By Luke Truxal
Ted Fahrenwald, Bailout Over Normandy: A Flyboy’s Adventures with the French Resistance and Other Escapades in Occupied France. Philadelphia, PA: Casemate, 2012. Pbk. Editor’s Note. 288 pp.
The Second World War is littered with stories of downed airmen and their experiences behind enemy lines. Throughout the European air war, thousands of Americans found themselves on the run in German-occupied territory. Each of their experiences provides an opportunity to analyse these cross-cultural interactions. Ted Fahrenwald’s account as a downed American fighter pilot in occupied France gives historians an insight into many of the experiences of an American airman on the run. Fahrenwald, who was shot down and later rescued by the French resistance, or the Maquis. Later, German soldiers captured Fahrenwald as he tried to make his way back to the American lines. Before being sent to a prison camp, the downed fighter pilot escaped and once again found himself on the run. Eventually, American troops of the US Third Army found Fahrenwald after he had taken up residence in the home of a French family.
Readers are introduced to Fahrenwald as a fighter pilot. He jumps right into the action and describes the daily grind of flying missions as a part of the US Eighth Air Force. Each of his daily briefings takes place long before sunrise. Fahrenwald is frank in his descriptions of his combat experience shortly before he was shot down. The author describes himself as a pilot who had been exhausted by the greater demands of supporting the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944. Before one take off, his ‘fingers had developed a tremor.’ (p. 13) The wear and tear of his previous ninety-nine missions are prevalent throughout the first pages of the book.
Throughout the text, we see Fahrenwald rapidly adapt to his surroundings. Fahrenwald’s relationship with the Maquis evolves from that of a foreigner to a full-fledged member of the group. After he bailed out a family took Fahrenwald in and gave him clothes. He admits during this time that he spoke little French and had difficulty understanding those who were helping him (p. 25). After he was sent to the Maquis, he began to assimilate. Weeks later when American soldiers discovered Fahrenwald at the home of another family, the soldiers mistook him for a French citizen. Fahrenwald spoke, dressed, and acted French. After several minutes he informed the American soldiers who he was in English. Still not convinced, he was interrogated by a ‘Captain Ford’ of the 90th Infantry Division. After successfully answering several questions to prove he was not a spy, Ford sent Fahrenwald back to the American camp (p.258-60). In a matter of weeks, Fahrenwald had successfully adapted to his new environment.
Fahrenwald also noted the distrust of outsiders amongst the Maquis. Despite aiding him, there are several points at which his loyalties are questioned. In one instance Fahrenwald stated that one Frenchman, Canoe, believed Fahrenwald to be a German in disguise. He said that Fahrenwald ‘was too thin and too blond’ to be an American (p. 35). Over time members of the Maquis began to trust Fahrenwald. Once other downed pilots joined his group, the relationship soured. He wrote, ‘[N]ow, instead of being one of them as of old, I was one of a tight little clique of English-speaking fliers’ (p. 73). After his escape from a German prisoner camp, he hid with a family that had ties to the Maquis. One of the members, Robert, yelled at Fahrenwald about a failed supply drop that cost him most of the members of his group (p. 229). While willing to help, French fighters preferred to keep their distance from Fahrenwald and other outsiders.
While Fahrenwald provided a detailed account of his time in France, these memoirs are incomplete. The author writes very little about his missions before when he was shot down. This book begins with Fahrenwald’s final missions as a fighter pilot. He left out his training and months of flying as a fighter escort prior. Readers and historians alike miss out on valuable information such as the learning curve from training into combat. Readers are also left to speculate as to Fahrenwald’s interactions with civilians in the United Kingdom. As a fighter pilot based in the United Kingdom, he spent more time interacting with British civilians than time with the French. This likely had some effect on his experiences while he was on the run in France. By jumping right into the action, the author left out elements that detract from the book and leave the reader wondering.
Historians will find this text useful as a primary source. Fahrenwald examined his time with the Maquis as a foreigner. Those writing about the Maquis during Operation OVERLORD should examine this book. The author records both the actions and the thoughts of the Maquis well during this period. Fahrenwald’s account also adds to the history of the air war. He provides an excellent first-hand account of his time escaping and invading capture. Historians will find Fahrenwald’s account useful as a primary source.
Luke Truxal is a doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas. He is currently writing his dissertation ‘Command Unity and the Air War Against Germany.’ Truxal completed his master’s thesis at the University of North Texas titled ‘The Failed Bomber Offensive: A Reexamination of the Combined Bomber Offensive in 1943’ in 2011. His current research focuses on the command relationships between the British and Americans during the air war in Europe from 1942 to 1944. Truxal is currently teaching at Columbia State Community College in Columbia, TN. He can be reached on Twitter at @Luke_Truxal.
Header Image: Ground crew stand beside a P-47 Thunderbolt named “Sneezy”. This aircraft was flown by Lieutenant Donald McKibben of the 486th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group. Source: (c) IWM (FRE 327))