Ottoman Air Force

The Aviation Squadrons[1] of the Ottoman Empire (Turkish: Osmanlı Tayyare Bölükleri) were military aviation units of the Ottoman Army and Navy. The history of Ottoman military aviation dates back to June 1909[dn 1] or July 1911.[2][3][dn 2] The organisation is sometimes referred to as the Ottoman Air Force.[dn 3][dn 4] The fleet size reached its apex in December 1916, when the Ottoman aviation squadrons had 90 airplanes.[4]


Establishment of the Flying School and War Units

Ottoman pilots in early 1912
Yeşilköy Air Base in 1911

On 2 December 1909, Belgian pilot Baron Pierre de Caters and then French pilot Louis Bleriot performed the first flight demonstration in the Ottoman Empire.

After witnessing the growing importance of an air combat support branch, the Ottoman government decided to organize its own military aviation program. For this purpose officers were sent to Europe by the end of 1910 to participate in the study of combat flight. However, because of financial difficulties, the student program was aborted and the trainees returned to Ottoman Empire in the spring of 1911[citation needed].

Although left without any governmental guidelines for establishing an air force, the Ottoman Minister of War of the time, Mahmud Shevket Pasha, continued to encourage the idea of a military aviation program. On 28 June 1911, a written examination was held and on 4 July, Cavalry Captain Fesa (Evrensey) and Engineer Lieutenant Yusuf Kenan were selected. Fesa was sent to France and Yusuf Kenan was sent to Germany. But because the German school wanted an excessively high fee, both of them were enrolled in the Blériot School at Étampes near Paris in July 1911.[5]

In late 1911 Staff Lieutenant Colonel Süreyya (İlmen) was instructed with founding the Aircraft Committee (Tayyare Komisyonu) with members from the Inspectorate of Technical and Fortified Formations (Kıtaât-ı Fenniyye ve Mevâki-i Müstahkeme Müfettişligi).[6] Two tent hangars for the Aircraft School (Tayyare Mektebi) was erected in January 1912 at Yeşilköy[7] (which is the Ataturk International Airport today).

On February 21, 1912, Fesa and Yusuf Kenan completed their flight education at the Blériot School and returned home with the 780th and 797th French Aero Club certificates.[5] In the same year, eight more Ottoman officers were sent to France for flight education. Fesa Bey and Yusuf Kenan Bey flew over Istanbul on 27 April 1912[citation needed].

The Ottoman Empire started preparing its first pilots and planes, and with the founding of the Aircraft School (Tayyare Mektebi) in Yeşilköy on July 3, 1912, the empire began to tutor its own flight officers. The founding of the Aircraft School quickened advancement in the military aviation program, increased the number of enlisted persons within it, and gave the new pilots an active role in the Ottoman forces[citation needed].

Same year a single-seat and a two-seater Deperdussin airplanes were purchased from France and brought over to Istanbul in March 1912. Two of the two-seater version of Bleriot XI-b were also acquired, first of which was presented by Supreme Commander Rıza Paşa. Three of a different two-seat model named XI-2 and three of the single-seat model called Pengouin were also deployed at the Ottoman Army[citation needed].

In accordance with the agreement reached in between the producer and the Ottoman Ministry of War, 7 REP, Robert Esnault-Pelterie. The REP, Robert Esnault-Pelterie are also one the first planes deployed at the Ottoman Empire[citation needed]. The plane was designed by Robert Esnaoult-Pelterie and its first flight took place in 1912 and they entered service during the same year in France. In accordance with the agreement reached in between the producer and the Ottoman Ministry of War 7 REP planes were also purchased and the first one was planned to join Ottoman Army on March 15, 1912[citation needed]. In late April 1912, the military aircraft was shown to the public for the first time when a large military parade was held the for honor of Sultan Mehmed V Reshad.[7]

Five of the seven purchased were single seaters and the remaining two were two-seaters[citation needed]. One of the single seaters were planned only for ground practicing. The last plane was confiscated by the Serbians while being brought to Istanbul by train. These primitive planes were already out of service by 1914[citation needed].

By the end of 1912, the Ottoman Army had a total of 15 machines, acquired mostly through private donations[citation needed].

