Voyager Press Rare Books & Manuscripts

1912 - Archive - Founding of the Swiss Air Force - Borel

Pioneering Swiss Aviation with Features on Foreign Intelligence and Letters Signed by Early Aviators

Pre-World War I

1912 - Archive - Founding of the Swiss Air Force - Borel

Pioneering Swiss Aviation with Features on Foreign Intelligence and Letters Signed by Early Aviators 1912 - 1919


Switzerland 1912-1919. Archive of aviation documents concerning the development of a Swiss Air Force, including typescript reports, manuscript notes and charts, manuscript drawings, photographic images, correspondence, and ephemera, most dating between 1912 and 1914, being works made by and information gathered by Etienne Edmond Borel (1858-1928), a founding member and president of l'Aéro-Club (the Swiss Aviation Club), Colonel in the military, and a leading active advocate for establishing a Swiss military Air Force. Featuring intelligence gathered from other countries, and original signed letters from notable pioneer aviators. Most documents are in French; a scant few are in German. A cornerstone to any Swiss aviation or militaria library.

Earnest in his effort to establish a Swiss military air force, previous to the Great War, aeronautics pioneer Etienne Edmond Borel (1858-1928) dedicated years of research into foreign military aviation, from aircraft development to military organisation and air defense. He also performed and recorded flight experiments. Much of his work is present in this, his personal archive, which also yields letters and signatures from several other notable figures in the history of aviation.

At the time of Borel's work, Switzerland did not have an air corps, and up to 1914 there was still very little official support for establishing one. The first military aviation in Switzerland, in fact, took the form of balloon transport, pioneered by Swiss balloonist Eduard Spelterini, who performed test flights for the Swiss military Airship Company which had been founded in 1897.

To impress upon the government the importance and viability of establishing a Swiss Air Force, and secondly for public support, Borel draws an impressive amount of information from foreign military archives and publications of existing air forces. He writes to numerous parties to obtain confidential information which he would otherwise not have privilege to, in this manner procuring a document of the procedures and considerations taken by France in 1911 to effectively develop its military air force. Not only seeking data from powerful nations such as Germany, France, England, Russia, and America, he also illustrates the movement from airships to aeroplanes in small neighbouring countries. He further substantiates his conviction in the benefits of military aviation, with his own aviation expertise and firsthand aircraft observations. He also attempts to establish aviation schools in Switzerland.

As a leading contributor of fundamental aviation data, scientific testing, and foreign intelligence on the matter, Borel was most influential to the founding of the Swiss Air Force in 1914.

Following are some examples and highlights from the archive:

1912 Intelligence on foreign military aviation, compiled by Borel and presented to the board of the Swiss Society of Officers (Société suisse des officiers, SSO) which aims to promote an effective army and deals with matters of national and international relations within the framework of Swiss security policy objectives.

Title: Notes et renseignements sur l'aviation militaire é l'étranger. par le Lieut Colonel Etienne Ed. Borel... Offert à la Société des Officiers, Août 1912.

8vo. 60 pages, typescript document with orange paper covers titled to front and dated August 1912. Borel draws attention to the increasing aeronautics development for military use, in world powers and in small neutral nations, in hopes to influence Swiss leaders to do the same. He begins by providing the specific number of military aircraft operating in France, Germany, Austria, England, and Italy, together with a compendium of further intelligence gathered from these countries as well as Turkey, Russia, Belgium, China, Japan, and the United States of America. He then reviews in detail the 12 million francs budget allocated by France in 1912 for a military aerostation, including funding for various regiments. In a summary of maneouvering experiments undertaken in France in 1911, which he participated in, he compares dirigibles to aeroplanes. Here he reassures his audience of diplomats that an air corps would not interfere with cavalry or other ground troops, "Service Aeronautiques... Leur emploi ne diminue en rien le rôle de la cavalerie et des troupes employées au service de sûreté il n'est d'ailleurs pas possible en tous temps."

A portfolio of important correspondence and confidential military information, concerning the formation of a national Air Force as well as aviation schooling, featuring original signed letters from notable early aviators and inventors in France and Germany.

Some examples:

• Borel's retained carbon copies of a manuscript letter requesting apprenticeship information from famous French aviator and inventor Louis Blériot, who was at the time involved in a five-year legal struggle with the Wright Brothers over their wing warping patents. Also with Blériot's response on corporate letterhead; his firm designed and produced aircraft.

