LEE TRIMBLE with JEREMY DRONFIELD
By the end of 1944 the forces of the Soviet Union had pushed the Germans back to their own borders. In the process, the Red Army had liberated scores of German prison, labour and concentration camps, their inmates effectively left to fend for themselves, often in the most desperate conditions. Among this mass of humanity were American and British POWs who had been given vague orders to make their way to the Black Sea port of Odessa to await repatriation. The Soviet Union – its focus firmly on Hitler’s destruction – was largely indifferent to the welfare of the former Anglo-American prisoners, who had to hitch rides eastward on trucks and trains as best they could.
Captain Donald Robert Trimble, a US Air Force bomber pilot who has just completed a full 35-mission tour of duty, suddenly found himself catapulted into this world of confusion and misery when he was despatched to a US air base operating near the Ukrainian city of Poltava. Stalin had grudgingly allowed the Americans to set up a staging post at Poltava for refueling and repairs to their aircraft, in order to make possible the long-range shuttle service for Allied bomber missions over eastern Europe.
Trimble, ostensibly assigned to the repair and recovery of downed US aircraft, but equipped with a diplomatic passport (and large sums of cash) was able to roam across wide swathes of the Ukraine and Poland in a covert mission to help shepherd Allied POWs to Odessa and safety. Although something of an innocent abroad, Trimble is portrayed here as a resourceful and determined officer whose generous instincts encouraged him to extend his remit into helping civilians on the road to freedom. He was constantly frustrated by the paranoid hand of Soviet bureaucracy – suspicious of any foreigners on their soil – and ultimately disgusted by the political machinations of his own side, the US diplomats in Moscow who placed expediency ahead of humanitarian idealism.
On his return to the United States, Trimble put his experiences in the Soviet Union behind him, until in his final years he recounted his tale to his son Lee. Working with author Jeremy Dronfield, Lee Trimble has produced a highly readable account of his father’s activities, a fitting tribute to a brave and honourable man.
Icon Books, 348 pages, £20 (h/b)