The Website of Novelist  Derek Robinson

NEW DEREK ROBINSON NOVEL  - "What a romp!"  
World War 2 gives up another secret.

How to con a major American intelligence agency for fun and profit.

And get away with it... almost.

Holy $moke
gets warm welcome

“Holy Smoke finds us in Rome at the end of the war, a new location for Robinson but one which has his customary cast of liars, saboteurs and arsonists.  Everyone will have their particular favourite;  one of mine is Captain Ironside, whom I nominate as the statutory ‘awkward bugger’,  a fixture in so many Robinson books.  What is conjured up for our delight is the amorality of a city staggering out of war, in a state of mind which  -  with an almost total disregard of government and law  -  enabled Italy to slip from Fascism to democracy.  I loved it and thought it a perfect topic and cast for the Robinson treatment. My one disappointment  -   the Albanian dwarves were an authorial invention.”   
                                                                          Graham Thorne  
For a full review of Holy $moke by Bill Stroud, click:

HS frt cvr dup
HS Bk cvr dup


                                                         6 in U.K. inc postage
                                                      8 in Europe, inc airmail
                                             9 in Rest of the World, inc airmail

                                    To order, email me at
                                                   Please tell me where you are.

A heartwarming comedy of deceit, deception, power-seeking and
revenge, set in the liberated Rome of 1944.  Based on fact. Similar
 to my Luis Cabrillo  novels, but completely different.  No aircraft.
 Many jokes.  Self published - a slim volume, only 170 pages,
which explains the low price.

Here's a taste of page 1. We're in the Pentagon in 1944.

               “Albanian dwarves,” General Donovan said. “Dwarves from Albania. Interesting.” 

                He was walking along a wide and busy corridor. With him were a colonel, Randall Stuart, and a major, Fred Stoner.  Stuart had just outlined a plan to
infiltrate into Albania a number of male dwarves who were fluent in the language and the customs of the country.  Their task would be to sabotage German army
communications and to stimulate Albanian partisans. Stuart said that dwarves had an inbuilt advantage as secret agents because nobody suspected them..



 Quick Links

  RFC Books   RAF Books   Luis Cabrillo Books  Other Novels    Bristol Books  

                                                                                   Readers Write #57 May 2018

 Bertha aims high

                        Hitler stumbles, 

                                          and seeing nothing in the dark. 


There is a lot of World War One in World War Two.  Nothing new in that idea,  but it helps to explain a few hoary myths,  such as the belief that machine guns were the most lethal weapon in the Great War.  The late John Terraine was a tireless myth-buster  (he did a good hatchet-job on the Angels of Mons) and he took a hard look  at the casualty figures.  What he found was that bullets caused less then 40 per cent of British casualties in WW1.  What did most of the damage?  Artillery. Shells and bombs accounted for nearly 60 per cent. Machine guns could kill men in the open, but for most of the time the infantry was in the trenches, safe from bullets.  But not from artillery.  A soldier who survived it said:  “Sustained shell-fire was the most trying and terrifying thing to be feared by all.” 


It was an artillery war.  In the third German offensive of 1918, 6,000 guns fired two million shells in a little over four hours    -   and that was only part of the attack.   The tragedy of that war was that all sides delivered ever-larger bombardments that caused massive carnage, and yet for most of the war it made little difference;  until the last year, the Trenches survived.  The generals, of course, were far beyond the gunners’ range,  which meant that, once the battle began, they were out of control.  


Adolf Hitler knew this, better than most.  For almost the entire war he was a messenger, what the British army calls a runner, in an infantry battalion.  He ran messages from the staff to the trenches and vice versa:  dangerous work.  He took part in the Ypres campaign of 1914,  and many of his comrades ended up in Kindermord, the massacre of the innocents, when 25,000 German student soldiers were buried in a mass grave.  (Everyone in Hitler’s regiment was a volunteer, with only a few months training.)   He was wounded three times, always from shellfire, and awarded the Iron Cross First Class for ‘untiring and fearless activity’  under ‘conditions of the greatest peril’.  He always claimed that he knew more about war than his generals did,  and in front-line experience, that was true.  But one reason why Germany lost the Second World War was because Hitler believed his own boast, yet he was as remote from his fighting lines as the generals in the first war,  and since he alone was the supreme commander, he made even more wrong decisions than they did. 


The second war began with quick success in Poland and Norway and the triumph of the Blitzkrieg:  runaway victories that may have confirmed   his belief that he was infallible.  They had been the opposite of trench warfare, with tanks in the spearhead and Stuka divebombers as mobile artillery.  Hitler liked artillery, the bigger the better.  He probably remembered Big Bertha, Germany’s supercannon of 1918.  


