100 Years Of Air Power
It’s been 100 years since the first use of air power in war:
The first instance of airpower was a tactic employed in the Italo-Turkish War, fought between Italy and the Ottoman Empire. In 1911, Italy moved toward its longstanding goal of establishing a colony in North Africa when Germany deployed its Panther gunboat to Agadir, Morocco, to protect German firms that were seen as threatened by regional instability. Other European powers (particularly Britain and France) were perturbed by Germany’s gunboat diplomacy, because the port at Agadir had previously been closed to European warships. In the midst of the crisis, Rome capitalized on the uncertainty and announced that Italian interests were also threatened, specifically in the Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (two regions that now comprise modern Libya). On September 29, 1911, Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire.
That same day, Italy deployed a military force with a small aeronautical section named the First Aeroplane Flotilla to Derna and Tobruk and another air unit was deployed to Benghazi. The First Aeroplane Flotilla was made up of nine primitive machines, most of which were monoplanes, and eleven pilots under the command of Captain Carlos Piazza. On October 25, 1911, the Flotilla launched the first air reconnaissance mission of the war. Italian air patrols discovered advancing Turkish troops, enabling Captain Piazza to deploy ground forces that defeated the unsuspecting enemy. Over the next several days, Italian pilots continued to conduct surveillance missions, although they grew increasingly creative; on several occasions, pilots dropped messages on Italian warship decks with enemy locations to correct the gunners’ aim.
On November 1, 1911, a young Italian pilot named Lieutenant Guilio Gavotti was ordered to throw Cipelli grenades from his aircraft to strike enemy encampments in the oases of Ain Zara and Taguira. On the morning of November 1, Lieutenant Gavotti took off on his own from the Italian base in a Taube aircraft, heading towards the Turkish encampments. Flying three to four hundred feet above the ground, he circled the Turkish base two times. On the third run, Gavotti dropped four, five pound Cipelli grenades. According to reports, he pulled the security pins off the grenades with his teeth and tossed them out the window, all the while trying to avoid the wings of the aircraft. Most of the grenades exploded in the open desert, although others hit noncombatants.
Somewhat surprising to me only because I assumed that World War I marked the beginning of the use of airplanes as a military instrument. Also, kind of ironic given recent events that it all started with bombing Libya.
H/T: Andrew Sullivan