Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Few by Alex Kershaw

I picked up last night at Barnes&Noble in the bargain area a hardcover book called The Few - The American "Knights of the Air" Who Risked Everything to Fight in the Battle of Britain. It is written by Alex Kershaw who has written two previous books on World War II and Americans in combat.

The Few is naturally a reference to Sir Winston Churchill's famous speech about the Battle of Britain where he said, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." In this case the few are seven Americans who risked their citizenship and imprisonment to answer the call of arms, the call for adventure, and stand with their British brothers to oppose the tyranny of Hitler. Men like Billy Fiske, King of Speed and US Olympic gold medalist, or Art Donahue who felt called to oppose the evil sweeping across Europe. Of these seven, only one would survive World War II and die peacefully back in America in 2002. The others would remain forever young in our memories and never grow old.

The German onslaught resumed the next day, Sunday, August 11, 1940. "I didn't get to go to Mass," recalled Donahue. "There were some other blood sacrifices being made, to the ambitions of a hate-crazed, power-maddened little man who wanted to take the place of God."

While the book centers on these men, it also takes in the broader scope of the Battle of Britain and England's desperate straits. Winston Churchill struggling with attempting to get America involved. Rallying his cabinet and the people to the bitter struggle that is in their future.

We see the German side with the likes Werner Molders of JG51, a devout Catholic who spoke openly about the repression of his faith by the Nazis, who still flew under the Swastika. During the Battle of France, Molders is shot down and captured by the French. One of the cruel ironies of the sudden collapse of France would be the return of 400 German POWs to fight again under the Nazi banner instead of being sent to England. Which meant Molders returned to the air, fought through the Battle of Britain and Operation Barbarossa, and then die in a plane crash on Nov 22, 1941 going to the funeral for Ernst Udet.

On the American side in England, it is truly a mixed bag. We have already seen the seven who flew for England during the Battle of Britain. There were also Americans civilians living in England who formed their own unit of the British Home Guard. And then we have the American ambassador to England, Joseph Kennedy Sr. Kennedy was an ardent isolationist who constantly wrote back to Roosevelt that England was in danger of falling. One such cable after the fall of France read "It seems to me that if we had to protect our lives, we would do better fighting in our own back yard."

I have found this work to be very good and informative, which means I will probably pick up Kershaw's other books. Get this book for your own library.

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