Tag Archives: Medaglia d’Argento al Valore Militare

13 November 1926

Regia Aeronautica Macchi M.39, MM.76, winner of the 1926 Schneider Trophy Race. (U.S. Air Force)
Regia Aeronautica Macchi M.39, MM.76, winner of the 1926 Schneider Trophy Race. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Mario de Bernardi, Regia Aeronautica
Colonel Mario de Bernardi, Regia Aeronautica

13 November 1926: The 1926 race for the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider (the Schneider Trophy) was held at Hampton Roads, a large natural harbor between southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, two states on the Atlantic coast of the United States. There were an estimated 30,000 spectators. The race consisted of seven laps of a 50 kilometer (31 miles) triangular course.

The location of each race went to the country whose national team had won the previous year. Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, Air Service, United States Army, had won the 26 October 1925 race at Baltimore, Maryland, flying a Curtiss R3C-2 to an average speed of 232.57 miles per hour (374.29 kilometers per hour).

The 1926 Schneider Race included three Italian and three American airplanes. The British team’s aircraft were not ready so they did not compete.

Captain,Arturo Ferrin, Regia Aeronautica (1895–1941)
Captain Arturo Ferrarin, Regia Aeronautica (1895–1941)

All three Regia Aeronautica pilots, Major Mario de Bernardi, Captain Arturo Ferrarin, and Lieutenant Adriano Bacula, flew Macchi M.39 seaplanes, powered by the Fiat AS.2 V-12 engine.

The American team used three different Curtiss biplanes, each with a different Curtiss V-12 engine. 1st Lieutenant Christian Frank Schilt, United States Marine Corps, flew a Curtiss R3C-2, serial number A.7054, carrying race number 6. Schilt’s airplane was powered by a Curtiss V-1400. Lieutenant William Gosnell Tomlinson, U.S. Navy, flew a Curtiss F6C-3 Hawk, A.7128, with race number 2. This airplane was equipped with a Curtiss D-12A. Lieutenant George T. Cuddihy, U.S. Navy, flew a Curtiss R3C-4, A.6979, with race number 4, with a Curtiss V-1550.

Christian Frank Schilt in the cockpit of the Curtis R3C-2 racer, number 6. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
1st Lieutenant Christian Frank Schilt, U.S. Marine Corps, in the cockpit of the Curtis R3C-2 racer, A.7054, race number 6. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
The Italian team celebrates their victory (Virginia Aviation) by Roger Connor at Page 42

The race was delayed for two days because of adverse weather conditions. The race began at 2:35 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, with the first of three Italian racers entering the course.  Airplanes departed at intervals to avoid coming too close to each other while flying the course.

De Bernardi finished the seven laps in 52 minutes, 56.22 seconds, averaging 246.496 miles per hour (396.697 kilometers per hour). Schilt finished in second place in 56 minutes, 23.96 seconds, at 231.364 miles per hour (372.344 kilometers per hour). Bacula was third at 59 minutes, 51.31 seconds, at 218.006 miles per hour (350.847 kilometers per hour). Fourth place went to Tomlinson, completing the course in 1 hour, 35 minutes, 16.72 seconds, at 136.954 miles per hour (220.406 kilometers per hour). Ferrarin’s airplane had an oil line break and he made a precautionary landing at the end of his fourth lap. A fuel pump on Cuddihy’s airplane failed, and his engine stopped. He touched down short of the finish line on his seventh and final lap.

Aeronautica Macchi M.39, circa 1926. (Unattributed)
Aeronautica Macchi M.39 at Lago di Varese, August 1926. (Unattributed)

The Macchi M.39 racing float plane was designed by Mario Castoldi. It is a single engine, single-place, low-wing monoplane with two pontoons, or floats. The wing is externally braced, has 0° dihedral, and incorporates surface radiators. The M.39 is 6.473 meters (22 feet, 2.8 inches) long with a wingspan of 9.26 meters (30 feet, 4.6 inches) and height of 3.06 meters (10 feet, 0.5 inches). The empty weight of the Schneider Trophy racer is 1,300 kilograms (2,866 pounds) and its maximum gross weight is 1,615 kilograms (3,560 pounds).

The M.39 is powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 31.403 liter (1,916.329 cubic inch) Fiat AS.2 DOHC 60° V-12 direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 6:1. It used three carburetors and two magnetos, and produced 882 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. The engine drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch metal propeller designed by Dr. Sylvanus A. Reed. The AS.2 engine was designed by Tranquillo Zerbi, based on the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company’s D-12 engine. The engine was 1.864 meters (6 feet, 1.4 inches) long, 0.720 meters (2 feet, 4.4 inches) wide and 0.948 meters (3 feet, 1.3 inches) high. It weighed 412 kilograms (908 pounds).

The Macchi M.39 could reach 420 kilometers per hour (261 miles per hour).

Macchi M.39 MM.76 is in the collection of the Aeronautica Militare museum.

