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Old 18 June 2008, 06:57 AM   #1
Pete Hill
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Fictional Novels of the Great War in the Air (a list)

G'Day, forumers.

I am compiling a list of fictional novels that deal with the air war of WW1 and I would love it if forum members could add to that list.
I will first submit all the ones that I can think of. These novels are all fiction, so non-fiction memoirs are not included. At least one ('Winged Victory') is usually called 'autobiographical' fiction but as it is techically fiction, it is included.
These are novels I have read myself but there must be a lot of others. I know there were a lot published during the 1920s and 30s, namely the so-called 'Pulp' and usually trashy novels churned out to meet the demands of adventure-hungry younger readers. Many of these have been lost but I have read reviews that claim there were a few forgotten gems amongst them.
The illustrations of the covers were downloaded from AbeBooks: New & Used Books, Textbooks, Rare & Out of Print Books, a website that sells second-hand (used) books from various sellers.


1) " Goshawk Squadron" by Derek Robinson

Arguably the most critically acclaimed WW1 air novel of all time, Robinson's first work of fiction was shortlisted for the UK Booker prize in 1971. It aroused considerable controversy when it was first published as it challenged many myths and romantic images of the air war that were still prevalent at the time. Many Royal air-force veterans disliked it intensely due to the portrayal of the RFC pilots whilst others praised it for its realism. Robinson himself described it as a kind of "Anti-Biggles".
Beginning in January 1918, the novel centres on the fictional 'Hornet' Squadron of the RFC (Robinson deliberately avoids giving the unit a numerical designation so as to prevent any association with a real unit). The squadron commander, Stanley Woolley, a 23-year old veteran, greets some new arrivals to his unit, treating them with a harsh contempt and with callous indifference, not even blinking when one poor rookie is killed when he crashes upon arrival at the aerodrome. The unit, operating SE5s, are soon flung into action on the Western Front.
The novel has the gimmick of each chapter beginning with the heading of the next level of the old-fashioned system of measuring the severity of storms, ie Force 1 to Force 12. This non-too-subtle piece of symbolism shows how the novel builds up to its bloody and chaotic finale.
The commanders are shown to be either cynical, hard-cases like Woolley who hide their declining spirits beneath a show of ruthlessness or callous, pompous simpletons. The pilots are killed one by one in seemingly random fashion, showing little emotion whilst indulging in much banter and harsh wit. Dry black humour is a main-staple of Robinson's war novels and it is laid on with a trowel. A weakness of his work is that most of the characters tend to be 'types' rather than three-dimensional individuals and sometimes they can be a little too eccentric or unstable to be true (in real life, could an actual RFC unit even function like this?).
The strength of his work is the battle scenes that are grounded in reality, being random, fierce skirmishes that either end in-conclusively or conclude bloodily. The novel builds up to the March Offensive and some of the young pilots go to pieces under the strain, resulting in the scene that was the most controversial part of the novel. One of the fliers, in an apparent act of complete mental breakdown, begins strafing a column of retreating British infantry. Another pilot of the Squadron tries to stop him and they engage in a dogfight that results in the deaths of both of them. In the final scene, Woolley himself meets his end in typical grisly fashion. Forced into another patrol by his superiors who ignore his exhausted state, Woolley is bounced from above and tumbles from his aircraft to fall to his death.
In his afterword, Robinson makes clear his feelings on the war, saying that 'much of the slaughter was pointless and courage was wasted, along with everything else'.
First Published: 1971
Still in Print? -Yes