Bertha weighed so much that it could be moved only by rail.  It had a barrel of enormous length that could hurl a shell 26 miles high, which put it in the stratosphere.  Three minutes later it fell on Paris, 75 miles away.  Nobody heard it coming.  Everyone heard the explosions,  which were huge.  The Germans began bombarding Paris with Bertha in March 1918, to coincide with their offensive,  and they kept shelling the city for five months, killing 256 people.  The plan was to panic Paris into surrendering,  and it failed.  One reason for this was the Coriolis Effect.


It is well known to meteorologists and aerospace experts.  If you fling something high enough and far enough, it will eventually come down    -   but meanwhile the planet keeps rotating,  and the missile will not land where you aimed it.  Bertha’s three minutes in the air meant that the shelling was never accurate.  The supergun was a terror weapon.  Nevertheless, after 1940 Hitler put a lot of time and effort into trying to shell London from France.  His supergun never worked;  if it had, the results would have been just as random.  


Hitler never learned the lessons of history.   He invaded Russia on 22 June 1941,  which was the exact anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion.  If that wasn’t a coincidence, it suggests that Hitler wanted to show Napoleon where he went wrong.  Hitler sent German troops into Russia without winter clothing,  which was a wild gamble on  a quick victory against a nation that is five thousand miles from end to end.  Six months later he showed his support for Japan by declaring war on the USA. Many Americans were isolationist;  now they had no choice.  Hitler had given Churchill a reason to cheer. With America as an ally, he knew that Britain could not lose.  


Hitler believed that Russians, being Slavs, were inferior beings;  they would collapse in the face of his  armies.  (After only four months he declared the war won:  ‘The foe was broken and would never rise again.’)  He knew little about America but he was convinced that its people were racially decadent and would not fight.   If his beliefs were proved wrong, he denied the truth.   When his armies were outside Moscow, paralysed first by deep mud and then by deeper snow, his generals asked permission to retreat.   Hitler retorted: “Is it any less cold fifty miles back?”    Sarcasm from the comfort and safety of a command post a thousand miles away was no way to fight a war.  In the words of John Keegan: “The physical isolation of his headquarters ensured that he confronted reality only in self-administered doses.”   As the war went on, Allied intelligence units argued about  plans to assassinate Hitler. The right decision, surely, was to leave him to blunder on as commander of the Wehrmacht.  His mistakes were an asset to the Allies.  


This is not to diminish the stunning success of his  Blitzkrieg.  In 1940, Britain suffered the biggest defeat since the war over American independence.  It is sobering to realise how unready Britain was. Much has been said about the  fine performance of Spitfire and Hurricane squadrons in the Battle of Britain.  They, of course, were day fighters:  their operations stopped when the sun went down. Much less has been said about British night fighters during the Battle and the Blitz.


It was a story of the wrong aircraft, poor equipment,  and frustrated  aircrews.  The first night fighters were Blenheims, already obsolescent.   There were a lot of accidents    -  airfields had no homing beacons,  aircraft radios were feeble,  blind-flying instruments were unreliable.  Night after night, the Blenheims found no enemy bombers.  “Our failure was due simply to our inability to see another aircraft in the dark,” said an air gunner.   Eventually airborne radar sets appeared,  and they baffled everybody.   They were subject to an infuriating number of faults.  When the Blitz began, the night skies were full of enemy bombers;  the Blenheims searched and always landed empty-handed. Morale suffered. The hard fact was that London and other cities were taking a pounding and Fighter Command could do nothing about it.   


Desperate times call for desperate remedies, and some strange solutions were considered, including airborne searchlights, showers of magnesium flares,  minefields dangling on parachutes.  Some wanted anti-aircraft guns mounted on balloons.  Others wanted aircraft to fly above raiders and drop sand in their engines.  At one stage, Blenheim aircrew believed that they were losing radar contacts because enemy bombers escaped with incredible speed.  Then it was found that their radar sets could show an enemy aircraft that was  behind it as well as in front. If the pilot believed the bomber was in front, and he increased speed to catch it, the result was that he ran away from the target behind him.  With that discovery, the mythical superfast bombers vanished,  


Better radar sets appeared,  and the  excellent Beaufighter replaced the Blenheim.  On 20 November 1940,  John Cunningham made a radar contact and shot down a Junkers 88.  This good news was flashed to Group HQ, to Fighter Command HQ, and to Air Ministry. It was very encouraging    -    but it was just one bomber at a time when hundreds were raiding Britain. When the Blitz ended, it was not  because night fighters had triumphed over German bombers.  Such successes were rare in the Blitz.    Cunningham flew throughout the war and ended up with eighteen night fighter victories.   Victory came in 1945,  and it was well deserved;  but we should not forget the grim struggle at the start of the war,  when it wasn’t a matter of winning the contest, but of not losing it.


