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Knights of the Air: Gottfried von Banfield

Gottfried Freiherr (Baron) von Banfield (6 February 1890 – 23 September 1986) was the most successful Austro-Hungarian naval aeroplane pilot in the First World War.

He was known as the 'Eagle of Trieste', being probably the only flying ace who flew a flying boat fighter to nine or more victories.

Of Norman origin, the Banfields were an Irish family in the 16th century. The ancestor Thomas, an officer in the British army, while in Bavaria married an Austrian noblewoman. He took part in the Crimean War and died after the taking of Sevastopol. His son Richard Banfield, born in Vienna in 1836 and educated in Austria, opted for Austrian citizenship, became an officer of the Imperial and Royal Navy and took part in the Battle of Lissa as one of the commanders on Wilhelm von Tegetthoff's flagship, the Erzherzog Ferdinand Max.

Gottfried von Banfield was born in 1890 in Castelnuovo, which is situated in the Bay of Cattaro and was the homeport of an Austrian fleet. He attended the Military secondary-school in Sankt Pölten, and the Naval academy in Fiume (Rieka): on 17 June 1909 he emerged as cadet. In May 1912 he was promoted to Fregatten-Leutnant. One month later he began pilot training in the flying school in Wiener Neustadt, and in August he obtained his flying licence. Enthused with aviation like his elder brother, who had already become a well-known aviator, he was chosen to be among the first pilots of the Austrian Navy, and went off to perfect his training at the Donnet-Lévèque pilot school in France, where his trainer was the company's chief pilot, the naval lieutenant Jean-Louis Conneau, a pilot famous at the time for having won many air contests under the pseudonym of Beaumont. On the Pola Naval Air base of Santa Caterina island he trained in seaplanes. As a result of a forced landing in 1913 he broke a leg so badly that the foot was barely saved. He was not airborne again until the outbreak of war.

At the start of the First World War, he was posted to fly the Lohner flying boat E.21 allocated to the pre-dreadnought battleship SMS Zrinyi (below) for aerial reconnaissance.

He took part in the first aerial actions against Montenegro from the base of Cattaro. In the period following he worked as a test pilot and instructor at the airfield on the island of Santa Catarina off Pola. Once the Italians entered the war he was commissioned with building up a larger seaplane station near Trieste, and after its completion was named as its commanding officer.

He retained this role until the end of the war. He won his first air-battles in a Lohner biplane seaplane against the Italians and their French allies in the gulf of Trieste in the month of June 1915, downing a balloon on the 27th. Even coming up against his old teacher Jean-Louis Conneau (better known as André Beaumont) in September 1915.

Encounter over the Adriatic: Italian tri-motor Caproni bomber vs. Austro-Hungarian Lohner flying boat:

Experimenting with a monoplane seaplane early in 1916, he won many victories and for a time held first place among the Austrian aces. He was wounded in combat in 1918.

Banfield's 9 confirmed and 11 unconfirmed air-kills make him the most successful Austro-Hungarian naval airplane fighter, and he holds a place among the most successful flying aces of Austro-Hungary.

It was because he made most of his expeditions over the northern Adriatic, and therefore many of his attributed air-victories could not be confirmed, that accounts for his high tally of unconfirmed air-conquests. For his military services he was awarded on 17 August 1917 the Military Order of Maria Theresa and the title of Baron (Freiherr in German).

Before the 8.17.17 awards ceremony in the Imperial Palace.
Banfield is in the background, second from the right, in his black Navy uniform:

After the ceremony. Banfield is in the first row, second from the left, the only Naval officer to receive the award (and also the youngest companion of the Maria Theresa Military Order):

After the First World War, the city of Trieste was annexed by Italy, and Gottfried was for a time imprisoned by the occupation police. In 1920 he emigrated to England and became a British subject. He married Countess Maria Tripcovich of Trieste (d. 1976). They settled in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where their son Raphael Douglas, known to the world as the composer Raffaello de Banfield Tripcovich, was born in 1922. In 1926, Gottfried took Italian nationality and returned to Trieste to become Director of the Diodato Tripcovich and Co. Trieste Shipping-Company, which he took over from his father-in-law. Trieste Company ships then sailed under the Italian flag. Banfield became a celebrity of the city, usually called 'Our Baron', 'Il nostro Barone'. Serving as the Honorary Consul of France at Trieste, he was decorated with the Legion d'Honneur in 1977. Banfield died in Trieste in 1986 at the age of 96.

Portrait of Banfield (centre) in the Austrian Military Museum, Vienna:

As a memorial the 1990 graduating year's class of the Theresa Military academy in Wiener-Neustadt, the greater number of whom had begun their foundation military service in the year of Banfield's death, called itself the 'Banfield Class.'

Text: Wiki (edited)

Views: 3715

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Comment by lord_k on July 19, 2011 at 3:50pm
Great small photo. Thanks, again!
Comment by Dieter Marquardt on July 19, 2011 at 3:42pm

I came across this image of Baron Banfield in his later life. I want to share it here as I find it great to see the life and determination in his expression even at this age.

Comment by lord_k on July 2, 2011 at 7:47am
My pleasure, Dieter!
Comment by Dieter Marquardt on July 2, 2011 at 7:43am

Ever since I had read Baron Banfield's (auto)biography in the late '80s I admired this man; cosmopolitan, gentleman of the "old school" and waterplane pioneer. Thank you for the article!

Comment by Jacob Savage on September 14, 2010 at 8:31am
Thank you for this article, now I have found yet another incredible WWI pilot to respect.
Comment by Larry on September 12, 2010 at 7:58pm
Without a doubt a man with balls of steel. They don't make many like him.

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