World War I:
World War II:
North African Campaign
Italo Balbo (Ferrara, 6 June 1896 – Tobruk, 28 June 1940) was an
Blackshirt (Camicie Nere, or CCNN) leader who served as
Marshal of the Air Force
Marshal of the Air Force (Maresciallo dell'Aria),
Governor-General of Libya,
Commander-in-Chief of Italian North Africa
(Africa Settentrionale Italiana, or ASI), and the "heir apparent" to
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
After serving in World War I, Balbo became the leading Fascist
organizer in his home region of Ferrara. He was one of the four
principal architects (Quadrumviri del Fascismo) of the March on Rome
that brought Mussolini and the Fascists to power in 1922, along with
Emilio De Bono
Emilio De Bono and Cesare Maria De Vecchi. In 1926,
he began the task of building the Italian Royal Air Force and took a
leading role in popularizing aviation in Italy, and promoting Italian
aviation to the world. In 1933, perhaps to relieve tensions
surrounding him in Italy, he was given the government of Italian
Libya, where he resided for the remainder of his life. Balbo was the
only leading Fascist to oppose both anti-Jewish racial laws[citation
needed] and Mussolini's alliance with Nazi Germany. Early in World
War II, he was killed by friendly fire when his plane was shot down
Tobruk by Italian anti-aircraft guns.
1 Early life
4 Governor of Libya
4.1 Abyssinia crisis
4.2 Munich crisis
4.3 World War II
7 See also
8 Further reading
11 External links
Italo Balbo during
World War I
World War I in 1918
In 1896, Balbo was born in Quartesana (part of Ferrara) in the Kingdom
of Italy. Balbo was very politically active from an early age. At only
14 years of age, he attempted to join in a revolt in
Ricciotti Garibaldi, Giuseppe Garibaldi's son.
World War I
World War I broke out and Italy declared its neutrality, Balbo
supported joining the war on the side of the Allies. He joined in
several pro-war rallies. Once Italy entered the war in 1915, Balbo
Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) as an officer candidate
and served in the Alpini (Mountain) Battalion "Val Fella" before
volunteering for flying training on 16 October 1917. A few days later
the Austro-Hungarian and German armies broke the Italian lines in the
Battle of Caporetto, and Balbo returned to the front, now assigned to
the Alpini battalion "Pieve di Cadore", where he took command of the
assault platoon. At the end of the war, Balbo had earned one bronze
and two silver medals for military valour and reached the rank of
Captain (Capitano) due to courage under fire.
After the war, Balbo completed the studies he had begun in
1914–15. He obtained a law degree and a degree in Social Sciences.
His final thesis was written on "the economic and social thought of
Giuseppe Mazzini", and he researched under the supervision of the
patriotic historian Niccolò Rodolico. Balbo was a Republican, but he
hated Socialists and the unions and cooperatives associated with them.
Balbo returned to his home town to work as a bank clerk.
Balbo (left) and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini
In 1921, Balbo joined the newly created National Fascist Party
(Partito Nazionale Fascista, or PNF) and soon became a secretary of
Ferrara Fascist organization. He began to organize Fascist gangs
and formed his own group nicknamed Celibano, after their favorite
drink. They broke strikes for local landowners and attacked communists
and socialists in Portomaggiore, Ravenna, Modena, and Bologna. The
group once raided the
Estense Castle in Ferrara.
Italo Balbo had become one of the "Ras", adopted from an Ethiopian
title somewhat equivalent to a duke, of the Fascist hierarchy by 1922,
establishing his local leadership in the party. The "Ras" typically
wished for a more decentralized Fascist Italian state to be formed,
against Mussolini's wishes. At 26 years of age, Balbo was the youngest
of the "Quadrumvirs": the four main planners of the "March on Rome."
The "Quadrumvirs" were
Michele Bianchi (age 39), Cesare Maria De
Emilio De Bono
Emilio De Bono (56), and Balbo. Mussolini himself (39)
would not participate in the risky operation that ultimately brought
Italy under Fascist rule.
