The Italian Air Force in the Libyan campaign: 1911-1912

Fiorenzo Longhi


PREMISE

In 1910, numerous aviation competitions had been held in various Italian cities, among which the most important for the results obtained were those of Verona (May 22-29) and Milan (September, 25 – October, 3).

Among the aviation events that took place in Italy in 1911, the most important was that organized by the Bolognese newspaper Il Resto del Carlino, assisted by the Petit Journal of Paris, called the Italian Air Circuit, which took place on the Bologna-Venice-Rimini-Bologna route.

The organizing committee asked for and obtained the participation of military aviators. Together with four French pilots and an Italian civilian, 5 aviator officers entered out of competition, namely: the captains Carlo Piazza and Riccardo Moizo, the lieutenant Francesco Roberti, the second lieutenant Ugo De Rossi and the second lieutenant Engr. Giulio Gavotti, who had two Blériot, two Nieuport and an Etrich.

The race, which took place from 17 to 20 September, was won after many adventures by the Frenchman Andrea Frey, because – as we have said – our soldiers were out of competition. It should be noted, however, that the time set by the winner is about 640 km. total travel time was over 19 hours, while that of captain Piazza was 5.5’26 “, that of lieutenant Gavotti of 6.8’18” and that of captain Moizo of 6.36 ‘.

The great success of the military aviators was to be appreciated in a very particular way, also because they not only had not trained for that special race, but were tired from the work done in the great maneuvers of Monferrato recently completed, nor had they had time to overhaul their aircraft and engines.

The tender preceded the aeronautical mobilization for the expedition to Libya by a few weeks; and it is to be believed that the remarkable results obtained by our military aviators have had a powerful influence on the decision of the Government and of General Caneva, head of the expedition, to include aviation in the war operations.

On September 28, 1911, with order no.1 highly confidential, the Command of the Engineers Specialists Battalion arranged for the 2nd Department employee (aviation) to provide a flotilla of airplanes with a platoon of 31 men for the Special Army Corps to be mobilized in flat areas overseas. That the aforementioned flat areas overseas belonged to the northern coasts of the “black continent”, and precisely to the region between whose sandy limits the moderns have restricted the enormous Roman name of Libya, no one in Italy could doubt anymore: already for a year the “Tripoli Question” had returned to the fore of political discussion, and for it a solution was called for, by Parliament and the Press, compatible with the interests of our commercial expansion in Tripolitania and in Cyrenaica.

An ultimatum of the Royal Government, chaired by Giolitti, on September, 27 1911, with which the Ottoman Government was ordered not to impair Italian rights in Libya further, had been rejected by the Sublime Porte with an evasive and unsatisfactory response; and already on 25 September the mobilization of the Special Army Corps for the Libyan expedition had been ordered.

More than one, on the other hand, could doubt – and doubted in those days – of the usefulness of exposing to the test of fire of a warring war those fragile and unsafe aircrafts, which all over the world had until then been used only in sporting events and in flights qualified by the press with the title of “experiments”.

War was declared on 29 September; from 5 to 21 October Tripoli, Tobruk, Derna, Bengasi and Homs were occupied. After the initial enthusiasm that led to believe in a triumphal walk, the war continued for long months and to decide its fate was the occupation of the Dodecanese in May 1912 and, with the Treaty of Ouchy, the Turkish Sultan renounced sovereignty over Libyan territory.

THE REASON OF POSTAL MILITARY POSTMARKS

When the Special Army Corps embarked for Libya, it had with it the various sections of military mail, with special stamps prepared for the occasion and all the necessary personnel.

In the main occupied localities, post offices were activated where correspondence from the various units that did not have mobile field offices was processed, which were established only in 1913 during the campaign in Cyrenaica of the Tassoni and Miani troops in Fezzan.

In October, post offices were opened in Tripoli for the Army Corps, the General Intendency and the 1st Division, and for the 2nd Division in Benghazi; in November for the 3rd division in Tripoli; in December for the 4th division in Derna; in April 1912 for the 5th division in Ferua and in the following June for the 7th division in Bu Sceifa.

The departmental stamp in another of his uses, as the heading of the sheet on which a flight report is drawn up in June 1913 signed by lieutenant Solomon. This stamp is not so far known on mails.

In December 1911 all the offices opened in Tripoli were brought together in a single one called Military Tripoli. All these military post offices were closed between May and June 1913, replaced by civilian offices already functioning, or opened on purpose.

In this article we deal exclusively with the rare administrative stamps of the various air departments which, although complementary to those of the military post, are the only ones that allow us to reconstruct the history of the presence of the Italian aviator departments in the first air war in the world.

In fact, the postage allowance for the military in the area of ​​operations had not yet entered the mentality of the rulers: the ancient tax concessions for letters addressed to them and for those sent unsubscribed were evidently judged to be more than sufficient. Just as 15 years earlier in the Eritrean Colony, also in Libya there was a late realization of the “opportunity to provide free postcards to the soldiers of the expeditionary force in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, to correspond with people residing in Italy”. But there must have been supply problems if in July 1912 he decided to extend the franchise to all types of correspondence, as the Occupation Corps Command announced from Tripoli with agenda n.175, dated July 12, 1912: “Post Minister communicates the postage allowance concession to all correspondences by occupation military corps on condition that they brought command, corps, military unit, office or service postmark of belonging or the one of a military post office.”

It was precisely to guarantee each soldier the free forwarding of his correspondence that each “command, corps, military unit, office or service” stationed in Libya was equipped with its own and sometimes very detailed stamp, which today allows us to read on those letters and postcards also a page of history and the history of a primacy, although with today’s perspective no longer as enviable as in the past.

The linear departmental stamp of the 3rd Airplane Flotilla of Derna (or 3rd Autonomous Aviation Platoon) affixed in violet on an autographed postcard by Lt. Giovanni De Giovanni written on July 10, 1912 and then forwarded free of charge through the Military Post office of the IV Division stationed in Dema, in Cyrenaica, despite the wording TRIPOLITANIA which appears in all the characteristic stamps with band of this office.

