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Spitfire Down: Fighter Boys Who Failed to Return - Dilip S Sarkar

Spitfire Down: Fighter Boys Who Failed to Return - Dilip S Sarkar

As I realised the book was published by Air World, an imprint of Pen & Sword, my heart sank. I am not normally a big fan of Pen & Sword, but my fears were unfounded in this case. This book is not typical of my experience with Pen & Sword books and gives me no reason to air my usual grievances.

This shows what Pen & Sword can deliver and it’s pretty damned good. The pictures are printed alongside the text and the paper used for the pages has a good feel to it. The book is well-presented and feels professional.

It’s not all perfect though, and I am going to have my little grumble. I feel that the title of the book is a trifle misleading and of a ‘clickbait’ style used by so much of the media these days. To me, the title implies the book is about those that were lost in action. This is not always so, the longest (and arguably the most interesting) chapter was about a chap who died in 2003! But this is a personal observation and not a serious complaint as such, and I have to say that I feel the subjects for the chapters are well chosen.

The long prologue contained lots of little nuggets of information about the Spitfire. I’d never thought about the canopy sticking, preventing pilots from bailing out in an emergency, but apparently this cost more than a few pilots their lives. I remember seeing various films where canopies were tested for free movement before a flight, but it had not occurred to me that the runners could be damaged in combat and prevent emergency egress.

The single-page epilogue I found very pertinent, not to mention thought-provoking. Researchers now often must rely on luck to get to the intricate details of WW2 because those that were there are no longer with us, and in many cases, nobody has bothered to record their memories for future generations.

The book contains thirteen personal stories spread over eleven chapters, all very different, all interesting in their own way, and all accompanied by fascinating photographs inserted alongside the text where they belong. Each chapter (except the last) contains the life story of an airman, usually including their nearest and dearest. Much information is gained from personal diaries written at the time, not compiled years after from a fading memory or looking back via rose-coloured spectacles.

It must have been a difficult job for all of the Spitfire pilots that would have qualified for inclusion, to find the 13 featured here, and I think the author has done a very good job of this selection. There is a very good cross-section of stories and backgrounds.

I liked the author’s easy, respectful, but authoritative writing style. Obviously, the author knows his stuff and has carried out extensive and diligent research. At the rear of the book, there are a couple of pages of bibliography and other references which are quite adequate, but I really appreciated the terms and glossary which were well sited at the front of the book.

With an RRP of £25, but currently available discounted to £18.75 on Amazon, I think this book is pretty good value and might make a decent Christmas present for someone with a passing interest in the Spitfire, the Battle of Britain, or WW2 in general. I don’t often say much positively about Pen & Sword, but this book has earned its praise.

I’ll run to 4.5 anchors on this. Apart from telling the stories of the chosen thirteen, it’s a social history aided by some very good (and appropriate) photographs, including a couple of Douglas Bader playing Golf.

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