Dieselpunks

Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Knights of the Air: First Aerial Bombing

The dropping of bombs from balloons had been outlawed by the Hague Convention of 1899, but eleven years later first aerial bombs were tested in Europe and in the United States. They were dropped from aircraft.

The question is: who was the first to use an airplane as a bomber? Perhaps, the Italians? Well, on November 1, 1911, Lieutenant Giulio Gavotti of the Italian Army bombed an Ottoman military encampment at the Taguira oasis in Libya from his Bleriot aircraft.

But he used hand grenades and not the "dedicated" boms fitted with stabilizer fins. So dubious honor of being world's First Airbomb Power goes to Bulgaria.
Here I owe you a short explanation. Pre-WWI Bulgaria was a real air power. Its eccentric monarch Ferdinand I was the first royal who took a ride on an airplane (as a passenger, in Belgium, 1910):

In October 1912, at the start of the First Bakan War, Bulgarian air force maintained 23 airplanes, mostly French Bleriot and Farman. At the moment, there were 99 military planes in Russia, 46 in Germany, 23 in Great Britain and 22 in Italy. Immediately after the start of hostilities Bulgarian pilot Christo Toprakchiev (see his portrait below) suggested the use of aircraft to drop bombs or grenades on Ottoman positions.

Toprakchiev's idea was developed by Capt. Simeon Petrov, one of the first Bulgarian aviators and talented engineer.

Petrov's brevet, obtained in France:

Petrov in his Bleriot XI single-seater:

Petrov created several prototypes by adapting different types of grenades and increasing their payload. It's widely believed that his devices were tested in action on October 16, 1912, when observer Lieut. Prodan Tarakchiev (below right) dropped two bombs on the Turkish railway station of Karaagac (near the besieged Edirne / Odrin / Adrianopole) from an Albatros F.II aircraft piloted by Lieut. Radul Milkov (below left):

For decades it was claimed that Tarakchiev-Milkov flight was the first use of an aircraft as a bomber. But numerous documents prove that this was only a reconnaisance flight. So who dropped the bombs if not the crew of this wonderful machine?

The answer is: Major Vasil Zlatarov, the Aeronautical Park Commander, from a Bleriot XI two-seater piloted by Giovanni Sabelli (Italian volunteer), on November 17, 1912.

It's easy to guess how the history had been re-written: Milkov, who served as the first commander of Airplane Group, played dangerous political and intelligence games in the Interbellum and finally was promoted to Air Force General in 1948, had enough skill and tools to credit the first bombing to his adventurous self. And Zlatarov, the first Bulgarian aeronaut and aviator (educated in Russian aeronautical school and then in France) who actually organized the Air Force, was sacked from the Army after the Armistice, managed a private business without any major success and died in 1932. Here is his photograph:

Speaking of Giovanni Sabelli - one of 21 foreign aviators (seventeen Russians, two Italians and two Frenchmen) who volunteered for Bulgaria in the First Balkan War - I must mention his WWI record.

He joined the Italian 91st "Aces Squadron" on 9 May 1917. Flying a two-seater aircraft he lost little time in downing five enemy aircraft on the Italian Front - four of which were German Albatrosses - between 10 August and 29 September 1917.
Sabelli was himself downed and killed on 25 October 1917 at Bainsizza, shot down in flames.

Photos: Lost Bulgaria, Bulgarian Aviation

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Comment by Larry on December 4, 2010 at 9:55am
"Sabelli was himself downed and killed on 25 October 1917 at Bainsizza, shot down in flames"

Like the song goes, "I'm going down in a blaze of glory!" :)

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