MOBILIZATION AND SENDING OF MILITARY AIR DEPARTMENTS TO TRIPOLITANIA

On September 29, 1911, the Italian government declared war on Turkey and on the same day, the Commander of the Aviation Department, lieutenant Colonel Vittorio Cordero di Montezemolo, assigned the request Flotilla Airplanes (which later took the name of “1st Tripoli Airplane Flotilla”) the following five pilots, with a higher license: captain Carlo Piazza of the 8th field artillery, Commander of the Flotilla, captain Riccardo Moizo of the 1st mountain artillery, lieutenant Leopoldo De Rada, second lieutenant Ugo De Rossi, second lieutenant Giulio Gavotti. With the exception of De Rada, all the chosen pilots had participated in the recent raid, finishing in the very first places. Six other reserve pilots were also assigned to the Flotilla, with a simple license: the infantry captain Felice Scaparro, cap. Igino Gilbert de Winckels, lieutenants Luigi Falchi, Costantino Quaglia, Ettore Marro and Andrea Poggi. The lieutenant Falchi was also the doctor of the Flotilla. A sergeant and thirty troopers were assigned to the services of the unit.

The illustrated postcards of the time were often published with journalistic times., In some cases distributed to retailers the day after the event. And a photographer who immortalizes the event is even present in this image transformed into a postcard that portrays captain Piazza returning from an aerial exploration. The postcard is autographed by Ten. Leopoldo De Rada.

THE AIRPLANE FLEET LANDS IN TRIPOLI

On October 2, 1911 the Commander of the Italian naval forces, gathered on the sea in front of the square of Tripoli, ordered the surrender to the Ottoman garrison. After dismantling the Tripoli forts with a naval bombardment that lasted two days, our sailors occupied the city on October 5th.

The morning of the following day, the steamships Enrichetta and Sannio set sail from Naples, and on the morning of the 15th the Plata followed them. All the tiny Italian military aviation was embarked on the three steamers, with its nine aircraft, as many hangars, ten officers and twenty-nine troops, as well as various materials.

The first soldiers of the Special Army Corps began to land in Tripoli on October 2nd, occupying the positions already held by the sailors. The landing of the contingents embarked on the bulk of the convoy was completed in the immediately following days amidst great logistical difficulties, but without opposition from the enemy.

The landing operations of the men and materials of the Airplane Flotilla could not be carried out immediately. Between the anchored ships and the port of Tripoli there was a kilometer of sea and the means for the ferry, rafts and tugs, were all busy, nor were they willing to distract them from their duties, even if temporarily, to put them at the service of the aviators. .This first fact immediately made it clear to our aviators how they were held in little account and that with their immense boxes of airplanes and hangars, more than a real organ of war, they constituted a hindrance.

In the meantime, the commander of the department, captain Piazza, went ashore and set about looking for a suitable terrain for the take-off of the aircraft. For want of anything better, he decided to set up the airfield in the west-southwest of the city at the Jewish Cemetery.

After much insistence, captain Piazza managed to obtain the means to disembark two Blériot and a Mercandino hangar. Meanwhile, teams of Italian and indigenous laborers proceeded to arrange the camp, a barren stony plain bordered by the sea and a sparse palm grove. The landings continued with difficulty in the following days, while the first appliances and the hangar were being assembled.

On October 21, the Blériot n. 1 was ready, so that in the early hours of the following day captain Piazza was able to perform a first test flight that lasted 50 minutes. Rising to 700 meters above sea level, he passed outside the outposts, reached Zanzur, then returned to the oasis of Tripoli. captain Moizo, on the afternoon of the same day 22, also flew for 25 minutes with his Nieuport over the sea and the city of Tripoli.

The aviators, therefore, were ready to start their war activity.

The captains Carlo Piazza and Riccardo Moizo, the second lieutenant Ugo de Rossi and the second lieutenant Giulio Gavotti of the 1st Airplane Flotilla of Tripoli, protagonists of an illustrated postcard, in the first decades often used to spread images and faces of characters from the news.

A WHOLE SERIES OF FIRSTS IN MILITARY AERONAUTICS.

On the evening of October 22, 1911, having known the successful outcome of the test flights carried out on that day, the Command of the 1st Division gave the order to the Command of the Tripoli Airplane Flotilla to perform, the following day, some reconnaissance flights over the area of ​​the oasis. of Zanzur up to 10-12 km. south of Bu Meliana.

At 16.15 on October 23, cap. Piazza took off with his Blériot. Having detected the position of some enemy camps along the road to Azizia, the aviator returned to the field at 19.20.

This reconnaissance mission is remembered in the history of aviation as the first flight exploratory war accomplished in the world by an apparatus heavier than air.

Foreign military officers were present at the departure, as if to underline the historical importance of the event.

On the same day 23, a flight by captain Riccardo Moizo followed, who the next day went as far as the Garian, for a depth of about ninety kilometers, thus carrying out the first strategic reconnaissance.

Moizo made two more flights on day 25 and in one of them his fragile wings were pierced by three rifle bullets. That was the first “test of fire” passed by an aircraft used in war.

On October 28, captain Piazza rose to observe the effect of the Sardinia ship’s shooting against the oasis of Zanzur, believed to be the seat of armed gangs; he could report the exit of a hundred horsemen from the oasis following the shooting.

Captain Moizo from that exploratory flight deduced the possibility of detecting the technical data of the shot in flight, to be then communicated to the battery in action.

After various attempts started on 10 November, finally on the 24 of the same month he managed to communicate the shooting data to the Serra battery, which fired at a Turkish battery, located south-east of Sidi-Messri. Even the shooting adjustment by means of the airplane was thus a fait accomplished.

On November 1, 1911, second lieutenant Giulio Gavotti, on an Etrick airplane, dropped a bomb on an enemy camp in Ain Zara and three on tents in the Tagiura oasis. The effects, especially moral, were remarkable.

Thus the concept of bombing was realized for the first time.

The event, which contained in itself the seeds of the immense development, which later would have the Aviation as an offensive weapon, attracted the attention, not always benevolent, of the international technical and political press, and was also the object of celebration by of writers and poets, first of all Gabriele d’Annunzio who thus celebrated the new winged fighters in the Song of Diana:

A whistle of frombe is heard in the sky

A pale vulture passes in the sky

Giulio Gavotti brings his bombs.

The bombs used for this purpose were of the Cipelli type, the result of long studies and experiments carried out by the lieutenant Carlo Cipelli in the San Bartolomeo torpedo factory. They were spherical in shape, about the size of an orange, and loaded with picrate, and the pilot had to throw them by hand after having removed the safety with dangerous and complicated maneuvers.

