The Great War (World War I 1914-1918) has been in the public consciousness for many years in the shadows of the heavily traumatized World War II (1939-1945).
And yet it was the first of the world’s conflicts that determined the geopolitical shape of today’s world, and until the outbreak of World War II was the most important of the conflicts in the history of mankind’s most recent era, and is called the Great War, in various languages. The countries that started it did not survive, and as a result, new countries, new problems and the seeds of future regional conflicts and the next world war emerged. Aviation, “the era of wings and the rulers of the skies,” played a prominent role in both world conflicts, especially in the first, when the war of movement and the rigidity from the earth rose to the air. In the twentieth century, by constant evolution, the airplane, most commonly called an aircraft, was transformed from a “shapeless box” into an excellent tool, obedient to man and giving him indispensable service in all spheres of life. Until 17 December 1903, ie at the time of the first flight of brothers Orville and Wilbur Wrights’ aircraft named “Flyer I” at Kitty Hawk in the United States of America, the airspace - “third dimension” - was “captured” only by the aeronauts.8 They gave rise to aviation, or the air forces. As defined at the beginning of the 20th century:
Aviation uses devices heavier than the air; Balloon units use lighter than air devices: free and captive balloons, airships and one heavier than the air device – a kite.
However, before the shots in Bosnian Sarajevo which gave rise to the Great War had been fired10, planes as the “fifth arm” were used during two conflicts in the world: Italian-Turkish war 1911-1912 (Libyan war) for Tripolitania (Arabian Tarabulus), Cyrenaica (Arabian Barka) and Fezzan (Arabian Fazzān) in North Africa and the First Balkan War 1912-1913 in Europe, and before them, after the kites “flew to war” was the aerostat - balloons. On 4 June 1783, a canvas and paper balloon filled with heated air constructed by brothers Joseph Michael and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier with a diameter of 11.7 m and volume of 900 m3 was the first ever to perform a flight lasting about 10 minutes. “Gazeta Warszawska” in the issue of September 8, 1783, reported: We have a fresh invention that the local authority has judged to be decent to publicly report to prevent vain fears that would make the new thing among the commoners. Counting the difference in gravity between the air called “burning” and the air of our atmosphere, it was discovered that the great sphere of light material filled with “burning” air should itself rise to heaven and rising higher and higher, until both of these airs will not be in the same weight but it cannot be, unless at great altitude. The first experience was made in Languedoc in the district of Vivarais in Annonay by the inventors Messrs Motgolfier themselves. A canvas and paper sphere of 150 feet in circumference and filled up with this “burning” air, raised itself to a considerable altitude that could not be measured.
The first aeronauts in history were a duck, a rooster and a ram, which the brothers J.M and J.E. Montgolfier put in a cage inserted into the balloon gondola and released on 29 September, 1783 at Versailles, in the presence of King Louis XVI Bourbon. On 15 October 1783, Jean Pilatre de Rozier became the first human aeronaut to rise to a height of 20 meters in the air, and in Poland on 20 May 1784 in Kamieniec Podolski, the first paper hot air balloon was made, funded by financial support from Jan de Witte (it was supposed to lift two aeronauts, but at the start cracks in the shell occurred and the balloon was released by the crew on the ground and it lifted off unmanned, reaching a height of 240 m). For the first time in history “for the benefit of the army”, captive balloons and free balloons were used during the French Republic’s war with the anti-French coalition in the present republics of Belgium and France in 1792-179414. During the Spring of Nations in Europe, in 1849, an Austrian artillery officer, Oblt. Franz Joseph Uchatius15 developed a method of dropping small bombs from free balloons that were used on 22 August 1849 during the siege of rebellious Venice. Thus he was proclaimed in the Austrian Empire (Kaisertum Österreich) as the forerunner of the military use of observation balloons. Captive observation balloons and free balloons in the 19th century were also used by the French Army during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, and the balloon section at Aldershot formed by the Royal Engineers in 1890 was used three times in colonial conflicts in Africa for artillery spotting (including the Second Boer War 1899-1902). Captive balloons were also used by the Americans – the US Army Signal Corps used aerostats to observe the fire of their own artillery in the area of Santiago and San Juan during the American-Spanish War in 1898. There is no source of information on the use of observation balloons in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, while during the Libyan War the Italian 1st Field Army on 23 October 1911 made use of two captive observation balloons for the surveillance of artillery bombardment of positions of the Turkish army (the first European combat balloon pilot was Carlo Montu), while in Europe the captive tentacle balloons were used for the first time in the 20th century during the First Balkan War of 1912-1913 (mainly with the Bulgarian Army).
