Turkey in the First World War
The history of Turkish military aviation dates back to 1909 when French aviators were invited to Istanbul to perform demonstrations and the Ottoman High Command began with studies in this field. On December 2 the same year, Turkish skies welcomed the first ever aircraft, when, upon the invitation of the Minister of War, Mahmut Şevket Paşa, a Belgian pilot named Baron de Catters came to Istanbul and performed an exhibition flight with his Voisin biplane.
As Baron de Catters was flying above Istanbul, there was a great enthusiasm among Turkish officers: “The flying machines that we observed are still rather simple. Though it is not possible to predict right now to what extent these flying machines will develop in the future, we are of the solid opinion that people will be able to safely wander through the air in the near future. Though it might not be appropriate to procure various types of these vehicles in the immediate future, it shall not be long before they play an active role on the war front." (quoted by Stuart Kline).
Results of the early studies started to bear fruits soon, and an important step was taken with the sending of a delegation to the International Aviation Conference in Paris. At the end of 1910, a decision was made by the Ottoman High Command to send officers to Europe to be trained as pilots; however due to the financial difficulties faced the Empire at that time, this plan had to be postponed. Only a handful of Turkish students residing in Paris attended flight schools and obtained their certificates there.
Mahmut Şevket Paşa could anticipate the importance of military aviation, and he was aware of the fact that European nations were racing to strengthen their air forces. In June 1911, he appointed Lt.Col. Süreyya Bey to procure balloons and aircraft, to organize the training of pilots, and to coordinate the construction of aviation facilities. Eventually the Aviation Commission was established under the umbrella of the Scientific Research Unit of the Ottoman Ministry of War. Eight years after the successful flight of Wright Brothers, Turkey took its place among its peers, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Russia in the field of aviation.
The Aviation Commission collected information on European aviation through the Ottoman military attachés in European capitals. One of the attachés reporting to the commission was the one in Berlin, Maj. Enver Bey, who wrote on balloons and anti-balloon artillery. In July 1911, two elite officers, Cavalry Cpt. Fesa Bey and Engineer Lt. Yusuf Kenan Bey, were sent to Bleriot Flight School in France to be trained as pilots.
When Italy invaded Tripolitania, Turkey was far from being ready to use its aircraft in battle. There have been attempts to purchase aircraft from France and to send them to the battlefield via Algeria, but these plans failed tomaterialize. Meanwhile, the Italian army employed an air force of 28 aircraft and 4 balloons, becoming the first nation ever to use military aviation in a war.
The Turco-Italian War was indeed a war of “firsts” in terms of military aviation. Turkish troops opened fire on an Italian aircraft on December 15, 1911, which became the first anti-aircraft artillery operation in military history. The first aircraft to crash in a war was the one of Lt. Manzini, shot down on August 25, 1912 and the first aircraft to be captured was that of Cpt. Moizo, on September 10, 1912.
Cpt. Fesa Bey and Lt. Yusuf Kenan Bey have successfull completed their training in France in March 1912 and returned home. They became the first military pilots of Turkey, and they were given two Deperdussin REP planes, which were among the 15 planes bought through the donations collected from among the people. With these aircraft, Fesa Bey and Yusuf Kenan Bey flew over Istanbul on April 27, 1912, becoming the first Turkish aviators to fly over their home soil.
In October 1912, Balkan states declared war on the Ottoman Empire. Nine Turkish fighter planes and four training planes took part in the Balkan War. During the first phase of the war there has been no significant success for the Turkish pilots and four planes were lost. Howev
The first balloon acquired by the Ottoman Army, the Parseval PL-9 was sent aloft in Yeşilköy on July 23, 1913. A crew of German and Turkish officers and engineers manned the balloon, which managed to reach an altitude of 300 meters.
With the conclusion of the Balkan War, which left the Ottoman Army with no single functioning aircraft, studies began for reforming and developing Turkish military aviation. A French air force captain, Marquis de Gois de Mazeyrac, was appointed as instructor, new aircraft were bought and the Naval Aviation School was opened in Yeşilköy. Meanwhile Lt. Nuri Bey and Lt. Hami Bey flew on a Deperdussin aircraft from Edirne to Istanbul. This first long distance flight of Turkish military aviators took three hours and five minutes.
Five days after this successful flight, on October 29, 1913, Cpt. Salim Bey and Cpt. Kemal Bey flew over the Sea of Marmara and on November 30, 1913, Belkıs Şevket Hanım, the chairwoman of the Association of Women’s Rights became the first Turkish woman to fly a military aircraft.
Fethi Bey and Sadık Bey departed from Istanbul on February 8, 1914, and reached Beirut in seven days. After they took off from Beirut, they had to make a forced landing due to engine damage. The Bleriot underwent repairs and the pilots continued their journey to Damascus. On March 3, amidst difficult flying conditions on the Golan Heights, the aircraft crashed near Samakh, east of the Sea of Galilee. Fethi Bey and Sadık Bey did not survive the crash. They lost their lives there and later they were buried in Damascus, next to the mausoleum of Salahaddin Ayyubi near the Umayyad Mosque, which is still their final resting place.
