PILOT FAZIL BEY – AN AVIATION HERO

 

 

Aviation is full of heroes, airmen who are credited with 5, 100 or even 200 air victories, pilots who have killed themselves in the final act of destroying an enemy.

 

Others, spend years committed to their duties, forwarding aviation and protecting their nations as well as possible.

 

The Turkish aviator Fazil is one of those last mentioned spending his young life in constant war for 10 years only to be killed in a training accident after the war was over.

 

EARLY TRAINING

Fazil was born in 1889 in the Provincial garrison town of Scutari (Işkodra in Turkish) in the northern part of Albania. His father Abdurrahman was an officer in the local Turkish Army garrison his mother had the name Saadet. When Fazil was a teenager he easily passed the very stringent tests for entry to the famous French Lycee school in Istanbul and after graduating he was in 1907 accepted at the Army’s War School. In 1910 he finished and was promoted to the rank of Mülâzim-I Evvel (First Lieutenant) of the Infantry.

 

Bleriot in his monoplane during his flight in Istanbul 11.December 1909. Shortly after this photograph was taken the aircraft crashed.

 

At this time, after among others Bleriot, had demonstrated his aircraft in Istanbul in 1909, the Turkish army was keenly trying to form an aviation unit and had instructed their Military Attachés in various European countries to watch developments in this field. During May 1911 the Commanders of the three Ottoman Armies circulated application forms asking officers to volunteer for pilot training. An initial 8 officers were selected and they were sent on training in France.

Meanwhile matters had taken a sudden urgency when the Tripoli War against Italy broke out and Turkish Forces there were attacked by Italian warplanes. Two Turkish officers, the Commanding officer of the Aviation Forces Lt.Col. Surreyya Bey and Engineer Major Mehmet Ali were sent to Europe to procure aircraft and arrange for pilot training. Among other places the two officers visited England and here two Bristol Bomber aircraft and two vehicles for aircraft transportation were bought. Also while in England arrangement were made  to employ two pilots and two mechanics and a training course was secured for 5 Turkish pilots and 2 engine-mechanics. The two staff officers returned to Turkey in early July 1912 and meanwhile two batches of pilots had been selected 8 for France and 7 for England.

The trainees for England comprised 5 pilot trainees (Lt’s Saffet, Mehmed Ali, Abdullah, Fazil and Sabri) and 2 mechanics (1.Lt. Fethi and Lt. Aziz) and they arrived at Bristol’s at Brooklands in late July. 1.Lt.Fethi showed such an aptitude for flying that he was allowed to take a pilot’s license in addition to the mechanics course.

 

The Ottoman officers at Brooklands, Lt. Fazil far left and 1.Lt. Fethi far right.

 

Things, however, did not go as planned as the 1.Balkan War broke out in the Autumn and the officers on training in Europe were recalled. They returned to Turkey in November and December 1912, too late to participate in the first battles.  Lt. Fazil had shown exceptional aptitude for flying and thanks to his fluency in French had progressed well before his recall. Upon arriving at Yeşilköy near Istanbul, the Centre of Army flying in Turkey, he was assigned one of the two Bristol Prier-Dickson 2-seater monoplanes for flying.

 

Ottoman Army aircraft at Yesilkoy in early 1913. A Bristol Prier-Dickson monoplane is seen in front.

 

The Bristols had by then been parked outside for some months and were not in a flyable condition. Furthermore they had an undercarriage consisting of bi-cycle like wheels which made them completely unsuitable for landing in the terrain.

Having missed the 1st Balkan War which came to an end on December 3. 1919 Lt. Fazil went to work on his aircraft so to make it flyable.

The peace talks which had started in December broke down in January and on February 3rd 1913 hostilities were resumed. The Ottoman Army was soon compelled to retreat to a defensive line just outside Istanbul, but much progress was made in using aircraft in the war operations and several long reconnaissance flights were made and even bombs were dropped. Still the Bristols were not flyable and Fazil could only use his skills in training personnel at Yeşilköy. In March an armistice was once more initiated and on May 30 1913 a peace treaty was signed.