In 1923, as one of the "Quadrumvirs," Balbo became a founding member
Grand Council of Fascism
Grand Council of Fascism (Gran Consiglio del Fascismo). This
same year, he was charged with the murder of anti-Fascist parish
Giovanni Minzoni in Argenta. He fled to Rome and in 1924 became
General Commander of the Fascist militia and undersecretary for
National Economy in 1925.
Poster for Italo Balbo's transatlantic flight to the Century of
Progress in Chicago
On 6 November 1926, though he had only a little experience in
aviation, Balbo was appointed Secretary of State for Air. He went
through a crash course of flying instruction and began building the
Italian Royal Air Force (
Regia Aeronautica Italiana). On 19 August
1928, he became General of the Air Force and on 12 September 1929
Minister of the Air Force.
In Italy, this was a time of great interest in aviation. In 1925,
Francesco de Pinedo
Francesco de Pinedo flew a seaplane from Italy to Australia to Japan
and back again to Italy.
Mario De Bernardi
Mario De Bernardi successfully raced
seaplanes internationally. In 1928, Arctic explorer Umberto Nobile
piloted the airship Italia on a polar expedition.
Balbo himself led some transatlantic flights. The first was the 1930
flight of twelve
Savoia-Marchetti S.55 flying boats from Orbetello
Airfield, Italy to Rio de Janeiro,
Brazil between 17 December 1930 and
15 January 1931.
The Crociera del Decennale featured the so-called "Italian Air
Armada." From 1 July to 12 August 1933, twenty-four seaplanes flew
round-trip from Rome to the
Century of Progress
Century of Progress in Chicago, Illinois.
The flight had eight legs:
Reykjavík – Cartwright, Labrador – Shediac –
Montreal ending on
Lake Michigan near Burnham Park and New York City. In honor
of this feat, Mussolini donated a column from Ostia to the city of
Chicago: the Balbo Monument. It can still be seen along the Lakefront
Trail, a little south of Soldier Field. Chicago renamed the former 7th
Street "Balbo Drive" and staged a great parade in his honor. The
Newfoundland Post Office overprinted one of their 75-cent airmail
stamps, that had been issued just two months previously, for the
event: General Balbo Flight, Labrador, The Land of Gold.
Balbo Monument in Burnham Park (as pictured on 19 February 2010)
From Chicago they flew to New York City with an escort of 36 U.S.
airplanes. New York gave a warm welcome to the pilots on Broadway
(Manhattan). Millions of people watched the parade of dozens of cars
escorted by police horses along the streets of Manhattan. Balbo
was featured on 26 June 1933 cover of Time.
During Balbo's stay in the United States, President Franklin Roosevelt
invited him to lunch and presented him with the Distinguished Flying
Cross. He was awarded the 1931 Harmon Trophy. The
honorarily adopted Balbo as "Chief Flying Eagle". Balbo received a
warm welcome in the United States, especially by the large
Italian-American populations in Chicago and New York City. To a
cheering mass in
Madison Square Garden
Madison Square Garden he said: "Be proud you are
Italians. Mussolini has ended the era of humiliations." The term
"Balbo" entered common usage to describe any large formation of
The return flight from New York stopped in
Shoal Harbour at
Newfoundland on 26 July. A road overlooking the bay used
by the flying boats was renamed Balbo Drive, a name it still carries
today. On 12 August 1933, Balbo's formation departed
the Azores, Lisbon, and Rome. Back home in Italy, he was promoted
to the newly created rank of
Marshal of the Air Force
Marshal of the Air Force (Maresciallo
Governor of Libya
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Italian Colonial Empire
Italian Colonial Empire and
Tripoli Grand Prix
Balbo (in white military uniform) with Brazilian President Getúlio
Vargas in the
Catete Palace in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 15 January 1931
On 7 November 1933, Balbo was appointed
Governor-General of the
Italian colony of Libya. Mussolini looked to the flamboyant Air
Marshal to be the condottiero of Italian ambition and extend Italy's
new horizons in Africa. Balbo's task was to assert Italy's rights in
the indeterminate zones leading to
Lake Chad from Tummo in the west
Kufra in the east towards the Sudan. Balbo had already made a
flying visit to Tibesti. By securing the "Tibesti-
Borku strip" and the
"Sarra Triangle", Italy would be in a good position to demand further
territorial concessions in Africa from France and Britain. Mussolini
even had his sights set on the former German colony of Kamerun. From
1922, the colony had become the
League of Nations mandate
League of Nations mandate territories
Cameroun and British Cameroons. Mussolini pictured an
Cameroon and a territorial corridor connecting that territory
to Libya. An Italian
Cameroon would give Italy a port on the Atlantic
Ocean, the mark of a world power. Ultimately, control of the Suez
Canal and of
Gibraltar would complete the picture.
