Symbolically prophetic of the flight of 24 Italian planes, under command of General Balbo, leaving Rome in June for Chicago, Italy’s building stands at the extreme southern end of the Avenue of Flags in the shape of a giant airplane. With her 450 exhibits, she will tell a dramatic story of her remarkable achievements in engineering, physics, medicine, geography, astronomy, agriculture, shipping and aviation from the times of the Caesars to the present day. The great engineering feat of draining the Ostian marshes and the reclamation of valuable land for agriculture and port development will be a part in these displays.
The Italian exhibits occupy space not only in the national pavilion, but have spread themselves into the upper left wing of the Hall of Science, into the Adler Planetarium, and even overflow into the Museum of Science and Industry in Jackson Park. After the conclusion of the Exposition the Italian government has generously donated the entire display to the Rosenwald Museum.
Avenue of the Flags.
Interior view of the Italian Pavilion at the Century of Progress International Exposition. The Pavilion was designed to resemble a giant airplane to celebrate Italo Balbo’s 1933 transatlantic flight that ended at the Century of Progress. The front of the building sported a design that resembled the bundled fasces, an ancient symbol of the Roman Republic that was adopted by Italian and German fascists in the 20th century. Seen here is a general view of the Pavilion’s auditorium.
Chicago Tribune July 16, 1933
BY PHILIP KINSLEY.
The Italian air armada of 24 seaplanes under command of Gen, Italo Balbo, Italy’s minister for aviation, reached its goal in the waters of A Century of Progress at 6 o’clock last evening, after a flight of six and one-half hours from Montreal.
Two hours later, while the planes were rocking gently at anchor near the Navy pier, Gen. Balbo and his 96 fellow flyers were received in Soldiers’ field, where 60,000 persons had waited all afternoon to welcome them.
The flyers are in Chicago for a three day stay. Under present plans they will depart for New York on Wednesday.
Throngs Watch Landing.
It was a perfect flight yesterday and a perfect welcome. The great planes, each weighing 11 tons, came down in, the water just south of the breakwater one after, another as hundreds of thousands watched from the shore and the Navy pier. This most delicate task had cost the life of one of the crew in Amsterdam. It wag performed here with precision and safety.
Federal, state, city, and World’s Fair officials were waiting to welcome Gen. Balbo and his fellow, pilots and navigators at this conclusion of the greatest mass flight in the history of aviation. The U. S. S. Wilmette, tied at the end of the Navy pier, was the official reception stand, but Gen. Balbo waited until all his crew were safely in port before he submitted himself to this part of his task,
Gen. Balbo Smiles.
As they had conquered the air; so the Italian airmen soon conquered the hearts of the Chicagoans who were able to see them,
Gen. Balbo, a few minutes the ending of this history making flight, strolled out on the deck of his seaplane as if going to after- noon tea. He had on a gray blue uniform decorated with eagle and crown, and orders of his war; service. In his hand he carried a swagger stick. He lit a cigaret, surveyed the scene, and smiled happily.
There could not have been S more perfect day for this event. and Chicago could not have give# a finer welcome.
A Mission Completed.
Gen. Balbo ‘was so crowded and rushed from the moment that he left the safety of his seaplane that he could hardly get in a coherent sentence.
“Chicago—grande metropoli,” he said, as he rode up Avenue at the Flags Fair to the south entrance of Soldiers’ field and was cheered by crowds that filled all vantage points of the Fair buildings and roadways.
“We- have accomplished the mission intrusted to us by our chief,” he said after the official welcome had been given by Gov. Henry Horner, Mayor Edward J. Kelly, Rufus Dawes, president of the Fair; Harry. S. New, United States commissioner to the Exposition; and other. “This mission was to bring a message of friendship from the new Italy of Mussolini to the United States.”
The enormous expense of the Italian government in sending this air fleet from Italy, a distance of 6,100 miles over mountains and ocean, was not made as a mere matter of the glory of Italy, members of the expedition expedition explained, but as a practical demonstration of air travel. It paves the way for commercial aviation between the two countries and gives an invaluable contribution to aviation science.