On November 23, Rome was notified of the possibility that airplanes were also being used by the Turks and urged to devise appropriate means of defense, as well as the adoption of badges by our planes.

At the suggestion of captain Piazza it was replied that “for the defense and offense of the enemy airplanes our pilots themselves will think, maneuvering in order to blow them (since we have the fastest types of aircraft that exist), or to hit them with the shooting of guns, of which the pilots are all provided “.

It was the conception of fighter aviation, which arose from the very necessities of war in the new form. 

And the commander of the airplanes flotilla, even with the primitive means at his disposal, pointed out the essential elements for the solution of the problem of aerial combat: the exploitation of speed, maneuver and fire from board.

The first aerial bombardment carried out by second lieutenant Giulio Gavotti in an illustrated postcard which, although not taken from a photograph, clearly reveals the derivation of the drawing from photographic sources. And it shows how the idea, even in its almost naive realization, had struck the public’s imagination.

During the march of three columns headed for the occupation of Ain Zara on December 4, 1911, captain Piazza arranged for his planes to guard the flanks of the three columns with explorations towards the areas from which the enemy was expected to advance. In case of sighting of the opponent, the airplane would have directed the threatened column and would have performed an agreed evolution to warn it of the danger.

Thus was born, albeit in an embryonic form, the use of the Air Force in infantry service.

The activity of aviators in war, initially considered with understandable skepticism, had increasingly imposed itself on the consideration of the superior military commands. After a month and a half of military use, which had seen at least one airplane in flight almost daily, despite the sometimes absolutely prohibitive weather conditions due to the fragile aircraft of the time and the dangerous reaction of the enemy riflemen, the aviators of the Tripoli Flotilla had become increasingly indispensable in the general economy of war.

The results of their work had been reported in Rome, so that the Chief of the Army,

General Pollio, wished to express his “sincere admiration for their calm and conscious courage and for their skill” to the aviator officers. This eulogy was published in Tripoli on December 8, 1911 on agenda no. 44, with the following comment by the Commander the expeditionary force, ten. gen. Caneva: “To our valiant companions, who, with faith equal to daring, have – first in the world – walked the airways among the whirlwinds of enemy bullets, to these worthy explorers, who, facing the dangers of an instrument not yet sure, so many precious elements have been able to gather for the conduct of the operations, now comes, for the deserved prize of the high praise received, the echo of my satisfaction and of all the troops, who from the trenches greet every day with shouts of admiration at the superb flights”.

On December 19, Capt. Gilbert de Winckels; in those days the captain of the naval genius Alessandro Guidoni also arrived in Tripoli.

The ways of saying, especially if a little scurrilous, have not changed much over the centuries. And even in the days of the “belle époque”, despite Victorianism still prevailing in the middle class, they are used openly to create an easy joke. In this case starting from the news of the first aerial bombings in Tripolitania.

THE AVIATION ACTIVITY ON THE TRIPOLINO FRONT IN 1912

The subjugation of the Arab populations of the occupied and not yet occupied territories was seriously hampered by the Turkish propaganda which accused the Italians of killing the natives who presented themselves to our commands. Nonetheless, towards the end of December 1911, some tribes sent their parliamentarians to Tripoli. It was therefore necessary to accelerate this disintegrating process by countering the opposing propaganda; to get our word directly to the Arabs, it was thought that the most effective means would be the launch of proclamations.

The planes contributed to this work of direct conviction towards the populations and the armed forces with the launch of thousands of leaflets over certain locations.

Done in a style suited to the mentality of those populations, that propaganda brought its contribution to the disintegration of the opposing team, to the abandonment of the Turkish cause by some chiefs and tribes, whose territory was now controlled by us.

The text of the first of these proclamations is dated January 2, 1912. Up to now, 12 leaflets with different texts and formats are known, all in Arabic, launched from airplanes and dirigibles; ten in 1912, two in 1913.

This form of psychological warfare, which was experienced for the first time in the world by our air force in Libya, will be enormously developed in the 1st and 2nd World Wars.

Meanwhile, the turnover of crew members continued. On January 30 the second lieutenant De Rossi was repatriated; in early February the captain Guidoni who thus concluded his brief stay on the African front.

Since 11 November, Piazza, sensing the usefulness of photographically documenting the results of the reconnaissance, asked Rome for a “Bebè Zeiss” machine, which he considered suitable for use in flight. He asked for it to be sent in the following months and finally managed, on February 23, 1912, to have one on loan from the photographic section of the Genius; he placed it on board with the lens facing down, and not being able to change the plates with one hand, he had to be content with taking only one photograph in each flight.

Thus, aerial war photography was born in a primitive way.

The topographical sketch at 200,000 of the Tripoli area up to the Garian was extremely inaccurate; as a second edition was being printed at the Command in Chief, the captain Piazza prepared a series of descriptive topographical reconnaissance of the area.

The sketches made in flight were of great help to the Command and especially captain Moizo, belonging to the General Staff, dedicated himself with great commitment.

Thus, at the initiative of the aviators, the aircraft found another very useful use for the operational needs of the troops. On February 28, he repatriated lieutenant De Rada.

On 4 March 1912, captain Piazza and lieutenant Gavotti, taking advantage of the almost full moon, each carried out a night flight test lasting half an hour.

The experiment was full of positive results and professional teaching.

With this experiment the concept of night flight was also realized.

On 7 March the cavalry lieutenant Giulio Palma di Cesnola arrived in Tripoli, who on 28 March carried out his first war mission and on 16 April was transferred to the Ferua camp.

On 19 April he repatriated lieutenant Gavotti; May 5 Moizo; in the second fortnight of the same month the cap. Scaparro, who ceded command of the Tripoli flotilla – which had assumed the month of March upon the return of captain Piazza to Italy – to infantry captain Alberto Novellis of Coarazze, who had arrived on 12 May and on 16 had made his first flight of war.

On 3 June another pilot arrived in Tripoli, the second lieutenant of the cavalrymen Piero Manzini, and a few days later he repatriated lieutenant Falchi. The two two-seater Blériot intended for lieutenant Manzini arrived from Italy at the end of June and so their pilot was able to begin his war flights starting from 11 July. Since then he was very active, carrying out reconnaissance, throwing bombs and leaflets, often having captain Novellis himself or even lieutenant Solomon on board as an observer.