As of 1 January 1934, Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and
Fezzan were merged
to form the new colony and Balbo moved to Libya. At that stage, Balbo
had apparently caused bad blood in the party, possibly because of
jealousy and individualist behavior. Being appointed Governor-General
Libya was an effective exile from politics in Rome where Mussolini
considered him a threat, both for his fame and, more importantly,
because of his close relationship with the possibly anti-fascist Crown
Prince Umberto. Italian newspapers reportedly could not mention
Balbo's name more than once a month. "Benito in Balboland," an
article in 22 March 1937 issue of Time Magazine, played with the
conflict between Mussolini and Balbo. Balbo was still well known in
the United States for his visit to the Century of Progress
Balbo commissioned the Marble Arch to mark the border between
Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. It was unveiled on 16 March 1937.
Balbo appeared in military uniform at the
Targa Florio road race
In 1935, as the "Abyssinia Crisis" worsened, Balbo began preparing
plans to attack
Egypt and Sudan. As Mussolini made his intentions to
invade Ethiopia clear, relations between Italy and the United Kingdom
became more tense. Fearing a "Mad Dog" act by Mussolini against
British forces and possessions in the Mediterranean, Britain
reinforced its fleet in the region and also its military forces in
Egypt. Balbo reasoned that, should Britain choose to close the Suez
Canal, Italian troop transports would be prevented from reaching
Eritrea and Somalia. Thinking that the planned attack on Abyssinia
would be crippled, Balbo asked for reinforcements in Libya. He
calculated that such a gesture would make him a national hero and
restore him to the centre of the political stage. The 7th Blackshirt
Division (Cirene) and 700 aircraft were immediately sent from Italy to
Libya. Balbo may have received intelligence concerning the feasibility
of advancing into
Egypt and Sudan from the famous desert researcher
By 1 September 1935, Balbo secretly deployed Italian forces along the
Egypt without the British knowing anything about it. At
the time, British intelligence concerning what was going on in Libya
was woefully inadequate. In the end, Mussolini rejected Balbo's
over-ambitious plan to attack
Egypt and Sudan and London learned about
his deployments in
Libya from Rome.
The "Anglo-Italian Agreement" of April 1938 brought a temporary
cessation of tensions between the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of
Italy. For Balbo, the agreement meant the immediate loss of 10,000
Italian troops; it was characterised by renewed promises of
undertakings that Mussolini had previously broken and he could easily
break again. By the time of the "Munich Crisis", Balbo had his 10,000
At this time, Italian aircraft were making frequent overflights of
Egypt and Sudan and Italian pilots were being familiarised with the
routes and airfields. In 1938 and 1939, Balbo himself made a number of
Libya across the Sudan to
Italian East Africa
Italian East Africa ('Africa
Orientale Italiana', or AOI). He even flew along the border between
British East Africa
British East Africa (now known as Kenya). In January 1939,
Balbo was accompanied on one of his flights by German Colonel-General
There were distinct signs of German military and diplomatic
co-operation with the Italians. General Udet was accompanied by the
Head of the German Mechanization Department, and the German military
attache to Rome paid a long visit to Egypt. A German Military Mission
was present in
Benghazi and German pilots were engaged in navigational
Balbo began road construction projects such as the
Via Balbia in an
attempt to attract Italian immigrants to Libya. He also made efforts
Muslims into the Fascist cause. In 1938, Balbo was the only
member of the Fascist regime who strongly opposed the new legislation
against the Jews, the Italian "Racial Laws".