2) "War Story" by Derek Robinson

Intended as a prequel to Goshawk Squadron, this novel, the second in the Hornet Squadron trilogy, is set in 1916 in the weeks leading up to the Battle of the Somme.
Hornet Squadron is, at this stage of the war, a 'Pusher' unit, equipped with FE2b two-seater Pushers. Young Lieutenant Oliver Paxton, only 18 years old, arrives to join the already hard-pressed and weary unit. Already Paxton has experienced the harsh reality of the air war as of the flight of replacements flying over the Channel to join Hornet Squadron, he is the only man to reach the aerodrome intact. But Paxton is a fiercely confident, somewhat arrogant youngster who firmly believes in the final victory and is proud of the army in which he serves. To his annoyance and frustration, the other pilots of the squadron don't seem to share his view, especially the Australian pilot O'Neill with whom Paxton has to fly as gunner/observer.
The cynical, foul-mouthed Australian takes delight in deflating Paxton and playing practical jokes on him. However Paxton shrugs off each blow and gives as good as he gets until the two form an alliance that eventually develops into an un-spoken friendship.
As the fighting grows bloodier with the beginning of the Somme Push and as pilots disappear one by one from the unit's ranks, Paxton slowly and grudgingly begins to realise the grim reality of what is going on around him. Personally, I think War Story is his best work as I found Paxton and O'Neill to be the most 3-D, fleshed out characters he has invented. The gradual dis-illusionment that engulfs Paxton is very believable.
There are some memorable scenes such as when the army dig a huge ditch near the aerodrome. The pilots fill it with water and use it as a swimming hole. But after July 1st, the pool is drained and the horrified pilots realise why the army dug it in the first place- for use as a mass grave.
Earlier in the novel, Paxton watches an infantry and cavalry unit rehearsing for the attack, each rank advancing neatly in ranks to pre-laid marking tapes. As they reach each tape, an officer blows a whistle and announces the next enemy trench as 'taken'. Paxton cannot understand why a veteran Major also watching the display is not as impressed as he should be.
In one amazing scene, the officers go to a luncheon for RFC fliers and proceed to demolish the contents of the entire hall just for the fun of it.
Once again, some of the characters go to pieces. One pilot, the Squadron Commander, pays a visit to the frontline trenches and then a few days later, takes off solo and deliberately and calmly flies smack into a German aircraft head-on. Another pilot, with a horrified Paxton watching, shoots himself and from the man's personal letters, it is discovered he had been secretly in love with a fellow officer who had been shot down a few days before.
Paxton himself is wounded and from his hospital bed learns the grim truth of what is happening on the Somme. Upon his return, he is informed that O'Neill has been killed (not true, as it turns out, as he returns in the next book) whereupon Paxton finally goes to pieces albeit temporarily.
Some of the characters are hard to believe. The adjutant is so vague and muddled, he almost belongs in a nursing home and a couple of the public-school boy types appear too-dim-witted to be true.
But the battle scenes are, in my opinion, right on the money.
First published: 1987.
Still in print? -Yes.

Its getting late so I will continue this list tomorrow. Stay tuned. Kind regards Peter
"Rrrh Ew Reddy Fore Sum Fut-Baoull!?"

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Be alert. The world needs more lerts.

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Old 18 June 2008, 08:44 AM   #2
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Being a fan of the genre, I'll get in on this one:

This is my own collection, including adult and fiction for younger readers:

