The NOGUES Line
In July 1938, the FIGARO newspaper reported in a dispatch that mail from the Levant was stamped with stamps celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Aéropostale Marseille-Beirut air route. As a matter of fact, Lebanon post office issued on the 15th of July a stamp (Fig.1) and a souvenir sheet (Fig.2) celebrating this Aéropostale flight. The stamp depicts a CAMS-53, seaplane flying over Beirut and the figure of Nogues.
Nogues was the architect of the France – Indochina route. Each step had been thoroughly studied taking into account all different aspects such as the characteristics of each aircraft, its autonomy, the refueling centers, regional weather conditions and the diplomatic obstacles presented by flying over some of the countries concerned. In order to overcome these different variants, it was necessary to change aircraft at certain stopover.
On 17 January 1931 Nogues took off from Marseille aboard a seaplane, a CAMS 53, made a stop in Tripoli-Lebanon, changed his aircraft to a Farman 300 then took off for Karachi. New change of aircraft, a Fokker VII, before heading to Saigon, all in 12 days! Which was a record that time.
Fig.3-4: FFC Signed by Nogues, heading to Saigon. Advertising envelope with flight schedules.
Fig.5-6: First flight cover heading to Bagdad (first stage of the route towards Indochina), signed Camoin, an Air-Orient active pilot stationed in Damascus. The cover is an old advertising envelope ‘recycled’ which explains the difference in flight schedule with the previous Nogues signed envelope.
Following this first flight trip, a weekly service is scheduled between Marseille and Saigon. Connection between these two cities took ten days and a half of flight with seventeen stops: Marseille – Naples – Athens – Beirut (where the passengers were invited to board off and continue by land to Damascus) – Damascus – Baghdad-Bassorah-Bouchir-Jask-Karachi-Jodhpur-Allahabad-Calcutta-Akyab-Rangoon-Bangkok-Saigon.
Fig.7: Advertising sheet for Air-Orient or the longest aero-maritime line of the world. This 12,000-kilometer flight took 10 days, and crossed 8 rivers, 11 seas, 13 mountain chains and 3 deserts.
Fig8: Postcard depicting the Mediterranean portion of this route to the East.The Marseille-Beirut section was operating like clockwork
February 4, 1931, Nogues returned back to France, after achieving his goal: linking France with its colony Indochina but he was already thinking of the extension of the line towards China and why not Japan! In 1938, the prolongation of the Nogues route is obtained by adding the following stops: Saigon Tourane-Hanoi-Hong-Kong. Unfortunately Maurice Nogues will find death on a trip back from Indochina, January 15, 1934 when his plane a Dewoitine 332, the Emerald, crashed in the Morvan, en route to Le Bourget (Fig 9)
Fig.9 Nogues aircrash due to bad weather
As a reminder, Nogues in 1927 was the head Director of Air Union-Orient lines, AULO Company, specialized in air travel to the East. In order to ensure a full covered air connection between France and the Far East, the AULO merged with Air Asia on July 8, 1930, to give birth to Air Orient, whose logo is the hippocampus. Air Orient in turn will be one of five French companies to merge in October 1933 to form Air France. Air France will keep the hippocampus as its emblem.
1- Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek legend who roamed the skies of the Mediterranean;
2 – The tail of the Dragon of Annam, recognizable by its forked end. This “hindquarters” recalls the existence of Air Orient Company for which the emblem was created at the end of the year 1931.
Winged seahorse cancel apposed in Air-Orient office – 2 rue Marbeuf -Paris
Fig 10-11-12: Different commercial covers with successive Airline headings in chronological order: Air Union Ligne d’Orient, Air-Orient and finally Air France. The last cover is an old Air-Union cover updated to become an Air France cover. Nevertheless the hippocampus on the back flap still shows AO letters standing for Air Orient in place of AF letters standing for Air France.
After browsing over 50 covers posted in Beirut on July 19, 1938, and on July 20, 1938 in Tripoli we noticed a lozenge shaped cancel commemorating the tenth anniversary of Beirut –Marseille connection was affixed on the mail using the Nogues route to Europe.
Tripoli had replaced Beirut in early 1936 as a stopover. We can therefore conclude with few hesitation that this commemorative stamp was affixed in Tripoli on 20/07/38 by Air France office when the mail was handed over. Did Air France chartered a special flight for the occasion? We have no information on this subject in literature. Anyway this levantine initiative had surprised the metropolis and this tribute to Maurice Nogues, also known as the “Oriental Mermoz “, deserved to be emphasized. France will only issue in 1951 a stamp for this great pioneer who established new routes to the Far East.
Fig.13-14-15: Various cancels of Beirut post offices (19/07/38) but a unique commemorative cancel, identical to that found on the letters stamped in Tripoli as of 07/20/38 (Fig.16-17)
This strengthens the hypothesis that this commemorative stamp has been affixed in Tripoli
Fig.20: Letter postmarked in Beirut on 19/07/38 specifying the air ride to borrow: Tripoli-Marseille.
Fig.21: Souvenir sheet apposed on huge cover heading to Air France head office in Paris. Beyrouth cancel dated 19/07/38 associated with the commemorative cancel
Fig.22: Letter postmarked in Beirut on 07/30/38 with the Nogues souvenir sheet, specifying once again the air ride to borrow but having no commemorative stamp. This stamp was probably used one day.
Fig.23: Letter having escaped to the commemorative stamp, and yet after consideration she borrowed the same postal route. The reason is resumed in the text included in the mail.