A War machine

 The Belgian Army was not the first to be interested in aviation. As already explained in the Pioneers story, early 1887 balloons were introduced into the Army inventory. To better grasp the context of the birth of the Belgian military service, it may be useful to know Belgium was neutral when it acquired its independence. France, Great Britain and Germany guaranteed the independence of the country by signing treaties. Belgium as a small country was surrounded by some of the greatest powers of their time. Strict neutrality implied, in case of war, that Belgium was to be able to defend itself long enough to allow warranting powers to intervene. Around 1880, old fortresses were renovated. In this context, General Brialmont decided to create the captive balloon unit attached to the Engineers corps. The unit was to be stationed in Antwerp considered as the last point of defence into which the Belgium Army would retreat to hold on in case of a conflict, in the anticipation of help from its warrantors. 

In 1910, a further balloon unit was established at Liège. 

Around 1910, aeroplanes started to make their appearance in various foreign armies. In 1909, General Hellebaut, the Belgian Minister of Defence made a flight as passenger with Jules de Laminne in Kiewit. Hellebaut was also member of the Aero-Club of Antwerp. He decided to send two officers , Lieutenants Nélis and Lebon of the Engineers Corps, to earn their pilot license. At that time, however, a few Belgian dare-devil officers such as Lieutenant Sarteel and Sub-Lieutenant Montens d'Oosterwijck, had already earned their wings in foreign countries. 

The above-mentioned pilots were transferred to the Balloon Unit. Shortly after, a first aeroplane entered service, a Farman (Henri) Type Militaire 1910 equipped with a Gnome 50 HP engine.
At the end of 1911, the Army could line-up two Farman (Henri) Type Militaire 1911 and a single Aviatik offered by Baron de Caters.


The first Farman Type Militaire 1911's at Brasschaat



 In 1911, it was decided to create a Flying School for the Army in Brasschaat. During that year the Aviation Company, as the flying unit was referred to, suffered its first casualties when Lieutenant Dhanis and Soumoy crashed their Farman.

 In 1912, a flying course had to be drafted up as many a military pilot needed both a civil as well as a military pilot license, topped by a specialists license to become a military operational pilot. In September of the same year, Lieutenant Stelingwerf tested the Lewis machine gun in the practice of air-to-surface shooting. 

 On 29th March 1913, Kiewit airodrome became a military airfield. On 16th April of the same year, King Albert signed a Royal decree instituting the "Aviators Company" splitting up balloon and aviation units in the Belgian Army. The Aviation of the Belgian Army was organised in:

 A flying school
4 Squadrons with four teams of two officers, a pilot and an observer. Each squadron had to dispose of 4 aircraft, his own vehicle park with cars, trailers, camping equipment, spare parts and all the necessary furniture to be self- sufficient when on the battle field. 


 An Aviation Center 
Airfields were to be installed near fortified positions in Namur and Liège and the aviators were to be detached to remote locations throughout the country to be trained and to master the geography of the country from the air.

 In 1913, twenty-four JERO-Farman HF 16 and HF 23bis were ordered from the Bollekens Company in Antwerp. Bollekens manufactured the Farman under the "Jero" label. 

In August 1913, four JERO-Farman HF 16 of the Aviators Company took part in the great Army manoeuvers in the Namur region. Flights were organised at a height of 1000 meters over a average distance of 250 Km. 

 


One of eight  JERO-Farman Type Militaire 1912 delivered to the military


JERO-Farman Type Militaire 1913 during manoeuvers


In 1914 a reconnaissance center was established in Casteau near Mons, the same location where today’s NATO Headquarters in Europe (Shape) is situated. Namur had already its military aviation field and it was planned to activate still another one near Bruges. Construction of a military airfield at Liège was in full swing.

In July 1914, two squadrons of four aircraft were operational and the initiation of two others squadron was planned. In August, 45 pilots had their military pilot license. 

Prior to the start of the Great War, three members of the Aviators Company had already been killed in accidents : Lieutenants Liedel, Hubert and Soumoy.


References:

"Van Pionier tot Luchtridder" Robert Lampaert Uitgeverij De Krijger Erpe 1997

"De Geschiedenis van de Belgische Militaire Vliegerij 1910 - 1918 Ludo Vrancken KLM/MRA

 

 

Yves Duwelz

 

 

Last updated 24/01/15 11:21   Daniel Brackx