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Fly to Venice

When the Venetians saw the flaming rockets overhead on that day back in 1849, they did not worry much. On the contrary, they were quite amazed to see the hot air balloon of Marshal Radescki. They could not believe they missed target. It was the first bombing in history.

Over the time Venice became part of history again. At the first part of the last century, ”Corpo degli Aerosteiri”, appear with an equipped balloon with cameras taking pictures for the first time up in the air. Then came the first controlled flying mechanism that was able to photograph a series of aerial views. A modern flying era had arrived. For just a few years, over the Atlantic the Wright brothers have just learned to fly. Like always Venice is involved in the new flight instrumentation.

On Feb 1911 San Marco was filled with people and there was a buzzing sound over their heads that had caught the attention of thousands of spectators. This historic event was very important because Umberto Cagno, a pilot from Torino for the first time had brought his Farman biplane to the Venetian skies. After that it was Giulio Gavotti’s turn to fly over the lagoon taking off from Aviano Military base.

However, it was Lido that was the great star of the flight originating from Italy. It was a Caproni Ca.9, a one man plane with an Anziani 60 cv motor: April 22 1912, pilot Enrico Cabioni came to Venice and about 600 meters in the sky turned off his motor and glided free flying until 200 meters and then with one graceful move, went off in the direction of the beach” causing an emotional chill among the spectators”, a reporter told. From the long-established esplanade of the Excelsior, the pilot landed and flew numerous passengers. Mr. Weil became the first paying passenger in Italy and the Gionco and Rosetti from Lido and of course Giulio Antonelli who took the first pictures of Venice from an airplane.

The next year on the occasion of April 25th, the “Regia Marina” (Marine Direction) officially inaugurated the Water Flight Station of Venice with its own pilot school. Here a project was initiated that had originally been proposed from October 30th 1912 by captain Ludovico Filips. He received his license at Centocelle in 1910 and was vice inspector of the “Servizi Aeronautici del Ministero della Guerra” (Areonautical Service of the Minister of War) from April 6th 1911. During the first part, the schools activities took place in the Calle delle Vergini in the Arsenal in Venice. It was soon transferred to a new hydro port built in the fort of the S. Andreas Canal, on the island of the Vignole, found in the entrance to the port of Lido. The foundation of the school was made up of the S. Marco Squadron that used initially 8 hydroplanes (1 hydro Ginocchio, 3 Borel 100Hp, 1 Borel 80 Hp, 2 Curtis Paulman 1912 and 1 Breguet) It was in the first years of operation that an even closer hydro port was used at Punta Sabbioni. It was still used when Italy entered the war in 1915, and then it was abandoned.

During the First World War Italy remained the principal stronghold sheltering wall and the most important naval base in the Adriatic. It was an important industrial center, both strategic and military, and a significant war force for the nation. Therefore in 1915, anticipating the war against the central empire, and clearly knowing that Venice would be in the center of the war zone, the hydro school transferred to Taranto. The operating team remained at the hydro port of S.Andrea, so they could be ready for enemy attacks against the city or the other naval bases in the upper Adriatic. Using marine hydro planes became very valuable during the war. It went from the original 10 Albatross in service in 1915 (substituted by an efficient FBA in 1916) to three fully equipped teams with optimum Macchi L.3. In 1917 they aimed to carry out “Land Mission” from land, especially in the most difficult times against the Austrians. In the last year of war, the hydro planes of S. Andrea became even more, forming a group called “Idrocaccia”, or “Waterhunt” on two teams of Macchi M.5’s. These were purposely created to carry out other jobs of water planes against enemies. It appeared clear from the beginning, just a few water planes based at S. Andrea would not be sufficient to protect Venice in case of invasion by air enemies. Some air bombings of the city created great fear among the people even in other countries. Even so much that France proposed to send their troops to Venice to fight Nieuport. For political reasons other than reinforcing ties with the allies, the offer was accepted by Italy. In August the Escadrille N.92/1 arrived on the Bezzera landing field near Mestre. It was quickly recognized that this landing field was not appropriate on the mainland because any attack by the enemy would occur by sea.

At this point, the Marines though of creating an aviation camp inside the weapons quarters in the Venetian fort located in S. Nicolo’, on the island of Lido just in front of the water landing strip of S. Andrea. The position seemed ideal to intercept the enemy water planes that would come this way to attack the city. On December 1st 1915, the French squadron transferred to the new landing field, even though the whole situation seemed bizarre. The field, in fact, was surrounded by walls and embankments of the protective fort. The situation was considered perfect because the fort was very large and had a lot of space on the inside. Its position was a sufficient host to French pilots, many aristocrats and intellectuals, and at the time Lido was one of the most well know beach towns in the world. In the end it was decided to occupy a hotel instead of using the fort. The French Squadron renamed N.392 in the summer of 1916 and N. 561 in 1917, were able to carry out their defensive duties and in 1918 had as many as 18 pilots after the initial Nieuport 10. There were also the Nieuport 11, 17,23,24,27. Near the end, there was Spad VII and XII and additional Sopwith 1 ½ Strutter used for recognition.

The establishment of the new aviation site on Lido was a big success, especially in the intellectual circles in the high Venetian society. On March 11th 1918, Gabriele d’ Annunzio obtains permission to form the “Squdrillia Navale Siluranti Aeree” that should have torpedoed Austrian troops. The original outfit of Caproni Ca 5 was never able to successfully torpedo and the Squadron was outfitted with SIA. 9b and SVA 5 in which it was able to perform only limited amount of actions. These were difficult machines to maneuver and not fully on target. In May 1918, further to reinforce the airplanes on the airfield, the Marines decided to form a new Squadron called “Caccia Terreste” (Land Hunt). It was composed of a 241a Squadron on Hun-riot Hd.1 and it was grouped the on the field of S.Nicolo’ indefinitely. At the end of the war, the French pilots were sent back to their country and shortly after the marine base was dismembered by 1919.

(by Bruno Delisi)

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