Picked this up on a whim, largely based on the cover art and the tagline that it was shortlisted for the 1971 Booker Prize Turns out it s the third book in the author s Royal Flying Corps Quartet the thrust of which seems to be to paint an anti romantic fictional portrait of World War I air warfare The book is or less a series of scenes that take place late in 1918, rather than any kind of story with an arc and fully developed characters or anything like that.Instead, there is 23 year old squadron commander Major Wooley, who has identified the utter pointlessness of the war and takes all measures to prepare his men to survive Fueled by Guinness, he does his utmost to destroy any sense in them that war has rules or should be fair or sporting in some way The men come and go in rapid succession, and there s a running dark gag about no one remembering names and who s who, since so many die within the first week of arriving from their ludicrously inadequate training.The book can be roughly divided into portions following the men during their downtime in which booze and sex feature prominently , training sessions with the Major, and air combat scenes The latter are well drawn in that they give the modern reader a sense of how confusing, chaotic, and precarious it all must have been I gather from skimming some reviews that there are some inaccuracies with regard to the planes, so anyone who cares about that kind of thing is on notice I also gather that there are other novels that take the same dark approach to the subject matter, but are much better written, such as V M Yeates Winged Victory. Goshawk squadron is the last book of a trilogy I would have liked to see this on the first page, better still on the cover rather than at the end of the book Anyway, it is a good book on its own so I am not disappointed.There are innumerable books on war, themed sub themed or sprinkled with all sorts of other facets such as patriotism, glory, passion, love, hatred, tragic But nothing I previously read has addressed the brutal pointlessness so bluntly. Goshawk Squadron was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1971 It was criticised by some former RFC pilots who felt it denigrated the memories of those who fought the air war Others praised it for showing the true nature of a war that was brutal mass slaughter and it was no different in the air to other services Pilots were flying planes made of principally of wood, canvas and wire, and the engines were treated with castor oil to keep them lubricated, the fumes of which acted as a laxative that was countered by alcohol Pilots often flew several missions a day traversing two sets of trenches where they were liable to be shot at from both sides, plus sustained anti air barrages, to face superior planes Tensions and fears were high amongst pilots, most of whom had only recently finished school, and they often let off steam in local villages Robinson captures the true dark nature of war it s brutal realities The tale is relatively straightforward, following the men s exploits and relationships over a few months The action sequences are excellent and the opening couple of chapters are amongst the best I ve read in a while the writing really alive on the page, laced with dark humour It then settles down, becoming a little mundane Whilst some of the men are well drawn and distinctive, others are pretty indistinguishable and under realised And in Woolley he pushes the callous leader, who really believes he is doing the right thing by his men by trying to harden them to be ruthless, to its limits Overall, an engaging, well written novel that shows war for what it really is. Every second you are in the air, Woolley said, someone is trying to kill you If he does it properly you will never know You must look for him, because he s always there He stared at them, and his black, pouchy eyes were full of anger at their stupid humanitarianism God damn it, he said you re murderers turned loose against murderers Some will come at you head on with an axe But the ones that think, the good ones, the professionals, they hide behind a tree and stick you through the ribs from behind They are up there now They go up every day and murder nice chaps like you Woolley made nice chaps sound like a genetic defect they ll all be dead in a year That s an absurd way to think They ll all be dead in six months, then I don t see how you can possibly lead the squadron if that s what you really believe I don t I personally believe there won t be one of them alive by the end of April Listen, I ll make you a bargain I ll never tell the truth, if you ll never tell lies It ll show us the best side of each other. M A S H meets Catch 22 in War I but Sherman was right. A parallel to Catch 22 it terms of finding a sort of dark humor in war, this book does a great job at working with your imagination to capture the experience of flying in