In 1915, with Italy’s entry into the war against the Central Empires, the priceless artistic heritage of Venice was exposed to bombing by Austrian aircraft. The danger did not leave the French government indifferent, which proposed sending some fighters to protect the city. The offer was accepted by our staff and on 13 August of the same year, 36 men commanded by pilot captain Michel de Chalonge, left Lyon for the lagoon city who conducted 63 effective actions on strategic objectives.
The initial deployment near Mestre proved unsuitable for timely interception of enemy aircraft before their arrival on the lagoon, thus making it necessary to search for a new base. With an original choice, the Navy Command, in charge of the Venetian stronghold, decided to create an airfield from the parade ground of the Fort of S. Nicolò al Lido. The space, enlarged with the demolition of some smaller buildings, demonstrated the feasibility of the project and on December 1st, after three months of work, the French squadron moved to the new headquarters, thus marking the birth of the Lidense airport, the current Nicelli.
The choice was a happy one. The captain and his pilots, housed in the Hotel Paradiso, were often at the center of a worldly interest also favored by the excellent cuisine ensured by the four accompanying chefs.
The department had illustrious visitors such as the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII, the writer Celine, and an exceptional godmother, the charming Baroness Nicola Winspeare Guicciardi. Gabriele D’Annunzio will become a regular of the place while the high Venetian aristocracy will open up more and more to French pilots. The presence of Gabriele d’Annunzio at the Lido, who moved from the famous Casetta Rossa on the Grand Canal in Via Lepanto 24, to participate in the risky events of the Adriatic war, represents a historical fact not without charm which was not overlooked by the French aviators who knew the artistic and worldly successes of the poet in their country. A singular proof of this admiration can be found in an image of a Spad plane on the Lido field with the inscription “Perhaps that yes perhaps that no”, the title of a famous work by the poet.
During his life in Lidense D’Annunzio also confirmed himself as a creative in the field of military art, contributing in an original and effective way to the daring and insidious guerrilla warfare to be conducted at sea and in the air which Tahon di Revel himself had announced.
The presence of D’Annunzio on the Lido field, the current Nicelli, was assiduous and creative. Commander of a Caproni squadron he experimented for the first time in Italy with the use of land torpedo bombers until the needs of the war required the full use of the unit on the land front. The Air Torpedo Squadron, created to emulate the legendary strikes from the air landed by the MAS flotilla, will therefore become a bombing unit, also based at the Lido airport, reinforced with SIA 9B aircraft. In October, Commander D’Annunzio will change her name and motto: he will call her S. Marco and for the motto he will abandon the Latin of “sufficit animus” for the Venetian word of “tu con nu nu con ti”.