The Blister Club

The Blister Club

The Extraordinary Story of the Downed American Airmen Who Escaped to Safety in World War II

Michael Lee Lanning

Stackpole Books, Guilford, Connecticut, 2021, 368 pages

Book Review published on: January 13, 2023

World War II and the exploits of the greatest generation continue to permeate American culture and generate interest even though the events occurred over seventy years ago. World War II was a war of national survival that was fought on the ground, at sea, and in the air at great risk to those who chose to take up arms and fight to end tyranny. Michael Lee Lanning’s book, The Blister Club: The Extraordinary Story of the Downed American Airmen Who Escaped to Safety in World War II, is the story of the three thousand American aviators and air crews who fought in Europe, were shot down, and not only survived this traumatic event, but also later evaded capture by the Axis forces. These brave men earned entry into the Blister Club by surviving this event and then escaping, often by walking out of Nazi Europe to a neutral country and then back to Britain. Hence, this arduous trek often resulted in blisters on their feet and therefore the title of this work, The Blister Club.

This book is based on a trove of mostly untapped debriefing reports written during the war from the Military Intelligence Service Escape and Evasion section. These reports clearly capture the difficulties these World War II aviators went through, from escaping their damaged aircraft oftentimes via parachute jumps at seventeen thousand feet or more, to landing in occupied territory and evading would-be capturers either in the form of German soldiers or collaborators. Once soldiers were safely on the ground, it could take months or even years to hide out from German forces, safely travel across mountain ranges, and eventually cross the English Channel to return to safety. These firsthand accounts of evasion from occupied Europe range the whole of human experience from the entertaining and humorous to the horrors of war.

The book is organized in three well written, educational, and entertaining sections. The first section is comprised of chapters describing the first evaders of World War II, a description of the organized routes of escape from occupied Europe, and the escape aids and other equipment downed aviators and crews would have to assist them in their escape and evasion from Nazi occupied Europe. The second section of the book describes the potential escape routes the American pilots and aircrews could have to negotiate from the Pyrenees mountains to the plains of Romania. Each of the seven different countries listed presented numerous challenges to the brave and hardy aviators and air crews who escaped capture. The third section of the book begins at D-Day and covers the exploits of paratroopers and ground evaders. It also covers atrocities committed by the Germans and takes the readers to the conclusion of the war and the recognition of the brave Dutch and French citizens who assisted American forces in eluding the German and collaborators who were pursuing them.

A skilled writer, combat veteran, and retired Army lieutenant colonel, Lanning skillfully ties in the evasion reports written by the Military Intelligence Service Escape and Evasion soldiers with his own expert analysis and wit to educate and entertain the reader of the many hazards these evaders faced and how they overcame these through luck, tenacity, or assistance from the underground. The humor and religion chapter provides a close view of how the greatest generation dealt with the stark realities they faced when shot down over occupied Europe and having to deal with escaping and evading through several countries before finally regaining their freedom.

Extensively researched, well written, and thoroughly entertaining, The Blister Club is the finest work on World War II aviators and air crews evading capture. This work both educates and entertains readers on the hardships faced and how they were overcome by the Blister Club and those that helped them gain their freedom. I strongly recommend reading this book as it is highly entertaining and serves to educate the reader based on the trove of mostly untapped debriefing reports it discusses. This excellent manuscript will be just as applicable for leaders and planners to reflect on some of the fundamental hardships and coping mechanisms to survive the hardship of escape and evasion as will be for those who will not face these hardships but are interested in the many exploits of the greatest generation and our hard-fought victory in World War II.

Book Review written by: George R. K. Acree, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas