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Fighters in the Blood (Hardback)

The Story of a Spitfire Pilot - And the Son Who Followed in His Footsteps

WWII Aviation Aviation in WWII Spitfires & Hurricanes Photographic Books Colour Books Memoirs

By Air Mshl ‘Black’ Robertson
Imprint: Air World
Pages: 344
Illustrations: 100 black and white
ISBN: 9781526784865
Published: 10th August 2020



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This is no ordinary memoir. Moving back and forth through time, two stories with fascinating parallels gradually unfold. One is of a Second World War Spitfire ace whose flying career came to a premature end when he was shot down and lost an eye, the other is about his progeny, a second generation fighter pilot who rose to the rank of air marshal. There were times when the lives of both father and son, ‘Robbie’ and ‘Black’ Robertson, hung in the balance – occasions when survival was simply a matter of luck.

The narrative is unique in its use of two separate and distinct voices. The author’s own reminiscences are interwoven with those of his father recorded more than thirty years ago. Intensely personal and revealing, controversial too at times, this memoir is above all about people. There is a final irony though. The son spent a lifetime training for the ultimate examination – one that despite strictly limited preparation his father passed with flying colours. To Black Robertson’s eternal regret he was never able to put his own training to the test. His father was awarded the DFC and retired as a flight lieutenant after five years or so. He himself served for nearly thirty-six years, earned a Queen’s Commendation, an OBE and CBE and served as an ADC to HM The Queen. But after reaching almost the top of the RAF tree, in one important sense he retired unfulfilled; his mettle was never tested under fire.

Anyone interested to know more about flying, about the RAF, about leadership, about character even, need look no further than this beautifully crafted, immensely readable account.

A fantastic insight to the RAF and great leadership. I worked under Black and he was a great and personable man. Buy it and enjoy.

5 out of 5 stars

Amazon UK Review

Enjoyable and entertaining read.

"Enjoyed the connections between father and son and as I served during the same era as Black I found his story informative and revealing."

5 Stars

Amazon UK Review

The Cold War RAF and Beyond by a Genuine Insider

Fighters in the Blood is a unique format where the author, himself a very highly regarded fighter pilot, relates his life story and experiences to those of his father, a wartime Spitfire pilot. It tells of the professional and emotional journey of them both and includes fascinating insights into flying mishaps which occurred to both during their professional careers. Air Marshal Robertson also goes further into the thought processes and feelings of a commander at all ranks in the RAF, without fear of exposing minor personal weaknesses his contemporaries might not have imagined. A thoroughly great read for both those wishing to know more about 'real' wartime fighter pilots, those wondering how Cold War squadrons operated and those who are curious about how officers percolate to the top of their military service.

5 stars

Amazon UK Review

Featured by

Royal Aeronautical Society

Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth…… And danced the skies on laughter silvered wings.

Anyone who knows these opening lines of John Magee’s poem will appreciate the magic of flying.

Since graduating from the Victor, Hotspur and Eagle comics of the 1950s, I must have read most, if not all the classic aviation books.
‘Black’ Robertson’s contribution is up there with the best. Rather than reiterate the superb content and glowing plaudits of the other reviews on this page, I’d like to comment on his skill with a pen.

As befitting the cool hand of a fighter pilot, this exquisitely produced book is written in a precise, accurate and accomplished style that is both beautiful and compelling. It will forever join the collection on my bookshelf to be read again and again.

Robertson tells us that, among his other achievements, he attained the grade of “Excellent” pilot. His writing is equally so, and I can’t wait for the prequel.

5 Stars

Amazon UK Review

A must for military aviation and military history enthusiasts!

Can't speak highly enough to the outstanding narrative of military aviation past and present that beautifully describes the story of father and son serving in the Royal Air Force at very different times. Having served in the RAF myself for nearly 30 years, I found this book fascinating and it opened my eyes to the culture and fabric of the RAF just before I commissioned in the early 1990s.

Moreover, this is a wonderful tale of father and son and no doubt is true to many father and son relationships. It's beautifully written and doesn't shy from going into the appropriate amount of detail that all aviation and military history enthusiast crave.

I highly recommend this as a captivating window into a cherished age of aviation and Royal Air Force history.