Italo-Turkish War

In 1911, the Kingdom of Italy invaded the Tripolitania Vilayet (modern day Libya) of Ottoman Empire, using aircraft for reconnaissance and bombing. On October 23, 1911, an Italian pilot flew over Ottoman lines and the next day Italian dirigibles dropped bombs for the first time in aviation history on ground targets.

Ottoman troops opened fire on an Italian aircraft on 15 December 1911[citation needed]. The first aircraft to be brought down in a war was that of Lieutenant Manzini, shot down on 25 August 1912 and the first aircraft to be captured was that of Captain Moizo, on 10 September 1912.

When Italy invaded Trablusgarp, Ottomans was not ready to use its few new aircraft in battle, it did not even have an army in North Africa and countered Italians with organized local Arab militia. There were attempts to purchase aircraft from France and to send them to the battlefield via Algeria, but they did not materialize[citation needed].

Balkan Wars

Ottoman pilots during the Balkan Wars (1912-1913)

After Italo-Turkish War, the Ottoman aircraft saw action on another front in the First Balkan War, against the Balkan countries of Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. Seventeen Ottoman aircraft were used for reconnaissance, from September 1912 to October 1913. The Ottoman military aviation, in its inexperience, lost several airplanes at first; as they hardened to battle, they improved and there was a swarm of recruits to the new force.

Nevertheless, the Balkan League won the war. A short while later, Bulgaria attacked Serbia to kick off the Second Balkan War, and Ottoman Empire pitched in on the Serbian side.

By the end of the Balkan Wars, the fledgling Ottoman military aviation had already been through three wars and a coup d'état.

With the end of the Balkan Wars a modernization process started and new planes were purchased. With the outbreak of the First World War, the modernization process stopped abruptly.

Pre–World War I

On 29 October 1913, Captain Salim Bey and Captain Kemal Bey flew over the Sea of Marmara and on 18 November 1913, Belkıs Şevket Hanım, a member of the Society for the Defense of Women's Rights (Mudafaa-i Hukuki Nisvan Cemiyeti) rode the aircraft commaned by Fethi Bey[citation needed].

World War I Structure and Organization

Ottoman pilots during the First World War years (1914-1918)
1914-1916 (used on some machines of the Naval Air Service)

The Ottoman aviaton squadrons began World War I under direct control of the Office of the Supreme Military Command (Başkomutanlık Vekâleti).[1] Because of the cost of aircraft, it was a small unit. It would remain there for the duration of the war, never becoming a separate corps as in other World War I armies. Instead it was parceled out in small detachments to an army or corps which directed tactical use of the planes. Primitive logistics kept the units small.

To complicate matters, the Ottoman Navy established the Naval Aircraft School (Bahriye Tayyare Mektebi), in Yeşilköy in June 1914.

In 1915 some German officers came to the Ottoman Empire, such as Hans Joachim Buddecke, and some Ottoman officers went to Germany for flight education. Buddecke himself would achieve some success flying for the Ottoman allies of Germany, achieving four confirmed and seven probable victories from very late in 1915 through the summer of 1916 while flying for the Ottoman air force.[8]

By the end of 1915, two offices were established to govern aviation. The 13th Branch was part of the Ottoman General Staff; the 9th Branch was part of the Minister of War's office. Although the 13th Branch was senior to the 9th, opportunities for overlap and turf battles were legion.

By 1916, the growing air force had 81 pilots and observers and about 90 planes. Eventually, Germany would transfer 460 planes into Ottoman Empire; some 260 went to the Ottoman units and the rest remained in German units. Some 400 German aviation personnel served in Ottoman forces.

By war's end, the Ottoman aviation aquadrons was a potpourri of about 200 supplied, purchased, and captured aircraft from Germany, France, Russia, and Britain. Even a general enumeration is overwhelming: seven types of Albatros; four types of Fokkers; three types of Gotha bombers; two types each of Rumpler and Caudron; plus LVG B series, Halberstadts, Pfalzes, Voisins, DeHavillands, Nieuports, a Bristol Bullet, a Farman, a Morane-Saulnier L Parasol, and a Grigorovich G.5.

Efforts were made to reorganize the Ottoman aviation squadrons, but this ended in 1918 with the end of the First World War and the occupation of Constantinople.

World War I Operations

In August 1914, the Ottoman military aviation had eight planes assigned for operations and four in the flying school in Yeşilköy; of six operational planes, two were sent to eastern Anatolia, with the others retained at the flying school.[9] Another account insists the Ottoman aircraft detachments had only five aircraft and six pilots[citation needed].

Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant) Erich Serno arrived in January, 1915, accompanied by a staff of twelve.[9] It was Erich Serno who convinced the Ottoman military leadership to give the pilots a distinct uniform (a winged crescent and star on their hats.)[10] These men were parceled out to Ottoman detachments to fill out shortages in trained Ottoman personnel. Other German air personnel were later supplied. The augmentation became so extreme that one of the seven detachments formed by the end of 1915 was wholly German, although they wore Ottoman uniforms. Total Ottoman personnel in these seven detachments were 11 observers and seven army pilots, three navy pilots, and three civilian pilots.

The most important 1915 operation of the Ottoman aircraft detachments was the surveillance of the Gallipoli landing. This was performed by two detachments which was later reinforced. Ottoman airplanes from Gelibolu[citation needed] also attacked Allied and Greek naval targets and bases throughout Northern Aegean.

The Ottoman aviation squadrons deployed to fronts of Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, Western Thrace, Constantinople area and Caucasus in late 1915.[9]

Erich Serno's office was renamed as the General Inspectorate of Air Forces (Kuva-yı Havaiye Müfettiş-i Umumiliği) trying to reconstruct itself on July 29, 1918 had no personnel, but only remained as a title on paper.[11]

In summer 1918, Palestine Brigade of the Royal Flying Corps and Australian Flying Corps pressured the Ottoman and German aircraft detachments in Palestine out of its reconnaissance role. The Ottoman forces, lacking the information to fend off Allenby's offensives around Megiddo, found themselves under heavy air attack while retreating from their rout.


  1. ^ According to Hamit Palabiyik, its formation came about after the Ottoman Empire sent two pilots to the International Aviation Conference in Paris in June 1909 (Hamit Palabiyik, Turkish Public Administration: From Tradition to the Modern Age, USAK Books, 2008, ISBN 9786054030019, p. 85.
  2. ^ The Turkish Air Force regards flight trainings of Captain Fesa Bey and Lieutenant Yusuf Kenan Bey in 1911 as its own start line and celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2011. "Türk Hava Kuvvetleri 100 Yaşında" in the official website of Turkish Air Force (Turkish)
  3. ^ According to Edward J. Erickson, the very term Ottoman Air Force is a gross exaggeration and the term Osmanlı Hava Kuvvetleri (Ottoman Air Force) unfortunately is often repeated in contemporary Turkish sources. (Edward J. Erickson, Ordered To Die: A History of the Ottoman Army in the First World War, "Appendix D The Ottoman Aviation Inspectorate and Aviation Squadrons", ISBN 0-313-31516-7, p. 227.)
  4. ^ According to, 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 Bölüğü) and fighter squadrons (Av Bölüğü) reported individually to either an Army or Corps command., Ottoman Air Branch - 1914-1918 - The Great War in the official website of the


  1. ^ a b Edward J. Erickson, Ordered To Die: A History of the Ottoman Army in the First World War, "Appendix D The Ottoman Aviation Inspectorate and Aviation Squadrons", ISBN 0-313-31516-7, p. 227.
  2. ^ Story of Turkish Aviation in 'Turkey in the First World War' website
  3. ^ "Founding" in Turkish Air Force official website
  4. ^ Turkish Aircraft in 'Turkey in the First World War' website
  5. ^ a b Edward J. Erickson, Defeat in Detail: The Ottoman Army in the Balkans, 1912-1913, Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003, ISBN 0-275-97888-5, p. 348.
  6. ^ Edward J. Erickson, Defeat in Detail: The Ottoman Army in the Balkans, 1912-1913, Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003, ISBN 0-275-97888-5, pp. 348-349.
  7. ^ a b Edward J. Erickson, Defeat in Detail: The Ottoman Army in the Balkans, 1912-1913, Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003, ISBN 0-275-97888-5, p. 349.
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ a b c Edward J. Erickson, Ordered To Die: A History of the Ottoman Army in the First World War, "Appendix D The Ottoman Aviation Inspectorate and Aviation Squadrons", ISBN 0-313-31516-7, p. 228.
  10. ^ Gallery of Pilots, showing the distinct badge (winged crescent and star) on their hats.
  11. ^ "1918-1923" in Turkish Air Force official website


External links

See also

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