• Request for apprenticeship contracts, as above, from Édouard Nieuport whose company primarily built racing aircraft

• Request for apprenticeship contracts, as above, from pioneering French aviator and the first winner of the Daily Mail aviation prize Louis Paulhan,

• Correspondence with French aviator and aircraft builder Roger Sommer, who provides Borel with copies of purchase contracts with which France bought monoplanes from Belgium.

• Enquiries into costs and requirements for operating an aviation school, sought from François Durafour, the first glacier pilot René Grandjean, and again Louis Blériot, Roger Sommer, and Louis Paulhan.

• Details obtained on the steps taken by France in 1911 in developing its military air force.

Summary of international standards, comparing from Germany, France, Italy, Russia, England, the United States, Belgium and Austria, such things as pilot certification requirements, insurance, recruiting, indemnities for aviators, and construction standards for aeroplanes. We also find in this folder a manuscript plan of the aerodrome in Leipzig. 8vo. Neatly organized blue folder, titled, signed by Borel to front and dated Juin 1913.

A group of manuscript drawings contained together in a yellow envelope:
• 16 pencil drawings on draft paper, each of a unique pioneering aircraft, leafs measuring approximately 15 x 13 cm;
• 4 coloured manuscript ink drawings of German bombs for air dropping
• 3 manuscript ink drawings of aviation camps in France and England, together on one large leaf of draft paper measuring 66 x 30 cm;
• 1 large drawing of the Wilkes biplane, made in Lausanne in 1916 and signed by the artist (Last name Wilkes) on draft paper measuring 64 x 29 cm;
• 8 photograph copy images of airships;
• 1 original photograph of a German bi-plane.

Aviation statistics and observations (circa 1912-1914):
• A typed list of Switzerland's certified pilots
• Borel's assessment of then recent flight accidents and their causes
• A comparative chart of some 25 manufacturers' bi-planes, their specs and capabilities
• A chart of flying observations recorded during planned experimentation (found in Borel's report 'Aérodynamique' described below)
• Manuscript chart recording new world records in aviation achieved in the year 1914.

1913 Scientific report on Aerodynamics replete with manuscript diagrams and calculations. A fascinating pioneering aeronautics study, this is Borel's personal working copy, heavily annotated, featuring an insert with definitions and a manuscript table of contents.

Title: Aérodynamique; Forces qui agissent sur un Aéroplane; Stabilité; Propulseurs. 8vo. 41 pages, typescript with orange paper covers titled in manuscript and signed original by Borel to front. Some of the subjects within include air resistance, horizontal flight, elevation and descent, stability and steering, rolling, methods for propulsion, and a data chart comparing the results of six trial flights using bi-planes.

"Aérodrome d'Avenches" - A typescript report on the founding and the construction of the Swiss aerodrome erected in a prairie region called Cours-Vieux, in Avenches, canton of Vaud, which was in operation from 1910 to 1921.

Aerodome Plans:
• Early printed plan of the first Geneva aerodrome, created in 1919 at Cointrin, near the city of Geneva, and covering an area of 54 hectares (130 acres)
• Manuscript plan of the aerodrome in Leipzig

Correspondence pertaining to a meeting to take place 19 and 20 August 1912 concerning hydro-aeroplanes [seaplanes], including a addressed to Etienne Borel, then President of the Swiss Aviation Club, headquartered in Geneva. Together with the itinerary and rules for the meeting. 8vo. 7 pages typed, completed in manuscript.
[This was only the second meeting in the history of hydraviation, with only four pilots taking part. Except for René Grandjean who was Swiss, the three other pilots were all French: André Beaumont, Franck Barra and René Tétard. Lieutenant Colonel Etienne Borel was invited to present a silver cup to each of the airmen.]

Seventeen (17) photograph film negatives of images taken at air shows held in Geneva and Lausanne, Switzerland, contained in an envelope with the label of Rembrant Paper, and inscribed in manuscript, "Genève et Lausanne 1912, format 7 x 11"

Lecture notes headed "Locomotion Aerienne" which Borel presented in the town of Vevey on 21 February 1913, according to his annotation. 40 pages typed, heavily annotated, contained in a folder.

Ephemeral items of historical aviation interest, such as:

Two copy print photographs of Agénor Parmelin (1884-1917), Swiss pioneer aviator, and military aviation instructor, who is best remembered as the first man to fly an aeroplane over Mont Blanc on 11 February 1914 and thus connecting Geneva to Aosta (I). He died in 1917 in Varese in a seaplane accident. Together with an article from a German newspaper announcing the successful Mont Blanc flight, with a photographic image of Borel congratulating Parmelin.

