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The Few: The American

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

4.2 12
by Alex Kershaw, Scott Brick (Read by)

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It was the summer of 1940, and World War II had been raging for nearly a year. Buoyed by his successes on the Continent, Hitler was now planning an invasion of England to seal Europe’s fate.

Though the United States was still a neutral country, a few Americans decided they couldn’t remain on the sidelines. They joined Britain’s Royal Air Force to


It was the summer of 1940, and World War II had been raging for nearly a year. Buoyed by his successes on the Continent, Hitler was now planning an invasion of England to seal Europe’s fate.

Though the United States was still a neutral country, a few Americans decided they couldn’t remain on the sidelines. They joined Britain’s Royal Air Force to defend the country - with the future of civilization hanging in the balance.

The Few tells the dramatic and unforgettable story of these Americans who defied their own country’s neutrality laws and risked their very citizenship to fight side-by-side with England’s finest pilots. Flying the lethal and elegant Spitfire, they became “knights of the air” who, with minimal training but plenty of guts, dueled the skilled and fearsome aces of Germany’s Luftwaffe.

By October 1940, they had helped England win the greatest air battle in the history of aviation. Some five years later, at war’s end, just one of them would be alive. Winston Churchill once said famously of all those who fought in the Battle of Britain, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” These daring Americans were the few among the “few.”

Editorial Reviews

We can now think of them as premature war heroes, but at the time, the American pilots who flew for the Royal Air Force before Pearl Harbor were ignored, dismissed as thrill-seeking Yankees, or castigated as a national nuisance. American ambassador Joseph Kennedy, viewing these mavericks as a threat to U.S. neutrality, tried to get them deported. But these "Knights of the Air" persisted, shooting down several fearsome German aces, and became national heroes in Great Britain. A rousing story for war buffs, well told by Alex Kershaw.
American Profile
"A stirring tale of adventure and derring-do that will make your spirits soar." -- 1/22/07
Richmond Times-Dispatch
Brings the thrills and terrors of pre-computerized air combat strikingly to life.
Daily Herald
Thoroughly researched, deeply touching, and compellingly well-written.
St. Petersburg Times
One of the most affecting short histories I have read in many a month.
Roanoke Times
Kershaw's attention to detail allows us to experience the dogfights and bombings...and appreciate the indomitable English spirit.
Publishers Weekly
With his customary narrative drive, Kershaw (The Bedford Boys: One American Town's Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice) spotlights the handful of American pilots who joined the Royal Air Force and its fighter squadrons during the Battle of Britain. They have been overshadowed by or confused with the better-known Eagle Squadrons, which formed in the autumn of 1940 with the tacit consent of the U.S. government. Kershaw's "few" were a vanguard, enlisting individually to operate the British Spitfire planes as early as May 1940, when England stood alone and her odds of survival seemed long. Crusaders and adventurers, the pilots ignored U.S. neutrality acts to fight from a mixture of principled opposition to Nazism, vaguely defined Anglophilia and sheer love of air combat at a time when it still seemed glamorous. Scattered by ones and twos among different squadrons, each had his own story, which Kershaw admirably contextualizes within the climate of the Battle of Britain. Using personal vignettes to convey the extraordinary routines of life in the cockpits, in the squadrons and in England, Kershaw evokes the heroism of these pilots, only one of whom survived the war whose tide they helped turn. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
The Battle of Britain, which thwarted Nazi Germany's thrust to overrun the British Isles, was a major turning point of WW II. It also proved full of intense combat and human drama. Not surprisingly, numerous accounts have since been written of the duels between Spitfires, Messerschmitt 109s and Heinkel bombers in the skies over Southeastern England. This one, written by a best-selling author of popular history, is well suited to a generation now far removed from that combat epic. It is hard to play down the exciting spectacle of desperately outnumbered pilots flying their beautiful and deadly fighter planes, saving their nation from invasion and handing Adolph Hitler his first defeat. Like most who write about those days, Kershaw doesn't even try to restrain himself. What saves this book from being just another rehash, though, is the author's skillful portrayal of the handful of American pilots who fought alongside "The Few." US Neutrality Laws and the policies of the Roosevelt Administration forbade Americans from taking part in the European conflict, yet numbers of young men risked losing their citizenship by slipping into Canada, learning to fly, and making their way to a beleaguered Britain. Only seven of them were in time for the Battle of Britain, but they triumphed and died in the same proportion as their British comrades. Later, the battle won, fresh numbers of Americans were assembled into the famed Eagle Squadrons and fought the Germans until America finally joined the war. There's lots of excitement in this book along with much inevitable tragedy. Sharply drawn personality profiles help to bring those days home to readers to whom WW II is the stuff of a long-forgotten age.While written essentially for adults, interested YAs should have no trouble following the action. Age Range: Ages 12 to adult. REVIEWER: Raymond Puffer, Ph.D. (Vol. 42, No. 1)
Library Journal
Of the 2,917 pilots who served in Britain's Royal Air Force, fighting the German airborne assault during the Battle of Britain, seven were Americans who violated the neutrality laws of their own country by volunteering for the RAF. Eventually, over 200 U.S. citizens flew with the RAF's Eagle Squadrons, following the creation of all-American units, but only those who fought during the Battle of Britain were recognized by their grateful hosts as "the Few." Kershaw's (The Bedford Boys) fine study of this titanic aerial struggle and the Americans who participated is certainly not the first (see, e.g., Philip D. Caine's American Pilots in the RAF). But it is an admirable addition to the historiography, following the hair-raising odysseys of these expatriates from hometown America to the besieged RAF squadrons, where they endured ten-to-one odds in the sky and deplorable living conditions on the ground while serving Churchill as a propaganda tool to counter U.S. isolationism. Aviation specialists will find Kershaw a master of such details as the flying characteristics of the British Spitfire and the German Me-109 and the contents of G ring's obscenely lavish hunting lodge, Carinhall. His history hits the mark in Call respects; his annotated endnotes provide a virtual second volume. Recommended for all libraries, especially those with strong aviation and World War II collections. John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia, Cleveland Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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. First printing of 150,000