1914 The Air Scout (Young Adult Fiction) Kay, Ross
1916 Our Young Aeroplane Scouts In Italy (Young Adult Fiction) Porter, Horace
1917 The Wonder Of War In The Air (Young Adult Fiction) Rolt-Wheeler, Francis
1919 Air Service Boys Flying For France (Young Adult Fiction) Beach, Charles Amory
1919 Air Service Boys In The Big Battle (Young Adult Fiction) Charles Amory Beach
1919 Air Service Boys Over The Enemy's Lines (Young Adult Fiction) Charles Amory Beach
1919 Air Service Boys Over The Rhine (Young Adult Fiction) Charles Amory Beach
1919 Air Service Boys Over The Atlantic (Young Adult Fiction) Charles Amory Beach
1919 Tam O' The Scouts (Fiction) Wallace, Edgar
1919 Tom Slade With The Flying Corps (Young Adult Fiction) Fitzhugh, Percy K.
1926 Warbirds: Diary Of An Unknown Aviator (Semi-Fiction) Springs, Elliot White
1927 Wings (Fiction) Saunders, John Monk
1928 Leave Me With A Smile (Fiction) Springs, Elliott White
1928 Renfrew Rides The Sky (Young Adult Fiction) Erskine, Laurie York
1930 Contact (Fiction) Springs, Elliott White
1930 Falcons Of France (Fiction) Nordhoff & Hall
1932 Dare Devils Of The Air Thomas Burtis
1932 Flying Black Birds Thomas Burtis
1932 Four Aces Thomas Burtis
1933 Death In The Sky: The War Diary And Photographs Of A Flying Corps Pilot Archer, Wesley D.
1934 Winged Victory (Fiction) Yeates, V. M.
1935 The Flying Squad (Fiction) Bishop, Lt. Col, William A. & Stuart-Wortley, Maj. Rothesay
1938 Biggles Of The Camel Squadron Johns, W.E.
1954 Biggles Pioneer Air Fighter (Young Adult Fiction) Johns, Captain W. E.
1959 Fighters In The Sky (Fiction) Arch Whitehouse
1961 The Eagles Height (Fiction) Elliot, Robert
1961 We Were There With The Lafayette Escadrille (Young Adult Fiction) Knight, Clayton & K.S.
1965 Squadron 44 (Fiction) Arch Whitehouse
1966 A Killing For The Hawks (Fiction) Smith, Frederick E.
1966 In The Company Of Eagles (Fiction) Gann, Ernest K.
1966 Spies With Wings (Young Adult Fiction) Whitehouse, Arch
1966 The Blue Max (Fiction) Jack Hunter
1967 Scarlet Streamers (Young Adult Fiction) Whitehouse, Arch
1968 Squadron Shilling (Fiction) Arch Whitehouse
1969 The Laughing Falcon (Young Adult Fiction) Whitehouse, Arch
1970 Playboy Squadron (Fiction) Arch Whitehouse
1970 The Enemy Sky (Fiction) Saxon, Peter
1970 The Unfeeling Sky (Fiction) Saxon, Peter
1971 The Casket Crew Arch Whitehouse
1971 Von Richthofen And Brown (Fiction) Lavinia, Joe
1971 Zeppelin (Fiction) Agniel, Lucien
1972 Goshawk Squadron (Fiction) Derek Robinson
1976 The Mustering Of The Hawks (Fiction) Harris, John
1980 Heart Of War (Fiction) Masters, John
1983 The Bright Blue Sky (Fiction) Hennessy, Max
1983 The Challanging Heights (Fiction) Hennessy, Max
1985 Flight To Victory (Fiction) Hough, Richard
1988 War Story (Fiction) Derek Robinson
1989 Black Cat Squadron Wynn, Humphrey
1991 Touch The Sky (Fiction) Livingston, Harold
1994 A Biggles Omnibus (Young Adult Fiction) Johns, Captain W. E.
1999 Fast Eddie (Fiction) O'Connell, Robert L.
1999 Hornet's Sting (Fiction) Derek Robinson
2004 To The Last Man (Fiction) Shaara, Jeffery

I always have my eyes open to add to this. I know there are plenty more.
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Old 18 June 2008, 10:41 AM   #3
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I can't help but add The Bandy Papers by Donald Jack
A brief synopsis
Three Cheers For Me:
Bartholomew Wolfe Bandy abandons medical school for the Victorian Light Infantry. He survives the trenches only to be transferred to the Royal Flying Corps after capturing his own colonel in a daring raid on his own lines. He meets his future wife, Katherine Lewis, by crashing in her field, and despite his best efforts becomes an ace. He also lands an aeroplane on the colonel. Three Cheers was made into a 5-episode CBC radio play in 1972 or 1973 (starring Don Herron as Bandy), and recorded on 3 mono LP records by Radio Canada International (copies are now rare or unobtainable).

That's Me in the Middle:
To his own amazement Bandy ends up an acting Lieutenant-Colonel in the Air Ministry, makes an ill-considered speech, flies to Ireland by mistake, is sent back to the front with the 13th Bicycle Battalion as a lieutenant, salvages a Rolls whose occupants have no further use for it, is reclaimed by the RAF and made a major. He and Katherine survive their honeymoon with only minor injuries. There's also the matter of the Irish gunrunner and the Bolshevik spy.

