Ottoman Air Branch - 1914-1918 - The Great War
In late 1914, development and improvement efforts stopped when Europe became embroiled in the Great War. At the beginning of the war, the Ottoman Empire had only five aircraft and six pilots. Subsequently, in 1915, a group of German and Turkish aviators were exchanged between the respective air forces. With the help of its German and Austrian allies, the Ottoman air forces rapidly expanded. Some 450 aircraft served in the Turkish Army during the war, many piloted by Germans. Just about all planes were German, including Albatros, Fokker and Gotha models. By one account, Germany went on to supply the Ottoman Army with 260 airplanes but not all of them arrived safely. Another source relates that at one time the Turkish air force consisted of 265 German planes.
The state of corruption was appalling. The Ottoman air forces consisted of a very few machines and an enormous number of officers, in a fantastic uniform, which was more suited to musical comedy than air work. Being generally the sons of well-to-do business men they simply joined the air force in order to remain in the restaurants at Pera and get out of going to one of the fronts, more especially the dreaded ones of Syria and Mesopotamia. Even the contemptible Constantinople press openly drew attention to this scandal.
Fifteen flying sections were created, three with fighters and the rest with a mixture of general-purpose two-seaters and one or two fighters. They were numbered 1-10, 12 (later renumbered 13), 14-17. The bulk of the planes were German AEG-Cs, the bulk probably AEG-CIVs. Major Erich Serno (1886-1963) of the German Military Mission, renamed Aviation Affairs General Inspector by 1918, helped organise 17 land based and 4 seaplane Ottoman squadrons. German Fleigerabteilung detachments arrived from 1916 onwards (the FA 300 'Pascha' became operational in April 1916, followed by FA 301-304s in July 1917, with FA-304b denoted as such being a Bavarian unit: FA-305 followed in November). Adding the 6 German Fighter Jastas under German command, this force proved worthy opponents to the enemies of the Sultan in the air. Also, in some air (aircraft) companies, constituting the main power of the organization at that time, only the Turkish aviation personnel were posted whereas in some other companies the Turkish and German aviation personnel were jointly stationed.
The tactical command and control of these companies was assigned to the respective armies. The Ottoman aviation units never came under a centralised operational [as opposed to administrative] command, and never matured into an independent arm or corps as it did in other countries. Flying detachments (Tayyare Bolugu) and fighter squadrons (Av Bolugu) reported individually to either an Army or Corps command.
Along with the Inspectorate of Aviation, on 15 February 1915, the 9th Aviation Affairs Branch was established within the structure of the Ministry of War and during this period the air forces were organized to include the Air School, Air (aircraft) Stations, Air (aircraft) Companies, Stationary Balloon Companies, Anti-Aircraft Artillery Units and Meteorology Stations. The Ottoman Air Force used red as an arm of service color from 1915 onwards. Prior to that they were part of the engineers and wore their blue insignia. The Naval Air Companies (Naval Aircraft Companies) and the Naval Air School performed their duties within the organization of the Ministry of Marine. The army and naval aviation were united under the authority of the General Headquarters Aviation Affairs Inspectorate and the 9th. Aviation Inspectorate, with a change dated 16 May 1916.
Ottoman air forces with this organizational structure, participated in the First World War in 1914-1918 period, within a very large area and in various fronts extending from Galicia to Yemen and Caucasia. On 20 November 1915 Lt. Ali Riza and 2nd Lt. Ibrahim Orhan (flying an Albatros C1) shot down a French plane over Kabatepe during the battles of Gallipoli. This is the first time in history that a plane was shot down by another plane.
By late 1917 the Germans fairly much handled the Palestine area of operations and the defence of the Dardanelles, while the Ottomans concentrated on Mesopotamia, the Caucasus, and Lawrence's forces of the Arab Revolt. Turkish aircraft were active along the Straits, above all during the Gallipoli campaign, the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, and on the Caucasian, Palestinian and Iraqi fronts. In the early part of the Dardanelles campaign it was stated that some Ottoman aeroplanes endeavored to make themselves unpleasant to the fleets of the allies, but apparently they were quickly driven off. Turkish aeroplanes raided a British camp at Rumania, 25 miles east of the Suez Canal, and inflicted heavy damage by bombs and machine-gun fire. They even served in Arabia against Lawrence and others. Among the notable actions by Turkish and German pilots in the Turkish Air Force were sinking of several British ships, and possibly a submarine, in the Aegean Sea and the shoot-down of numerous British, French and Russian aircraft. During the conflict, Turkish and German pilots had considerable success, destroying numerous British, French and Russian aircraft.
On 29 July 1918 the name of Aviation Affairs Inspectorate was changed to "Air Force General Inspectorate" and efforts towards reorganization were initiated. By the end of the Great War, the Turkish Air force had about 100 pilots, and 17 land-based and three seaplanes companies of four planes each. At this time, Turkish air operations consisted primarily of reconnaissance, bombing, interception, air defense and ground support mission.
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