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Chapter 42

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The First Yale Unit

Ralph D. Paine

printed at
The Riverside Press
Cambridge (Mass.)

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 44
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Vol. II
Chapter XLIII

Bartow Read at Porto Corsini

Bartow Read was the only member of the Unit who served with the American naval aviation force which took over and operated the Italian bases at Pescara and Porto Corsini on the Adriatic. Lieutenant Commander W. Atlee Edwards supplies the following interesting information concerning these activities:

'With reference to our work in the Adriatic, the following dispatch from the chief of staff of the Italian Navy to the Italian naval attaché in London, dated August 25, 1918, is of interest':

American aviation recently began its support for our operations in the Adriatic. An American squadron energetically attacked and forced to return to Pola Austrian aeroplanes met near the Istrian coast. During the pursuit one American machine was obliged to land, but a very intrepid aviator took the pilot on board and destroyed the machine. Military works at Pola and especially aviation installations and submersible bases were bombarded by day on the twenty-first, during the night of the twenty-second, and at dawn on the twenty-third, by several Italian machines and some Americans. Four tons of explosives were dropped and numerous explosions and fires were seen. One of our hydroplanes is missing. Large Italian squadrons twice bombarded Durazzo on the same day and dropped 1500 kilogrammes of explosives on military works starting large fires. Also bombarded military works at Curzola. British aviation units continued to attack Cattaro, damaging bridges, hangars, submersible stations and railway station at Zelenika. Enemy chaser machines undertook some futile counter-operations. We made vigorous counter-attacks, one enemy machine fell in flames and another was obliged to descend. One British machine missing. Enemy aviators attempted to rally. A few Austrian planes on the night of the twenty-first, dropped thirty  p243 bombs on Venice, one killed and three wounded, no damage to military works. One dead and four wounded at Cortellazzo attacked the same night. Five enemy machines again attacked Venice on the night of the twenty-third. Dropped a few bombs, no damage done, one civilian slightly wounded. During the night of the twenty-second, there was raid on Porto Corsini. Some damage to military establishments, six civilians wounded. Other attacks on Fiume, no damage. Our efficient anti-aircraft fire compelled the enemy machines to fly very high making their bomb dropping ineffective. One enemy seaplane was forced to come down near Lido. The crew of three was captured.

Bartow Read's connection with the enterprise began when he was ordered from Le Croisic to Pauillac to help assemble the equipment for the stations in Italy. It gratified him to receive the following letter as a farewell from his C. O., Lieutenant Corry:

June 9, 1918

My dear Read:

I am very sorry, both for official and personal reasons, to have lost your services at this station on account of your detachment. However, this detachment was a matter of selection for more important duty, a duty that requires more skill in flight and more danger in action than experienced by an aviator at Le Croisic and, therefore, I congratulate you upon having been selected for the detail in Italy. I am confident that you will deliver the goods at your new station in the same efficient and cheerful manner that you have at all times displayed while under my command. Although one of the youngest officers in the service, you have made good in every respect, and I am sure that no matter what assignment may be given you, you will 'bring home the bacon.'

I have forwarded your efficiency report for the last quarter up to the date of your detachment and on this report I have recommended you for promotion to Lieutenant (j.g.). I would advise you to consult with your new commanding officer and get him also to forward an official recommendation to this effect, provided he sees his way clear to do so.

Bartow's reception at Pauillac led him to infer that he had got off on the wrong foot. He appeared to be entirely  p244 over­looked. No duty was assigned nor any quarters provided. He was justified in thinking it a very odd sort of war. He rustled a place to live and did stray jobs for a month with the idea of earning his keep, fighting forest fires, drilling bluejackets, and helping to set up the new H.S.‑1s and Liberty motors.

At length some one in authority recalled what he was there for and he was told to go to Bolsena, Italy, where they were training the American pilots who were to fly the bombing machines at the Adriatic stations. Thence he took his departure, in the seagoing phrase, for Porto Corsini and arrived there simultaneously with a train of fifty cars from Pauillac containing two hundred men and supplies for six months, not to mention the C. O. and his staff. Bartow could no longer complain that there was nothing to do. On that same night the Austrian airmen bombed the new station by way of a cordial welcome.

The Italian army squadron which had been occupying the station was not at all reluctant to hand it over to the Americans, who at once sent out their patrols which swept the coast from the mouth of the Po to Rimini. This sector was later extended south as far as Ancona. Two patrols were sent out daily. They were under the general direction of the Italian Director of Naval Aviation whose orders were that they were not to go messing about the enemy's coast without special instructions.

This made it a pretty stupid and tiresome routine and, after considerable urging the United States squadrons were permitted to do some day and night bombing against the Austrian naval base at Pola where the fleet was anchored. This work was increased to include daily reconnaissance of the harbor and near‑by waters in order to report movements of all Austrian naval and merchant ships. To this was added, after a while, photographic surveys of the harbor.

 p245  The Austrians were not particularly active in trying to discourage these visits. They casually banged away with anti-aircraft batteries and used searchlights, but did little damage to the bombing and scouting planes. On one occasion, however, they seemed greatly annoyed and put up a most spiteful barrage. This was when bales of printed propaganda were dropped on them instead of bombs. They could stand just about so much.

