Thursday, November 01, 2007

November 1

On November 1, 1911 the world's first bombing mission took place when an Italian pilot named Giulio Gavotti dropped four hand grenades on Turkish troops camped at Ain Zara in Libya. Flying at an altitude of 600 feet, Gavotti took four small grenades from a leather pouch, screwed in the detonators, and tossed each missile over the side. Gavotti’s scheme injured no one.

Gavotti’s underwhelming air raid took place during the early weeks of the Italo-Turkish War, initiated by Italy in September 1911 in the hope of seizing Libya from the disintegrating Ottoman Empire. The invasion of North Africa was urged on by an Italian press who insisted the conquest of Libya would be quick, inexpensive, and glorious. It was not. Although Ottoman Turk forces were defeated by October 1912, they managed to hold out for more than a year, during which time Italy squandered 80 million lira per month -- nearly three times the projected monthly cost of the conflict, which was expected to end much sooner than it did. With the Turks defeated, Italy then faced two decades of resistance by Libyans who preferred not to be attached to either the Ottoman or the Italian empire.

Though Lt. Gavotti's raid produced no casualties and was initially regarded by other nations as ungentlemanly, the use of air power as an instrument of war became one of the 20th century's more rueful contributions. A year after the Ain Zara bombing, French pilots dropped bombs in Morocco; in 1913, Serbs in French-built planes bombed Turkish forces during the First Balkan War; by the end of World War I, German Zeppelins had lobbed nearly 200 tons of bombs over England, killing more than 550 civilians. Things only went downhill from there, as subsequent decades would bring about the rubbling of Guernica, London, Dresden, Tokyo, Chongqing, Hiroshima, Hanoi, Beirut, and Baghdad among hundreds of other targets.

On November 1, 1952 -- less than half a century after Giulio Gavotti unwrapped his grenades and transformed the nature of warfare -- the United States successfully tested the world's first hydrogen bomb on the Pacific atoll of Enewetak, located in the US-owned Marshall slands. "Mike," as the device was known, weighed over 80 tons and generated a 10-megaton blast. The mushroom cloud surged 37 kilometers into the atmosphere and rendered the island uninhabitable for the next five decades. Enewetak's original inhabitants had been relocated after World War II so that their island could be used to test nuclear weapons. Forty-three such tests took place there between 1948-1958, though none came close to rivaling the destructive power of "Mike."

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