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Jim Winchester
ARRSE Rating
3 Mushroom Heads
Broken Arrow by Jim Winchester tells the story of a US Navy A-4 Skyhawk that fell off the side of the an aircraft carrier, the USS Ticonderoga, in 1965. What makes this accident unique is that the aircraft was loaded with a live B43 one-megaton thermonuclear bomb. A bomb that was never recovered and still sits at the bottom of the ocean.

The story of how the aircraft ended up overboard is fascinating; using the Swiss cheese theory of accidents, this was a classic case of lots of little errors lining up at a particular moment in time to cause a catastrophic event. Jim Winchester has researched the events of that particular operational deployment (the USS Ticonderoga was in the South China Sea supporting the war in Vietnam) with huge detail. Although the incident came to public attention during the 1980s, this is the first time it has been told in full.

As a snapshot of US naval life in the 1960s, the book excels. My real gripe with the book is that it has a tendency towards the mundane for much of the time. Jim Winchester details every minor event, mainly medical, with lines such as, "boiler technician J. M. Spaulding getting his thumb bitten by unknown party". One starts to feel that much of this extraneous detail is there to pad out a book that could have been a long magazine article, or a chapter in a book about multiple broken arrow events. Indeed, he has finished giving his first account of the accident by page 12 and his detailed analysis of what actually happened only takes 9 pages (pp198-206).

In short, if you come across a copy of this book, it is worth a read. At £25 on Amazon (£14.40 on Kindle), it is probably a little too niche for most people. It gives a great snapshot of life on a US aircraft carrier in 1960s and the story of the actual accident is a lesson to many of us.

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