 

WAR ACTION

The winners of the war Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, however, could not agree on how to divide the spoils of war and on June 30th they started fighting each other. On July 13th the Ottoman Government saw its chance and made a swift attack forwards against the Bulgarian lines, here the only three operational aircraft made significant contributions in making reconnaissance ahead of the  Ottoman cavalry.

 

Lt. Fazil in front of his Bristol in August 1913

 

Such was the wear and tear that by August 10 all aircraft except one had been grounded. The pilots Fazil and Salim  meanwhile had managed to make one of the Bristols flyable and they flew the aircraft to Kirkkilise on August the 13th. The next day they made their first reconnaissance flight, Fazil piloting and Salim observing. On the next flights they kept alternating seats. They now arranged for a portable tent hangar to be brought forward so they could follow the army’s progress north. Such was the success that a request was made for two observers to be made available and the Captains Mehmed Ali and Tahsin were rushed there. Missions were flown several times a day until misfortune struck. In the night 24th/25th August a heavy rainstorm made the roof of the tent hangar collapse and the aircraft was wrecked. On the 29th the Bulgars agreed to an armistice and the part of Trakya (Trace) which today belongs to Turkey had been won back.

 

Fazil in the pilot seat of the Deperdussin “Osmanli” after the formation flight Yeşilköy –Edirne – Yeşilköy.

 

With the war over and highly motivated after the late successes several exploration flights were now performed by the Ottoman Army pilots. With newly repaired aircraft the Sea of Marmara was crossed and on November 23rd 1913 a formation flight consisting of three aircraft was performed Yeşilköy –Edirne – Yeşilköy. Lt. Fazil had the honour of being given the pilot seat of the Deperdussin “Osmanli”.

The exploration flights continued and it was decided to make a long flight from Istanbul to Cairo in Egypt, partly for political reasons. The first two attempts ended in disaster and the three most experienced pilots of the service lost their life.

Suddenly Lt. Fazil was one of the most experienced in the force and as such he joined a committee sent to Europe in the Spring of 1914 in order to buy new equipment. The young Lieutenant’s natural gift for piloting came to its most and he had the opportunity to fly the most advanced French and German aircraft of the day.

 

Fazil after his aerobatic flight in the “Osmanli”

 

Already before this however, he had made headlines in Turkey when he on the 5th of March had performed the first aircraft acrobatics in the country when he took the Deperdussin “Osmanli” into a series of rolls. Coming back from Europe Lt. Fazil served in his favourite occupation that of training young pilots when he was an instructor participating in the training of 5 army and 8 navy student pilots. At that time the supervision of training had been taken over by a delegation of French officers and his fluency in French came into good use. In May the service was donated a French Ponnier Aerobatic aircraft and the French instructors gave the three Lt’s Fazil, Midhat and Salim instruction in the latest aerobatic techniques. Soon after on the 5th of August the French personnel was recalled with the outbreak of the 1st World War.

 

                                          

Lt. Fazil 2nd from the right while an instructor at the Yeşilköy Flying School in 1914. The aviators are      Fazil in the summer of 1914

wearing a new dress uniform in dark blue with red trimmings introduced in the Summer of 1914.

 

FLIGHTS AT THE DARDANELLES

Even though the Ottoman empire was not a war participant until later in the year its forces were put on war footing. Soon British warships were patrolling the entry to the Dardanelles Strait and even threatened Ottoman shipping. It was decided to send an aircraft to the area so to reconnoitre the situation. On August 17 Lt. Fazil arrived at Çanakkale, the Army Headquarters for the area with a 1-seater Nieuport Landplane that had been used by the Navy for training. On September 5th he made his first reconnaissance flight lasting 1 hour 10 minutes. On September 10th he ventured 40 km outside the mouth of the Straits to spot for British warships. On September 25th the British started blockading the Straits  (even if a war was not declared until 3 weeks later) and on flights on the 2nd and 10th of October he was fired upon. When on a flight on the 19th of October his engine started running rough and he barely made it back to shore. The aircraft had to be shipped back to Yeşilköy for repairs.

