Monday, November 6, 2017

Slovenian Aviators of the First World War

Since I am spending a couple of days in Slovenia's capitol, Ljubljana, I of course had to find out if there were any Slovene aces made during the First World War. The answer is unfortunately no, but several Slovenes manned the aircraft of K.u.K. Luftfahrtruppen, and some of them did shoot down enemy aircraft. Slovenes Anton Aussitz of Fliegerkompanie (Flik) 20, Johann Mayer (changed to Mejer after the war) of Flik 9 and Marko Vrbančič of Flik 29 all shot down one enemy aircraft, while Franz Zuzmann (sometimes spelled Žužman) of Flik 20 shot down two.

   Zuzmann (to the left) with his flying circus after the war.

Since Flik 20 had at least two Slovenes serving in the unit, let us focus a bit more on this particular unit. It was established in January of February of 1916 and almost immediately deployed to Vladimir-Volinsky in the north-western parts of today's Ukraine, also known as Volhynia. Flik 20 was commanded by a Captain Jenő Czapáry, and the unit was equipped with both Knoller-Albatros B.I two-seaters and probably later Hansa-Brandenburg C.I.

The most famous aviator of Flik 20 was Oberleutnant Kurt Nachod (1890-1918), who was the first Austrian to achieve five victories as an observer, and he shared two victories, a Farman on May 31, 1916, which was forced to land near Klewan, and another Farman on July 3, 1916, just north of Luck. The latter aircraft was sighted below Nachod and Zuzmann, and Nachod ordered Zuzmann to dive towards the Farman (the observer actually commanded the aircraft in the Austro-Hungarian and German air forces). However, Nachod's machine gun jammed, but he produced a carbine, and his fire was accurate enough to force even this Russian Farman to land. On both occasions, Nachod flew as an observer in Knoller-Albatros B.I 22.18, which was piloted by Zuzmann on at least July 3. Following a long career as an observer, Nachod did get a pilot's license, but he was badly injured after crashing while night flying on May 9, 1918. Nachod died of his injuries two days later.

Knoller-Albatros C.I

Zuzmann survived the war, and he participated in flying aircraft, amongst them a Albatros D.II, from parts of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire to Czechoslovakia where they were sold to the armed forces. He was also engaged in a flying cirkus. Zuzmann also opened a private airfield in 1930 after acquiring a 30-year lease on the Voeslau/Kottingbrunn airfield, some miles south of Wien-Aspern. The airfield was taken over by the German Luftwaffe after the annexation of Austria in 1938 and renamed Fliegerhorst Voeslau.

Kurt Nachod


Chris Chant. Austro-Hungarian Aces of World War 1. Osprey, 2002

Jon Guttman. Reconnaissance and Bomber Aces of World War 1. Osprey,

Dr. Csonkaréti Károly: A császári és királyi légierő

Justin D. Murphy. Military Aircraft, O,rigins to 1918. ABC-CLIO, 2005 

Dr. Martin O'Connor. Air Aces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire 1914-1918. Flying Machines Press, 1986

Friday, August 4, 2017

Surrender, Paris!

On Sunday, August 30, 1914, Prussian Leutnant Ferdinand von Hiddessen and his observer dropped four or five 3 kg (6,6 pound) bombs from an Etrich Taube. The bombs landed around the quai de Valmy, and von Hiddessen finished his aerial attack by dropping a 1,80 meter long banner in the German national colors of black, white and red. The banner was attached to a rubber bag filled with sand to give it some weight as well as a pouch containing leaflets demanding the surrender of Paris. The leaflets stated the following: "The German Army is at the gates of Paris. You have nothing left but to surrender. Leutnant von Hiddessen".

                                            Illustration of von Hiddeesen flying over Paris.

Leutnant von Hiddessen was an experienced aviator by the standards of the day. He had taken part in air races in Darmstadt, Frankfurt, Mainz and Worms. On the evening of August 29, von Hiddessen was briefed by his commanding officer at the 1st Army about a reconnaissance mission that would take place next day. Leutnant von Hiddessen was to reconnoiter the position of French forces, but he was also to drop bombs over Paris, with the hope that noise and explosions would scare the population into surrender.

The morning of  August 30 was foggy, but by by 11.00 the fog had burnt off, and von Hiddessen took off from an airfield near St. Quentin together with his observer. He circled the airfield once before proceeding in a south-westerly direction. 70 minutes later the Taube reached the outskirts of Paris at an altitude of a dazzling 5,500 feet. Von Hiddessen crossed the Parisian skies a couple of times before releasing the first bomb at 12.45. The second fell minutes later in the courtyard of 107 quai Valmy, a home for the aged and the third landed on the pavement outside 66 rue des Marais, not far from the Boulevard Magenta. The final explosive crashed through the skylight of 5 and 7 rue des Récollets and failed to explode. All the bombs landed within a few hundred meters of each other in the 10th arrondissement of Paris.

Initial French reports from September 1 claimed that any damage caused was superficial, but later claims stated that one or two young Parisian women were killed, and they supposedly became the first of around 500 Parisians to die due to aerial bombardment or shells from long-range German artillery (the so-called "Paris Gun"). At least one horse succumbed to the bombardment as well. The banner and the leaflet bag was taken to the Prefecture of Police for examination. For some reason, von Hiddessen had misunderstood his orders and dropped the bag of leaflets instead of spreading out its contents. Ferdinand Von Hiddessen himself was shot down over Verdun a year later, sustaining serious wounds and spending the rest of the war in French captivity.

A horse supposedly killed by one of von Hiddessen's bombs.

The Parisians'responses to the bombing was mainly underwhelmed. The inhabitants of the city initially thought they were dealing with a gas explosion. Subsequent German aerial visitors arrived periodically during the late afternoon, leading the Parisians to label them "Five o'çlock Taubes", The Taube being a generic name for German aircraft in the early states of the First World War. Irritating as the bombings and spreading of propaganda leaflets may have been, Parisians were more curious than fearful, and they would be sitting outdoors at cafés and restaurants to place bets on where the bombs might land. In October 1914, British Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Swinton became an eye witness to a German aerial attack on Paris, and he became so impressed that he spent money out of his own pocket to print British propaganda leaflets that were distributed over German targets. However, true to form Swinton's superiors were less than impressed, and a second leaflet drop was denied.

One of von Hiddessen's leaflets.

The Etrich Taube was a popular aircraft before the First World War and during the first year or so of that conflict. The Taube also had the distinction of being the first aircraft to be used for aerial bombarment when Italian Giulio Gavotti dropped a bomb at the Ain Zara oasis in Libya.


Walter J. Boyne. The Influence of Air Power Upon History.

Arunkumar Bhatt. Psychological Warfare and India.