Extensive archive of maps, confidential reports, and manuscript notes on the 1921 Cairo-Baghdad Air Route

[Holt, A. L., et al.]. [Iraq archive. Cairo-Baghdad air route].

Iraq, 1921.

350 x 240 mm standard notebook and typewriter sheets. 7 vols., plus loose typewritten and notepad paper. Those bound are in original wrappers.


Extensive archive relating to surveying work conducted by A. L. Holt for the Cairo-Baghdad air route in 1921, likely from Holt's own collection. This trove of original documents sheds light on British efforts to establish control over the post-Ottoman Middle East in the aftermath of WWI and the 1920 Iraqi Revolt. Plans for an air route between Cairo and Baghdad were originally drawn up in 1919 by Winston Churchill as Secretary of State for Air in collaboration with Hugh Trenchard, marshal of the Royal Air Force. Major A. L. Holt (1896-1971) was a decorated former Royal Engineers officer who during the 1920s was employed by Iraq Railways and the Turkish Petroleum Company, and pioneered mechanized exploration in the region. Holt additionally authored "Some Journeys in the Syrian Desert" (1923) and "The Future of the North Arabian Desert" (1923).

Another notable presence in this collection is that of Nuri ibn Sha'lan, leader of the Ruwallah tribe and the last major Arab leader to join the Arab Revolt. He was courted assiduously by T. E. Lawrence and the British military establishment, but only an intervention and payment by King Faisal prevailed (Tauber).

The archive comprises:

1. [Report on two Cairo-Baghdad air route reconnaissance missions], 1921. Typescript with manuscript annotations, 34 pp. (rectos and versos), describing "The expedition to Ma' Dak Han" (oasis near Ramadi) and the "First Ford expedition" ("The ostensible purpose was a political mission to Nuri ibn Shalan of the Rowallah tribe", p. 11), incidents include an encounter with Arab chieftain "Faad ul Duchaim" ("He seemed to think that he ... should receive the same consideration and subsidy as his cousin Fahad Beg ibn Hadhal whose son had taken an active part against the Turks during the war", p. 30), 2 leaves of related manuscript notes attached.

2. "2nd Ford Reconnaissance on the Baghdad-Cairo Air Route, June 6th-16th", ca. 1921. Manuscript, 79 ff., begins "Purposes of the Expedition. 1. To establish by ground and air No 4 landing ground at 200 miles from Ramadi, 2. To meet the Cairo reconnaissance party at L.G. 4 and pilot them to Baghdad", describes numerous encounters with locals, e.g., "Met a crowd of Arabs on the move. These proved to be the people of Jiza ibn Bahr. Consulted Jiza ibn Bahr himself about a guide and he produced one Zumaitan ibn Matar who proved himself excellently acquainted with the country" (f. 23), "Met a raiding party of Arabs about 100 strong under Mutlaq ibn Thamir going to raid the Beni Sabbar people" (f. 32), "Arrived Al Mat. Found camped there one Sheikh Mishrif al Awagi (Suwailmat) with about fifty tents but no camels. The camels had been sent away to better grazing while he remained there to retain the right to the water" (f. 35), and the airlifting of wounded sheikh Murthi al Rifadi ("an excellent piece of propaganda", f. 61).

3. "Short Diary of Instructions & Action Taken in Connection with the Aerial Route to be Constructed between Amman and Ramadi. From 13.3.21 to [30.6.21]", 7 September 1921. Typescript, 16 ff., marked "confidential" on title-page.

4. "Report on Desert Journey to Establish L[anding] G[round] 4", from the Assistant Divisional Adviser, Ramadi, to Major Holt, 22 June 1921. Carbon typescript, 4 ff., typescript covering note attached.

5. "Names of Places". Carbon typescript, 3 ff., containing names and description of topographical landmarks apparently in Iraq.

6. Holt, A.L. Baghdad-Amman Air Route. Report on Proposed Trans-Desert Highway for Mechanical Transport. Baghdad: printed by the Superintendent, Railway Press, 1922. 3 copies, folio, each in original wrappers, 9 pp., "Confidential. Report No. 1" printed on front covers.

Together with similar items relating to Holt's work on other projects, including several large maps. These include: "Iraq Railways. Proposed Baghdad Haifa Railway. Notes on Estimates Drawn up from Reconnaisance [sic] Surveys with Map of Proposed Route. District Engineer, Construction and Surveys, Baghdad" [cover title], 24th April 1930. Carbon typescript, 8 [1] ff., folding cyanotype map printed on linen (330 x 1200 mm); hand-coloured lithographic map of proposed oil pipelines from Naft Khaneh, Iraq, to Tripoli and Haifa (345 x 635 mm), and the "Port d'Alexandrette. Projet", folding lithographic map of Iskenderun, modern Turkey (650 x 750 mm).

Altogether a quite complete and engrossing collection with relevance to interwar politics, the early development of aircraft-based infrastructure, and 1920s Iraq. Some light wear and a few rust stains from paperclips and pins; altogether well preserved.

Omissi, Air Power and Colonial Control: The Royal Air Force, 1919-1939, pp. 135f. Tauber, The Arab Movements in World War I, pp. 148f.