The Website of Novelist  Derek Robinson

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                                               Readers Write #79 September 2021

                                                    Swift exit for Mussolini.      

     In 1940, Musso badly needed a victory.  He had watched as Hitler's blitzkrieg had stormed across Europe, and at the last minute Italy became an ally of Germany, hoping to get a chunk of France.  But when Italy intervened, the Italian invaders got a bloody nose from French soldiers.  In June 1940 the Italian battle fleet had to retreat, damaged by British warships in the Mediterranean.  The Italian army had camped inside Egypt, built strongpoints, and showed no sign of moving.    

     Mussolini hoped to get some glory from Hitler's threatened invasion of Britain. He offered the Italian air force to help the Luftwaffe throughout the Battle of Britain, and he was always declined.  Then, in mid-September - when invasion seemed unlikely - Germany agreed.  Mussolini's Corpo Aero Italiano  flew to Belgium.

    With 178 bombers and fighters, they might have made an impact.  In fact it wasn't until 11 November that they went into action.  On that day - coincidentally when British aircraft battered the Italian fleet at Taranto - an Italian force of ten bombers and forty fighters set out to attack Harwich, a British port 100 miles from Belgium.  A few German Me-109s went with them,  perhaps to navigate.

    British radar found them and three squadrons of Hurricanes were scrambled. The Italian force was slow and ponderous, and the combat was a turkey shoot.  The Italian CR42 fighter was a biplane with an open cockpit and fixed undercarriage; it lacked speed, armour and guns, but it was very agile.  Mostly it dodged Hurricanes.



    Three CR42s and six bombers were destroyed, and the cherry on the cake was the shooting down of a Messerschmidtt 109.  The RAF squadrons had no loss. Harwich was spared.  The folly of sending biplanes against Hurricanes was demonstrated by Flight Lieutenant 'Cowboy' Blatchford, a Canadian leading 257 squadron. In the fight he ran out of ammunition and he attacked the upper wing of a CR42 with his propeller, shredding it.  The CR42 crashed.  Blatchford landed safely, as this picture shows.


    Clearly, the training and equipment of the Italian air force were inadequate. The Corpo left Belgium in the New Year.  Mussolini looked to his army for victory. When Hitler invaded Russia, Mussolini sent a division to fight at Stalingrad.  Same result.


    The arrival of a special edition of Goshawk Squadron, celebrating its fifty years in print, got a tremendous review in The Times and a flurry of congratulations.  It prompted Roger in London to get the novel: "Am enjoying it very much." Jonathan in Melbourne, Australia, told me: "I own and have read multiple times all of your RFC and RAF novels.  They have amused, troubled and moved me over many readings and I remain grateful for the experience."  He wondered about Churchill's questioning of the RAF's 'cricket scores' of enemy aircraft destroyed in the Battle, so soon before his 'The Few' speech.  In fact there was no contradiction: Churchill's speeches were partly aimed at America, whose aid he desperately needed.  'The Few' speech reminded America that Britain was a pugnacious friend.


    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 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.

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 .

     Amazon UK    Amazon USA    Fantastic Fiction  

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
 Why 1914?

2017  Holy $moke

2019  Never Mind the Facts

2020  Odds and Sods

2021   Odds and Sods Mk2