Rousing story of idealistic Americans who fought against the Nazis with Britain’s Royal Air Force long before the U.S. entered World War II.
British-born historian Kershaw (The Bedford Boys, 2003, etc.) tells the story of young Americans who, after making their way to Canada and then by ship to Europe, where, in the summer of 1940, among 571 foreigners flying RAF Spitfires against the German Luftwaffe in brutal dogfights over the English Channel. Recruited by Colonel Charles Sweeny, a colorful mercenary and Hemingway pal twice expelled from West Point, these few Americans who fought in the Battle of Britain consisted of Olympic gold-medalist Billy Fiske, 27; Brooklyn skydiver Shorty Keough, 26; former MGM-employed pilot Eugene Tobin, 23; and five others, all civilian pilots intent on flying the powerful Spitfires (their Rolls-Royce engines could exceed 400 miles an hour) and determined to avoid the anticipated American draft. Risking loss of their citizenship in the still-neutral U.S., the fighter pilots were deemed “grand fellows” by grateful Brits, and in a decisive air battle on Sept. 15, 1940, they helped halt Hitler’s plans to invade Britain. The author draws on diaries, letters and interviews to recreate harrowing midair sorties against the background of Germany’s blitzkrieg advance across Europe and Churchill’s relentless efforts to coax the U.S. into the war. After the Battle of Britain, more than 200 Americans continued to serve in the RAF’s three “American Eagle” squadrons, which later became part of the U.S. Army Air Force. They were never prosecuted by the State Department; a dozen are still living.
A delight for military buffs.