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While Charles and Anne Lindbergh logged more flying miles than anyone else during the year, they did so with robot-like efficiency, often avoiding the press during layovers.

The year's media hero, among fliers, was the ringmaster of what some called Italy's Flying Circus. General Italo Balbo, Italy's Minister of Air, led a squadron of seaplanes across the Atlantic Ocean, headed for Chicago and the city's world fair, called the Century of Progress Exhibition.

Originally there were 25 planes in the much-publicized flight, but one was lost almost before the stunt began in earnest. And a stunt it was, designed to establish Italy as the world leader in the air, a force to be reckoned with in the next war, which most likely would be settled by fighter planes and bombers.

In 1933 Gen. Balbo was Italy's second most powerful man, but one who went out of his way to honor and respect numero uno, dictator Benito Mussolini, officially called the prime minister, but more popularly known as Il Duce (the leader).

Gen. Balbo milked every photo opportunity during his visit to the United States, and while he gave full credit to Mussolini for everything connected with his planes and the spectacular success of the trans-oceanic flight, the spotlight, particularly in the United States, fell squarely on Balbo. His popularity soared, which is a career-killer for the number two man in a Fascist country.

Perhaps that's why, in interviews and speeches, he displayed modesty, rather than bravura, though his bearing and his uniforms often sent a different message.

Gen. Balbo was aware of the consequences of fame. During the 1920s, General Francesco De Pinedo's flying success had him tagged "Italy's Lindbergh." His reward was being given a meaningless title and assigned to a post in South America. While De Pinedo was more deserving, it was Gen. Balbo, then a special favorite of Mussolini, who was named Minister of Air. Most of what Balbo knew about flying was learned after he received the job.

What would be a wild and crazy five-month ride for Italo Balbo began in June:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 25
Italian Planes To Start Today
ORBETELLO, Italy (AP) — An Italian armada of 25 seaplanes, which has been waiting all week for favorable weather over the Alps, will take off tomorrow morning on the first leg of a flight to Chicago, it was announced today.

One hundred men — pilots, mechanics and radio operators — were prepared to start in their twin-motored, twin-cabined machines under the leadership of Air Minister Italo Balbo.

Reports that the air was clearing over the mountains permitted return to the original plan of flying in a straight line to Amsterdam and the following day to Londonderry, Ireland. Signor Balbo had been considering the alternative of taking the squadron to Londonderry by way of southern France.

The itinerary calls for six stages after leaving Londonderry for Reykjavik, Iceland. The 1,500-mile hop from Reykjavik to Cartwright, on the coast of Labrador, is nearly as long as the non-stop jump from Africa to Brazil in the Italian mass flight led by Balbo during the winter of 1930-31.

Twice as many planes are participating in the present venture, the greatest mass flight of its kind ever attempted, and it is planned to make the return trip by air over the south Atlantic.

 

Syracuse Journal, July 1
Fatal Crash Mars Italian Mass Flight
ROME (INS) — One flier was killed and four injured when one of the 25 planes in Italy’s seaplane squadron overturned in the Zuider Zee at Amsterdam, the Italian air ministry announced today.

A communique issued by the air ministry said the pilot, Captain Baldini, and Lieutenant Novelli were injured, and Sergeant Quintavelle was killed. Another member of the crew, Sergeant Jannia, was not hurt.

The accident marred the start of Italy’s mass flight across the ocean from Orbetello to Chicago to make an appearance at the world’s fair.

Syracuse Journal, July 8
Balbo Flies Tomorrow
REYKJAVIK, Iceland (INS) — Improving weather conditions over the North Atlantic today made it possible that Gen. Italo Balbo would order his Italian seaplane squadron to start for Cartwright, Labrador, a distance of 1,500 miles, at dawn tomorrow.

Gen. Balbo and his fliers were guests last night at a dinner dance aboard the S. S. Reliance when the ship put into Reykjavik on a northland cruise, according to word received here today by the Hamburg-American Line.

Among the passengers who helped entertain the fliers were Mrs. Edward Rickenbacker, wife of America’s war ace, and Walter Camp Jr., former husband of Ruth Elder, trans-Atlantic flier.

 

Syracuse Journal, July 15
Next Stop: Chicago
MONTREAL (INS) — The flying armada from faraway Italy, under Gen. Italo Balbo, took off from here today for Chicago on the final triumphant leg of its 6,100-mile mass flight. The final hop was expected to last about seven hours, ending about 5:15 p.m.

 

Syracuse American, July 16
By CARL L. TURNER
International News Service Correspondent

CHICAGO (INS) — One of the most important and certainly quite a spectacular chapter was added to the colorful story of aviation today when the Italian government set down in Chicago harbor 24 mammoth seaplanes which flew here from Orbetello, Italy.

