Armed but not yet dangerous, Britain’s bomber pilots grope their way to a strategy in early WWII.
Authenticity and a sneaky style that mixes borderline cliché and brutal truth distinguish this rather subversive take on a story of inept but heroic flying. Robinson (Kentucky Blues, p. 1501, etc.) has been shortlisted for the Booker (Goshawk Squadron, 1971), something of a triumph for readers who feel that the writing in the “genres” can be not only more readable but more intelligent than much literary fiction. Robinson’s trick here is to slip a raw and unpleasant truth (early British bombing was laughably ineffective) in amongst the antic comings and goings of gallant but frighteningly young pilots. The artistry is largely invisible, and the superb soundness of the facts impossible to miss. An ex-RAF fighter pilot, Robinson went back to the original documents and to the flyers themselves to reconstruct the chaotic battle waged by Britain’s poorly protected and poorly led bomber pilots, who were not only getting decimated by the Germans but badly losing the p.r. battle to the much-ballyhooed fighters in the Battle of Britain. While the newspapers were reporting gloriously effective raids on German ports and factories, the truth, as carefully sorted out by Flight Lieutenant “Skull” Skelton, Intelligence Officer of 409 Squadron, was that the boys were mostly dropping their bombs on empty spaces more often than not miles from their targets. Skelton’s battle with the facts, and the Bomber Command’s weird reluctance to deal with its losses, are just two of the stories here. Among others: the hasty marriage of a penniless pilot to a rich aristocrat, the adventures of a film team, the borrowing of a Bentley, and the findings of a brilliant young investigator with a direct link to Churchill. Readers be warned: appealing characters get shot down and die. It’s war, and Robinson never lets you forget it.
Brilliant truths about smart lads in the days before smart bombs.