Tornado Down is the horrifying true story of their Gulf War ordeal. Peters’ and Nichols’ Tornado was shot down during the first Gulf War by Iraqi defence forces. The pair were on their first flight of the war, which also happened to be the first flight of the war overall by allied forces.
The book focuses on their capture and treatment, and boy did they get put through some shit by the enemy. It starts off with some of their pre-deployment training. They’re living it up in posh hotels in Bahrain and having the easy life like everyone in the military knows the RAF get the majority of the time, before getting into the action.
I was a bit slow to get into Tornado Down, the number of abbreviations and mnemonics they mention when talking about the Tornado almost put me off. I was just lost for a while. If you have some knowledge of the planes or an interest in them then it’ll be fine but for me, I wanted to get to their ordeal to see how they coped and what actually happened.
Eject! Eject! Eject!
The abbreviations do clear up shortly though and they get out flying on the first bombing mission of the Iraq War in 1991. They end up getting hit and coming down a few miles away out in the desert. Both men managed to eject in time before the plane went down…
‘Why us?’ I asked myself. I closed my eyes, tight. There was a slight delay, for a hundred years, during which nothing happened. ‘God it’s failed!’ Then the rockets fired. A giant grabbed us by the shoulders and ripped us upwards, at thirty times the force of gravity – 30g – rag-dolls tossed high into the air: a massive roaring noise from the seat-rocket motors, a deafening wind-rush, a sensation of tumbling over and over in space. The slipstream was crushing, even through the flying kit, 400 miles per hour strong – try putting your hand out of the car window at seventy miles per hour, then multiply that sensation by a factor of six.
After the Iraqi’s hunt them down in a few minutes, the nightmare begins. They are treated well at first until they’re handed over to the Ba’ath Party. The Iraqi’s beat them to start with, then they beat them some more and then some more.
The men break, the beatings becoming too much for soldiers that hadn’t gone through extensive resistance to interrogation training like special forces do. They aren’t the only ones who broke. More airmen were captured, both British and American. They all broke. Every single one of them. Every man has his breaking point and the Iraqi’s tortured them until they reached theirs.
Nichol used his brain when questioned though (well, they both did really) in that they didn’t give away any sensitive information. Partly because they didn’t really know any apart from the details regarding their mission which was days in the past now. The authors talk about how the Iraqi’s didn’t know the right questions to ask when they got them talking so the men told them all about the planes they were using. This was information that you can read in any book or newspaper but the Iraqi’s lapped it up and made the beatings slightly less severe, for a very short while.
Allied Bombings Nearly Kill Them
The Iraqi’s moved the pair around with the other prisoners as well. They were almost killed on several occasions when allied bombing raids were attacking their position, especially the prison they were being held at resulting in Peters being trapped in his damaged cell.
They go into detail about the beatings they received and what kept them going through their ordeal. Not just the obvious thoughts of their families but the how they got through the day to day grind, where every footstep they heard could have led to another beating. Hearing screams day and night from the others who were being tortured and just sitting helpless, waiting for their turn in the chair.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book apart from the mnemonic crazy chapter. The harrowing situation, for seven weeks, no doubt changed the men, although both continued flying afterwards so full respect to them for that.
It’s only cheap for a second-hand copy and it’s a book worth reading.