In 1939, after the German invasion of Poland, Balbo visited Rome to
express his displeasure at Mussolini's support for German dictator
Adolf Hitler. Balbo was the only Fascist of rank to publicly criticize
this aspect of Mussolini's foreign policy. He argued that Italy should
side with the United Kingdom, but he attracted little following to his
argument. When informed of Italy's formal alliance with Nazi Germany,
"You will all wind up shining the shoes of the Germans!"
World War II
At the time of the Italian declaration of war on 10 June 1940, Balbo
Commander-in-Chief of Italian
North Africa (Africa Settentrionale Italiana, or ASI). He became
responsible for planning an invasion of Egypt. After the surrender of
France, Balbo was able to shift much of the men and materiel of the
Italian Fifth Army on the Tunisian border to the Tenth Army on the
Egyptian border. While he had expressed many legitimate concerns to
Mussolini and to Marshal Pietro Badoglio, the Chief-of-Staff in Rome,
Balbo still planned to invade
Egypt in early July.
Original Gravesite of Balbo in Libya
On 28 June 1940, Balbo was a passenger on a Savoia-Marchetti SM.79
headed for the Libyan airfield of Tobruk, arriving shortly after the
airfield had been attacked by British aircraft. Italian anti-aircraft
batteries defending the airfield misidentified the aircraft as a
British fighter and opened fire upon it as it attempted a landing. It
was downed and all on board perished.
Eyewitness General Felice Porro reported that the cruiser San Giorgio,
serving as a floating anti-aircraft battery, began firing on Balbo's
aircraft, followed by the airfield's antiaircraft guns. It is
still not clear which of them shot him down.
Rumors that Balbo was assassinated on Mussolini's orders have been
conclusively debunked. Balbo's plane was simply
misidentified as an enemy target, as Balbo's airplane was flying
low and coming in against the sun after an attack by British Bristol
Balbo's remains were buried outside
Tripoli on 4 July 1940. In 1970,
Balbo's remains were brought back to Italy and buried in
Balbo's family after
Muammar Gaddafi threatened to disinter the
Italian cemeteries in Tripoli.
Benito Mussolini presented to Chicago in 1933 a monument to Balbo.
Balbo Drive is a well-known street in the heart of downtown. As of
2017, "a campaign is underway to remove" it.
Military history of Italy during World War II
Michel Pratt (fr), Italo Balbo, la traversée de l'Atlantique. 24
hydravions de l'Italie fasciste en Amérique. Éditions Histoire
Québec, collection Fédération Histoire Québec, 2014.
^ a b c d e Di Scala, Italy:From Revolution to Republic, 1700 to the
Present, p. 234.
^ Taylor, Blaine, Fascist Eagle: Italy's Air Marshal Italo Balbo
^ Smith, Italy: A Modern History, p. 273.
^ Di Scala, Italy: From Revolution to Republic, 1700 to the Present,
p. 234; Smith, Italy: A Modern History, p. 365.
^ "Italian Air Armada Hops 800 Miles (July 14, 1933)". Retrieved
^ "Balbo Pillar Recalls Flight (July 22, 1965)". Retrieved
^ "BALBO HERE THIS AFTERNOON (July 15, 1933)". Retrieved
^ Harmer, C.H.C. (1984).
Newfoundland Air Mails. Cinnaminson, NJ:
American Air Mail Society. p. 159.
^ "Canadian Postal Archives Database". data4.collectionscanada.ca.
^ "Great Italian armada is acclaimed by millions as it wings over the
city". New York Times. 20 July 1933.
^ "TIME Magazine – U.S. Edition – June 26, 1933 Vol. XXI No. 26".
Italo Balbo comandosupremo.com
^ Taylor, Fascist Eagle: Italy's Air Marshal Italo Balbo, p. 63.