5 Stars

Amazon Review

Air Marshal 'Black' Robertson's book, 'Fighters in the Blood' is a very engaging read, one that I found hard to put down. He skilfully weaves anecdotes and comparison's of his father's flying career as a Spitfire 'ace' in WWII, with that of his own career, as an officer and Cold War fighter pilot between the 1960s - 1990s, rising to senior command positions.
The book is searingly honest and searching and it is painful to read of 'Black's lasting regret that he never was able to put all those years of training to the ultimate test of air combat. Had he done so, he surely would have past with 'flying colours'! (Pun intended).
I found the book particularly compelling, as I am the son of a WWII bomber pilot, whose career aspirations in the RAF or British Airways were dashed, when age 16, I was diagnosed with colour blindness. I too have my regrets and had to find alternative challenges.
I look forward to Black's prequel - 'A Spitfire Named Connie'.

5 Stars.

Amazon UK Review

This is a brilliantly written and engaging book, the story of a working life dedicated to service in the Royal Air Force.
A self-effacing, old school true gentleman, the likes of whom are in short supply these days.
From basic and advanced flying training, to line pilot, a highly specialised Weapons Instructor, Squadron Commander and to a high ranking Officer liasing with MOD and Government.
The book also parallels the career of his father, a decorated and highly repected fighter pilot of the Second World War.
It is personal anf often moving account, with anecdotes of Squadron life, of Black, his fellow crew and colleagues, all of whom are mentioned by name, including that of a Airman, who assisted Black in preparing for an urgent departure.
The sign of a Commanding Officer who had great respect and proved that such respect is earned not given and can be shown to those above and below a rank.
There is so much more that can be said about how good a read this is and there is more to come from this Author.
This deserves to be read and of all the similar publications I own, this comes out on top.

5 Stars.

Amazon UK Review

"I commend this book to those interested in flying, about the RAF, its leaders and leadership, and above all, about character. This is an expertly crafted and highly readable account of the career of a dedicated modern-day officer and aviator, related against the background of a WWII hero fighter pilot father who the writer lived up to and equalled, in his own way".

Sqn Ldr Wally Epton FRAeS RAF (Retd), Chair of the Historic Aircraft Association

"Much more than just a book on flying reminiscences".

An exceptionally well written book that is easy to read and provides so much more than just tales of flying experiences. The insights into the challenges faced by a senior military officer away from the cockpit are both interesting and frank. I found the glimpses into his father's life, as a WW2 Spitfire pilot, particularly interesting and left me wanting to know more. To this end, it is gratifying to know that much more will be told in a follow up book due to be published in 2022.
Fighters in the Blood is a good read which I can thoroughly recommend.

5 Stars

Amazon UK Review

"Great read"

Still reading but so far it is a fascinating and candid insight into the career of a very successful RAF Officer.

5 Stars

Amazon UK Review

I have to commend the writing style and the articulate manner in which Black writes. It is amusing and intense at times and will keep any reader enthralled. The way the author describes the people in this story comes across in the most honest and sincere way that this reviewer has read in a long time. It is truly a unique and intriguing story that we as the readers are privileged to know. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Cold War aviation, the lives of RAF fighter pilots, the inner workings of command in the RAF, and more importantly the love of a son and his father shared through a common link of service in the air in defence of their country.

Aviation News

"Enjoyable and entertaining read".

Enjoyed the connections between father and son and as I served during the same era as Black I found his story informative and revealing.

5 Stars

Amazon UK Review

A true account of the life of a Cold War fighter pilot.

My original reason for buying this book is that I worked alongside the author in Germany and I wanted a bit of a nostalgia trip.
Once I got into the book it very quickly became something else - an honest and, sometimes, moving account of how the author had followed his father into the Royal Air Force as a Fighter Pilot.
Black's father flew Spitfires until he had to stop flying when injured in the North African Desert campaign - but that injury may well have saved his life. Blacks' personal story, and journey, is laid out alongside snippets from his father's letters and thoughts - and this makes it all the more readable & enjoyable.
Black feels that others were more skilled then him but he has the enviable ability to view things in the round - understanding how to get the best out of himself; his aeroplane and his team (I can personally vouch for the last one) whilst still maintaining that zest for life and experiences outside of the cockpit. With exhilarating flying tours followed by staff jobs in the MOD & Germany Black is exposed to the machinations that underpin the relationship between the Armed Forces and the Government of the day at that level and is fairly frank about his thoughts and experiences.
Leaving the Royal Air Force too early for it's own good he carved a career out in industry and moved on but, like many of us, he regards his service days with fondness but he holds one post above all of the others - Aut pugna aut morere!
If you have an interest in Cold War aviation; the Phantom F4 jet; the Royal Air Force or just want a good read this is a go to book and highly recommended.

