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Air Attack Over the Dardanelles - Sidebar: September '98 Aviation History Feature

Originally published by Aviation History magazine. Published Online: September 23, 1998 
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Air Attack Over the Dardanelles

Although most American aviation historians have come to regard Didier Masson's attack on the Mexican government gunboat General Guerrero on May 29, 1913, as the first bombing attack against a ship from an airplane, another country, in another war, may lay a legitimate claim to have preceded his achievement–by nearly four months.

The First Balkan War, fought between the Ottoman Empire and the combined forces of Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece from 1912 to 1913, saw the use of aircraft for reconnaissance and bombing by both sides. In mid-November 1912, the Royal Hellenic Navy bought its first airplane, an Astra tractor biplane, which was christened Nautilus. That acquisition was followed by a two-seater Maurice Farman pusher. Both aircraft were equipped with floats.

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At 8 a.m. on February 6, 1913 (January 24 by the Julian calendar then used by the Greeks), the Farman took off on a mission to reconnoiter the Turkish naval units off Nagara Point (Nara in Turkish) in the Dardanelles. Upon arrival over the assigned area, the pilot, army 1st Lt. Michael Moutousis, circled over Nagara at an altitude of 1,350 feet while his observer, navy Ensign Aristidis Moraitinis, noted down the Turkish warships and installations. Before they left the area, Moutousis flew over the docks one last time and Moraitinis dropped four grenades over the side of the nacelle.

According to Turkish military records, the Greek plane came from the direction of Kabatepe and Maydos, and the attack took place between 10 and 10:30 a.m. "Three of the bombs fell into the sea," the Turkish report noted, "and the fourth hit a field near by a hospital, leaving a 15-centimeter hole in the ground." Apparently, no damage or casualties were inflicted, and the report did not identify any of the Turkish ships in the area, since none were hit. Turkish personnel subjected the Farman to rifle fire, turning the incident into a genuine air-sea engagement–albeit an extremely minor one–and reported that "the aircraft was hit and landed on the sea after 40 minutes of flying in the air."

In fact, the Farman had not been damaged in the attack on Nagara, but during the return flight engine failure forced it down in the Aegean Sea. Fortunately for Moutousis and Moraitinis, the Greek destroyer Velos was nearby. Her crew was able to locate their disabled floatplane and tow it to the naval base at Mudros, on the Aegean isle of Lemnos.

The First Balkan War ended on May 30, 1913–about the same time Masson was trying to bomb General Guerrero on the other side of the world. Like Didier Masson, who served in France's all-American volunteer escadrille N.124 "Lafayette," Aristidis Moraitinis went on to fly and fight during World War I. He became a licensed pilot, and at the end of 1916, he assumed command of the Greek Naval Flight on Thasos, operating with No. 2 Wing, Royal Naval Air Service. After Greece formally entered the war on the Allied side in June 1917, Moraitinis commanded Independent Naval Flight H2 at Mudros.

He also flew with the Royal Naval Air Service at Mudros in 1917, piloting Sopwith Camels. During the unsuccessful Allied attempt to bomb the Turkish battle cruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim (formerly the German Goeben) on January 21, 1918, Moraitinis saw two British Sopwith Baby seaplanes, flown by Flight Sub-Lieutenants R.W. Peel and W. Johnston, under attack by 10 German or Turkish seaplanes. Moraitinis joined the melee and, although unable to prevent Johnston from being shot down in flames and Peel from being forced to land in the sea, he was credited with driving three of the enemy seaplanes into the water.

By the end of the war, Lt. Cmdr. Moraitinis was credited with nine aerial victories, making him Greece's only ace. He was also in command of Greek naval aviation. Unfortunately, while flying from Thessalonka to Athens in adverse weather on December 22, 1918, Moraitinis and his plane disappeared over Mount Olympus.

Jon Guttman

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