Osprey's Shot Down and In The Drink


Graham Pitchfork


Osprey Publishing


$15.00 MSRP


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 276 pages, hardbound, ISBN: 978-1-4728-2727-2

An aspect of air warfare that rarely gets a lot of press is what happens to air crew when they are shot down over water? Well, they don't all perish from exposure, but early in the war a considerable number of them did just that. The main reason was a lack of proper air-sea rescue (ASR) units, equipment and men. For sure, there was some naval assets that were available to help search for downed crew, but what was available was totally inadequate for the task.

Naturally, things did improve, but at a fairly slow pace. There were several things that had to be overcome for the service to be effective.

To be brief, those were communication, organization, equipment and training. Air crew did not have a clue as to the proper way to exit a sinking aircraft and even if they did, their survival equipment was minimal. In fighters it was pretty well non-existent as all they had was their life vest.

There was no standard frequency to call for help and no procedures to quickly relay that info. What had to be developed was a command structure that was separate from both standard RAF and RN practices. Then equipment had to be devised and tested to ensure that the downed pilot/crew had a chance of survival. Things like a floating knife or flashlight needed to be developed as well as emergency rations. Improved dinghies needed to be developed including one small enough for fighter pilots. Then crews had to be trained on their use and they had to practice exiting a doomed aircraft. Many had the feeling 'it will never happen to me', and some of these men perished because of that.

Finally, there had to be rescue equipment in the form of fast boats that were well armed as well as medium and long range search aircraft. Later in the war, planes large enough to carry powered lifeboats that could be dropped to crews and those lifeboats had to be developed.

Much of the first portion of the book covers these developments as well as tales of crews that did things right and those that did not. The rest of the book is tale after tale from various parts of the world on the experiences of various crews that survived being down at sea and how they managed to eventually get rescued. Several of these crews travelled over 100 miles or spent many days in the water before rescue. Each tale is a fascinating look at how these men coped and the extent of the searches to find them.

It is not a quick read as there are minimal photos, but it is one that will keep your interest from the first page to the last. Highly recommended.

August 2017

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