Macchi M.39 MM.76 (Bergefalke2/Wikipedia)
Macchi M.39 MM.76 (Bergefalke2/Wikipedia)

Mario de Bernardi served in the Italian Army during the Italo-Turkish War, 1911–1912, and became a pilot during World War I. He rose to the rank of colonel in the Regia Aeronautica. He set several world aviation records and continued his work as a test pilot. He died in 1959 at the age of 65 years.

Adriano Bacula also set several world records. He was killed in an airplane crash in Slovenia, 18 April 1938.

Arturo Ferrarin, another world record holder, was killed while testing an experimental airplane, 18 July 1941.

Christian Frank Schilt enlisted as a private in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1917. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Nicaragua, 6–8 January 1928. During World War II, Schilt served as Commander, Marine Air Group 11 during the Solomons Campaign, and later went on to command Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. He retired from the Marine Corps with the rank of General in 1957, and died in 1987 at the age of 91 years.

William Gosnell Tomlinson was a 1919 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. During his career in the U.S. Navy, he commanded the aircraft carrier USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24), Carrier Division 3, USS Boxer (CVA-21), USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) and served as Commander, Task Force 77 (CTF 77) during the Korean War. During World War II, Tomlinson was awarded the Navy Cross, and twice, the Legion of Merit with Combat “V”. He retired in 1953 as a Vice Admiral, and died in 1972 at the age of 75 years.

George T. Cuddihy was a 1918 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. he was the Navy’s chief test pilot. He was killed while testing a Bristol Type 105 Bulldog II fighter, Bu. No. A8485 (c/n 7358) at Anacostia Naval Air Station, 25 November 1929.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 October 1918

Wing Commander William George Barker, VC, DSO and Bar, MC and two Bars, Royal Air Force, Angleterre, 1918. (Library and Archives Canada)
Wing Commander William George Barker, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, M.C. and Two Bars, Royal Air Force, England, 1918. (Swaine / Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / PA-122516)

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 09.15.01Air Ministry,

30th November, 1918.

     His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned Officers of the Royal Air Force, in recognition of bravery of the highest possible order :—

     Capt. (A./Major) William George Barker, D.S.O., M.C., No. 201 Sqn., R.A. Force.

     On the morning of 27th October, 1918, this officer observed an enemy two-seater over Fôret de Mormal. He attacked this machine, and after a short burst it broke up in the air. At the same time a Fokker biplane attacked him, and he was wounded in the right thigh, but managed despite this, to shoot down the enemy aeroplane in flames.

     He then found himself in the middle of a large formation of Fokkers, who attacked him from all directions; and was again severely wounded in the left thigh, but succeeded in driving down two of the enemy in a spin.

     He lost consciousness after this, and his machine fell out of control. On recovery he found himself being again attacked heavily by a large formation, and singling out one machine, he deliberately charged and drove it down in flames.

     During this fight his left elbow was shattered and he again fainted, on on regaining consciousness he found himself still being attacked, but, notwithstanding that he was now severely wounded in both legs and his left arm shattered, he dived on the nearest machine and shot it down in flames.

     Being greatly exhausted, he dived out of the fight to regain our lines, but was met with another formation, which attacked and endeavoured to cut him off, but after a hard fight he succeeded in breaking up this formation and reached our lines, where he crashed on landing.

     This combat, in which Major Barker destroyed four enemy machines (three of them in flames), brought his total successes up to fifty enemy machines destroyed, and is a notable example of the exceptional bravery and disregard of danger which this very gallant officer has always displayed throughout his distinguished career.

     Major Barker was awarded the Military Cross on 10th January, 1917; first Bar on 18th July, 1917; the Distinguished Service Order on 18th February, 1918; second Bar to Military Cross on 16th September, 1918; and Bar to Distinguished Service Order on 2nd November, 1918.

The London Gazette, Second Supplement to The London Gazette of FRIDAY, the 29th of NOVEMBER 1918, Number 31042 at Pages 14203, 14204

The Victoria Cross was presented to Major Barker at Buckingham Palace, 1 March 1919. Still recovering from his wounds, Barker could only walk a few paces to receive the medal.

Captain William G. Barker’s Sopwith Snipe 7F.1, E8102. (Royal Air Force Museum)

William George Barker is Canada’s most highly-decorated military serviceman. He was born 3 November 1894 at Dauphin, in the Parkland Region of Manitoba, Canada. He was the first of nine children of George William John Barker, a farmer, and Jane Victoria Alguire Barker.

William G. Barker’s medals. Left to right: Victoria Cross; Distinguished Service Order and Bar; Military Cross and two Bars; 1914–1915 Star; British War Medal; Victory Medal with Mention in Despatches leaf spray; Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (Italy), Croix de guerre with star (France): and a second Silver Medal of Military Valor. (Canadian War Museum)

At the opening of World War I, Barker, having previously served with the 32nd Manitoba Horse, enlisted as a trooper with the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles. He was trained as a machine gunner and sent to Europe with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His unit fought in the 3rd Battle of Ypres. In early 1917, Barker volunteered as a gunner in the Royal Flying Corps, and after training, was commissioned a second lieutenant. He flew as an observer and gunner aboard a Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2. Lieutenant Barker shot down at least two enemy aircraft, and was instrumental in calling artillery fire on massed enemy troops. He and his pilot were awarded the Military Cross.