As the two “stormi” of 12 planes each came out of the southeast to the towers of A Century of Progress and settled slowly down over the water the people gathered to witness this arrival were aware of its beauty and its daring, but only aviators knew of the long preparation that had gone into it, the years of experiment and hard work. For this was a task of lifting 264 tons above the Alps, flying as high as 12,000 feet, and navigating for hours through fog and storm in the most dangerous part of the world.
Air Specthcle Thrills Crowds.
The people knew something big had happened. however, for there was no complaining over the long hours of waiting and every one felt thoroughly repaid at the sight of the gleaming silver monsters of the air winging along with the surety of the seagulls, maneuvering softly into the exact space set out for them on the maps.
It was 5:40 o clock when the first planes were sighted out of the haze that hovers over the southeast Indus- trial district. The harbor around the Navy pier, which was dotted with ex- boats and small craft, was quickly cleared by a whistle from the coast guard cutter, Escanaba.
High-Over the Italian squadron the watchers soon made out the 39 planes of the 17th and 27th pursuit squadrons of the United States army from Selfridge Field, Detroit, which had met the Italians near the border and acted as their escort here. Maj. Gen. Frank Parker was In command of these planes.
Balbo’s Plane Leads All.
Over the lake front at 63d street, then over the towers of the Exposition, the airships came swiftly. One plane marked with a black star, flew slightly ahead of all the others. That was Gen. Balbo. He led his first flight group straight over the city and north as far as Wilson avenue, then turned west in a wide circle that brought him over the Fair grounds again.
The noise of his welcome may have reached him, for all along the lake front the sound of whistles mingled with the shouts of the excited specta- tors, as the steady roar of the engines drifted down to them.
Seagulls flew ahead of the planes as if to show them how to do it. One large gull circled and banked and soared near the planes as they came down lower and lower, facing north and heading for the shelter of the breakwater. They came down in groups of three. From afar it seemed as though each Italian plane was guided by two huge silver eyes. They looked like two headed bugs of the dragon variety, their wings silvered underneath and black, red, white and green on the surface, as the four flight divisions were marked.
Two Motors on Each Plane.
The two motors on each ship whirled in opposite directions, and there were three-bladed propellers and three flip- pers on each ship. Tw-o pontoons sup- ported each one as they taxied slowly up in front of the WVllmette. The pilots and other crew members sat In the middle under the motors.
By 6:30 o clock all the planes had come down safely In a wake of foam and were making fast to the buoys prepared for them on the north side of Navy pier, where they will be refueled and overhauled before their fight to New York.
On the Wilmette the committee of notables waited patiently. They were in all manner of costumes, from the most correct afternoon dress to easy sport clothes. One of the most active figures was that of Prince Potenzianl, dressed in gray, with a purple flower in his buttonhole, and a gray top hat. As Italian greeter at the Exposition and former mayor of Rome, he took charge of the ceremony with the aid of the Italian consul general. Giuseppe Castrucclo, who was in full dress official uniform.
A Memorable Occasion.
All the Italians In Chicago, it seemed, were on hand to see this landing, which was mentioned in speeches as the most notable since Columbus first arrived in America. From the historical perspective it was memorable. for these men came out of Rome, the world’s oldest capital and scene of a civilization 3,000 years old, as ambassadors of goodwill to the world’s youngest capital, with a history of 100 years.
Yet Chicago had much to offer them. The skyline was set in the colors of evening, blue-black clouds massed in the southwest, but all the rest clear and shining. Grant park was black with people. Navy pier held a crowd that massed perilously close to the edge. On the end of the pier seats had been arranged as if for a theatrical performance.
Gen. Balbo was the one whom all wanted to see, but be remained out on his plane until 7 o clock, watching each one of his ships safely at anchor. When word was passed that he had entered a small boat and was approaching the Wilmette the sailor guard and the reception committee took up their positions.
19 Gun Salute Fired.
A salute of 19 guns was fired as he moved up the gangway. His first words were about the mooring of his planes, and he gave orders that no motorboats were to approach them.
The prince and the consul general and the diplomats and soldiers clicked their heels and saluted as Gen. Balbo stepped on board.