5 Stars.

Kindle Customer

Enjoyable to the laymen and the aficionado alike.

What struck me most about this story - or rather, these stories - was the sense of equality felt as the reader. Despite the author's vast knowledge and experience of all matters military, aeronautical, and governmental, you needn't be well versed in the topics to find this a highly enjoyable and enlightening read. The episodes and anecdotes are all recounted in such a way that it's easy to resonate with the learnings and life lessons - some very humbly observed - without feeling lost in service jargon.

This is not to say the book is lacking anything for the aviation enthusiasts. From WWII dogfights in Spitfires (via the transcribed memoirs of Robertson Snr.) to Falklands postings with the F4 Phantom, there's plenty in here to make you wish you were making your way to RAF Cranwell in the late 1960s to embark on your own officer training course.

Whether you have a passing interest in aviation or are an avid enthusiast, this is definitely one to read.

5 Stars.

Amazon UK Review

A must read for anyone interested in 20 Century military history.

A thoroughly inspiring and enjoyable read - this is a great advertisement for the Royal Air Force - the sum being greater than the parts. As someone who enjoyed two tours in RAF Germany, there were many wonderful memories awakened by reading Fighters In The Blood. A must read for anyone with an interest in 20th Century military history.

5 Stars.

Amazon UK Review

A fascinating book about flying in the Cold War.

This is a fascinating and eclectic book which covers Black Robertson’s amazing career from Cranwell Cadet to retirement as an Air Marshal. As an aviation historian, and an enthusiastic pilot myself I really enjoyed this rare insight into flying Phantom fighter aircraft during the Cold War. Equally fascinating is the parallels he draws with his fathers own flying experiences as a fighter pilot on Spitfires during the Second World War . Once picked up, it was a book I couldn’t put it down until I had finished it – and then I went back and dipped in and out of it reading it over and over again. It really is an enthralling story and wondered any enthusiast of flying and the Royal Air Force will want to read. It is a beautifully put together and very readable book which I strongly recommend .

5 Stars.

Amazon UK Review

Personal Insights from Father & Son

I loved this book. Inspiring, evocative, and sensitive. It arrived at the weekend and despite other commitments, I had finished it by Tuesday evening. And, I was sad. Sad because it was a joy to read; bringing back so many memories of great people, great flying machines, and great places. I am not biased, having been an Army aviator during the majority of my working life. 'Black' cunningly and honestly weaves a tapestry of rich cloth from his own extensive memoires (based on his three tiered logbook) and his father's letters home to his mother during wartime. Brilliantly executed, fun to read, honest in the extreme. Anyone who loves aviation, sport, military history, and/or pure human emotion must give this a go. Good job, interesting career, great value, well done!

Amazon UK Review

Review by Gp Capt Jock Heron

I much enjoyed Fighters in the Blood and have no hesitation in recommending it strongly, particularly to those who served throughout the Cold War and who may have similar regrets over their lack of combat experience.

RAF Historical Society Journal, No 75 (Jan 21)

A superb story of ‘Reaching For The Sky’

I have just finished Air Marshal Black Robertson’s‘ Fighters in the Blood’ and enjoyed it immensely. The dual storyline linking his exploits to his Father’s WWII experiences holds one’s attention throughout and the natural (& necessary) fighter pilot’s arrogance is tempered beautifully by an attractive degree of self-deprecation. Also, the book has a liberal sprinkling of unique Service humour.

The author reveals that he has a great love of music and such a very catholic taste therein! He has adroitly woven links to memorable ‘tracks’ throughout the book, and I was delighted to see, at the end, his Desert Island 10 was topped by Rachmaninov - also my favourite composer and that particular piece.

The book draws a very accurate picture of what it takes to become a successful jet fighter pilot in the Cold War era: Self confidence; a determination to overcome all setbacks; total commitment to the Service and, above all, a deep love of flying. The importance of developing strong leadership skills is also well addressed.