Manzini died in a war flight accident on August 25 1912. He left at 6.10 am to carry out a photographic reconnaissance in enemy territory. He had just begun to fly along the beach when the aircraft swerved due to an air gap and fell into the sea about 20 meters north of the cliff between the Jewish Cemetery and the airship hangar. A diver, immediately rushed, could only retrieve the body of the officer from a depth of 15 meters. Piero Manzini is the first Italian aviator who fell during a war flight.

In the popular imagination (and of post card publishers) the airplane also becomes a means of sending the classic “greetings from” – that is the translation of the German “gruss aus” still in fashion.
– distant and exotic places, although regular airmail services will only be seen in Europe after the Great War.

After the death of second lieutenant Manzini, the flight activity of the Tripoli flotilla remained entrustedonly in chap. Novellis di Coarazze, who provided valuable information during the bloody battle of Sidi Bilal on September 20.

On October 12, another pilot arrived in Tripoli, the second lieutenant of the cavalrymen Gustavo Brunetta d’Usseaux, who, however, could only carry out one mission, since the campaign was now drawing to a close. In October lieutenants Salvatore Russi (pilot) and Adolfo Resio (observer) also arrived in Tripoli.

On October 20, 1912 the Occupation Corps Command in Tripoli, as a result of the peace preliminaries, suspended flights outside the trenches until further notice.

THE ACTIVITY OF MILITARY AVIATORS IN THE HOMS SECTOR.

In November 1911 the command of the square of Homs (which had been occupied by the sea since 21 October) asked the command of the expeditionary force for the aid of aerial reconnaissance.

The commander of the Tripoli flotilla, captain Piazza, when asked about it, pointed out that it would not have been possible “to attempt reconnaissance in Homs without having first prepared a landing field”, since the autonomy of the aircraft would not have allowed non-stop return flights. The maximum ranges of the devices in service, in fact, were between 120 and 300 km. He therefore proposed to send to Homs, with a steamer or a torpedo boat, a pilot and an engineer equipped with supplies of fuel and lubricants for refueling the aircraft.

The proposal was accepted and therefore on 1 December lieutenant Quaglia and an engineer left Tripoli. The officer returned to Tripoli after about ten days, leaving the engineer in Homs, after having chosen the suitable location for the landing field and having erected a hangar there.

The first transfer of aircraft from one base to another occurred in wartime was made on February 12, 1912.

It is worth mentioning the episode to give an idea of ​​the spirit of emulation that animated our pioneering aviators:

«There was a certain race between the pilots to have the privilege of landing first in Homs and starting war flights there. lieutenant Gavotti, having been invited, on the evening of February 11, to dinner by General Frugoni, Commander of the Special Army Corps, managed to get his authorization to land in Homs.

He reported this to the other pilots, to whom he announced that the next morning (February 12) he would inaugurate the new field. When he got there, he found captain Moizo who had preceded him. The episode reveals the enthusiasm that animated those pioneers, who competed in audacity and spirit of emulation ».

In memory of this event, on the same day, with Moizo’s return to Tripoli, some postcards were prepared and stamped with Guller: TRIPOLI D’AFRICA – SECTIONS JOINED – 12.2.12 10 flanked by three lines obtained with linear stamps, with the times obtained.

The difference in the time taken by the two pilots is due to the fact that they followed different itineraries.

THE ACTIVITY OF MILITARY AVIATORS IN THE FERUA SECTOR

To stop the war smuggling coming from Tunisia, in April 1912 our men landed on the beach of Ferua in the Macabez peninsula.

The command of the expeditionary force in Tripoli recognized the need for the work of the aviators also in that sector; therefore it was decided to set up a landing field there. In fact, lieutenant Tagliasacchi and four men of the troop, with a Mercandino hangar and spare and consumable materials, embarked on the torpedo boat Calliope to go and prepare the new small base.

On April 16, lieutenant Palma di Cesnola flew to Tripoli and landed on the new base after a 70-minute flight. The pilot carried out some reconnaissance in the following days, but the malfunctioning of the engine of his aircraft limited his activity until, in early May, a replacement aircraft arrived from Tripoli.

The flights of lieutenant Palma di Cesnola, intended to explore the caravans from Tunisia and the coastal area, continued until 6 June, when he was replaced by the second lieutenant of Cesare Sacerdoti artillery from Italy.

Repatriated Palma, the aerial reconnaissance was carried out by the Priest who soon ordereda new aircraft, a two-seater Nieuport, which also allowed him to bring an observer officer aboard.

At the end of July other aviators arrived in Ferua: the cavalry lieutenant Mario Girotto, who took command of Ferua’s squadron, and the infantry second lieutenant Cesare Suglia with two Blériot aircraft.

In the first days of August Ferua’s aviators frequently flew on our columns which from Sidi Alì advanced on Zelten and Regdalin. Occupied Zuara on August, 6 at the end of the month, Girotto and Suglia moved to the new camp which had been set up 500 meters from the port; Sacerdoti instead remained in Ferua until September, 10 when he flew back to Tripoli.

THE ZUARA AIRPLANE TEAM

On August 13, 1912, the “Airplane Squadron of Zuara” was set up under the orders of the artillery captain Umberto Agostini who retained command of it for only eighteen days.

The new department also included Moizo who had returned from Italy to Libya in July.

Lieutenant Girotto moved from Ferua to Zuara on August, 23 and assumed command of the squadron on 31; that day also the second lieutenant Suglia moved to Zuara.

The activity of the Zuara squadron was hampered by bad weather conditions until the end of hostilities.

Following the order of the expeditionary command to recall the pilots of Nieuport to Tripoli, on September 10, 1912 Moizo took off from the Zuara field.

Shortly before Zavia he was forced to land in enemy territory due to engine failure, and was captured.

In his report he wrote that after his capture he was taken to Azizia where he was visited by many Turkish officers and was introduced to the Chief of SM Fethi bey, who told him that when the Arabs of the Garian first saw an airplane, on the October 24th 1911, they believed that he was a Muslim holy man who came to incite them to war against the infidels. Moizo was then held prisoner in Fessi on the edge of the Jebel until October, 20 when, following the peace preliminaries, he was able to begin the return journey escorted by the Turkish gendarmerie.

Finally on November, 11 1912 he arrived in Sidi Bilal where he was released.

Thus captain Moizo went down in history as the first aviator to have fallen prisoner in an action of war.

