Maria Luisa Suprani: The Great War by Francesco Baracca

Maria Luisa Suprani
Ed. Carta Canta, Forlì (FC) 2020
Page 225, 18,00 euros

The author, Doctor of Philosophical Sciences and Conservatory graduate, describes, in this essay, the figure of Francesco Baracca, starting from an in-depth reading of his correspondence, the notes reported on the pages of his personal notebook and the testimonies of his fellow soldiers .

The early 900s were the years of the development of flight, the years of the coexistence of the "lighter than air" with the "heavier than air". In those years, exactly in 1906, Francesco Baracca visited the Universal Exposition of Milan, where he witnessed the ascension of seven balloons; the following year he entered the Military School of Modena to leave it, in 1909, with the rank of cavalry second lieutenant and enter the Cavalry Application School of Pinerolo. In the same year Wilbur Wright, in the Roman airport of Centocelle, gave flying lessons to two Italian officers, Mario Calderara, a naval officer, and Umberto Savoia, an army officer; in 1913 Enrico Forlanini, in Milan, made his first flight with the airship of his own design.

Those were the years when still "the cavalry continued to be the weapon of reference for young officers from a family background of ancient tradition, eager to establish themselves in a military career." But they were also the years in which this very noble weapon was heading towards decline to make way for the nascent aviation. "Before aviation established itself as a means of reconnaissance warfare, the task of exploration was entrusted, on the plain or on slightly undulating terrain, to the cavalry and in the mountains to squads of Alpine troops." Initially, therefore, it wasaccepted above all by virtue of the greater speed with which it could have replaced some cavalry tasks. [...] The flight of war thus found itself taking its first steps following the cavalry, flanking it and definitively overcoming it when the threshold reached by the general technological development combined with the sudden change of war requirements definitively opened the way for it."

Baracca, meanwhile, after informing his parents of his intention to devote himself to flying, went to France, to Reims, where he began to fly. Having obtained his pilot's license, on his return to Italy he was assigned to Airmen battalion, which was then part of the Army.

In Italy the concept of airplane had not yet been assimilated. In fact, there was still some distrust and, therefore, some resistance towards him. “The level of advanced technology that would have characterized the First World War decreed the obsolescence of the lighter than air, guilty of having diverted resources to a sector poorly endowed with foresight: the airships, in fact, proved to be attackable both by artillery of land, both by fighters.”

On 24 May 1915, the date of Italy's entry into the Great War, there were many technical deficiencies of the aircraft. “War aviators always fought with three enemies at the same time: with the Austrian aviator, with his own engine, with his own aircraft” wrote Fulco Ruffo di Calabria, pilot and colleague of Francesco Baracca. Not to mention that at the beginning of hostilities the Italian planes were without firearms.

On April 7, 1916 Baracca shot down the first Austrian plane, informing his father, by letter, where, "the description of the aircraft is replaced by the shock at the sight of the adversary," leaving room for solidarity: “I spoke at length with the Austrian rider, shaking his hand and encouraging him because he was very despondent,” wrote Baracca.

“For the pilots the most critical moment was not, as one might think, the actual combat. […] The most anguished moment was the one in which the winner, after realizing that he was still alive, went, when possible, to the downed aircraft for the usual checks.” He always respected the adverse fate of the fallen adversary "even through a sober participation in the enthusiasm that inevitably followed each of his brilliant statements."

In 1917, after the formal recognition of five victories, Baracca achieved the title of Ace.

On May 91, the XNUMXst squadron was formed, which went down in history as Squadron of the Aces. After just over a month, Baracca became its commander. And “if it was already difficult to join, being accepted into the group could prove even more difficult,” due to an implacable third degree to which those who aspired to join were subjected, aimed at discouraging the entry of any father's sons.

Meanwhile "lethal accidents inside the airfield had become a very serious problem": 693 were the airmen who died by accident compared to 225 killed in combat.

During the period of the conflict, 5.193 Italian pilots were trained and, in the first 8 months of 1918, aerial duels between Italians and Austro-Hungarians reached a considerable number of 2.225. However, Italian industry could not keep up with the demand for aircraft necessary for national needs.

“On June 19, 1918, Major Baracca was called to support the land forces engaged on Montello.” He had already achieved his 34th aerial victory. Take off at 18:15, he never returned to camp. "The body will be found at 15 pm on 24 June next to the remains of the aircraft in the locality of Busa delle Rane." There have been several hypotheses about his death over the years. “The official story was that he was hit by enemy ground fire.” There were also those who claimed that the major had shot himself, a hypothesis which was later abandoned.

Most probably Baracca was a victim of his cavalry. Indeed, he “He used to signal his victim to surrender peacefully before shooting. This gesture of exquisite chivalry was much appreciated by the Austrians: however, it did not find correspondence with an observer who, attacked by Baracca on Montello, took advantage of that instant of respite to discharge a few shots that knocked him down. So there was no fighting: “Francesco Baracca remains unconquered, hit by a ball on the forehead while looking his opponent in the eye, sacrificed while supporting the infantry soldiers who had unprecedented admiration for him.”

Gianlorenzo Capano