Lightning Down: A WW2 Story Of Survival, by Tom Clavin.


HR King
Gold Member
Jan 30, 2008
This is the kind of book I've really gotten into the last few years. The "small tales", of history, instead of the big, sweeping storylines I have come to love the stories of lesser known individuals and the off the beaten path stories. This book follows a Joe Moser, a farm kid from Washington who looked up into the sky one day and saw a P-38 flying overhead. He yearned to fly one of those machines some day. After high school he tried to join the Army Air Corps, but he was deemed unfit. WW2 came along and he was deemed fit, sign here, please. After months of flight school, he was assigned to fly a P-38, and began months of intensive training to fly that workhorse of WW2.
He and the rest of his unit was shipped to England, and after a few weeks milling around were assigned to RAF Warmwell, a few miles from the English Channel, near the town of Dorchester. Not much remains of the base if you take a look via Google Earth. The grass runways are long gone, and only a few buildings remain. Moser and his unit started to pound away at German positions in France in the lead up to D-Day, only occasionally mixing it up with German fighters. As the allies moved inland after D-Day, Moser and his unit were moved across the Channel to a base in France, where the pace and ferocity of the support missions picked up. As losses mounted, Moser was moved into a flight leader spot, and while leading three other Lightnings in a sweep he fell into a German trap. He thought he saw a juicy truck park to attack, but only after banking in for a run did the sky around him erupt as he was hit by hidden German AA guns. His plane was heavily damaged, and although he was able to pull from his dive and aim for allied lines, he knew he would not make it back to safety.
Moser managed to bail out of the twin boomed Lightning (Not an easy feat), as flames crept into the cockpit. He was almost immediately captured by German soldiers. From here the book takes a dark turn. Moser was first imprisoned in Paris in the infamous Fresnes Prison. As the allies swept forward Moser and a group of other American airmen were put on cattle cars, and after days of horrific conditions found themselves at Buchenwald. There he and 167 other airmen faced the brutality of the Final Solution. I will not give much more away, only that Moser and all but two of the men were saved by chance from certain death. An execution order had been placed on them. SS efficiency to tie up some loose ends about keeping airmen in conditions that did not meet the Geneva Convention standards.
They were transferred to a Stalag, but fared little better as the war drew to a close. After being rescued from the Stalag, Moser, and others who had been at Buchenwald, were immediately thought to be liars, seeking pity or embellishing their own story of survival. This was from fellow service members. As he tried to tell the story when he made it home, he was again called a liar. Not until 1982 did Moser speak again of being at Buchenwald, and this time he was believed. His story spread, and other survivors came forward to corroborate and document what had happened.

Titus Andronicus

HR Legend
Gold Member
Sep 26, 2002
Las Vegas, NV
It has been a couple of years, but I burned through every novel written by Alan Furst. It was fiction but rang true in every sense. The stories were all "small," the characters were all "small" as well. The sense of futility was palpable all the way through. The settings are usually pre-WWII, and the locales range from small towns in Eastern Europe to Paris, to Warsaw, to Spain and beyond. The main characters were not always on our side.

As a rule, in a Furst novel, the mission would fail and in turn be declared a victory or greatly exaggerated. Events took place, reports were written, blame was placed, or credit was taken, and time moved forward ... inching closer and closer to WWII. Everything is very messy and the good guys do not always win.

There is a four part miniseries based on Furst's novels called "The Spies of Warsaw" available on Amazon Prime. It is good but not nearly as good as the novels themselves.
Feb 9, 2013
Sounds like a great story, but I haven’t yet made it all the way through a Tom Clavin book. I’ve tried a few but his writing style and I just don’t click.