Moonlight was required for night bombing. This was because the only lights for getting off with were the blinkers on the planes, and also because at low tide the seaplanes fitted so snugly in the canal that there was only ten feet of space to spare. This handicap made it impossible to use the H.S.‑1s, as had been suggested by the Force Commander's office in Paris, because their wing spread was wider than the canal. The machines employed were Macchi‑8 bombers with 150 h.p. Isotta-Fraschini motors, and Macchi‑5 single-seaters with the same motor. Both types were very fast, the bombers doing 100 miles per hour and the scouts 115. The only serious fault Bartow Read found was that the bombers could carry only 100 kilos of bombs. He adds:

The regular patrols were not very exciting and the flights to Pola sound more thrilling than they really were. It always took a lot of persuasion before the Italian authorities would let us hop over and drop some bombs. They had an exaggerated idea of the danger of playing around over Pola. During a whole month before the Armistice we had all our single-seaters equipped with bombs but were not allowed to carry out our pet scheme of peppering the vessels of the Austrian fleet in daylight.

The surrender of Pola and the neighboring territory took place before the Austro-Italian armistice. The leading citizens sent a radio message the President Wilson asking that an American force occupy the city as they had severed their connection with Austria and were ready to turn over the Austrian fleet as an evidence of good faith.

During the last week of the war I was detailed to command a  p246 group of American pilots who were attached to the Italian Naval Squadron No. 241, flying single-seater land machines over the Piave front from Venice. It was machine‑gun work entirely, attacking the Austrian troops who were then in retreat. This made a lively finish. It would have been more so if we could have made use of our complete new equipment of machine-guns which were ready for service when the news of peace came.

Bartow's letters to his mother add a good many details to the foregoing account and serve to round out the picture of this contact with the enemy on the Austrian front, by sea and land.

August 7, 1918

Since I last wrote, which was some time ago, I have been transferred again and am now at a station on the Adriatic. I have been up to my ears in work of the worst kind, that of starting a new station. I am chief pilot and in charge of all flying, pilots, machines, hangars, mechanics, also a few other little odds and ends such as ordnance, guns, cameras, supplying gas and oil, spare parts, etc., etc. So you see writing was out of the question. Since I have been here I have worn out two pairs of shoes, organized the two hundred men who are my own particular gang, tested ten machines and flown twenty-five hours in my own bus. I have been here eight days. In addition to my regular work I have taken the C. O. to Venice in my machine to report to the Italian Aviation Commander; taken the executive officer to a small town up the coast a ways where we stunted around to amuse the populace who were celebrating their own particular saint's day. Besides the above, I have been to Rimini by air, also have flown most of the regular patrols. Outside of flying, the only place I have been is from my room to the hangars. Tomorrow I am going to Ravenna to get a little rest.

September 16

I am still at Port Corsini on the same job as when I last wrote, doing about the same thing as we did in France with a few exceptions. We fly about the same kind of patrols here, but we have very little convoy work, and as no excitement ever shows up on these jobs, I have changed over from a bombing machine to a chasse. The only difference is that I fly alone and don't  p247 carry bombs. Instead we carry two machine guns, set in the bow and shooting straight ahead. This bus is intended for combat work. I have already been here a month and a half and have never seen an enemy plane of any kind. Still some fine day I hope at least to catch a glimpse of one in the distance. It would be much nicer when one comes home to the States to be able to say you had seen the enemy in some form or other.

October 15

I have, after promising one letter a day, done worse than one a week. This is because we suddenly became very busy over here and flew both day and night for some time. It was not that the activity was very remarkable, but practically all the machines had to have new motors at the same time, so those of us who were still on the job had to put in extra work. You see, each of us has his own buggy and flies that exclusively. Now mine is on the sick list and the others are doing most of the work. As you may have noticed in the papers, American aviators in Italy sometimes break into print. Occasionally they even bomb Pola on the Austrian coast. But if you notice carefully no one ever 'fails to return.' Well, that is quite correct, we do bomb the place and there is nothing to prevent our doing it every day except orders to the contrary. The Austrians don't seem to be able to put up any argument about it. I have never mentioned this before because it was not mentioned in the American papers until recently. As it is, I can now tell you that bombing Pola is a perfect cinch.

