Helion's Air Power and the Arab World: 1909-1955 Vol 1

Author/Artists: David Nichols & Gabr Ali Gabr


Helion  Publishing


$29.95 MSRP from Casemate


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 96 pages, softcover, over 100 images
ISBN 978-1-91-286643-4

While much is often made of the air forces of the Middle East and North Africa from the early 1960s on, there has been very little on what went on before that. Few realize that there was aviation in this part of the world almost from the beginning of flight. Prior to heavier than air craft, there were balloons used with some success.

As leaders in international aviation, it was aircraft developed by the French that were first flown in this region and not surprisingly when you think about it. Thanks to Western imperialism in general and the British in particular, Egypt was the scene of the first aeroplane flight in 1909 when a French Farman was flown by a Belgian pilot in Cairo. This made Cairo something of a center of aviation for the region as both a place that people wanted to fly aircraft and as a destination for long distance flights.

The first military use would have to be the Italians in their invasion of Tripoltania and Cyrenacia, areas in what is now Libya. Baloons, airships, and airplanes were used with great effectiveness as reconnaissance platforms and the first use of aerial bombardment from an aircraft was used during Italy's 1912/13 war with the local populace. As you'd expect, the aircraft used were French manufacture.

There was also much strife in the Spanish Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia against local tribes. This involved the French and Spanish in their initial use of air power to assist the army in quelling the area. Though supposedly part of the Ottoman Empire, the empire at this time was too weak to assist in any way and basically kept out of any strife in North Africa, allowing Europeans to eventually dominate the region.

However, one cannot talks about Arab air power of the time without including the Ottoman Empire. They saw the results of aircraft use by the Italians and decided this was something they should look into. Again, it was the French who managed to provide aircraft and training. The Ottoman air force grew fairly quickly and though it did not consist of much more than trainers and recce aircraft, it was a beginning.

With the start of WWI and the Ottomans joining with the Germans and Austro-Hungarians, the supply of French planes dried up. Germany was willing to assist in a small way, but getting aircraft was an issue as some of the nations along the rail route made it difficult to get aircraft through and some were confiscated. However, the result of all this was that the Ottoman air force was now made up of mostly German equipment. This continued until the end of WWI, though the country never had enough aircraft.

Both of the authors have provided an excellent book on a very little known and little researched subject. This volume ends with the end of WWI, so there will undoubtedly be more at a later date. I was fairly surprised at how many images there were, as that really helps in books like this. The level of detail regarding the operations and units of the time is quite remarkable and you are provided an interesting look into how these units functioned. Add in some very nice color profiles and excellent maps and you have a fascinating book on early aviation. Highly recommended, especially if you are tired of the usual WWII stuff that seems to be everywhere.  

November 2019

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Review book courtesy of  Casemate Publishing, where you can order your copy at this link.

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