HistoryJournal.org

“The Few” by Alex Kershaw

Posted in American, European by Alex L. on March 23, 2010

In my mind, the Battle of Britain is the most poignant icon of courage and heroism in history. It’s more epic than Lord of the Rings. It’s almost as if the events of the Battle of Britain came out of somebody’s imagination. I’m baffled that hardly any contemporary movies have been made depicting it.

Since the Norman conquest of 1066, England has never been invaded by a foreign army. This proud nation, which nurtured modern democracy for centuries as the aristocracy chipped away at monarchical power, which controlled the largest empire in human history, found itself, in the summer of 1940, on the verge of destruction at the hands of perhaps the cruelest power in history, Nazi Germany.

The only thing that stood in the path to Britain for the German army was a cadre of British airmen, teenagers and 20-year-olds, about 3,000 strong. Outnumbered and out-gunned, these young Englishmen and their allies beat back the German air force sent to pulverize Britain and prepare it for invasion. Like their ancestors 350 years ago who destroyed the Spanish Armada sent to conquer England, the pilots of the RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain have carved their legacy into the minds of all who are attentive to the drama of history.

“The Few” by Alex Kershaw is an important book because it describes the American contribution to the Battle of Britain. America was officially neutral during the time of the Battle of Britain and trying desperately to stay out of the developing world war. Nevertheless, a few adventurous Americans broke neutrality laws, forfeited their American citizenship, and signed up to fly for the Royal Air Force in defense of Britain during the summer of 1940. There were only eight of them. Americans, who had revolted against King George III in the name of liberty, were now renouncing their American citizenship and swearing loyalty to King George VI, in the name of that same liberty.

The historical importance of the Battle of Britain was not lost on Winston Churchill. He captured the spirit of the glorious moment in his speeches during the summer of 1940. In June, in a speech before the House of Commons, he predicted the legacy the RAF pilots were about to write for themselves:

What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin . . . The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. . . Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

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