Saturday, February 6, 2016

Book Review: Tornado Down

Hi All

And now for something entirely different. A book review of the 1993 best-seller on Desert Storm. Tornado Down by John Peters and John Nichol.

I just finished the book. Here is my honest review.

The first page of the Book starts out literally with a bang. 280 pages later, it ends with a profound statement about what a hero and bravery is.

The book is well written and is easy to read. You feel as though both authors are speaking to you. Such is the power of reading a book! The authors' descriptive writing makes their whole experience come alive.  All five senses will be engaged. You feel the excitement as the airmen prepare for imminent war. You feel the aircrew's fear of failure when the Tornados refuel in-flight, in pitch darkness. You feel the scorching heat of the desert. You feel the adrenaline rush as the desert floor whizzes past the Tornado that is flying at 500knots, 50 feet above the ground. You taste the fear in the aircrew when they see Triple-AAA greet them as they fly towards and over the Iraqi airfield. You feel the shudder of the aircraft as the SAM hits it. You smell the prison surroundings and feel the dampness of the floors of their eventual prison cells. You winch as the authors describe the brutal blows and torture landed upon them, time and time again. You sniff a tear as you read about their emotional reunions. Such is the power of the descriptive writing style of the authors.

You mind also engages in the book's fascinating description and explanation of military and tornado technical details. For example, The authors explain loft bombing in a way that even a non-war enthusiast can enjoy and understand. They also touch on avionics and electronic counter-measures. The book has photographs and even a cutaway diagram of the Panavia Tornado with over 280 labeled components. This being a paperback, the words and combines were legible, but a tad too small for my eyes. Is there a hardcover version of this book?

John Nichol and John Peters, the RAF Tornado crew shot down and captured over Iraq,
at IAT Fairford 1991, in front of Tornado "Gulf Killer".
Photo copyright Roger Colbeck.

I can divide the book into four parts. To war. Capture. Ordeal. Freedom. The first part made me experience their war preparation and actual combat mission. I learnt a lot from Tornado Down. I read first-hand the handling of the Tornado before and during the mission itself. That knowledge makes an ancient game like Digital Integration's Tornado come alive. There are many references and mentions of ordinances and weapons: JP-233s, chaff, flares, ECM, SAMs, Triple-A, etc

The second part sees the irony of life that one can still laugh in enemy territory after being shot down. There is also a miracle involved here. How they managed to remain unscathed despite enduring a fusillade of bullets their way.

The third part is where I was gripped by terror and suspense as I followed both Johns in their 7-week ordeal as a POW, not knowing what the next day or hour would hold for them. Even though this book was first published more than 24 years ago, I had never read it. So as I turned the page and read that they were ushered into a room blind-folded and surrounded by Iraqis, I had no idea what terror lay in wait for them. What you don't know scares you. This book gave me a first-hand account of what a POW can experience in the hands of brutal and evil captors. What happens in an interrogation room is not something we want to know, but trust me, after reading this book, you will know what that process involves. You also learn about survival skills. That mostly starts in the mind. The will to live.

The fourth part made me experience the highs, joys and triumphs of not just the airmen, but of their loved ones, their families, the whole RAF community and nations that never gave up on them. This book is a tribute to the living who served in Iraq's Desert Storm and to the dead who never came back.

The books has a liberal dose of subtle humor. Dry wit, British-style which no other nation in the world can match. Not even Malaysia. The homourous text are like precious gems scattered throughout the book. Less so in the chapters where both Johns are held captive, but still they are there. Brilliant when you come across a phrase or sentence which you detect is as sarcasm and dry wit. The best line of the entire book is spoken by Helen Peters, wife of John Peters the pilot. I won't tell you what it is, but suffice to say, it is when she finally talks to him over the phone after his release.

Tornado down is about the downing of a coalition bomber during Desert Storm, but it is also about the lifting of spirits. The human spirit. The book is available from,, but not available from a certain Frankie Kam. For me, this book is a keeper.

Frankie Kam
Happy Chinese New Year 2016

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