Bocche di Cattaro, the isolated, heavenly corner of the Austro-
Hungarian Monarchy, was the most important naval base of the Central Powers in the Mediterranean during the Great War. Along the mighty dreadnoughts, battle cruisers and U-boats, it housed a new breed of weapon – the seaplane. Beginning from a shed in Teodo, then an olive grove in the tiny village of Kumbor and later, out of a solid and well-equipped base and forward flying stations in Durazzo and Gravosa, Austro-Hungarian naval airmen played a major role in the conflict of unprecedented proportions in human history. This book tells the forgotten story of their hardships, sacrifices, friendship and successes, from a modest start over frightening Montenegrin mountains, over daily actions against Entente forces in the Southern Adriatic, until the bitter end of the once mighty Empire, and resurrection of its former naval air arm within the new South Slavic Kingdom. It is drawn on archival sources, as well as privately-owned documents from Serbia, Austria, Croatia, Italy, Czech Republic, Hungary, United States, France, Germany, Slovenia, Montenegro and United Kingdom, and contains many previously unknown or long unplaced facts, 33 aircraft profiles and 189 authentic photographs from the epoch, most of which are published here for the first time.
The work on this book started almost by chance. Being the aviation history enthusiast for all subjects related to the territory of ex-Yugoslavia, I met many interesting people and accumulated some extraordinary materials about Austro-Hungarian Naval Aviation throughout the years, but never studied them in detail. Proposal for preparation of an exhibition about naval aviation in Southern Adriatic for a private museum in Montenegro lead into a new field of research and uncovered a fascinating story of flying, made by, today long forgotten, men of many nationalities. The exhibition was eventually canceled, but the intrigue of naval airmen from Bocche remained, too deep to be left aside. Eventually, this book is the first result of it. The one about Royal Yugoslav Naval Aviation will follow.
Many facts and occurrences, however, have long been lost and, unfortunately, will remain unknown forever. In November 1918 complete war archive of Seeflugstation Kumbor was taken away and hidden by its chief administrator Nikša Nardelli. Unfortunately, he destroyed it during a move in 1954. Today, there are no more living witnesses from the epoch and few published memoirs and documents scattered in archives and private collections across Europe cannot always provide a clear picture of the events. Eventually, I have no doubt that I could have made some misinterpretations and omissions on the pages that follow.
It must be stressed that none of this would have been possible without generous help from people from around the world which share the same passion as I do. My dear friends and colleagues, Peter Schupita, Bernd Tötschinger, Vladimir Dronjić, Peter Plattner, Oliver Trulei and Dieter Winkler from Austria, Mario Raguž, Josip Novak, Danijel Frka, Dragutin Prica and Robert Čopec from Croatia, Jan Zahálka and Zdeněk Čejka from Czech Republic, David Méchin from France, Zvonimir Freivogel from Germany, Lászlo Jávór and Dénes Bernárd from Hungary, Mauro Antonellini, Paolo Varriale and Gregory Alegi from Italy, Čedomir Janić (+), Ognjan Petrović, Dragan Savić, Dragan Šaler, Predrag Miladinović, Šime Oštrić, Mario Hrelja, Aleksandar Radić, Veljko Leković, Vuk Lončarević, Milan Micevski, Aleksandar Smiljanić, Miodrag Savić and Aleksandar Stošović from Serbia, Bogdana Marinac, Tomaš Perme and Marko Ličina from Slovenia, Ray Rimell from United Kingdom, and Paul Halpern and Grant Moulton from the United States, have been of tremendous help and I am so grateful for that. I would especially like to thank the late Austro-Hungarian naval aviators and their families, both those that I had the privilege to meet in person as well as those known by my friends and colleagues, which enabled me to get acquainted with their heritage, foremost the families of Heinrich Bayer von Bayersburg, Stevan Drakulić, Većeslav Dujšin, Dušan Đukić, Federik Miroslav Gogala Dominis, Dimitrije Konjović, Konstantin Maglić, Artur, Eduard and Albert Malbohan, Nikša Nardelli, Georg Freiherr Regner von Bleyleben, Dragutin Reman, Antun Sesan, Miroslav Štumberger, Aleksandar Ulmanski od Vračevog Gaja, Todor Vrbica and Walter Zelezny.
A centenary after the appearance of the first flying boats in Bocche, as the work on this book neared its finish, news arrived from Montenegro that building of a tourist complex at the location of former naval air station has begun. Instead of being a war-haven, Kumbor will become one of the most beautiful and luxurious resorts in the Mediterranean. Thanks to the understanding of Azerbaijan investors from Azmont Investments and Montenegrin Ministry of Culture and government, hangars H12 and H14 were saved from destruction, dismantled and taken to Belgrade Aviation Museum in Serbia. There, the unique industrial monuments will become a part of the exhibition and shelter for historical aircraft in the future. The monument erected in 1939 to the fallen aviators of the Royal Yugoslav Naval Aviation will stay in Kumbor as a sole testimony of the extraordinary aviation history of the Bocche. And whoever comes to Kumbor in a year or two, will never guess how different, interesting and variegated this place must have been in the past, with all those colourful seaplanes and their tamers. While writing these lines, on the 100th anniversary of the decisive shots fired by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, I hope that this book will preserve at least a small piece of memory of some other time and some other people.
Belgrade, St. Vitus Day, 28 June 2014