The Italo-Turkish War of 1911-1912
The Italo-Turkish War (also known as the Lybian War) between the Kingdom of Italy and the Ottoman Empire for the possession of the North African regions of Tripolitania and Cirenaica began on the 29th of September 1911, it ended on the 18th of October 1912.
Italy invaded Lybia with about 67,000 men, transported and supplied by the Italian Navy using some 259 ships, 114 of which belonged to the merchant marine fleet.
A small aeronautical contingent accompanied this imposing military force - a flotilla of 9 aircraft (two Blériot ixs, three Nieuports, two Farmans and two Etrichs), with 11 pilots, 5 of which were regulars, was sent to Tripoli under the command of Captain Carlo Piazza. Apart from Piazza, the pilots were Riccardo Moizo, Leopoldo De Rada, Ugo De Rossi, Giulio Gavotti and six others from the reserves - Felice Scapurro, Igino de Winkels, Costantino Quaglia, Ettore Marro, Andrea Poggi and the Medical Lt. Luigi Falchi) along with 30 men from the ranks. The Unit was known as the “1st Tripoli Aircraft Flotilla”.
An aerial presence was also foreseen at two other sites – Tobruk and Derna – but due to the lack of military pilots, the Ministry of War (thanks to an initiative by the Torinese newspaper “La Stampa Sportiva”) authorised Carlo Montù, given the rank of Captain, to organize an expedition of volunteer pilots denominated the “Flotilla of Civil Aviator Volunteers” who would be sent to Libya to complement the flotilla operated by the Army.
Montù’s group was split into two squadrons: one, comprising two Blériots and three Farmans, was sent to Tobruk. This was commanded by Lt. Ercole Capuzzo, with Romolo Manissero, Giuseppe Rossi, Germano Ruggerone (Eros) and Umberto Re as pilots. The other four aircraft were sent to Derna.
Commanded by Captain Maddaleno Marenco, they were flown by the civilian pilots Umberto Cagno, Mario Cobianchi, Achille Dal Mistro and Alberto Verona. The flotilla embarked from the port of Naples for Cirenaica on November 30th 1911.
The mission to Libya allowed Italy to establish a number of “firsts”:
- Since the sandy soil of Tripoli made take-offs difficult, a wood-surfaced, artificial runway 100 metres long by 20 wide was constructed – surely the first of its kind in the world.
- The very first military aerial mission in history took place on the 23rd of October 1911, when Carlo Piazza flew his Blériot low over the enemy lines causing widespread terror.
- On the 1st of November 1911, Lt. Giulio Gavotti made history when he dropped three Cipelli grenades, each about the size of an orange, from his Etrich “Taube” (ironically enough, in German “taube” means “dove”) on a Turkish encampment at Ain Zara. His fourth and last grenade was dropped on the oasis of Tripoli. This is the first known instance of aerial bombing. For this action and another similar at Gargaresc, Gavotti was awarded the Military Silver Medal.
- Captain Montù was later hit in the thigh by a rifle bullet during a raid over enemy lines, achieving the unenviable distinction of being the first aviator wounded in action.
Among the first operations on arrival, Captain Piazza performed a number of topographical reconnaissance flights to correct the errors in the available maps of the Tripoli area.
Piazza had immediately understood the importance of aerial photography, and requested that the specialists Battalion in Rome send him a Bebè-Zeiss camera, but his request was not satisfied. Then he asked the photographic section of the Engineers stationed in Tripoli for one and they loaned him a semiprofessional machine with 9x12 plates which he mounted lens-down in the aircraft in order to take pictures. However, this required him to land after each photo in order to manually change the photographic plate. On returning to Italy, Piazza built and patented a 13x18 plate camera for use in aircraft with a mechanism which could automatically change the plates in flight.