In 1968, when the RAF celebrated its 50th anniversary, a former RFC pilot called Oliver Stewart said the objective of a fighter pilot 'was to sneak in unobserved behind his opponent and then shoot him in the back', which got me thinking.
Goshawk Squadron came out first, in 1971, then War Story in 1987, and finally Hornet's Sting in 1999. Thus the sequence is disorderly; but then so was the war. DR
1916. The pilots' view of the Battle of the Somme
is no healthier than the Poor Bloody Infantry's.
"Beneath the insolent wit and ludicrous happenings is a novel essentially serious, whose full impact may be felt only in afterthought."
- SUNDAY TIMES
"The descriptions of patrolling and aerial combat are superlatively
well done... Stronger tastes will relish the whiff of battiness and brimstone."
- TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT
It's 1917. The war grinds on. Enter
Captain Woolley. Exit some unlucky chaps.
"...a darkly entertaining read. Every page contains at least one good line of dialogue, one memorable description. You turn the pages, saturated in atmosphere. As writer, Robinson never hits a false note."
Nicholas Lezard - THE GUARDIAN
"...the novel...follows Hornet Squadron as it pursues a policy summed up by one former aviator as 'sending obsolescent machines deep into German-held territory' - without parachutes, of course. The wastage of pilots is high and in many ways the novel is Journey's End in the skies except that Robinson has the gift of showing the excitement of flying and that not everyone was fighting for lofty principles of King and Country.
"Robinson is a better story-teller than Jeffrey Archer, Ken Follett or Wilbur Smith; his prose is as full of care and colour as most of the Booker winners.His is a rare achievement...the creation of a poetry of action."
Tibor Fischer - THE TIMES
Nutshell: It's 1918, and Woolley, now squadron commander, seeks out chivalry and shoots it down in flames.
"Fit to sit on the same shelf as Waugh and Heller... Robinson's recreation of the exhausted savagery of 1918 is truly shocking... the descriptions of flying are brilliantly vertiginous; nobody puts you in the cockpit like Robinson."
Mike Petty - SLIGHTLY FOXED
Fresh from school in June 1916, Lieutenant Oliver Paxton's first solo flight is to lead a formation of biplanes across the Channel to join Hornet Squadron in France. Five days later, he crash-lands at his destination, having lost his map, his ballast and every single plane in his charge. The squadron regards him as a pompous bastard and/or a complete idiot. But Paxton grows to relish air combat. He is sure the Battle of the Somme will let him share in a glorious victory. Alas, war writes its own script, and Paxton ages years in weeks. Not that many fellow-pilots survive to notice the change. Top of Page
|Hornet's Sting (1999;
It's 1917, and Captain Stanley Woolley joins an RFC squadron whose pilots are starting to fear the worst: their war over the Western Front may go on for years. A pilot's life is usually short, so while it lasts it is celebrated strenuously. Distractions from the brutality of the air war include British nurses (not much luck); eccentric Russian pilots; bureaucratic battles over the plum-jam ration; rat-hunting with Very pistols; and the CO's patent, potent cocktail called 'Hornet's Sting'. But as the summer offensives boil up, none of these can offer any lasting comfort. Top of Page
paperbacked: latest 2006)
France, 1918. A normal January day on the Western Front - no battles, and about 2,000 men killed. Behind the lines, at an isolated airfield, Major Stanley Woolley, RFC, commanding Goshawk Squadron, turns on a young pilot who has spoken of a 'fair fight' and roasts him: "That is a filthy, obscene, disgusting word, and I will not have it used by any man in my squadron." Woolley's goal is to destroy the decent, games-playing outlook of his public-school educated pilots - for their own good. He's callous and sarcastic, but neither stupid nor inhuman. His weaknesses are Guinness and his girlfriend, Margery. But what drives him is the war. "We eat death for breakfast," he says. "It's what keeps us going." Top of Page