Bryn Evans, Airmen’s Incredible Escapes (Pen & Sword, 2020)
The chances of surviving a raid over enemy territory for Allied airmen during World War II were never great to begin with and diminished the more operations they flew. Allied planes came down at a stunning rate, consigning thousands of their crew members to death, but even in the direst circumstances, in the incident or its aftermath, men made it through to tell their stories of survival. Bryn Evans has collected thirty-seven of them in this fascinating and sometimes eye-popping book.
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Evans’ book is arranged chronologically, and each story is accompanied by a photograph of the airman involved, a brief biography, and the context for his remarkable escape. The incidents include surviving friendly fire, low and high bale outs, getting lost in Africa, anti-aircraft fire, enemy fighters, accidental collision, ditching at sea at night, escaping enemy custody, and navigating dense jungles. These took place in all the theatres of war where flight operations took place, including France, Holland, Italy, North Africa, Burma, New Guinea, and the North Sea. The aircraft they flew in were also varied; from Hurricane, Spitfire, and P39 fighters to the Halifax, Lancaster, B17, Stirling, and Wellington bombers, and Catalinas and Dakotas.
What these men had in common were resilience, courage, spirit, and quite a bit of luck. Their stories, while differing in detail, are all remarkable, and to his credit, Evans’ selection and organisation keeps them from melding into one less-focused narrative. He also acknowledges the roles of those who helped these airmen often at the risk of their own lives. That these were ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances is reinforced by Evans tracing their post-war normality, though we are reminded of their psychological and physical sufferings that stayed with them the rest of their lives. Readers of World War II air combat will certainly gain insight into the dangerous world of these brave men, and indeed those who never came back.