A Father’s War, A Son’s Search
Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 2021, 240 pages
Book Review published on: April 1, 2022
In The Flight: A Father’s War, A Son’s Search, Tyler Bridges gives a fascinating account of his father’s escape from an Axis prisoner of war camp during World War II and describes his own experience retracing his father’s journey to freedom from Austria through Hungary and Yugoslavia. An accomplished journalist for the New Orleans/Baton Rouge Advocate, Bridges investigated his father’s extraordinary venture after his father, Dick Bridges, passed in 2003. While the story about Dick’s internment and subsequent escape is fascinating, Tyler’s reflections are also intriguing. Dick Bridges’ odyssey began while piloting a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber on 1 October 1943, during an Army Air Force mission to strike Axis war-industry targets in Wiener Neustadt, Austria. Unfortunately for him and his crew, the Germans’ antiaircraft artillery and Luftwaffe were effective that day, shooting down several Army Air Force bombers in the raid. With their B-24 mortally crippled from enemy fire, Dick and his crew bailed out over southern Austria. Nine months later, a Royal Air Force Dakota airplane flew him and several other escaped Allied servicemembers from a secret airstrip in Yugoslavia to Italy on 21 July 1944. Dick’s dangerous trek involved detainment by both Hungarian and German military authorities, a grueling escape through Yugoslavia aided by Partisan guerillas, and a fortunate link up with an agent of the British special operations executive who arranged the flight to Italy. Tyler presents an excellent historical narrative of his father’s ordeal. The author explains how Dick was fortunate to have made his way into Hungary after surviving his parachute bailout because the Hungarian government was not yet closely aligned with Nazi Germany. Though detained, Dick was relatively safe under Hungarian authority, but this ended when Germany occupied Hungary in March 1944. For unexplained reasons, Dick and other Allied prisoners were moved to a prison camp near Belgrade in former Yugoslavia. He and several prisoners managed to flee the camp in April 1944 after several errant bombs from a U.S. Army Air Force raid blew gaps in the camp’s fences. Though they managed to link up with the Partisans, Dick and his escaped comrades remained in constant danger of recapture by German and Ustashe (Croatians allied with Nazi Germany) forces. While the book is focused on his father’s escape, Tyler provides a comprehensive overview of the Eastern and Mediterranean Theaters of Operations during 1943-1944 to convey the wartime environment that his father dealt with at the time. After recounting Dick’s escape, Tyler transitions to telling his own journey in learning more about his father’s experience. He explains what happened to the other crew members on the B-24 after their fateful day over Austria, as well as what happened to the Allied prisoners that his father encountered. He also describes his trips to Austria, Hungary, and Serbia, where he walked the actual grounds of the B-24’s crash site, the prison camps, and the airfield where the Royal Air Force picked up his father. Remarkably, the author managed to correspond with a man who escaped with his father from the prison camp near Belgrade. Tyler’s reflections about his father’s period as a pilot, prisoner of war, and escapee are insightful, conveying the intense peril of being shot down behind enemy lines. The book is a worthwhile reading about a man’s extraordinary journey during World War II, and a son’s effort to understand his experience.
Book Review written by: Dirk C. Blackdeer, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas