Book Reviews

Book Reviews

I will periodically do reviews of military and historically themed books from a variety of time periods, that I feel should be shared with others.

 

Shot Down By: Steve Snyder

shotdownreview

In his first book of nonfiction, Shot Down, Steve Snyder has paired driven research and fascinating oral history and made a very personal story, about his father’s experiences as a B-17 pilot in WWII, into a very personal story for anyone who reads it.  Snyder puts the reader into the action of the air war raging over Europe during 1943 and early 1944 and we come to know the men who flew these missions and sacrificed so much for freedom.  In particular, he tells the real story of the men who were shot down behind enemy lines.

Shot Down is the true story of WWII B-17 pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of his B-17 “Susan Ruth”, through their struggle for survival in the skies over Europe and after they are eventually shot down over enemy territory in February of 1944.  Some crew members of “Susan Ruth” were killed, and some evaded capture, while others were captured and sent to POW camps where they fought to survive for the remainder of the war in a German Stalag run by a sadistic commander bent on getting revenge on the men who had bombed the Nazis into submission.   From training in the States to flying combat over enemy occupied Europe the reader feels as though they too lived through the excitement and unimaginable hardships which are told in amazing detail.

Snyder’s quest to tell this story starts as a son’s desire to know more about his father’s role as a pilot and as a evadee during the war and grows into much more.  He is able to have the story of his father’s B-17 and crew, kept alive, to become one of the finest examples of first hand accounts from a WWII pilot, which can be enjoyed by people who are new to WWII history and people who are experts on the period. The level of dedication that Steve Snyder has is worthy of respect and acknowledgement due to all of the fine details which were researched in order to get them right and portray the crew of “Susan Ruth” as the heroes that they were.

The book is painstakingly researched by Snyder who used historical documents, primary source letters and diaries, and first hand accounts from surviving WWII combatants.   The volume includes over 200 photographs and graphics which detail the lives of both his father’s unit and crew and highlight the experiences common to all of the men involved in the air war in Europe.   His dedication to ensuring that all of the details are correct are what make it all come alive.  The story brings to light every aspect of the lives that these men lead during the war from takeoff to landing.  Snyder also shares what it was like for the men while training and during down-time when they were not flying missions.  When the action was hot, Snyder uses first hand accounts to bring the fighting right to the reader, like he does with this excerpt from his father’s diary, “Suddenly the nose guns were thumping away.  I could hear the dull crackling fire through my headset, as if the guns were a great distance away.  The vibrations of the firing shook the ship, and as I looked from one ship to the other above me, I  could see the empty cartridges fly out of the nose turret into the slipstream and whiz past our cockpit.

The bursting of the Focke-Wulf’s 20mm cannons around our ship was the first indication that we had been singled out .  Then the celestial dome (a radar installation on the bombers) blew up in front of me.  After that I could hear 20mm striking and exploding as they hit the ship.  Pieces of equipment and parts of the ship were flying about, striking my feet and legs.”(200).

Shot Down tells the amazing story of Howard Snyder, a B-17 pilot during WWII and the mission that he and his crew faced, up until they were shot down over enemy territory. From there, the story gives the detailed documentation of events which took place after the “Susan Ruth” was shot down and tells the real un-Hollywood version of what the men in these aircrews faced, especially when the tide of war had turned against the Nazis.  The passion which author, Steve Snyder brings to telling his father’s story, helps tell the story of all Americans who have family in the generation that saved the world.

Check out Steve Snyder on-line

stevesnyderauthor.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Steve-Snyder-Author-of-Shot-Down/300557953441405

 

 

Night Cats and Corsairs By: Alan C. Carey

As a high school student, most of the reading I have done about WWII and The Korean War has been in the genres of oral history, biography and memoir.  As such, I am familiar with works where the story drives the narrative and the reader is swept into a time gone by.   This work, by Alan Carey is my first foray into the world of painstakingly detailed operational history.

Mr. Carey tells the story of the development of radar equipped night fighter aircraft flown by the US Navy and Marine Corps.  Because they were equipped for night fighting at the dawn of the jet age, the Vought F4U Corsair, the Grumman F6F Hellcat and the F7F Tigercat really represent the pinnacle of piston engine technology in aircraft.  This book provides the narrative for how these remarkable aircraft came to be and tells the story of the role they played in American air superiority from WWII through Korea as well as their continued use by foreign powers after the USA had moved on to jets.

This book will appeal to three kinds of readers; first, those who wish to become experts in understanding the development of these aircraft and their operational use; second, historians and scholars who want to understand the operational details of the role that night fighters played in WWII and the Korean War and; third, those who wish to understand the role that their grandfathers and fathers who flew and maintained these aircraft played in our country’s history.  Although the book spends a lot of time detailing operational history in the Pacific, Mr. Carey takes the time to identify individual pilots who were in the action.  For example, in discussing Carrier Operations from February-August 1945, Carey writes, “Lt. Kenneth Smith, on NCAP over Okinawa was vectored to a Betty approaching the landing support forces on the western side of the island at 2105, but Smith was forced to break off, as the bomber approached the fleet and the ships began to fire.  The Betty broke away and headed back towards the island followed by Smith, whose radar kept him on track until making a visual and identifying the bogey as an enemy bomber.  He closed to 500 feet and fired from slightly below the Betty, causing the entire starboard wing to burst into flames and the plane dove into the water.” (79).  This kind of operational detail is woven seamlessly throughout the book and for many of these heroes will be the only time that their names appear in print for the world to know their role in these historic events.  I can only imagine the thrill and pride that their families would feel to read their story and learn the about the role these brave men played in winning the Pacific war.

The presentation of this work is nothing short of beautiful.  Hundreds of photographs identify all of these aircraft and the groups and individuals who flew and maintained them.  The casual reader will enjoy simply flipping through the large glossy pages of this volume which is worthy of decorating any coffee table.  As a high school reader more familiar with IPads, texting and Snapchat, it took a little time for me to go beyond this surface reading, but I soon discovered that those who are brave enough to dive in to this beautifully written narrative, will find themselves becoming nothing short of expert in their knowledge of the history of night fighter warfare in the Pacific during WWII and Korea.

Order Night Cats and Corsairs Today!

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Night Cats & Corsairs (The Operational History of Gruman and Vought Night Fighter Aircraft 1942-1953) by Alan Carey.  Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. 4880 Lower Valley Road, Atglen, PA  19310.  E-mail: Info@schifferbooks.com

 

Baa Baa Black Sheep Written by: Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington USMC

babablacksheep

The book Baa Baa Black Sheep written by Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington. Major Greg Boyington was an AVG flying tiger pilot in China in the early years of WWII and later on in the war returned to the USMC as a marine aviator. During the war, Pappy Boyington flew the F4U Corsair and was credited with shooting down 26 enemy aircraft, tying the American record. This book is the memoir of Major Greg Boyington which tells the story not revealed in the made for tv series of the 1970’s. Major Greg Boyington’s wartime experiences are highlighted and told from the very lips of the man that carried out actions during the Second World War. This book is full of suspense, even though the reader knows that Pappy Boyington survived the war. This is a thrilling story that shows the sacrifices that were made by men in the Second World War, as well as the leadership qualities and selflessness that he had in a time of need. For those who are just beginning to discover the history of this era, this book is a must read.

 

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