This is the story of a man, to some extent, driven by his admiration and respect for his Father to make his mark in the Fighter world. His flying and leadership skills took him virtually to the top of the Royal Air Force. It is pleasing to note that he does not dwell unduly that the ultimate ‘prize’ eluded him.

5 Stars.

Amazon UK Review

‘For those interested in gaining a different perspective on the changing human experience of RAF service over several decades, Fighters in the Blood is a standout source . . . as a single narrative spanning the lived experience of almost every rank and flying position which RAF aircrew aspired to during the Cold War [it] delivers something unique.’

RUSI Journal

"Absorbing and informative"

For anyone interested in the RAF or aviation this is a must read.

5 Stars.

Amazon UK Review

A cracking good read!

'The inspiration for this book came to 'Black' Robertson when coming across a cache of his father's wartime letters and later recordings. His father 'Robbie' had been a WW2 Spitfire ace whose career was abruptly curtailed when he was shot down and lost an eye. Reviewing 'Robbie's' wartime career prompted 'Black' to review his own very different RAF career - his father's so distinguished but painfully short while his own was so distinguished, retiring as Air Marshal, but spanned 36 years. However, this book is no simple catalogue of two lives. 'Black' skilfully interweaves their stories, paying homage to his father whilst revealing personal insights into his own life and feelings. This book is a cracking good read, with many interesting photographs, which will appeal to the general reader as much as to those interested in service life. I loved it.'

5 Stars.

Amazon Review

A useful insight into the workings of the RAF as told by Air Marshal 'Black' Robertson who served for thirty years with the RAF between 1968 and 1998, following in his father's footsteps who had flown Spitfires during the Second World War.

Paul Nixon

“A fighter pilots career interwoven and delivered with unique real-life panache" - 5 STARS

"An eclectic mix of personal and career experiences written in an honest, forthright and transparent fashion that had me hooked from the first couple of pages... an amazing insight into the career of a fighter pilot juxtaposed with access to his father’s detailed wartime letters and journal’s.. Names, places, people, experiences and events that strike a chord.... a riveting read..”

Amazon UK Review

This book is the fascinating story about one who is a Spitfire pilot who is shot down and blinded in one eye and his son who also flies as a fighter pilot and reaches the position on Air Marshal. Their two lives are interwoven and cleverly told. This story is not just about a father-son relationship through flying, it’s also about teamwork, comradery, training and working alongside the good and the great. Although they were both being trained with an ultimate goal in the end, one of them would not be able to fulfil their goal. This book is definitely for those who want to learn about the RAF, leadership and character in an excellent written story about two fine men.

This was a really enjoyable book to read, the book is told in two voices obviously the father and the son, but I loved how it was written in two distinct ways, where you didn’t have any confusion but two well-presented stories and viewpoints. The book is very easy to read and has a nice, relaxed style to entice the reader in. It was fascinating to read the parallels of the two men’s lives even though they are spread apart by a number of years, and having said that it was remarkable the difference between the two. But then the RAF has to follow that same structure and discipline in order to achieve its goal. The photographs used in this book are beautiful and clearly family or personal photographs, which really do help the story. I can see this book appealing to many people certainly those with an interest in the RAF, but also those who like to read about a father and son relationship. A very enjoyable book to read earning 4.5 stars.

Read the full review here

UK Historian

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A fascinating insight into RAF life

This book is a fascinating read, especially for those who are keen to know how the RAF operates in modern times and how the relationship with politicians can, at times, be somewhat fraught. As someone who attended the Hornchurch selection procedure in my late teens, only to find on the last day that I was colour blind, it was particularly interesting to speculate what my life could have been had I not inherited a faulty gene!

The references to the author's father's experiences as a Spitfire pilot in WW2 are especially poignant and I would have liked there to be more details of his wartime service. However, despite a gap of some 30 years, it is remarkable how many common elements of a life in the sky are evident, these being well explained to the reader. An excellent book which I can thoroughly recommend.

Amazon Customer, September 2020

This book is a real winner!