It's Me Again:
(It's Me Again and Me Among the Ruins)
At his new squadron, Major Bandy engages in pigeon warfare with his Recording Officer as well as continuing to harass his superiors over parachutes. Forced down behind enemy lines, he steals a German plane from under its pilot's nose and is nearly shot down by his own side. Bandy, again a colonel, is sent to Russia to help the White Russians. In keeping with his past purloining of vehicles, he steals an armoured train from the Bolsheviks.
*Note - At one time this volume was published in two separate parts; the first half sold as It's Me Again, the second as Me Among the Ruins. The two halves were also published together as It's Me Again, and that's how the latest version is being published. So, Me Among the Ruins is now part two of It's Me Again.
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Old 18 June 2008, 02:06 PM   #4
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I haven't read any of The Bandy Papers yet but have heard people discus them here a bit. Are they comedies? At any doubt, I have my eyes open for them on ebay.
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Old 19 June 2008, 12:41 AM   #5
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I would recommend the Bandy papers to you. They are very funny, well written, and also accurate - leaving out the obvious comedy aspects - in their depiction of the times and people. IMHO an historical novel should accurately reflect the mores of the times, the way people spoke and thought etc. These are readily obtainable though a thorough knowledge of the subject, and a study of letters and reports from the period can give a knowledge of the speech patterns of the time. An excellent example of this are the Aubery/Maturin books by Patrick O'Brian. I've not read War Story but Goshawk Squadron fails dismally on these points. The shining example of all is,of course, Winged Victory by Yeates. Beautifully written and, because Yeates was actually there, an accurate depiction of the times and the people.
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Old 19 June 2008, 02:44 AM   #6
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Four John Harris novels dealing with the career of the fictional Martin Falconer I think are among the best. They were written for teenagers but the way the character develops is extraordinarily well handled and I think they finish more like adult fiction. The books, in order, are "The Fledglings", "The Proffessionals", "The Victors" and "The Interceptors". The later covers the Russian intervention. I just wish he'd taken his character into Afghanistan in the 30's.
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Old 19 June 2008, 06:29 AM   #7
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posted in error. moderators please delete

mistaken post
"There's something wrong with our bloody ships today." - Adm. Beatty, Jutland, 1916.

Last edited by NeilE; 19 June 2008 at 06:35 AM.
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Old 19 June 2008, 06:42 AM   #8
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Here's the rest of mine:-

