By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

During the later portion of World War II, bombing missions often flew over Yugoslavia. The Germans shot many down. Whenever possible, the flight crew bailed out. In 1944, nearly 500 allied airmen were secreted away with the help of the Chetnik Resistance fighters and the local population. Fliers had no apparent way to contact a home base, and their swelling numbers were an increasing security risk for the locals. 

A downed radioman came up with a partial solution. With the help of some of the Chetniks, a downed plane was found, and the radio recovered. The jerry-rigged set was used to communicate with allied headquarters. They notified headquarters of as much as they could without giving their location to the Germans. The airmen feared not only for themselves but for the people hiding them.

Yugoslavia was complicated. The Germans had invaded, but they were being harassed by the Chetnik fighters and the Partisans/Communists. The Chetniks and the Partisans were also fighting each other. The Allied airmen who were seeking rescue were being hosted by the Chetniks and their supporting population.

Among the downed airmen was Lieutenant Bill Bogdonavich. He had learned to speak some Serbian from his father. That made him an asset to both the Chetniks and the airmen. He was fascinated by Vasa Petrovich, a teenaged Chetnik fighter who would play a critical role later. In the meantime, Vasa told his sad story to Bogdonavich.

If the airmen were to be rescued, they would have to be flown out. So, a landing strip would have to be found that would accommodate the C-47 Skytrain. It would have to appear to be a farm field to any German surveillance planes, and leveling work would have to be secretive. The surrounding trees worked well for hiding the airmen and Chetniks, who worked on the field (when warned), but the trees would be hazardous to the rescue planes; it was a short space to land and take off.

Drew Carlton was one of the pilots tasked with the rescue. Fear had kept him from any prior success. He was a good pilot, even an instructor for a time, but his past and the challenges ahead haunted him. This was his chance, though, and he wasn’t going to mess it up. He had a good, loyal flight crew and airmen on the ground that needed him. He could do this.

The story follows Bill Bogdonavich, Drew Carlton and to a lesser degree, Vasa Petrovich. It is a novel, but it is based on a true story. Tom Young has developed characters that the reader cares about as they deal with the problems inherent in being behind German lines. You may want to check on Young’s other books, too.