29 December 2017

Luigi Olivari – flying ace

First World War pilot claimed 19 victories

Luigi Olivari was only 25 when he was killed in a crash near Udine
Luigi Olivari was only 25 when he was killed
in a crash near Udine
Lieutenant Luigi Olivari, a pilot in the military aviation corps of the Royal Italian Army who was decorated with a string of awards for valour in action, was born on this day in 1891 in La Spezia, the maritime city on the coast of what is now Liguria.

Olivari became a proficient aerial duellist, claiming to have downed 19 enemy aircraft as Italian planes took on Austro-Hungarian opponents after Italy had joined the war on the side of the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia.

Only eight of these were confirmed, yet Olivari was awarded four silver and two bronze medals for valour by the Italian government, as well as the French Croix de guerre and the Serbian Order of the Star of Karadorde.

The last of his silver medals was awarded posthumously after he was killed on October 13, 1917 when his Spad VII aircraft stalled and crashed during take-off at the Santa Caterina airfield just outside Udine in northwest Italy.

Born to middle-class parents in La Spezia, as a boy he moved with his family to Turin.

A Spad VII similar to the one flown by Luigi Olivari
A Spad VII similar to the one flown by Luigi Olivari
A good all-round sportsman and an accomplished motorcyclist, Olivari entered the school for civil pilots at Mirafiori, just outside Turin, and obtained his Aero Club’s pilots licence on November 27, 1914.

In May 1915, the week before Italy entered the war, Olivari applied for military pilot's training. He qualified in June and in January 2016 was assigned to fly in the 1a Squadriglia (later redesignated as 70a Squadriglia). 

He scored his first confirmed aerial victory on April 7 - only the second success in the air for Italy – having claimed an earlier success that went unconfirmed.

In September 1916, Olivari was commissioned as a Sottotenente - sub-lieutenant. By April 1917, he was specifically assigned two aircraft—a Spad VII and a Nieuport 17 ser. no. 3127.

In May 1917, he was transferred to the newly formed fighter squadron 91a Squadriglia and than loaned to 77a Squadriglia for about a month. He was subsequently promoted to Tenente and assigned as an Ansaldo SVA.5 test pilot for the Technical Directorate.

Olivari won many awards for valour and claimed to have shot down 19 enemy aircraft
Olivari won many awards for valour and claimed to have
shot down 19 enemy aircraft
In February 1919, some 16 months after his death, the Bongiovanni military intelligence commission issued its final determination of Italian aerial victories during the First World War. Olivari's score was cut to eight confirmed victories. Notable for their exclusion were some victories that were noted in Olivari's award citations.

The Ghedi Air Force base, near Brescia, home of the Regia Aeronautica 6th Stormo (6th Wing) was named in his memory after the war.

There are streets named after Luigi Olivari in San Maurizio Canavese, near Turin’s airport, and in the Ligurian city of Genoa.

Piazza Garibaldi in La Spezia
Piazza Garibaldi in La Spezia
Travel tip:

Overshadowed by its chic neighbours in the Cinque Terre, the port town of La Spezia, home to Italy's largest naval base, tends to be overlooked as a travel destination but offers an affordable alternative base for touring the area, although it is worth inclusion anyway. Nowadays, it is one of Italy’s busiest ports, yet the narrow streets of the old city are deeply atmospheric and have plenty to interest visitors, with a wealth of good restaurants showing off the best Ligurian cuisine.

Travel tip:

Santa Caterina near Udine is best known as the original site of one of the oldest fairs in Italy, which began in 1380 to honour Saint Catherine of Alexandria, who was supposedly beheaded by the Romans for not sacrificing animals to the gods.  Since 1485 the fair has been held within the city walls, in Piazza I Maggio in the municipality of Pasian di Prato.  It is held every year from around November 25 with an array of stalls, although the fairground rides that accompanied it from the mid-1980s have now been moved to the Friuli stadium.

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