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The Few: The American "Knights of the Air" Who Risked Everything to Fight in the Battle of Britain Hardcover – Bargain Price, October 24, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From 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.)
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From Booklist

In the summer of 1940, World War II was in its second year and Adolf Hitler was planning to invade England. The U.S. had not yet entered the war, but a few Americans joined Britain's Royal Air Force. Flying Spitfire planes, they became known as the "knights of the air." In doing so, they would break several neutrality laws and became what Kershaw terms "outlaws in their own country." Kershaw, author of The Bedford Boys (2003) and The Longest Winter (2004), tells the story of these pilots; 244 U.S. citizens eventually flew with the RAF Eagle Squadrons. Only 1 survived the war. But according to the RAF's official roster in 1940, just 7 Americans belonged to "the few." These were the Americans who fought during the greatest air battle in history, labeled the Battle of Britain. Like his other books, Kershaw has written a rousing tale of little-known heroes. With 32 pages of black-and-white photographs, The Few marks Kershaw as a master storyteller. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (October 24, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306813033
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,406,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alex Kershaw is the New York Times best-selling author of several popular WW11 titles. He is a British born journalist.

Please visit for his full bio and some great web-sites devoted to his books. He would be happy to answer any questions and sign books and help in any other way.

You can also catch up with him and his work at his facebook page - alex kershaw, author's page.

He blogs at and provides video/images/posts on facebook.


What inspired you to write the book?

I was researching a story about men who liberated the camps in WW11. I came across an extraordinary photograph which showed a young American officer, Felix Sparks, firing his pistol into the air on 29 April 1945. He is in a coal-yard at Dachau, which he has just liberated, and some of his men have opened fire on SS soldiers. He is firing his pistol and shouting to make them stop. The image captures an amazing moment of incredible humanity when one considers that Sparks had by then spent over 500 days in brutalizing combat, losing an entire company at Anzio and a battalion to the SS, since landing on the first day of the invasion of Europe. Most people would not have stopped the killing of such evil men, just minutes after discovering the full horrors of Hitler's first concentration camp. I had to meet this man and in 2007 I interviewed him, literally on his death-bed. No other American fought for longer or suffered more to free more people from the greatest evil of modern times.

- What surprised you the most during the writing process?

I was often astonished by the sheer violence and trauma endured by the so-called Greatest Generation. Over 150,000 mostly working-class Americans died to liberate Europe. Hundreds of thousands came home and never talked about it. Why would you want to recount what felt like being in a terrible car crash each day? I interviewed many men who served with and under Sparks and because they opened up to me I was struck over and over by how great their suffering had been. None came home unbroken. They all paid a huge price if they were in combat.

- What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

I'd be a retired banker, sipping cocktails in St. Lucia, lazily scanning the Wall Street Journal to see how my investments, taxed at almost nothing, are doing. Sadly, l decided to try to do something a little more interesting....

- What else are you reading right now?

I am utterly absorbed in the Civil War and Revolutionary War America - my son is studying these periods at middle school. It's hugely colorful history. Even as an expat "limey" who has lived here for twenty years I'm astonished by how radical the idea was that all men should be equal before the law, not subjects of a king. As concerns the Civil War, Michael Shara's The Killer Angels is amazing. The Civil War has not ended of course - just look at the red and blue states.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Mannie Liscum on November 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"The Few: The American 'Knights of the Air' Who Risked Everything to Fight in the Battle of Britain" is Alex Kershaw's third foray into the Second World War non-fiction genre, and once again he has amply demonstrated his abilities to weave a story and capture the attention of the reader.

With his first book, "The Bedford Boys: One American Town's Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice", Kershaw had as his centerpiece the story of National Guardsmen from the little town of Bedford, VA who comprised Company A 116th Infantry Regiment (29th Division) who took part in the initial Omaha Beach landings on 6 June '44, and lost 19 of its members KIA on D-Day alone. In the "Longest Winter: The Battle of the Bulge and the Epic Story of World War II's Most Decorated Platoon", Kershaw's sophomore effort, the historical centerpiece was the Intelligence and Reconnaissance (I&R) Platoon, 394th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division - a small group of men whose heroic stand at the small Belgian town of Lanzerath on 16 December 1944 against an overwhelming force (1st Battalion, Fallschirmjager Regiment 9) significantly stalled one of the main German efforts of the Ardennes Counteroffensive. So what is the 'small unit theme' of Kershaw's current effort "The Few"?

From the subtitle one would assume that the story in "The Few" revolves around a group of American aviators who flew with the RAF during the Battle of Britain. While this is not an entirely incorrect assumption the subtitle oversells the reality a bit. Certainly the central characters through which the string of narrative is connected are this small group of American fliers.
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Format: Hardcover
Eighteen months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States was at "peace", its citizens barred from joining the armed forces of any other nation. America's cowardly, anti-Semitic Ambassador to England, Joseph Kennedy, (the father of John F. Kennedy) was telling President Roosevelt and everyone else that Britain would lose to the Germans, that the Germans were invincible.

Eight Americans, however, made their way to England and joined the Royal Air Force (RAF). Some came simply because they wanted to fly Spitfires, one of the best performing aircraft of the day. A few were there to fight for freedom. All were liable to arrest and possible imprisonment at the time if they set foot in the United States.

Kershaw follows these brave young Americans and their role in the fight for freedom. Today, almost 70 years after they fought the Germans to preserve British - and the world's - freedom, you still want to suck in your breath at reading of their bravery.

To Kershaw's credit, he does not lionize these more-or-less typical American boys. Rather he presents them as young men, brave in that way only young men can be. Most were outgoing and ebullient. One of them came from a filthy rich family; most of the others were more typical of the Depression. All had flown small aircraft in their short civilian lives.

Now they were flying in what came to be known as the Battle of Britain, a part of the amazingly small corps immortalized by Churchill as the few to whom so many owed so much.

Kershaw is a marvelous writer, able to weave the stuff of ordinary life into a larger fabric of the constant fear these young men faced as their comrades spun into the English Channel or their planes dove into the ground.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on January 17, 2007
Format: Audio CD
This is the third World War II book from Alex Kershaw. Unlike many other writers who seem to want to cover the big stories of mighty armies, Mr. Kershaw seems to find small bands of American soldiers who just happened to be at a pivitol point in the war. I think this is an excellent approach. By concentrating on just a few men you get the feeling that you know them. And by knowing them you better understand the overall battle, even though you only see their little part.

In 'The Bedford Boys' he tracks a platoon of infantry from the very small town of Bedford, VA. 34 Bedford Boys were with the unit when they were the first to hit Omaha Beach. 19 were killed in the first few minutes.

In 'The Longest Winter' he writes of the Recon platoon of the 394th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division. They were ordered to hold a crossroads against the advancing Germans during the Battle of the Bulge while the rest of their unit pulled out.

In 'The Few' he talks of the American's who violated a whole bunch of international laws to fight with the British Eagle Squadrons during the Battle of Britain.

I highly recommend all of his books, and sincerely hope that he continues this approach of finding interesting small units to write about.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By P. A TILLERY on January 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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.
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