The first ever aerial attack, due to bad calculations or strong winds, proved to be unsuccessful, but it was another step in the use of flying objects in the war after the kites. The aerostat experience in warfare was so promising that in the second half of the nineteenth century the world’s leading states began to build aeronautical observation subunits (in 1893 they were formed in the Austro-Hungarian Army) in which the task of balloon crews was primarily observation and possibly surveillance - correcting - fire of fortress artillery. The end of balloon adventures was brought by 20th century and the “competitive” new device – a plane - the aircraft that changed the face of modern civilization and mankind.
Equipped with an engine and therefore able to overcome winds, it appeared in the arsenals of many countries around the world after 1903 (In 1908, W. Wright brought his plane to Europe in the Republic of France - République France – where he established a flying school). At first, the Americans were ahead of the European aviation pioneers, but the rapid advancement of aviation in the world made the military aviation of the French Republic (L’aviation Militaire) the world’s leader before the outbreak of the Great War. In the United Kingdom in the spring of 1912, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was established. Similar “aerial engagement” took place in the Russian Empire (Русское царство, Российская империя) and in the Kingdom of Italy (Regno d’Italia).
The use of airplanes in combat operations in the twentieth century had become a “global novelty”, and the flight of unstable aeroplanes for the pilot, the observer, and soon also the gunner was a feat and act of unbelievable courage (pilots and observers did not have parachutes then), and the weaponry - the bombs, very primitive in construction and initially “home-made”, were dropped on the enemy manually. The sight of flying planes, which most of the soldiers saw for the first time in their lives, was an unforgettable experience. A marching or trench-based soldier watched “this novum” with great interest, but also with fear. Initially, it was not thought to equip aircraft with guns or other infantry weapons, since the first concepts of aviation’s use in combat were to carry out only reconnaissance and observation missions by aircraft crews.
Over time, the development of aviation technology, and the intensification of warfare, had led to experiments with taking on board explosive devices, as well as hand and machine guns, and so aircraft may soon be at the rear of the enemy bombarding his communication routes. In 1912, a new term, the “air war zone”, appeared in the set of such well known military concepts as “war zone”:
Fighting is now not only on land and sea, but also in the air above the states, so that you can distinguish three kinds of war: on land, at sea, and in the air. Especially war in the air is becoming increasingly important, because aeroplanes or kites [the warring parties] use not only reconnaissance services, but also to throw missiles at the enemy. It was said that in the Italian-Turkish war of 1911/1912 an Italian aeroplane managed to approach undetected to the Turkish camp and to throw some bombs that exploded and triggered an indescribable panic. Soldiers, horses, camels scattered all over, and on the battlefield there were torn bodies of men and animals. Fighting aircraft is difficult, because moving at 100 km or 150 km per hour, and often changing their altitude, they represent a target that is not easy to hit.
The world’s first Italian, Turkish, Bulgarian, Serbian, Romanian and Turkish aviation markings were established in the “wartime era.” These pioneering “war experiences” were a valuable hint for the major powers heading toward the war (Central States and Entente), and made clear to their authorities sensibility and the need to invest in the development of aviation forces. They were rapidly introduced into the United Kingdom, tsarist Russia, the Kaiser’s Germany, the French Republic and in the enormous and multinational Austro-Hungarian monarchy (Österreich-Ungarn, Oshtrák-Magyar Monarchy). Not only there but also in other countries it was understood that field armies in offensive or defensive actions in the forthcoming war without aviation would be devoid of valuable support from the “third dimension”. The last day of peace in Europe and the world was Tuesday, 28 July 1914. Then the planes left their hangars and became a “fifth arm”, a new weapon of war in the hands of pilots while these became “the masters of the air”. As of June 1914, 30% of the Kaiserliche und Königliche (K.u.K.) Luftschifferabteilung crews were Germans, 25% Hungarians, 20% Czechs, the remaining 25% consisted of citizens of other states. In the summer of 1914, as in the Spring of Nations in 1848-1849, at a critical moment in the history of the K.u.K. monarchy and Europe, the words of the poet Franz Grillparzer were addressed to the chief of the emperor’s army, Marshal Johann Josef Radetzky, Wenzel von Radetz: In deinem Lager ist Österreich.