(Extract from Official Report)

In retaliation, under orders from Commander Valli, two M‑8s, piloted by Ensign R. B. Read and G. W. Knowles left station at 3.45 A.M. and bombed Pola at 5 A.M. Ensign Read's machine dropped one bomb on a group of searchlights and three on the arsenal. Although picked up by nine lights and held for eight or ten minutes, the barrage fire was very inaccurate and feeble. Knowles' machine dropped four bombs in close proximity to the land aeroplanes. This flight was interesting by reason of its being the first night flight attempted from this station, and the results obtained were excellent. Pola was located without trouble and likewise Porto Corsini on the return.

 p248  November 7

I am now attached to a group of Henriots at Venice. There are six American pilots here and we are, so to speak, farmed out to an Italian squadron. The C. O., mechanics, etc., are all Italians. The machines are land scouts. We arrived just too late, however, as Austria signed the Armistice the day I arrived. After that we were going to Trieste, but the Austrians over there burned the hangars and broke up the ground so that has been called off. Now unless Germany signs the Armistice, too, we will move up through Austria to the new front that will be established between Austria and Germany. At least, that is my own opinion. Now we just fly for amusement and live in a hotel commandeered by the Italian Government. It is on the water front, three bridges down from the Piazza San Marco. Venice is lighted up for the first time in three years. It certainly is beautiful, but the lights take away much of the excitement we used to have when walking down to a restaurant in the evenings. You can always tell now whether you are stepping into a canal or a sidewalk.

Venice, November 11

I am now attached to the only land chasse squadron in the Italian Navy. Unfortunately, though, we were supposed to come here for a drive and then hostilities up and quit on us. So my land chasse experience is only practice and a few hops to captured Austrian aerodromes for souvenirs. We sent some of our squadron over to Trieste to see if the field was good enough to use as a permanent base, but they found it all full of trenches and the hangars destroyed, so we must stay here until things are repaired over there. Of course if tonight's rumor is true, that the Germans have also surrendered, we will probably not go to Trieste at all. The people who flew over there brought back some amusing reports. The funniest one is that every Austrian aviator sold his machine to some civilian for the best price he could get and then went home on the proceeds. Banfield, who is one of the Austrian aces, sold the hangars, gasoline, etc., and then got a job as C. O. of the new Jugo-Slavic squadron to be established.

Porto Corsini, December 7

Of course our new front idea was speedily washed out by the German surrender. We were ordered to return to Porto Corsini and take up our usual duties which consist at present of looking  p249 for ships which insist on getting lost with all hands until someone flies over and reports their positions. Today one of our people is out looking for two ships that are aground somewhere about twenty miles north of here. I wish these Wops would learn to navigate without running into their own coast or getting blown up in their own mine fields. At the present rate the mine fields will be pretty well cleared up in a week or so, but they manage to lose a ship almost every time they explode a mine.

Yesterday I went to Pola again. This time it was a peaceful excursion and I spent the day looking over the aviation station and strolling around the town. It was very interesting. The inhabitants seemed rather peeved at us because they had missed a good deal of sleep on moonlight nights. Also some few had lost their houses. One bomb landed behind a statue of Franz Joseph's wife and put a hole in the lady, but didn't hurt anybody else. From a naval point of view the harbor is about the best I have seen anywhere, with the water so deep that all the battle­ships can be tied up right next to the town. In fact you can step off the village street into about twelve fathoms. One of the big battle­ships which was sunk near the harbor mouth went quietly out of sight at her moorings and does not even form an obstruction now. In the harbor are all the Austrian battle­ships, some Japanese destroyers, a French cruiser and two destroyers, a British cruiser, and a big batch of Italian war vessels and all kinds of colliers and cargo boats. Well, I'll tell you all about it when I get home in February.

On November 11, 1920, the Secretary of the Navy forwarded the following letter:


The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Russell B. Read, U. S. N. R. F., for services during the World War as set forth in the following


For distinguished and heroic services as a pilot of a seaplane engaged in patrolling the waters of the War Zone, escorting and protecting troop and cargo ships, operating against enemy submarines, and bombing the enemy coast, showing at all times courage and a high spirit of duty.

For the President

Josephus Daniels

 p250  The following extracts are from the Fitness Reports, Navy Department:

Period from 1 April to 24 May, 1918:

Ensign Russell Bartow Read while attached to this station has given excellent service in all duties assigned him. He is an expert Pilot of seaplanes, being most active, daring, and always willing and anxious to keep flying. He has had far more experience in actual flight than most officers of his age and rank. He is recommended for promotion to the next higher rank, that of Lieutenant junior grade.

W. M. Corry

Lieutenant, U. S. N.

Period from 30 September to 31 December, 1918:

The following active war flights were made by Lieutenant (j.g.) R. B. Read, U. S. N. R. F., while attached to the U. S. Naval Air Station at Porto Corsini, Italy. He has participated in 35 submarine patrol flights, in addition he made 4 bombardment and one reconnoissance flights over the enemy base at Pola, Austria. This pilot has a total of 91 hours and 57 minutes in the air from July 24, 1918, to December 1st, 1918, flying Macchi 5 chasse, Macchi 8 bomber and F. B. A. bomber seaplanes. Excellent war pilot, hard worker, consistent leader of both chasse and bombing patrols. A splendid chief pilot or chief instructor, a bit too young to assume command or carry out important independent duties — 20 years old.

W. B. Haviland, Lieut., U. S. N. R. F.

Commanding Nav. Air Sta., Porto Corsini, Italy

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