RUSSIAN IMPERIAL AIR FORCE / HELLENIC AIR FORCE
MAURICE FARMAN PILOT
HELLENIC AIR COMPANY
This article is a republication of Kovalev Sergey’s (historian) article, supplemented with information retrieved from other sources, such as the research of Miltsios Ioannis, Vogiatzis Demetrios and Curlin James. Whenever this occurs, it is denoted by a citation of the original source in parentheses. The additions, editing, and adaptation into English and Greek language were carried out by the Greeks in Foreign cockpits research team)
Nikolai was born on July 29 1889 in Lipetsk, of the once - Russian Empire. His father, Stavrion Elevterievich Sakov (1846-1921), born to a Greek family in the city of Unya in the Ottoman Empire, came to Russia, most likely during the Crimean War of 1853-1856, where he completed his schooling and obtained Russian citizenship. In addition to his studies in Eastern languages, he (the father) also graduated from the Medical Department and participated in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 as a military doctor. After the war, he continued to practice medicine, while occasionally teaching at the Institute of Eastern Languages where he had originally attended. At the same time he also served as the Honorary Consul of Greece in Moscow (until 1914). In 1888, in Moscow, he married Anna Nikolaevna Fedtsova from Lipetsk. They gave birth to Nikolai and later Alexander (also the future owner of an aviator's license). In 1908, the family permanently moved to Lipetsk. In 1911, the son Nikolai went to Bétheny, Reims, France (according to I. Miltsios, in another source, it is reported that he went to Etampes), to learn how to fly at Armand Deperdussin's school, designer of the SPAD. On September 25th of the same year (based on the new calendar), he obtained his pilot's license, which mentions him with the french-like name "Nicolas de Sacoff". After obtaining his license, he returned to Russia bringing with him a SPAD monoplane (possibly Type A or Deperdussin Racer), which he demonstrated in flights at Khodynka Park in Moscow. According to I. Miltsios' work, based on the lists of successful graduates of French aviation schools at the time, he appears listed in the aviation yearbook as 627th (Ioannis Miltsios). He first flew in Kontika, Russia, at the end of 1911 with his private SPAD monoplane. In the newspaper "Kozlovskaya Gazeta" dated May 6, 1912, it is reported that:
"... near Shekhman... the owner of the estate N. Sakov, who completed the full program of the Paris aviation school, performed a flight... As soon as he took off, the airplane's propeller was functioning normally, but at a height of about 120 feet, one of the propeller blades broke, causing the airplane to crash to the ground. Fortunately, the pilot escaped danger with minor bruises and survived. The aircraft was delivered for repair to the Teschins Workshops, Uspenskaya Kozlov Street."
In 1912, the Balkan Wars began, and Nikolai, driven by patriotic feelings, went to support Greece, which he considered the homeland of his ancestors. Nikolai had been raised with love for his Greek origin, with his father proud of it and maintaining good relations with the Greek Monastery of Saint Nicholas in Moscow. It is possible that Nikolai went to Greece with his father's blessing. According to I. Miltsios, he joined as a volunteer, ranked as a simple soldier in the Greek Engineer Corps in 1912. It seems odd that did not receive the rank of Reserve Lieutenant as Argiropoulos did (greek volunteer with flying license). Although the press of the time did not write anything about him, he was a brave and educated young man who loved sports. Within his Engineer unit, in the newly captured Thessaloniki, he received an R.E.P. Aircraft confiscated from the surrendering Turks. After repairing it, he test-flew it to ascertain its airworthiness. Following relevant orders, Sakov went to Preveza with the R.E.P. According to the available data, the plane maintained its original red color of the canvas exterior (Miltsios, n.d.). The only Greek aviation unit at that time, the Aviation Company, was formed in Larissa in September 1912, within the Engineer Transport Battalion and was directly subordinate to the Commander-in-Chief through the General Staff. Although there were changes along the way, initially, the Aviation Company was staffed by 63 people: four Greek pilots (D. Kamberos, M. Moutousis, Chr. Adamides, and P. Notaras), the French engineer and operator Joseph Edouard Barès and 57 officers and soldiers of the ground staff. According to the research of Ioannis Miltsios, Barès joined the Airplane Company on the Epirus front, after the capture of Thessaloniki, as an advisory officer to the French Army (Essentially his role was to report the events to his government) and he normally wore a French Army uniform throughout the time he was in Greece (and at the front). A command issue also arose with Kamberos, resulting in the Greek aviator resigning as a pilot and returning to the Artillery. Bares was somehow kicked out of Greece, after the destruction of a Maurice Farman MF.7 when he landed on an advanced field of Emin Agha (an unsuitable-uneven area near the Headquarters of Crown Prince Constantine. Moutousis himself was opposed to the use of this field and the results confirmed his fears). Though, the fact that a flyer of the ranks of the French Army in a third-party war operation, could put the diplomatic relations of the Ottomans and the French at risk, and probably that was the main reason for Barès being called home (Miltsios I., n.d.).
The Greek aviators had returned following orders issued on 26/9/1912, after completing their training in France. On October 5, 1912, the Greek Aviation Company began conducting flights from the airfield of Larissa, while, upon Venizelos' orders, the aviation forces were transferred by steamship to Preveza, under the orders of Lieutenant General Konstantinos Sapountzakis, Commander of the Epirus Army (The Pioneers, 2015, pp.50). At first, the pilots mainly conducted flights of aircraft restationing closer to the front lines, in new fields that were little, to not at all prepared. According to I. Miltsios, in Preveza, after assembling the first airplanes, they flew them to Nicopolis, while some others were transported dismantled and packed to the airfield. Sapountzakis handed over the command to his successor, after the end of hostilities in Macedonia and the occupation of Thessaloniki (Miltsios I., n.d.). At first, the pilots mainly conducted flights of aircraft repositioning closer to the front lines, in new fields that were little to not at all prepared. According to I. Miltsios (n.d.), the Farman HF-7 with 50hp engines (Daedalus), were not the ones that participated in the Epirus front, but the more advanced HF-16/20. The researcher Curlin James (2013, p.p.293) estimates that on the front line of Epirus flew (but not coexisting necessarily, due to accidents), two MF-7 70hp biplanes and two with 80hp V8 motorized ones, two HF-20 biplanes with a Gnome rotary engine 80hp, and the above mentioned captured Turkish monoplane Robert Esnault-Pelterie Type-K with a Gnome 70hp engine. According to I. Miltsios, the type K or N referring to the REP captured plane did not fly in the Balkans. Reports indicate an F version, but the most reliable description for this particular type is the year of production (REP, type 1912) (Miltsios I., n.d.). Meanwhile, the government had issued a law that allowed engineers and pilot diploma holders from Greece (citizens) as well as from allied countries (whether citizens or military) to join the newly established Aviation Unit (The Pioneers, 2015, pp.42-43). Barès and others, such as Emmanuel Argyropoulos with his airplane and Nikolai Sakov, were also included under this law. According to Curlin James (2013, pp.289), Sakov arrived at the squadron on January 17, 1913, and left after March 10, 1913. In the work of D. Vogiatzis (2021, pp.326-327), a reference from 1937 by Kamberos cited Sakov, confirming that he enlisted in the Greek Army of Epirus in 1913.
