Book Introduction: Ottoman Air Force: Major Erich Serno and Mission Report
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Emir Öngüner

Book Introduction: Ottoman Air Force: Major Erich Serno and Mission Report

Issue 15 - 2023
Book Introduction: Ottoman Air Force: Major Erich Serno and Mission Report

(translated and annotated by Emir Öngüner, Emin Kurt)

The First World War lasted for four years and witnessed numerous conflicts with land, naval, and air platforms on several fronts. As a result of the cooperation with the German Empire within the framework of the German Military Mission, the Ottoman Empire received support from German officers for the modernization of its army. One of the fundamental pillars of this support, which has not been emphasized much until now, is military aviation. Erich Serno, one of the officers from Germany, left a significant impact on the course of the war as the Commander of the Ottoman Aviation Squadrons, which he assumed in 1915 after his duty as the Director of Ayastefanos (Yeşilköy) Aircraft School. Serno's post-war reports covering 1914-1918 were translated into Turkish for the first time by us and interpreted and annotated with various sources. 

He was born in Büchow-Jüterbog in 1886. In 1906, he started to serve as a Lieutenant in the Prussian Army in Kolmar. In 1911 he was sent to Berlin to receive flight training and was awarded the German aviators' certificate and Prussian military pilot's badge in 1912. He was appointed to the flight unit in 1913 and commanded the aviation squadrons established at Döberitz and Metz. He was rewarded by the Crown Prince of Prussia for his success in the air exercise in Austria in 1914. When World War I began, he conducted one of the first reconnaissance flights on Germany's western front. He was sent to Türkiye within the framework of the Ottoman Military Mission at the end of 1914 and was appointed to the Yeşilköy Air Base in February 1915. On March 18, 1915, before the naval operations, he conducted a reconnaissance flight off the coast of Çanakkale with Lieutenant Commander Karl Schneider. He was appointed as the commander of the Ottoman Air Force on November 1, 1915. In 1916, he was briefly tasked with reforming the aeroplane section of the Bulgarian Army. He was promoted to Major in 1917. After being assigned to Germany for seven months in 1918, he personally took part in all fronts as a member of the Ottoman Army and participated in some operations as a pilot. He received many medals and awards for his achievements, and after the armistice, he returned to Germany. He became a civilian after the war and worked as a manager in companies such as Aquila, Arado, and AEG in Germany. Following the Second World War, he moved to West Germany with his family and began to write his memoirs in 1958. He died in 1963.

Introduction letter by Prof. Gültekin Yıldız, Dean of the Military Academy of the National Defense University:

Since the last quarter of the 19th century, when it was decided to reform the Ottoman Army like its European counterparts, military relations between Prussia and the Ottoman Empire gained momentum, as did other European states. German infantry and artillery officers were among the first foreign advisers of Asâkir-i Mansure-i Muhammediye (The Mansure Army/The Victorious Soldiers of Muhammad), which was established with the abolition of the Janissary Corps in the middle of 1826. Captain Helmut K. B. von Moltke, who would later rise to the position of Chief of the General Staff in Germany, was one of them. After the establishment of German political unity and the victory of the German Army against France, the Ottoman government, like many other states, chose the German Army as a model for its land forces. While the German generals and officers restructured the organization and training of the Ottoman land forces, weapons and ammunition imports from Germany also increased significantly. The Turkish-German military affinity, which became evident during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II, continued in the following Second Constitutional Era and turned into a friendship in arms with the start of the First World War in 1914. 

During the World War, which was called the "Great War" at that time, German officers were appointed to the commanding positions of the Ottoman General Staff and large units for the first time. German experts took part in numerous technical matters, from the management of the military logistics system to the manufacture of ammunition, from the reinforcement of the military fortifications to the management and administration of the air force.

The book in your hand brings to light the report of Major Erich Serno, who led the Ottoman Air Force, which was established at almost the same time as its counterparts in the world, on his mission to Türkiye, as well as flying with a crescent and star badge in the First World War. Major Serno took command of the Ottoman Aviation Squadrons throughout the war, except for a brief time when he served on the European Eastern Front, and he carried out important activities for the development of Ottoman aviation and increasing its effectiveness on the fronts.

Although Serno's mission report was previously published in foreign history journals, it was not published in Turkish. Some foreign publishers did not remain faithful to the original report of Serno's mission, and their publications also required a full-text Turkish translation. Turkish military aviation history researchers Emin Kurt and Emir Öngüner, who jointly undertook to publish Serno's mission report, which is a crucial shortcoming for the contemporary Turkish military aviation history literature, not only translated the original text into Turkish but also created a critical publication by commenting and criticizing some of Serno's statements with the footnotes they added to the text.

I sincerely congratulate our colleagues and the Kronik Kitap publishing house for publishing this first-hand text about the establishment period of Turkish military aviation and our aviation activities in the First World War, and I hope that this book will be evaluated appropriately by our military history researchers.

From the publisher's newsletter:

The Turkish-German military affinity, which started in the 1830s and became evident during the reign of Abdulhamid II, continued in the Second Constitutional Era and turned into a friendship in arms with the start of the First World War in 1914. During the World War, which was called the "Great War" at that time, German officers were appointed to the commanding positions of the Ottoman General Staff and large units for the first time. Major Erich Serno was one of them and was appointed as the commander of the Ottoman Air Force.

Except for a brief time when he served on the European Eastern Front, Major Serno carried out important activities for the development of the Ottoman Air Force, which was established at the same time as its peers in the world, and to increase its effectiveness on the fronts. In addition to flying with a crescent and star badge in the First World War, he also led the Ottoman Air Force.

Major Erich Serno's personal file from the German Military Archive (Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv), which is included in the book "Ottoman Air Force," contains photographs taken in Türkiye, his mission report, and memories of his flight training in Germany. Providing important information about Turkish military aviation, Serno's report is published in Turkish for the first time.

Translated from the original text in German by aviation experts Emir Öngüner and Emin Kurt, who added rich footnotes and compared them with Turkish sources, the "Ottoman Air Force" is a primary source for aviation activities in the First World War as well as the establishment period of Turkish military aviation.


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