At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Francesco Baracca – flying ace

Italy’s most successful First World War fighter pilot


Francesco Baracca alongside his Spad XIII with the  family's prancing stallion logo displayed on the side
Francesco Baracca alongside his Spad XIII with the
family's prancing stallion logo displayed on the side
Italy’s top fighter pilot of the First World War, Francesco Baracca, died in action on this day in 1918.

He had been flying a strafing mission against Austro-Hungarian ground troops in support of an Italian attack on the Montello Hill, about 17km (11 miles) north of Treviso in the Veneto, on which he was accompanied by a rookie pilot, Tenente Franco Osnago.

They split from one another after being hit by ground fire but a few minutes later, Osnago saw a burning plane falling from the sky.  Witnesses on the ground saw it too. Osnago flew back to his base but Baracca never returned.

Only when the Austro-Hungarian troops were driven back was the wreckage of Baracca’s Spad VII aircraft found in a valley.  His body was discovered a few metres away.

A monument in his memory was later built on the site. Osnago, fellow pilot Ferruccio Ranza and a journalist recovered his body. It was taken back to his home town of Lugo in the province of Ravenna, where a large funeral was held.

Francesco Baracca in his airman's uniform in 1916
Francesco Baracca in his airman's
uniform in 1916
It is thought that Barocca was seeking to provide Osnago with cover from above as he swooped on enemy trenches when he was attacked by an Austrian plane and downed.  The official version of events, written in the interests of propaganda, was that he had been hit by groundfire but records later showed a kill claimed by the crew of an Austrian two-seater, who noted the exact time and location of the engagement and took a photograph of the shot-down aircraft.

Mystery surrounded the condition of Baracca’s body, which reportedly bore the marks of a bullet to the head, while his pistol was out of its holster. This led to speculation that he had taken his life as the plane fell, rather than be killed in the crash or taken prisoner.

Baracca had claimed a total of 34 aerial victories, which made him the most successful of all Italy’s First World War flying aces.

His first came in 1916, flying a French-built Nieuport II, equipped with Lewis guns.  His victim was an Austrian Hansa-Brandenburg CI, which he hit in the fuel tank.  It was also Italy's first aerial victory in the war, brought about by what would become his favourite manoeuvre, which was to zoom in unseen behind and below an enemy.

The monument to Baracca erected on the spot where his plane fell
The monument to Baracca erected
on the spot where his plane fell
From the 1a Squadriglia Caccia, Baracca transferred to the 70a Squadriglia, where he was promoted to captain, before moving again, with nine victories, to the newly formed 91st Squadriglia, known as the "Squadron of the Aces", flying the Spad VII and Spad XIII planes. Soon, his ever-increasing list of victories made him nationally famous.

He had entered the Military Academy of Modena in October 1907 and became a cavalryman with the prestigious Piemonte Reale Cavalleria Regiment on his commissioning in 1910. He became interested in aviation and learned to fly at Reims, France, receiving his pilot's licence in July 1912.

From a wealthy landowning background, Baracca had the title of Count. The family’s coat of arms bore the black prancing stallion symbol he attached to all his aircraft.
  
Baracca's mother is said to have presented the emblem, the Cavallino Rampante, to Enzo Ferrari, who incorporated it as part of the badge displayed by cars belonging to his Scuderia Ferrari racing team and in time all Ferrari automobiles.

Lugo's main square contains a huge memorial to Baracca
Lugo's main square contains a huge memorial to Baracca
Travel tip:

The town of Lugo, Baracca’s place of birth, is situated in the Emilia-Romagna countryside between the cities of Bologna and Ravenna.  From above, coincidentally, some say the shape of the town resembles an aircraft. The town’s landmark is the Rocca Estense, an Este-family fortress that now contains the town hall. Next to the fortress is a monument to Baracca erected in 1936 and town also has a museum dedicated to him, in his former house, which displays mementos, uniforms, medals from Baracca's life, as well as rudders and guns taken from shot-down aircraft.

Artillery shells stockpiled in Crocetta, which was on the front line in World War One
Artillery shells stockpiled in Crocetta, which
was on the front line in World War One
Travel tip:

The village of Crocetta del Montello, once known as Crocetta Trevigiana, the nearest community to where Baracca was shot down, suffered badly because of the First World War. It had become prosperous after the construction, in 1882, of a vast hemp rope mill, providing employment and helping the area acquire resources including electricity, thanks to water-driven generators set up on the Brentella river. But the mill was destroyed during the 1918 battle that Baracca was supporting – the Battle of the Solstice. It was rebuilt only to be hit by global financial crises, forcing it to close in 1938, leaving an unemployment problem and triggering the bankruptcy of many local businesses that depended on it



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