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.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Silvio Scaroni - fighter pilot

World War I ace was air force commander in World War II



Silvio Scaroni in the cockpit of the Hanriot HD.1 aeroplane in which he was most successful
Silvio Scaroni in the cockpit of the Hanriot HD.1
aeroplane in which he was most successful
Silvio Scaroni, a fighter pilot whose tally of aerial victories in the First World War was bettered only by Francesco Baracca among Italian flying aces, was born on this day in 1893 in Brescia.

Flying mainly the French-designed Hanriot HD.1 single-seater biplane, Scaroni had 26 confirmed successes out of 30 claimed.  Baracca, who was shot down and killed only a few months before the war ended, was credited with 34 victories.

Recalled to service, Scaroni became commander of the Italian air forces in Sicily during the Second World War, in which role he clashed with Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering, who claimed Scaroni did not provide enough support to Germany’s attempts to destroy strategically vital British bases on Malta.

Scaroni enlisted first with the Italian Army as a corporal in the 2nd Field Artillery. With the Italian entry to the First World War looking more likely - they took a neutral position at first - he transferred to the Italian Air Service in March, 1915, flying his first missions in September of that year as a reconnaissance pilot. Piloting French-built Caudron G.3 aircraft, he carried out 114 scouting missions in 20 months.

He was promoted to first lieutenant and assigned to another spotter squadron in January, 1917. Soon afterwards, he began combat training from the Malpensa airfield and was reassigned to a so-called ‘hunting’ squadron as a fighter pilot.

An Hanriot HD.1 similar to the one in which Scaroni  enjoyed so much success
An Hanriot HD.1 similar to the one in which Scaroni
enjoyed so much success
On November 3, Scaroni filed his first claim for an aerial victory, but it went unconfirmed. His first victory came 11 days later, on November 14, flying a Nieuport 17, also a French plane, when he brought down an enemy aircraft near Colbertaldo.

It was his only scalp flying the Nieuport, which was soon to be phased out. Ironically, the Hanriot HD.1 was rejected for service with French squadrons in favour of the SPAD S.7 but proved highly successful with both the Belgian and the Italian air forces.

In fact, some 831 HD.1s were produced by Italian companies under licence.

His success with the Hanriot began almost immediately, with a victory on November 18, the second of his career.

He shot down another enemy aircraft the following day, collecting two more victories in early December, and by the 19th of the month had chalked up six wins in total.

Then came an incredible day that earned him the status of hero among his peers and with the wider public.

It came on December 26, when his squadron’s base was attacked, according to his own description of the drama in an Italian magazine many years later, as many as 23 German-Austrian bombers in two waves.

Scaroni was promoted to the rank of General in World War Two
Scaroni was promoted to the rank
of General in World War Two
Scaroni, having spotted a “cloud of enemy bombers” in the distance at around 9am, fired up his Hanriot and had climbed to 4,000 feet even before his colleagues had taken off.  Despite being hopelessly outnumbered, his skill enabled him to weave in and out of the pack of bombers as they descended to begin dropping their bombs and was too quick for their gunners to line up an accurate strike on him.

He downed two of the enemy aircraft on his own among eight claimed by his squadron and the surviving bombers fled.  A second raid three hours later was also repelled without it even reaching the airfield, Scaroni claiming his third victory of the day. He thus ended his year with nine wins.

The last of his 26 aerial triumphs came on July 12, 1918, but he was wounded in the same engagement over Monte Tomatico in the Belluno Pre-Alps in Veneto.  The incident almost cost him his life after he lost consciousness and began to plunge towards the ground but fortunately was flying at sufficient altitude to recover his senses and make an emergency landing near Monte Grappa.

He was admitted to hospital and remained there for five months, taking no further part in the conflict.  He was awarded with the Gold Medal for Military Valor, adding to his previous two Silver medals and one Bronze medal.

Between the wars, Scaroni continued to serve his country in different capacities, including the position of aeronautical officer of the Italian embassy in London, moving to take a similar post in Washington.

Between 1935 and 1937 he commanded the Italian aeronautical military mission to establish flying schools in China.

During the Second World War he was promoted to General of the Army’s air division. Among his roles was commander of the Italian air forces of Sicily from December 1941 to January 1943.

After the conflict had ended, Scaroni retired to Cavalgese della Riviera, not far from Lake Garda. He died in Milan in 1977 at the age of 84.


The skyline of Belluno with the Duomo in the foreground  and the Dolomites providing a spectacular backdrop
The skyline of Belluno with the Duomo in the foreground
 and the Dolomites providing a spectacular backdrop
Travel tip:

Situated just over 100km (62 miles) north of Venice, Belluno sits in an elevated position above the Piave river with the majesty of the Dolomites just beyond it. It is a popular base from which to explore the mountains but is an attractive town in its own right, with many notable Renaissance–era buildings including the 16th century Cattedrale di San Martino on Piazza del Duomo and the nearby 15th century Palazzo dei Rettori, which is the former town hall. The Piazza dei Martiri, the scene of an execution of partisans during the Second World War, is now a popular meeting place. Local cuisines includes some unusual cheeses, including Schiz, a semi-soft cheese often served fried in butter.

Roman ruins are a feature of the city of Brescia
Roman ruins are a feature of the city of Brescia
Travel tip:

The city of Brescia, Scaroni’s place of birth, tends not to attract as many tourists as other cities in the area, partly because Bergamo, Verona and the lakes are nearby.  Yet its history goes back to Roman times and you can see remains from the forum, theatre and a temple. There are more recent, Venetian influences in the architecture of the Piazza della Loggia, which has a clock tower similar to the one in Saint Mark’s square. There are two cathedrals – the Duomo Vecchio and its younger neighbour, the Duomo Nuovo.

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