Flyovers were made over friendly troops on the front line (in order to assess the tactical situation), but they often found themselves over enemy troops, achieving their reconnaissance. It is noted that there is a certain disagreement in the literature regarding the nature of the missions, as specific orders had not been issued for all of them, so they are characterized in retrospect as bombings or recognitions in historiography, based on the random outcome of the discovery of enemy formations, while other flights were by order reconnaissance ones (Vogiatzis D., 2021). According to I. Miltsios (n.d.), the missions on the Epirus front were purely reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines. In some cases, they guided the artillery fire, throwing encrypted messages to friendly forces. Flights were made over the fortified positions and artillery of the Bizani forts, on the "Egg" hill as well as in the "Katsikas" area, and over the city of Ioannina. Missions were also carried out north of the city of Ioannina and the surrounding hills, to discover possible enemy reserves. The successive recognitions mapped out the enemy's dispositions in detail, resulting in Prince Konstantinos knowing the Turks' array of forces very well, as well as the possibility of being reinforced from Northern Epirus, before ordering the final attack and liberation of the city. Delays in conducting offensive recognitions or missions were mainly due to the rapid change of the front line, and the combination of weak engines with the obligation to cross over mountain ranges, a problem that was mainly solved by relocating closer to the front (Miltsios I., n.d.).
The first recorded aggressive action of Greek aviation was that of Moutousis, on 5/12/1912 (Vogiatzis D., 2021). What is impressive is that reports speak of bombing (not with hand grenades) over enemy troops. According to Curlin James (2021, pp. 289), Greek planes could somehow carry up to six small bombs, specially designed for dropping from a plane (probably Danish Aasen or Greek one-kilo bombs from the Maltsiniotis factory). They were dropped either by the observer or by the pilot himself, using a simple improvised mechanism. According to I. Miltsios, the bombs carried by the Greek crews (Greek-made) were mainly intended to cause panic among infantry and break up the fire barriers that were applied at that time. The testimony of the pilots themselves emphasizes the low power of the bombs to cause damage. The Greek bomb was a product that literally emerged on the eve of the Balkan wars. It appears that Kamberos, after returning from France, remained in Athens. The reason was the design and construction of aerial bombs, with the help of the engineers of the "Maltsiniotis" factory. The available descriptions state that the bomb had a cylindrical body with metallic cross-shaped fins and a spherical head. It was detonated with a percussion detonator, which was likely borrowed from artillery shells, as their principle of operation was the same. The total weight of the bomb is said to have been around one kilogram, but compared to similar bombs of the time, it must have ranged from one and a half to two kilograms. If we wanted to standardize the bomb in question, we would call it the "Kamberos' Bomb", as he was essentially its creator. Greek aviators used these bombs throughout the hostilities, managing to hit the morale of the Ottoman troops with great success. A reference to the results of these bombs is during the mission of Moutousis to the Nagara naval base, where a crater with a depth of 15 centimeters was found at the point where one of them fell (Miltsios I., n.d.).
In "Flight and flying: a chronology" (1944, pp.61), Baker David specifically mentions:
"De Sakoff (as called in the French archives), carried six small bombs on the bottom wing of his biplane, attached by lines to his feet. Gently lowering them over the side, he flicked free the slip-knot that held the bombs, allowing them to fall to the ground."
(Editors' note: in English, it is not clear, due to the common gender between wire, legs, and bombs, which of the three was gently lowered to the side, as it uses a pronoun. The editors of the translation assume that he was lowering the legs, which fits with Seagrave's account below.)
