THE ITALIAN AIRCRAFT ON THE ELTA OF 1919
Rob J M Mulder (www.elta1919.nl)
Between the 1 August and 14 September 1919 the Eerste Luchtverkeer Tentoonstelling Amsterdam – ELTA (First Aviation Exhibition Amsterdam) was held. It was hailed as a great success: more than 100 aircraft participated and more than 500,000 spectators (some sources take about as many as 1,000,000) passed the gates. The French Captain Hirschauer wrote about the exhibition ’…since the air exhibition of Reims of 1909…never has an air show been as impressive as the ELTA’. After 90 years it is time to reflect and have a look at the Italian participation.
Once the guns of the Great War fell silent the world could focus on the rebuilding of their nation. Great Britain, Italy and France were particularly hard hit, but the Netherlands had remained neutral and in many ways benefited from the war trade. But already during the Great War plans emerged in many nations to start up air services once practically possible. In the Netherlands Lieutenant M L J Hofstee and R J Castendijk (officers in the Luchtvaartafdeeling – LVA, the Dutch Army Air Corps) had written an essay about the possibilities for civilian aviation in the future. The essay was read by their colleague Lieutenant Albert Plesman, who thought about how can we find interest in the Netherlands for such plans? The Dutch population had not seen many aircraft during the Great War as the country had been neutral. The only flying activity taking place was by the military. The LVA and the Marine Luchtvaartdienst – MLD (Dutch Naval Air Corps) used mainly confiscated aircraft and had a mix of German, English and French aircraft at their disposal. They also operated some locally built aircraft like the Spijker V.2.
The Lieutenants Plesman and Hofstee came together and decided to form an organising committee that would set up an aviation exhibition with the main focus on the civilian site of aviation. It was important to show what the modern aircraft could mean for civilians. They found government support and a guarantee fund was formed to make sure that the idea could be realised and not became a financial disaster. In the spring of 1919 the plans for the Eerste Luchtverkeer Tentoonstelling Amsterdam – ELTA (First Aviation Exhibition Amsterdam – ELTA) were put into life. The exhibition opened on 1 August and lasted for six weeks until 14 September 1919. On a newly developed site in Amsterdam an exhibition hall and an air field (670 m x 750 m) were constructed. Invitations were send out to the Entente members as well as Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Austria. Under pressure of the Entente members Great Britain and France the German and Austrian invitation were withdrawn. It was too early after the Great War for them to compete at this event and also Allied pilots were not too keen to meet their former rivals in the air. Nevertheless, the ELTA was to become one of the finest exhibitions the world had ever seen. During the six weeks the ELTA lasted the committee had organised numerous activities, including night flights, air races, display flights, joy rides and much more. There was even an informal flying display with a lady jury present.
CHECK OUT FILM FOOTAGE:
Opening of the ELTA and the arrival of the Handley Page V/1500
In the exhibition hall numerous exhibitors displayed their products and in a cinema on the site lectures were held by people like Anthony Fokker, H B Pratt (Technical Manager of the Airship Department of the Naval Construction Work at Barrow-in-Furness, the airship department of Vickers Ltd) and the well-known French professor L Marchis.
During the six weeks more than 100 aircraft (both land- and seaplanes) came to the ELTA. In the beginning mainly civilian aircraft, but more and more military and converted military aircraft arrived. Not many pure civilian aircraft existed yet. The four countries represented (Great Britain, France, the Netherlands and Italy) displayed a beautiful mix of aircraft:
Great Britain: Airco D.H.4A, D.H.9B, D.H.9R, D.H.10; Handley Page V/1500 and O/7, British Aerial Transport Co Ltd B.A.T. F.K.23 Bantam, F.K.26 Commercial (the world’s first aircraft designed and built for commercial use) and F.K.28 Crow; Avro 504K, 504L, 534 Baby and the 536; Vickers Ltd showed the bomber F.B.27 Vimy and the civilian version F.B.28 Vimy Commercial; Blackburn R.T.1 Kangaroo; and Gosport Aircraft Co with the Gosport Flying Boat FBA, the F.5 and the F.2A. In addition came five Felixstowe F.5As and two rigid airships (HMA R.32 and R.33).
Check out: The British Aircraft on the ELTA of 1919
France: Caudron G.III, Spad XV/5, SEA-4, Breguet 14T2 Salon, Breguet 17C.2, Breguet 14A.2, Morane-Saulnier MoS.30bis, Morane-Saulnier MoS.35, Nieuport 29C.1, Farman F.50P and F.46 and fly-over of a Farman F.60 Goliath.
