Book Review: SHOT DOWN: The true story of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth by Steve Snyder

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

SHOT DOWN: The true story of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruthis the story of the author’s Father in World War II as a B-17 bomber pilot and his ordeals after being shot down over the Franco-Belgian border in February 1944.

The book itself is 335 pages of text with an extensive sources list and index.  The text is divided into 40, mostly short, topical chapters.

The narrative describes the journey of the author’s father to first becoming a bomber pilot and then chronicles his arrival in the ETO, his bombing missions, the loss if his aircraft, and the events and adventures of the crew of the B-17 as they struggled to survive both in hiding and as POWs.  This story is a microcosm of what happened to thousands of US aircrew who were forced to crash-land or bail out of their aircraft in the course of the air war over Europe.

The book starts out kind of slow with a description of the training process for bomber crewmen and extensive description of the B-17 and its components.  If this type of stuff does not interest you then it will bore you but it is a necessary introduction to the bombing campaign. The B-17 was a remarkably tough aircraft and B-17 bomber crews did the lion’s share of the US bombing in Europe during World War II and learning about how they worked and how they operated is important to the story.

The crew of the Susan Ruth bailed out over the Belgo-Frankish border region.  Many locals risked and some even gave their lives to help these men who were so far from home and fighting to liberate people they would mostly never meet.   The crew was scattered after the shoot down and the author does a great job of telling the different threads of the story into one narrative without confusing the reader. This is not just one story but eight woven together, some shorter and some longer than others.

What I found to be one of the best parts of the book was the final chapters where the surviving crew’s liberation is discussed and then the reunions of later years.  I found it especially compelling because I have been to a few of the sites mentioned in the book and it is very interesting to learn the backstory behind the memorials.  A memorial without context is just stone but the context of the joy and agony behind the memorials brings them to life.  The men of the crew endured much while waiting to be either repatriated or liberated and the story of their ordeals and the locals who helped them is inspiring, to say the least.  The story of the Susan Ruth’s crew happened hundreds of times all over occupied Europe and it is a story worth telling.

Shot Down gets off to a slow start but picks up when the crew is trying to survive.  The narrative flow well and the painstaking level of research is evident throughout the book.  It is obvious that writing the book was a labor of love.  It is excellently written and one of the most detailed accounts of the travails of downed airman I have ever read.  I highly recommend this book, especially to those interested in the European Air War of World War II.