Air Combat Losses, Pilot License 1, and the Oldest Flying Aircraft
During World War I (WWI) the Balkans was a far flung front, bloody and violent, but away from the brutal, mass-mechanized slaughter of Belgium and France. During the Balkans Wars, however, the machines that would lay waste to millions of Europeans were tested and refined, including combat aircraft.
The first pilot killed in air combat was a Bulgarian airman, Toradzeijev, fighting on the side of the Serbian Army in the First Balkan War against the Ottoman Empire. He was shot down while on a reconnaissance mission during the siege of Adrianople in late 1912. This was one of the closing battles of the First Balkan War; the siege started in November 1912 and ended on 26 March 1913, when Ottoman Commander Mehmed Sukru Pasha surrendered to the Commander of the Bulgarians and Serbian forces.
Ironically, the second air combat death occurred during the opening battle of the First Balkan War. The Ottomans were fighting the Balkan people on several fronts during that war, including in what is today Albania, which was claimed by the Kingdom of Montenegro. The Montenegrins started the First Balkan War on 6 October 1912, with an attack toward Shkodra, one of the most ancient cities in the Balkans. Shkodra was originally known as Scutari, and was founded in the 4th century BC; it had been occupied by the Ottomans since 1479 and the Montenegrins wanted it back. The Montenegrin military laid siege to Shkodra early in the war, with support from the Serbian Army and Air Force, finally conquering the city on 23 April 1913 and ending the siege, which had begun on 28 October 1912.
Pilot Sergeant Mihajlo Petrovic, the first trained Serbian Air Force Pilot, flew during the Siege of Shkodra. Petrovic had the distinction of being trained in the Farman Pilot School in France, where he was awarded the 979th International Flight License and Serbian Pilot License 1. Although Serbia was poor and relatively backwards at the time, Military aviation was considered a critical capability, so Serbian Minister of War Radomir Putnik had commissioned the Air Force Command in Niš on 24 September 1912, shortly before the First Balkan War started. Petrovic was part of Air Force Command when he was shot down and killed during the siege and was buried in Cetinje, Montenegro.
During the first Balkan War, the Serbian Air Force used the Bleriot XI and the Farman HF.20. The HF.20 was underpowered and poorly regarded by pilots; this was the plane that Petrovic was flying when he was shot down. The Farman was designed by Herni Farman, the Englishman and later Frenchman who opened the flying school in Chalons-sur-Mame from which Petrovic graduated. Farman himself was an aviation pioneer, setting several records, but his early aircraft were ill-suited for combat. However, his later planes were extensively used in WWI.
The Bleriot, on the other hand was a well-regarded aircraft that transformed the aviation world. The aircraft was first manufactured by Louis Bleriot in 1908, first flew on 23 January 1909, and on 25 July 1909, Bleriot conducted a history-making flight across the English channel, beating an Antionette monoplane and two Wright Biplanes. Bleriot’s historic flight led to a number of militaries making orders for his aircraft, including France, Italy, Mexico, Great Britain, and of course, Serbia.
Bleriot’s aircraft had serious flaws, and claimed the lives of a number of aviation pioneers, but small modifications made it airworthy, and cemented it into the annals of history. Two restored Bleriot XI airframes are the old operational aircraft today.
- September 9, 2020