His smile was genuine and happy as he shook hands and saluted down the long line.
Maj. Reed Landls, in charge of the reception, was anxious to rush things along, as the arrival was later than had been expected and Gen. Balbo had signified his desire to have some of the festivities arranged in his behalf curtailed.
The crowd on the pier became impatient at the delay and called:
We want Balbo.
General Waves at Crowd.
The general yielded at last to this call and came to the shore side of the ship, where he smiled and waved his arm in salute while the crowd yelled.
Meanwhile Consul General Castruccio was broadcasting over a radio hook-up to the people of Italy, describing for them the arrival of their national air hero and his men.
A few minutes later with Gov. Horner, Mayor Kelly and other members of the committee Gen. Balbo boarded the flagship of A Century of Progress lagoon fleet, and was taken toward the Fair grounds. It had been intended at first to have the Wilmette take him in, serving luncheon on the way, but there was no time for this.
Small boats crowded around the flagship as it started toward shore and the general was hardly given time to read the messages waiting for him, so busy was he In milling and saluting various groups.
Meets the Fair Crowd.
At the 23d street entrance to the lagoon he met the shore crowd. They were lined up for a mile here. Inside the lagoon the scene was one of rare beauty. Every foot of space along the board walk was crowded. The waters were bright with pleasure craft and the entire fleet of gondolas was waiting. The touch here was one to make the Italian heart glad.
At the dock of the Hall of Science was another welcoming throng, made up chiefly of Italian-American societies, one group with the black shirts of the Fascisti. Eight flower girls from the Italian pavilion were waiting, and behind them the Black Horse troop of the National Guard blocked the way, prepared to act as escort.
The welcomers swung into action as Gen. Balbo came up the steps and the parade of 50 automobiles soon wended its way through the Fair grounds. All the terraces and bridges and walks were filled with waiting throngs.
The procession came at last to Soldiers’ field through the dust cloud of the lower drive. This was a scene of Roman flavor, for it was to such a throng that the doors used to open to send out gladiators for entertain. ment In the days of the emperors.
Sixty thousand men and women had waited here. Applause and shouts of “Viva, Viva.” greeted Gen. Balbo and his flying companions.
Commissioner New extended the formal greeting to the flyers on behalf of President Roosevelt, in a brief speech. He was followed by Gov. Horner, who, after personally greeting Gen. Balbo, said:
Mine is the honor of extending on behalf of the state of Illinois, sincere greetings and thrice hearty welcome to you and your squadron of gallant and heroic conquerors of the air. To this official salutation is added the enthusiastic congratulations of my fellow citizens and myself for the courageous and successful and history-making flight you all have just completed.
An Epoch-Making Occasion.
The occasion is epoch-making. It epitomizes, dramatically and forcefully, the progress of the world in the last hundred years: it presages the yet uncharted progress that is to be the fortune of the world in the century to come. Your daring and marvelous flight from Italy to Chicago marks another thrilling victory of man and science over the forces of nature, and the passing of another milestone in the steady advance of air transportation.
History repeats itself by your flight. Just as Columbus was the first to sail the uncharted seas to our shores, so you, Gen. Balbo, and your courageous band have piloted the first armada of flying boats from Europe to North America. You have brought us the living emphatic proof of the development of practical aviation.
All hail the distinguished visitors from Italy. All hail Gen. Balbo, stateman, pioneer, hero and apostle of the hour.
Mayor Kelly’s Welcome.
Mayor Kelly, after greeting the flyers and asserting that it is extremely fitting that A Century of Progress Exposition should celebrate the arrival of new pioneers from Italy as the Columbian Exposition celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ accomplishments, said:
Chicago realizes the honor conferred upon her as the goal of this flight. The city council has decreed that a thoroughfare (7th street) leading to the Fair grounds from our downtown streets shall be called Balbo avenue.1 The city council by resolution has expressed the thanks of the city to the Italian nation, to its illustrious premier, Benito Mussolini, and to its representatives for this flight.
President Dawes said that the Expo- sition celebrates the achievements of science and that the flight has given a demonstration of the abilit y of sci- ence to conquer distance and thus bring closer all mankind.
