Captain Fantastic

Yet another public holiday and yet another soggy wet day for it. How people must have dreamed of all these holidays at the end of April and the plans they must have made only to have them washed away in oodles of rainwater.

What does one do on yet another soggy day but hit Amazon and do a little retail therapy and this I did ordering new waterproofs to walk in. Apt I thought looking out of the window at the rain. However I was conscious that this is a blog about Italy and that I should have a look in the morning newspapers when my eye was caught by one of those recommendations that Amazon do after you have bought a book. It was for a book by Norman Stone on the causes of the First World War . Nothing there for me I thought Italy didn’t enter the War until 1915 . But I was wrong. Our Norman reckons Italy was very much to blame for the Great War to End All Wars and it all centred on Italy’s attack on Libya in 1911. There I bet you didn’t know that. Actually I didn’t even know about the Tripolitanitanian War probably because I can barely say the word Tripol…. and the rest.

Well Libya was a part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire which was in decline. Italy wanted an Empire and Libya looked like an easy target so they invaded in 1911. Like most times Italy has mounted such an attack, it was a disaster and the troops were quickly tied down in the coastal area and the walkover they expected became a torrid and costly war. the Turks there were well organised and the Arab tribes didn’t want to swap one invader for another so fought like men possessed.

However the war ( and I didn’t know any of this) was a war of firsts in the air because in July 1909 Louis Bleriot had flown the Channel in his Bleriot mark XI aeroplane and powered by an engine made by the Italian engineer Alessandro Anzani  and there was me thinking none of this had anything to do with Italy. Anyway Italy bought a couple of these Bleriot mark XI aircraft and they were shipped to Libya with the invasion force.

The guy heading up the group was our Captain Fantastic or to give him his correct name Captain Carlo Piazza and he was about to complete loads of firsts in aviation history was our Carlo.


Now I had hoped he was born in Puglia but no such luck he was born just outside Milano but don’t you love the moustache ( baffi in Italian).

So those firsts started on October 23rd when Carlo took off and  checked out the Arab troops near at the Zanzur oasis a few kilometres away. This was the first aerial reconnaissance flight in the history of aviation.

On the 28th he was at it again, directing artillery fire by pointing to the hidden Arab fighters with the ground crew watching him through telescopes. So another first ever for him.

But he wasn’t finished on November 4th he took two 2kg bombs with him and tossed them over the side of his aeroplane as he flew over an Arab troop group and so we have the first bombing raid by an aircraft and on Nov 11th he asked  if he could be given a camera to fit on his aircraft and some months later it duly arrived and was fitted. On Feb 24th 1912 he used his camera to take photos of troop movements and so became the first man to take aerial photos. He also started to practise night flying a highly risky business thinking it would be a good way to bomb troops .

The war produced yet more aviation firsts. On June 11th saw the first night bombing raid on an enemy and on Sept 25th Lt. Manzio crashed into the sea and so became the first pilot to die in war.

Now you would think that Captain Piazza would be something of an aviation legend wouldn’t you but it seems not. It is really hard to find anything out about him other than he was killed in action in 1917 poor lad.

However certainly in 2000 his aeroplane was in a museum in Rome this one.



and this is a report from someone who has been there that I found.

“Oddly enough, a chance visit to the Museo Storico dei Bersaglieri in Rome, allowed me to see what was thought to be the Bleriot XI that was used by Captain Piazza in Libya. The machine is suspended from the ceiling and appears to be unrestored. I recall broken wires and rotted tires”.

Let’s hope someone has done something to restore it and that it hasn’t just rotted away though I fear it might have done.

Oh and why did this little war that most people have never heard of let alone knew all the aviation firsts ? Well Italy went on to win the war with Turkey highlighting the Ottoman Empire’s weakness and freedom fighters in the Balkans took note of this and in 1912 feeling that they could grab their country back from the Turks started a war against them which they won. So newly freed Serbia started to look at Bosnia that was controlled by Austria led by Grand Duke Ferdinand and the rest as they say is history.





About hereinpuglia

Retired to Puglia after some 40 years in the travel industry working for P&O Lines, British Airways, Alamo rent-a-car,Abercrombie&Kent, owner of Quest Tours and Travel and finally with Thomas Cook North America. Married to Geraldine we now have a small house with too much land near the town of Martina Franca in Puglia. Two kids one married and living in Hong Kong and the other single and living in London. No dogs, no cats no animals.
This entry was posted in Expat in Italy, Expat Italy, Istanbul, Puglia Guide, Puglia Lifestyle, Puglia Living and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Captain Fantastic

  1. Gerard McManamon says:

    If you haven’t read it please read the White War by Mark Thompson, it is about the immense suffering by Italians in the First World War in the Dolomites and Austrian front.

    And my other recommendation is The Conquest of Malaria by Frank M. Snowden, Italy was only declared malaria-free in 1962, pity they didn’t find a way to get rid of the mosquitoes at the same time as eradicating the disease!

  2. Sam Brunetti says:

    Another great book about Italy’s First World War experience is “Isonzo The forgotten Sacrifice of the Great War” by John R. Schindler. The title says it all, the war cost Italy 1,100,000 soldiers dead and wounded but all you hear about is the heroic efforts of the US, Britain and France on the Western Front. I realize that this is mostly due to the country’s showing in the Second World War, but the war on the Isonzo as John Schindler writes “was noted for the harshness of the terrain, the viciousness of the fighting and the endless cycle of disastrously failed offensives”.

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