 

The Nieuport  1-seat trainer flown by Fazil at the Dardanelles.

 

On the 5th of November the aircraft was back and Fazil took it on a flight. When over the sea the engine quitted again and the aircraft had to be ditched into the sea, fortunately Fazil was rescued unharmed by nearby ships.

At this time the army was desperately looking for aircraft and a company in Italy offered two Farman planes for sale. The aircraft were bought and in order to fetch the aircraft and fly them to friendly Austria the two Lt’s Fazil and Avni were issued false passports and dispatched to Italy. There, however the deal had been discovered by the authorities and both were arrested on arrival. Soon they were released and could travel to Germany where a new deal was appearing. Germany had offered to sell Turkey 36 aircraft, but on the condition that the pilots for them should be trained in Germany. So Fazil and Avni were in the right place and were the first to train in Germany. Shortly after on November 11 the situation changed again when Turkey joined Germany in the war. Now aircraft became more easily available. Lt. Fazil used his stay in Germany to good effect and further learned the technical details of German aircraft (and learned to speak German) both things later came to good use in his career.

 

IN PALESTINE

In Turkey things were developing fast and in order to capture the Suez Canal the 4th Palestinian Army was formed on December 7th 1914. The army was planned to have an aircraft company, but little equipment was available. The most suitable and with a long range was the Rumpler Doppeldecker which had been taken over from the German Dr. Elias was shipped there but crashed on its first flight at Aleppo on December 29th 1914. During the first attack on the Suez Canal on February 2nd 1915 the army was without aircraft. The only other aircraft available the Ponnier trainer was now sent together with the Lt’s Fazil and Midhat and it arrived at Damascus on March 17. After a few flights, however, it crashed in an emergency landing on April 9th when being flown to Bir-sheba. 

 

The Ponnier Aerobatic trainer sent to Palestine in early 1915

 

Personnel of the first aviation unit stationed in Palestine in 1915. Stationed in Damascus it had as its only aircraft the aerobatic trainer of Ponnier design. To the right sitting, Capt. Fazil.

 

THE IRAQI FRONT

From the very start of a new British advance in Mesopotamia/Iraq in the spring of 1915 they employed aircraft. These machines soon proved invaluable in providing reconnaissance for harassing gunboats and the column advancing along the banks of the Tigris, where all the battles were fought.

The Ottoman Army at this stage was unable to exploit the use of aircraft as none could be spared from the Gallipoli theatre of war. This state of affairs changed when on the 16th of September 1915, a British Caudron G.3 force landed behind Turkish lines and was captured intact. Immediately Iraqi Headquarters sent a request to the 4th Army in Palestine for a pilot. They at this time were without aircraft but still had at their disposal a few pilots and observers. On the 25th of September Lt. Fazil, who also had some training as a mechanic left Da­mascus for Iraq. Some weeks later the observer Capt. Fettah also left for Iraq. Before the airmen arrived a Farman MF.7 had been captured on the 14th of October. Immediately upon his arrival in late October, Lt. Fazil started to work to make the Farman flyable. After some weeks work the air­craft was made ready in mid December and by the end of the year 4 flights had been made together with Capt. Fettah. One of these flights was a test flight towards Aziziye the others reconnaissance in the vicinity of Kut.

 

The captured Farman MF.7 which was the first Ottoman operated aircraft in Iraq.