Balbo at the Microphone.
The crowd had been impatiently awaiting the appearance of Gen. Balbo before the microphone system. When he was introduced by Maj. Landis there was prolonged applause. Small, compactly built, with only his mustache and beard to hide his youthfulness. Gen. Balbo stood smiling until the demonstration died away.
Then he began to speak in Italian—short punching phrases evidently modeled on the speeches of his leader, Mussolini. The Italians among she spectators applauded every point, and here and there those who did not understand the complete speech caught a word or phrase which they knew.
“Duce Italia Fascist” was one of these phrases which brought bursts of approval from the assemblage. Gen. Balbo coupled the words “Mussolini” and “Chicago,” and another roar of cheering rose. He ended his speech with a long salute and the cry: “Viva Chicago!”
Envoy Translates Speech.
Augusto Rosso, Italian ambassador to the United States, who accompanied Gen. Balbo on the flight from Montreal to Chicago. translated the general’s speech into English for the crowd, quoting it exactly. He said:
It is not possible to find the proper words to answer the distin- guished gentlemen who have been the previous speakers.
We have today accomplished the mission entrusted to us by our chiefs. It was to bring a message of friendship from the new Italy to the United States.
There were many difficulties but the greeting we have received after the accomplishment of the task is as much reward as we could expect.
Landing on American soil for the first time today in view of the great city of Chicago, I want to express in behalf of Fascist Italy the best wishes for your country, for your state, for your Fair and for Chicago.
Greeting front the Cabinet.
Over a radio broadcasting system Secretary of War Dern greeted the flyers from Philadelphia, and Rear Admiral William H. Stanton, acting secretary of the navy, from Washington expressed delight at the safe arrival of the armada.
THE TRIBUNE radio station, W-G-N, presented the complete picture of the arrival of the flyers from the time their ships were first sighted over the steel mills to the south, until the airmen, tired but joyous, were put to bed after the ceremonies in Soldiers’ field.
THE TRIBUNE radio men conducted the broadcast from airplanes, from the World’s Fair blimp, from the decks of the Wilmette where Gen. Balbo officially first set foot on soil of the United States, and from the speakers’ platform in Soldiers’ field.
Mussolini to Balbo.
Deluged by congratulatory messages, Gen. Balbo when he reached his Drake hotel headquarters after the welcoming ceremonies exhibited one message of which he was particularly proud. It was from his chief, Premier Mussolini, in Rome, and it said:
Now that you have finished in a very brilliant way the first part of your mission I send to you my brotherly greeting and to all your officers and men. The announcement of your arrival thrilled the whole population of Italy. I am glad that you are faithful to the Fascist rule I gave you before leaving, that is, sternest discipline in the air and conservation of strength on land. MUSSOLINI.
Today the Italian flyers, after a refreshing night’s sleep at the Drake, are to have a full round of visits, and festivities. At 10 a. m. they are to make formal calls at the Fair grounds and city hall to thank the officials who met them yesterday.
At noon there will be a mass of thanksgiving at Holy Name cathedral with Cardinal Mundelein officiating. The cardinal is to deliver to them a message of felicitation and benediction from Pope Pius.
In the afternoon the flyers are to be guests of President and Mrs. Rufus C. Dawes at the Fair and will then visit the Italian pavilion and exhibits in the Hall of Science.
At 7 p. m. in the Stevens hotel the flyers will dine at a banquet given by the Italian American society of Chicago. Following the dinner there will be a four hour program of addresses and music.
General Italo Balbo’s Hydroplane
Image of General Italo Balbo’s plane skimming the water of Lake Michigan before a large crowd at the Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, July 1933. Balbo, official air minister of Italy under Benito Mussolini, organized and led the Italian air armada in a formation flight from Rome to Chicago to New York and back to Rome. The formation flight consisted of 24 Savoia-Marchetti-S.55X hydroplanes, which landed in Chicago on July 14, 1933.
Roosevelt Sends Message.
The Rt. Rev. B. J. Shell, auxiliary Roman Catholic bishop of Chicago. will deliver the invocation. Former Judge John Sbarbaro will read to the flyers and to the 3,500 guests a message sent by President Roosevelt.
