It is almost an unknown fact, that a small and undeveloped Kingdom of Serbia was one of the first countries in the world that formed its military aviation, and then used it in combat. This wasn’t done out of curiosity, fashion or foresighting nor was the path taken an easy one. Conscience about the imperiled existence of the state, threats from abroad and the dream of liberation of enslaved parts of the fatherland impelled the military and political leaders to establish conditions for introduction of a new component of armed forces, at the time when this has not been considered in some of the much wealthier countries. The first Serbian officer was sent to Russia for balloonist training in 1901 and the first class of Serbian pilots went to France in 1912. At the end of that year, the Aviation Command of the Serbian Army was constituted and its members suffered first casualties during the siege of Scutari a few months later. From the very beginning of the Great War, Serbian aviators tirelessly rose into the sky in their weak, slow and unreliable aircraft and brought back reports of immense significance for directing of operations on the ground. Soon they were helped by members of French Aéronautique Militaire, establishing with them throughout the war the bond of broderhood in blood, which was mutually cherished until the end of their lives. The collapse of the Serbian defense in the second year of the conflict and later miraculous resurrection of the Serbian army away from the homeland did not surpass the air force. With the cordial human and material help of the mighty ally, France, the remnants of the Aviation Command were transformed into Aéronautique de l’Armée Serbe which, by the time of the final operations for the liberation of the fatherland, grew into a respectable fighting outfit. The end of the Great War and the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes did not mean the end of its life: as an armed formation Aéronautique de l’Armée Serbe existed until the 1920. Simultaneously, several pilots defended the Serbian military honor on the waste battlefields of the Western Front. As Montenegro has been proudly considered the native soil of the greatest among the Serbs at the time, a due respect is given here to the first aviators from Montenegro as well.
The main structure for writing of this book came from archival funds preserved in Museum of Yugoslav Military Aviation, National Museum of Čačak, Military Archive, Service historique de la Défense and Österreichische Staatsarchiv. Apart from the lack of documents for certain periods, the absence of consistency in the calender in Serbian sources, especially for the period on Salonica Front, proved to be a serious problem. Very often it was hard to distinguish whether the dates presented were in Julian calender – at the time still in official use in the Kingdom of Serbia, or in Gregorian calender – applied by the allies. Unfortunately this is just one of the few, up until now, published books which elaborate history of the military aviation of the Kingdom of Serbia. It is even more sad that, to date, the most comprehensive study on this subject has been written back in 1932 by Sava Mikić with the help of his war friends. A few of the direct protagonists left us their written memoirs about their participation in these events, and those are of immense significance. However, it was necessary for a state, in which the history of aviation began on 21 May 1942, to break apart, for this historical subject to receive certain attention again, in the nineties of the last century.
Work on such a specific, technical theme from the long passed time would not be possible without the unselfish help of numerous friends, aviation historians, researchers and enthusiasts from around the world. Among them I am particularly grateful to the following gentlemen: Šime Oštrić, Predrag Miladinović, Vladeta Vojinović, Mario Hrelja, Milan Micevski, Aleksandar Radić, Ognjan Petrović, Čedomir Janić, Đorđe Nikolić and Aleksandar Smiljanić from Serbia, David Méchin and Christophe Cony from France, and Dimitar Nedialkov from Bulgaria, which gave me without hesitation a full access to their personal archives and collections, amassed through the years of their hard labor. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the families of the glorious Serbian and French warriors, both to those that I had the privilege to meet in person as well as to those met by my friends, which enabled me to get acquainted with their war heritage, foremost the families of Orestije Krstić, Živorad Petrović, Miodrag Tomić, Sava Mikić, Aleksandar Deroko, Jovan Kalember, Borivoje Popadić, Janko Markićević, Dragutin mišić, Tadija and Vladislav Sondermajer, Agaton Zarić, Aleksa Marinović, Sergej Urvačev, Miloš Živanović, Radomir Žunjić, François Tulasne, Theodore Marcheval andAugustin Passot. I am endlessly thankful to Mr. Dragan Šaler, who produced such a fine artwork for this book, and to Mr. Miodrag Savić, for his share in preparation of the English translation. Last but not least, I wish to thank to Mr. Zoran Vacić who recognized the significance of this project and gave his best to present it to the wide auditorium in this form, at the same time providing me with a full freedom of creativity.
As it is the case with every research done with such a time lapse, many truths and occurrences will remain forever unknown to us. There are no more living witnesses from the epoch, and the accessible sources could not always lead to the real picture of the events described. Also, it is normal to expect that data, which might question some of the conclusions and assumptions presented on the pages that follow, will be discovered sooner or later. This book is not pleading to present the ultimate historical truth and by no means should be the last on this subject, moreso its intention is to be the starting point for further research about the early days of Serbian aviation.
After almost ninety years of delusion, Serbia has returned to itself, to its name and tradition. As much as the memory on the heroic days of Serbia, on its most shiny moments and greatest sacrifices in two Balkan Wars and the Great War, has been pushed aside and faded from the collective memory of its descendants, knowledge about the pioneering days of its air force and first Serbian aviators is almost non existent. Few have ever heard of the names of Mihailo Petrović, Miodrag Tomić, Branko Vukosavljević, Miodrag Miletić, Siniša Stefanović, Aleksandar Antić, Petar Marinović and hundreds of other daring and courageous warriors. In a year when exactly a century has passed since the first flight of an aircraft with Serbian markings, this is an attempt to bring another time, time of pain, pride, beauty and glory, closer to the new generations. This is a portrait of Serbian timeless fatherland. The one that we believe in and for which we live. The one that we do all this for…
Belgrade, 1 August 2009.