Portrait of Greek (Battle of Bizani, 1913) and Russian (World War I and Russian Civil War) pilot Nikolay Sakov (1889-1930). (https://commons.wikimedia.org/)
A Maurice Farman 7 Longhorn Biplane at Nicopolis airfield, Preveza, Greece. Two more airplanes can be seen behind the MF.7. (Actia Nicopolis Foundation IAN F2330a)
The volunteer Greek-Russian pilot Sakov in front of a Farman in Nikopolis, during the Balkan Wars. (The Pioneers - The Hellenic Air Force from its appearance to the end of World War I - 1908-1918)
The legendary Dimitrios Kamberos was the first Greek military pilot and is one of the most emblematic figures in the history of the Hellenic Air Force. After his resignation in 1917, he returned to the newly formed HAF in 1932 and became an instructor at the Tatoi Air Base in Athens. (https://www.mixanitouxronou.gr/)
Τhe Greek REP in Thessaloniki, in a photograph taken by a French Navy Officer in late 1912 or early 1913... presumably before it was transferred to Nicopolis. The remarkable thing is that it has blue and white strips under the wings (although they are hard to see due to the poor quality of the photo). (https://forum.pages14-18.com/ via Ioannis Miltsios)
Greece had provided for the establishment of an air force since 1911, with a flotilla of four French-built aircraft. On 24 January 1913 at 8:30 am, the seaplane "Nautilus", type Farman MF.7, dredged from the naval base of Mudros, Lemnos, for a reconnaissance mission to the Turkish coast. The aircraft was operated by Lieutenant Michael Moutousis and the observer was Ensign Aristides Moraitinis. The "Nautilus" flew over the Gallipoli peninsula and the naval station of Nagara, at Ellespont, spotting a large part of the Ottoman fleet. During the reconnaissance, the Greek aircraft received a barrage of enemy fire, which failed to hit it. In response, Moraitinis dropped four improvised bombs from a height of 1,300 meters (1,300 feet) on a Turkish transport, killing about 20 sailors. On her return to Lemnos, the Nautilus was forced to ground southwest of Imbros due to mechanical failure, having travelled 120 kilometres in 2 hours and 20 minutes. The Greek seaplane was finally towed by the destroyer "Velos" and transferred to the base of Mudros at 15:30. This reconnaissance mission carried out by the "Nautilus" was of historical importance, as it was the world's first operation of aeronautical cooperation and bombardment of ships by aircraft. (Ioannis Pagoulatos - https://www.huffingtonpost.gr/)
The Maurice Farman MF.7 Longhorn is a French biplane developed before World War I which was used for reconnaissance by both the French and British air services in the early stages of the war before being relegated to service as a trainer. However, it was first used for combat operations with the Hellenic Aviation Company during the Balkan Wars. At the end of November 1912, two units were initially transferred to Epirus, followed by two more shortly afterward. Having Nikopolis as their main base, they carried out a significant number of reconnaissance flights, while they proceeded with rudimentary bombardments of the forts of Bizani until the liberation of Ioannina (21/2/1913). An interesting aspect of the flights over the city of Ioannina is an early form of psychological operations and humanitarian aid, with the dropping of (minimal, due to negligible transport capacity) newspapers and food to the inhabitants. One aircraft still appears operational in September 1916 with the Air Service. It is believed that Sakov also flew it in various missions. The Robert Esnault-Pelterie, REP type N was found abandoned in the area of the old railway station of Thessaloniki, during the liberation of the city. The Ottoman side claims that it was torched during the retreat of their troops and although there are no photos to prove its existence in Greek service, we are able to verify its presence, thanks to the bright red color it bore which was typical of Robert Esnault-Pelterie's design. There is an erroneous report of the bright red plane in which Em. Argyropoulos, which is certainly not true, places the plane in Thessaloniki and Argyropoulos at its controls, and reports from foreign observers and magazines of his presence on the Epirus front. Also important is the mention in the Greek press of the time of a 'red-painted' plane that performed at least two missions in February 1913, over the fortress of Bizani and the city of Ioannina. Considering the fact that Sakov was also a monoplane-trained pilot it is most probable that if the REP actually flew combat operations with the Greek side, the Greek Russian pilot manned its cockpit. (Profiles Copyright by John Miltsios, further information from https://bluewhitewings.com/ and www.wikipedia.com)
From the Preveza airfield, the aviators were flying towards Ioannina, besieged by the Greek forces. On a few occasions, Greek planes were also fired upon from the ground. This happened also to Nikolai, as confirmed by Kamberos in a report quoted by Vogiatzis Dimitrios (2021, pp. 326-327). In fact, again Baker David (1944, pp.61) records the incident on the date 8/2/1913, with Sakov making a forced landing near Preveza, repairing it with the help of locals, and returning to base. In the absence of any other known incident in the international aviation literature, Baker D. probably correctly lists this event as the first shoot-down by ground fire, in the history of aviation. Sterling Seagrave in "Soldiers of Fortune", in a slightly fictionalized account, probably refers to the same flight when describing Sakov's bombing of the Turkish positions at Fort Bizani. Note that he refers to him by his French name (De Sakoff) which suggests French sources for his information, that he is probably unaware of his Greek ancestry, and that he places him serving under Bulgarian forces. He further mentions him as a mercenary. Of course, the reality regarding the latter may lie somewhere in between, as in such cases, volunteerism without some form of "pay" was quite inexistent. Finally, the author is probably unaware that the Greek aviators had already performed bombing as mentioned above, since 5/12/1912. The author's reference to the airman as presented in his book is given in full:
"Wobbling like an airborne straw hat over the Greek mountain-lake town of Ioannina on February 8, 1913, the flimsy wood-and-fabric biplane looked incapable of inflicting warlike damage. But the Greeks, aided by their Serbian and Bulgarian allies, were battling with the Ottoman Turks, seeking to drive them out of the Balkans, and this little flying machine was on a daring bombing mission against the Turkish forces holding Fort Bezhani (Bizani), next to the town. At the controls of the French-built plane, flying in the service of Bulgaria, was an audacious Russian pilot who would be known to history only as N. de Sakoff. Most of the aviators who flew against the Turks in this conflict restricted their work to reconnaissance. reporting on enemy troop deployments and scouting artillery targets. But the aircraft at their disposal were generally so decrepit that pilots considered themselves lucky to return alive even from such non-combat assignments. Only the fearless Sakoff and a countryman named Kolchin were foolhardy enough to attempt bombing runs with their makeshift warplanes. On this raid, Sakoff, perching on a wooden seat in front of the noisy engine, carried six small bombs tied with stout cord to his heavily booted feet. The few details available from scanty accounts of the raid indicate that Sakoff’s feet protruded beyond the lower wing's leading edge, with the bombs resting beside them on the wing, three to a side. That way, as he approached Fort Bezhani, he could let one bomb down gently on its cord to swing from his right foot and another from the left, both of them suspended between the plane's ski-like landing runners. A sharp jerk of Sakoff s feet was all that would be required to release