Next will be the calling of the roll of the Balbo flyers, and each will stand as his name is read. The last name will be that of Sergeant Me. Quintavalle, who was killed In an accident at Amsterdam. The 96 members of the flying fores will answer in chorus for him:
The speakers scheduled are Gov. Horner, Mayor Kelly, Mr. Dawes, the Rev. Robert M. Kelley, S. J., president of Loyola university, and Consul General Castrucclo. The consul general is to present to Gov. Horner the Order of the Italian Crown, with rank of commander.
Gen. Balbo’s planes, having already conquered the dangers of the Alps, the stormy and foggy coasts of the British Isles, the watery stretches to Iceland and the North American continent, took off yesterday morning from Montreal on the last stretch of their 6,100 mile journey to Chicago. They had spent Friday night at Montreal, which is 870 miles from Chicago.
Shortly after 10 a. m. (Chicago time) the first of the planes rose above the St. Lawrence. In it were Gen. Balbo and Ambassador Rosso. An earlier start had been planned, but the ambassador was late in arriving at Montreal from Washington. He was taken In a fast motor from his train directly to the plane.
Start on Hop to Chicago.
At 11:09 a. m. the last of the twenty-four huge ships was aloft. Taking their customary formation of threes the ships first swung; low over Montreal. then headed west on the trip to Chicago.
Gen. Balbo had planned to push straight up the St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario, the shore of that lake to Toronto and then across to Buffalo before turning west to Detroit. This would have given the folk of Buffalo and Cleveland an opportunity of seeing, the fleet.
But the route was not hard and fast. Instead it was subject to change according to weather conditions. Clouds hung over Toronto and over Lake Erie’s eastern parts. To avoid the storms the general directed his men to the north, missing Toronto and all the American cities east of Detroit and Toledo.
Travel 135 Miles an Hour.
The pace was steady and only a little under 135 miles an hour for the whole trip. At 12:35 p. m. about 200 miles to Belleville, Ont., had been covered. Bowmanville, Ont. was reached at 1:22 p. m. To the great disappointment of throngs who stood in the rain at Toronto the armada kept to the north, and at 1:45 p. m. Gen. Balbo radioed that he was over Lake Simcoe and pointing for Nottawasaga bay on Lake Huron.
This course was kept and the fleet passed over Port Huron, Mich., at 2:47 p. m., turning south and driving for Detroit, which Gen. Balbo had promised would be on his route. So swift was the approach of the Italians that the army planes at Selfridge field, Mich., waiting to escort the armada, were caught almost unaware.
Of necessity they hastened to catch up and did so soon after the foreign fleet had passed Detroit at 3:15 p. m. At Toledo, reached at 3:40 p. m., Gen. Balbo sent a radio message to Premier Mussolini, stating that he had been joined by the American planes in “close and splendid formation.”
Escort Planes Fly High.
Thus escorted, with the swift army planes flying high and the huge sea-planes only about 3,000 feet up, the combined groups swept westward. At 4:29 p. m. they passed over Fort Wayne, Ind. At 5 o’clock they were over South Bend, and Michigan City saw them at 5:24. Thereafter it was a romp over the blue of Lake Michigan, to the southern edge of Chicago.
The flight from Montreal to Chicago, in the opinion of Gen. Balbo, was one of the most difficult on his itinerary.
“It was the longest,” he said, “except those crossing the Atlantic. “It was very hard. We had to modify the course, passing to the north of Lake Ontario because thunderstorms were forecast there. Throughout the day’s trip we found rough air which taxed our nerves. But when we came in sight of Lake Michigan about 60 miles from Chicago all our fatigue disappeared.”
He added his regrets that the cities of Toronto, Buffalo and Cleveland could not have been visited.
Great Feat In Aviatlon.
Experts who refer to the deeds of Gen. Balbo and his companions as constituting the greatest of all airplane flights point to the number of planes and to the distances they traversed with only a single accident. This took place at Amsterdam. Nothing like this flight was ever accomplished on such a scale.
