Airway to the East 1918-1920 and the collapse of No.1 Aerial Route RAF, Clive Semple

Airway to the East 1918-1920 and the collapse of No.1 Aerial Route RAF, Clive Semple

In the aftermath of the end of the First World War the young RAF faced a fight to secure its long term future. One of the roles it attempted to fill was as Imperial policemen, and so when the Arab world began to protest about the post-war settlement, the RAF was filling to provide aircraft. The decision was made to fly the aircraft from France out to Egypt, in what would become the world's first long distance aerial route. The plan was to fly three squadrons of Handy Page O/400 heavy bombers across Europe and over the Mediterranean, using a line of airfields and with flying boat escorts on the sea stages.

The plan came at just the wrong moment. After the end of the fighting the RAF began to demobilise, and the men with the longest service and thus most experience were the first to go. By the summer of 1919, when the transfer began, the RAF was struggling to find skilled men to man the route. The experiences of flying aircraft from Britain to their bases in France should also have warned the RAF that the new route might be very costly.

In the event the route was a disaster. Eight men were killed, and about a third of the aircraft were lost on-route, some in accidents and some damaged by bad weather on the ground. The Handley Page O/400 was a fairly fragile aircraft, and most of the aircraft that did reach Egypt were considered to be too worn out for further flying.

The author's father actually took part in No.1 Aerial Route, and it was this family connection that first attracted the author to the topic. Despite this family connection the work is a well balanced account of the effort, and Semple is fair to the senior RAF men who decided to try and fly the aircraft to Egypt. His only minor foible is a tendency to latch onto every piece of evidence that the route had the official name of No.1 Aerial Route - it doesn't get mentioned in most histories of the RAF and a later Egypt to India route tends to be talked about as the first long range route.

This is an interesting study of the early days of long range aviation. Semple includes good material on an earlier flight to Egypt that encouraged the RAF to believe the aerial route was possible, and on the first flight from Britain to Australian, a more successful example of what could be achieved at the time. 

1 - Bad Landing at Centocelle
2 - The Army and the Navy Disagree
3 - Desert Revolt and the Allenby Campaign
4 - Borton's Pioneering Flight
5 - The End of the War with Turkey
6 - To India and Beyond
7 - The Arab World Erupts
8 - At the Air Ministry
9 - 'Won't it be Fun if We Come Down Here!'
10 - Disaster over Mont St. Victoire
11 - 'All my Staff are Anxious to Get Demobbed'
12 - 'It Has Been a Complete Failure'
13 - The Court of Enquiry
14 - The Aftermath
15 - England to Australia - the Competition
16 - The Race - Winners and Losers

Author: Clive Semple
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 244
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2012

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