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                   LOCKDOWN LUNACY -
                                2 BOOKS  FOR THE PRICE OF ONE!

           Odds and Sods
plus Never Mind the Facts for 7-50,
                                 including UK postage

       To get a copy, email me at    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:

“I 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 started."                                                                                     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 at its finest."                                 K.H.S.



                                                 Readers Write #71 July 2020


                       Norwegian wreckage,

                                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.   
                         German Balloon in RW71 
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 bits.  
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.   
                                          B17 in TW71 
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 punch.    
Finally, my thanks to readers  -  too many to list   -   who enjoyed ‘Odds & Sods’.  As one said: ‘You ain’t lost your touch.’

Derek Robinson                                                                        

Previous Readers Write


It's 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
      The Daily Express
             American edition of GQ Magazine 
                               The Independent                         


DR_Who He?  When 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.

The 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.
That's 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.


MacLehose Press (an imprint of Quercus Books) has published all of my flying novels  -  four Royal Flying Corps books and four Royal Air Force books.  Here are the new covers:  
      pce cake       hullo russia        A Good Clean Fight       Damned Good Show_new 

                war story_new              hornets sting_new            goshawk squadron_new              

Click here to go to the MacLeHose website. where you can click on their individual covers for  purchase options, including e-books.
This will be the first time that all my flying titles are in print from the same publisher:  something that gives me great satisfaction. Equally satisfying is the work of Tony Cowland, who has painted the cover illustrations for all the books. Each cover looks dramatically different, yet together they have a family likeness. They form a splendid collection, and they appeared at The Mall Galleries (near Admiralty Arch)  in the Aviation Paintings of the Year Exhibition by the Guild of Aviation Artists. The standard was high. My congratulations to Tony on a memorable achievement.
Artist and Author  
Photograph: Chris French


All 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:

                               Artillery                  RedRag                 OpBam  
                            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. 
In 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.

(To read the full Observer review, click here.) 

MacLehose 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

Contact       I 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.

         pce cake          A Good Clean Fight          Damned Good Show_new           hullo russia           
                             The RAF Quartet (WW2)
                           why1914thmnl     Holy Smoke     


Availability of the books.   

All 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 books. 

 The two Bristle books, and A Darker Side of Bristol are published by Countryside Books .

Quercus Books  Amazon UK      Amazon USA      Fantastic Fiction   

Other websites you may find of interest:

   Wikipedia     IMDB     Jeremy Northam Blog   

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