The flight began from Orbetello, Italy, on June 30 at 11:45 p. m. Chicago daylight time. The first hop carried the flyers over the Alps and down to Amsterdam, 870 miles. At 1:14 a. m. July 2 there was a takeoff at Amsterdam for the run of 630 miles to Londonderry, North Ireland. From Londonderry at 6:40 a. m. on July 5 the flyers took off again and after 6 hours and 35 minutes of flight dropped down on the bay at Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. The distance was 930 miles.
A delay of nearly a week pursued, Gen. Balbo waiting for favorable weather. It came at last, and the fleet took off from Iceland at 1 a. m. last Wednesday. The 1,600 miles to the next stop, Cartwright, Labrador, was finished In 11 hours and 50 minutes.
Two Hops In Two Days.
On Thursday at 8:20 a. m. the departure from Cartwright began and 800 miles to Shedlac, N. B., were completed in 6 hours and 17 minutes. The next hop was to Montreal, 500 miles distant. The start was made at 8:52 a. m. Friday and Montreal was reached in 3 hours and 50 minutes.
Thus the entire 6,100 miles of the journey from Orbetello to Chicago occupied approximately 46½ hours and the average speed was close to the 130 miles an hour which had been anticipated. One of the finest features of the trip, airplane experts held, was the fact that matters came out as the leader and his associates planned.
Official Book of the Flight of Italo Balbo and his Italian Air Armada to A Century of Progree Chicago—1933
RECEPTlON AND CEREMONIES IN CHICAGO
The Day of Landing
The ltalian Air Armada landed on Lake Michigan, facing Grant Park north of the World’s Fair grounds, at about noon.
The U. S. S. Wilmette, after firing a salute, received General Balbo and his officers on board to be greeted by the authorities and the reception committee.
Motor boats escorted General Balbo and his mell to the north lagoon at he World’s Fair where they disembarked at the Administration Building.
Upon their arrival at Soldier Field Stadium they were cheered by 100,000 people of Chicago.
Reception, tendered by the Dante Alighieri Society of Chicago, at the Drake Hotel.
Dinner Dance, at the Saddle and Cycle Club.
First Day in Chicago
Thanksgiving Mass at the Holy Name Cathedral, officiated by His Eminence Cardinal Mundelein.
Visits to Mr. Harry S. New, at the Federal Building and Gov. Henry Horner, at the Illinois Host Building in the World’s Fair, to Mayor Edward F. Kelly, in the City Hall und to Mr. Rufus C. Dawes, at the Administration Building.
Luncheon, tendered by mr. and Mrs. Rufus C. Dawes.
Visit at the Italian Pavilion, and the Italian Scientific Exhibits at the Hall of Seicnce in the World’s Fair grounds.
Dinner, tendered by the Italian Community of Chicago, at the Stevens Hotel.
Second Day in Chicago
Visit at the Municipal Airport.
Visit at Lake Geneva.
Dinner, tendered by Mr. Harry S. New, at the Congress Hotel.
Grand Ball, tendered by Prince Potenziani, Royal Italian Commissioner to the World’s Fair, and by the Italy-America Society, at the Casino of theWorld’s Fair.
Third Day in Chicago
Visit at A Century of Progress and the Air Show.
Luncheon, tendered by Admiral Cluverius, at the Congress Hotel.
Visit to Major General Frank Parker at Fort Sheridan.
Dinner Dance, at the Tavern Club
Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1934
Thousands Hear Broadcast and Attend Dedication of Column on Italian Day at Fair.
Scene in front of Italian building yesterday as 32 foot marble column from ancient Ostia, recently unearthed, was dedicated in a colorful ceremony. Crowds heard the international broadcast of Gen. Italo Balbo, leader of last year’s epic mass sea flight to the Fair and joined in the ceremony marking two important events in Italian history. 40,000 Italians attended the event.
Chicago Tribune, August 27, 1938
SPEAKING OF COLUMNS.
The Balbo column came from recent archaeological excavations at Ostia, the seaport of ancient Rome at the mouth of the Tiber. It is of a mottled green marble which was quarried in Sparta and was rare even in classical times. These quarries have been exhausted for over a thousand years. It is a slender shaft and has a capital that is a Roman simplification of the Corinthian order.