The Netherlands: Fokker D VII, Fokker D VIII, LVG B III, Fokker C I, Fokker V33, Fokker V39, Fokker M17E (all these were former German aircraft, but displayed by Fokker’s new Dutch company NV Nederlandsche Vliegtuigenfabriek). Also present he Carley S.1, the Spijker V.2 (trainer) and V.3 (fighter), Rumpler C VIII (from the LVA), Van Berkel W-A (MLD) and Friedrichshafen FF 49C (MLD). Finally the LVA bomber Vreeburg A.2M was on display in the hall.
The Italian contingent
The Italian participants decided to have a special section in the exhibition hall, where they could display randomly the aircraft they wanted to display. The “Sezione Italian” covered quite some space and most of the time 1-2 aircraft were on display. Most of the time the Ansaldo SVA.10 and the Caproni Ca.58 made occasionally the Fiat B.R. were placed on the stand. But the Italians were much more active on the airfield and in the air.
The participators of the Italians arrived throughout the ELTA lasted. The first to arrive was Tenente Umberto Guglielmotti, known in the Netherlands simply as ‘Motti’. He flew one of the three Ansaldo SVA.10s (military serial number 12222) that arrived on 1 August in Amsterdam. One week later the next Ansaldo SVA.10 (12974) arrived, followed by a third aircraft (12714) on 22 August. Latter was to remain in the Netherlands. In addition to these three fighters, Tenente Arturo Ferrarin was commanded to fly an Ansaldo A.1 Balillas (16550) from Paris to Amsterdam. He was to have a great time in the Netherlands with a lot of flying. Finally SA Italiana Gio Ansaldo & C transferred the prototype Ansaldo A300/2 to Amsterdam. The pilot was chief pilot Mario Stoppani and he carried with him the chief designer Giuseppe Brezzi.
Another impressive Italian participant was the Società di Aviazione Ing Caproni that transferred three aircraft to Amsterdam. The first to arrive was the Caproni Ca.450 (23170) for two crew and six passengers. It landed without any problems on 6 August and stayed only for a short while in Amsterdam. This aircraft was succeeded by the Caproni Ca.57 (12042) and this one had an enclosed cabin for six. It was on display in the exhibition hall and was used a little bit for joy rides. The largest aircraft to arrive after the Handley Page V/1500 was the three-engine triplane Caproni Ca.48 with looked very much like a flying omnibus. Captain Giulio Laureati had flown the aircraft non-stop from Milano/Taliedo across the Alps to Lyon and Paris/Orly. He was grounded by bad weather, but on 25 August it could proceed to Amsterdam, where it arrived after a flight marked by headwinds. But it was impressive sight once the triplane landed on the airfield. Once its roaring 380hp Liberty engines stopped it became pretty silent on the airfield. On board were also two Belgian officers, as well as two engineers and the co-pilot Baldi. In addition a detachment of the Italian Flying Corps dismounted from the aircraft!
The Fiat Società Anonima was represented by a very nice aircraft: The Fiat B.R. It had flown in the middle of July to London and on its way back it flew to Amsterdam, where it arrived on 2 August. The pilot was the famous Italian Tenente Francesco Brack Papa. His aircraft was powered by a 700hp Fiat engine – an impressive engine.
The remainder of the Italian participants were all flying boats from both the Società Idrovolanti Alta Italia and the Società Anonima Nieuport-Macchi. The first company send the Savoia S.9 and S.13 to Amsterdam, while latter flew the Macchi M.8 (13611) to Amsterdam and transported by train two M.7s to the Netherlands. They were assembled at the naval workshop De Mok on the island of Texel and were flown on demand to Amsterdam, where they moored either at the naval base Schellingwoude or at the Hoofdkanaal-West near the ELTA exhibition area.
As mentioned before, on the opening day the first Italian Ansaldo SVA.10 arrived. Subsequently, Tenente Guglielmotti was during the whole time on the ELTA and did a lot of flying displays. He was often mentioned in the Dutch press. During the flying displays on the first day Tenente Guglielmotti
made an impressive display together with Anthony Fokker (in a Fokker D VII) and the Dutch Lieutenant Willem Versteegh (in a Spyker V.3). He was joined by Tenente Francesco Brack Papa in the Fiat B.R. the day after and he was described by the English press ‘…as one of the most charming as well one of the most gallant and skilful if Italian pilots’. The roar of the 12 cylinder 700hp Fiat A.14-engine impressed the Dutch public. They had never seen or heard something similar.
