews in their homes or helped Allied soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. And there are deeply personal stories, too, such as Lucie Aubrac's audacious plan to liberate her husband from a Gestapo prison. Common to all - the deep reserves of courage and humanity that led ordinary men and women to risk, and even sacrifice, their lives in order to rescue those in mortal danger. Key points: written in an engaging, accessible, lively tone; the text can be dipped into, or read at one sitting; divided into two parts, moving from the European theatre to the war in Asia, the book presents 24 audacious true stories; beautifully presented with contemporary photographs to support the text.  Draza Mihailovich's story is one of the featured stories.


Freeman, Gregory A.  The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II (NAL, 2007).

Bombing of the Ploiesti, Romania, oil refineries, a key German resource, started in 1942. Allied pilots sustaining damage frequently bailed out over Serbia in German-occupied Yugoslavia, where the resistance and others hid them. By 1944, more than 500 were stranded and slowly starving. The OSS concocted the daring Operation Halyard to airlift them, but they had to construct a landing strip without tools and without alerting the Germans or endangering local villagers, and then the rescuers had to avoid being shot down themselves. The operation's story is an exciting tale, but it was kept from general knowledge for decades; the resistance leader most responsible was a rival to Tito. Nazi-baited by a Stalinist mole in British intelligence, he was executed in 1946 with the consent of Britain and America, which thereafter refused to acknowledge having been snookered (the State Department kept many details classified more than 50 years). Evoking the rescuees' successive desperation, wild hope, and joy, and their gratitude to the Serbians who risked their lives to help, Freeman produces a breathtaking popular account.  (Freida Murray for Booklist)


Tabori, Paul. The Ragged Guard: A Tale of 1941 (London, Hodder & Stoughton Limited,1942) and reprint (Digit Books, Watson, Brown. London, UK. 1958).

In August, 1942, The Ragged Guard: A Tale of 1941, a novel on Draza Mihailovich by Hungarian-born British author and journalist Paul Tabori, was published in London. The novel was a fictionalized account of the guerrilla resistance movement led by Draza Mihailovich in German-occupied Yugoslavia during the crucial year of 1941.

The plot of the novel centers around Major Stephen Barrett, a British Intelligence Service agent, who is sent to Yugoslavia in the weeks before the German invasion of Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941. He was assisted by Patrick “Paddy” Oliver Flaherty, an Irish-American who was a newspaperman and represented a U.S. chain of newspapers in Central Europe. This was his cover. He was in fact an American intelligence agent of the G-2 Branch of the American General Staff.


The History Channel



Rescue Behind Enemy Lines

The field in Pranjane, a small village in central Yugoslavia, that was turned into an emergency airstrip
for the evacuation of Allied airmed in 1944

Muted cheers erupted when the crowd caught the sound of the approaching C-47s. Rajacich rushed out onto the field with an Aldis lamp to give the identification code, squeezing the trigger three times with the predetermined signal: Red, Red, Red. The lead C-47 responded with the same signal. Rajacich gave the go-ahead signal for landing, to which the plane responded with the prearranged code word, X-ray.

“We’re on boys! This is it!” Musulin shouted to his men, who again burst into cheers. On Musulin’s orders, his men torched hay bales and set off flares to mark the edges of the field.

Now came the trickiest, most terrifying part of the operation for the pilots of the Fifteenth Air Force’s 60th Troop Carrier Group—landing in near-darkness on an improvised runway deep in enemy territory. The first of four C-47s overshot the runway and was forced to go around again. The other planes touched down successfully, followed by the first aircraft on its second try. The only mishap was one aircraft’s minor run-in with a haystack, which dented the C-47’s wingtip.

Within a half-hour of the lead aircraft’s touchdown, the first evacuees had said their emotional farewells to the Serb families who had sheltered them, and the fully loaded planes were ready to go. Seconds before takeoff, the side doors of all four planes swung open to reveal the rescued airmen unlacing their boots and holding them up for the villagers to see. One after another, the airmen tossed their boots out to the Serb villagers as a final expression of gratitude to their caretakers, many of whom had nothing to wear on their feet but traditional Serb felt slippers.