In order to better “sell” the Italian expedition to Tripolitania in postcard format, it was soon necessary for an airplane to appear, and in the absence of anything else someone even used an existing French postcard, with a classic greeting photomontage, adapting it to the circumstance with an overprint.

THE SITUATION IN CYRENAICA: THE AIRPLANE TEAM OF BENGASI

For the operational needs of the Cyrenaic front, in November 1911, an Airplane Squadron on three aircraft, destined for Benghazi, was mobilized in Rome in two days.

Five officers were called to join it (artillery captain Alfredo Cuzzo-Crea, squadron commander, vessel lieutenant Francesco Roberti, cavalry lieutenant Raul Lampugnani, artillery lieutenant Luigi Bailo and cavalry lieutenant Umberto Cannoniere), a non-commissioned officer and twenty-nine soldiers.

The flight material included: a Blériot with a 50 HP Gnôme engine (used), a Farman with a 50 HP Gnôme engine and an Asteria biplane.

The squadron left Naples on November 8, 1911, divided into two groups, embarked on the steamships Washington, which arrived in Benghazi on the 11th, and Enrichetta, who first touched Tripoli and then reached Benghazi on November 20.

To establish the airfield, captain Cuzzo-Crea chose an area of ​​land located near the Sabi wells, near the sea, 600 meters from the defense line. The department moved to the field on November 19 and immediately began assembling the hangars and aircraft.

The November 25, the second lieutenant Roberti made a first test flight which had to be interrupted due to bad weather. The aircraft reported a broken wing.

Finally, starting from day 28, the war activity of the Benghazi Airplane Squadron began, with a flight by lieutenant Lampugnani.

Given the trend of the line of Turkish entrenchments, developing in an arc to the east and west of the city at an average distance of 20-30 km. and remained practically stationary until the end of the hostilities, the war took on the character of a position in this sector and the aviation work therefore had to adapt to this circumstance. Therefore flights of limited amplitude that rarely reached 65 kilometers.

In that end of November and in the first months of the new year the activity of the aviators was intended to provide news on the enemy. Lampugnani (who was wounded in a flight accident on December, 8), Roberti and Cannoniere, often signaled to the reaction of the enemy rifleman, constantly and accurately reported the position of the camps and the movements of the opposing troops. Artillery fire was also directed against airplanes, for the first time during the Libya campaign, on December, 15 when the aircraft piloted by lieutenant Roberti was hit by shrapnel. «lieutenant Roberti, surprised by the accuracy of the shot, with original and reckless initiative, lowered himself to the battery as if to congratulate the gunners, dropping some business cards. Many years later, in 1925, Roberti’s aircraft went down in history as the first to be hit by enemy artillery.

On February 26, 1912, the Lampugnani and Roberti aviators launched proclamations over the enemy territory inviting the Arabs to submission, obtaining praise from the Commander of the 2nd division who recognized “their beautiful qualities of intelligent courage, calm, as well as professional expertise”. This launch was followed by many others.

Throughout the winter the enemy, who had limited himself to attempting some attacks on our redoubts and provoking some isolated clashes with the outposts in considerable forces, suddenly began to attack the city. The immediate Italian counterattack prevented the attackers from escaping annihilation. The second lieutenant gunner was able to follow the events of the battle from aboard his aircraft during a reconnaissance flight. This battle, which is known as the “Battle of the Two Palms”, strongly shook the courage of the enemy in Benghazi, who no longer dared to venture against our lines in force.

On the night of March 14, captain Piazza, who arrived in Benghazi together with lieutenant Colonel Montezemolo to inspect the aeronautical services, carried out a flight on the Blériot to test the possibilities and usefulness of the night use of airplanes. captain Piazza was not new to these experiences; already in Tripoli, in fact, a few days earlier he had started together with the lieutenant Gavotti flying at night. This time, however, the flight was performed in complete darkness and provided the pilot with important elements of study to enhance the night flight for war purposes.

On April 19, captain Cuzzo-Crea repatriated and command of the squadron was taken over by the infantry captain Alberto Marengo Marenghi who had come from Italy together with lieutenant of the Alpine troops Costantino Quaglia. Meanwhile, new flight material had also arrived in Benghazi: two Blériot monoplane with 50 HP Gnôme engine and a Bréguet biplane with 100 HP Gnôme engine, as a reserve. The old aircraft, no longer suitable for flying, were disassembled and shipped to Italy.

Captain Marenghi made his first war flight on April, 27. The daring flights he made in the following months earned him repeated praise. The numerous nocturnal reconnaissance flights carried out by Marenghi in the months of May and June, sometimes accompanied by the launch of bombs, are noteworthy.

The first nocturnal reconnaissance was carried out by captain Marenghi from 3.30 to 4 on May 2, 1912. The first night bombing action was that carried out on 8 May on

an Arab-Turkish camp about 65 km. in the east-south-east interior of Benghazi with a launch of 13 bombs.

These missions took place late at night so that we could return to the camp at the crack of dawn.

To observe the instruments on board the Marenghi used an electric light bulb with a switch, installed on the helmet.

At the end of July, having finally managed to fine-tune his Bréguet biplane, which had crashed since May during a test flight, lieutenant Quaglia also began the war flights.

In September the lieutenant of genius Francesco Vece arrived in Benghazi with his Farman. coming from Tobruk, that squadron having been disbanded, and the infantry second lieutenant Vittorio De Muro coming from Italy; so that Marenghi and Quaglia were able to repatriate. The two new officers immediately began the flight activity which also included various photographic reconnaissance. On October 18, 1912, the order to suspend flights arrived in Benghazi.

THE FLEET OF CIVIL VOLUNTARY AVIATORS

In the imminence of the war, on the initiative of the director of the magazine La Stampa Sportiva of Turin, cav. Gustavo Verona, and the President of the Aero Club of Italy, Engr. Carlo Montù deputy to Parliament, a flotilla of civil volunteer aviators was organized.

Most of the civilian pilots answered the call with great enthusiasm. The Ministry of War accepted some applications and on 10 November 1911 set up the new Flotilla in Rome at the Specialist Battalion, made up of two squadrons, one destined for Derna and the other for Tobruk in Cyrenaica. The command of the entire flotilla was assumed by the Hon. Engr. Carlo Montù, captain of auxiliary artillery.

