If you’re an aviation enthusiast, and especially if you’re a fighter pilot or wantta be, and if you’re drawn to the broken wood and torn fabric flying of World War I, you can’t do better than Derek Robinson’s magnificent novel, Goshawk Squadron. Written in 1971, it’s a timeless tale of men fighting the un-fightable, smothering in the smell of cordite and castor oil, while being led by a man who is either going to kill them, or make them suffer and then kill them.
As the author writes in another of his novels, “Up there the world is divided into bastards and suckers. Make your choice.” The leader of Goshawk Squadron, Stanley Wooley, has made his. He’s no beauty, and at twenty-three he’s an old timer in a war where the life expectancy of pilots is measured in weeks. Hardbitten and older than his years, Wooley is determined to kick his squadron into good enough shape to keep them flying just one more day. Often he’s unsuccessful. How could he be anything else when youngsters arrive with sometimes eight or twelve hours of total flying time and never having seen an SE5a, let alone flown one. A week later they’re in combat, trying to kill, but most likely trying only to survive. They come with light hearts and high ideals. Soon both are soiled forever by what they see and what they do.
But, any fighter squadron is not without it’s lighter moments, even if they are almost unspeakably noir. Some scenes made he laugh out loud. Being in a fighter squadron is like that. Others made me ache to go back a few years, strap myself into a fighter and once again feel the magic exhilaration that only aviators know.
Goshawk Squadron is a quick read of a little over 200 pages, but it’s not the length of the book that makes it streak by like the bullets from a Folker DIII. In Goshawk squadron you’re there. Living in the mud. Drinking to avoid the reality of knowing that you’re going to die, that it’s going to be wretched…and that it’s going to be soon. And all for nothing, or so it seems.
Grab a copy of Goshawk Squadron, by Derek Robinson. You’re in for the shrieking, whirling, terrifying ride of your life. Available on Amazon.