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REVIEW OF SHOT DOWN

AUTHOR: Steve Snyder

REVIEWER: William A. Glass

Date: 12/09/2020


Shot Down by Steve Snyder is a non-fiction book about the air war over Western Europe during World War II. The story focuses on the crew of an American bomber, the Susan Ruth, piloted by the author’s father, Lieutenant Howard Snyder. In 1944 the Susan Ruth was hit by a German fighter and the crew bailed out over NAZI occupied Belgium. The flyers were trained in escape and evasion. The story tells how they put their knowledge to the test.


This is a meticulously researched, clearly written, historical work. Remarkable, in that Steve Snyder is not a trained historian. Since this book sets forth the heroic actions of his deceased father, one can surmise that Steve’s passion for telling the story motivated him to do the on-the-job training needed to master the historian’s craft.


After an informative preface, Shot Down kicks off with a jolting, attention-getting scene that got me interested enough to wade through the next hundred pages of background information. I’m glad because this section puts what happens later into context and explains how the aircrew of the Susan Roth came to be in Germany dropping bombs.


Steve’s research provides a wealth of fascinating details. I’ve read about the vast fleets of allied bombers that attacked Germany, but nowhere before did I learn how they managed to get into formation in the low-to-no visibility conditions that often prevailed over England. Now, thanks to this book, I understand the role radio beacons played in the process.


An aspiring historian would do well to note how Steve enhances Shot Down with excerpts from letters and diaries, statistics gleaned from military records, eyewitness reports, and photographs. It’s one thing to read about the frigid cold B-17 crews endured at 20,000 feet, and quite another to see pictures of airmen in action wearing bulky, arctic-proof clothing. Steve does a great job humanizing the frightful odds that made it statistically impossible for the airmen to survive. After a horrendous day of losses known to the airmen as “Black Friday,” he talks about the demoralization that ensued when crews returned to sleep in rooms containing the empty cots of comrades who didn’t make it.


This book focuses on the story of one B-17 crew that fails to return, but in doing so, the author chronicles the fate of many others. The story of the Susan Ruth is stirring, but it’s only one of many planes whose end the author describes. In dramatic fashion, Steve relates grim tales of other bombers limping home, often bedeviled by German fighters, some with an engine on fire, bomb bay doors jammed open, and horribly wounded crew members struggling to survive. A gunner has his leg shot off, and to stop the bleeding, he pokes it through a hole in the fuselage to freeze it. Incredible courage is routine in this narrative, with many instances of pilots staying at the controls and dooming themselves in order to steer their damaged plane away from populated areas and give their crew time to bail out.


The climax of the story comes when it’s the crew of the Susan Ruth whose bunks are left empty one night. Steve recounts the dramatic shoot down using excerpts from his father’s diary. As he describes what comes next for the survivors, we learn myriad historical facts about conditions in POW camps for those captured and about life on the run for ones who evade the Germans. Shot Down gives us an understanding of the resistance groups operating in NAZI occupied Belgium, the underground escape networks created to aid allied airmen, and the dangers they faced from home-grown Fascists plus the Gestapo. For the evaders lucky enough to avoid capture and summary execution, Steve describes their efforts to rejoin the war. Some flee NAZI occupied Europe by crossing into neutral Spain, hoping to rejoin their units in England. Others continues their fight against the Germans by joining resistance fighters.


I learned much from Shot Down thanks to Steve’s in-depth research and clear writing. My only quibble with the book is that early on, he occasionally gets too detailed. Do we need to know the serial number on the special orders that sent Snyder’s crew overseas, or that his mother gave his father a hickey so powerfully that it was visible weeks later? Still, I give Shot Down five out of five stars for the story’s strength and the author’s excellent rendition. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in World War II. It fills in many important details about the battle in the skies over Western Europe, even for knowledgeable readers.


William A. Glass

  • Bill Glass


At my age, I often wonder why I’m still coaching. Then I think back on our last regular season game. In a hard-fought match against a quality opponent, the USC Salkehatchie men qualified for post-season play while knocking a regional rival out. For the players, it was the culmination of three months of intense training and a tough game schedule. For me, the win brought the quiet satisfaction of seeing all that hard work pay off.


I’m not so shallow as to think college athletics is all about winning. Many of my players wouldn’t be getting an education if not for soccer. Their scholarships keep the cost reasonable. So, the real reward of my job is seeing them graduate.


Still, because it is low-scoring, soccer is emotionally taxing. It’s a rush when your team ekes out a tough win and a downer when the opponent does.


Knowing that the end of my coaching career is in sight, I realize how much I’ll miss both graduation day and the highs and lows of competition. It’s nice to know that I have my writing projects to fall back on. Getting a positive review of a novel that I labored on through many a late night and long day is like the elation of winning a soccer match. I’m thinking of this because a prominent online book club just posted one. Below is link. Please check it out!

https://forums.onlinebookclub.org/viewtopic.php?f=63&t=170610




November 26, 2020. Fairfax, South Carolina


Q. Happy Thanksgiving, Professor! Can I get you something cold to drink?

A. You might twist my arm.

Q. Make yourself comfortable. I’ll be right back.

A. Sure.

Q. Before dinner, I wonder if you would consent to a short interview?

A. Fire away.

Q. You’ve been teaching and studying history most of your adult life. In a few words, what have you learned?

A. In a few words! Are you serious? Hmm….well, I’ve learned that history is repetitious and certain themes are apparent throughout time and place. How’s that?

Q. Not bad! Now tell me what led you to study history?

A. As a youngster, I was lucky enough to visit many historical venues in Europe and Japan, and there are several generations of history buffs in my family.

Q. In other words you're a military brat like me.

A. Yes you can say that. We're both army brats.

Q. And we've both lived all over the world . . .

A. That's right. And I still love to travel. Can't wait for this virus to be over so I can get back to it!

Q. I hear that! Now, do you have any times and places you most enjoy reading about?

A. Sure, all historians do. For me, it’s early 20th century Europe and the Meiji era in Japan.

Q. Please name some of your favorite authors.

A. Barbara Tuchman tops the list. Herbert Muller, David McCulloch are close behind. I admire Tuchman’s wide range of subject matter, which is unusual for historians.

Q. Favorite books?

A. The Proud Tower, Mind of the South, Only Yesterday, and everything by Nikos Kazantzakis.

Q. Have you ever met anyone famous?

A. Senator Eugene McCarthy, John McCain, Walter Cronkite, and Norman Mailer.

Q. Wow! You've gotten around. So, if you could go back in time, what year and what place would you go to?

A. That's easy. I would return to the year of my birth with the caveat I knew then what I know now.

Q. Ha-ha that would be fun! Well that’s about all I have.

A. Then bring on the turkey!