The pedestal bears an inscription, lightly incised. The lettering was originally gilded, but the color has weathered away, and it is now difficult to read at a glance. Here is what is says in Italian:
Questa colonna di venti secoli antica eretta sul lido di Ostia, porto di Roma imperiale, a vigilare le fortune e le vittorie delle tiremi Romane, l’italia Fascista, auspice Benito Mussolini, dona a Chicago esaltazione simbolo ricordo della squadra Atlantica guidata da Balbo, che con romano ardimento trasvolo’ l’oceano nell’ anno XI del Littorio.
The Line o’Type column, oldest of its kind, salutes the Balbo column and translates it inscription into English as follows:
This column of twenty centuries old, erected on the beach of Ostia, port of Imperial Rome, to watch over the fortunes and victories of the Roman fleets. Fascist Italy, under the auspices of Benito Mussolini gives to Chicago in laudation and as a symbolic remembrance of the Atlantic Squadron led by Balbo, which with Roman boldness flew across the ocean in the eleventh year of the Lictorship.
To commemorate Balbo’s landing in Newfoundland and to supply postage for mail to be carried by Balbo on the return flight to Rome, the Newfoundland postal authorities overprinted and surcharged in black the 75-cent bister “Labrador, the Land of Gold” airmail stamp Scott HC17 to become Scott HC18
Chicago Tribune, June 30, 1940
ROME, June 29 (AP)—Italy mourned tonight for Marshal Italo Balbo, bearded warrior, adventurer, and colonial administrator.
Balbo, 44 years old, died in the service of his country at war, victim of sharp shooting British aviators2 who sent his big plane spinning to earth in flames over Tobruk, Libya, yesterday. Nine others in the plane, including several prominent personages, also perished.
The British were believed bombing Tobruk, Italian base on the Libyan coast near the Egyptian border, when they caught Balbo’s plane in their hail of bullets. The plane was on an official mission, but it had not gone up for military action when it was brought down, Italian authorities announced.
Flags at Half Staff.
As symbols of the nation’s sadness, Premier Mussolini ordered flags half staffed; Fascist headquarters was swathed in black crêpe; the Italian broadcasting system was silent for two minutes after announcing the death of the spectacular airman, and the high command thus honored him in a special communique:
Flags of the armed forces of Italy are lowered in sign of homage and high honor to the memory of Italo Balbo, Alpine volunteer in the world war, one of the quadrumvirate of the (Fascist) revolution, trans-Atlantic flyer, and air marshal who died at his post in combat.
Consul General Killed.
Other victims included the Italian consul general of Tripoli, the editor of Balbo’s newspaper, Corriere Padano, and two relatives of Balbo, Signor Ferrara, a nephew, and Lieut. Florio Gino, a brother-in-law. The other five victims were crew members.
Balbo was governor general of Libya—sent there in 1933 at the height of his popularity after having successfully led a mass flight of Italian planes from Rome to Chicago and return by way of New York.
He had been mentioned often in the old days as a successor to Mussolini himself, but after his assignment to Libya he had been less prominent in such speculations than Count Galeazzo Ciano, the Ducxe’s son-in-law and Italian foreign minister.
It was said in Rome that he had been sent away to keep his “political shadow from darkening the Piazza Venezia”—the site of Mussolini’s palace.
Balbo organized the Blackshirt militia after the world war and was one of the leaders in the 1922 march on Rome of Mussolini—the marshal’s old friend from war days.
Italy’s only air marshal, Balbo had an impressive record as soldier, flyer of the Atlantic to North and South America, and colonial administrator. His dynamic flashing personality and his black beard set the fashion for many young Black Shirts.
For six and a half years Balbo was in semieclipse so far as Fascism publicly was concerned. Many believed that Balbo had been sent to Libya because his tastes as a cultured, adventuresome, continental native of Ferrara made him little inclined to colonial problems.
Finds Way in “New World.”
But Balbo, “aided by his instinct, soon found his way in what for him was a new ethical, economic, and political world,” one of his biographers said.
