Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Balbo, Italo (1896–1940)

Italian air marshal who argued against fighting the Allies in World War II. Born in Qartesana, Italy, on 6 June 1896, Italo Balbo joined the army in 1915 when Italy entered World War I and fought as a lieutenant in the Alpini. Balbo joined the Fascist Party in 1921 and was a leader of the 1922 Fascist March on Rome. One of the more brutal commanders of the anti-Socialist Fascist militia, he became a top adviser to Benito Mussolini. After Mussolini became premier, Balbo held various cabinet posts before becoming minister of aviation in 1929, in which position he worked to make Italy a major air power. Balbo personally led a number of transatlantic flights to North and South America that captured public attention in Italy and abroad. But the Italian air force, despite setting numerous air records, was largely a paper tiger and had few modern aircraft.

Promoted to Italy's first air marshal in 1933, Balbo came to be seen as a political threat by Mussolini, who, in January 1934, appointed him governor and commander in chief of Italian forces in Libya. There, Balbo worked against the policy of Italian domination advocated by others, instead favoring a degree of assimilation for the Arab and Berber populations.

Balbo criticized Italy's alliance with Germany. At a Fascist Grand Council meeting on 7 December 1939, he raised the possibility of Italy fighting on the side of France and Britain. He continued to speak out, even to the British ambassador, against Italy going to war with the Allies.

After Italy declared war in June 1940, Balbo accepted command of Italian forces in North Africa. But on 28 June, his plane was shot down near Tobruk by Italian antiaircraft fire, and he was killed. A British air raid had just taken place, and Balbo's plane was downed while attempting to land after it failed to give the proper identification signal. Rumors had it, however, that Mussolini had ordered his death. Il Duce later remarked that Balbo was "the only one capable of killing me."

Spencer C. Tucker


Further Reading
Mack Smith, Denis. Mussolini's Roman Empire. New York: Viking, 1976.; Segrè, Claudio G. Italo Balbo: A Fascist Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.
 

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