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World War I: First airship was shot down in Lussino

The War in the Air - Bombers: Italy

The frontier between Italy and Austria was different to any other frontier in the First World War.  To the north the Alps protected the Austrian heartland.  To the east the Austrian navy sat just across the Adriatic: its chief port was at Pola and it had major ship-building yards at Trieste.

The Italians controlled the air throughout almost the entire war, and waged an innovative and aggressive air campaign.  It was the only county other than Germany to use lighter-than-air craft for bombing purposes.  The Italian airships were "semi-rigid dirigibles," they were different to the "rigid" Zeppelins in that they had a keel only, as opposed to an entire frame as favoured by the Germans.

Their first bombing raid was on the 26th of May, 1915, three days after entering the war, when they crossed the Adriatic to attack Sebenico, which was attacked by a dirigible again the following day.

The airships were used throughout the war, attacking railway yards and enemy encampments and the naval base at Pola. By the end of the war they had 20 dirigibles. Their 'M' class airships could carry a 1,000 kg (2200lb) bomb load and reach an altitude of 15,000 feet.

They were not however immune to attack.  On the 8th of June 1915 the Cittä di Ferrara was shot down by an Austrian seaplane, and on the 5th of August the Citta di Jesi was lost to anti-aircraft fire.  Austrian seaplanes bombed the Italian airships at their bases in Jesi and Ferrara.

Source: The war in the air: Bombers in Italy

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Some history books record that the first zeppelin (airship) ever shot down was the German Zeppelin LZ-37, brought down by Canadian Flight Sub-lieutenant Reg Warneford (Royal Naval Air Service) near Bruges on 9 June 1915. Warneford received a Victoria Cross for this achievement. But there is evidence this claim was a propaganda exercise for the Allies, designed to steal the thunder of an aerial victory by the Central Powers one day earlier. On 8 June 1915, one day prior to Warneford’s alleged victory, the Italian airship Città di Ferrara was shot down by Linienschiffsleutnant Gustav Klasing (born in Trieste, 1884) of the Austro-Hungarian Naval Air Service, flying a Lohner 2-seater flying boat number L-48. Klasing’s victory over the Città di Ferrara seems to have been completely forgotten by history, proving yet again that history is written by the victors.

Città de Ferrara (Designation: M-2) was an M-Class semi-rigid airship, one of eight built by Forianini for Italy at the start of the war. It was commanded by Tenente di vascello Castruccio Castracane, an old air wolf described by his friends as "a real gentleman with a look of affable cordiality concealing a heart of steel."

 

On 8 June 1915, he took off from an airfield in Pondenone (Italy) to bomb military plants at Fiume. Despite strong unfavourable winds, Città di Ferrara continued to its target and dropped its bombs, killing one woman in Timme and injured several other people, but only caused slight damage. It then turned for home, but the Austro-Hungarian Naval Air Service scrambled Lohner flying boat # L-48 (Klasing's seaplane) to intercept it and, over the Gulf of Carnaro near Lussino (the Austrians called it Lussin) L-48 caught the Italian dirigable and shot it down in flames into the sea.

The L-48 was flown by Linienschiffsleutnant (equivalent to navy lieutenant/army captain) Gustav Klasing and his gunner was named Fritsch. The Italian commander of the airship, one other officer and five crew were promptly rescued by Austro-Hungarian Torpedo Boat # 4 (launched on 31 Dec 1909, stationed at Pola and, after the war, given to Italy for war reparations.)  The captured Italians spent the rest of the war as prisoners. Two other Italian crew members of Città di Ferrara, Tenente di vascello De Pisa and motorist Mantero, died ‘gloriously’ in the crash.  The wreckage of the Città di Ferrara itself was recovered by the Austro-Hungarian navy and taken into Pola Harbour for display.

Aerial victory over "Città di Ferrara" (M2 derigible) by Lschlt. Gustav Klasing and Skdt. Hans Ritter Fritsche von Crouenwald in flying boat Lohner L48 - 8 June 1915. © Jan Zahalka - Czech Republic

As for Klasing, he was killed on 6 November, 1916, while test-flying an Oesterreichische Flugzeugfabrik AG (Oeffag) G-5 four-seater flying boat. Fregattenleutnant Hely Nicora and Frglt Stanislaus Kaba died with him in that crash. His victory over the Città di Ferrara was widely acclaimed in the press, and in souvenirs of the time. Today, it has largely been forgotten.”

Nicolò Juranich has furnished an article by Giacomo Scotti entitled “Aerei da Guerra e Dirigibile su Pola e Lussinpicollo” recalling the period 1915-18 when Italy carried out regular raids over Trieste, Istria and Fiume (Rijeka). Nicolò also found someone who was told of the event by his father recalling that the airship came down in the sea near the bay of Crivissa (Krivica). These bombing raids by dirigibles were carried out by Italians over cities largely populated by Italians! Austrio-Hungarian planes were sent up to defend the cities and attempt to shoot the airships. The one over Lussino was the first airship to be shot down during World War I.

This is an extract from the account (in Italian) by Scotti: 

1915-18: BOMBE ITALIANE SU TRIESTE, L’ISTRIA E FIUME

“Trieste, Fiume e varie cittadine istriane (insieme ad alte località dell’allora impero austro-angarico) vennero per la prima volta bombardate dal cielo nel corso della prima Guerra mondiale. A bombardarle furono le ali italiane che, prime al mondo, erano state impiegate quale mezzo bellico nel conflitto libico del 1912. Inizialmente, l’attività dell’arma aerea tricolore fu decisamente marginale, ma poi andò intensificandosi d’anno in anno e, con essa, s’intensificarono le operazioni offensive di velivoli da caccia, da ricognizione, da bombamento, di idrovolanti e dirigibili: dai 58 velivoli lenti, disarmati e di scarsa regolarità di volo di cui l’Italia disponeva nel maggio 1915, si passò ai 504 in piena efficienza bellica del 4 novembre 1918, senza contare le centinaia di velivoli andati distrutti nel 41 mesi di guerra.

La prima missione aerea bellica venne compiuta nella notte del 31 maggio 1915 dall’aeronave P-4 al commando del capitano Giuseppe Valle, che bombardò la stazione ferroviaria e l’arsenale di Pola. Un altro dirigibile, il “Citta di Ferrara” bombardò il silurifico Whitehead di Fiume nella notte dell’8 giugno ma, attaccato da idrovolanti austraici, precipitò in fiamme nelle acque del Quarnero nei pressi di Lussinpiccolo. Due componenti dell’equipaggio scoparvero, gli altri furono raccolti un’ora dopo da una torpediniera australica.

Sempre in giugno, dirigibili italiani compirono diverse azioni notturne contro Pola, il nodo ferroviaro di Divaccia, Muggia, Sagrado e Gradisca, arrecando però danni insignificanti. Per il resto dell’anno le missioni s’incentrarono sul fronte, in particolare durante le prime quattro “battaglie dell’Isonzo”mentre l’aviazione austraica fu di gran lunga piu attiva sulle città italiane.”

Source:

  • Lussino Bollettino, 15 December 2003, No.17 and No. 20, by Mario Majarich.

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This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran and Mario Majarich

Created  Friday, April 23, 2004; Last updated: Friday, September 07, 2007
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