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Spitfire Down (Hardback)

Fighter Boys Who Failed to Return

Aviation > Aircraft > Spitfires & Hurricanes Aviation > Royal Air Force Aviation > WWII > Battle of Britain WWII

By Dilip Sarkar MBE, Foreword by Sqn Ldr John Peters BSc (Hons) MBA FRSA MRAeS RAF (Retd)
Imprint: Air World
Pages: 280
Illustrations: 75+ mono integrated
ISBN: 9781399089470
Published: 9th August 2022



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Profoundly moved by the stories of wartime casualties as a child, Dilip Sarkar has since spent a lifetime reconstructing the lives of many of the fallen and is passionate about recording and sharing this very personal hidden history. In Spitfire Down he explores the stories of thirteen pilots who failed to return, all killed, either in action or flying accidents, whilst a fourteenth, Flying Officer Buck Casson, was brought down by a German ace over France and captured.

There is, for example, the virtually unknown story of ‘The Baby of the RAF’, Sergeant Geoffrey Painting. Posted to fly Spitfires with 118 Squadron at RAF Ibsley in Hampshire, Painting was hit by flak during an attack on enemy shipping off Cherbourg on 30 September 1941. Still listed as missing, at just 17, he is believed to have been the youngest RAF pilot killed during the Second World War. The author has reconstructed Painting’s short life with help from his family, and forensically deconstructed that last flight with the help of the now late Wing Commander Peter Howard-Williams DFC, who was flying with the teenage pilot that day.

The author also explores the heart-rending story of an American trainee fighter pilot, Pilot Officer ‘Jim Bob’ Lee, whose Spitfire collided with a Wellington bomber over Gloucestershire – resulting in the loss of all airmen involved. Two Canadian pilots perished on Pen-y-Fan, the highest peak in South Wales. The multi-national effort that defeated Hitler is further emphasised, in fact, through the stories of both Wing Commander Piotr Laguna and Flying Officer Franek Surma. But perhaps most tragic of all is how lightning struck Joan Welch twice: her first fiancée, Flight Lieutenant Lester Sanders DFC, was killed test-flying Spitfires in 1942, and her second, Pilot Officer Ian Smith, was killed flying in Palestine in 1945.

Using correspondence, diaries and other personal papers of the pilots concerned, the author has reconstructed their all-too brief lives and provided a lasting and profusely illustrated record of these sacrifices.

As featured in

Battle of Britain Historical Society newsletter - Scramble 1940, Spring/Summer 2023, Issue 167

This title allows you to look into the lives of men who died during World War II and had only just started their lives in many cases when they died. What I particularly like about this release is that it enables the person today to look into the lives of the people then at a time when very few remain, and World War II is slowly leaving living memory.


Dilip Sarkar is a regular author of Pen and Sword books, and always very readable, this time chronicling the lives of some of the Battle of Britain pilots who helped to make history. Brilliant.

Books Monthly

4.5 out of 5

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.

Read the Full Review Here

Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

Book review and article featured in

(Review by Toby Neal)

Shropshire Star

As featured in

Newport Advertiser

As featured in

Market Drayton Advertiser

As featured in

Bridgenorth Journal

As featured in

Chronicle Week - Thursday September 8, 2022

As featured in

Telford Journal

As featured in

Express and Star (City Final, Wolverhampton)

As featured in

Shropshire Star

Article: 'War dealt cruel double blow for would-be bride'

Express and Star (City Final, Wolverhampton)

Article: New book investigates Spitfire crashes in the Beacons

The Brecon and Radnor Express


Daily Express

As featured in

The Bookseller

As featured in the article: 'Tragedy of youngest Spitfire Pilot'

Worcester News

Author as featured in

Isle of Thanet Gazette

Author featured in the article: 'Author on the hunt for untold stories of the Battle of Britain.'

Dover Express
 Dilip Sarkar MBE

About Dilip Sarkar MBE

Driven by his passion to record and share the human experience of war, DILIP SARKAR is a best-selling and prolific author whose work is highly regarded globally. A noted expert on the Battle of Britain period, the Few and Spitfire stories, Dilip enjoyed a long and very personal relationship with many survivors. Made an MBE for ‘services to aviation history in 2003, he was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Historical Society in 2006. A sought after, dynamic, speaker both in person and, more recently, ‘virtually’, Dilip’s enthusiasm is infectious; he has exhibited internationally and spoken at innumerable prestigious venues. An experienced broadcaster and presenter, he continues to work on TV documentaries both on and off camera, and is a firm supporter of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust.
Dilip is Project Lead on Battle of Britain: The People's Project, a new project launched in July 2022 in partnership with Pen & Sword and the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, which aims to discover untold stories from the Battle of Britain as part of a comprehensive seven-volume history of the battle. Visit the project website at https://www.battleofbritainpeoplesproject.com.

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