Allied airmen marching to work on the improved airstrip in Pranjane, Yugoslavia

All four C-47s took off successfully, though just barely. Two more flights of C-47s duly arrived at the makeshift airfield the next morning, this time with a strong escort of P-51 and P-38 fighters. The fighters peeled off, shooting up neighboring German garrisons as a diversion, and the C-47s were able to land much more safely than they had the previous night.

In only the first two days, Operation Halyard successfully retrieved 241 American airmen—but the OSS team was less successful when it came to obeying the government edict that the agents not furnish any supplies or give any aid to Mihailovich’s men. George Musulin, who approved the evacuation of two seriously wounded Chetniks along with the Allied airmen, was ordered home in August 1944 for aiding Mihailovich’s forces; he was replaced as mission commander by Lt. Nick Lalich.

But as Halyard continued, events in the rest of Yugoslavia conspired to interrupt it. Tito, now firmly in control of all Yugoslav provinces except Serbia and parts of Bosnia, launched a final drive in September 1944 to solidify his grasp on power, surrounding Pranjani with his Partisan army and crushing Mihailovich’s forces. The Chetniks were forced to evacuate Pranjani on September 10, and from that point forward, Operation Halyard resembled a traveling road show throughout Serbia and Bosnia. Evacuations over the next three months were improvised affairs, using whatever broad, flat spaces were available—mostly farm fields. And even as the Chetniks moved into Bosnia in Halyard’s final phase, they collected airmen to be brought for evacuation: not just Americans, but British, French, Italian, and Russian aviators as well.

By December 1944, the OSS decided that Operation Halyard had run its course. The end of the Ploesti campaign meant there were no more planes flying over the region, and no newly downed airmen requiring rescue. By the time of its termination, Vujnovich’s team had airlifted 512 downed Allied airmen without the loss of a single airman or plane—a truly impressive accomplishment. The last evacuation flight, which also carried the operation’s OSS team, left Boljanic, Bosnia, on December 27, 1944. In a final and surprising gesture of generosity, Nick Lalich’s OSS superiors radioed Draza Mihailovich an offer to evacuate him on the last flight out. Though he was in desperate straits due to Partisan resistance and the Allied ban on material aid and support, Mihailovich declined, preferring to share the fate of his people instead.


Source: historynet.com: http://www.historynet.com/rescue-behind-enemy-lines.htm/4.


The Tragedy of Draza Mihailovich

I reminded the Court of Hitler’s message to Mussolini saying that I was the greatest enemy of the Axis, and was only waiting for the moment to attack...I strove for much, I undertook much, but the gales of the world have carried away both me and my work.

Draza Mihailovich, closing speech at his trial, July 1946

By February 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had admitted to each other that they had made a serious error in backing Josip Tito rather than Draza Mihailovich in Yugoslavia.  It had become clear that Tito would not form a post war government that was friendly to the West, that he had entered Joseph Stalin’s orbit instead.  On 5 April 1945, Tito signed a document permitting the “temporary entry of Soviet troops into Yugoslav territory.”  Following Germany’s surrender to the Allies on 8 May, Tito’s Partisans began hunting down General Mihailovich.  His friends and allies outside Yugoslavia urged him to escape to Switzerland, but Mihailovich refused to abandon his country.  The Partisans captured him in late March 1946 and Tito charged him with collaborating with the Nazis during the occupation of Yugoslavia.

When the story was picked up by American newspapers, the OSS agents and rescued airmen who had known Mihailovich were outraged to see him characterized as a traitor who had sold out his country.  Arthur Jibilian went to the offices of the Washington Post to set the record straight.  Richard Felman wrote articles praising Mihailovich for the Hearst syndicate of newspapers.  Within a matter of weeks, hundreds of the rescued American airmen were lobbying Congress and the U.S. State Department to step in and save Mihailovich from a show trial that would certainly end with his execution.  Their visit to Washington received a great deal of press coverage, but Secretary of State Dean Acheson refused to see Felman, and the State Department declined to forward to the court in Belgrade documentary evidence by the men of Operation Halyard that would exonerate Mihailovich.

