Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Book Review: Phoenix Over the Nile

Lon Nordeen and David Nicolle
Phoenix Over the Nile
Washington DC: Smithsoneon Institution, 1196
Category: Aviation History

Rating: 5-Stars

Phoenix Over the Nile chronicles the story of the Egyptian Air Force - providing a rare inside glimpse into the culture and tactical development of one of the leading Arab combatants spanning decades of war.  Covering the period from 1932 to 1994, Phoenix Over the Nile leverages declassified sources, in both Egypt and abroad, together with first-hand interviews to draw a more complete picture of the Arab-Israeli wars.

Among the more striking elements for most students of military history will be the vast cultural differences between the Egyptian and most Western, or even Soviet armed forces.  A pervasive sense of secrecy and paranoia shrouded much of the Egyptian military leadership for decades - even long after the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty in 1979.  Communication, even within the Egyptian military, was often clouded by this phenomenon.  Egyptian pilots, returning from their first bombing runs at the opening of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, for example, were astonished to find their ground crews reacting to their return with a business-as-usual lack of urgency.  The veil of secrecy had been so pervasive that the ground crews had not yet been informed that war was underway - even after the first aircraft had returned to base.

Despite this pervasive paranoia, the authors were able to obtain surprisingly candid interviews with a variety of Egyptian pilots and air force personnel.  As one Egyptian officer described the devastation from the initial Israeli attack during the Six Day War:
"In a maximum of five minutes all of our MiG-21 and Su-7 aircraft had been destroyed.  No one was able to take off because they had destroyed all the alert aircraft and hit the runways with bombs."
Also clearly palpable was the Egyptians' frustration with the Soviet-supplied weapons that they employed.
"If I had had a cannon, I could have ejected the pods and run after him, but in this case I could not do anything."
Frustration with the lack of a cannon in many of the Egyptian fighters, and in the ineffectiveness of many of the munititions that they did have, was a theme repeated by multiple Egyptian pilots.

Taken together, Phoenix Over the Nile offers a rare look at the "other side" of the Arab-Israeli wars, making it an essential edition to this chapter in aviation history.

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