In Rome the volunteers received a brief military instruction at the Cavour Barracks; they were also informed about the orientation and signaling service and about the launch of the new aerial bombs, conceived by ten. Aurelio Bontempelli, among the first to be tested in Libya.

The entire flotilla embarked in Naples on 21 November on the steamship Europa.

There are autographs of all the aviators making up the Volunteer Flotilla, starting from the Hon. Montù to the last pilot, on this exceptional souvenir postcard made on board the Europa ship which on 21 November 1911 transferred the entire group to the two destinations in Cyrenaica.

THE DERNA VOLUNTEER TEAM

The following civil aviators were part of the Derna Squadron (which was called 2nd Volunteer Squadron or 3rd Autonomous Aviation Platoon): Umberto Cagno, Mario Cobianchi, Achille Dal Mistro and Alberto Verona, who had four airplanes supplied. The command of the squadron was assumed by captain Maddaleno Marenco.

The 2nd Squadron arrived in Derna on 25 November 1911. The city had been occupied by our landing troops on 17 October. The activity of the civilian pilots who operated in Derna was severely hampered not only by the climatic conditions but also by the unfortunate location of the airfield. This had a length of 250 meters and a width of 100 and was surrounded by obstacles of all kinds, which included, among others, four antennas of the radiotelegraphic station.

The flights were started by the aviator Verona on 4 December 1911 with a test, followed the next day by the first war mission. The reconnaissance of the volunteer aviators in Derna ended on March 4, 1912, when their repatriation began. The most active were the drivers Verona and Cagno with about twenty missions each; the Dal Mistro had made eight flights and the Cobianchi only two tests due to his poor health. Upon the return to Italy of the volunteers from Derna, the Commander of the 4th Special Division addressed them the following commendation:

Derna, March 6, 1912

To the aviators, Messrs. Verona and Cagno, and to the other members of the squadron of volunteers, who will leave this garrison tomorrow to return to Italy, having been replaced by military personnel, with the most cordial farewell, my and my troops’ applause.

In fact, during more than three months we have all had frequent occasions to admire in those young aviators the rare technical ability, the noble and spontaneous spirit of sacrifice that has always animated them and the serene audacity with which they wanted to face in addition to the snares of the air. , even the enemy fire.

A postcard illustrating the training course on aerial bombing, with interesting autograph information on the back of the Alessandro Umberto Cagno, written several years later

THE TOBRUK VOLUNTEER TEAM

The components of the Tobruk Squadron, which was also called 1st Volunteer Squadron or 4th Autonomous Aviation Platoon, were: Romolo Manissero, Giuseppe Rossi and Germano Ruggerone, pilots, Umberto Re, reserve pilot and engineer.

This squadron was placed under the orders of the infantry lieutenant Ercole Capuzzo and had five aircraft at its disposal (two single-seat Blériot, a new Farman and two used Farmans).

Like military aviators, civilian volunteers who operated in Libya on their aircraft also hadtheir picture postcard, with the portraits sunk in the palm trees.

The 1st Squadron arrived in Tobruk on 5 November 1911. The city had been occupied by our landing troops on 4 October 1911. In Tobruk, on the afternoon of 7 December 1911, Manissero happily made a test flight with his Blériot and the following day the his first two war missions. Towards the end of the month Giuseppe Rossi also began to fly.

After staying in Derna until December 9, when the aviator Verona had been able to start the flights for a few days, captain Montù moved to Tobruk where the aviators had moved camped near the radiotelegraphic station. The aircraft had been housed under a temporary hangar, built by specialist soldiers with tires for railway wagons and with two sails lent by the command of the naval base.

The war events forced lieutenant Capuzzo, who commanded the squadron but was not a pilot, to fly as an observer, despite the fact that in Rome he had been explicitly forbidden by the Command of the Specialists Battalion. The opposite order, imposed by the contingent military situation, was given by the Tobruk Commanding General. captain Montù, who as commander of the volunteer flotilla divided his presence between Derna and Tobruk, also participated in some flights as an observer. On January 31, 1912, on board the Farman piloted by Giuseppe Rossi, the Honorable Montù left for an offensive reconnaissance of the El-Dauer camp on which he dropped a bomb. As in the previous days, the enemy rifle system went into action: the aircraft returned to the Tobruk camp hit by the propeller and wings;

He was the first aviator wounded by the enemy in a war flight.

During a visit to the Tobruk camp in February 1912, Guglielmo Marconi carried out radiotelegraphy experiments with the airplane. He was able to receive the transmissions made by a warship anchored in the harbor, using a radio receiver placed aboard an airplane in a wooden box. This was the first radio transmission experiment from a surface station to an airplane in flight.

On 11 March 1912 the last reconnaissance flight was made by the volunteers from Tobruk who returned aboard the steamship Enrichetta.

Tobruk volunteers also received the following commendation from the commander of the local garrison:

Tobruk, March 11, 1912

Departure of the volunteer airmen. – The volunteer aviators Manissero, Ruggerone and Rossi will leave today for Italy to be replaced by military personnel. In the moment in which they leave us I offer them, together with the most cordial farewell, a heartfelt applause from myself and all the troops of the garrison for the tests, which we have repeatedly admired, of rare technical ability, of noble and spontaneous spirit of sacrifice, of serene audacity with which they were able to face the snares of the air and the enemy fire».

Following the decisions of the Ministry of War to demobilize the civilian volunteer aviators, the pilots of the two squadrons of Derna and Tobruk were replaced by airplane pilots officers.

Postcard dedicated to volunteer aviators with the autograph signature of the Commander captain On Carlo Montù and bearing the rare variant of the explanatory writing above the medallion with his photo.
The same postcard in the normal version and with the handwritten signature of Achille Del Mistro, Italy’s first air postman (Bologna-Venice flight of 19 September 1911)

THE DERNA AIRPLANE FLEET

On March 10, 1912, the commander of the Aviation Department of the Specialist Battalion, lieutenantColonel Cordero di Montezemolo, and captain Piazza went to Derna to set up the new squadron which took the name of the 3rd Derna Airplane Flotilla.

The command of the 3rd Autonomous Air Force Platoon of Derna passed to the second lieutenant of the cavallegers Anselmo Cesaroni, who began his flights on the Blériot the following day. On March 13 another pilot arrived from Italy, the cavalry captain Gaspare Bolla with two new planes, a Blériot and a 50 HP two-seater Duperdussin.