3) "Hornets Sting" by Derek Robinson

The third book in the Hornet Squadron WW1 trilogy, this novel is actually part 2 in chronological terms, taking place in 1917 between War Story (1916)and Goshawk Squadron (1918).
With the Battle of Third Ypres about to begin, Hornet Squadron has traded in its FE2bs for Sopwith Pups. After the heavy losses of the previous year, the squadron has many new faces but some of the older ones remain, namely Paxton and O'Neill, the latter supposedly killed in the previous novel but, in true Days-of-Our-Lives fashion, he has been reasurrected. (We are given no actual explanation for his survival apart from a flippant remark or two).
A new arrival is the pilot MacKenzie and it soon becomes apparent that Robinson is using this character as a thinly-disguised portrait of Albert Ball. He is young, ruthless and brash, has little time for discipline or procedure and next-to-no respect for his superiors. He is a difficult person to get along with and he cruelly taunts and even bullies one of the younger fliers. However it soon becomes apparent that much of this outward personality is all surface, hiding a vulnerable, cynical and insecure young man. MacKenzie may be an excellent flier but he is also emotionally immature and is found to be hopelessly awkward around the opposite sex.
Hornet Squadron is sent across the lines again and again as they offensively mount patrols. The flying scenes are excellently and convincingly described and the utter randomness of death is soon apparent. The action builds in intensity as Third Ypres gets under-way. Half-way through the novel, Hornet Squadron trades in its Pups for the new 'Biffs'- the two-seater Bristol F2As. The real-life infamous combat debut of the Biffs in which 4 out of a flight of 6 were shot down by Von Richtofen's Jasta in a single action is used in this novel. Whereas the real event took place on the last day of Bloody April, it is on April 1st when Hornet Squadron suffers such a disaster.
To be honest, I enjoyed this book the least out of the 3 novels in the trilogy and, in fact, found myself losing interest towards the end. The novel is over-long and, in parts, it seems tediously un-inspired. Robinson seems to be repeating the mood and themes of Goshawk Squadron and most of the characters are overly-familiar. One, a pilot named Charles Dash, is simply a repeat of Paxton's character from War Story. At times, Robinson almost parodies himself in the over-the-top banter and black humour which sometimes appears more like Monty Python than the real RFC.
There is even a jarring-note when the squadron receives two Aristocratic Russian pilots, both loyal to the Tsar, who arrive on an exchange program and then, after learning of the Bolshevik seizure of power back home, are forced to stay. Things get over-the-top when two agents of the new Soviet government arrive to 'collect' them only to be machine-gunned to death by one of the Russian pilots right in the Squadron-Leader's office. Such self-indulgent scenes such as this detract from the novel's realism. As the Ypres campaign progresses, the squadron suffers more losses. Paxton and O'Neill depart when they are both wounded. Woolley, the future anti-hero of Goshawk Squadron, arrives. The novel plods along to a somewhat predictable ending as MacKenzie, after receiving a decoration from the King, goes AWOL with a young, well-to-do woman who is hooked on gambling. Eventually rounded up and returned to duty, MacKenzie soon Goes West.
There are some effective scenes. One memorable line, as a patrol flies high over an artillery barrage at Ypres, describes it looking from above as resembling a 'great sea of boiling porridge'. In one grim scene, a new flier, trying to keep up with his flight who are climbing as high as they can, passes out from oxygen deprivation and falls to his death. In another, a horrified pilot, out of ammunition, can only helplessly watch as a regiment of British cavalry are wiped out by a German machine-gun post. In the slaughter of the Biffs scene, one gunner who has neglected to strap himself in, simply falls out as his pilot takes sudden evasive action.
The novel was an interesting read but not a patch on the two earlier novels.
For interest's sake, Robinson has written three WW2 novels set in the air war- 'Piece of Cake' (1983) which portrays one year in the life of a Hawker Hurricane squadron from the beginning of the war in 1939 to the climax of the Battle of Britain in 1940. It was made into a TV mini-series in 1988.
"A Good Clean Fight' (1993) which depicts both an RAF P-40 Tomahawk squadron and an SAS Long-Range Desert Patrol group in the desert campaign in North Africa.
"A Damned Good Show" (2004) which portrays the early years of the British night-bombing campaign 1939-1941 through the experiences of a bomber squadron equipped with Hampdens and, later on, Wellingtons.
Apparently, Robinson's next aviation novel will be about an RAF jet unit based in Europe during the early Cold War.
First Published: 1999
Still in Print- Yes.

4) "The Blue Max" by Jack D Hunter

One of the classics of the genre, this novel has been in-and-out of print since its publication in the 1960s. Made into a big-budget film in 1966, starring the then leading actor George Peppard, the novel is about a young Leutnant named Bruno Stachel who joins a German Fighter Unit in 1918. Stachel, a former Infantryman with a humble background, is soon feeling out of place in a unit dominated by aristocrats and dashing high-achievers. But Stachel is a ruthlessly ambitious young man.
In one of his first actions, he eagerly goes after and destroys a crippled English machine but in doing so, neglects to go to the aid of his patrol leader Fabian who is cornered and shot down by two other enemy planes. Rather than show any feeling for Fabian's death, Stachel is merely angered that he cannot get confirmation for his own kill. In his next action, he cripples an RE8 that then surrenders and Stachel escorts it to his aerodrome. At the last moment, the RE8s gunner appears to recover and seems about to use his weapon whereupon Stachel shoots his prize down in flames with the entire squadron watching him. Stachel calmly strolls over to the wreck after he lands and slices off the RE8s serial number and drops it on the grass in front of the adjutant. He has his first confirmed kill.
The battle scenes are written in a straight-forward blunt fashion devoid of any melodrama. One sequence where Stachel test-flys a Fokker D7 is well-written.
The novel's Stachel is a more ruthless, cold-blooded character than was the one in the movie version. In the film, his rival Willi Von Klugermann is killed when the two are trying to out-do one-another in stunt flying, whereas the novel's Stachel quite deliberately flies Klugermann into the ground. The film has Stachel meeting his end when he is duped into testing a faulty new aircraft but in the novel, that is the fate that meets squadron-commander Otto Heidemann, a more correct, idealistic officer. The novel's Stachel is still very much alive at the end of the book. Indeed there later came two sequels about Stachel's experiences in the Thirties and the rise of the Nazis and eventually his ultimate demise in WW2.
First published- 1965
Still in print- Yes.

