Lawrence of Arabia & Middle East Air Power

Published on
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Peter J. Dye, Peter F.G. Wright, Roger Bragger, Trevor Henshaw, Mike O'Connor, Mike Napier
ISBN
978-0-9555734-7-7
Other Publication Information
80 pages divided into 11 chapters. It contains 17 maps, over 120 photographs and a number of colour illustrations.
MSRP
$16.20
Front Cover

This book is a compilation of research by members of Cross & Cockade International. Although some of the information has been seen as individual articles in earlier editions of the Cross & Cockade journal, nearly fifty percent of the information presented is new. The front cover features a painting by Stuart Reid “The Arab Welcome the First Handley Page Machine to Arrive in Palestine, 22 September 1918”, featuring Handley Page O/400 C9681 landing at Un el Surab from the collection of the Imperial War Museum. The rear cover features a standing T.E. Lawrence in full regalia.

Cross & Cockade International is a non-profit UK based group known as the First World War Aviation Historical Society that publishes their journal four times a year. They also provide a free newsletter (sign up on their website) and occasionally publish WWI themed books like the Sopwith Dolphin monograph I reviewed earlier for IPMS USA. This Journal is the sister of the US Journal, Over The Front.

The book is 80 pages long and formatted to A4. I counted 130 black and white photograph plus 15 color photos (one period photograph that may have been colorized and 14 photos of a pilot’s handbook of the Cairo-Baghdad Route maps); plus an additional 16 maps. Arvo Lennart Vercamer contributes four color profiles of: Be2c 4395, Be2e A3093, Vickers FB19 Mk. II AS234, and a Martinsyde G.102 A1576. Hubert Cance provides a color cutaway of a Handley Page O/400 and Stuart Reid provides a color painting of ‘A Handley Page Aeroplane Bombing Nabius by Night’ featuring a Handley Page O/400 C9681 returning from attacking targets near Jenin. The interior cover features a William Roberts color portrait of ‘T. E. Lawrence as Aircraftsman Shaw’.

This monograph brings new light to the T. E. Lawrence’s impact on the Great Arab Revolt that began on June 5, 1916 and is part of Cross & Cockade International celebration of the centenary of World War I. Although these chapters focus on the aviation aspect of the battle, that was only part of Lawrence of Arabia’s perspective on using everything available in warfare. Essentially the Arab Revolt was a rebellion against control by the Ottoman Turks and the efforts to establish an independent Arab state. Although T.E. Lawrence was but one of several British officers (and French officers); the tales of Lawrence of Arabia’s influence on the Arab leaders to support the British interests. His tales have survived partly due to his autobiography, ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ and favorable press in America and England. After the war, Lawrence served as a British diplomat and then as an enlisted man in the Royal Air Force (mainly).

The series of articles assembled are roughly linear, starting around 1909, continuing through WWI to the point of establishing the Cairo – Baghdad air route in the twenties. Peter Dye opens up the first chapter with a little background and an overview of the articles to follow. The next chapter, ‘T.E. Lawrence – Airpower Visionary’ introduces the reader to history of aviation up to the point when Lawrence entered the picture. This includes a photograph of the first man to fly in Egypt in a Voisin biplane on December 15, 1909. T.E. Lawrence championed aerial mapping in Egypt early on and this activity certainly affected his views on the power aircraft could bring to play when the Ottoman Turks began responding to the Arab Revolt of 1916. The use of aircraft in fighting the Turks, led by Lawrence and Feisal, contributed to the fall of Aqaba in July 1917. This chapter, as well as all of the following chapters concludes with a substantial number of notes for further study.

Peter Wright provides the next chapter focusing on ’14 and 11 Squadrons’ War’ that describes operationally the RFC battle with the Ottoman forces. The RFC was utilizing inferior aircraft, such as the BE2c and the DH.1a, against the Ottoman air force manned by German pilots flying Albatros D.III and D.Va aircraft. It wasn’t really until replacement aircraft in the form of Bristol F.2Bs and SE.5a aircraft arrived that the RFC could prevail over the Turks in the air. ‘Lawrence’s Air Force’ focuses on the deployment and operations of RFC 14 Squadron. Primarily focused on reconnaissance to produce current maps to support the fight against the Turks, the unit did support the ground forces extensively.

‘The ‘X’ Factor’ is a chapter by Peter Wright that was originally written to respond to a 2010 book by James Hynes, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’s Secret Air Force’, a wartime diary. Created from the Arabian detachment in September 1917, the X Flight was anything but secret. This small unit operated only three aircraft initially and only for a short eleven month period, ending in October 1918. Peter Dye’s ‘Bifffy Borton’s Bomber’ addresses the flight of Handley Page O/400 C9681, the largest aircraft anyone had ever seen in Cairo, let alone the Middle East. Brigadier –General Biffy Borton flew in direct from England, one of the longest flights up to August 1918. The Handley Page soon entered the battle much to the delight of the Arabs.

Trevor Henshaw follows with a chapter on the bombing unit 58 Squadron and its arrival in Egypt in ‘An Odyssey to the East’. This operation oversaw a total of fifty-two Handley Page O/400 bombers arrive with 58 Squadron leading the way. Nevertheless, the 2,000 mile trek took its toll on men and machine. T.E. Lawrence was in one of the crashes as he was returning from the Versailles Peace Conference and his notes add significant insight. Peter Dye’s final chapter, ‘The Cairo-Baghdad Air Route’ follows the decision from the Cairo Conference of March 1921 to implement regular air service to support the British military presence. The appendices offer another five pages detailing all the aircraft and aircrew involved.

Contents

  • Lawrence of Arabia and the First War in the Air by Peter Dye
  • T.E. Lawrence – Airpower Visionary by Peter Dye [Page 6, 13]
  • 14 and 11 Squadrons’ War: An Overview from ‘Skies Over the Holy Land’ by Peter Wright [Page 19]
  • Lawrence’s Air Force: Arabian Detachment, 14 Squadron RFC by Peter Wright / Roger Bragger [Page 30]
  • The ‘X’ Factor: Special Duty Flight, 14 Squadron RFC by Peter Wright [Page 37]
  • Biffy Borton’s Bomber by Peter Dye [Page 43]
  • An Odyssey to the East: 58 Squadron to Egypt 1919 by Trevor Henshaw [Page 59]
  • The Cairo-Baghdad Air Route by Peter Dye [Page 68]
  • [Appendices]
    • Early 14 Squadron Machines by Mike O’Connor / Mike Napier
    • 14 Squadron Machines by Mike O’Connor / Mike Napier
    • 14 Squadron Roster of Aircrew and Other Officers by Mike O’Connor / Mike Napier
    • German / Turkish Flying Units by Peter Wright
    • Some German Flying Personnel by Peter Wright

It’s another great book from Cross & Cockade and I’m quite impressed with the quality. If you are into WWI era aviation; this book is an incredible source of information that will have you on the edge of your seat. I know that the Peter O’Toole 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia, although an ‘epic’ movie, had little to do with the truth. Still, after reading this tome, I am curious to watch it again. My thanks to Cross & Cockade International and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great issue.

Highly recommended!

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