Red Burning Sky

Mysterious Book Report No. 477

by John Dwaine McKenna

Red Burning Sky, (Kensington Books, $27.00, 288 pages, ISBN 978-1-4967-3294-1), by Tom Young is historical fiction from the pen of a master of military thrillers.    It takes place in Yugoslavia during the summer of 1944 and tells the little known story of Operation Halyard, the actual, and incredible, rescue of more than 500 downed allied airmen from behind enemy lines.  Until now, this tale of heroism was known by only a select few . . . most of whom were mission participants.

As Mr. Young’s novel begins, a B-24 Navigator named Bill Bogdonavich parachutes into enemy territory over Yugoslavia when his plane is shot down.  He’s rescued by Chetnik guerillas.  They’re Serbian civilians, fighting a civil war against Josip Tito and his USSR supported army of communists, as well as the German Wehrmacht which occupies all of the Balken Peninsula.  Because Bogdonavich’s father emigrated to the U.S. from Yugoslavia, his son knows some Serbian and is soon translating between the guerillas and the hundreds of downed allied air crewmen they’re hiding from the Germans.  At the same time, Lieutenant Drew Carlton has been assigned to pilot training duty in Texas after being sent home from Europe, where he showed a lack of courage.  As the pilot of a B-24 Flying Fortress, he turned back to base for minor and insignificant reasons rather than fly the bombing mission he’d been assigned.  Now, he’s training C-47 cargo pilots.  He jumps at a chance to redeem himself by volunteering for a secret mission dubbed “Operation Halyard,”  and soon finds himself in Italy, training to fly the unarmed, two-engine C-47 cargo ship into occupied territory behind enemy lines in order to attempt a  rescue of the downed air crews.  With a deft touch, Mr. Young lays out Carlton’s personal struggle to overcome his paralyzing fear of death and his fight to survive the war.  It’s touch and go all the way to the heroic end of the mission.  As usual, Young puts the reader in the cockpit as only a veteran of air combat can do.


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