“Black Robertson’s book is far more than simply an outstanding pilot memoir, or even a family memoir. Rather, it offers an insightful look into the professional development of an RAF airman from Cranwell cadet to Air Marshal, the evolution of the Royal Air Force itself from the early jet era of Hunters through the demanding days of NATO versus the Warsaw Pack and the defence of British interests (e.g. the Falklands) with the Phantom, and then on into the post-Cold War world where the need to strengthen RAF airpower is challenged by drawdowns, budgetary stringencies, and often misguided Mandarins driving questionable defence policy. I was struck by how beautifully the author integrated his father into the story . . . it is at once very moving and very effective, and, once again, works to integrate the RAF "then" with the RAF of the 1960's-1990s. The photographs are wonderful. This book is a real winner ”

Dr Richard P Hallion FAIAA FRAeS FRHistS

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Impossible to put down once you start reading!

I really enjoyed Black's book. It is fascinating to read more about people you knew fleetingly or by reputation. I couldn't stop reading it till I got to the end - it's that engaging. Well worth getting.

Amazon Customer, September 2020

Beautifully written, a joy to read.

Black Robertson's writing style is approachable and engaging, and he'll draw you into the world of the RAF, both his own life and his father's. His wistful, honest accounts and views on the various eras of the squadrons, told through his anecdotes, are fascinating, entertaining and feel very personal. There are also some photos you will find nowhere else, in each case backed with the story and context that makes the book feel full of life. It's a fantastic read which leaves you feeling you really know the author.

5 Stars.

Amazon Review

Robertson’s account of his own career is precise, elegant and fun... Fighters in the Blood adds a unique twist to the standard autobiographical form, which is a ‘must read’

Gp Capt JR (Jim) Beldon MBE RAF

A very worthwhile read for many reasons and from many angles. Black evokes the inimitable atmosphere of the RAF College in the sixties and continues with a most illuminating account of the rest of a high-flying career.(Pun very much intended). I found this book hard to put down, and
in fact reread it only a few days later. A must for any fan of aviation and the Royal Air Force.

David Harlow

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which I found eminently readable. Half a Century ago as a schoolboy I failed an RAF selection board due to dodgy eyesight. I often wondered how different life might have been as a fighter pilot. This book gives an excellent insight into the ups and downs (no pun intended) of life as an RAF pilot. Insiders will find wry amusement in anecdotes about folk they know. Outsiders (like myself) will garner a rounded picture of the challenges, fun, rewards (and occasional drawbacks) of a military flyer’s life. Black Robertson manages to weave some excellent wisdom about the essentials of sound leadership into his book (without being didactic) – wisdom as relevant to the boardroom as to the flight briefing room. The author peppers his narrative with parallel events from his father’s life as a WWII Spitfire Pilot – providing fascinating contrasts of then and now. Doubtless constrained by the Official Secrets Act, some of the later Chapters yield fascinating insights into defence procurement with tantalising hints to be gleaned ‘between the lines’. Overall a well written and superbly illustrated book that will be of interest to a broad readership. I recommend it. Dr Ian Mason

Ian Mason

About Air Mshl ‘Black’ Robertson

Air Marshal GRAEME ‘BLACK’ ROBERTSON CBE, BA, FRAeS, FRSA was born in Woodford, Essex in 1945. After three years at the RAF College, Cranwell, in 1968 he joined his first operational unit, 8 Squadron, flying Hawker Hunters in Bahrain. He then began a long association with the Phantom that included tours on 6 Squadron, command of both 92 Squadron in Germany (by his own account, the pinnacle of his career) and 23 Squadron in the Falkands. In 1985 he took over RAF Wattisham until he returned to Germany as the Deputy Commander in 1991 and subsequently as Air Officer Commanding No. 2 Group. His final appointment was as Chief of Staff and Deputy Commander-in-Chief RAF Strike Command in 1996. He retired from the RAF in 1998.

Perfect Partner

Fighter Pilot: From Cold War Jets to Spitfires The Extraordinary Memoirs of a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Pilot  (Hardback)

A young boy sits in the back of a Chipmunk aircraft at RAF Woodvale, near Liverpool. He has never flown in anything before. As the power goes on and the little aeroplane soars into a clear blue sky, he decides at once that this is the only thing he wants to do in life: to be an RAF pilot. Fighter Pilot: From Cold War Jets to Spitfires tells the riveting story of how a boy from Liverpool, at the height of the Cold War, joined an RAF that was largely led by veterans of the Second World War. Christopher Coville arrived at the RAF College at Cranwell to find an environment shaped by English Public…

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