     Derek Robinson                                                                        

Previous Readers Write


Why 1914

Why 1914?

Why 1914? is "the best short introduction to the causes of the first world war I have come across.  Derek Robinson is as vivid and trustworthy a historian as he is a novelist.”
                                Nicholas Lezard - The Guardian

Here's a taste of what you get:

“The Black Hand recruited Gavrilo Princip and two others to murder the Archduke.  All three young men had incurable tuberculosis. They were ordered to kill themselves when the Archduke was dead. Phials of cyanide were handed out. What could possibly go wrong? In the event, everything.  Especially the cyanide.”

"To find war news in July 1914 you have to look at Ireland.  Home Rule had been passed.  Ulster, largely Protestant, detested the Catholic south.  Gun-running was on an industrial scale.  The government was trapped in an Irish bog.”

"In 1914, Kaiser William II, commanding the most powerful army in Europe, was not so much a loose cannon as a whole battery of loose cannons.”

"Admiral Tirpitz, Navy Minister, held the job for 19 years and followed one plan throughout his career:  more battleships, and then more battleships.  The Kaiser said that ‘with every new German battleship there was laid a fresh pledge for peace’.  Yet Tirpitz was using his battleships to frighten Britain into silence.”

"On 15 August 1914, Lieutenant Bernard Montgomery wrote in his diary: ‘At least the thing will be over in three weeks."

”If Germany seized the Channel ports, this would be hugely damaging to Britain’s strategic position. Britain went to war for Belgium’s sake, and for her own.”

"In 1914 the German army did not talk to the German navy.  For eight days in August an armada of ships transported the British army to France without disturbance.”

"The British infantry’s  name for its rapid rifle-fire was ‘mad minute’: a trained rifleman could fire fifteen rounds a minute.  This was often mistaken for machine-gun fire.”

"Confidence of success fuelled German troops’ drive for victory.  All Germany shared this confidence:  friends and family wrote letters to German soldiers with the address ‘in or near Paris’. (The postal service being neutral, sacks of this mail reached Paris.)”

"Winning the Battle of Ypres gave the Allies no strategic advantage but it became a heroic trophy simply  because Germany wanted it so badly.”

    The Paperback is available only directly from the author

In UK                                              8
In Europe                                         10
Rest  of World                                 12.50

Preferred payment method  -  PayPal
Email your order to me at and you will receive a Payment Request.  Then all you need is a credit card to pay into my PayPal account.

Why 1914_Amzn Ebk cvr
Click here to read
Elizabeth Ballmer's review
Why 1914?
   is now also available as an Amazon E-book.

Click here for details

Mentioned in Despatches

Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian chooses Why 1914 as one of his Paperbacks of the Year, writing: "The novelist Derek Robinson, 82 this year, just keeps going, and his prose is as sharp and sprightly as ever (there is something of Evelyn Waugh about its economy and grip)...   This year he has written and self-published the best introduction to the causes of the  first world war, Why 1914?, I have come across.  He is as vivid and trustworthy a historian as he is a novelist."

Robert Allison  puts A Good Clean Fight in his top 10 of desert warfare novels, saying, “Well above genre standards,  thanks to its energetic storytelling, its wealth of factual detail , and the author’s trademark gallows humour."                                                                                           Click to read the full article.

Reviewing A Splendid Little War, Nick Lezard writes: "Robinson has pulled off a remarkable coup. It's as bleakly intelligent as anything he has done but he has
also increased our historical understanding."
Click to read the full review.

Describing Derek Robinson's war novels, Antonia Senior said: "No one writes about war quite like Robinson, despite attempts to shroud him in echoes of other writers, such as Joseph Heller or Norman Mailer. He writes with a bleak savagery, in controlled, precise prose. There is humour – and it is dark and painful. There is love – and it is inadequate and messy. Most of all there is death. It comes from clear blue skies and grey clouds, from enemy fire and friendly mistakes. It
hovers, unseen, at  15,000 feet."
                                                                           Click to read the full article.

 A Splendid Little War is now available in paperback. 


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.

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 of Piece 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.

The RFC Quartet (WW1)
         pce cake          A Good Clean Fight          Damned Good Show_new           hullo russia          
                             The RAF Quartet (WW2)
The Double Agent Quartet
                          why1914thmnl     Holy Smoke      
Other Novels/History
Rugby Books

Bristol Books

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 .
Finally, I have a few copies of Pure Bristle, available at 2 each. 
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