There has not been too much written about the arrival and stay of the Caproni Ca.450, but the arrival of the Caproni Ca.57 (12042) has been well documented as it sank away in the sandy underground of the airfield. This was a problem for many of the larger aircraft and made it for them nearly impossible to make joy ride or display flights. The Ca.57 has made some flights, but this was mainly during to the “Italian Day” (see further on). Its arrival was preceded by the arrival of Tenente Arturo Ferrarin in the Ansaldo A.1 Balilla and Tenente G Masiero in an Ansaldo SVA.10. Tenente Ferrarin had been in Paris as part of an Italian delegation promoting Italian aircraft. He was send to Amsterdam as punishment (!) after unauthorised fake dog fights with French aircraft. He did not mind to be send to Amsterdam as he would there meet many of the famous Allied pilots. During the ELTA he made numerous flights in his little Balilla and became a popular figure in the Netherlands. He would not return to Paris until well after the ELTA. The night display flights held during the ELTA were loved by the audience. The searchlights tried to follow the aircraft, but had problems with that. Tenente Ferrarin was also in the air and had attached green and red lights on the wings of his aircraft to symbolize the colours of the Italian flag.
Popular were also the flight around the country. The ELTA organising committee wanted as many as possible to be able to see the aircraft and therefore pilots were asked to fly to numerous places throughout the Netherlands. Among places, Heerlen, Sittard and Meerssen in the south of the Netherlands received a visit of Tenente Ferrarin in the Ansaldo A.1 Balilla and Tenente Guglielmotti in the Ansaldo SVA.10. Latter made joy rides, while Tenente Ferrarin performed some breathtaking acrobatic flying.
On Tuesday 19 August the first Italian flying boats arrived at Amsterdam: the Savoia S.9 (registration unknown) and the Macchi M.8 (13611). The flight stood under the command of Tenente Conte Di Robilant. They moored at Schellingwoude, the naval air base of Amsterdam. Two to three Macchi M.7s arrived by train in Den Helder and were transferred by ship to the island of Texel. Here they were assembled by Italian personnel. The pilots for these flying boats were Tenente Maddalena, Mincotti and Sergeant Longo.
On Sunday 24 August, the ELTA organising committee had scheduled the highlight for the Italian delegation: the “Italian Day”. On this particular day the Italians could show their colours. A small booklet with information about Italian aviation had been prepared and sold by boy scouts. The earnings went to the poor of Amsterdam. The day started with the handing over of an Ansaldo SVA.10 to the Dutch government, who passed it on to the Luchtvaartafdeeling – LVA (the Dutch Army Flying Corps). The Dutch pilot Lieutenant Willem Versteegh was assigned as the pilot of this aircraft. A second SVA.10 was delivered one month later, but no further orders were placed. Meanwhile, the flying display started and most of the aircraft were in the air. The Caproni Ca.57 made some joy rides and the earnings from these flights also went to the poor of Amsterdam. In the end the Italians managed to collect Hfl 5,374.50 (around € 29,525) for the poor of Amsterdam – a great gesture that left a lasting impressing with the Dutch population.
Unfortunately the impressive triplane Caproni Ca.48 was not in time to participate on the Italian Day. Captain Giulio Laureati arrived on Monday afternoon and managed to put the heavy aircraft safely down on the sandy airfield. The British press called the aircraft as a Caproni triplane, complete with omnibus attached. The Dutch Prince Hendrik later visited the aircraft and was pretty much impressed by the quality and the beautiful cabin.
During that week the Caproni Ca.57 left for Paris and Italy and that meant that the first Italians were leaving the ELTA already. But they were not ready yet! On 31 August and 1 September the ELTA organising committee had agreed with the city of Rotterdam to have a flying display in their city. The display became a disaster. The Italians wanted that part of the earnings would go to the poor of the city of Rotterdam, but the committee in Rotterdam could not promise this. Therefore the Italians refused to fly to Rotterdam with other aircraft than the small ones. The crowd had to return home disappointed and angry. The next weekend a new attempt was made and the Italians promised to send the Caproni Ca.48 for joy rides, while four smaller aircraft would fake dog fights and make acrobatic flights. Also the Savoia S.9 would make a fly-pass. Still the committee did not want to give some of the earnings to the poor of Rotterdam. And thus the programme was again reduced. The Savoia S.9 with Tenente Maddalena was send to Rotterdam and landed there on the River Maas (Meuse). He performed also acrobatics and made a low pass over the crowd. In addition Tenente Guglielmotti (in the Ansaldo SVA.10) and Tenente Ferrarin (in the Ansaldo A.1 Balilla) flew to Rotterdam, but did not land there! Again this was not a good result for the organising committee in Rotterdam.
