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Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Great Postcard Mystery #3

Once again, thanks to the generosity of Vinnie, we have ourselves the third great postcard mystery where he sends me an antique postcard and I try to figure out what the heck it’s all about.

Disclaimer #1. I had help. Lots of it from Takako, the lovely wife of my friend Matthew who lived nearby in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken when we were AETs (assistant English teachers) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme a few years (ahem) ago.

I looked at the front of the postcard above and had no clue who was in the airplane. The guy with the wicked mustache looked French. I also assumed he was French because there were a lot of famous French aviators in that era.

What era?

For that, we have to examine the postage stamp on postcard. Interesting, by the way, that postcard is stamped, but there was no message or address written atop it, meaning it was done for show - perhaps to be sold to a stamp collector at a later date. A keen reason why the postcard is in excellent shape for its age.

The Japanese postage stamp (Sakura Catalog # C27 - part of the commemorative and special issue releases) was my first clue as to age, issued on November 1, 1920, the 3-Sen stamp depicts the Dedication of the Meiji Shrine. It is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken only, and does not contain the emperor's grave, which is located at Fushimi-momoyama, south of Kyoto.

So… either the stamp was produced before the postcard was issued (IE, the stamp was made and held onto for a while before use) or the postcard was made previous to the postage stamp (IE (postcard was made and held onto for a while until it was decided to be used in the promotion, and then stamped with a then-current postage stamp). 

So we have an event depicted on the postcard that is more than likely from before November 1, 1920 and featuring a French aviator.

I looked up famous French aviators in Japan—sure, in Japan, because this is a Japanese postcard… but failed to make any headway.

Then I looked up famous French aviators looking at images - and failed to see the man on the left.

Looking up French and bald, gave me a whole different thing that we won’t get into here.

Then I looked up famous British, then American, then German and Canadian aviators from 1925 and earlier, without any luck.

Then I gave up and asked Matthew who asked Takako who responded quickly, telling me that the Japanese writing essentially states: Italy. The man on the left is Mr D'Annunzio. The aircraft is an Italian bomber called SVA. (ズバ).

Waitaminute… the guy is Italian? D’oh!

Dapper little near-fascist Gabriele D'Annunzio, was more of a poet than a fighter, even though he loved to fight. Wars that is, with other people doing the actual soldiering.
And then Matthew and Takako provided me with a wiki on the D’Annunzio fellow, essentially solving the whole mystery in mere seconds.

Except… who is the second guy (on the right), why are they important enough to Japan that they would create a Japanese postcard of it?

This little mystery takes us to the Meiji Shrine, an examination of postage stamps, Italy and Austria, plus the wackiness of artists who think they are warriors.

Who is D’Annunzio? Well, he is Gabriele D’Annunizio, born March 12, 1863, died March 1, 1938, and he was a poet.

Which doesn’t explain why he is in the SVA airplane.

He was, more than likely at the time of the postage stamp being produced, the president of the Free State of Fiume.

Never heard of it? It’s like a Marx Brother’s movie. 

The Free State of Fiume existed between 1919 and 1924 and called officially "Stato Libero di Fiume". Its territory of 28 km2 (11 sq mi) comprised the city of Fiume (now in Croatia and, since the end of World War II, known as Rijeka) and rural areas to its north, with a corridor to its west connecting it to Italy. D’Annunzio was its head of state from September 12 through December 30, 1920 - the Duce!

For you stamp collector's out there, you already know how much history one can learn from the philately hobby. This is a 1921 Fiume postage stamp with D'Annunzio's portrait, bearing the State's motto in Latin: Hic Manebimus Optime, which translates to "Here we'll stay wonderfully." What a rife!

Apparently a man’s home IS his castle.

Along with being a poet, writer, playwright and journalist (so was/am I),  he was also a soldier during WWI between 1915-1918 as  major, Lt. colonel and general (honorary).

Let’s see… how old would he have been?

37 + 15… 52 years-old in 1915?

He was actually a well-known person of interest in Italian literature from 1889-1910, and after his foray into politics following the Free State of Fiume… 

So what was a poet doing in an airplane?

In the months before the end of WWI, D’Annunzio helped spearhead an air raid on August 9, 1918 known as The Flight Over Vienna.

Never heard of it? It was a big deal to Italy. 

