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MiGs in the Middle East, Volume 1

MiGs in the Middle East, Volume 1 Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review May 2021 Title MiGs in the Middle East, Volume 1
Author David C. Nicolle, Tom Cooper Publisher Helion
Published 2021 ISBN 9781913336363
Format 72 pages, softbound MSRP (GBP) $29.95


An impressive half-century in the making, Volume 1 of MiGs in the Middle East – 33rd in Helion’s illuminating “Middle East @War” range – nominally recaps “Soviet-Designed Combat Aircraft In Egypt, Syria, And Iraq, 1955-1963”.

Not exactly.

True, David Nicolle and Tom Cooper tell the terrific tale of MiG-15s, -17s, -19s, and early -21s in Arab service. But they don’t exclusively examine “MiGs”.

In addition to Soviet designs like Il-28s and Su-7s, text also traverses de Havilland Vampires, Gloster Meteors, Hawker Hunters, and piston-engined warplanes in Arab service.

How about that Egyptian FIAT G.55 fighter-trainer?

Authors themselves require no introduction. Few have so explored the hinterlands of aviation history for English-speaking enthusiasts. And their survey of MiGs in, arguably, the world’s ceaseless battlefield doesn’t disappoint.

Contents review acquisition, training, logistics, organization, repairs, and basing. Political and economic commentary also seasons the study.

But combat coverage clearly dominates details. And despite the subtitle’s timeline, Helion’s account actually recaps nearly two decades of war, actions, and incidents – from conflict with the nascent state of Israel through 1956’s Suez Crisis to clashes preceding 1967’s consequential conflagration.

The lavishly illustrated effort sports several dozen rare, period photos and archival images. Twenty-one color profiles offer aircraft modelers potent project potential. And maps help put commentary into geographic perspective.

Biographic sidebars, extended captions, annotations, and tables also augment the account.

Coverage, though, proves weakest when the authors succumb to politics.

While artfully asserting “no axe to grind”, they brusquely disown that disclaimer in the very same sentence: “we intentionally emphasize the Arab point of view, and try to explain the Arab reasoning”.

Some claims frankly beggar belief.

“As early as 1943,” authors, for instance, allege, “leading Arab nationalists of Syria developed a plan for establishing an army of three divisions that would be deployed to support the Allied forces against the Axis forces in Europe.” Exactly which putative “Arab nationalists” favored aiding their colonial masters?

Authors clearly evince affection for their subject. But they sometimes distill historical complexity to Manichaean simplicity: Arab incursions into Israeli airspace, fine; Israeli incursions into Arab airspace, bad – for instance. And scholarly nuance suffers.

Finally, authors fail to annotate a number of actions, incidents, and assertions. And many that receive citations ultimately derive from anecdotal sources – Chapter 4, Endnote 15, for instance.

Still, whether readers accept or reject their conclusions, authors confidently challenge widely held assumptions with serious sleuthing. And until scholars enjoy unfettered access to official archives of all belligerents, Nicolle’s and Cooper’s methodology remains a viable option.

I’d just like to know where “Khalil, The Fall of the Golan” (Chapter 4, Endnote 14) hides in their bibliographic notes!

Robustly recommended!

With thanks to Casemate for the review copy!