Red Burning Sky
Published by: Kensington
Release Date: February 22, 2022
A powerfully authentic and thrilling saga based on the true story of Operation Halyard, WWII's most daring and successful rescue mission, from air combat veteran and acclaimed author Tom Young...
Summer 1944: Yugoslavia is locked in a war within a war. In addition to fighting the German occupation, warring factions battle each other. Hundreds of Allied airmen have been shot down over this volatile region, among them American lieutenant Bill Bogdonavich. Though grateful to the locals who are risking theirlives to shelter and protect him from German troops, Bogdonavich dreams of the impossible: escape.
With three failed air missions behind him, Lieutenant Drew Carlton is desperate for redemption. From a Texas airbase he volunteers for a secretive and dangerous assignment, code named Operation Halyard, that will bring together American special operations officers, airmen, and local guerilla fighters in Yugoslavia’s green hills. This daring plan—to evacuate hundreds of stranded airmen while avoiding detection by the Germans—faces overwhelming odds. What follows is one of the greatest stories of World War II heroism, an elaborate rescue that required astonishing courage, sacrifice, and resilience.
Red Burning Sky is a riveting and ultimately triumphant military thriller based on true events, all the more remarkable for being so little known—until now.
Over Central Europe, June 1944
At the bombardier's station of Miss Caroline, Bill Bogdonavich aimed through his Norden sight and toggled the bomb release. Turbulence rocked the B-24 Liberator as heat rose from fires below. Shrapnel raked the fuselage. Bogdonavich's target, the refineries of Ploesti, Romania, fueled the Nazi war machine, and he knew the Germans would defend them with vicious zeal. But that didn't begin to describe the storm of explosives and sharp metal hurled up at the men and machines of the Fifteenth Air Force.
"Bombs away!" Bogdonavich called. He couldn't judge his accuracy well. The bombs from Miss Caroline disappeared into a cauldron of smoke and fire, as if they had dropped into a burning lake.
Bogdonavich looked up from the Norden, through the aircraft's Plexiglas nose, and saw a wide-angle vision of hell. Smoke boiled from a burning refinery, the work of bombs dropped by aircraft ahead in the formation. Both the earth and sky seemed to burn. Antiaircraft artillery rounds exploded into black puffs and slashed the air.
Up on the flight deck, the aircraft commander, Lieutenant Wilson, switched off the autopilot and racked the Liberator into a steep left bank. Now the goal was survival: escape the flak storm and turn onto the egress route over Yugoslavia. Clear the Dinaric Alps and cross the Adriatic to get back to base in southern Italy. Chalk up another mission toward completing the tour. For the crew of Miss Caroline, this was number eight. At least twenty-two more to go, assuming they managed to return to base.
Once the Liberator cleared the target area, the flak fire vanished. Bogdonavich heard Wilson ask for a damage report.
"Minimal," Sergeant Bowers, the flight engineer, answered. "Sheet metal damage in the bomb bay. And oil pressure's a little low in number four."
Miss Caroline had made it through the bomb run nearly unscathed, but that didn't mean the danger had passed. German fighters prowled egress routes, looking to exact vengeance. A bomber shot down meant a bomber that would never again threaten the Reich.
"All right, people," Wilson called. "Use those eyeballs."
Bogdonavich scanned the blue ahead of him. The cruciform figures of twenty B-24s dotted the sky, three of them trailing smoke. Next to Bogdonavich, Lieutenant Greenbaum, the navigator, shook his head. Bogdonavich knew what the nav was thinking: Those three stricken aircraft would probably never make it back to Italy. Bogdonavich had already counted four Liberators blown out of the sky-just the ones he'd seen. Each downed plane meant ten men dead or missing.
Below, forested hills rolled along like green ripples. In the valleys, the patchwork of fields and hedgerows offered little evidence of combat. Germans occupied most of that ground, but sheep grazed as if conflict never reached this far into Balkan farmland. Bogdonavich imagined families at their tables, blissfully ignorant of the destruction just over the horizon.
But he knew better. Yugoslavia wasn't only at war against Nazi occupiers. Yugoslavia was at war with itself; a civil war within a world war. Bogdonavich's father had emigrated from this land to the United States at the end of the Great War. The nation his father called the Old Country was tearing itself apart. Chetniks led by General Draza Mihailovich battled with Partisans led by Josip Broz Tito. The stories reaching Bogdonavich's dad back in Pittsburgh were horrifying. Whenever Tito's Communist-leaning forces took new territory, they conducted swift and public executions of anyone suspected of aiding the Chetniks. There were also reports of Chetnik massacres of Croats, Muslims, and Partisan prisoners of war.
A call from the flight engineer brought Bogdonavich back to immediate problems.
"Bandits at two o'clock high," Bowers said.
Bogdonavich looked up and to his right. At first, he saw only the B-24s, heavy four-engine bombers lumbering toward home. But then dust motes appeared among them. The specks darted and turned. As Miss Caroline drew closer, the specks took the form of Messerschmitt Bf 109s.