On 5 September the ELTA organising committee had set up an air race. There were prizes for the fastest aircraft, the fastest solo aircraft, the best placed airliner and the aircraft with highest pay-load of passengers on board. The most prestigious award went to French Captain Gaston Damelincourt in the Farman F.50P. After the handicap time had been deducted the captain had used only 38 minutes and 44 1/5 seconds for flying the circuit Amsterdam – The Hague – Rotterdam – Utrecht – Soesterberg – Bussum – Amsterdam (220km). The best placed Italian pilot was Tenente Arturo Ferrarin in the Ansaldo A.1 Balilla, who ended on sixth place. The next Italian ended on the tenth place: Tenente Guglielmotti in the Ansaldo SVA.10. No other Italian aircraft participated. There was also to be organised an air race for seaplanes, but this was cancelled after the death of a young Dutch lieutenant, who crashed with his Friedrichshafen FF 33L a day before the race was to be held. Out of respect the competition was cancelled.
The day after the competition the next Italian aircraft arrived in Amsterdam. It was the prototype of the Ansaldo A300/2 and was flown by chief test pilot Mario Stoppani. He carried as passenger the chief designer Giuseppe Brezzi. In addition test pilot Umberto Guarnieri and Tenente Campucci made a fine performance when they departed from Sesto Calende at Lake Maggiore for a non-stop flight with the Savoia S.13 across the St Gotthard Pass and further along the river Rhine to Amsterdam. During its stay some of the flying boats were used for short flights to smaller lakes throughout the country and on one of these flights the Macchi M.8 (13611) had to make a forced landing near Deventer for refuelling.
How much the Dutch loved the Italians can be illustrated with the next story: The Dutch female artist Agatha Wegerif-Gravestein offered the Italian officers a knitted blanket. General Snijders and Lieutenant Albert Plesman joined Mrs Wegerif-Gravestein and the Dutch general opened the ceremony with a short speech in which he said that the ELTA would like to be the link between the Dutch artist and the Italian section. The Tenente Conte di Robilant and Marquise Laureati represented the Italians and accepted the gift. The Dutch artist held a speech in perfect Italian and expressed her admiration for the Italian people and the country. The Italians offered the artist white roses and everybody walked over to the restaurant for some tea…
The ELTA was approaching its closing days and on 14 September the exhibition was closed for the public. Most of the aircraft had by then already left for their home country. In Amsterdam remained the lieutenants Guglielmotti and Ferrarin, who were to participate at the next air meeting, this time at Ockenburgh near The Hague between 26-29 September. They were accompanied by three Avro 504s, one Avro 536, two Caudron G.IIIs, one Spyker V.3 and one Fokker D VII (with Anthony Fokker as pilot). The Italian aircraft were again used for joy rides and acrobatic flying. After this air meeting both Italians remained in the Netherlands and made at several places joy rides and display flights. A landing at Bergen op Zoom nearly ended with the loss of the Ansaldo A.1 Balilla. He was to land on the beach, but instead made a forced landing in a rifle rage! From here they Italians returned to Paris and the last Italians had left the Netherlands.
The Italian contribution to the success of the ELTA should not be underestimated. They were always willing to participate in display flights and showed their aircraft wherever possible. The Dutch were very pleased with their participation and the fact that so many different aircraft were present. Their contribution was regarded as a major factor for the success of the ELTA.
A book with the title ‘ELTA – The First Aviation Exhibition Amsterdam, 1919’ has been written by Rob J M Mulder. It describes in detail the ELTA, what happened day-by-day, which aircraft were present, which pilots and what impact the exhibition had on the development of civil aviation in the Netherlands. On the website www.elta1919.nl you can find information about the book in Italian.
Check out: Digital sample of the book!
ELTA – The First Aviation Exhibition Amsterdam, 1919 –Rob J M Mulder, ISBN 978-82-997371-1-1, 236 pages, more than 370 photographs many of them never published before. Price Euro 29.95 + pp. Information on www.elta1919.nl or at www.europeanairlines.no/webshop
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