The public outcry against the railroading of a man who had saved the lives of hundreds of American servicemen finally had some impact.  Acheson authorized a letter to Tito that urged him to consider the testimony of the OSS agents and the rescued air crews at Mihailovich’s trial.  Tito rejected the recommendations.

On 10 June 1946, in the auditorium of a military school in Belgrade, General Draza Mihailovich appeared before the court that had already concluded he was guilty, appearing utterly worn out.  The trial dragged on for a month, with the prosecutors digressing occasionally to denounce the United States and Great Britain for opposing Tito’s alliance with Stalin and the imposition of a Communist government on the people of Yugoslavia.

On 15 July the court found Mihailovich guilty and sentenced him to death.  Two later he was executed by firing squad and his body dumped in an unmarked grave.

In 1948, President Harry Truman posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit to Draza Mihailovich for his contributions to the Allies’ victory in Europe.  If the award had been publicized at the time, it would have gone a long way to rehabilitate Mihailovich’s reputation, but the State Department insisted that such recognition would antagonize Tito and damage U.S. relations with his government.  Public recognition was suppressed until 2005, when the award was at last presented to the general’s granddaughter, Gordana Mihailovich.


Source: Craughwell, Thomas J.  Great Rescues of World War II (Pier 9, 2009), p. 152.



Dragoljub Mihailovich: Greatest Enemy of the Axis


Hitler’s No. 1 Headache

Russia’s millions have done things to the Nazis, but no one man has given them a fight like this!

by  Robert Low

The six-wheeled patrol car flying a red-and-black swastika flag careened round a corner of the tiny Serbian village and skidded to a halt before a farmhouse.  A squad of steel-helmeted German soldiers, led by an unsmiling young officer, jumped out and advanced toward four peasants standing before the house.  While the soldiers searched their baggy clothes for concealed weapons, the officer snapped out questions:

“Where are your identification papers?  What are you meeting here for?  Where have you come from?  Were you ever in the Yugoslav army?”

The peasants stared at him stupidly.  “Would the officer please speak slowly,?” one of them mumbled.  They could not understand him very well.  The officer became very angry.  This was an insult to the Reichswehrschule für Auslandischesprachen where he taken the special language course for officers of the German armies of occupation.

He repeated his questions, this time shouting them at a tall, auburn-haired yokel who seemed to look a little more intelligent than the others.  The peasant replied for each of them in turn--carefully but not fawningly; in detail but not suspiciously pat.  The officer checked the answers with certain known facts in his notebook.  They tallied.  He snapped his notebook shut and ordered the men back to the car.  A final warning, carrying a full and open threat; then the car shot away, leaving a blast of winter mud in its wake.  The peasants watched it in silence until it disappeared beyond the next bend.

Finally one of them smiled and said, “That was a fairly close one, Draja.”  The tall, auburn-haired man nodded his head toward the woods a few hundred feet away.  “Yes, it was close--but for them as for us, I should say.”

Hidden in the deep foliage of the copse he indicated was a machine gun with its crew.  Its sights had been trained on the Germans throughout the interrogation.  For General Dragoljub Mihailovich, Yugoslav Minister of War, is a practical man.  He travels far and wide in the course of his duties.  He travels wisely.

Mihailovich is no Scarlet Pimpernel carrying on a romantic single-handed battle of wits against the enemy.  He is the commander in chief of an army many thousands strong engaged in serious military operations against the German and Italian armies of occupation.

To match the enemies’ superiority in men and equipment, he fights with guerrilla tactics, using his superior knowledge of terrain and mountain fighting.  From the plains of Croatia to the mountains of Serbia, the “people’s war” he is waging never ceases.