Monday, December 12, 2016

Count Francesco Baracca

Count Francesco Baracca was Italy's top fighter ace of World War I, credited with 34 aerial victories.

After Italy's entry into the war in May 1915, Baracca, a then cavalry officer, was sent to Paris to train with the Nieuport two-seater aircraft. Upon his return in July, he was assigned to the 8th Squadron Nieuport. The Italian pilots soon found the Nieuport 10 were too slow, with too slow a rate of climb and almost useless against the better equipped enemy.
When the Nieuport 11 single-seat fighter with Lewis guns entered service in April 1916 Baracca scored his first victory, bringing down an Austrian Hansa-Brandenburg C.I. This was also Italy's first aerial victory in the war.
This first victory featured his favorite manoeuvre, which was to zoom in unseen behind and below an enemy and fire his machine gun from short range.
Baracca now piloting the Nieuport 17 scored his second victory, an Austrian Lohner over Gorizia on 23 April 1916. Flying the Nieuport 17 and then, from March 1917, the SPAD VII, he scored well in both aircraft on his way to being Italy’s top ace.

Baracca adopted, as a personal emblem, a black prancing horse on his aircraft in tribute to his former cavalry regiment. (The emblem he wore on his plane of a black horse prancing on its two rear feet inspired Enzo Ferrari to use the symbol of the Scuderia Ferrari racing team since 1929, and of Ferrari automobiles since they began manufacture.)

Baracca remained a modest, sensitive man conscious of his duty and compassionate to both his squadron comrades and to his defeated enemies. He would try to visit his victims in hospital afterwards, to pay his respects, or he would place a wreath on the grave of those he killed.

Baracca's friend Fulco Ruffo di Calabria nearly ended Baracca's career—and life—in June 1917. Ruffo di Calabria burst out of a cloud firing in a head-on pass at an enemy airplane, and barely missed Baracca. Later, on the ground, Baracca assured his companion, "Dear Fulco, next time, if you want to shoot me down, aim a couple of meters to the right. Now let's go for a drink and not talk of it any more!"

Although not documented, it is believed Baracca was killed by ground fire while on a strafing mission near the Montello area on June 19, 1918. A monument in his memory was later built on the site.

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