The first-ever air raid in history was on August 22, 1849, and involved Venice.
The Republic of Venice had been independent for more than 1,000 years before it was conquered in 1797 by Napoleon, who ceded it to Austria later that year. In 1848, a year during which revolutions swept through Europe, Daniele Manin led a revolt against Austrian rule, declaring Venice to be a republic.
The Austrians retaliated by blockading Venice, causing starvation, disease and hunger. “Although Austrian Field Marshall von Radetsky beleaguered the city by land and sea, his siege artillery couldn’t get close enough to bear fire on the whole city because of its formidable coastal defences and shallow Lagoons,” according to the 2005 documentary “On a Wind and a Prayer.”
A young Austrian artillery lieutenant named Franz von Uchatius hatched the idea of launching balloons carrying explosives over Venice. The first attempt carried out on July 12, 1849, failed because the wind was not in Austria’s favour.
In the second attempt, on Aug. 22, the balloons, measuring 5.7 meters in diameter and using “charcoal and greasy cotton as a continuous combustion source,” were released from a “stable platform at sea,” according to the documentary.
According to Monash University professor Russell Naughton, about 200 of balloons, carrying 33 pounds of explosives and armed with half-hour time fuses, were launched into Venice that day. The balloons caused minimal damage to Venice and some even blew back towards the Austrians.