Product Details

Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
Unabridged, 8 CDs, 8 hrs.
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 1.37(d)

Meet the Author

Alex Kershaw is the author of the widely acclaimed books The Bedford Boys, The Longest Winter and two biographies: Jack London and, more recently, Blood and Champagne: The Life and Times of Robert Capa. He has been a journalist and a screenwriter in Britain and now lives in Bennington, Vermont.

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Few: The American Knights of the Air Who Risked Everything to Fight in the Battle of Britain 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As he did with The Longest Winter, Mr. Kershaw keeps alive the stories of the heroes of WW2.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a fun, fast read and really brought the Battle of Britain to life through eyes of American pilots but also the German flyers. These Americans gave up everything to save the free world and the story is well told and inspiring. Recommended highly for anyone interested in history and flying.
Guest More than 1 year ago
During the Viet Nam war when Canadians were welcoming American draft dodgers and deserters, I wrote that there was another time when young American men broke American law and were welcomed by the Canadians. Only then it was Americans going to Canada to join the RCAF or a few who continued to England to join the RAF and fight the Battle of Britain. This is the story of that few . . . and what a story it is. Alex Kershaw brings it to life with an up close and personal view of their lives as well as the lives of the other young pilots in Spitfires and Hurricanes plus the German view of the battle from Me-109s and 110s. Excellent and detailed descriptions of dogfights seem like fiction until you check the footnotes and find that they are taken from many actual individual combat reports. An excellent book and well worth the read! Alex Kershaw also wrote The Bedford Boys.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Exceptional reading, realism and factual drama of both the allies and the German airmen. The visuals are awesome and emotions intense.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The story of young Americans, pilots without military flying experience, who defying US Law, found a way to fly with the RAF, defending Britain from the Luftwaffe in the most critical period of the war. Told as though you are there with them, seeing what they saw, living and dying with them. A great read - even if it did happen before I was born.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Classic Kershaw, well written and researched. Loved it. Would like more after war details of pilots in future additions.
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