The Few, The American “Knights of the Air” Who Risked Everything To Fight In The Battle of Britain, Alex Kershaw

The Few

The dis-oriented author has been reading a lot of World War II books. I knew that there were Americans in the RAF during the Battle of Britain, but I didn’t know anything about them. Alex Kershaw’s The Few, is the story of the American pilots who joined the Royal Air Force in the simmer of 1940.

They were among those whom Winston Churchill described as the few in his famous speech. Churchill said of the RAF pilots:

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. . . .

Kershaw tells the story of the Americans among those few.

It has been said that for most people, history begins the day they were born. While I cannot confirm the veracity of that statement, I know that for most Americans, the Second World War began on December 7th, 1941.

In reality, the anschluss in Austria took place in early 1938, and in 1939 the Nazis invaded Poland. In May of 1940, Hitler invaded Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland and finally France. Two weeks later the British Expeditionary Force was backed up against the channel and faced certain annihilation or surrender — until the miracle of Dunkirk took place.

Finally, beginning in mid- July and ending in September, three months before Pearl Harbor— The Battle of Britain was waged. The Luftwaffe began a campaign of systematic bombing of British mainland targets that started with British airfields and moved on to the terror bombing of London known as the Blitz. In those dark days, Britain and the (Royal Air Force) RAF stood alone against Hitler. The stakes were incredibly high, losing the air battle would certainly mean the invasion of Britain. HThe war would have been over before the United States even joined.

In 1936-39 the United States passed the Neutrality Acts which made it a crime for a US Citizen to join the armed forces of any belligerent nation. In the summer of 1940 eight Americans violated the Neutrality Acts, risked arrest and forfeiture of their citizenship to fight the Germans. Some originally went to fight with the French but they arrived in France as the government was about to fall. They made it to Britain and were eventually allowed to join the RAF.

These young men were a varied lot. They included an Olympic Gold Medalist with ties to British aristocracy, a corporate pilot from MGM, a white Russian from the East coast and a youngster from Minnesota. Their reasons for going to war were as different as their backgrounds. Some understood the threat of Nazism and saw this fight as a fight to save civilization. Others thought it would be an adventure, a chance to fly the amazing Spitfire fighter. All agreed after spending time in Britain and getting to know the people, that it was a fight they had to be in.

Many more Americans joined the RAF after that summer and early fall. Eventually of course, the US joined the war as a nation. Of those eight young men who wore RAF blue and took on the Luftwaffe in the skies over Britain that late summer, seven paid with their lives.

This is an excellent book on a very small piece of history, I could not put it down.

The Few gets 5 of 5 dis-oriented smileys  ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-)

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