 

At this time it had been decided in Istanbul to form an aircraft unit for the Iraqi front. Consequently in mid December 2nci Tay­yare Bölügü was established with the German Capt. von Aulock in command. The unit with  Pfalz A.II parasol aircraft newly arri­ved from Germany, 4 pilots and 4 observers started the long jour­ney. Meanwhile at the beginning of the new year (1916) Fazil and Fettah embarked on a series of new flights. Using the Farman and the now air worthy Caudron they operated from a field cleared at Shamrund Bend only 8 km from the surrounded city of Kut.

 

Captured British Caudron G.3 used by 2nci TyBl. for a few flights

 

On the 2nd of January the Turkish crew took the Farman on a 2 hour 10 minutes flight during which, from a height of 2600 m, the positions of the British re‑enforcement's along Tigris were plotted. Other flights were made both on the 8th and 12th again giving the Turkish com­mander important information on the whereabouts of the British regiments. Altogether 7 flights were made which were instrumental in repelling the British attempt to relieve Kut. In the closing days of January Capt. Fazil became seriously ill and later in March had to be sent back to Istanbul for recovery. Fortunately the arrival of the 2nci Tay­yare Bölügü coincided with this so the flights could be continued.

 

3NCÜ TAYYARE BÖLÜGÜ (THE 3RD AIRCRAFT COMPANY)

By spring 1916 increasing unrest among the Arab tribes on the Ara­bian peninsula forced the Turkish Hedjas Command to ask for rein­forcements to protect the holy areas. As British aircraft had been reported seen in the area an aircraft company was expressly reques­ted. Due to the special religious consequences none of the German personnel already in Palestine could be used. Instead 3ncü Tay­yare Bölügü (the 3rd aircraft company) which had been formed to be sent to the south Caucasus front was hurriedly issued with 5 Pfalz A.II parasols (no. P.6,7,8,9,10). The advance party of the unit left Istanbul on the 23rd of June 1916, bringing 3 of the air­craft, 2 portable hangars, 50 bombs and 20,000 rounds of ammuni­tion under command of the C/O, Capt. Camil. With a further person­nel of 1 officer, 2 NCOs, 2 mechanics and 97 other personnel it arrived in Damascus already on the 1st of July. The rest of the company arrived two weeks later. Soon the aircraft were readied one by one by the Damascus workshop, only to have to force land on their first flights with faulty engines.

 

Lt. Orhan in front of a Pfalz A.II five of which were the first Ottoman aircraft deployed to Medina

 

As in the equally hot Iraq the rotary engines of the Pfalz proved totally unsuitable for the hot climatic conditions. Specialists from FA300 were called to Damascus, but it was not until September 16th when 1st Lt. Fazil, who was recovering from serious illness (probably Typhoid) in Istanbul was brought in as C/O that the Pfalz aircraft became reliable enough to fly. After this unfortunate interlude 3ncü Tay. Böl. arrived on the 3rd of October 1916 in Medina. Here a relatively large airfield close to the railway station had been prepared by the personnel of the company. Immediately operations were initiated against the British assisted uprising tribes. During the first month 1.Lt. Fazil and alternatively Lt. Sakir with Lt. Kamil as observer flew 14 sorties dropping bombs and darts on Arab camps. This pace was kept up in November also with 14 sorties being flown. On the 7th of the month, sheikh Feysal's headquarters was spotted and the camp attacked. This was continued the following day with a two aircraft attack (Fazil in P.7 and Sakir in P.10), dropping four 15 kg bombs and three 5 kg. In November, on the 26th, a long awaited Albatros C.III (AK.28) arrived. Tragically this aircraft was lost the next day when it disintegrated in the air due to very rough turbulence. The pilot, Lt. Saim was killed. Neverthe­less the operations were kept in a high key during December; 3 airworthy aircraft and 4 crews being available. By the end of the year the flight log of 3ncü Tay. Böl. showed that 78 hours had been flown in the fragile parasols under the most difficult con­ditions. Fortunately at this time three new Albatros C.III's were received from Damascus (AK.30, 40,72) and they soon flew alongside the remaining parasols.

