Back in 2015 I was meeting a buddy of mine at Powell’s Books. (At the time I lived in Portland.) While surveying the new books one in particular caught my eye. Lee Trimble and Jeremy Dronfield’s Beyond the Call: The True Story of One World War II Pilot’s Covert Mission to Rescue POWs on the Eastern Front looked like a heck of a good book. How on earth could I resist a book with a such an exciting subtitle? But like many promising books I’ve encountered over the years I soon forgot about it. But as luck would have it I recently saw Beyond the Call was available for digital download via Overdrive and eagerly helped myself to a borrowable copy, hoping it would alleviate a case of COVID-related existential angst I was battling at the time. A forgotten tale of true adventure set during the closing stages of World War II was just what the doctor ordered.
In the last year and half of the Second World War, the Red Army juggernaut inexorably rolled across Europe, liberating POW and concentration camps one after another. The Western Allies, while delighted to see Nazi Germany’s domination of the Continent finally coming to an end, nevertheless grew increasingly concerned. Specifically, they feared for the safety and well being of countless freed Allied POWs stranded behind Soviet lines. Even though the Russians had pledged to provide humanitarian aid to any and all liberated Allied prisoners of war and assist in their speedy repatriation they knew Stalin loathed POWs. (Especially his own, declaring them “cowards” and “traitors” and even going as far as arresting the family members of those taken prisoner during the war.) Based on intelligence trickling out of Soviet-occupied Europe, his dreaded intelligence service the NKVD combed the region for perceived enemies of the state, be they recently liberated POWs, concentration camp inmates or forced laborers, or even local civilians. Knowing the wartime alliance between the USSR and the Western Allies was shaky at best, something had to be done as soon as possible to help those stuck behind Russian lines.
Recruited by America’s wartime cloak and dagger agency the OSS, bomber pilot Captain Robert Trimble was flown via Tehran (where, one evening he was asked to join the Shah and wife for dinner) to a joint American-Soviet airbase in Ukraine. Officially, he was there to assist in the recovery and repair of damaged American aircraft but secretly Trimble was tasked with safely shepherding American, British and Canadian POWs out of the USSR. With limited resources he contended with hostile Red Army soldiers, malevolent NVKD agents and treacherous spies and informants to bring home as many men as possible. And just as the book’s title would lead you to believe he went well beyond his authority to save human lives, be they solider or civilian.
Beyond the Call is the well-written, fast paced account of one of the 20th century’s little known rescue operations. Consider it must reading for anyone interested in World War II, or a thrilling rescue story.