“CITIZENS OF LONDON,” BY LYNNE OLSON

During a good part of the covid 19 pandemic over the last three years, I have had a number of people complain to me about wearing masks, getting vaccines, not being able to go to the movies, or visit family during the holidays, and having our rights as Americans infringed upon. My usual response to most of these complaints was simply, “if you think what you are going through right now is terrible, you should have lived in London during the German blitz of that city during World War 2.”

If you have been fortunate enough to read numerous books on World War 2, by reputable historians, as I have, you learn that not one book tells the whole and the true story about many of the key players. It is only now, after reading many books, that I am getting a fuller understanding of Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, Prime Minister Churchill, General Eisenhower, Stalin, General George Marshall, etc.

At times the ineptitude, lack of knowledge, lack of empathy for fallen soldiers and civilians, the ugly display of egos that cost tens of thousands of lives is astonishing.

At other times, the light shines brightest on the real stars of World War 2, the men and women, who most Americans have never heard about.

Lynne Olson’s, “Citizens of London,” shines brightest on the brave citizens of London, who throughout the war lived with the prospect of death at any moment, going homeless, going without food, losing friends and relatives who one second you were talking to and the next second they were dead from explosives from German bombs that ripped them apart. And yet, the citizens of London never thought of surrendering to the Nazi machine and Hitler. They fought on as gallantly as the soldiers on the front lines.

The British were the last defense against Hitler before they crossed the ocean and attacked the United States. By 1940, they already had submarines patrolling off the eastern seaboard of America, but for the majority of U.S. citizens they continued to live their lives as though the war was happening on another planet. Winston Churchill, who did not bow before many men, begged President Roosevelt for help but the U.S. Congress did not want to hear about it, and President Roosevelt did not seem to prioritize the situation. The polls showed little support to go to war.

Joseph Kennedy, the Ambassador to Britain at the time, quit his post in 1940 and came back to America and declared the British finished. The Blitz was a little too much for him, even though he had moved to the countryside that was much safer. He was replaced by the shy, idealistic, former Governor from New Hampshire, John Gilbert Winant, who by the end of the war was the most admired American in Britain, not only by government officials, the royal family, but with the common hardworking British citizens. Unlike his predecessor, he stayed in London, walked the streets of that battered city, got to know the brave people of London, and fought like hell to get U.S. support pouring into Britain. He is the unknown hero of this story, and whereas Americans might not know who he was, the British people honored him with the highest accolades an individual could receive. He was also called a LONDONER (a citizen of London).

Another American called a LONDONER, was the framed U.S. newsman Edward R. Murrow whose broadcasts from London gave Americans their first true understanding and insights into the horrors that the citizens of London were living with every minute of their lives. Fortunately, for all involved, even American politicians and President Roosevelt listened to his broadcasts.

Yet, it was not until the bombing of Pearl Harbor that America joined the war against the Japanese, Germans, and to whatever extent the Italians played. Previous to joining the British and the allies, President Roosevelt picked the millionaire businessman Averell Harriman to run the Lend-Lease program set up by the administration that supplied Britain with much needed armament in exchange for British controlled land in different parts of the world. Mr. Harriman was also a citizen of LONDON but whose glamorous lifestyle was not all that affected, possibly enhanced, while living under the Nazi Bombardment.

The U.S. military apparatus that was first set up in London, under the supervision of General Eisenhower, was so ill-equipped, ill-informed, and lacking in knowledge and well trained soldiers that the British soldiers, at first, thought of them as their answer to the “Italians.”

Naturally, this would change and if not for American involvement and engineering the Germans would have most likely won the war against the allies.

But if not for Churchill’s insistence that we start the British and American counteroffensive in Northern Africa and up through Italy it could have been a disaster. General Eisenhower, and the American military and the administration, wanted to immediately end the war by crossing the English channel and liberate France, in essence, start off with the D-Day invasion that would have been a bloody and devastating defeat for the allies.

What I have written in this review is only a very small sample of this amazing, informative, and comprehensive book. Ms. Olson explores so many different aspects of the war and its aftermath that it is nearly impossible to pinpoint and highlight all of them.

Besides Mr. Winant, she also highlights one other unknown American hero whose contributions and aviation knowledge would change the course of the war, and make the invasion of D-Day a success. Tommy Hitchcock, was recruited by his friend Mr. Winant, who both flew missions during World War 1. After he was turned down, at the age of forty-one, when he volunteered as a fighter pilot it was Mr. Winant who convinced him to come to London as an assistant U.S military attache and would act as a liaison between the U.S. Eighth Air Force and the British RAF’s Fighter Command. After witnessing a new hybrid fighter jet with more speed and more nimble than any fighter jet Mr. Hitchcock had ever seen, he and Mr. Winant petitioned the administration to build the planes. They eventually gave in, and the new fighter jets accompanied the big bomber planes over Germany, and instead of 9 out of 10 bombers being shot down by the Germans, the German counteroffensive against the bombers was eliminated and finally the allies were able to hit their targets without being shot down and returning to base. The new hybrid fighter jets changed the course of the war and made the D-Day invasion a major success and bombing missions over Germany almost risk free.

Sadly, Mr. Hitchcock died when he took up one of the fighter jets to check out a possible fault in its design and it nose dived and crashed. The fault was simply too much fluid in its tank.

Not that it matters, but as of today this is the most important book I have read this year.

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