Aircraft and the Mexican Revolution
By Richard Baber
This article was originally published in the SOTCW Journal but was too dry and technical to interest the wargames glossies.
success of the Wright brothers and other pioneers in the
A Bleriot XI monoplane was demonstrated to President Porfirio Diaz, shortly before he was overthrown.
In 1911, Francisco I. Madero became Mexican President. He became a visionary supporter of aviation. On November 30, 1911, President Madero took a short historic flight in a Deperdussin airplane, thereby becoming the first Chief of State in the World to have flown in an aircraft. He was inspired by having witnessed, in March 1911, an international air show, the Moisant International Aviators–with its impressive display of flying.
Madero’s supporters and other groups (Pancho Villa in the North; Emilio Zapata in the south West and General Venustiano Carranza in the North east, rebelled against Huerta and his followers, starting the revolution all over again. Three of these Constitutionalist armies had flights of aircraft –
Obregon`s “Division del Noroesta” had two Glen Martin pusher bi-planes.
Villa’s “Division del
Norte” had five Wright “L” bi-planes
Pablo Gonzalez “Division del Este” had two Morane-Saulnier mono-planes
Most of the pilots were mercenaries, mostly American, but some Europeans too.
The various factions mostly used their aircraft for observation and reconnaissance; but simple bomb racks were soon developed and aircraft were used in an offensive role too.
Towards the end of July, 1913, the French aviator Didier Masson flying a Glen Martin pusher launched several bombing raids against Federal gunboats off Guaymas; this incident was reported both in the New York Times and in the logs of both the USS Pittsburg and USS Glacier
April 1914, one of Obregón's gunships, the Tampico (which incidentally was one
of the ships attacked by Masson back in July 1913); was sailing off the coast
of Sinaloa, close to the port of Topolobampo (near Los Mochis), when it came
under attack from two Huertista warships: the Morelos and the Guerrero. Obregón
ordered Gustavo Salinas Camiña (later in the 1940s head of the Mexican
Airforce) to do something about it. On April 14, accompanied by his mechanic
Gustavo Salinas Camiña with “
government set about the establishment of an Air Arm as an integral part of the
new Constitutional Army. And although the war in Europe cut off external
sources of supply, both a flying school and central aviation workshop were set
up at Balbuena, near
With surprising ingenuity the Talleres Nacionales de Construcciones Aeronauticas set about the development and production from Scratch. In 1916 the TNCA Serie “A” tandem two-seater bi-plane trainer, powered by the Mexican developed Azatl air-cooled six cylinder radial engine, entered production, considering the fractious nature of the country, an air-mail service was started in July 1917 using these aircraft.
A Beloit type mono-plane
American aviator and engineer James Dean with some of the
aerial bombs he developed for use with the “
Pancho Villa’s murderous raid on
1st Aero squadron had been formed within the Army Signal Corps under the command of 1st Lt. Thomas DeWitt Milling. Eight aircraft were assigned and a small group of pilots, mechanics, administration and logistics staff and others were brought on. By December, the formal organizational chart had been defined, dividing the squadron into two companies of four aircraft each, commanded by eight officers and supported by 45 enlisted men. Initially, the 1st Company of the 1st Aero Squadron had four Burgess Model H biplanes, while the 2nd Company had a mixed collection of Curtiss aircraft — a Model D, Model E, Model G and a fourth Model E that the 2nd Company assembled from spare parts that had been provided to support the other aircraft!
Curtiss JN3 Jennie
Frankly the aircraft was ill-suited for the climate and rigours of the operation; the first arrived on March 16th, but by April 20th only two were capable of operating and the whole squadron was withdrawn.
did re-equip with better planes – Curtiss N8 and eventually the new R-2
bi-planes and return to help Pershing. But once again the climate proved a huge
obstacle to the aircraft reliability and maintenance became a major issue once
again. Although the 1st Aero Squadron effectively failed in its
mission the lessons learned during the brief campaign were later put to good
use once the
As we can see there is some limited scope to include the odd plane over our Mexican wargames table. Planes were few and their effects minimal, but the odd low level bombing run or a circling “eye in the sky” could add something to a game. The commander with access to an aircraft (or two), could in effect watch his opponents movements and be able (with a short delay) move his own forces to counter-act those moves. The pilot could drop messages to out-lying or distant units - don`t forget the limited communications meant units could get lost in a battle, how useful would it be to first find them and then send an order in this way! Early aircraft were vulnerable to weather and this should be taken into consideration during any game; mechanical reliability and maintenance would also be major issues.
I built this "pusher" bi-plane using a Avro Pusher
whilst these early aircraft could not carry any serious bomb loads, simply the noise and a flurry of cast-iron granadas (grenades) or dynamite may well cause panic among a surprised enemy.
Aircraft need maintenance, fuel and spare parts these were usually carried (at least in the revolutionary armies) on trains. The aircraft too were usually transported over long distances on these trains. These incredibly valuable military assets would therefore make excellent objectives for one off games.
Notes on the Mexican Army 1900-1920
by The South and Central American Military Historians Society
Documents of the Mexican Revolution by J. Hinds
The Incident: The Punitive Expedition by Steve Fruitt
The Mexican Revolution 1910-20 by P. Jowett and A de Quesada
The General & The Jaguar by Eileen Welsome
Battles of the Mexican Revolution by J. Hinds
Chasing Pancho Villa (article on Historicwings.com)
The Hunt for Pancho Villa by Alejandro de Quesada