Eager to create a cohesive national identity, the young nation of Italy looked to invade the lightly-defended Ottoman territory of Libya in 1911; strategically overlooking the central Mediterranean, sparsely-populated, and only 300 miles south from home, a decidedly short colonial conflict with the Ottoman Empire could solve internal problems among Italy’s impoverished rural population and provide a much-needed boost to economic development. Having tried (and failed) to expand its influence in East Africa fifteen years earlier, the ensuing Italo-Turkish War lasted for 13 months, proving to be an Italian success and a further defeat for the declining Ottomans.
This conflict saw the first systematic use of aircraft for warfare, often helping to direct artillery fire and take photographs of enemy positions. A total of nine aeroplanes (two Bleriot XI monoplanes, two Etrich Taube monoplanes, three Nieuport monoplanes and two Farman biplanes) were used by the Italian Flottiglia Aeroplani (Aeroplane Flotilla), which consisted of 11 pilots. The above picture depicts a Bleriot, flown by Captain Carlo Piazza, as it dives down to reconnoiter over enemy lines in the early hours of 23rd October 1911 – the first military use of an aeroplane in history. It would not be long before this milestone in aviation would be matched by history’s first aerial bombing on 1st November, setting the stage for these new machines to be used on a much larger scale in the First World War.
By Ibrahim Zamir