Quick Links: RFC
2 BOOKS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE!
- LOCKDOWN LUNACY -
Odds and Sods plus Never Mind the Facts for £7-50,
including UK postage.
To get a copy, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll need your postal address.
Odds & Sods finds the unexpected in everything
- from test pilots to songwriters, from Russian funerals to Californian
gunplay, from squadron horseplay to the bogus 4-Minute War. And much more.
Illustrated. Some in colour.
The book is designed so that, if something doesn't grab you, skip it and move on. The pictures are there to prove I didn't make it all up.
First reactions to Odds and Sods:
have now read ‘Odds & Sods’. Really cheered me up in lockdown.’ -
Ken in Leicestershire
"It's like all my Christmasses rolled into one... Impossible to put
down once I'd
Nick in Kent
Never Mind The
Facts explodes ten major myths that call for the chop -
from rugby to John Brown’s Body, from Singapore’s fall to Guernica’s
bombing, from Laurence of Arabia (who ‘backed into the limelight’) to Guy
Fawkes, who never grassed. And more. "Myth-busting
Readers Write #71 July
and better by night.
Balloon-busting on the Western Front in World War One seems like fun,
compared with war in the air. German observation balloons were big. How
could you miss a target that was 70 yards long and 20 wide? The
balloon couldn’t dodge, it couldn’t fire back, and it was full of
incendiary gas. Balloons looked absurd, out of place in a modern
war. Yet balloon-busting was so dangerous that the RFC reckoned
that one balloon destroyed was the equivalent of three enemy aircraft
shot down.. Here (thanks to John Kush) is a German balloon being
towed to its launch pad.
There was a good reason why observation balloons were valuable, and why
the RFC tried so hard to get rid of them. 1914-18 was the first war
when soldiers never saw their enemy unless one side emerged and
attacked the other. By 1917, the Germans had 170 observation balloons,
each four miles behind the Lines and two miles apart, capable of flying
at up to 6,000 feet. (Allied balloons were similar.) In his
wicker basket, the observer with his telescope could see as much as 60
miles. He had a clear view of the enemy’s layout. With his
telephone link he could direct artillery fire onto promising targets,
and correct near-misses. He could identify any unusual activity
that might mean an attack was being planned. Observation balloons
were the spy in the sky, and Allied artillery tried hard to destroy
them. Total failure. So the RFC got the job. First problem: how to get
near the bloody balloon.
Each German launch site was surrounded by guns that, when the balloon
was flying, could saturate the approaches to it. Their shellfire was
assisted by heavy machine guns whose bullets could reach 6,000 feet,
and by rocket guns that sent ‘flaming onions’, bright balls of fire
that soared towards the aircraft. If the fighter pilot survived this
barrage, he had to get close to the balloon so that his incendiary
bullets would work - beyond 150
yard they would be useless. And if he hit it, there was no
guarantee that the balloon would burn; wet weather and cold air
had odd effects on its gas. If it did burn, the observer had ample time
to parachute to safety.
Fighter pilots used two ways to avoid the flak: either fly low,
about 20 feet, to the balloon site and then climb steeply, or fly very
high, preferably above cloud, and power-dive on the balloon before
anyone had spotted them. Both methods had risks of their own. And
even beating the defensive fire might be disastrous. Germans
sometimes discouraged attack by replacing the observer with high
explosive and blowing both the balloon and the fighter to
Few RFC pilots liked balloon-busting. Most squadrons decided that a
pilot who destroyed a balloon would never be sent to hit another; one
was enough. Balloons, both German and Allied, were a
symptom of why the Trench War lasted almost four years.
What both sides could see was a stalemate.
Fast-forward twenty-three years. You may be surprised to know
that, in the summer of 1941, the RAF was flying B-17 Flying Fortresses
in raids on German targets when America was, strictly speaking,
neutral. Jon, in Norway, told me that his grandfather had seen
the evidence of such a raid. It happened on 8 September 1941, a few
months after the Blitz had ended and while German armies were storming
into Russia. On that day, Jon said, ‘Messerschmitt Bf109s took
off from Stavanger (in Occupied Norway) to intercept four RAF B-17s of
90 Squadron from Scotland, aiming to bomb the battleship Admiral Scheer
at port in Oslo.’ (German warships in Norway threatened British
convoys to Russia.) The B-17s never reached their target.
