A turbulent era in Italian politics saw the emergence of a great aviator, the flamboyant Marshal Balbo, as famous for his stand against Hitler as for his revolutionary leadership.
Of the many colourful personalities to come out of Italy’s fascist era, Italo Balbo was among the most exuberant. He was a prominent member of the fascist movement in Ferrara, his birthplace, and in the early 1920s he was the driving force behind many influential blackshirt gangs with one of the most famous being his own gang, the Celibano, named after his favourite drink.
The group was notorious for having raided the Estense Castle in Ferrara. A turning point for the Fascist movement was 1922, the year of ‘the March on Rome’, and Balbo was among the four organisers to firmly launch the Fascist party into national power. In 1926 Balbo was appointed Secretary of State for Air, but although he had little prior aviation experience, he proceeded to pour all of his energy into the discipline.
Pictured here in the 1930s in his new aeroplane, by this time his flying achievements had made him a national hero. In the early 1930s he organised and lead two intercontinental fleets to the Americas. The transatlantic crossings secured Balbo a prominent position in history, elevating him to the status of Air Marshal.
In 1934, he became Governor of Libya, probably due to his increasing popularity, which Mussolini saw as a threat to his supreme leadership. When Italy entered the war on Hitler’s side, Balbo was quick to register his disdain, wishing instead to side with the British. When his plane was shot down over Libya in 1940, many believed the apparent accident was by order of the Italian government. n!