The Ones Who Got Away: Mighty Eighth Airmen on the Run in Occupied Europe

Review by Peter Belmonte

Bill Yenne, The Ones Who Got Away: Mighty Eighth Airmen on the Run in Occupied Europe.

Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2024. Hardcover, illus., 320pp.

Of the approximately 50,000 United States Army Air Forces Eighth Air Force airmen who were downed in occupied Europe during World War II, about 3,000 successfully evaded capture (p. 15). The Ones Who Got Away: Mighty Eighth Airmen on the Run in Occupied Europe is the story of some of those men. Award-winning aviation author and historian Bill Yenne has consulted official escape and evasion reports, created when each man returned to U.S. custody, housed in the National Archives to bring us the thrilling story of at least forty-six men who “got away.” Yenne begins by giving a brief history of the beginnings of French resistance movements including the various escape lines running through parts of Germany, France, and Belgium and into neutral Spain or Switzerland. Perhaps not surprisingly, there was no central organization running and coordinating the various escape routes and personnel. Yenne then proceeds chronologically, beginning in late 1942, recounting the various missions that resulted in downed aviators evading capture. The descriptions of the raids on which these men flew, such as that on Schweinfurt on 17 August 1943, are generally incidental to the narrative. The meat of the narrative is, of course, each man’s adventure as a downed airman in enemy territory. For each man, Yenne gives the circumstances of his shoot down and a fairly full account of his evasion and travels. The fates of the men varied. Some had a comparatively easy time crossing the perilous peaks of the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain or Andorra while others were captured and imprisoned in the infamous Saint-Gilles Prison, a Nazi prison in Brussels. The tale of the men sent there (betrayed by traitorous Belgians posing as friends) includes betrayal, torture, and an almost unbelievable sequence of events leading to their escape from a prison train taking them to Germany. Yenne had done a masterful job of weaving the stories together while considering overlapping time frames and diverse locations. His skill in using the escape and evasion reports results in the book reading like a thrilling novel. A few maps orient the reader to some of the areas mentioned in the text, and many photographs depict the men and aircraft involved. This book is an important addition to the historiography of the Eighth Air Force and the air war in general. It is highly recommended to anyone interested in aerial combat during the war.

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