Nothing more than an experiment

Today is the one-hundredth anniversary of the first use of an aeroplane for aerial bombardment. I've already written about the longer context of Libya's history of bombing (to which can be added NATO's air campaign, which coincidentally enough has just ended), but here's where it all began, at Ain Zara on 1 November 1911:

A message from Tripoli says the aviator Gavotti, having located to-day a Turkish camp of about 2,000 men near Ain Zara, descended to within 2,000 metres of the spot and threw four bombs which exploded in the midst of the Turks. The explosions had frightful effects, and the Turks fled in all directions, the confusion being so great that not a single soldier thought of firing at the aeroplane. Gavotti had no more bombs with him, since he had contemplated nothing more than an experiment. The Turkish soldiers abandoned their camp and took shelter in caves.1

(At least, according the Manchester Guardian; this account differs slightly from Gavotti's own: he dropped the fourth bomb on another oasis, presumably Taguira.) Such bombing seems to have become routine quite quickly; equally terse accounts of similar operations appeared in the British press in following days, and on 5 November the Italian government issued the first ever official communiqué concerning aerial warfare. None of this seemed to have excited much interest in Britain: it was a sideshow compared the more traditional and much bloodier battles on the ground, and the claims and counter-claims of massacres of civilians and wounded soldiers. The world has certainly come a long way since then.

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  1. Manchester Guardian, 2 November 1911, 7. []

3 thoughts on “Nothing more than an experiment

  1. ajay

    "Bombs" in this context probably means hand grenades. That was common in British writing from the period: you read references in First World War accounts to "Mills bombs".

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