Gen. Italo Balbo, Italian minister of aviation, headed the courageous crew of 96 air pioneers who conquered the French Alps, the ice and fog of the Arctic regions and finally middle western American thunderstorms to make a mass flight from Italy to a Century of Progress.

Chicago and the nation showed their appreciation by giving the daredevil Italians a rousing welcome. Besides the city’s own millions, there were thousands of excited spectators from practically every one of the 48 states to shout themselves hoarse in a greeting that must have surpassed every expectation of the foreign visitors.

 

Syracuse Journal, July 19
Balbo's Planes Roar Over Oneida Lake
Winging their way with bullet-like speed, Gen. Italo Balbo and the 24 seaplanes in his trans-Atlantic aerocade roared over Oneida Lake at 1 p.m. this afternoon.

Thousands who collected on the rooftops of Syracuse buildings in the hope they would catch of glimpse of the history-making air armada now on the first lap of its return trip to Italy, were unable to see the planes which thrilled people in Oswego, Oneida and several points on Oneida Lake.

Roaring through the cloud-studded sky, the fleet was flying at a 4,000-foot altitude, which permitted those on the ground only a fleeting glance at the armada.

 

Syracuse Journal, July 20
Balbo and Officers Lunch at White House
Gen. Italo Balbo and his expedition of 24 seaplane flew to Washington this morning. He and his officers had lunch at the White House. They will return to New York on Friday for a ticker tape parade.

 

Syracuse Journal, Friday, July 21
By DAVID P. SENTNER
NEW YORK (INS) — Ninety-six new heroes of the air, led by Gen. Italo Balbo, rode through New York’s own Appian Way of ticker tape and lunch hour crowds today to receive their official welcome at City Hall.

The gallant crew of the Italian trans-Atlantic flying argosy paraded through a pleasant storm of bravos, tumultuous cheering and paper snowflakes shimmering down from the skyscrapers.

Every available policeman was used to guard the line of march against any anti-Fascist demonstration. Detectives from the bomb squad mixed in the huge crowds which packed the curbs of lower Broadway.

Downtown New York had seen the 24 silver planes marked in black and green and red and white swoop over the city from Chicago on Wednesday.

Today the same millions again crowded the windows of the financial canyon. They had seen what they did and wished to see how they looked. And today there was no mighty orchestra of droning motors to drown out the cheers.

It was the biggest crowd since the one which greeted Charles A. Lindbergh on his return from another famous ocean flight in 1927.

At head of the parade, General Balbo rode in an open car, accompanied by Generoso Pope, Italian-American publisher, and the Italian consul.

The young flying general, his black beard neatly trimmed, was dressed in a white uniform covered with medals.

As he moved through the cheering throngs, he raised his hand in the Fascist salute.

At the City Hall Mayor John P. O’Brien officially welcomed the Italian fliers and compared General Balbo’s flying expedition to those of other noted Italians, Columbus and Marconi.

General Balbo extended the thanks of himself and crew for the hospitality shown them in Chicago and New York.

“The betterment of civilization depends upon the fraternity and good will of men of all nations,” he declared. “Viva America! Viva Italy!”

The fliers left City Hall for a luncheon at the Hotel Pennsylvania in their honor. The remainder of today’s program includes a meeting at the Madison Square Garden stadium* in Long Island City where 70,000 Italian-Americans will pay tribute to their heroic countrymen.

* Madison Square Garden Bowl an outdoor facility in Queens, at 48th Street and Northern Boulevard, was the site of the 1935 heavyweight championship bout between James J. Braddock and Max Baer, later dramatized in the movie, "Cinderella Man." The stadium was torn down during World War 2.

 

Syracuse American, July 23
Mechanics Work, the Fliers Play
NEW YORK (INS) — Thirty Italian mechanics worked far into last night overhauling the 24 seaplanes of Gen. Italo Balbo’s trans-Atlantic squadron in preparation for tomorrow morning’s return flight to Italy.

Meanwhile, the Italian fliers, with the official program of entertainment behind them, were enjoying themselves on their own.

 

Syracuse Journal, Thursday, August 10
Air Armada Loses Another Crew Member
LISBON, Portugal (INS) — The Italian air armada, saddened by the death of Lieutenant Enrico Squaglia, will hop off Saturday morning for Ostia, Italy, on the last leg of its trans-Atlantic journey from Chicago, General Italo Balbo told International News Service today.

Lieutenant Squaglia was fatally injured yesterday when the plane I-Rani capsized while attempting to take off from the Azores for the flight here. The three other members of the crew were slightly injured.

Lieutenant Squaglia was the second airman of the armada to be killed. Sergeant-Mechanic Quintavalle last his life when the armada landed at Amsterdam, Holland, after a flight from Orbetello.

 

Italo Balbo returned home a hero, with a reception worthy of a Caesar. However, he made it a point to defer to Mussolini, though it's likely that no words of praise about the dictator would have altered the future Il Duce had planned for Balbo.

