This highly engaging book tells the story of the author’s father, Lt. Howard Snyder, and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth, of the 8th Air Force’s 306th Bomb Group, shot down over Belgium on February 8, 1944. Two airmen died in the stricken aircraft, the rest bailed out of a flaming inferno careening to earth. Most of them became POW’s; three were murdered by the SS. Some successfully evaded capture and were hidden for months by courageous Belgian underground members, and one fought with the French Resistance Maquis.
Extensively researched, packed with photographs, and neatly interwoven with background remarks, this meticulously detailed description of the airmen’s daily life offers a comprehensive, yet personalized portrait of a war in which “more airmen with the Eighth Air Force lost their lives than in the entire Marine Corps.” The use of excerpts from letters and journals gives a compelling, up-close account of what it was like to fly with death every day — for example, this description of the raw emotions of men in a burning B-17:
“I must have been knocked unconscious for a period of time. It was difficult to see through the smoke and flames, but I could see the terrified face of Eike, his eyes almost out of his head, looking crazily about him as he tore frantically at his flak suit and safety belt.”
Snyder gives readers a real sense of what it meant to be in the blitz in London, on an airfield in East Anglia, and in German-occupied Belgium and France. Despite the wealth of detail, he manages to keep readers turning pages.
As the devastation of WWII fades into history, this informative and insightful account of one bomber crew’s experiences serves as a cogent reminder of what individuals suffered during seven years of blackouts, deprivation, and the constant threat of death as the hobnailed Nazi boot seemed poised to stomp out civilization. It’s a thoroughly satisfying and worthwhile read.
Also available as an ebook
BlueInk Heads Up: Highly recommended for historians and WWII aviation buffs, who will appreciate the author’s wide-ranging, highly detailed research and extensive website and sources listings.
As a young girl, I remember my dad saying that he was going to build a memorial in memory of the B17 “Susan Ruth” crew members, courageous men who wanted to stop a lawless monster. Since 1989, we organize an annual ceremony honoring the memory of those who crashed in Belgium on February 8, 1944. The local population still remembers these Heroes who crossed the Ocean to come and help people who were totally unknown to them; free them and restore their honor and happiness. They gave their lives and we will be eternally grateful to them for their sacrifice. We will always remember these men as Heroes of our Freedom. Thank you, Sirs. We will never forget you.
Shot Down: The True Story of Pilot Howard Snyder and the Crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth
Reviewed by Claire Foster
December 8, 2014
Detailed research puts the reader inside the cockpit, shoulder to shoulder with the pilot and crew.
Steve Snyder’s masterful book, Shot Down, does justice to the adventures of his father, pilot Howard Snyder, and the crew of the B-17 plane Susan Ruth. Using first-hand accounts from diary entries, letters, and family stories, Snyder revives experiences that are accessible and relevant both to historians and readers with a casual interest in WWII history.
The Susan Ruth’s crew was composed of ten men, four officers and six enlisted, and made up a true cross-section of American society. “They were college graduates, farmers, lawyers, and coal miners, from all nationalities and all religious denominations.” Their mission was to deliver 5,000 pounds of bombs on target. Snyder carefully outlines each crew member’s background and their role aboard the Susan Ruth. Detailed research puts the reader inside the cockpit, shoulder to shoulder with the pilot and crew. From technical nuances, such as Luftwaffe flight formations, to excerpts from letters home, Snyder emphasizes the day-to-day details of the crew’s experience.
In addition to diary entries, mechanical and technical details, and key points about the war’s larger picture, Snyder includes some gripping passages from the cockpit: “Crippled B-17s staggered back towards England with lacerated tails, gaping holes in fuselages, wing damage, and engines out or on fire.” Shot Down goes beyond a small handful of personal histories and links what is known to the bigger picture of the war, the action in Europe, and the families left waiting at home. The book is organized in chapters, beginning with individual biographies of each crew member. Working chronologically, Snyder assembles the team, describing each man’s role. The story moves through basic training, the first few missions, and then the fated flight that ended with Susan Ruth shot down over occupied Belgium.
Excerpts from letters back to the States add flavor and character. Howard Snyder writes to his wife, Ruth, “There isn’t anything to do [in Bedford] unless you are on the lookout for girls. … Most of the girls are quite ‘icky’ as you would say. This damp climate gives them beautiful complexions though. When I see the English women and think of you, I can’t believe there is that much difference.” Snyder also includes photos of each character, their planes, the key sites in the book, and memorabilia from the war. The inclusion of these photographs makes the accounts more visceral, more tangible—Snyder succeeds at his mission to make the story as real as though it had happened yesterday.