After a few test flights, captain Bolla made his first war flight on the afternoon of March 20.

In the following months until July, when they were repatriated, the captain Bolla and the second lieutenant Cesaroni continued their reconnaissance flights, sometimes even throwing some bombs, often hindered by the enemy Ghibli, rifle and artillery. Some flight deserves to be

remembered. On May 6, lieutenant Cesaroni, who brought lieutenant Cauda on board as a passenger, was forced to glide overboard due to an engine failure. The two aviators were rescued by a steamboat; Cesaroni unharmed and Cauda slightly injured.

A similar adventure touched on July 3 in chap. Bolla, who had left to drop bombs and proclamations on the Turkish field.

Meanwhile, at the end of June 1912, the artillery lieutenant Giovanni De Giovanni arrived from Tobruk with two Blériots and at the end of July the cavalry lieutenant Enrico Franceschini from Italy. These two officers were entrusted with the continuation of the aerial activity in the Derna area; precious information was given to our land troops who, until the end of the campaign, remained continuously active, repelling repeated enemy attacks and reinforcing and enlarging the occupied area.

Group photo of the civilian volunteer aviators who operated in Libya. From left to right: Germano Ruggerone, Maddeleno Marenco, Romolo Manissero, Umberto Cagno, Achille Del Mistro, Alberto Verona, Umberto Re, Mario Cobianchi and Giuseppe Rossi.

THE TOBRUK MILITARY TEAM

In Tobruk, too, civil aviators had been replaced by military ones. On 11 March 1912 the new military pilots arrived: artillery captain Umberto Agostini, who assumed command of the squadron, artillery lieutenant Luigi Bailo of the Benghazi Squadron and vessel lieutenant Giuseppe Garassini Garbarino. lieutenant Capuzzo remained in command of the troop personnel (4th autonomous aviation platoon) until the moment of his repatriation.

The main use of military aviators in Tobruk concerned the exploration of the encampments, of the caravan routes connecting Solum with Derna and especially of the places where the wells were.

On 7 May captain Agostoni left Tobruk and lieutenant Bailo assumed command of the squadron. lieutenant De Giovanni arrived in Tobruk at the beginning of May and was transferred to Derna at the end of June; at the same time, the second lieutenant Garassini returned to Italy and lieutenant Francesco Vece arrived in Tobruk, who assumed command of the squadron taking over from lieutenant Bailo.

The war activity of the Tobruk squadron ceased on September 16, 1912 when it was dissolved; lieutenant Bailo was repatriated with three aircraft, lieutenant Vece and the troops were transferred to the Benghazi Airplane Flotilla.

AIR FORCE DEPARTMENT STAMPS USED DURING

THE ITALO-TURKISH WAR

TRIPOLITANIA:

A)  SQUADRIGLIA AEROPLANI DI TRIPOLI (Aviatori militari)

(1st Tripoli Airplane Flotilla)

(Activity from October, 11 1911 to October, 20 1912)

A/1 Linear cancellation on three lines, violet. Souvenir postcard of the Tripoli-Homs flight:

« TRIPOLI D’AFRICA / MOIZO – Ore: 1, 1 5 / GAVOTTI – “ : 1,40 »

Between the first and second line. a cent stamp is inserted. 5 canceled with Guller:

« TRIPOLI D’AFRICA – SEZIONI RIUNITE – 12.2.12 10 »

A/2 Double circle stamp with Savoy coat of arms in the center, light blue:

COMANDO FLOTTIGLIA AVIATORI * TRIPOLI *

B)  HOMS AIRPLANE TEAM (Military Airmen)

(Active from 1st December 1911 to 1st March 1912)

There are no known stamps used by this squadron

C)  AIRPLANE TEAM OF FERUA (Military aviators)

(Activity from 1 April 1912 to 31 August 1912)

There are no known stamps used by this squadron

D)  ZUARA AIRPLANE TEAM (Military aviators)

(Active from 13 August 1912 to September 1912)

There are no known stamps used by this squadron

Rare postcard souvenir of the speed race between captain Moizo and lieutenant Gavotti on the Tripoli-Homs route. The race was won by captain Moizo who with his Nieuport completed the route in an hour and fifteen minutes.
Postcard shipped free of duty from Tripoli with the rare A/2 type stamp (the only example known to date)

CYRENAICA:

  • AIRPLANE TEAM OF BENGASI (Military aviators)

(2nd Benghazi Airplane Flotilla)

(Active from November 28, 1911 to October, 18 1912)

There are no known stamps used by this squadron

F)  DERNA TEAM (Civil Volunteer Airmen)

(2nd Volunteer Squadron or 3rd Autonomous Aviation Platoon)

(Active from December, 4 1911 to March, 7 1912)

F/1 Double circle stamp with Savoy coat of arms in the center, red:

« CORPO D’A.ta S.le – COMANDO FLOTTIGLIA AVIATORI VOLONTARI»

F/2 Double circle stamp with Savoy coat of arms in the center, blue or violet:

« CORPO D’AR.ta S.le – COMANDO 3° PLOTONE AUT.  AVIAT.  VOLONTARI »

Postcard sent from Derna on February 15, 1912 autographed by captain Hon. Carlo Montù, Commander of the Volunteer Aviators Flotilla in Tripolitania with the type F/1 stamp.
Postcard sent from Derna on December, 13 1911 with the type F / 2 stamp.

F/3 Linear stamp on four lines, violet:

« AERONAUTICA M1L1TARE ITALIANA / CORPO DI SPEDIZIONE IN / TRIPOLITANIA E CIRENAICA

 COMANDO FLOTTIGLIA AVIATORI »

Only one postcard is known bearing the aforementioned stamp and an entire postal card.

F/4 Linear stamp on three lines, violet or purplish blue:

« FLOTTIGLIA / AVIATORI VOLONTARI / 2ª Squadra »

This stamp was forged:the fake is in black ink, the fonts are slightly different and there is a difference in the alignment of the words.

Postcard sent from Derna on March, 14 1912 by Capt. Maddaleno Marenco, Commander of the Squadron, to the pilot Mario Cobianchi.
Postcard sent from Derna on December, 23 1912, also autographed by captain Marenco.