 

Extremely rare (unfortunately of poor quality) picture of an Albatros C.III at Medina airfield in 1917

 

The last Pfalz A.II flight was made by Fazil in P.7 on the 7th of March 1917.

During their stay in the desert of Arabia the five Pfalz's logged 150 flying hours. Meanwhile two additional Albatrosses, (AK.4 a C.I and AK.31 a C.III) had been received and in March 8 sorties were flown by these machines. These Albatros aircraft were actually the first armed aircraft that Fazil had been flying.  Soon, however, it was seen that also this type of aircraft did not perform well in the dry and hot climate. As replacements Rumpler C.I's with double coolers were promised, as so­me had been made available from FA300, the German unit in Palestine.

 

Two Rumpler C.I's of 3ncü Tay­yare Bölük at Maan on March 28, 1918. (left to right: Pilot Emin Nihat, C/O Capt. Izzettin, Observer Cevdet)

 

During the summer of 1917 the Arab "hit and run" attacks on the Hedjas railway line became increasingly felt in Medina as vitally needed supplies for the aircraft unit could not get through. As a consequence the headquarters and main force of 3ncü Tay­yare Bölügü was moved to Maan under the command of now Captain Fazil on the 1st of August. This move placed the unit under the command of the 4th Army, covering the area east of the Jordan river. The main duty of the aircraft company now became aerial protection of the railway line, although a detachment of a single Albatros was kept at Medina. Meanwhile the first two Rumplers (R.1847 and 2627) were ready at Maan and the first operational flight was performed on the 2nd of August. The next months saw daily reconnaissance flights performed over and in the vicinity of the railway. This proved a very successful means of keeping the Arab bands away. In this period occasional flights towards and attacks on Aqaba were made. In November another 4 Rumplers were received and the Bölük was split into 4 detachments, this coincided with Capt. Fazil being recalled to Istanbul. Capt. Izzettin took over officially on December 27. Between September and the end of December 1917 altogether 61 sor­ties were flown by the unit.

 

THE AIR DEFENCE OF ISTANBUL

At this time in late 1917 and early 1918 the Capital of the Ottoman Empire was under considerable pressure from British air attacks on the city, its outskirts and the railway line connecting to Bulgaria (and thus Germany) After recovery from the strenuous service in Palestine Captain Fazil was posted at Yeşilköy as chief of air operations for this airfield.(UÇUS ŞUBESI MUDUR).

 

After British air attacks on Istanbul in 1916 an air defense system for Istanbul was implemented in 1917, an order called for it to be ready on September 15 that year.

On this date an "Air Command for aircraft and anti‑air­craft guns of Istanbul" was established with headquarters in a hotel situated close to the Beyoglu railway tunnel and with telephone wires laid to the nearby telephone‑ and tele­graph station. This command had all army aircraft and anti-aircraft units around Istanbul under its command and was headed by a major under whom served 3 captains, one each in command of aircraft, anti‑aircraft batteries and com­munication. The officers were supported by 18 other per­sonnel.

At Yeşilköy aerodrome,  the 9ncu Tayyare Bölük was formed as a fighter unit under command of the German Capt. Keiper. Initially, only two Albatros C.III's were available for the unit, but soon, the equipment was increased to 5 Albatros C.III's, one Fokker E.III  and 4 Fokker D.I's.

By late November 1917 a total of seven companies (2 recce‑, 2 fighter‑ and 3 seaplane) were available for the defense of Istanbul. The units had a total 42 pilots (Army: 16 German - seconded to or having taken a commission in the Otto­man Army, 9 Turkish (Navy  14 German and 3 Turkish).  The equipment consisted of 9 land based recce‑ and 8 fighter aircraft and sea based 20 float plane recce and 2 fighters.

 

The system was composed of three main elements: Reporting of approaching aircraft, a first line defense of fighter aircraft and near defense with anti‑aircraft guns. The reporting system (map 1) was to be based on three in­dependent lines of communication:

1) the civil postal tele­graph‑ and telephone line system.

