Though an embellished memoir, "LAST TRAIN OVER ROSTOV BRIDGE" is a rare jewel, for it is one of few books of its kind written by a veteran of the Alli...moreThough an embellished memoir, "LAST TRAIN OVER ROSTOV BRIDGE" is a rare jewel, for it is one of few books of its kind written by a veteran of the Allied intervention in Southern Russia (1919-20) in aid of the White forces fighting the Bolsheviks.
The book begins with the author celebrating the Armistice on November 11th, 1918 with his squadron mates in a private men's club in London. Aten, an American, came late to the war as a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force (RAF) and was nursing a broken arm from a flying accident. Now recuperating, Aten is approached by his squadron commander, Raymond Collishaw (one of Canada's top aces) with an offer to join him and a group of other pilots who have volunteered to join a British military mission to Russia to assist the "White" armies under General Anton Ivanovich Denikin in their fight to drive Lenin and the Bolsheviks (also known as "Reds") from power.
Aten, somewhat at a loss as a lot of young veterans were whose lives were caught up in the war, eagerly accepts the offer. Via a roundabout route by train and ship and somewhat belatedly (owing to his long recovery period in hospital), Aten arrives in Southern Russia in the summer of 1919. For the remainder of the year, Aten is among a group of airmen flying missions (in his Sopwith Camel fighter) in support of the Whites near the Volga River and over Tsaritsyn (later renamed Stalingrad).
At the time of Aten's arrival in Russia, the Whites have the Reds on the run and are confident that they will oust the Reds and be in Moscow by Christmas 1919. But due to some key strategic errors in judgment, a series of political miscalculations, and disagreements between Generals Denikin and Wrangel (who was junior to Denikin and probably the best military leader the Whites had, widely respected and admired by the men under his command), the Whites become overextended and the Allies decided to withdraw their support. The Reds, in the meantime, despite heavy losses, receive infusions of arms and recruits who come to outnumber the Whites and push them towards the Crimea and the Black Sea.
This is a story full of adventure, interspersed with romance that ends in tragedy. The book also has a glossary of Russian words and phrases commonly used in "LAST TRAIN OVER ROSTOV BRIDGE", short biographies of the key people most often mentioned by Aten in the text, an excellent map of the region in Russia where Aten saw action, as well as several interesting photos of Aten and his squadron mates, and of Southern Russia during that period. There are also "Notes on the Text", which are very helpful in explaining, chapter by chapter, many key aspects of Aten's experiences in Russia. All in all, I very much enjoyed reading this book, which I heartily recommend to anyone who loves to read a well-written, gripping tale. (less)
It was purely by chance that I came across this book. It has a story that everyone should know, for it is about a most remarkable man whose many and v...moreIt was purely by chance that I came across this book. It has a story that everyone should know, for it is about a most remarkable man whose many and varied accomplishments have enriched our lives. And yet, this man, Frank C. Mann (1908-1992), an African American, is largely unknown.
Mann, the only child of an unwed mother, was born and grew up in Texas. He showed an early interest in mechanical devices and became highly skilled as an automotive mechanic. His parents (by this time, Mann's mother had married a schoolteacher and had qualified as a schoolteacher herself) wanted him to pursue a profession, preferably education which conferred high status and respectability. Mann, on the other hand, felt differently. "When I was nine years old, I looked at my mother and father and I said that when I grew up, I wasn't going to be like them. They were uppity; they had no time for the average person on the street. Unless that person had something important to say to them, they figured that the average Joe had no business talking to them. Because they were educated and school teachers, they thought that they were better than the man on the street. I made up my mind that I was going to accomplish great things in my life, and no matter how big I got, I would always treat the other guy the way I would like to be treated."
It was also when he was 9 that Mann saw his first airplane, which had landed at a field near where he lived. The plane had run out of gas. Mann was fascinated and built his own model airplane, which his stepfather later showed off to his students.
From working odd jobs as a mechanic, Mann saved enough money so that he could be taken up for a ride in an airplane from an airport in Houston. Flying became his great love, and Mann pestered the mechanics there so much, that they allowed him to repair torn fabric on the airplanes and perform mechanical work on the engines. He learned a lot and one day, he met a young man while working at that airport who would be one of the greatest influences in his life: Howard Hughes. Both Mann and Hughes were kindred spirits and hit it off almost immediately. Mann went on to finish high school and later studied aeronautical engineering at both the University of Minnesota and Ohio State University. In 1934, Mann contacted Hughes and went to work for him at his company, Hughes Aircraft Co., in California. There Mann also did some contract work with a number of other aircraft companies, and established friendships with several of Hollywood's major stars, including Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, and John Barrymore.
Mann also served for a time, on behalf of the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, as a reconnaissance pilot during the Ethiopian War of 1935-36, using an airplane (one of the fastest monoplanes of the time) he had shipped over from Canada. He went on to Europe and joined a flying circus there, serving as a stunt pilot, wingwalker, and parachutist. Mann returned to the U.S. shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Mann also served as a flight instructor at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where the government had set up a Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) program in 1940 for African American men who wanted to learn to fly. All this was part of America's effort to create a corps of flyers who would likely be needed in the U.S. Army Air Corps and other aviation units in the U.S. military should the country go to war.
Mann, after war was declared, became an officer in the U.S. Army Air Force (the Air Corps was renamed the USAAF in July 1941). He continued his work at Tuskegee. Unfortunately, the aircraft Tuskegee had received from the government were largely obsolete and unairworthy. Mann got in touch with Howard Hughes, who made arrangements for an advanced trainer to be sent to Tuskegee. But by that time Mann had "gotten into a lot of trouble for partying with the Black officers' wives and White officers' wives around Tuskegee. So Howard [Hughes] pulled some strings and got me out of there before I became the first-ever Black man to be lynched by a bi-racial mob." Mann returned to Hughes Aircraft and continued to work for Hughes for the next 30 years. He also developed an interest in auto design and manufacture, producing for a time his own sports cars, whose buying clientele included Mickey Rooney and several other celebrity friends. (Mann also performed some work for NASA, which included the space shuttle program.)
This is a book for anyone who wants to learn about the life of a man born in a world largely hostile to him because of the color of his skin, who, nevertheless, devoted himself to being the best in his chosen career and won the respect of his peers. He was also a decent and fair man who lived life to the full. (less)