The plan was for 11 Italian-built Ansaldo SVA aircraft flown by his squadron La Serenissima to fly 1,200 kilometers non-stop in a round trip from its military airfield Due Carrare in Padua, Italy to Vienna to drop some 50,000 propaganda leaflets.

The wonderful plan by D'Annunzio was actually thought of a year previously, but there was that whole logistical problem of the airplanes of the day lacking the fuel capacity to pull it off - especially if any of them wanted to return alive, which was a key part of the plan.

After essentially adding larger fuel tanks to the planes, the first attempt was on August 2, 1918, but heavy fog caused the squadron to return to home base.

On August 8, 1918, a second attempt was made, but the wind was too strong... and recall that this is 98 years ago, so airplanes (really aeroplanes) weren't as strong or secure as they are nowadays.

On August 9, 1918... success.

The La Serenissima squadron flew over Vienna and dropped the three-colored card leaflets (red, green and white - the colors of the Italian flag).

What is interesting to people who like this sort of thing, the message on the leaflet to the Austrian enemies of Italy were written by D'Annunzio himself in his native Italian.

Waitaminute! Did he really drop leaflets written in Italian onto the German-speaking populace of Vienna? 50,000 Italian leaflets?

Pasta fazool! No wonder they let Mussolini come to power in 1922.

50,000 leaflets wafting gently over Vienna as dropped by Italy's D'Annunzio and the La Serenissima squadron on August 9, 1918.
So, what did D'Annunzio have to say to the people of Vienna who had no clue what he was rambling on about?

Here's an English translation for you, because I'm not a crazy Italian poet, and boy do I know it:

"On this August morning, while the fourth year of your desperate convulsion comes to an end and luminously begins the year of our full power, suddenly there appears the three-color wing as an indication of the destiny that is turning.

Destiny turns. It turns towards us with an iron certainty. The hour of that Germany that thrashes you, and humiliates you, and infects you is now forever passed.
Your hour is passed. As our faith was the strongest, behold how our will prevails and will prevail until the end. The victorious combatants of Piave, the victorious combatants of Marna feel it, they know it, with an ecstasy that multiplies the impetus. But if the impetus were not enough, the number would be; and this is said for those that try fighting ten against one. The Atlantic is a path already closing, and it's an heroic path, as demonstrated by the new chasers who colored the Ourcq with German blood.
On the wind of victory that rises from freedom's rivers, we didn't come except for the joy of the daring, we didn't come except to prove what we could venture and do whenever we want, in an hour of our choice.
The rumble of the young Italian wing does not sound like the one of the funereal bronze, in the morning sky. Nevertheless the joyful boldness suspends between Saint Stephen and the Graben an irrevocable sentence, o Viennese.
 Long live Italy!"
(signed) Gabriele d'Annunzio

The actual leaflet - just in case you didn't believe me.

Who knows... maybe it worked. Germany and its partners officially ended WWI on November 11, 1918, just three months later. Riiiiight.

Which brings me back to the WTF aspect of the Japanese postcard honoring this event.

Why would Japan create a postcard honoring the exploits of a crazy Italian poet who had the intestinal fortitude to drop propaganda leaflets over enemy territory during WWI? Japan was on the side of the Allies in WWI. Of course, so was Italy.

As near as I can tell, the reason this postage stamp was created was to actually honor Italian aviators who dared to fly out to Japan. And if one postage stamp honoring them is a cash bonanza, then surely multiple postcards with different images would also be a cash bonanza, pardner.

In 1920—the same year the postage stamp on the topmost postcard was issued—famed Italian aviators Arturo Ferrarin and Guido Masiero flew 18,000 kilometers (11,000 miles) from Rome to Tokyo in a pair of Ansaldo SVA-9 airplanes, making multiple stops along the way, thanks to re-fueling, crashes and more. Originally it was 11 pilots - but those... accidents... still, it was an impressive undertaking... especially when you consider the true infancy of aviation at that time.

For the Japanese, the arrival of these two pilots was quite the hubbub, and the populace gobbled up all information and souvenirs on their arrival... hence the creation of postcards of other great Italian aviation achievements such as the Flight Over Vienna. At least that's what I figure.

There was another great Italian flight through Japan a few years later, but that is a story for another day.

Andrew Joseph
Thanks again, Vinnie!

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