Nuri Bey and İsmail Hakkı Bey had taken off from Istanbul on the same day with their colleagues Fethi Bey and Sadık Bey. Their Deperdussin B experienced some technical difficulties, but they managed to reach Damascus on February 27 and Jaffa on March 10. As they left Jaffa for Jerusalem the next day, their plane did not gain enough altitude and crashed on the rocks as it headed towards the sea. Nuri Bey drowned, weighed down by his clothes as he tried to swim back to the shore. He was buried in Damascus next to Fethi Bey and Sadık Bey. İsmail Hakkı Bey was rescued but suffered from severe trauma.
The World War
When the Ottoman Empire entered the World War, it had only seven planes and ten pilots available. As soon as the Empire found itself in war, the Russians launched an offensive in the Caucasus front and the Third Army stationed there requested aircraft that would fly reconnaissance flights. Two Bleriot planes named Edremit and Tarık bin Ziyad to be flown by Fesa Bey and Salim Bey were loaded on a transport ship, which was eventually sunk by Russians. The aircraft were lost and the pilots were taken prisoner, ending up in prisoner camps in Siberia.
Responding to a request from the Ottoman High Command, a number of German pilots visited the Ottoman Air Force in 1915 and Turkish officers began to be sent to Germany for flight training. At the same time, Cpt. Erich Serno from the German Air Force was given the task of reforming the Turkish military aviation. He came with 12 planes, pilots, technicians, and he was appointed as the director of the Flight School.
In those early years of the war, there were serious problems with regard to the transportation of the planes from Germany to Turkey. Germany was in war with Serbia, whereas Bulgaria and Romania remained neutral, which meant that the land routes were blocked. For this reason, aircraft were taken to Southern Hungary by train and then flown to Turkey. It was only after Serbia was defeated and Bulgaria entered the war on the side of the Central Powers that these logistics problems were solved. German contribution in terms of both aircraft and pilots played a crucial role in strengthening Turkish aviation efforts in the war. The number of aircrafts eventually rose to 40 in 1915, and 90 in 1916. The army used a total of 450 aircraft during the course of the war, flown by 100 Turkish and 150 German pilots.
In 1915, as new aircraft were being purchased and pilots were being trained at the Flight School, the Ottoman High Command also re-organized the structure of the air force. Air squadrons were established in Çanakkale, Uzunköprü, Keşan, Adana, Damascus, Iraq and the Caucasus. Only Turkish pilots served in some of the squadrons, whereas Turkish and German pilots served together in others. Meanwhile, a small number of independent German air units, known as the Pascha units (Filegerabteilungen 300-305) operated parallel to the Turkish units in Syria and Palestine. Captain Serno wrote in his memoirs: “The collaboration of Germans and Turks has been one to be admired. It went on without facing any obstacles. There were true bonds of comradeship between them. Turkish aviators sacrificed their own comfort just to relieve the burden on their German comrades and help them overcome their inexperience and the feeling of being a stranger. They appreciated German technical knowledge and superior equipment. Several Turkish aviators worked hard with determination and love in order to fully absorb the knowledge. Some of them became brilliant fighter pilots, others undertook excellent reconnaissance operations.”
During this period, the Turkish Air Force was made up of units such as the Flight School, Air Stations, Air Squadrons, Stable Balloon Squadrons, Anti-Aircraft Artillery and Meteorology Stations. The Naval Air Squadrons and the Naval Aviation School served under the Ministry of Navy.
When Allied landings began in Gallipoli, the command of Çanakkale Fortified Zone had an air squadron of four planes (three Albatros B1 and one Rumpler B1). This squadron proved to be very useful in reconnaissance, patrol and support duties. Aerial reconnaissance had played an important role on March 18, 1915 when the Allied fleet attempted to break through the Dardanelles, without success. Later the first aircraft squadron, reinforced with Turkish and German observers and a few aircraft, continued reconnaissance and bombarding duties over British and French forces on the offshore islands. Bombs were dropped by hand and aircraft armament was ineffective. The first aircraft to be equipped with machine guns, at the rear cockpit entered the service in August 1915.
On July 5, 1915, a small naval aviation unit consisting of Gotha seaplanes arrived from Germany. A week later, four new aircraft reinforced the first squadron, commanded by German Lt. Ludwig Preussner, later followed by Cpt. Tahsin Bey. This unit continued to provide air support to the Fifth Army for the remainder of the Gallipoli campaign. The quality of information provided by written reconnaissance reports was improved by excellent photography after cameras designed for this purpose were received in autumn.
In Palestine, an air squadron of four planes was initially supporting the Fourth Army. However, they were far from being of any use. One of them crashed down during training, the others were desolate. No air units were originally provided for the Mesopotamia campaign, however soon it was realized that it was possible to use the captured British aircraft. Lt. Fazıl Bey was sent from Palestine to Iraq to organize these operations, however most British aircraft were useless, because many parts were missing as they were captured. Later, in December 1915, the Ottoman High Command sent an air squadron to the Mesopotamian front.
The Turkish Air Force gained full power only in 1916. In May 1916, all the aviation units were combined under the Air Affairs Bureau of Inspections of the Ottoman High Command. In December 1916, the air force consisted of 90 aircrafts, 81 pilots and 57 observers (see the table to the right).
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