2) the Police and Gendarme telegraph reporting system.

3) the Army and Navy wireless telegraph system.

The areas of responsibility were divided into a Western and Eastern zone each with several reporting lines. The Western zone was divided into 4 lines over which aircraft should be reported by observing posts. The first and second li­nes were under the control of the 5th Army at Çanakkale and the reported enemy aircraft were to be intercepted by fighters of the 6nci Tayyare Bölük from this field. The third repor­ting line was to cover the approaches to Trakya (European province of Turkey) under the control of the 1st Army who were to send up fighters from Uzunköprü. Reports from these lines together with reports from the fourth line were to be sent to the main post office at Kemerburgaz and from there to the Ministry of Defense. For the inner defense of the capital itself one fighter squadron was formed at Yeşilköy and 16 anti‑air­craft batteries and 7 search‑light units were estab­lished and placed near key objects such as the arms factory at Bakirköy, the submarine base at Hasköy, the Ministry of Defense and several other places. Each battery comprised of an anti‑aircraft gun and two machine-guns. In addition to this the numerous guns of the ships in the harbor were able to be fired under the direction of the Navy.

AIR DEFENCE SYSTEM IN ISTANBUL 1917-1918

 

 

Albatros C.III of 9ncu TyBl. at Yeşilköy in 1917

 

Action in the beginning of 1918 was fierce. During January and February 1918 the resources of both bel­ligerents were largely spent during the daring and devasta­ting attack made by the two Turkish cruisers "Yavuz" and "Midilli". On the 20th of January they steamed out of the Straits and plastered the base of Imbros, sinking two moni­tors and a freighter and wrecking the base. In the subse­quent battle air power played the main part. Both cruisers were attacked by aircraft carrying torpedoes and in avoi­ding these were hit by mines. Whereas Midilli sank and was lost, Yavuz was saved from destruction by aircraft drawn from all available sources protecting her from more than 250 enemy sorties during which 180 bombs were dropped. In addition to the ship's own twelve 8.3 cm anti‑aircraft guns a 7.5 cm battery and numerous machine-guns were rushed up to help from the shore. Two British aircraft were dow­ned on the 20th and on the 23rd a Sopwith Camel was shot down in an air duel. A Short 184 was taken almost intact on the 26th.

 

A Halberstadt D.V fighter in flight

 

There was a lull in operations over the Gallipoli area un­til April 1918, when on the 21st three Bri­tish aircraft attacked in what amounted to a new air offen­sive. The only two fighter pilots of the 6nci Tay. Bölük, with newly acquired Albatros D.III's and the still flyable Halberstadt D.V's, tried to stem the tide. Almost daily battles were fought and even when ample warning was given it was seen that the 1916 vintage fighters were too slow to cope with the attackers. In May 1918 29 fighter sorties were flown, in June 34 and in July 35 sorties were flown, 6 interceptions made and 8 enemy aircraft claimed damaged.

 

 

Bomb damage sustained on civil quarters of Istanbul on 18th of Oct.1918    British aircraft shot down over Istanbul in 1918 put on display in the city

 

THE BLITZ OF ISTANBUL

The attacks on Istanbul  itself started with an attack on the 1st of July.  It was made in daylight by five aircraft flying at 3000 feet. The air defense forces of the city had received a 30 minutes warning through the reporting system, but the fighters failed to find the aircraft. Despite this an at­tempt by the raiders to bomb the Ministry of Defense was repulsed with heavy fire from anti‑aircraft guns and machine-guns. The bombs were dropped from an altitude of more than 1500 feet and fell harmlessly. After this new attack a report was made stating that the reporting system was working as planned, whereas the figh­ters and guns were not effective enough. Accordingly the C/O of the Ottoman Army Flying Organization, Major Serno, send on the 7th of July a request to Germany asking for fighters of the newest type and