Joint US/Chetnik military ceremony in Pranjani September 6, 1944. Capt. Nick Lalich (OSS Halyard Mission), Gen. Dragoljub Mihailovic (Yugoslav Army in the Homeland), and Col. Robert McDowell (OSS Ranger Mission). Credit: Aleksandar Simić / CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED.

Operation Halyard, known in Serbian as Operation Air Bridge (Serbian: Операција Ваздушни мост), was an Allied airlift operation behind Axis lines during World War II. This mission was launched by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor to both the U.S. Special Operations Forces and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Operation Halyard was classified for over 50 years. It was declassified in 1997..

The OSS was the United States first central intelligence agency, established during World War II. The OSS was formed in June 1942 to coordinate espionage activities behind enemy lines for all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. Its functions included gathering intelligence, aiding resistance groups, sabotaging enemy assets, and planning for the post-war period The OSS was dissolved in September 1945, shortly after the end of the war. Its intelligence tasks were later resumed by its successors, the Strategic Services Unit (SSU), the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) and the independent CIA.

The OSS Gallery at the CIA Museum. Credit: Central Intelligence Agency.

The Mission

The primary objective of Operation Halyard was the rescue of more than 500 Allied airmen who were scattered throughout the mountainous region of Serbia after their planes were shot down by the Germans. The operation took place from 2 August to 27 December 1944.

The OSS drew up plans in July 1944 to send a team to the Chetniks force led by General Draža Mihailović in the German-occupied Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia for the purpose of evacuating Allied airmen shot down over that area. This team, known as the Halyard team, was commanded by Lieutenant George Musulin, along with Master Sergeant Michael Rajacich, and Specialist Arthur Jibilian, the radio operator.

B-24D’s fly over Ploiești during World War II. U.S. Army Air Force photo by Richard R. Ganczak.


The operation took place in the Nazi-controlled region of eastern Serbia. The airmen had to bail out over this region after their planes were shot down during the bombing campaign. The buildup to the rescue mission was slowed by political opposition from Great Britain. The British had initially supported General Draza Mihailovich, the leader of the Serbian guerrilla forces, but they had since shifted their support to the Croat communist leader Josip Tito. This change in allegiance complicated the rescue operation.

The OSS director, General William J. (“Wild Bill”) Donovan. had to go directly to President Roosevelt to get approval for the operation2. After the President agreed to the operation, the British followed suit and were placed in charge of the logistics of the operation. However, the first six attempts to insert a team to coordinate the rescue had to be aborted.

There were also logistical challenges. The operation involved coordinating with the Chetnik guerrillas and arranging for the safe transport of the airmen to Pranjani, which had a runway for evacuation. There were also concerns that the Germans had discovered the impending operation and were sending troops to capture or kill the airmen or shoot down the incoming C-47s.

The initial communication from General Mihailovich about the stranded airmen did not result in any action from the American authorities. It took further efforts and the involvement of George Vujnovich, an OSS officer with knowledge of Yugoslavia, to turn Operation Halyard into a concrete operation.

The Chetnik guerrillas, led by General Mihailovich, played a crucial role in the success of Operation Halyard. After the Allied airmen had to bail out over the Nazi-controlled region of eastern Serbia, Mihailovich ordered his troops and the locals of the area to shelter the airmen. The airmen were helped to get to Pranjan by the Chetniks and the Chetniks provided protection to the evacuation team.

A Chetnik with a M37 light machine gun. Credit: Aleksandar Simić – Museum of Yugoslavia / CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED.


Operation Halyard was a success. It was the largest rescue operation of American airmen in history. According to historian Professor Jozo Tomasevich, a report submitted to the OSS showed that 417 Allied airmen who had been downed over occupied Yugoslavia were rescued by Mihailović’s Chetniks and airlifted out by the Fifteenth Air Force. According to Lieutenant Commander Richard M. Kelly (OSS), a grand total of 432 U.S. and 80 Allied personnel were airlifted during the Halyard Mission. The mission was completed without a single loss of aircraft or casualties. It remains one of the most successful rescue missions in history.

In Conclusion

Operation Halyard was a daring and successful mission that demonstrated the courage, resilience, and resourcefulness of the Allied forces during World War II. It remains a significant chapter in the annals of military history and continues to be commemorated for its remarkable success.

The Halyard Mission Foundation aims to educate, commemorate, and increase awareness of the Halyard Mission and the role the Serbs played in the success of the mission. The foundation organizes annual ceremonies dedicated to commemorating the Halyard rescue mission.


Halyard Mission Foundation

Office of Strategic Services Society

USASOC OSS Website (Official US Army Website)

Central Intelligence Agency

*The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original authors and contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Spotter Up Magazine, the administrative staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

By Eugene Nielsen

Eugene Nielsen provides intelligence and security consulting services. He has a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of California. His byline has appeared in numerous national and international journals and magazines.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.