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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 24 March 2016
I never really took Biggles seriously and, as a child in the 1970's , remember reading "Biggles in the east" and thinking it was a bit old-fashioned and lacked credibility. Had I not read James Hamilton-Paterson's excellent account of First World War aviation called "Marked for death" I would not have bothered picking up this book. Hamilton-Paterson singles out W.E Johns' World War One-themed books for praise as they afford genuine insight into the life of RFC pilots at the time and, having served in the RFC himself, pointed out the air of authenticity about these books.Having now read the collection of "Biggles of the Fighter Squadron" I am inclined to agree with him as, beneath the veneer of the "boy's own" adventures yarns, are accounts of incidents which Johns' preface explains were true but, for the benefit of his readers, were allocated to the fictional character Biggles.

This collection of short stories is over eighty years old and I am in no doubt that the dialogue and attitudes of the characters would seem faintly ridiculous to his target audience in the 21st Century. However, with the passage of time, the stories have perhaps become something they weren't intended to be so that the flippant attitude given to the characters now seems ironic and maybe even satirical. Hamilton-Paterson stresses that there was an element of glib fatalism in the language used by RFC pilots and a tendency to understate circumstances that led to the short life expectancy of pilots at that time. In fairness to Johns', he does not shy away from this and whilst the short stories are lightweight in some respects, the accounts all ring true. In these post-Blackadder days I feel that most readers will come to these stories with sufficient knowledge to see through the accounts of war written for the young male generation that materialised between the 1930's and understand there is far less fiction within these pages than might appear to be the case as well the darker and fatalistic meanings of the euphemisms that pepper the narrative.

I don't really believe in the character of Biggles nor his companions Algy and the Professor are even more cardboard in their portrayal. The dialogue maybe sanitised yet the modern reader will easily be able to read between the lines and grasp that Johns' was strongly hinting towards the less palatable reality of the war in the air at this time. Where this books scores is in it's depiction of aircraft, their behaviour in flight and the sensation of flying which, in my opinion, makes these stories so rewarding. The descriptions of flight including the true nature of dogfights are expertly captured in these stories. I tended to consider these as a fictionalised depiction of real events and , from this perspective, would consider the stories to be as fascinating as the writing of Antoine De St-Exupery, perhaps the greatest aviation writer of them all. Whilst Johns' accounts lack the Frenchman's profound observations and is populated by characters that are about as realistic as those in Tintin, underneath the gung-ho adventures are accounts that truly
capture the aspects of the pioneer aviators.
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on 4 January 2008
This was the first biggles book i ever read. Formerly Biggles of the Camel Squadron this book has not changed, even though i expected that they would use more up to date language. They Haven't, this book has been unaltered since it was first published. It shows how much strain fighter pilots are under and brings out the heart of the book.
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on 21 July 2011
To complete the WW1 collection of Biggles short stories - when published in the 60s, they were collected together as Biggles Pioneer Air Fighter, Biggles of 266 & Biggles of the Camel Squadron.

As ever, these are more of the best Biggles stories, striking a wonderful balance between the very deadly real dangers of fighting above the trenches versus an air of levity, adventure and comradeship.

If you enjoyed any of the other stories set at the same time, you have to complete the set. They're so addictive.
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on 13 January 2001
This is a great book it's about Biggles and Algy's adventures during World War 1. they find themselves dicing with death as they fly around France shooting down the Germans. They become very good friend's with a clever pilot which they nickname the 'Professor'. Biggles saves the 'Professor' many times and it makes a great story.
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on 23 November 2014
I find the Biggles books a great read, even if they are not strictly factual, especially the ones on the First World War. I read a lot of them when I was a boy and are now rereading them as a 70+ year old. They still hold a fascination for me.
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on 11 June 2014
A number of the stories in this book also appear in other Biggles First World War books.
This does not detract from the enjoyment of reading them.
See my other reviews of W E Johns Biggles Books
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on 18 January 2001
I first thought I hadn't read this book yet but now I realise that I have. It was the first one I read. I loved it because it showed excactly how it felt in a real Camel, in the First World War. It really must have been scary. But, as usual Biggles never dies so he manages to outwit any pilot because most of the Huns (as the RAF and Biggles called them) were not Ace's like Biggles. Biggles is superior. He, and Algy (Ginger and Bertie he hasn't met yet)survive through many battles and dogfights. As well as the story the words used in the book are the same as they probably called them in that time. E.g. Archie which was called Flak in the Second World War.
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on 12 March 2013
A REVIEW OF `BIGGLES OF THE FIGHTER SQUADRON' by Captain W.E. JOHNS
`Biggles of the Fighter Squadron' was first published in 1934 under the name of `Biggles of the Camel* Squadron'. Comprising 13 short stories, it recounts the early days of James Bigglesworth's career when he was a young pilot in the RFC (Royal Flying Corps) at the latter end of The Great War.

Like all of the best entries in this mammoth series of action-adventure yarns, it is full of excitement and incident. In a forward by W.E. Johns, we are told that - no matter how far-fetched they may appear to be - the stories are all based upon genuine incidents of madcap airborne heroics. Thus, we must accept that a pilot could survive flying underneath a too-narrow German-held bridge, losing his wings in the process of dropping an all-important bomb. Likewise, the terrifying `reality' of lethal phosphorous-fuelled clouds must be taken at face value. Indeed, Johns instils his tales with such energy and credibility that comes from knowing the HE WAS THERE, that the reader cannot help but be mesmerised by the described events.

Although ostensibly a `children's' book, `Biggles of the Fighter Squadron' doesn't shirk from some of the grim realities of warfare. Although there is a shoot-`em-up feel to some of the aerial passages, the loss of a fellow pilot is truly FELT by Biggles. Similarly, in one terrific story ('Biggles Finds His Feet'), our hero crash lands in No Man's Land and finds himself caught up in the grim theatre of trench warfare. Finally, `Scotland Forever!' (the last tale) offers up a wild, bloody showdown inside a British aerodrome with the Germans launching a fierce, futile closing onslaught at the end of the conflict.

What is perhaps most interesting about `Biggles of the Fighter Squadron' is the fact that this young Biggles (he could only have been in his late `teens in 1917-1918) is a far more raw and therefore credible character than the more sterile `stiff upper lip' air ace that he would later become. So much so that this Bigglesworth is not averse to some pointed sarcasm and mickey-taking aimed at his fellow flyers, notably the geeky maths-mad `Professor'. This is far-removed from what might be described as `banter', reflecting what would have been taut nerves and strained relationships among the men during the waiting for take-off.

Thus, to conclude, `Biggles of the Fighter Squadron' is an engaging and exciting read. Owing to the inevitably variable quality of its baker's dozen of stories (`Biggles Day Off' for one over-presses the, "Trust me, this could happen." button), it does not score as highly as some of the stronger novels in the serious, notably the truly-brilliant, `Biggles Defies The Swastika'. Nevertheless, `Biggles of the Fighter Squadron' undoubtedly hits more than it misses and offers far more highs than lows.

Barty's Score: 8 / 10

* Don't be confused folks. There are no desert-dwelling, even-toed ungulates here. A `Camel' is the nick-name of a British plane!
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on 14 April 2014
It is very difficult to get our son (11 years) to read. He loves this book and is now reading more in the series. A hit for a recalcitrant reader - it is well written and introduces new vocabulary.
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on 12 February 2013
First Biggles book bought for 10 year old grandson who enjoyed it and wants to read more. Good to see Biggles is still going strong!
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