Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Shot Down and in the Drink//Shot Down and on the Run - Graham Pitchfork

Title: Shot Down and in the Drink//Shot Down and on the Run
Author: Graham Pitchfork
ISBN: 978-1-4728-2727-2//978-1-4728-2727-7
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2017
Pages: 276/258
Photos/ Maps: 40/33
One of the more unique aspects of wartime is the nature of the predicaments that aircrew find themselves in following a crash or enemy engagement. In modern times we have the benefits of GPS, electronic locator beacons (ELT’s), specialized immersion suits, radios and cell phones. None of these were available during the Second World War and, given the relative infancy of air travel (keep in mind that aircraft had only been in operation in larger numbers following the end of the First World War) not a lot of policy or doctrine had been developed for search and rescue. Pitchfork has, in his two books, looked at very similar predicaments but also very diverse environments that aircrew found themselves and what had been developed, often with the benefit of experience rather than determined planning, to deal with their challenges.

For any mariner or aircrew that has been sunk, crashed or shot down, being in the water has to be one of the most terrifying experiences imaginable. With little or no means of contact, not knowing if anyone is even aware that you are down, no access to fresh water or food, subject to the ravages of heat and cold, seasick and possibly wounded, the future surely seemed bleak at best. Pitchfork outlines the ways in which the Allies tried to overcome these challenges through the use of a robust LifeBoat (RLNI) and an Air-Sea Rescue organization, specialized aircraft such as the PBY and the Walrus and recovery equipment such as the rubberized dinghy. He also relates the activation of a unit, MI9, responsible to all aspects of doctrine and coordination related to water borne recovery. The author then goes on to relate the efforts made in the different theatres of war (ie Pacific and Mediterranean) and the unique challenges that each presented. Additionally he relates in detail the experiences of the aircrew themselves (including one story involving a pigeon). It is very safe to say that training, preparation and a healthy piece of luck played a huge role in the recovery of these individuals; they all more than earned inclusion in the prestigious ‘Goldfish’ club.

His second book in this series, Shot Down and on the Run, outlines the involvement of MI9, the agency responsible for the training, debriefing and the coordination of the return of downed aircrew not only on the Continent but internationally. The complexity of this undertaking is clearly related in this work. Not only were combatant nations involved but neutral countries such as Spain and Sweden had to be engaged. It is of note the variety of support the Allies received from these nations. Additionally, the nature of the rescue varied heavily from region to region as rescuers as diverse as Russian partisans, Serbian fighters, Senussi Arabs and Pacific Coast Watchers. MI9 was the lead agency tasked with developing the structure and training required for those finding themselves in enemy territory. The nature of this training was completely different from water borne rescue and served not only as a source of knowledge for those on the run but also for the Allied intelligence agencies able to debrief these individuals upon their return.

Pitchforks books are engaging and fascinating reads. They represent a comprehensive rendition of the breadth and scope of the responsibilities of the organizations (specifically MI9) tasked with finding and rescuing these downed airmen. I was a little surprised that the issue of Ferry Command (that agency responsible for transporting aircraft from North America to the UK and Pacific) was not addressed. Certainly they represented a unique challenge given the distance and environment in which they operated. Nevertheless, an excellent set of books and well worth the time and expense.

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