He quickly became boss of Libya. He colonized its fertile seacoast with thousands of Italians from the homeland. He entertained lavishly in a big, white gubernatorial palace at Tripoli. He rode a shite horse with the air of a desert chieftain before Libyan natives.
Balbo was made air marshal for his flight to Chicago. Before that he had led four other mass flights; three over the Mediterranean and one to Brazil in 1931.
In the early days of Fascism, Balbo was the youngest of Mussolini’s trusted ;lieutenants. Back from the world war as a soldier in the Alpine front, he became head of the Fascist movement in his native Ferrara. When Mussolini organized the march on Rome in 1922 he chose Balbo as one of his quadrumvirate of leaders. The only quadrumnvirs remaining are Cesare Maria de Vecchi, governor of the Dodecanese Islands, and MArshal Emillio de Bono, chief of Italy’s southern army.
GREATEST MASS FLIGHT.
Marshal Balbo headed the greatest mass flight in aviation history, from Italy to Chicago and return, in 1933.
Twenty-four seaplanes, manned by 96 flyers, made up the Balbo air armada, which set down near the A Century of Progress exposition at 6 p. m. on July 15, 1933.
Flight Totaled 6,100 Miles.
The last leg of the trip was made from Montreal, Quebec, an 870 mile trip, rounding out the flight of 6,100 miles. Balbo’s planes already had conquered the dangerous Alps, the stormy coasts of the British Isles, the watery stretches of Iceland to Cartwright, Labrador.
A crowd of 60,000 gathered to Soldiers’ field, greeted the Italian aviators on the evening of their arrival. This was the first of an impressive series of receptions and celebrations. Seventh street was renamed Balbo avenue in honor of the expedition’s leader.
Fly to New York.
On July 19 Balbo and his fleet flew to New York City, where he was given as wild a welcome as in Chicago. The reception was duplicated again in Washington, D. C., the next day. The flyers began the homeward hop from New York on July 25. They reached Rome on Aug. 12, just six weeks after the trip began.
Chicago Tribune, April 4, 1962
A historic flight of nearly 30 years ago will be recalled tomorrow when 14 Italian pilots arrive at O’Hare International airport. They will be aboard an Alitalia Airlines jet,inaugurating the official Italian airline’s service between O’Hare and Rome.
Twelve of the pilots are generals today. They were captains or second pilots on July 15, 1933, when they arrived at a Century of Progress, Chicago’s World’s Fair, as part of a squadron of 96 fliers who flew here from Italy in 24 seaplanes, the first air odyssey on such a scale.
Flight Took 16 Days
That flight from Rome took 16 days, or 46½ hours of actual flying time. The inaugural Alitalia flight, in an American made DC-8 jet, is expected to take 11 hours and 25 minutes.
The Italian airmen will be feted Friday by a military ceremony at City hall. Mayor Daley will escort them to the city council chambers, where they will be made honorary citizens of Chicago. A luncheon will follow in the Sherman hotel.
The arrival of the squadron at a Century of Progress made world history. The flight was watched by many as keenly as John Glenn’s space flight. A 25th plane in the entourage, which was led by the late Gen. Italo Balbo, crashed on landing at Amsterdam and a crew member was killed.
Street Named for Him
Balbo, then Italian air minister, became the toast of Chicago. Seventh street was renamed Balbo drive in his honor. He died in 1940 when his plane was shot down by the British over Libya.2
Among the Italian visitors making their return trip to Chicago will be Gen. Giuseppe Teucci. A first lieutenant in Balbo’s crew in the seaplane flight, Teucci later became Italian air attache in Berlin, was placed in a concentration camp for not supporting Mussolini or Hitler, but escaped. After World War II he became commander in chief of the Italian air force, and now is in the reserves.
President Roosevelt presented Balbo the Distinguished Flying Cross.
He was awarded the 1931 Harmon Trophy.
The Sioux honorarily adopted Balbo as “Chief Flying Eagle”
1 The return flight from New York stopped in Shoal Harbour at Clarenville, Newfoundland on July 26. A road overlooking the bay used by the flying boats was renamed Balbo Drive, a name it still carries today.
2 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. 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 Blenheims.