5) "The Unfeeling Sky" & " The Enemy Sky" by Peter Saxon

These two novels, published in the 1960s by UK author Peter Saxon, are less-well known WW1 air war novels. They both focus on units operating Sopwith Pups and centre on the RFC pilot Lieutenant Frank Thompson. 'The Unfeeling Sky' has Thompson and his German rival and Albatross pilot, Max Nebel heading towards their show-down. Earlier in the novel, Nebel shoots down and kills Thompson's best friend and the novel predictably reaches the climatic one-on-one duel between the two enemies as Thompson seeks revenge. "The Enemy Sky" has a more meandering story-line as Thompson leads patrols over German Territory. Both novels are fairly routinely written and somewhat forgettable but are still enjoyable to read. The cover art is quite good, too.
The Unfeeling Sky first published in 1968
The Enemy Sky first published in ?
Neither book is currently in print.

More to come. Thanks everyone for the lists, they are great. Pete
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Old 19 June 2008, 06:43 AM   #9
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Heres another one.

6) "A Killing for the Hawks" by Frederick E Smith

Written by Frederick E Smith, better remembered for his popular series of novels about the WW2 Mosquito unit- 633 Squadron. This novel centres on the RFC 55a Squadron flying SE5as over the Western Front in 1917. A young American pilot Norman McConnell joins the unit. In charge is Squadron Leader John Seymour, brilliant and dashing. At first McConnell is captivated by his commander's personality but slowly the former learns the grim truth- Seymour is a cold-hearted, ruthless glory-seeker who appears to care nothing for the welfare of his men. McConnell learns to discard his own conceit and narrow-view with help from the quiet Yorkshire Flight Commander Bush whose wife and sickly young son live in poverty in England's harsh north. McConnell has a love affair with a young woman whilst on leave only to realise she is Seymour's wife and that she is the victim of domestic abuse from her husband.
McConnell soon learns to hate Seymour as the latter shows no remorse in sending out tired worn-out pilots and under-trained youngsters to die. A young, under-skilled fellow American joins the unit and he is a former friend of McConnells. He is sent out by Seymour and is quickly shot down in flames, later followed by an exhausted Bush whom Seymour sends on a virtual suicidial mission. At the novels climax, a massive aerial battle sees 55 squadron decimated and McConnell is wounded and he crash-lands in no-mans land. To his surprise, Seymour lands his own plane and rescues the American, carrying him to the British trenches but being mortally wounded himself in the process. With his last breath, Seymour whispers to McConnell that he saved his life not so much out of friendship but rather as a kind of final revenge. Seymour knows that his memory will live on in glory and that it will forever come between McConnell and his love for Seymour's wife.
Sound corny? Yes. Melodramatic? In parts, yes. But it is an entertaining read. The character of Bush is actually the most moving of the novel and one feels a genuine regret when he is lost. The battle scenes are thrilling although it makes the act of shooting down enemy planes look so easy as aircraft on both sides drop like flies. Simple- Just point and shoot! If Seymour was a real-life ace, he would have surpassed Richtofen's score of 80 at the rate at which he knocks down Huns in this novel.
First published: 1966
Currently in print? No.

More to come. Pete
"Rrrh Ew Reddy Fore Sum Fut-Baoull!?"

The train stopped with a jerk. The jerk got out.

Be alert. The world needs more lerts.

Silence reigned and we all got wet.

I once saw two men walking abreast. What a strange pet to own.
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Old 19 June 2008, 08:16 AM   #10
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Don't forget William Le Queux, "Beryl of the Biplane", 1917, with reprints in 1918 and 1919. You didn't ask for "good" novels, or for historically accurate ones, but this one was very popular. Doc
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