Coffin Corner Boys: One Bomber, Ten Men, and Their Harrowing Escape from Nazi-Occupied France by Carole Engle Avriett and Capt. George W. Starks, Regnery History, US $28.99, May 2018, ISBN 978-1621576266
Young Lt. George Starks and the nine-man crew of his Flying Fortress took off from England on March 16, 1944. The Flying Fortress crewmen were assigned to what was known as the “coffin corner,” the most exposed position in the bomber formation headed for Germany. Before they could get there, they were shot down over Nazi-occupied France. They jumped out of the burning plane one by one and landed safely with the help of their parachutes and scattered across the countryside after discarding their parachutes in the farmland of Champagne. In Coffin Corner Boys, Carole Engle Avriett and Capt. George W. Starks tell the stories of these brave men.
By the time they crossed the stormy North Atlantic, the crew’s camaraderie was deep. Avriett and Capt. Starks say that the possibility of being shot down did not impress itself on them until they reached Podington. When they began learning about the devastating losses being sustained throughout the bomber groups in late 1943 and early 1944, Irv realized that war “up in the air” would be no safer than war “down on the ground.” Twenty-year-old Starks survived but had a broken foot and a 20mm shell fragment in his thigh. In this condition, he covered 300-mile trek to reach Switzerland. On his way to Switzerland, ordinary men and women put their lives in great danger to help him. One of these ordinary men whom Starks calls “the bravest man I’ve known” who helped him in crossing the heavily guarded border. After World War was over, Starks went back to France to find out the brave men and women who helped him and thank them. He stayed in touch not only with the other nine crewmen but also those who helped him in France. The other nine crewmen went through similar experiences and situation, facing injuries, captivity, hunger, and depression. But, they all reached home after the war.
Most of the crewmen were young even by 1943 standards — Irv and George were both nineteen, and others averaged twenty-two. They all hit it off, studying, flying, and spending their weekends together, and they all attended Ted Badder’s impromptu wedding. Avriett and Capt. Starks say that it was recognized by the spring of 1944 that bombing missions needed a fighter escort all the way into Germany. The ten crewmen were soon on what is known as the Augsburg mission. Everything was going fine until the alarm rang and the plane shuddered slightly, it took a few seconds for the situation to register. They had been hit on the left side and flames were spreading aggressively. They all hooked on their parachutes and arrived at the hatch door and released the door and they were into the air.
Coffin Corner Boys is an extraordinarily inspiring story of adventure, heroism, camaraderie, and patriotism. These true stories of brave men should make every American proud of their true heroes who served their country at a time when their country needed them most. Coffin Corner Boys is also a much-needed addition to the existing literature on World War II. It explains the role of the air power in the World War II and how the war was fought in the air more than seven decades ago. It is a required read for everyone interested in learning more about World War II.