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Spitfire Down (ePub)

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
File Size: 87.1 MB (.epub)
Pages: 280
Illustrations: 75+ mono integrated
ISBN: 9781399089487
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.

Spitfire Down, I found it very moving. Not only because of the tales of loss, but also because the themes and narrative resonated with my own experiences within the Service.

I also wanted to thank you for the immense service you are providing in capturing so much of this history for future generations. It is invaluable and you are clearly a master! Thank you!

AVM Sean Bell FRAeS FIoD CDir BSc - RAeS and RAF Historical Society

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

Dilip Sarkar has now written over sixty well-received books. Having enjoyed a privileged relationship with many of The Few, he is a globally acknowledged expert on the Battle of Britain, currently working on a career-topping eight volume official history for The Battle of Britain Memorial Trust and National Memorial to The Few. Described by the late Dr Gordon Mitchell, son of the Spitfire’s designer RJ Mitchell, as an ‘aviation detective’, Dilip Sarkar did actually begin his professional life as just that – a police detective. His evidence-based approach and ability to discover new material is well-known – in 2023, for example, he was responsible for having Air Chief-Marshal Sir Keith Park, a New Zealander, officially recognised as one of The Few. Made an MBE for ‘services to aviation history’ in 2003, Dilip was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Historical Society in 2006, achieved First Class Honours in Modern History as a mature student in 2010, and in 2024 was made both a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and member of London’s Royal Air Force Club. During his long career, Dilip has exhibited and spoken internationally at such prestigious venues as Oxford University, the RAF Museum, IWM Museum, and Airborne Museum, Oosterbeek; he has worked on many TV documentaries, on and off screen, again internationally, and has an engaging presence on YouTube and Facebook in particular.

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