PLEASE NOTE: There are postal pieces bearing the aforementioned stamps with dates after the period of activity of each squadron. This is not surprising since the period of war activity of the squadrons and pilots should not be confused with the definitive repatriation of all auxiliary personnel, which in many cases took place at the end of 1913. As regards the color of the stamps, I have only mentioned those that I have been able to personally check, without taking into account other information. Sometimes it is very difficult to tell if a stamp is blue, violet or lilac pink due to original inking, low inking or aging of the ink.

G)   TOBRUK TEAM (Civil Volunteer Airmen)

(1st Volunteer Squadron or 4th Autonomous Aviation Platoon)

(Active from November, 28 1911 to 11 March 1912)

G/1 Double circle stamp with Savoy coat of arms in the center, violet:

« CORPO D’AR.ta S.le – COMANDO 4° PLOTONE AUT. AVIAT.  VOLONTARI »

Only one postcard is known bearing the aforementioned stamp

G/2 Linear stamp on two lines, blue:

« CORPO D’ARMATA SPECIALE / Comando 4° Plotone autonomo d’aviazione »

G/3 Linear stamp on two lines, blue:

« IL COMANDANTE / il 4° plotone Autonomo d’aviazione »

Postcard sent from Tobruk on March, 6 1912 autographed by Ten. Ercole Capuzzo, Commander of the 4th Platoon Autonomous Volunteer Aviators (G/1).
Postcard with stamp type G/2 unusually affixed to the side of the illustration.

H)   DERNA’S TEAM (Military aviators)

(3rd Airplane Flottiglía of Derna or 3rd Autonomous Aviation Platoon)

(Active from March 19, 1912 to September 1912)

H/1 Linear stamp on two lines, violet or lilac violet:

« CORPO D’ARMATA SPECIALE / Comando 3° Plotone autonomo d’aviazione »

H/2 Linear stamp on two lines, violet:

« IL COMANDANTE / il 3° Plotone autonomo d’aviazione »

Only one postcard is known bearing the aforementioned stamp.

I)   TEAM OF TOBRUK (Military aviators)

(Active from 11 March 1912 to 16 September 1912)

There are no known stamps used by this squadron on postal pieces. 

The following cancellation is known in five flight reports signed by the pilot and by Capt. Augusto Gallina, commander of the squadron, dated June, 3 (three copies), June 7, and  June 23, 1913:

I/1 Linear stamp on two lines, surmounted by the Savoy coat of arms, violet:

« SQUADRIGLIA AVIATORI / TOBRUK » (“AVIATOR TEAM / TOBRUK”)

Postcard sent by Tobruk autographed by Ten. Ercole Capuzzo bearing the stamps G/1 + G/3.

Postcard from Derna autographed by Capt. Gaspare Bolla, Commander of the 3rd Autonomous Aviation Platoon (type H/1).

L)  BENGASIAN TEAM (Military aviators)

(2nd Benghazi Airplane Flotilla or 2nd Autonomous Aviation Platoon)

(Active from September, 16 1912 to June 1913)

L/1 Double circle stamp with Savoy coat of arms in the center, violet:

« CORPO D’AR.ta S.le – COMANDO 2° PLOTONE AUT. AVIAT.  Bengasi »

L/2 Linear stamp on two lines, violet:

« CORPO D’ARMATA SPECIALE / COMANDO 2° PLOTONE AUT.  AVIAZ. »

Only one postcard is known bearing the two aforementioned stamps.

It should be noted that these are the two stamps G / 1 and G / 2, already supplied to the TEAM OF TOBRUK (Civil Volunteer Aviators), in which the indication of the department has been chipped and replaced by hand. 

More precisely:

  1. In the stamp L/1 the word « VOLONTARI » has been chipped and replaced with the handwritten wording « Bengasi »

b)   In the stamps L/1 and L/2 the numbers “4 °” have been chiseled and replaced with the handwritten word “2 °”.

Autographed postcard of Ten. Enrico Franceschini with the H/2 stamp.
The only known correspondence bearing both the L/1 and L/2 stamps.

Conclusion

That little war had tested a great new weapon and set the conceptual formulation of its most important types of use. For the first time in the world, exploration and tactical reconnaissance, visual and photographic, cartographic missions, observation of artillery fire, assistance to moving infantry, launching leaflets into enemy territory were experimented in practice, the day and night bombardment. Hunting was even planned, if not implemented due to the lack of opposing aviation.

Born as a specialty of genius, but fueled by the valor and ingenuity of officers from all the Army and Navy corps, the Air Force was soon destined, after the most arduous tests of the First World War, to side by side, as a third independent armed force, alongside the other two traditional surface forces. As the Douhet said: «A new Weapon has arisen: the Weapon of the air; a new battlefield has opened: the sky; a new fact has taken place in the history of warfare: the beginning of war in the air “.

Fraternization in colonial-bourgeois style, with children who always make tenderness, thanks to a transgressive (but not yet criminalized) cigarette, in the shadow of minarets and an airplane that imposes the peace of the winner: the propaganda equipment changes little over time !

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Various Authors – I primi cinquant’anni dell’aviazione italiana, Rivista Aeronautica Numero speciale Anno XXXV, 3 marzo 1959. 

Angelo Lodi – Il periodo pionieristico dell’Aeronautica Militare Italiana 1884-1915 Rivista Aeronautica, Roma, 1961.

Mario Cobianchi – Pionieri dell’Aviazione in Italia Editoriale Aeronautico, Roma, 1943.

Various Authors – I primi voli di guerra nel mondo Ufficio Storico dell’Aeronautica Militare, Roma, 1951.

Aeronautical Magazine – Cronistoria dell’Aeronautica Militare Italiana, Roma,  Provveditorato Generale dello Stato, published from 1927 to 1929 in seven volumes.

Various authors – Ministero della Guerra – Ufficio Storico: Campagna di Libia – Roma, Stato Maggiore del Regio Esercito, published from 1922 to 1927 in five volumes..

Tricolor flag with, in the green field, the words “To captain Moizo cordially Esq. LuigiLodi Focardi – Florence 11-XI-11 “. The lawyer Lodi, organizer of the Bologna Aviation Experiments (May 22-30,1910 and Commissioner of the Italian Air Circuit (September 17-20, 1911) donated this flag to captain Moizo who, tied it to one of the tie rods of his Nieuport, took it in flight during the Italo-Turkish War. Italian Air Force, in Milan in June-October 1934, of which it still bears the tag with the load number.