Wings Over Mesopotamia, Air War in Iraq 1914-18

Published: June 10th, 2017     
Product Image
Front Cover
Author: Mark Lax, Mike O'Connor, Ray Vann
Reviewed by: 
Frank Landrus, IPMS# 35035
Company: Cross & Cockade International
ISBN #: 0955573483
Other Publication Information: Softback, 144 pages, 210 x 297mm and including over 450 photograph, most never previously published
Price: $31.99

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 Lawrence of Arabia book I reviewed earlier for IPMS USA. This Journal is the sister of the US Journal, Over The Front.

This book is the expansion of a combination of four articles published by Mark Lax in the Australian Society of WW1 Aero Historians '14-'18 Journal between 2005 and 2013. Additional text and the majority of photographs were from the Ray Vann / Mike O'Connor Mesopotamia collection. Mike O'Connor, Ray Vann, and Colin Waugh spent over forty years researching the RFC/RNAS activities in Mesopotamia. They were able to track down surviving officers and their families to obtain thousands of photographs, copies of logbooks, and copies of diaries. The appendices offer another 36 pages on the aircraft and officers involved.

The book is144 pages long, excluding covers. There are no blank pages and no advertising. I counted 451 black and white photographs along with 25 tables. The inside front cover features a 1920 color map of Mesopotamia with a detailed inset of Baghdad. Another 12 black and white maps are included throughout the text. The front cover features a painting by Ken Farmer, "Aid for Kut" featuring Short Type 827 seaplane, 8044. The upper rear cover features a Ken Farmer painting, "Tigris Morning", featuring a Caudron G.III and HMS Firefly. The lower rear cover shows Short Type 827, 8047, surrounded by shipping in the Shatt-al-Arab waterway at Basra.

Mesopotamia is widely considered to be the cradle of civilization by the West. Mesopotamia literally means the land between rivers corresponding to the Tigris-Euphrates river system. Today this area consists of most of Iraq, Kuwait, and parts of Syria, and Turkey. Although not newsworthy at the time, the discovery of oil reserves in South Persia (now Iran) in 1908 by a British born entrepreneur became a motivating factor for both Britain and Germany. Of course at the time, the British military, specifically their navy, had limited interest as the Royal Navy's ships ran on coal. Germany had interest, again not specifically for the oil, but as an outlet for their commerce. Germany had managed to find an ally in the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish army was led by German advisors. Of course by the time WWI initiated, oil had reached a new level of importance leading both the British and the Germans to add military resources to Mesopotamia. That being said, the conflict in Mesopotamia was largely a proxy war between the British Empire's Indian forces and Germany's consultants leading the Turkish forces.

Against this backdrop, Mark Lax provides a thoroughly interesting history of the air war in Mesopotamia, chronologically from beginning to end. Air support started with two outdated, but serviceable aircraft and four of Australia's seven qualified pilots. The Australian Half-Flight was born. Why Half-Flight? It was named so because there was only enough personnel for half of a flight (where a flight consisted of four aircraft - a term Winston Churchill claimed to have invented). The authors provide a very readable style to tell the story, supplemented with first person accounts and many photographs. Eventually more aircraft and personnel joined, but the aircraft were usually heavily worn and not suitable for use on the front lines in France. Although this story is primarily from the British perspective, Mark Lax does include the German perspective and includes first person accounts from their side as well. The transition continues from the Australian Half-Flight to the arrival of the RFC and the eventual merger with the RNAS to form the RAF in April 1918. Modern (well more modern than what they had been using) British aircraft were beginning to make their way to Mesopotamia which elicited a corresponding response from the Germans.

There are many good stories included in this book, but one was quite interesting. On May 9, 2Lt Thomas Alfred Pitt and Lt Douglas Fairlie Lapraik were on patrol in their SPAD C.VIIs when they encountered a Halberstadt (probably flown by OffSt Edwin Klaus). Pitt spotted the Halberstadt climbing toward them. He swung into a dive and opened fire, but his gun jammed after only 10-12 rounds. As he tried to clear the jam, he lost the Halberstadt and his wingman Lapraik. Lapraik quickly realized Pitt's problem and swung into action. Lapraik managed to get on the tail of the Halberstadt and fired a few shots before the Halberstadt went into an Immelmann to evade the SPAD. Lapraik was able to dive back onto the Halberstadt and fire another burst. The Halberstadt dived but Lapraik followed with another burst at close range. The Halberstadt went into a vertical dive and lost its starboard wing before crashing into the ground.

Contents

  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Acknowledgements
  • The First Air War in the Cradle of Civilization
  • Faltering Steps
  • The Australian Half-Flight [Page 8]
  • The RFC Egypt Detachment
  • The Australians Begin Operations
  • The RNAS Contribution
  • The Advance [Page 25]
  • The Move Towards Kut
  • The Mesopotamia Air Park
  • Townshend's Push North
  • The German Air Service Arrives in Theatre [Page 37]
  • Disaster at Kut
  • The End of the Australian Half-Flight
  • Kut - The Aftermath
  • RFC Flying Services Rebuild
  • Turks Maintain Air Superiority
  • Preparing to Advance
  • On To Baghdad [Page 57]
  • Changes Over the Summer [Page 61]
  • RFC Reinforcements Arrive
  • Beyond Baghdad
  • The Last RFC Unit Reaches Mesopotamia [Page 76]
  • The Birth of the RAF
  • German Reinforcements
  • Armistice, but No Peace [Page 91]
  • Endnotes
  • Men and Machines of the Mesopotamia Air Campaign
    • Selected Personnel Biographies [Page 105]
    • POW Survivors Up to the Fall of Kut-al-Amara
    • Officers, NCOs, and Air Mechanics of 30 Sqn & Australian Half-Flight Made POW, Siege of Kut-al-Amara 1916
    • Original Australian Half-Flight Other Ranks
  • Known RFC/RAF Officers Mesopotamia 1915-1919
    • RFC Detachment Egypt
    • 30 Squadron RFC
    • 63 Squadron RFC
    • 72 Squadron RFC
    • 31 Wing HQ and Aircraft Park 1915-20 [Page 117]
    • RNAS Detachment
    • RNAS/RFC Kite Balloon Personnel 1915-18
    • Other Ranks and Their Work
    • The Importance of Water Transport
    • RFC/RNAS Aircraft Serials 1915-1919 [Page 132]
  • Bibliography

It's another great book from Cross & Cockade and I'm quite impressed with the quality. The writing is top notch, there is no shortage of photographs, and the appendixes can answer your most obtuse questions. I especially appreciated the inclusion of the first person accounts included from diaries or combat reports. 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. My thanks to Cross & Cockade International and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.

Highly recommended!

  • Back Cover
    Back Cover
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  • Page 25
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  • Page 37
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  • Page 57
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