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Fighters in the Blood

RBMK

LE
Book Reviewer
Fighters in the Blood: The Story of a Spitfire Pilot
- And the Son Who Followed in His Footsteps


By: Air Marshal 'Black' Robertson

“Black” is a nickname given to the author because of his hair and not for any other reason.

This book covers the career of the author from joining the RAF in 1963 to his departure as a 3 star Air Marshal age 54. As the title suggests, his father was a Spitfire pilot with 6 confirmed kills and who was invalided out after losing an eye after being hit by shrapnel from a German cannon shell. His father’s story is told in flashback through the book with diary excerpts interspersed with personal memories. Parallels are drawn between the two careers through the book.

The book is well written and easy to read, detailing the author’s progression from ab initio training to flying the F4 Phantom. There are several escapades where the author was probably lucky to remain in the service, and also a number of occasions where he was lucky to get away with his life. It’s obvious that the author had a few moments of ill discipline, but that appears to have been the norm in the 1960s RAF.

As the author’s career progresses it’s clear that he was on the promotion path from an early age and had ambitions of high office.

This isn’t a book about flying, it’s more about people and the RAF so don’t expect more than a cursory coverage of flying dits. In many places the politics are obviously more important than the flying and by implication the author was at least as interested in climbing the greasy pole of promotion as he was in flying. That said, there are, in my opinion, too many episodes which would have made great dits but the author won’t / can’t give further details. This somewhat spoiled the book for me.

Obviously as flying opportunities decreased promotions and staff postings became more important, in particular after a stint a CO of 92 squadron. There are descriptions of the issues of defence spending reviews and the battles with the other services for money. Much of the politics and inter-service rivalry left something of a sour taste in my mouth I must admit.

At the end of the book, the author expressed regret at never having being tested in battle in the way that his father was. A second major regret was never having made the final cut for the final senior appointment. He finished as Chief of Staff and Deputy C-in-C Strike Command – a “nearly man” in his own words. 270 pages of reading, but could easily have been more, and a better book, had the author expanded on some of his experiences.

In summary, a good read but ultimately somewhat unfulfilling in a number of respects, a bit like the author’s career aspirations. Not a flying book, but in many ways an interesting insight into the politics of promotion in the modern RAF.

On this basis, four mushrooms, but would have been five with some better dits.
 
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RBMK

LE
Book Reviewer
Things like beating up the airfield, but yes, things that might have got away with a telling off and interview without tea and biccies in the 1960s and would result in courts martial now.

Also various land based dits of the sort familiar to all.
 

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