Air Power and the Arab World 1909-1955

Published on
January 29, 2020
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Air Vice Marshal Gabr Ali Gabr; Dr. David Nicolle
Other Publication Information
Illustrators: Tom Cooper, Luca Canossa; Soft Bound ; 8.3” x 11.8”, 96 pages
Product / Stock #
Company: Helion & Company - Website: Visit Site
Company: Casemate Publishers - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Casemate Publishers - Website: Visit Site
Front Cover

Dr. David C Nicolle is a British historian specializing in the military history of the Middle-Ages, with special interest in the Middle East and Arab countries. After working for BBC Arabic Service, he obtained his MA at SOAS, University of London, followed by a PhD at the University of Edinburgh. He then lectured in art history at Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan. Dr. Nicolle has published over 100 books about warfare ranging from Roman times to the 20th century, mostly as sole author. He also co-authored the ‘Arab MiGs’ series of books which covered the history of the Arab air forces at war with Israel from 1955 to 1973. Furthermore, he has appeared in several TV documentaries, and has published numerous articles in specialized press. This is his first instalment for Helion’s @War series.

The late Air Vice Marshal Gabr Ali Gabr, PhD (EAF), served as a pilot in a De Havilland Vampire fighter jet during the Suez War of 1956. After concluding his higher military education at the Air Warfare Institute in 1960, he served as Instructor in Air Tactics at the Air Warfare Institute from 1962-1964 and 1966-1967, as Staff Officer during the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Chief of Operational Training Branch in the period 1968-1973, and as Chief of Operations Group during the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Following a tour as Instructor in the Art of Operations and Chief of the Air Force, the Chair at High War College from 1977 until 1982, and receiving his PhD at the Nasser High Academy in 1989, he moved into writing and published several books and dozens of articles on the history of air warfare in Egypt and abroad.

Helion’s latest book in the Middle East @ War series is a square back soft cover including 96 gloss paper pages. The cover photograph of Captain Carlo Piazzo’s Bleriot outside of Tripoli is enlarged from the captioned photograph on page 17. The color side profile by Tom Cooper of the Rumpler C.Ia is a duplicate of that found on page 48v although the tints have been altered. The color side profile by Tom Cooper of a Breguet Type 3 R.U1 on the rear cover is a cropped enlargement of the side profile found on page 48i. I counted eight color pictures and 140 black and white photographs. There also 15 color profiles, 4 black and white maps and one color map.

The authors kick off this tale of aviation in the Middle-East with an Andalusian inventor of the ninth century AD. Abbas ibn Firnas ibn Wirdas at-Takurni, was the first person to brave flying, although with broken bones for the effort. Reportedly he jumped off a cliff and was able to return to the point of departure. Other attempts were made in the Arab world with little more success than broken bones and or death. Napoleon’s occupation of Egypt brought French balloons to ascend on November 30, 1798, As the local population watched, the unmanned balloon ascended and then burst into flames, leaving most observers with a bit of doubt in the technology. Skipping forward a few years, the first controlled aeroplane flight occurred on December 15, 1909 by the Belgian pioneer Baron Pierre de Caters, flying for about three minutes in a Voisin outside of Cairo. Aviation from then on, was highly inspired and provided for by the British, French, Italians, Spaniards, and the Turks. The Turks, being aligned with Germany, sought out German advice on creating an aerial force, and utilized primarily German aircraft. This first volume goes from the First World War to 1918.

The sections include:

  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgements
  • Preface
  • Introduction
    • The Historical and Cultural Background
    1. Before the First Bombs [Page 05]
    2. The Italian Invasion of Libya (1911-1914)
    3. The Formation of Ottoman Air Arms (1911-1914) [Page 29]
    4. The French Invent Aerial Policing (1909-1014)
    • Color Profiles [Page 48i]
      1. Spaniards over the Rif (1909-1914)
      2. The First World War In Arab Lands (1914-1918) [Page 61]
      3. The Ottoman Air Forces and the Arabs [Page 76]
  • Bibliography

I found the outbreak of WWI in the Middle East to be fascinating. The primary driver was the Suez Canal. The British and French declared war on the Ottoman Empire on November 5, 2014, following an Ottoman attack against the Russian fleet on October 31, 1914. Egypt went along, but not happily. The vast majority saw the Great War as a war amongst infidels (Christians). The Ottoman’s Sultan proclamation of a global jihad did not help the matter either, since most Muslims saw the Ottoman Empire’s ploy as merely political and not aligned with Sharia law. Clearly, the Arabs did not have any issue fighting each other, but not at the behest of the foreign world powers.

The contemporary photographs support the text, and although the quality due to the source material is not there, they certainly give you a good perspective of the events described. Volume 2 by David Nicolle covering the Military Services from 1916-1918, has already been announced and I am anxiously looking forward to its release in June 2020. If you own one the previous releases in the Middle East @ War series, you know what you are getting. If this is your initial entry into this series, you will be quite pleased.

My thanks to Helion & Company, Casemate Publishing, and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.

Highly recommended!


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