the slipknots and let the bombs fall free. The main problem was the altitude. If he was to be reasonably certain of hitting the target, he had to fly below 500 feet, which put him in range of ground fire. As he neared the walls of Fort Bezhani, the Turkish defenders greeted him with a barrage of angry gunfire. Two bullets ripped through the biplane's wings, but Sakoff ignored them and forged onward over the walls. He probably made three passes over the fort, jerking his feet to free two of the crude bombs each time. Below him, he could see that his attack was causing panic among the Turks in the garrison. After letting loose his last two bombs, Sakoff banked and headed away through a storm of ground fire. But as he droned toward his home base at Nicopolis, about an hour's flying time to the south, he discovered that the Turks had managed to do more than punch a few holes through his wing. Suddenly, the little plane's engine coughed and died, and when the Russian aviator turned to inspect the fuel tank, mounted above and behind him, he saw that it had been shot through by an enemy bullet and had drained dry. Sakoff managed to nurse his plane down near Preveza, on the coast of the Ionian Sea. There, with the help of local Greek residents, he repaired the damaged tank, refueled, and was on his way with only a modest delay. When he landed again at Nicopolis, he told of his bombardment and described the poor state of Fort Bezhani's defenses. The Greek military authorities were inspired to attack, and Ioannina was in their hands a few days later. The man to whom the Greeks owed their victory belonged to a special breed of warrior aviators. Unlike the Turks, who opposed him, or the Bulgarians, for whom he flew his remarkably successful mission, Sakoff was not motivated by patriotism. He was a mercenary combat pilot, flying for money in a strange land. He and his compatriot Kolchin were among the first in a long line of aerial soldiers of fortune who chose to make a living fighting in somebody else's war. Soldiers of fortune got into the business of air war at the very beginning, at about the same time that the military organizations of the world's major nations began to explore the uses of airplanes for combat. When Sakoff dropped his bombs, aviation was still in its infancy. The Wright brothers had made their first powered flight just 10 years earlier, and during that decade flying machines had been regarded primarily as sporting objects or experimental devices. Sakoff’s attack on Fort Bezhani was, in fact, one of the earliest air raids in history. (The first recorded instance of bombs being dropped from an airplane in combat had occurred only two years before, in 1911, during a brief war between Italy and Turkey in North Africa: on that occasion, too, the Turks had been the targets. An intrepid Italian officer reconnoitering the enemy lines from a sports plane took the opportunity to toss four tiny hand-held bombs at his startled foe.) Some weeks after Sakoff’s raid, Kolchin earned an even more notable distinction in the history of aerial warfare, although one that he undoubtedly would rather have forgone. Attempting a similar low-level bombing run, he was shot down and killed by Turkish ground fire, thus becoming the first aviator ever to die in air combat. If anyone had told Sakoff and Kolchin or the many air mercenaries who came after them that they were carrying on a historic tradition going back to the Renaissance and its companies of mercenary soldiers called "condottiere", to medieval knights-errant who offered their services for hire or lent them in the cause of justice or honor, and even to the many mercenaries among the heroes of ancient Greece, the pilots would have laughed or been embarrassed. But in fact, they were the heirs to those earlier soldiers of fortune and were impelled by the same motives. They flew for money, and the loyalty of most of them lasted only as long as their employers paid them." (Seagrave, S. 1983, pp.15-17)
Portrait of the Greek-Rusian pilot without wearing a uniform. Until now, it was a common belief to the west bibliography that Sakov flew with the Greek Aviation Company as a mercenary, as Sterling Seagrave claimed in his book «Soldiers of Fortune». What was probably unknown to him was the Greek heritage of Sakov as well as the fact that he was raised to be proud of being Greek by his father. For Nikolai, it was self-evident to join the Aviation Company against the Τurks. Unfortunately, he is not known to the Greek people and only a few are aware of his service in the first combat sorties of what was going to be the Hellenic Air Force. (unknown)
A Henry Farman HF-20 Biplane just before landing at Nicopolis airfield, Preveza, Greece. (Actia Nicopolis Foundation IAN F2327)
A Henry Farman HF-20 Biplane at Nicopolis airfield, Preveza, Greece. (Actia Nicopolis Foundation IAN F2332)
The Farman HF.16 was a reconnaissance aircraft built in France shortly before the First World War and the name HF.20 was adopted in 1913 during its full-scale production. Like the other Aviation Company planes, it was first transferred to Larissa and after the liberation of Thessaloniki to Nicopolis, supporting the efforts to liberate Ioannina. It was the best-performing aircraft of all those operating on the Epirus front and all known photographs are from there. We have photographic evidence of only one, but according to sources two were omitted and possibly one was in flying condition in 1916 in Thessaloniki. (Profiles Copyright by John Miltsios, further information from https://bluewhitewings.com/ and www.wikipedia.com)
The same event is mentioned by Avdis Alexandros (1972, pp.142-145), attributing it to the morning of 20/2/1913. Avdis's narrative is even more fictional, as he includes monologues by Sakov, without clearly citing his source. Alexandros Avdis was one of the most experienced craftsmen of the State Airplane Factory in Palaio Faliro and received glider flying training from Dimitrios Kamberos. In addition, he reproduced a stunning Maurice Farman airplane replica, which is on display at the War Museum of Athens. He is therefore considered to have special knowledge of the 'anatomy' of this plane and of flying aircraft of this technology. His contact with Kamberos may have provided him with some additional information about the Sakov flight, and with his knowledge, he may have been able to reconstruct a plausible account of the event. Presumably, of course, much of it remains fiction, but it would be worth quoting from his book as it stands:
"The next day, first thing in the morning, Sakov, who has many successful flights to his credit, takes off for another reconnaissance before the great attack of the Greek Army. The weather is splendid, the engine is running normally. At an average speed of 60 kilometers, it flies unabated in a straight line, heading for Bizani. As he flies, he remembers Adamidis’s information and mumbles:
--Now that the army is not hitting them, they will break out on me...
After half an hour he passes the largest obstacle for the aviators, the mountainous volume called Egg. A few powerful "remous" (unknown to us aviation term) treated him appropriately, and in a few minutes, he is above the Bizani. Immediately on his appearance, the Turks commence a mass fire against him. Unfortunately, he cannot climb, because careful observation needs to be made at a specific altitude. The Turkish bullets pierce his wings while he continues his work by filling in a diagram. After a five-minute flight, he makes his way back. As he goes on, he makes an inspection of his airplane, glancing left and right towards the wings. Glancing back, he feels the blood rush through his veins. The lower wing is wet. What's happening? Looking more closely he sees gasoline pouring out of a tiny little hole in the corner of the tank. He realizes that the hole was caused by a bullet that went through it at an angle. A sprout escapes him.