From December 1916 to February 1917, Lieutenant Barker went through pilot training in England. It is reported that he soloed after less than one hour of instruction. After qualifying as a pilot, he returned to the Continent, serving with No. 15 Squadron. In May 1917, Barker was promoted to the rank of captain and placed in command of one of the squadron’s flights. During this period, Captain Barker was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross (a second award). Barker was wounded in August 1917 and was returned to England to recuperate, then spent some time as a flight instructor. He returned to France in October.

Captain Barker was transferred to 28 Squadron and assigned a Sopwith Camel F.1, B.6313. The squadron was sent to Italy, where Hawker engaged in attacking balloons and enemy facilities. He was promoted to major and awarded the Distinguished Service Order and a second bar to his Military Cross (a third award).

William George Barker, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, M.C. and Two Bars, Royal Air Force, 1919. (Toronto Star)
Wing Commander William George Barker, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, M.C. and Two Bars, Royal Air Force, 1919. (Toronto Star)

In the battle in which he earned the Victoria Cross, 27 October 1918, Barker was flying a Sopwith Snipe F7.1, E8102. He was very seriously wounded. In addition to the decorations of the United Kingdom, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre of France, and Italy’s Medaglia d’Argento al Valore Militare.

Barker flew more than 900 hours in combat during World War I. He is officially credited with destroying 50 enemy aircraft, including 9 balloons. All but the last four enemy airplanes were destroyed while flying B6313, his personal Sopwith Camel. (B6313 shot down more aircraft than any other fighter in history.)

Returning to Canada at the end of the War, he and fellow Canadian ace Billy Bishop formed Bishop-Barker Company, Ltd., and then Bishop-Barker Aeroplanes, a charter, aircraft sales and maintenance company.

William Barker married Miss Jean Bruce Kilbourn Smith, 1 June 1921, at Grace Church on-the-Hill, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. They had one daughter, Jean Antoinette Barker.

Billy Barker returned to military service with the newly-formed Canadian Air Force and was commissioned a wing commander. He was assigned to command Camp Borden Air Station. In 1924, Wing Commander Barker was assigned as Acting Director, the highest position in the C.A.F., until the creation of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Barker was then assigned as a liaison officer to the Royal Air Force. He attended the Royal Air Force Staff College from May 1925 to March 1926. Barker resigned from the R.C.A.F. in 1926, refusing to serve under an officer he did not respect.

Wing Commander William George Barker, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, M.C. and Two Bars, Acting Director, Canadian Air Force, 1 April 1924–18 May 1924. (DND Archives RE64-236)

After leaving the military service, Barker worked at several positions, including the first president of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. In 1930, he joined Fairchild Aircraft as a vice-president.

On 12 March 1930, while demonstrating a Fairchild KR-21, CF-AKR (s/n 1021) at Rockcliffe Air Station near Ottawa, Ontario, the airplane went out of control and crashed onto the ice-bound Ottawa River. William George Barker was killed. He was just 35 years old.

Wreck of Fairchild KR-21 CF-AKR (DND Archives RE74-165)

Following a state funeral, the body of Wing Commander William George Barker, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, M.C. and Two Bars, Royal Canadian Air Force, was interred at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. More than 50,000 people lined the streets leading to the cemetery.

William George Barker Memorial at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Ontario War Memorials)
William George Barker Memorial at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Ontario War Memorials)

The Sopwith Snipe 7F.1 was a single-engine, two-bay biplane designed by Herbert Smith to replace the Sopwith Camel F.1. Fifteen Snipes were sent to France in August 1918 for evaluation. William Barker selected one of these, E8102, as his personal airplane. The Snipe was 19 feet, 10 inches (6.045 meters) long with a wingspan of 31 feet, 1 inch (9.474 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 6 inches ( meters). It had an empty weight of 1,312 pounds (595 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,020 pounds (916 kilograms).

Sopwith Snipe 7F.1. B9966, the fifth prototype, was used for development testing at Martlesham Heath.. (BAE Systems)

The Snipe was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 24.938 liter (1,521.808 cubic-inch-displacement) Bentley BR.2 nine-cylinder rotary engine, manufactured by Humber, Ltd., Coventry, England. The engine had a compression ratio of 5.2:1 and was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,250 r.p.m.

Sopwith Snipe 7F.1, left front quarter. (Royal Air Force Museum)
Sopwith Snipe 7F.1, front view. (Wingnut Wings)
Sopwith Snipe 7F.1 E8006, left rear quarter. (Royal Air Force Museum)

The Snipe had a maximum speed of 121 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and a service ceiling of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).

The fighter was armed with two Vickers .303 Mk.I machine guns synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc.

Sopwith Snipe 7F.1 E8044, right rear quarter.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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