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The World's First Airstrike

Gavotti aboard Farman biplane, Rome 1910
In April 2011, Italy had announced it would join NATO's air attacks in Libya, then in the middle of its civil war. It would later prove a classical case of history repeating itself.

A century ago, in September 1911, the Italian armed forces invaded Ottoman-held Libya with the intent of establishing an Italian colonial empire, something that Italy lacked whilst its French and German neighbors prided upon. This led to the Italo-Turkish war which dragged on until October 1912, with the Italians winning control of Libya, having subdued Turkish and Libyan resistance.

Insignificant as this war may seem to us, the Italian Turkish war saw numerous technological advancements deployed in battle. One of them, most notable, being aeroplanes.

This brings us to the story of a young Italian aviator, lieutenant Giulio Gavotti, who was deployed to Libya to oversee the transport of aeroplanes. But within a few months, Gavotti had done what no man had done before in warfare. Gavotti was the world's first air-bomber, only eight years after the monumental flight of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

On the first of November 1911, Gavotti boarded his Etrich Taube aeroplane and took with him four grenades, weighing a kilo and a half each. Gavotti took off and headed for Ain Zara. It is now a town just east of Tripoli, but at the time he described it as a small oasis. There he would have expected to find Arab fighters and Turkish troops that were allied in the fight against the Italian invasion.
The type of plane used in the airstrike, the Etrich Taube

Flying at an altitude of 600 feet, Gavotti screwed in the detonators and tossed each grenade over the side of the plane. Whilst unknown, Gavotti's mission is believed to have been a failure, having failed to cause any reported casualties.

Back home in Italy, the Italian press was ecstatic, with many newspapers reporting the exploit in high regards, to strengthen support for the war at home. Gavotti had shown it was possible to use aeroplanes to aid warfare (a contrast to the Wright Brothers' opinion that aeroplanes were "tools of peace".) and may have inadvertedly paved the way for the horrors of Dresden, Hiroshima and countless others to occur.
Zepplin bombing, during the Italian Turkish War, 1911.
Future dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini (then a left-wing socialist), was vehemently opposed to the Italian-Turkish War.


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