Wings of War: Francesco Baracca

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Francesco Baracca was born at Lugo di Romagna on May 9th, 1888. In October of 1907, he was admitted to the military school at Modena where he proved one of the best students. In less than a year, he rose to the rank of Cavalry officer and was assigned to the Royal Piedmontese Regiment. Almost immediately, he became interested in aeronautics and in July of 1912, he earned his pilot's license after taking a course at Reims, in France.

When war broke out between Italy and Austria, Baracca was already an expert pilot and a capable instructor. His brilliant career as a flying ace began on April 7th, 1916, at 7 AM. Baracca was flying a Nieuport 11 "Bèbè" when he earned his first recognized victory — together with the pilot Tacchini, who was flying a Ni.10, Baracca wounded the crew of the Brandenburg CI 61.57, a member of Flik 19 (Adolf Ott and Franz Lenarcic), and forced them to land. This event, and the shooting down of the Brandenburg 61.59, on the same day, constituted the Italian Air force’s first two confirmed victories.

Though these were the first two victories declared by Italy, on November 19th, 1915, Baracca himself had shot down an Albatros B I 24.17 belonging to Flik 4, and flown by korporal Adolf Veselic and lieutenant Ludwig Riesenecker. While the Austrians registered the emergency landing behind their lines, the Italians never claimed this victory.

In Spring 1917, Baracca was assigned to the newly constituted 91a Squadriglia (91st Squadron), later known as the "Aces' Squadron", which he would command himself. His courage and skill earned him many medals, and he was proposed for a Gold Medal upon earning his 30th victory.

On June 16th, 1918, during the great Battle on the river Piave, Francesco Baracca shot down the last two of the 34 enemy planes for which he was officially credited. Three days later, on the evening of June 19th, his life came tragically to an end on the slopes of the Montello hill. Historians theorize that he was hit by ground artillery while he was strafing the Austro-Hungarian positions to support the infantry. Some sources declare the body of Major Francesco Baracca was found partly burned close to his SPAD VII only three days after he was shot down. It seems he still held the service gun he would have used rather than perish among the flames.

The prancing black stallion emblem which he chose as a personal embellishment on his aircraft was adopted in 1923 by a racing car manufacturer, and is featured to this day on thecars made by his company: Ferrari.

The aircraft shown, registration number S7206, is the first SPAD XIII to reach Italy on September 1917, and remained the only one for over five months. It was assigned to the 91st Squadron and was flown by Francesco Baracca, the Squadron commander. The aircraft was wholly the color of natural canvass: at the time photographs were taken, the famous rearing black colt did not appear. Probably the time constraints posed by war-time combat during those times meant the emblem was never painted on to the plane.

Baracca used this craft or alternately SPAD VII, during the desperate duels following the Italian retreat from Caporetto. He was also forced to carry out an emergency landing with this plane on October 25th, 1917, after having been shot by a German double-seater he later shot down. Overall he scored three victories using this aircraft, shooting down as many DFW C.5 planes: two of these were earned on October 22nd (or on the 21st according to the official records), another on the 15h November. This SPAD was irreparably damaged during a night bombing raid on February 22nd, 1918. However, eight days before other five SPAD planes had reached the 91st Squadron, and Baracca begun using one of those, with which he scored his last two victories.