Air Aces of World War One

Count Francesco Baracca – Italy’s No.1 Ace 1888 / 1918 Pt.3

  Baracca temporarily upgraded to a Spad XIII in October 1917 and used it to score a couple of victories, one on the 22nd and a joint one on the 25th with Pier Piccio. that night he wrote, ‘ I had my Spad shot up, and its longeron broken in to pieces by enemy fire in an aerial dogfight.’ As a result, Baracca returned to the more manoeuvrable Spad VII, Remarking, ‘ It doesn’t matter that the VII has only one machine gun. provided you are a good fighter a single gun is enough’ although once it was fully airworthy he occasionally flew sorties with the Spad XIII.

A dedicated fighter pilot, Baracca chose to spend as much time as he could at the front, and remained as much as possible with the 91st Squadriglia even when promoted to Maggiore in November 1917. A modest, sensitive man he remained conscious of his duties, both to his squadron comrades and to his defeated enemies. He would try to visit his victims in hospital to pay his respects, Or he would place a wreath on the grave of those he killed. His score of victories stood at 30 by the end of 1917.

Soon afterwards, Baracca, Piccio and Ruffo di Calabria were charged with evaluating the Ansoldo A1 ‘Balilla’ fighter. Baracca was personally decorated by King Victor Emmanuel III at this time. It was March 1918, before Baracca finally convinced the authorities to allow him to return to front line duties. He was not back at the front for long before he found himself in the same position as the previous October, his Squadron was forced to withdraw due to enemy advances on 27th April 1918. It was around this time that he introduced the ‘Griffon’ insignia for his squadron’s aircraft. Most of his pilot’s adopted it, although some still flaunted the prancing stallion in respect to their leader.

Baracca saw little action in 1918, but added more victories, his total now stood at 34, before failing to return from a mission on the Montello area on the 19th of June. The Italians were taking advantage of their air superiority to fly treetop ground attack missions in to a hail of small arms fire. In the 06.30 troop support mission, Baracca and rookie pilot Tenente Franco Osnago were hit by ground fire and separated from each other. A few minutes later both Osnago and observers at their home airfield saw a burning airplane fall. His death, shot in the back of the head was claimed by An Austrian two- seater but even today it is disputed. Like the death of the Red Baron, he was being shot at from the air and extensive fire from the ground, it would be difficult in the least to say whose shot led to his demise. Baracca’s 34 victories were confirmed by both Italian and Austro- Hungarian sources. After the war, Baracca’s mother presented Enzo Ferrari with her son’s Prancing horse insignia and it is carried by Ferrari cars even today.

(C) Damian Grange 2018

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