The Few

ISBN: 978-1423315971
Review Date:

Full Title: The Few: The American "Knights of the Air" Who Risked Everything to Fight in the Battle of Britain

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few", said Winston Churchill to Hastings Ismay on 16 Aug 1940. Four days later, this line became the centerpiece of one of the most famous speeches of WW2. Of the roughly 3,000 "few", over 500 of them were foreign nationals. A small contingent of them was American, and these few of the few were the focus of Alex Kershaw's The Few.

Having recently read Kershaw's Escape from the Deep and rather enjoyed it, I found and checked out The Few from the local library. I was not disappointed. In a similar manner, Kershaw used individual stories to shine light on the larger history taking place around them. The three main characters in the cast were Eugene Tobin, Andrew Mamedoff, and Vernon Keough, three American pilots who had fought and died in the Battle of Britain in British uniforms. Kershaw told their stories from the start, detailing their missions to join the fight, their journeys across the Atlantic Ocean, and their engagements with Germans over Britain even as their home country remained isolationist. The author did a superb job describing these engagements, as I had expected based on the experience I had with his Escape from the Deep. He transformed the at times drab British and German combat reports into exciting narratives, which further reinforced by diary entries that the author found in various government and private family archives. Kershaw also freely expanded the scope of the book at appropriate times, telling the stories of other pilots, British and German, as they crossed paths with the three Americans; the friendly competition between fighter pilots Adolf Galland and Werner Mölders to become the top German ace, for example, intertwined with the stories of RAF pilots, casting gloom over the story whenever they engaged the main characters in battle.

I had reviewed this title in its audio book format. Scott Brick did a fine job reading the book, clear with his pronunciation, maintaining pretty good pace, while adding just enough drama in his tone to add a bit more excitement to the passages.

Toward the end of the book, the author cited an episode where a British lady in her 80s walking 12 miles just so she could catch some of the American pilots who came to Britain for a post-war reunion. Upon meeting one, she thanked him. When the pilot thanked her, and the British public in general, in return for holding the line and that she had no need to thank him, her response struck me as one of the most memorable lines of this book: "No, we thank you because you came when we needed you."

On 4 Jul 1941, at St Paul's Cathedral in London, a plaque was put up with the inscription "An American citizen who died that England might live" in honor of American pilot Billy Fiske, another American pilot who fought and died for Britain (Kershaw did indeed go into depth on Fiske in this book as well). No memorial would ever make as powerful a statement as this plaque, but I would consider Kershaw's attempt to honor these pilots, in the form of The Few, to be a wonderful tribute to the few of the few.

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