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Airway to the East 1918-1920 (Hardback)

The Collapse of No 1 Aerial Route RAF


By Clive Semple
Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Pages: 256
ISBN: 9781848846579
Published: 3rd July 2012



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Airway to the East 1918-1920, has been written and compiled using photographs and a diary, discovered by Clive Semple, in his father’s attic after his death in 1971. Once he retired in 1996, he set to work researching the background to his father’s collection. The diary and two of the albums were the basis of Clive’s first book, Diary of a Night Bomber Pilot in WW1 which was published in 2008.

The third album and, most importantly the scrap book, provided the starting point for research into a sorry tale of RAF mismanagement which is revealed in this book. The Balfour Declaration in 1917, promised the Jews a homeland in Palestine. This contradicted a previous promise which Britain had made to the Arabs guaranteeing them independence if they helped drive the Turks out of Palestine and Syria. The Turks were duly driven out. When the Arabs discovered that they had been swindled they revolted and the British Army was unable to contain the unrest. It was decided to reinforce the Army with a fleet of bombers and fifty-one set off from England and France to fly to Cairo in the summer of 1919. Seventeen crashed or were otherwise destroyed en route and eight airmen were killed. The story got into the newspapers and Parliament demanded a Court of Enquiry. The evidence of mismanagement looked so bad, that before the enquiry began, Hugh Trenchard, Chief of the Air Staff, decided to hold it behind closed doors at the Air Ministry. The enquiries findings were suppressed by the Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill and the newspapers never followed up the story. Fortunately the enquiry proceedings were filed away at the Air Ministry and it was a newspaper cutting which Clive found in his father’s scrap book dealing with the row in Parliament, that led him to search through the Air Ministry files and uncover this account.

Most histories of the RAF are written by retired senior RAF officers who have all avoided including this event in their written works.

A recounting of the failed attempt to develop a quicker way to move military aircraft to the Middle East theater of operations.

WWI Historical Association

The author had patently done a great deal of research during the preparation of this book, as shown by the endnotes for each chapter and the bibliography. It is illustrated by a large number of photographs, some in colour to highlight maps used and many new to me, and provides a really good insight into an episode in aviation history that had hitherto received much less attention that it deserves. Well worth a read.

Cross & Cockade International Spring 2013

Pen & Sword’s new book on the Middle Eastern air route established shortly after the First World War is a rare gem that tackles a topic that is virtually unique in its field.
Author Clive Semple spares no on in this tell-all work. Aside from being an excellent explanation of the beginnings of the Middle East mess as we know it today, Semple reveals how the British betrayal of the Arabs after WW1 was met with armed resistance. Aside from its amazing content, Airway to the East is perfectly suited for convenient reading. The page stock is of unusually high quality and the photos are plentiful and spread throughout the text rather than stuffed into a photo section.
This is more than a story of war. It is a story of intrigue, corruption, and a compelling testament to the adage that the first casualty in any war is the truth.
This book is affordable, handy in size, easily read, and highly recommended.

Indy Squadron Dispatch

On 25th July 1918, Brigadier “Biffy’ Borton and crew took off from Cranwell in Handley Page O/400 C9681, landing eleven days later at Heliopolis after 2,592 miles. The Air Ministry nominated this course as No. 1 Aerial Route.
The political chaos in the Middle East after the Turks were expelled resulted in the British Government deciding to send more HPs plus some Vimys and 51 followed down the route. But 17 did not make it and eight crew members were killed.
The author’s father kept a scrapbook which is the basis of this book. There was an enquiry into the operations of the route. This book details the political problems involved the post-war Middle East and the RAF’s problems.

Aeromilitaria – Autumn 2012

Clive Semple has pulled off a small magic trick to tease out what might be a lost fact about the early RAF when an aerial route was set up linking Britain with Egypt to transport aircraft to what was a strategic hub of the Empire.
This is the recipe for a really great story, but in this book you actually get several for your money.
The sequence of events is told well at a good pave with plenty of colour. I like the detail and the imagery. It is difficult not to agree with many of the conclusions.
So, all in all, this is a great read about little known events mixed in with better known history.

War History Online

The author has not only covered the RAF failure and cover up, but also shown how the initial work of developing a network of airfields was to be exploited by civil crews racing each other from Britain to Australia in similar large British WW1 strategic bombers. There is a colour plate section in the book, but most illustrations are in b&w images embedded in the text to produce a lavishly illustrated work that displays some very rare photographs, most of which have not appeared before. This is an absorbing and rewarding book that exposes scandal and gives a much needed airing of the innovative work by British Naval Aviators that could have been much better employed by the young RAF.

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About Clive Semple

Clive Semple is the son of Leslie George Semple an RAF Officer who worked on the route. He has used his father’s diary, scrapbook and photograph albums as the starting point for his lengthy researches.

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