Aldo Fraccaroli: “Naval Photographer”

Aldo Fraccaroli, one of the greatest naval photographers of all time, was born on November 17th, 1919 in Trieste, Italy. For decades naval historians and casual viewers have admired the incredible work of this dedicated man. His father, Arnaldo, was a journalist for the large daily newspaper “Corriere della Sera”, while his mother, Lisetta Camerino, was a housewife originally from Trieste. During their residence in Trieste, Arnaldo was often assigned to foreign countries, amongst them Sweden and Hungary, while his wife received the support of her family. In 1925, six years after Aldo’s birth, the Fraccaroli family returned to Milan where Aldo entered school. He graduated, on schedule, from the “Berchet” lyceum (high school) in 1937.

Aldo Fraccaroli
The photographer retired in Lugano, Switzerland and passed away in March, 2010 at the age of 91

Life in the large Lombard metropolis was as far as it could be from the sea and the only exposure were vacations and trips aboard ships, such as the one on the Conte Grande, in 1933. It is in this period that Aldo Fraccaroli, using a Kodak “Hawk Eye” ,began taking snapshots of ships, including the first picture of a military vessel, the torpedo boat Grado.

After the first tries with the Kodak, Fraccaroli received a German Rolleiflex 6×6 with a Tassar lens. This was a real step toward professional photography. This was also the beginning of a long and illustrious professional life, which resulted in the establishment of a library of 3,700 volumes and the creation of one of the largest collections of naval pictures in the world, amounting to over 77,000 snapshots.

The first foray into international publishing circles took place after the great naval show in the Gulf of Naples (also known as “Rivista H”), which took place on May 5th 1938 with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in attendance. After the parade, the very respected Jane’s Fighting Ships published some of the pictures taken by the young photographer. This was a relationship which would last throughout the years, but which naturally had to be interrupted between 1940 and 1945. After the “Rivista H” Fraccaroli upgraded once again his equipment, acquiring another German camera, a Bentzin Permaflex 6×6 with exchangeable lenses.

Due to poor vision, Fraccaroli knew that he would have never passed the rigorous physical examination required to enter the Naval Academy in Leghorn, but with a new law passed in 1937, he was able to apply as an officer of the naval Reserve. He was admitted to the 1939 courses and he was at the Naval Academy of Leghorn when Germany invaded Poland. He entered service as sub-lieutenant in the commissary (purser) department; he would eventually retire with the rank of Captain.

After his commission, he served in the XII Minesweeping Flotilla based in Venice. In 1941 he was transferred to the XI Antisubmarine Group in Greece. In 1942, in part thanks to his frenetic activity as a photographer, Fraccaroli was transferred to the Ministry of the Navy in Rome. During the war period, Fraccaroli took some unique pictures, including those of the aircraft carrier Acquila, which, up to the present, remain the only testimony of the period. On the day of the armistice, Fraccaroli was in Rome and perhaps this fact explains the very poor photographic collection we have of the event surrounding the transfer of the Italian fleet to Malta and the sinking of the battleship Roma.

During this period of great confusion and civil war, Fraccaroli was able to return to Milan and complete his studies in Jurisprudence in 1944. In April 1945 he was able to return to duty for about one year and he finally retired in 1946. His journalistic activity began with articles and pictures published by the newspapers L’Italia and Il Popolo and magazines, such as Epoca. He also collaborated with the Reader’s Digest and began publishing quite extensively with Jane’s Fighting Ships.

In 1950 he published his first book, “Dalla piroga alla portaerei” and also translated part of A.B. Cunningham’s “Sailor’s Odyssey” into Italian (only the chapters relative to the war in the Mediterranean). In 1953, he was recalled to duty, but not by accident; his desire to return to the sea was immense and he had heavily lobbied for it. This was a small tour of duty, only three months, but yet another opportunity to take marvelous pictures. He would later return aboard Italian ships, but this time as a civilian journalist. His interest in naval affairs and his passion for photography continue to the present.

A few years ago, the renowned naval historian Erminio Bagnasco published under the Albertelli Editor label a book titled “Aldo Fraccaroli, fotografo navale”. Unfortunately for the non-Italian speaker, the book was published only in Italian, but it is strongly recommended not only for the excellent pictures, many of which were previously unpublished, but also for the pleasant narrative.