--Antichrists with no honor...
Without wasting time, he pushes the engine to get at least as far away as he can until the last drop (meaning the fuel leaking due to a shot taken from the ground) is spilled out. Moving on, he notices the Louros river of Preveza, glistening in the distance. Nikopolis is nearby! Will he make it? Probably not, because he hears the first crack of the engine. He understands that his tank is empty. An inspiration comes to his mind. Pulling slightly back the controls, he gives his airplane a momentary upward tilt and then immediately levels it. The little gasoline that was left in the hollow of the tank gets in the feed pipe. The engine resumes working for a short time, gaining another three miles or so. After a few more seconds, the engine stops again. The propeller remains stationary. Fortunately, there is no wind, and starting a nice glideslope he goes in for a landing. He immediately picks a good field next to one bank of the Louros river and lands after two minutes. Unfortunately for him, however, one wheel hits on a large stone standing in its path and breaks. The Farman rolls and comes to a full stop without further damage. Sakov as he stamps his foot to the ground makes sure to give the Turks a nice little chant of... scolding.
-- Dishonorables... you will be treated accordingly by the rest of the Company. Today we will crush you!
He scans the horizon around him. Perfect desolation. He sets out on foot to discover a military or gendarmerie camp. As he marches his ears catch a light and continuous booming sound. He realizes what it is about and turning his eyes for a moment towards the direction of the Bizani he mutters.
---The feast has begun! Everything is going to burn.
After a 15-minute march, he arrives at a gendarmerie station. He tells the chief petty officer what's going on and two gendarmes set off to guard the plane. From there, in another five minutes, he comes out onto the public road, where he finds a military car going from Emin-Aga to the airport. As the car speeds down the muddy road, he sees a plane on the horizon at a distance, flying in the direction of Bizani. It is Adamides [...]" (Avdis A. 1972, pp.143-145)
Curlin James (2013, pp. 304) reports that on the eve of the liberation of Ioannina, Sakov and a lieutenant, as an observer, carried out a reconnaissance mission over enemy troops in various sectors of the front, providing valuable information about the distribution of enemy troops, information that helped in the successful outcome of the operations. Again, according to Curlin James, (2013, pp.306), it is reported that Sakov and Adamides dropped newspapers, feuille-volans, food, and medicines to the Greek inhabitants of Ioannina who were trapped in the siege. If these flights happened for real, they represent the first air drops of humanitarian aid to civilians in international aviation history.
Sakov's youthful warfare is also known from the Russian press reports of the time. In the magazine "Iskra" of January 13, 1913, a photo was published with the following caption:
"The Russian aviator Sakov in the service of the Greek army. His flight over the Thessaloniki area."
The magazine "Ogonyok" of April 28, 1913, published a photograph of a young aviator in flight uniform and helmet with the following explanation:
"Russian hero aviator in the Balkans. From a photograph kindly sent to Ogonyok from Paris by V. Lebedev. Airman N. Sakov, a participant in the Greek victories, distinguished himself before the capture of Ioannina during the attacks on Fort Bizani."
Nikolai Sakov in a photo, most probably during the Balkan Wars, which was published in various newspapers back in Russia. Nikolai was an accomplished pilot and took his diploma in France, at the school of SPAD designer, Armand Deperdussin, and returned back to Russia taking a SPAD or a Deperdussin Racer with him. Although trained as a monoplane pilot he quickly adapted his skills and flew the Henry Farmans as well as the captured PER while serving with the Greek Aviation Company during the Balkan Wars.
A Maurice Farman MF-7 (Longhorn) Biplane at Nicopolis airfield, Preveza, Greece. (Actia Nicopolis Foundation IAN F2330)
A Henry Farman HF-20 Biplane at Nicopolis airfield, Preveza, Greece. (Actia Nicopolis Foundation IAN F2332)
Christos Adamidis: He was born in 1885 at Ioannina. After finishing his initial studies in his country he left abroad and studied at the Modena School. He served the Cavalry as 2nd Lieutenant in 1908 and was transferred to the air force by order of the War Ministry. He was among the first three who were sent to Etampe, France, near Paris to be trained as a pilot. Adamidis was trained as a pilot in the Farman School. He firstly obtained a civil degree and secondly the military one. When the Balkan Wars began he was called back to Greece and was sent to the air force squadron in Larisa. During the war Adamidis was part of the Aviation Company, participating in missions and following it to all its transfers in the Front. During the siege of Ioannina and the Bizani battles, he performed daring flights over the fortresses from the Nikopolis airfield. When, on February 21 (according to the old calendar) 1913, the Greek Army prevailed and liberated Ioannina, Christos Adamides made an impressive landing in the square in front of his hometown's headquarters amidst the enthusiastic crowd. In 1925 he was permanently transferred to the air force, as a Colonel. He became Air Force Director of the War Ministry, Commander of the 1st Air Force Command, member of the Air Council, and Chief of the Air Force. In 1928, together with Lieutenant Evangelos Papadakis, he flew around the Mediterranean in a Breguet 19 aircraft. This was a pioneering project for the then capabilities of Greek aviation. In 1928 he was promoted to the rank of Major-General and was discharged in 1935. He was recalled for service, in 1943, for six months. (The Pioneers, The Hellenic Air Force from its appearance to the end of World War I, 1908-1918)
