Helion's Air Power and the Arab World: 1909-1955 Vol 2

Author/Artists: David Nicolle


Helion  Publishing


$29.95 MSRP from Casemate


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 80 pages, softcover, over 100 images
ISBN 978-1-913118-76-1

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.

This volume covers air operations during and shortly after WWI. In North Africa, the various land there was pretty much controlled by four nations;  Great Britain, Italy, France, and Spain. As such, this edition covers air operations by these nation, mostly against the Ottoman Empire, though the Germans did manage to get into the area somewhat to stir things up. The local tribes were also very much of a problem to these European nations as they did not like being under the control of others.

We open with the British with operations ranging from Aden on the Arabian peninsula, through the area then known as the Levant (site of modern day Israel, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon), into the border area between Egypt and Libya. In this latter area, the main conflict was with the Sanussi. In addition to dealing with the Ottomans, the British had to battle the Arab Revolt of 1917 (think Lawrence of Arabia, though he was really a very minor part of it).

Farther to the west was Italian Libya. Libya's borders were quite fluid and not firmly established. Italians had to deal with the Sanussi in the east and Berber tribes in the west. This bordered with the French in Tunisia,  Algeria, and French Morrocco with the French also having to be concerned with Berber tribes. Meanwhile even farther west were the Spanish in Spanish Morrocco. Spain takes up very little in the book as they utilized very little air power during this time.

The Italians were not heavy air power users either, though they did use balloons/blimps to help with reconnaissance. Aside from the large British use of air craft, including seaplanes, the French were able to successfully utilize aircraft and air ships for not only reconnaissance, but to take the attack on to rebelling forces deep in the deserts where they thought themselves immune. A situation that all nations faced was that the main war was in Europe and there was little available for secondary fronts. Indeed, most aircraft sent to these areas were those that were no longer front line types that had been removed from service as newer aircraft became available. This meant that often aircraft were war weary and prone to breakdowns. Nevertheless, they were better than no aircraft and thanks to the hard work of ground crews, were able to be a telling force.

The author has provided an excellent book on a very little known and little researched subject. 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.  

January 2021

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