As World War II fades into history, stories like the ones in Shot Down revive the past, give it new life, and offer a link between the heroes of yesterday and the men we now call “Grandpa.” Steve Snyder’s extensive research, careful storytelling, and humane treatment of his subjects make Shot Down a must-read for anyone with an interest in this gripping period of American history.
Shot Down is a compelling story of our B-17 aircrews that flew, fought, and died over Europe to save a continent from tyranny and oppression. There were over 56,000 downed airmen in World War II. Many died, many were captured, and some were fortunate enough to escape and evade capture, making it back to friendly lines to fight again. Lt Howard Snyder and the crew of the Susan Ruth was one of those crews that went down over Europe. Their firsthand account of their experiences, including the bravery of the members of the Underground who helped them, is a wonderful read … and gives a great sense of the heroes that made up the "Greatest Generation."
As the 424th Air Base Squadron Commander that represents the U.S. at the “Susan Ruth” memorial every year, I learned about what happened to these crew members. This story is a great example of young men from the greatest generation fighting to defend the cause their country asked them to.
This is no ordinary memoir of a World War II father. The literature of the Second World War is filled with volumes written by sons and daughters, nieces and nephews who step into the shoes of the historian, hoping to preserve a small piece of their family’s history. Only a few are successful. With Shot Down and the story of the Flying Fortress Susan Ruth, Steve Snyder has reached a level of scholarship few amateur historians achieve. Snyder’s story of his father and the Susan Ruth crew provides valuable details about many aspects of the war: the American home front, separation for young families, training, combat operations, bailing out behind enemy lines, the underground, German atrocities, and behind-the-scenes stories of Belgium civilians who risked all to save American flyers. This is a story that all young Americans should read so that they can learn about the price of victory over the tyranny that was Hitler’s Europe. As each generation comes and goes, World War II fades further into the annals of history. Shot Down keeps the story of real people alive for generations of Americans, many who are not yet born. If we can learn from the lessons in the Susan Ruth story, we can apply those experiences to our own future, and our nation will be the better for it.
For the first time, the full and complete story of the B-17 Flying Fortress Susan Ruth is shared in unbelievable detail.Shot Down was created from the vast number of letters and journals of Howard Snyder; diaries of men and women on the ground who rescued, sheltered and hid the crew; and interviews conducted by historians. Centered around the 306th Bomb Group in Thurleigh, England, it is informative, insightful and captivating.For most, 70 years is a long time ago. World War II fades in importance as each year goes by. Shot Down moves history out of the footnotes into reality, keeping the stories of real people alive as they experience being shot down. You are there, almost holding your breath as Lt. Snyder gets his crew out of his B-17 when bailing out over Nazi occupied Europe.
Steve Snyder’s book, Shot Down is about pilot Howard Snyder and his crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth, in particular about the dramatic experiences of each crew member after their plane was knocked out of the sky by German fighters over the French/Belgium border on February 8, 1944. Some men died. Some were captured and became prisoners of war. Some evaded the Germans for awhile but were betrayed, captured, and shot. Some men evaded capture and were missing in action for seven months. The stories are all different and are all remarkable.Through personal letters, oral and written accounts, military records, and interviews – all from people who took part of the events that happened 70 years ago, the stories of the crewmen comes alive. Further enhancing the story are more than 200 time period photographs of the people and places described in the book.
However even before the dramatic battle in the air and the subsequent harrowing events on the ground, the story is informative, insightful, and captivating. Prior to the fateful event, the book outlines the men’s training, their journey to England, their life while stationed there, and their combat missions. Everything is centered around the 306th Bomb Group stationed at Thurleigh, England of which the crew of the Susan Ruth was a part.To add background and context, many historical facts about the war are entwined throughout the story so that the reader has a feel for and understanding of what was occurring on a broader scale. Thus, the book is a fascinating story about brave individuals, featuring pilot Howard Snyder, set within the compelling events of the war in Europe. You will be given an insider’s seat to the hopes, dreams and fears of a remarkable group of young airmen and the brave Belgian people that loved, cared and risked their lives for them.In 1989, a memorial to the crew of the Susan Ruth was dedicated at Macquenoise, Belgium and every year celebrations are held to honor and remember the men who are now all gone but not forgotten.