Saturday, 17 August 2013

A Higher Call

15808816
 
A Higher Call by Adam Makos with Larry Alexander
Published 15 August 2013 Atlantic
 
"Can good men be found on both sides of a bad war?"
 
On December 20, 1943 in the skies over Germany, an American B-17 bomber and her crew are trying to make it back to England after a raid on Bremmen. The plane, 'Ye Olde Pub' has suffered severe damage, to the wing, nose and engines. Half of her rudder has been shot away and most of her guns have jammed. Inside, the crew aren't faring much better. One gunner, Ecky, is dead. Another, Russian has been shot and radio operator Pechout has frostbitten hands. Pilot  2nd Lieutenant Charlie Brown knows their chances of making it back are slim and so offers his crew the option to jump. Being POWs would at least mean survival rather than ditching into the North Sea. None of the crew jumped. "The Quiet Ones" as they were known, stayed together; Charlie, Pinky, Frenchy, Pechout, Blackie, Russian and Ecky.
 
Lieutenant Franz Stigler was walking across his airbase at Jever when the labouring bomber flew low over them. The German's couldn't believe the crew's audacity. Stigler was a fighter pilot, and a very successful one. He needed just three points - a bomber victory - to be awarded the Knights Cross, a sign of honour. The B-17 was his.
 
Once Franz was airborne, he quickly caught up with the bomber. As the gun turrets swung towards him, he aimed his guns back at the American plane - but neither fired. Franz couldn't understand why the bomber made no defence against his lone 109 fighter. Franz took a closer look at the bomber and realised how badly damaged she was. "Every foot of the bomber's metal had silver holes where the bullets had entered...". He saw the crew, the injured and the dead and he saw the course they were flying on - the quickest way out of Germany yet a line of defence stood in their way.
 
Rather than obey orders, rather than get his three points and his medal, rather than attack, Franz protected the B-17 and her crew by flying at her wing, over the line of battery gunners who were both taken by surprise and concerned not to hit their own fighter. He escorted them out to sea, signalling to the pilot to fly for Sweden and neutral territory. Charlie and his crew couldn't understand the German's actions and were aghast when they saw Franz salute them, and fly back towards the German coast. He had let them go. No, more than that, he had protected them and saluted them. It was an act of honour.
 
A Higher Call is the story of American 2nd Lieutenant Charlie Brown and German Lieutenant Franz Stigler. It tells of their growing up, their time in the forces and the harrowing missions they completed, and of their lives afterward. It is a truly remarkable story and one I am glad to know. At the time of the incident, "their heroism was being swept under the rug."Thanks to Adam Makos and Larry Alexander, that is no longer the case.
 
This book was sent to me for review. I have never read military non-fiction before and I know, with the amount of books I have yet to read, I would not have picked A Higher Call up from the shelf. Although interested in History, my family's contributions in World War II were for the Army - not the Air Force so I have no knowledge of planes, flying, ranks and operations. I do now. I am so very glad to have read these brave inspiring young men's stories. I found I was completely immersed in their experience. The book contains maps and photographs that helped me understand more of the mechanics and geography of the war in the air. The best part were the photographs of Franz, Charlie and the rest of the pilots that appear in the pages, to see those brave selfless young men.
 
Lest we forget. 

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