From the Phoney War of 1939 to the Battle of Britain in 1940, the pilots of Hornet Squadron learn their lessons the hard way. Hi-jinks are all very well on the ground, but once in a Hurricane's cockpit, the best killers keep their wits close. Newly promoted Commanding Officer Fanny Barton has a job on to whip the Hornets into shape before they face the Luftwaffe's seasoned pilots. And sometimes Fighter Command, with its obsolete tactics and stiff doctrines, is the real menace. As with all Robinson's novels, the raw dialogue, rich black humour and brilliantly rendered, adrenalin-packed dogfights bring the Battle of Britain, and the brave few who fought it, to life.
Although a work of fiction, the novel purports to be as historically accurate as possible. Notable themes are the development of aerial warfare tactics, the Hawker Hurricane fighter, the British class system within its military, and the difficulty of training and integrating new pilots during wartime. The novel was controversial because it challenged the greatly inflated number of British claims of Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed during the Battle of Britain, and theorized that the air battle was "irrelevant" to the possibility of a Nazi invasion of Britain following the fall of France. Robinson defends his work by stating that the truth of "faults and deficiencies" only enhances admiration for the courage and resilience of RAF pilots.
Oh, wait . . .
The mordant tone of this novel is a useful corrective to some of the more dewy-eyed hagiography about the Few. But it obscures the fact that while every military organization is screwed up to some degree, Britain's air defense system was brilliantly thought out and led from the top, while the Luftwaffe's screwups started from the top and permeated downward.
An entertaining read though -- but very dark and sardonic in tone.