At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

History’s first air raid

Balloon bombs dropped on Venice


Luigi Querena's dramatic painting of the blazing Church of San Geremia on the Grand Canal during the Austrian bombardment
Luigi Querena's dramatic painting of the blazing Church of San
Geremia on the Grand Canal during the Austrian bombardment 
Venice suffered the first successful air raid in the history of warfare on this day in 1849.

It came six months after Austria had defeated the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia in the First Italian War of Independence as the Austrians sought to regain control of Venice, where the revolutionary leader Daniele Manin had established the Republic of San Marco.

The city, over which Manin’s supporters had seized control in March 1848, was under siege by the Austrians, whose victory over the Piedmontese army in March 1849 had enabled them to concentrate more resources on defeating the Venetians.

They had regained much of the mainland territory of Manin’s republic towards the end of 1848 and were now closing in on the city itself, having decided that cutting off resources while periodically bombarding the city from the sea would bring Venice’s capitulation.

An artist's impression of how the balloon bombs may have looked
An artist's impression of how the
balloon bombs may have looked
However, because of the shallow lagoons and the strength of Venice’s coastal defences, there were still parts of the city that were out of the range of the Austrian artillery.

It was at this point that one of Austrian commander Josef von Radetzky’s artillery officers, Lieutenant Franz von Uchatius, came up with the unlikely idea of attaching bombs to unmanned balloons and letting the wind carry them into Venice.

He devised a crude timing device using charcoal and greased cotton thread that would release the bomb at the moment he calculated it would be over the city.

Of course, he had no control over the speed or direction of the wind and when a first attempt was made in July 1849 it failed miserably, none of the balloons reaching their target and some drifting back towards where they were launched, exploding over the Austrian forces.

Undeterred, the Austrians tried again on August 22, launching an estimated 200 balloons, each carrying more than 14kg (30lbs) of explosives.  This time a number of them hit their target, although the damaged they caused was minimal.

Daniele Manin led the overthrow of the Austrians in Venice in 1848
Daniele Manin led the overthrow of the
Austrians in Venice in 1848
Nonetheless, it signalled the arrival of a new dimension to warfare, raising the possibility that civilian populations well behind the front lines of their armies could become targets for attack.  To the vocabulary of warfare could now be added the ‘air raid’.

In fact, it was Italian forces that would launch the first proper ‘air raid’ in history, some 62 years later in 1911, when bombs were dropped from an Italian aeroplane over a village near Tripoli in Libya, then part of the Ottoman Empire.

As it happens, the Republic of San Marco fell only two days after the 1849 balloon attack, although the two events were almost certainly unconnected.  Venice was already on its knees, with stocks of food and ammunition exhausted, and Manin had negotiated a honourable surrender than would see himself and other leaders spared their lives and liberty on condition that they leave Venice and go into exile.

The beautiful Oratory of the Crucifix in Chiesa di San Polo lined with paintings by Giandomenico Tiepolo
The beautiful Oratory of the Crucifix in Chiesa di San Polo
lined with paintings by Giandomenico Tiepolo
Travel tip:

Daniele Manin’s birthplace in Venice was in the San Polo sestiere – district – of which the main public space is the vast Campo San Polo, the second largest square in Venice after San Marco and much quieter, at least in terms of tourist activity, and some would say a much more comfortable place to experience an authentic Venice, with bars frequented as much by local people going about their business as visitors.  In any other city the 15th century Gothic Chiesa di San Polo would be the main attraction, featuring an interior beautifully restored by David Rossi in the early 19th century and featuring paintings by Tintoretto, Jacopo Guarana, Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo, Palma il Giovane and Paolo Veronese.

Campo Manin in San Marco, featuring the statue of Manin
Campo Manin in San Marco, featuring the statue of Manin
Travel tip:

Manin’s main residence in adult life was a house on the Rio de l’Barcaroli canal in the San Marco sestiere facing what used to be Campo San Pernian, now renamed Campo Manin, through which many visitors pass each day between Teatro la Fenice with Teatro Goldoni. In the centre of this square is a bronze statue of Manin, sculpted by Luigi Borro and erected in 1875, with a bronze winged lion of Venice resting at the foot of the plinth. 






No comments:

Post a Comment