The French airfield in Mavrovouni

In memoirs of French officers and diaries of soldiers there was often mention of a military airport close to Skydra (Σκύδρα then Vertekop). My father, who was 10 years old in 1916, was aware of the existence of a military airfield down in the plain of Edessa, but could not tell the exact location. He was, however, greatly impressed as a young child by the huge anti-aircraft searchlights located in Skydra (then Vertekop) which blinded him when the lights were directed towards Edessa (then Vodena) turning night into day. Some research last year, however, bore fruit. The airport was, in fact, located just behind the hill of Mavrovouni village, not visible from Edessa, but very close to 36 and 37 British General Hospitals at a distance of about a mile from the Skydra RR Station.

By comparing the landscape of an old and a new photo it was easy to deduce the location of the airfield

α-523_Verterkop_GPβ-Airport ?avrovouni TORA

With letter A the “Vertekop” airfield. West of Mavrovouni hill were located the 37 and 36 British general hospitals

δ-Mavrovouni airport

An aerial photo of the airfield showing the east side of the Mavrovouni hill. On the west side of the hill were located the 36 and 37 hospitals. In the background one can hardly distinguish Skydra (then Vertekop) village and in straight line the road and railway from Skydra to Edessa. Next to the railway we can perceive the depot of the 2nd Serbian Army. On the right lower corner of the photo we can see the Decauville railway line and the road lead to Almopia and the Voras (Moglena) mountain range 

γ-Vertekop airfield

The airfield was the base of French squadron N387 (escadrille N387). Squadron N387 was created at the end of 1915, originally as N87, before joining the French Army in Thessaloniki under General Maurice Sarrail (Armée Française d’Orient-AFO). It arrived at Thessaloniki on November 20, 1915 with the cruiser “Sinai” and was fixed initially at Thermi (Θέρμη then Sedes) airfield. In June 1916 it was placed with four other squadrons at the disposal of the Serbian Army integrating at the same time Serbian pilots and engineers. All squadrons with the Serbian Army received the additional number 3 to be distinguished from the other French squadrons, so N87 became N387. These units formed an autonomous aviation section under the French commander Roger Vitrat, a veteran pilot with the Serbs in autumn 1915 and the Great Retreat. On 2 August 1916 squadron N387 was established in an airfield near Skydra (then Vertekop) village, a central position for the Serbian army, where it stayed most of the time up to the end of the war.

Airplane graveyard – the source of spare parts for repairs

1Aeroplane graveyard

Prince Alexander of Serbia in a visit

2-27 dec 1917 Alexander in Skydra

The planes in stand-by

3-523_VertekopGT

Commander Denain decorating pilots

4-Denain in Skydra

Under commander Vitrat the integration of Serbian pilots and engineers into the French squadron was very successful. However, the lack of clear directives concerning the relations of his autonomous section and the rest of the French aviation under commander Victor Denain created strong frictions between Vitrat on one hand and Denain and Sarrail on the other. In June 1917 Vitrat gave new names in his squadrons. N387 became N523. General Sarrail, considering that Vitrat’s views were too pro-Serb, succeeded eventually in sending him back to France in September 1917 to the big consternation of the Serbian high command. Following Vitrat’s departure, Commander Denain reorganized the whole aviation of the Armée d’Orient under his supervision (Serbian, French and British – the Royal Flying Corps). One can say, however, that the five Vitrat’s squadrons of the Salonika capmaign formed the core of the future Serbian aviation.

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One thought on “The French airfield in Mavrovouni

  1. Pingback: The Scottish Women’s Hospitals: The Elsie Inglis Unit | Little stories of big History

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