^ Time Life Books, World War II: Italy at War
^ "General Italo Balbo, Unofficial
Clarenville Webpage –
Clarenville, Newfoundland". clarenville.newfoundland.ws.
^ Kelly, Saul, The Lost Oasis, p. 102
^ Gunther, John (1940). Inside Europe. Harper & Brothers.
Time Magazine Benito in Balboland
^ Kelly, Saul, The Lost Oasis, p. 121
^ Kelly, Saul, The Lost Oasis, p. 122
^ a b c Kelly, Saul, The Lost Oasis, p. 130
^ General Felice Porro, "Come fu abbattuto l'aereo di Balbo", in
Rivista Aeronautica, May 1948.
^ Franco Pagliano, "La morte di Balbo", in La storia illustrata nº 6,
Year IX, June 1965, p. 779.
^ Giorgio Rochat, Italo Balbo, Edizioni Utet, 1986, p. 301.
^ Giordano Bruno Guerri, Italo Balbo, Mondadori, 1998
^ Folco Quilici,
Tobruk 1940. Dubbi e verità sulla fine di Italo
Balbo, Mondadori, 2006.
^ Taylor, Fascist Eagle: Italy's Air Marshal Italo Balbo, p. 124.
^ Trip, Gabriel (25 August 2017), "Far From Dixie, Outcry Grows Over a
Wider Array of Monuments", Washington Post, retrieved 5 December
Di Scala, Spencer. Italy: From Revolution to Republic, 1700 to the
Present. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8133-4176-0
Kelly, Saul. The Lost Oasis: The Desert War and the Hunt for Zerzura.
Westview Press, 2002. ISBN 0-7195-6162-0 (HC)
Smith, Denis Mack. Italy: A Modern History. Ann Arbor, MI: University
Michigan Press, 1959. Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 59-62503
Taylor, Blaine. Fascist Eagle: Italy's Air Marshal Italo Balbo.
Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1996.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Italo Balbo.
Italo Balbo and the Sioux
Doubts raised into official story of Balbo's death
Awards and achievements
Cover of Time Magazine
26 June 1933
Hugh S. Johnson
Italian North Africa
Italian North Africa and
1 January 1934 to 28 June 1940
List of Italian First Marshals and Marshals of Italy
First Marshal of the Empire
(Primo Maresciallo dell'Impero)
King Victor Emmanuel III
Prince Emanuele Filiberto,
Duke of Aosta
Guglielmo Pecori Giraldi
Emilio De Bono
Umberto, Prince of Piedmont
Paolo Thaon di Revel
Marshal of the Air Force
Members of Mussolini Cabinet
Head of government
Head of government and duce of Fascism
Minister of the Air Force
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Minister of agriculture
(abolished in 1923)
Giuseppe De Capitani D'Arzago
Minister of Agriculture and Forestry
Minister of the Colonies
(abolished in 1937)
Pietro Lanza di Scalea
Emilio De Bono
Minister of Italian Africa
Minister of Communications
Antonio Stefano Benni
Nino Host Venturi
Minister of Corporations
Ministry of People's Culture
Minister of the Interior
Minister of domestic economy
Orso Mario Corbino
Minister of domestic education
Cesare Maria De Vecchi
Carlo Alberto Biggini
Minister of Finance
Alberto De Stefani
Paolo Ignazio Maria Thaon di Revel
Minister of Justice and Affairs of Religion
Pietro De Francisci
Alfredo De Marsico
Minister of Industry and Commerce
Minister of Public Works
Araldo di Crollalanza
Giuseppe Cobolli Gigli
Minister of War
Antonino Di Giorgio
Minister of Labour and Social Security
Minister of Posts and Telegraphs
Giovanni Antonio Colonna di Cesarò
Minister of War Production
(since 6 February 1943)
Minister of Public Education
Minister of Trades and Currencies
Minister of Press and Propaganda
Minster of Freed Territories from enemies
(abolished on 5 February 1923)
Minister of Treasure
(merged into Ministry of Finance on 31 December 1922)
Alberto De Stefani
ISNI: 0000 0001 1022 4030
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