Italo Balbo : biography
- "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 was the Governor-General of Libya and 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 material 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.
On 28 June 1940, while attempting to land at the Italian airfield in Tobruk a few minutes after a British air attack, Balbo and his crew were shot down by Italian gunners and killed. The most accredited version, based on the report by the eyewitness General Porro,General Felice Porro, "Come fu abbattuto l’aereo di Balbo", in Rivista Aeronautica, May 1948. claim that the old cruiser San Giorgio, used as a floating anti-aircraft battery, started firing on his Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 airplane, followed by the airport’s anti-aircraft guns. It is still not clear which of them shot him down. Some of Balbo’s closest friends and his family believed that it was an assassination on Mussolini’s orders, and these voices have lingered for a long time as a sort of un-documented historical gossip, but extensive researches about the incident have conclusively debunked this theory.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, 1998Folco Quilici, Tobruk 1940. Dubbi e verità sulla fine di Italo Balbo, Mondadori, 2006. 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.Taylor, Fascist Eagle: Italy’s Air Marshal Italo Balbo, p. 124. Poor fire discipline by the anti-aircraft defences did the rest.
Italo Balbo’s remains were buried outside Tripoli on 4 July 1940. In 1970, Balbo’s remains were brought back to Italy and buried in Orbetello by Balbo’s family after Muammar Gaddafi threatened to disinter the Italian cemeteries in Tripoli.