One 109 hit a B-17 with cannonfire, blew holes in it, set an engine on
fire, and the bomber exploded before it could hit the sea. Jon
describes how ‘Leutnant Alfred Jakobi shot down another B-17 over a
remote valley in southern Norway. My grandfather, Gunnar Rysstad, saw
it crash. It caused a fire in the hills. The local Nazi asked Gunnar to
put it out. Gunnar told him to sod off - after all,
the Nazis had started it. Nazis don’t like to be told off, and Gunnar
had to run. My grandfather was on the lam when he met a smart and
strong daughter of a physics professor and she wanted the young
fugitive for her huband.’ They married, had a daughter, and
that’s how Jon came to be.
No surprise that the RAF welcomed the Fortresses. In 1941, every
air force in Europe operated two-engined bombers; now, suddenly,
the RAF had twenty brand-new four-engined bombers, part of President
Roosevelt’s policy of shipping war material to Britain despite strong
isolationist feeling at home.
What America got out of it was an opportunity to test the B-17 in war,
and on 8 July 1941 three Fortresses took part in a daylight raid on
Wilhelmshaven; all returned. Other daylight operations followed.
With a crew of nine or ten and up to fourteen machine guns, the B-17
was believed to be able to defend itself. The op on 8 September
proved otherwise. Two of the four B-17s were shot down and a
third crashed on landing. The RAF ceased daylight raids and donated the
Fortresses to Coastal Command and the Desert Air Force.
The fact was that the RAF Fortress wasn’t strong enough. It lacked
power-operated gun turrets, adequate armour, and self-sealing fuel
tanks. Boeing - which had experience in making
airliners - got to work and made a better B-17,
yet there was little they could do about its bombload, which was very
limited. The Fortress had been the product of a 1934 requirement, and
it had signs of 1934 thinking. The heaviest bomb the B-17 could carry
was 2,000 pounds. Even the Wellington could carry a
4,000-pounder, and the Lancaster had a bomb-bay that was 33 feet
long and could carry a 22,000 bomb.
When the U.S. joined the war, it had to fight with what it had,
which included the B-17 with its small bombload. So America
built 14,000 of them. With numbers like that, they delivered a big
Finally, my thanks to readers - too many to
list - who enjoyed ‘Odds & Sods’. As
one said: ‘You ain’t lost your touch.’
Previous Readers Write
1919. The Great War is over but a civil war is raging in Russia.
Bolshevik Reds are fighting White Russians, and a volunteer
R.A.F. squadron, flying clapped-out Sopwith Camels and DH9 bombers,
arrives to duff up the Reds. But the 'splendid little war' they
are promised turns out to be big and brutal, a world of armoured trains,
anarchist guerillas, unreliable allies and pitiless enemies.
There is comedy, but it is the bleakest kind. A Splendid Little War shows war as it is: grim, funny, moving - but never splendid.Reviews of A Splendid Little War
someone at a party asks what I do, I say I write Ripping Yarns.
It's a quick answer but a very incomplete one. I'm best known for my
novels about the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force in the two
World Wars and some might say the books are highly readable adventure
stories. Nothing wrong with that, but there's more than combat in
the high blue yonder - there's also memorable
characters, there's unexpected twists and turns of warfare, and
there's aircrew humour. Especially the humour. I did
my National Service in the Royal Air Force. I was never airborne;
I was in a Ground Control Interception Unit, deep underground in a
concrete bunker. But I learned a lot about the special humour of
flying people, and it emerges naturally and unavoidably in my
novels. Humour is one of the essential colours in the spectrum of life.
You don't make a story more serious by removing the humour; you just
make it less true.
longer I do this job, the luckier I know I am. For a start, I'm
English and the English language is global. That's pure luck of birth.