Syracuse American, August 13
All Rome Hails Italo Balbo,
Home From Triumphs

By SEYMOUR BERKSON
ROME (Universal) — Premier Mussolini and a million Italians tonight welcomed their conquering air heroes and gave them a reception out-rivaled only by America’s greetings in Chicago and New York.

General Italo Balbo and his men of the Century of Progress flight armada arrived in Rome in the early evening from Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber, where they landed in view of 300,000 spectators about 90 minutes earlier.

They went by automobile to Colena Square, which was seething with exuberant Romans. they were cheered deafeningly, sprinkled with flowers.

They heard the cry of “Viva Balbo” echo from the seven hills of Rome, and then were permitted to go to their homes while the populace celebrated far into the night with torchlight processions, feasts and dances. In every part of the city bands played Fascist airs, particularly the Fascist hymn to youth.

All buildings, the coliseum included, were resplendent under flood lights.

In the midst of the triumphal celebration, after the first deafening roars of applause had died down, General Balbo spoke to the throng:

“In the name of the Atlantic crews, I think you. You have granted us a magnificent welcome.

“However, I do not want you to lose sight of the reality that we are only humble soldiers of a great chief, in whose name it is sweet and easy to achieve all victories.

“Long live Mussolini!”

In accordance with his new Spartan code, Premier Mussolini, who greeted the fliers at Ostia before riding with them in triumph into Rome, was clad simply in Fascist black shirt and wore no hat.

Balbo and his men also wore black shirts under their flying uniforms.

When the armada completed its 42-day argosy at Ostia, after a 1,300-mile hop from Lisbon, Portugal, and two crossings of the Atlantic in formation, General Balbo’s flagship put down in the narrow channel connecting the River Tiber with the Tyrannean Sea. He piloted his ship to the ramp on which Mussolini and other black-shirted Fascists were waiting.

Standing on the plane wing, Balbo thrice executed the Fascist salute while 300,000 persons cheered.

Balbo said the right words upon his return, publicly, at least. But Mussolini apparently was not pleased by the accident in the Azores and the death of an aviator. This put a damper on the return of his air armada. Another plane had been lost, but that was several weeks earlier and had since been overshadowed by triumphant visits to Chicago, Washington and New York City.

Perhaps more disturbing to Il Duce was Balbo's growing popularity. Also, the aviator's visit to the United States strengthened his belief that Italy and America should be friends, not enemies.

Mussolini's first act was to promote Balbo from general to air marshal. About two months later Il Duce pulled the rug out from under his new air marshal, picked him up and pointed him south:

Troy Times, Monday, November 6
Balbo Resigns as Air Marshal
ROME (AP)— King Victor Emmanuel made Premier Mussolini minister of both the Navy and Air today after accepting the resignations of Air Marshal Italo Balbo and Admiral Giusseppe Sirianni.

Balbo was named governor of Libya, taking the place of Marshal Badoglio.

Premiere Mussolini sent both Balbo and Admiral Sirianni cordial autographed letters, thanking them for their long and loyal co-operation.

Air officers described Balbo as dejected and said he would take a vacation of several months before assuming his new post in Libya.

The assumption of the military ministries by Mussolini has been rumored for many months. This is not the first time Il Duce has held all three posts. He was Minister of War, Navy and Air in 1929, but turned these posts over to General Pietro Gazzera, Sirianni and Balbo. Gazzera resigned as war minister in July and subsequently was made a senator.

Italo Balbo, displaced as air minister, was raised to the rank of air marshal from general upon his return to Rome following the mass transatlantic flight he led to Chicago and back.

He also led a mass flight across the south Atlantic to South America in 1930-31. Prior to his appointment as air minister, he was under secretary for aeronautics and served as commander-in-chief of the national militia.

I love that line in the above story about Mussolini sending Balbo an autographed letter. It's so much better than receiving an unsigned pink slip.

In any event, Balbo remained in Libya until his death on June 28, 1940. The circumstances of his death remain subject to debate. It went unreported for awhile, which wasn't unusual during wartime, and later the Fascist government claimed Balbo and the crew of his plane were shot down by RAF planes while attempting to land in Tobruk at the Italian airfield.

While the RAF may have had planes in the area at some point during the day — a 1942 International News Service story says there was no RAF attack on June 28 — the truth was Balbo's plane was shot down by Italian gunners.

INS reporter Michael Chinigo had no doubts the plane was shot down on orders from Mussolini, a theory that continues to have some support, though the more widely accepted view is that Balbo's plane was misidentified. Chinigo had interviewed Balbo two weeks before his death; the reporter believed anti-war statements are what sealed Balbo's fate.

This was 1940, a year before the United States entered the war, and Chinigo quotes Balbo as saying Italy is on the wrong side in a war they cannot win.

Mussolini may not have been responsible for Italo Balbo's death, but chances are Il Duce shed no tears over it.

 

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