WWI Set During The Height Of World War I In January , Goshawk Squadron Follows The Misfortunes Of A British Flight Squadron On The Western Front For Stanley Woolley, Commanding Officer Of Goshawk Squadron, The Romance Of Chivalry In The Clouds Is Just A Myth The Code He Drums Into His Men Is Simple And Savage Shoot The Enemy In The Back Before He Knows You Re There Even So, He Believes The Whole Squadron Will Be Dead Within Three Months A Monumental Work At The Time Of Its Original Release, Booker Shortlisted Goshawk Squadron Is Now Viewed As A Classic In The Mode Of Catch Wry, Brutal, Cynical And Hilarious, The Men Of Robinson S Squadron Are Themselves An Embodiment Of The Maddening Contradictions Of War As Much A Refined Troop Of British Gentleman As They Are A Viscous Band Of Brothers Hell Bent On Staying Alive And Winning The War I m writing this as we approach the centenary of the end of World War One With the proper remembrance of those who gave their lives on both sides, it s worth reading Goshawk Squadron before talking of heroes.I bought the book simply as part of a project to read all Booker Prize short listed fiction What to expect from the title, the cover, and one of those online sidebars that suggested I might like similar novels heroically titled Winged Victory and The Company of Eagles So this bleak, merciless tale, in which the CO trains his pilots to shoot the enemy in the back was quite a surprise No wonder some veterans of the Royal Flying Corps were horrified after reading it Biggles and derring do it isn t.It s hard to get away from that comparison in The Guardian and elsewhere of the book with Catch 22, or maybe better, for its savage, insolent wit as First World War version of M A S H And in its description of the flyers riotous, drunken night at a local restaurant the humour is as wild as anything in Waugh or Kingsley Amis.Yet it is not to be forgotten that the night ends in a man s death, and possibly a rape For what is remarkable about Robinson s grim comedy is that he manages to combine it with vivid descriptions of aerial combat and its horrible, lurid details, engines failing, pilots pissing in their pants, watching colleagues burn.The characters are differentiated only by a few telling lines of description when they first appear sturdy Derbyshire farm lad Kimberley or Capt Woodruffe who exceptionally has the face of a man who pays bills on time and believes what the country tells him The new recruits are bushy tailed if not always bright, the veterans ie 20 or over cynical.In another novel it would be a weakness but these are youths, not yet fully developed personalities when thrown into the skies in flimsy kites with a high likelihood of death within three months. I learned of this book via the fantastic By the Book column featuring John Sandford , in which he drops the titles of a number of popcorny novels with which I was wholely unfamiliar I took it as a great opportunity to expand my reading into new areas, and a World War I flying genre book was certainly a new one for me While I may not have enjoyed it quite as much as Sandford, who calls it a minor masterpiece , I absolutely found it to be captivating, the action scenes vivid and engrossing, and the lean characterizations to be hard hitting and likely to stay with me for some time The book opens very strongly and really blasts you into the grim world of WWI aviation bootcamp The middle seemed to drag a bit, or at least become a little less transcendant However, by the end we are really feeling the pressure and the inevitable crush of history as the Germans advance, the British press on, and the men and women caught in the middle try to remember what it is to live life.Overall, it s something different, it s full of black humor which is at times really incredible, and is well worth your time to experience something new. War is not sporting War is not fair These are some of the last lines in the Afterword of Derek Robinson s novel Goshawk Squadron, yet they perfectly sum up the entire book In the final year of World War I, the British sent young men into the skies in constructs of polished wood, stretched canvas, and piano wire Loaded with fuel and equipped with guns, these biplanes were used for observation, attack, and defense The Germans had planes, too, but they were often faster and better built British squadrons lost and replaced men so quickly that surviving members and officers were often hard pressed to keep the names straight.This fictional account of one such squadron was a glimpse into history The squadron s commanding officer uses unorthodox and harsh tactics to prepare his men for battle The men, not understanding why he is training them this way or what he is trying to teach them, resent him.Goshawk Squadron was not a pleasant book, even though it provided a useful historical context I am glad I read it, but I am also glad I m finished.