to The Few
1. What various motivations drove “the few,” whose
story Kershaw tells, to risk their citizenship and their lives
to join Britain’s Royal Air Force in 1939 and 1940?
2. How might we explain the commitment
and enthusiasm of pilots and other German service men such
as Luftwaffe Captain Werner Mölders, despite their religious devotion and open opposition
to Nazi repression of their churches and religious faith? Why
might Mölders and others have dedicated themselves so
resolutely to improving their skills in the service of such
a repressive regime?
3. Recording the June 25, 1940, arrival
in Plymouth, England, of Tobin, Mamedoff, and Keough, aboard
the Baron Nairn, Kershaw writes, “They had arrived in a country bonded as never
before in its determination to avoid becoming yet another slave
state in the Great Third Reich.” (p. 52) How might we
explain this determination in the immediate aftermath of France’s
surrender and the German occupation of so many other European
nations? Kershaw goes on to note that despite the devastation
of the Blitz, “Londoners were trying . . . to carry on
as if as normal, bonded as never before by rage and dread.” (p.
169) How do you think Londoners managed to keep going in the
face of devastating air attacks?
4. To what extent do you sympathize with
Tobin, Mamedoff, Keogh and other American volunteers who
had to pledge “their
allegiance to Britain’s sovereign, King George VI”?
(p. 54), however friendly toward the U.S. Britain was?
5. Kershaw quotes Brian Kingcome of 92
helped to fly crudely, as I did, and not be bound by the rules.
The good pilots . . . were often killed quickly because they
flew too well.” (p.69) What examples of surviving by
flying crudely and not being bound by the rules do you find
in The Few?
6. What qualities characterized the special friendships and
camaraderie that developed between the American pilots and
their fellow pilots from England, Wales, Scotland, and other
nations? What shared experiences and events determined the
nature of their relationships?
7. In what ways were the RAF pilots and the Luftwaffe pilots
similar, and in what ways different? In what ways did their
personalities, qualities of character, and loyalties inform
their attitudes toward flying and their behavior as fighter
8. Of the August 11, 1940, battle, 85 Squadron’s Peter
Townsend recalled that “within, fatigue was deadening
feeling, numbing the spirit. Both life and death had lost their
importance. Desire sharpened to a single, savage purpose—to
grab the enemy and claw him down from the sky.” (p. 105)
To what extent did the Battle of Britain deaden the feelings
and numb the spirit of the RAF pilots? What were the consequences
of life and death losing their importance, and of the savagery
that the dogfights with the Luftwaffe entailed?
9. What were the symptoms and the consequences of the stress
of combat and the constant tension and fear experienced by
the RAF fighter pilots? What means did they adopt to cope with
unremitting stress and fear?
10. What qualities of personality and patriotism
enabled the RAF pilots to persist against, and overcome,
the seemingly insurmountable odds presented by the Luftwaffe?
What enabled the men of the RAF—despite all their losses, frustrations,
and suffering—to continue their courageous defense of
Britain? How might we account for the victory of the RAF over
the seemingly much more powerful Luftwaffe during the Battle
11. Kershaw quotes Flight Lieutenant Richard
Hillary (from The Last Enemy) to the effect that there was
rightness” to one fighter pilot killing another and that
the fighter pilot “is privileged to kill well.” (p.
137) How would you describe the “essential rightness” that
Hillary cites? To what extent does Kershaw’s narrative
illustrate that rightness? In what ways were the fighter pilots “privileged
to kill well”?
12. Why might the Battle of Britain be
greatest air battle in history”? (p. 156) What decisions,
actions, and strategies on both sides contributed to the battle’s
13. Kershaw makes numerous references to
the “luck” experienced
by both air forces, but especially by the RAF (see p. 183,
for example). How would you describe and explain this “luck.” To
what degree was it a question of either side—particularly
the RAF—taking advantage of circumstances and unforeseen
14. Kershaw quotes Peter Townsend, 85 Squadron: “And
we became infected instead with a morbid terror of dying, filled
with the same of killing, saddened with the endless departure
of friends to their lone home, repulsed by the futile, boasting
claims of the wiping-out, the annihilation of the enemy.” (p.191)
At what state do you think this “morbid terror of flying” and
of killing came into effect? When—and why—did the
claims of killing the enemy become repulsive?
15. What was the importance of establishing,
in late 1940, a distinctively “all-American squadron”—the
Eagle Squadron—within the RAF, “whose shoulder
patch would resemble the insignia of the eagle on [the] American
passport”? (p. 194) In what ways might that squadron “powerfully
and symbolically [have undermined] the notion of American neutrality”?
16. What activities of the various RAF squadrons do you think
were most important in providing especially the American pilots
with satisfaction and high morale? What feats gave them their
greatest sense of accomplishment?