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New Book from Derek Robinson

Myth:  a widely-held but
false notion.

Never Mind the Facts offers ten
firecrackers that explode popular myths,
ranging from rugby football to Lawrence
of Arabia, from Sweden to Singapore, and from Guernica  to Dunkirk  -   in only 80  pages.

Self-published.   5-50 postpaid in UK.   (More abroad)

Order using:, stating your postal address.   Pay by PayPal.

                                                 Readers Write #67 November 2019

   Ramming unlimited,

                      riding a balloon,

                                    and writing on trees   

    Kamikase has become a joke word in the West, the kind of thing that might be said of a celebrity who makes a disastrous speech. It was no joke to the U.S.Navy when, in May 1945, American forces attacked Okinawa,  the last island before Japan.  The U.S. naval force was vast. It numbered 288 warships,  from carriers and battleships to destroyers and minesweepers,  and hundreds of supply ships.  Japan sent 1,465 kamikase pilots to halt them.   Almost all died, but their attacks hit many ships.  They sank 38 warships, including an escort carrier and 13 destroyers.  One destroyer was broken in half by a radio-controlled bomb.  What’s more, the rest of the fleet suffered badly. Kamikase planes damaged 16 fleet carriers, 17 escort carriers, 15 battleships, 15 cruisers, 87 destroyers and 24 destroyer escorts.  In the brutal arithmetic of war, kamikase paid off:  for the loss of two battalions of men (and mainly obsolescent aircraft), Japan had inflicted the heaviest toll on the U.S.Navy in the entire war, including Pearl Harbor.  Here is the USS Bunker Hill   -   flagship of Admiral Spruance, commanding the Fifth Fleet   -   after two kamikase  aircraft hit her within one minute. 396 of her crew were killed and she was withdrawn from the battle.    


     After two months of a largely suicidal defence, Okinawa fell. The mentality of kamikase pilots was inspired by their total obedience to their Emperor;  yet Allied pilots were capable of death-or-glory impulses.  Over Okinawa in May 1945, a U.S. Navy Corsair intercepted a Japanese twin-engined fighter at 35,000 feet. (The U.S. nicknamed it ‘Nick’;  Japan called it ‘Toryu’, meaning ‘dragon slayer’)   The Corsair’s guns froze and the pilot deliberately rammed the tail unit of the Nick,  which had a rear gunner. It crashed, and he made a forced-landing without a propeller.  On the other side of the world, at the tail-end of the Battle of Britain,  the Italian Air Force  -  keen to taste the fruits of victory   -   made a daylight raid on Britain.  30 Hurricanes were scrambled and knocked down half a dozen bombers.  Flight Lieutenant Blatchford, leading his squadron, found himself out of ammunition. (The Hurricane’s guns lasted 13 seconds.)  He flew into a CR-42 Fiat biplane and used his propeller to carve a chunk out of its upper wing.  The Fiat crashed; Blatchford survived.

These were spontaneous rammings,  made in the heat of battle;  probably there were others that were never recorded, for obvious reasons.  Ramming involved a lot of luck, and nobody was luckier than the German pilot Hauptmann (Flight Lieutenant) Hajo Herrmann on the night of 22 July 1940.

He led four JU88s from Germany, down the Channel, to Plymouth Sound.   The plan was to lay magnetic mines in the Sound, approaching it at 300 feet and 180 mph. Moonlight clearly showed the port buildings,  and then showed Herrmann a barrage balloon dead ahead. His low speed made the controls sluggish.  The bomber landed on top of the balloon and was stuck like a bird on its nest.  For a few seconds the aircraft came to a dead stop, although the engines still worked and the balloon was intact.  Then,  “I noticed that the British searchlights were shining from above   -   we had fallen off the balloon and were upside-down...”  Amazingly, he regained control, saw the breakwater and, despite a firestorm from Plymouth’s anti-aircraft guns, he dropped his mines and headed for home.  

And that’s not all.  Much later in the war, Hajo Herrmann formed the German volunteer Rammkommando, a fighter unit to ram American B-17 Fortress bombers.  He led from the front, survived two rammings, and ended the war alive.   Which was more than could be said for his volunteers. In April, about 200 of them went into action,  with patriotic music playing in their headsets.  That day, the U.S. 8th Air Force shot down 169 German fighters, for the loss of 22 B-17s,  and the Luftwaffe abandoned ramming.

     Which takes me to the Desert Air Force in 1942 and A Good Clean Fight.  Both sides agreed on one thing:  the flies were the worst enemy.  A squadron might take a couple of hours to relocate at a different airstrip,  and within minutes endless clouds of flies would surround them.  One moment there were none,  the next they appeared ‘in plagues of biblical proportions’, as one veteran wrote. People learned to eat with one hand while the other fought off the flies.  Men wondered: Where do they come from?  How do they live when we’re not here?  And never found the answer.

     The same question  could be asked of mosquito populations,  which have slaughtered more humans with malaria than all the armies combined (and have decided a few battles in the process). If mosquitoes need human blood,  and they succeed in killing the human race, what future has the mosquito?  Nobody knows,  and maybe DDT was the unsung hero of WW2.  When Mussolini claimed that he had drained the Pontine Marshes in the 1930s, it was a propaganda boast rather than a victory over the swamp:  he reclaimed only a part of the Marshes, and when his workforce left they were mostly infected with malaria. Moreover, the Marshes and their mosquitoes had protected Rome for centuries against invasion from the south.  (When the Allies invaded Italy and advanced on Rome, a German general flooded the Pontine Marshes and let the mosquitoes breed: an early example of biological warfare.)   Mussolini created a massive monument to his dictatorship,  50 miles to the south and on a clear day visible from Rome.  He planted 20,000 fir trees on a mountainside  so that they spelled out D-U-X in huge letters:  Latin for Duce, the leader.   


 Alas, in 2017 a wildfire reduced DUX to ashes. 20,000 fir trees burned to the ground. Sic transit, as the locals say.

My thanks to all who wrote.    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 train, 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

2019  Never Mind the Facts
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