Michael Moutousis: He was born in 1885 in the village of Tragano in Achaia. He graduated from the Army Cadets School in 1908 as a 2nd Lieutenant of the Engineers. In 1911, as a 1st Lieutenant, he was sent to Etampe, France to be trained as a pilot and returned in 1912 by order of the War Ministry after the Balkan Wars had begun. During the Balkan Wars, he performed reconnaissance flights over Epirus and Macedonia with the Aviation Company. On 24 January (5 February according to the new calendar), after the Battle of Elli, he was at Moudros in Lemnos. On that day he carried out, with Ensign Aristides Moraitinis as an observer and with a Maurice Farman MF.7 seaplane, a reconnaissance mission of the Turkish fleet, which had meanwhile withdrawn to the Dardanelles. The mission was successful as the enemy fleet was spotted at the naval base of Nagara and four bombs were dropped against the Turkish installations. On their return, however, a mechanical failure forced them to ditch in the Aegean Sea where they were intercepted by the destroyer Velos. This mission is considered the first-ever naval cooperation air mission and had a wide impact on the press of the time, both Greek and international. During WW1 he served on the Macedonian Front. When the Asia Minor Campaign began he left for Smyrna, as a Lieutenant-Colonel, serving as a Commander of the Engineers. He participated in the operations for the occupation of Baluk Kecer and Proussa. In 1921 and 1922 he was the Chief of Staff of the Andrianoupolis Division. In 1927 and 1929 he was a military attaché at the Hellenic Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria. He also served as a Chief of Staff of the Inspectorate of the Engineers. He died in Athens on the 16th of March 1956. (The Pioneers, The Hellenic Air Force from its appearance to the end of World War I, 1908-1918)
Panoutsos Notaras: He was born in Korinth in 1880. After finishing school he moved abroad and studied at the School of Modena. He graduated in 1907 and served in the Cavalry as a 2nd Lieutenant. In 1912 he was sent to Etampe, France to be trained as a pilot, along with two other officers (Papaloukas and Drakos). Notaras was the only one from this second group that obtained the pilot’s civil degree, while the other two stopped their training because of accidents. When the Balkan Wars began he returned to Hellas, where he served as a pilot of the Aviation Company in Larisa, along with the three from the first group (Kamberos, Adamidis, Moutousis). During the same year, he was called back to Athens to receive the new airplanes for the Epirus Front and then escorted Kamperos there in order to discover the most suitable position for the Preveza airfield. After it had been set at Nikopolis (Preveza) and Kamperos had left the Hellenic Army Air Service, Notaras undertook the Command of the Aviation Company, which he kept until the fall of Ioannina. Reconnaissance flights were performed every day from that airport, offering information valuable to the Epirus Army General Staff. Notaras himself undertook several daring flights, making sketches of the Bizani fortresses, and helping the Artillery regulate their shooting. Afterward, he returned to the Cavalry and served for the rest of his military career, reaching the highest ranks of the hierarchy. He died in Athens in November 1967. (The Pioneers, The Hellenic Air Force from its appearance to the end of World War I, 1908-1918)
Joseph Édouard Barès was born on 27 November 1872 in Azul, Argentina to French parents. Barès entered the École Spéciale Militaire in 1892 and graduated in 1894, choosing the Marine Infantry arm. He participated in the Second Madagascar expedition in 1895. He then entered the École Supérieure de Guerre in 1896 where he changed the path of his career to the regular Infantry of the French Army. With the development of military aviation, he joined the air service of the Army in several infantry regiments and was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour on 14 October 1911 for his exceptional services to Military Aeronautics. He joined the Greek Aviation Company as an engineer and advisor and took part in the Balkan Wars. On 13 September 1914, General Joseph Joffre appointed Barès Director of the Aeronautical Service (Directeur du Service Aéronautique) at the Grand Quartier Général. A proponent of the offensive against the German Industries, Barès pioneered aerial bombing but forbade attacks against cities and civilian targets. In September 1915 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel, but with the appointment of General Robert Nivelle as commander-in-chief of the French armies in December 1916, Barès was replaced by Paul du Peuty. On 15 February 1917, Barès assumed the post of air commander of the eastern front, with particular responsibility for the sector of Verdun. Barès was promoted to Général de Brigade on 20 March 1923 and was put in command of an air brigade. In the 1930s, as a Général de division, Joseph Barès was two times Chief of Staff of the Air Forces, before becoming Chief of Staff of the Air Army in 1934 with its official creation as an independent branch of the French Armed Forces. He retired the same year after more than 40 years of service. In December 1936, the Minister of the Air, Pierre Cot, awarded him the Military Medal. Général Barès died on 27 August 1954. (www.wikipedia.com)
There is no reliable information about what Nikolai did after the end of the Balkan War, but from subsequent biographical data, it can be assumed that in 1913-1914 he was training cadet aviators at the Imperial All-Russian Aero Club (IVAK) flight school as an instructor. In January 1914, in the northern capital, Nikolai married Nina Sergeevna Bekhteeva, joining the old prominent family of the city of Yelets, whose lineage dates back to the mid-15th century. A year later, their son was born, who acquired the same name as his brother, Alexander. With the beginning of the First World War, a Special Volunteer Aviation Detachment was formed from the pilots of the IBAK aviation school, which in less than a month, on 27 August 1914, joined the ranks of the army in the Warsaw area. It was later renamed the 34th Corps Aviation Detachment. At the time of its formation, the detachment included six aviators, an equal number of planes and cars, a crew, and a weather station. Nikolai Alexandrovich Yatsuk, who was the detachment commander until October 1917, was the figure who laid the foundations for the combat use of Russian aviation even before World War I. Nikolai Stavrovich Sakov joined the detachment's staff as an "aviator-hunter" - the name given to volunteer pilots. His combat activities can be reconstructed on the basis of awards: on April 23, 1915, he was awarded a prize. On 16 July 1915, he was awarded the Cross of St. George, third class, because according to the citation:
"... during the period from 12 April to 22 April 1915, he carried out with great success four aerial reconnaissances, which on 21 and 22 April were accompanied by the dropping of bombs on trains and at Augustow Station, while during the flight of 21 April, he came under enemy fire."