I might have been born in Hungary. There are good Hungarian
writers, but it's a lot easier for me to find readers throughout
the English-speaking world. And I was lucky to have literate
parents. When I grew up there were always books and magazines
about the house, unlike some other kids' homes. There was a good public
library at the end of the street. And there was the 1944
Education Act which created State Scholarships for bright lads and
helped me get into Cambridge.
where I learned to write boringly. I was writing to impress, not to
inform. Twelve years in advertising agencies (London and New York)
kicked the crap out of my style. Every word had to work hard. I wrote
ad copy and commercials for everything from Esso petrol to The Wall Street Journal.
Always I knew I wanted to move on, to be a fulltime writer
- but I had nothing to say. Nothing worth reading, anyway.
(I was a late developer.) I wrote two bad and unpublishable novels and
finally got it right with a story called Goshawk Squadron.
Might have won the Booker Prize if Saul Bellow, one of the judges, had
had his way. Not important. "The most readable novel of the year," Nina
Bawden said of Goshawk in the Daily Telegraph.
"I laughed aloud several times, and was in the end reduced to tears."
That's worth more than any prize. The first novel bought me enough time
to write the second, and so it goes. Lucky me..
SALESMORE GOOD NEWSAll
four of the Luis Cabrillo novels (following the career of
probably the best WW2 double agent and later con-man) are now
available as eBooks from Amazon/Kindle. Here are the covers:
Click on a cover to go to the Amazon sales page.The R.F.C. trilogy and the R.A.F. Quartet are also available as e-books.
'Operation Bamboozle' is a fastmoving black comedy about
what happens when a high-stakes con artist takes on the Mob in Los
Angeles. The result is a heady brew of disorganised crime, hot
dollars, triple virgins and dead bodies in the begonias.
Luis Cabrillo is the con artist, Julie Conroy is his
squeeze, and here's the opening sentence:
For a man who had been hauled out of Lake Michigan in 1949, headless,
his legs and arms broken, and stabbed in the heart with a red ballpoint
pen, Frankie Blanco was in pretty good shape in 1953. |
Click to see the News of the World Review
RED RAG BLUES
He's a heel, bless him.
Luis Cabrillo rides again in this "dashing tale of Nazis and Mafiosi", as The Observer called it.
fact, Nazis and Mafiosi play second fiddle to the real dynamo in this
story. It's 1953, and Senator Joe McCarthy's witchhunt for Reds
under beds is scaring America witless.Alas, in 2017 a wildfire reduced DUX to ashes. 20,000 fir trees burned to the ground. Sic transit, as the locals say.
Cue Luis Cabrillo, ex-double
agent, now con artist supreme. Dollars flow, hotly pursued by bullets.
Luis doesn't know it, but FBI, MI5, KGB and CIA have him
firmly in their sights. Not to mention Stevie, the only
three-times married virgin in New York City. This is a rich, fast
and very black comedy.
Press (an imprint of Quercus Books) owns the book rights to all my RFC
and RAF novels. Sam Goldwyn Jr owns the screen rights
to Goshawk Squadron. In 1988, LWT made a six-part television series ofPiece of Cake and they own the rights to that production. I own the screen rights to any remake of Piece of Cake.
I own the screen rights to all my other novels. Quercus Books owns the
e-book rights to all my fiction backlist, available through
Amazon/Kindle. Derek Robinson
welcome comments and views about my books, though as a working writer I
can't guarantee to have sufficient time to answer everyone.
Click here to send me an email
Main publications Click any group heading to see details.
Availability of the books.
my fiction is available as e-books. Maclehose Press publish (in
print) all eight of my flying novels, available from any good book
seller (who may have to order a copy). Or you could try the
websites listed below, often useful for tracking down both new and used
The two Bristle books, and A Darker Side of Bristol
are published by Countryside Books
Other websites you may find of interest:
Major books and original publication dates:
|1971 Goshawk Squadron |
1973 Rotten with Honour
1977 Kramer's War
1979 The Eldorado Network
1983 Piece of Cake
1987 War Story
1991 Artillery of Lies
1993 A Good Clean Fight
1999 Hornet's Sting
2002 Damned Good Show
|2002 Kentucky Blues|
2005 Invasion 1940
2005 Red Rag Blues
2008 Hullo Russia, Goodbye England
2009 Operation Bamboozle
2013 A Splendid Little War
2014 Why 1914?
2017 Holy $moke
2019 Never Mind the Facts
2020 Odds and Sods