Shot Down and in the Drink

Published: November 12th, 2017     
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Book cover
Author: Air Commodore Graham Pitchfork, RAF
Reviewed by: 
George Cully, IPMS# 2290
Company: Osprey Publishing
ISBN #: 9781472827272
E-Book ISBN #: 9781472827265
Other Publication Information: 40 B&W photos, 276 pages, softbound
Price: $15.00
Product / Stock #: GNM

Drawing heavily upon an unpublished history of Britain's Air Sea Rescue Service produced after WWII by the Air Ministry's Air Historical Branch, this softback reprint was originally published in 2005 as a follow-on to a 2003 effort by Pitchfork entitled Shot Down and On the Run. That book dealt with British and Commonwealth aircrew who found themselves on the ground in enemy territory--mostly in northern Europe--but were able to successfully "escape and evade," often with the help of brave souls who risked their lives--and the safety of their families--in so doing.

The difference between the two books is that the airmen who fell to ground in enemy-occupied territory had some hope of finding friendly aid or, failing that, at least the possibility of humane treatment when they were captured. Those who fell into the water faced a graver menace. Yes, their Axis enemies were determined and tough, or even cruel, but the sea is utterly implacable: it will not provide comfort, and it has no concept whatsoever of mercy.

Like Pitchfork's predecessor work, Shot Down and In the Drink sketches the heroism of two groups of people: those who were in need of rescue, and those who rescued them, and it does this through the use of over forty well-chosen vignettes. Most of them take place on the waters between Great Britain and the European coast, but Pitchfork also includes briefer sections on the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the Far East. The accounts differ widely in circumstances and conditions, but they are uniformly riveting. One of the distinguishing differences between the rescued and the lost was an unquenchable will to live, as it enabled the survivors to endure seemingly impossible tribulations: thirst, hunger, exposure to the elements, and, after a sufficient passage of time, spirit-crushing despair. But the author also gives hugely deserved credit to the determination and perseverance of the rescuers, both airmen and sailors, who risked their own lives to save those of their Empire and Allied comrades--because after mid-1942, that effort included the rescuing of USAAF airmen downed at sea as well.

While the most captivating parts of this book concern the rescues themselves, it is also of good value for historical purposes. The narrative provides useful details regarding the UK's pre-war consideration of survival needs for aircrew forced down at sea; the initial establishment of a minimal sea rescue capability and its employment during the Battle of Britain; the formal establishment of the Air Sea Rescue Service in early 1941; the development, deployment and improvement thereafter of specialized rescue aircraft (including multi-engine types equipped with air-droppable lifeboats) and surface vessels; and the steady expansion of the Service's manpower, equipage and search and rescue capabilities in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean until war's end.

So, the obvious question for IPMS'ers would probably be something like, "OK, but how will this book help my modeling?" There are two answers to that. The first would be, simply, not very much. There are no nifty paint schemes here, no crisp three-views, and very few images of markings. The pictures are small, limited in number, and more about the ASRS crews and the airmen they rescued than of their airplanes and watercraft. But there's a second answer, and it responds to a much more fundamental question: why do you build models, especially models of military subjects? For me, constructing kits of military aircraft is, in an important sense, an act of respect. Call it a tribute to the courage, valor, and service of men much braver than I. Those Air-Sea Rescue guys had all of that and more. So, strictly speaking, this book isn't a modeler's guide. It's a modeler's inspiration. Read it, and you'll want to start building Walruses and Hudsons and Catalinas and Sunderlands and Warwicks and Lysanders and...

Thanks to Osprey for providing the review sample to IPMS.

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