Sakov's plane may have been fired upon more than once, and he appears to have been hospitalized at the Minsk Red Cross Hospital from October 16 to November 16, 1914. In 1916, Nikolai was promoted to Warrant Officer and transferred from the 34th to the 7th Army Aviation Detachment. Unfortunately, in the process, he developed health problems, which led to being discharged from military service in late 1916. Foreseeing the imminent end of his military career, Nikolai decided to set up an aircraft manufacturing business. To do this, he persuaded his father (as he was still in military service at the time) to enter into a contract with the Air Force Bureau (UVVF) for the supply of airplanes and to organize their production in Lipetsk. In the summer of 1916, using his father's connections, he founded the company Lipetsk Airplane Workshops' (LAM), in which participated well-known Lipetsk industrialists such as M.V. Bykhanov and P.S. Khrennikov. The enterprise was located on Gostinaya Street (now Internatsionalnaya Street) and consisted of a complex of auxiliary buildings with a total area of about 600 square blocks. The workshops were divided into eight departments: metallurgy, blacksmithing, foundry, welding, carpentry, assembly, painting, and drying, with a total number of up to 68 workers. On 8 November 1916, a contract was signed between the UVVF, on the one hand, and his father, who was a State Councilor, on the other, for the delivery of five Morane-Saulnier training planes by 8 January 1917. On November 18, 1916, all rights to the business and obligations under the contract of father Stavrion Elevterievich were transferred to his son, Nikolai. At the end of 1916, the industry of the Russian Empire, which was fighting for the third year, was in a difficult situation. The supply of even the most necessary materials and raw materials for production (nails, screws, wire, etc.) was almost impossible to provide; moreover, developments in labor relations were not conducive to uninterrupted production in most factories. LAM was no exception. According to Nikolai's brother-in-law, and eyewitness to the events, Sakova - Nikolai Sergeevich Bekhteev:
"The factory was equipped at the end of 1916 and began to work on fulfilling orders from the Air Force Command, but the events that occurred at the end of February upset the workshop, like all factories in Russia. By persistent struggle with the Bolshevik workers of Petrograd who were among his workers, Lieutenant Sakov succeeded in bringing order to the factory."
However, the Bolshevik workers who were removed from the factory were not willing to let it go and submitted a series of complaints to the Commander of the Troops of the Moscow Military District, and the Military Commander of the Lipetsk Region against Lieutenant Sakov, accusing him of being a deserter and avoiding military service. Despite the fact that there is correspondence in the Lipetsk Region Military Authorities Office regarding Sakov's release from service, the Military Commander, giving in to the demands of the workers who were evacuated from the factory, almost gave Sakov a conscription order. He constantly harassed him with calls to his office, and interrogated him in the presence of workers, boosting the latter's self-confidence so that even workers who were not involved, eventually began to waver and sometimes joined the strikers. As a result of this situation, the terms of the contract were not fulfilled and on November 23, 1917, production was finally terminated. In early 1918, the operation was transferred to the prefectural council of the National Economy, and finally, five planes were completed and sent to Moscow, marking the final closure of LAM. Nikolai was a committed monarchist and when the revolution began, he chose to join the side of the White movement. In 1919 the Volunteer Army Command sent Sakov to England, presumably to buy airplanes. His choice may have been due to a combination of his rich experience as a front-line aviator and aircraft mechanic. While he was in the foreign country, there was the victorious advance of General Yudenich's army into Petersburg. On October 18, 1919, the British government decided to support General Yudenich's offensive by supplying equipment and weapons; in particular, it was decided to form an aviation division and provide 18 planes. On November 1, 1919, Sakov, along with 14 volunteer aviators, arrived on a steamer from England at Revel (now Tallinn) and enlisted in the ranks of General Yudenich's Northwest Army (SZA). He served in Captain B.V. Sergievsky's aviation detachment. Thus, the latter eloquently describes the activities of the SZA air force in his memoirs:
"Our aviation equipment was so poor that we couldn't really offer much (according to historian Sergey Kovaliev, they never received the planes promised by England.) From time to time, I volunteered to fight in the infantry."
Soon the SZA troops were forced to retreat into Estonian territory, where they were disbanded in January 1920. In the early twenties of the last century, Nikolai Sakov found himself back in Greece, which was once again involved in a war with Turkey. His previous exploits were not forgotten and he became the personal pilot of the Greek King Constantine. However, already in September 1922, after Greece's defeat in the Second Greek-Turkish War, King Constantine was deposed and his son George ascended the throne. Nikolai left and settled in Paris. The life of Russian immigrants in France during this period resembled the life of Russia shrunk to a smaller scale. The "new" Russian-French, former nobles and officers, took any job, in the mines, in the factories of Renault, Citroen... and of course, they took over taxis (mainly the former officers). Nikolai, made a living running a Parisian taxi with his brother. For a long time, the elite of pro-monarchist Russian immigrants believed in the possibility of revenge and tried to keep the military personnel by creating and organizing the intense activity of various paramilitary associations. One of these associations was the Union of Russian Airmen in France, whose members included many famous Russian airmen, including the two Sakov brothers.
In the late 1920s, according to sketches by aviator R.L. Nizhevsky, a monumental picture of the Russian air fleet was created. The triptych, consisting of images of the Holy Virgin, George the Victorious, and the Prophet Elijah, was painted by Tamara Vladimirovna Elchaninova and placed in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Paris. The transfer and installation of the monumental work were carried out by Nikolai Sakov. He also began compiling a list of all the dead Russian airmen and airmen to be included in the congress. He was unable to complete this project, as he died on 2 February 1930 and was buried in the Saint-Genevieve de Bois cemetery in Paris. The younger brother, Alexander Stavrovich, took over to finish what Nikolai had begun. He was a military aviator too, taking part in World War I as part of the Leyb-gvardii Rifle Regiment (something resembling the Imperial Guard) and the Sikorsky Ilya Muromets multi-engine aircraft squadron. During the Civil War, he fought in the Dmitry Donskoy armored train and in an air detachment in the ranks of Baron Wrangel's army. For about fifty years he was secretary of the Russian Airship Association in France. He died in 1968. Nikolai Stavrovich's wife, Nina Sergeevna, moved with her son to Nice in the early 1930s and then, in 1938, to Italy. Nina Sergeevna earned money by caring for the sick and she worked as a teacher for young ladies. From 1945 she was in charge of the Russian tea shop in Rome. She died in 1955. His son Nikolai, Alexander Nikolayevich graduated from the Faculty of Political Sciences of the University of Rome and became an influential public figure as a scientist-economist.