• Two consecutive issues of a Swiss newspaper called "L'Image de la vie moderne" of special interest to Swiss aviation, with photographic images on the front covers, and several related articles, both printed in 1919. Swiss aviation pioneer Oskar Bider makes the front cover of one of the issues; he was the first person to cross the Alps in a plane on a route from Bern to Milan, a feat he completed in 1913.

• The calling card of Ernest Burri (1887-1969), a Swiss pioneer aviator, a test pilot French aviation company Chantiers Aéro-Maritimes de la Seine (CAMS), and runner-up in 1914 edition of the Schneider Cup.

• An invitation to an event hosted by the Aéro-Club Suisse in Brigue in 1920 to erect the monument to honour Peruvian aviator Jorge Chávez Dartnell.

• Newspaper clippings, printed articles, and periodicals from the period, each announcing or describing major events in the history of aviation

• A colour printed chart of aviation ensigns

Etienne Edmond Borel (1858-1928) was a founding member of l'Aéro-Club (the Swiss Aviation Club, CSA), serving as president from 1909 to until 1919, and a leading active advocate for establishing a Swiss military Air Force. The 1912-1913 hydraviation meetings were organized under his authority. He was also a well-known lecturer at the Military Society of Geneva, well before his debut at the Aero-Club. Attaining the rank of Colonel in the military, he led a regiment from 1909 to 1915 during the first 2 years of the General Mobilization.

In 1911, when he commanding the 34th Infantry Regiment, he was appointed to the first Army Corps maneuvers. At this time, he convinced the Swiss Aviation Club to disburse 2,000 francs for an aircraft to participate in maneuvers for the first time in Switzerland. The event took place in September 1911, selecting aviators Ernest Failloubaz and Charles Lecoultre to perform.

A great debate then took place across Switzerland concerning a future military aviation corps, which so many nearby nations had developed. In mid-1912 Borel sent a memorandum to the Chief of the General Staff to obtain an annual credit of 50,000 francs for the training of private pilots, enabling them to participate in military exercises with their own aircraft. He had a further vision of a military school equipped with seven aircraft for twenty aviators, which would make it possible to found a first company of eight airplanes. Letters and reports in the present archive show his efforts in planning for just such an aviation school. At the end of November, he also proposed to the General Staff to purchase aircraft and train 50 pilots within two years, for 530,000 francs. The Swiss government was not yet ready for these programs, but Borel continued to give lectures on the subject, in various cities.

Finally, in Friborg, a large meeting of Swiss officers assembled to create a national collection for aviation (Flugspende), and by the end of 1913 they had raised 1,7 million francs. In January 1914, the CSA offered the Prix Borel, a prize of 500 francs, to the first two future military aviators. Subsequently, the Federal Military Department (DMF) commissioned Borel into a team to study the feasibility of creating an air force troop, preferrably funded by civilian capital. Eventually, the DMF created an aviation troop on the model proposed by Borel. Assigned to this service, Borel contributes greatly to its success, and in 1914 the Swiss Royal Air Force was founded. In 1918 Borel was transferred to the General Staff in Berne. After the Armistice was signed in November, however, his attention returned to the Swiss Aviation Club. Although it had lost its exclusivity in aviation due to the military development, it survived the war with 40 members, and continued it activities.

The Swiss Air Force (Schweizer Luftwaffe; Forces aériennes suisses; Forze aeree svizzere; Aviatica militara svizra) was established on 31 July 1914 as part of the Swiss army, although in very modest form. The outbreak of World War I increased public and government support for military aviation quite significantly, and thus cavalry officer Theodor Real was charged with forming a flying corps. He commandeered three civilian aircraft at Bern's airfield and set about training the initial nine pilots at a makeshift airfield close to Wankdorf Stadium, later moving to a permanent home at Dübendorf. Switzerland remained neutral and isolated during the conflict, the air corps therefore confining its activities to training and exercises, reconnaissance and patrol. During the worldwide economic crisis - the 1930s Great Depression - Switzerland saw it fit to established an effective air force, doing so at great cost. Finally, in October 1936 the Swiss Air Force became an independent service.

Current Condition

Occasional creasing or chips to margins, otherwise the lot in very good condition