Nikolai Stavrovich Sakov was an early heroic figure of the Russian Air Force and a unique case of a man who, honoring his father's country, chose to volunteer to fight in the Balkan Wars, like thousands of other Greek-Americans who rushed to join the Greek Army. However, the Greek state and the Greek Air Force did not honor his struggle as they should have and unfortunately, there is little mention of his participation in the action of the Aviation Company under Dimitrios Kamberos. Moreover, in some sources, there is no mention of Sakov's Greek origin, but he is simply referred to as Russian. The Greeks in Foreign Cockpits research team hopes that the excellent article by historian Kovalev Sergey will restore the posthumous fame of Nikolai Stavrovich Sakov and memorialize his contribution to the early operations of our Air Force, since its inception.
The research team GREEKS IN FOREIGN COCKPITS expresses its special thanks to the aviation illustrator Ioannis Miltsios, for his kind offer to provide us with the side views of the planes in which Sakov and the pilots of the Aviation Company flew during the Balkan Wars.
108 years ago, on September 4, 1914, by order of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, a Special Aviation Detachment under the command of aviator Nikolai Yatsuk was formed on the basis of the civilian flight and technical staff of the school of the Imperial All-Russian Aero Club. Directed to the Northwestern Front, in May 1915 it was renamed the 34th Corps Air Detachment, becoming the first aviation fighter unit in the history of Russia. Sakov was one of the first members of the 34th however we don't know the type of planes it flew. During the early years of WW1 Russia depended on foreign aircraft, particularly French. It is most probable that Nikolai flew a French-built Voisin III biplane bomber - recon airplane. Those years Imperial Russian Air Service didn't have armed airplanes so dogfights were rare, almost non-existent, and the fighter-bomber units supported the Army, mostly flying reconnaissance missions or directing friendly artillery fire. Bombing missions were also conducted with the observer dropping a small bomb like in the photo above. (Scientific American, March 4, 1916)
The Morane-Saulnier Type G first appeared in Russia in 1913 and was used to establish some of the first Russian height and distance records. It was admitted to Russian military service that same year as a reconnaissance aircraft. Remaining in frontline service till its withdrawal at the end of 1915, the type continued to enjoy a role in flight training schools for some time into the 1920s. There is a possibility that Sakov and the 34th Corps Aviation Detachment were equipped with the French type during the early stages of WW1. (https://www.ctie.monash.edu/)
The Imperial Russian Air Service had its origin in the observation balloon units that were formed in 1885 and expanded after the Russo-Japanese War. In 1909, the czar’s cousin, Grand Prince Mikhail Aleksandrovich Romanov, recognized the military implications of Louis Blériot’s historic flight across the English Channel and began to promote aviation in Russia. As a result of his sponsorship, in 1910 both the army and the navy established flying services, with Grand Prince Mikhail himself commanding the Army Air Service. He bought aircraft abroad and promoted the founding of domestic aviation firms such as Dux, Grigorevich, RBVZ, Anatra, Lebedev, and Sikorsky. During the next few years, flying became fashionable among the younger nobility and included a number of women pilots. One of these early female pilots, Princess Evgeniya Shakhovskaya, joined the air service in 1914 and became the world’s first female combat pilot. n contrast to its general image as backward and unprepared, Russia in August 1914 had the largest air force in the world, with some 250–300 aircraft and 11 airships. Germany, by contrast, had 230–246 aircraft and Austria only 35; France and Britain had 160 and 110 aircraft, respectively. Although historians have pointed out that most of Russia’s aircraft were old and almost unflyable, the designs of other countries in 1914 were not much better. Russia’s real problem lay in its industrial infrastructure, which was totally inadequate to keep pace with the design and production of military aircraft, which evolved rapidly during World War I. Instead, Russia was soon reduced to purchasing outdated castoffs from Britain and France and trying to produce licensed copies, generally in inadequate numbers. There were two significant exceptions to this grim scene. The Grigorevich firm produced a series of small and medium flying boats that proved superior to the Germans’ in combat over the eastern Baltic and Black Seas, and the Sikorsky factory designed and produced the world’s first four-motor heavy bomber, the Ilya Muromets. During the war 93 Ilya Murometses were produced and flew 400 sorties, dropping 65 tons of bombs and proving almost indestructible to German fighters. There were also difficulties finding adequate numbers of recruits capable of being trained as pilots and observers, as illiterate peasants still constituted more than 90 percent of the population. Still, the Imperial Russian Air Service was able to grow from about 40 detachments in 1914 to 135 detachments by the time Russia left the war. During the war, 26 Russian pilots became aces, scoring a total of 188 air victories. Among them was leading ace Aleksandr Kozakov, but possibly the most significant was Captain Aleksandr Nikolaevich Prokofiev de Severskii, who scored six air victories as a naval pilot flying over the Baltic in 1916 after his leg had been amputated in 1915. After the Russian Revolution he emigrated to the United States, achieving fame as Alexander de Seversky. While the achievements of Russia’s air aces seem paltry next to those of Germany, France, and Britain, we should remember that even over the Western Front aerial combat was a rarity until late 1915. Suitable fighting machines began to appear only in 1916, and almost all the leading Western aces scored the great majority of their victories in 1917 and 1918, by which time the Russians had already left the war. Further, the vast spaces of the Eastern Front and the fewer numbers of German and Austrian aircraft committed meant that contact between enemy aircraft occurred less often. After the abdication of Nicholas II in February 1917, the army, and the air service in particular, continued fighting, and the air service even continued fighting briefly after the Bolshevik coup in November. However, as the army collapsed and ground crews went over to the communists, operations became impossible. Some of the noble pilots were lynched by revolutionary ground crews, and others either went over themselves or fled to areas controlled by the anticommunist Whites. The Imperial Russian Air Service became ashes, out of which emerged the Air Fleet of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army. (http://imperialairpowerrussia.blogspot.com)
1. Miltsios Ioannis (n.d.) - Ongoing Research. Information relayed by e-mail and used under permission of Researcher and Aviation Illustrator-profiler Ioannis Miltsios.
2. Baker, David, "Flight and Flying: A Chronology", Facts On File, Inc., New York, New York, 1994, Library of Congress card number 92-31491, ISBN 0-8160-1854-5, pp. 61. Ανακτήθηκε από: https://archive.org/details/flightflyingchro0000bake
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