Mail for Italo Balbo

A Bel­lanca mono­plane over Bay Roberts

The Compass - - CLAS­SI­FIED -

Italo Balbo was born in Quar­te­sana, part of Fer­rara in the King­dom of Italy, on June 6,1896.

He has many claims to fame. He was a Black­shirt leader, air force mar­shal, gover­nor gen­eral of Libya, com­man­der-in-chief of Ital­ian North Africa, and the heir ap­par­ent to dic­ta­tor Ben­ito Mus­solini ( 1883-1945).

On June 28, 1940, while land­ing on an Ital­ian air­field a few min­utes af­ter a Bri­tish air at­tack, Balbo was shot down by Ital­ian gun­ners and killed. Was it a case of friendly fire or an as­sas­si­na­tion on Mus­solini’s or­ders? Spec­u­la­tion is rife, but the an­swer will never be known.

From July 1 to Au­gust 12 of 1933, Balbo com­manded the Ital­ian air ar­mada on a round-trip flight from Rome to the Cen­tury of Progress in Chicago, Illi­nois. His fleet was made up of 24 hy­droplanes.

The jour­ney had seven legs: Or­betello, Italy; Am­s­ter­dam, the Nether­lands; Derry, Ire­land; Reyk­javik, Ice­land; Cartwright, Labrador; She­diac, New Brunswick; and Mon­treal, Que­bec. It ended on Lake Michi­gan, one of the Great Lakes.

On their re­turn trip, via New York, New­found­land and the Azores, the fly­ers landed off Shoal Har­bour and Clarenville, where they pre­pared for the next leg of their trip. They de­parted on Aug. 8.

Balbo writes about his New­found­land ex­pe­ri­ence in his book, My Air Ar­mada. He makes ref­er­ence to “a few vil­lages dot­ted here and there on the tongue of land which is half hid­den in fog.” He re­calls “a land­scape that seems shad­owy and un­real. Ev­ery lit­tle while we see on the coast a fish­er­man’s hut, but no smoke curls from its chim­neys and there is ab­so­lutely no in­di­ca­tion of hu­man life around.” Else­where he writes about “a same­ness about the whole land­scape which be­comes very mo­not­o­nous.“

Mean­while, about 12:30 on the af­ter­noon of Thurs­day, July 27, 1933, an air­plane flew from the south­west.

It passed over Bay Roberts. Spec­ta­tors ran from their houses and looked sky­ward, hop­ing to iden­tify the sound of whin­ing en­gines. A plane, which was red in colour, was clearly vis­i­ble.

Fly­ing down the Bay, it turned in the di­rec­tion of Har­bour Grace. It ev­i­dently flew di­rectly over the air­port lo­cated near the town. Min­utes later, it turned and headed back to­wards Bay Roberts.

The craft flew over Co­ley’s Point. James Thomp­son waved to the pi­lot. The plane was so low in the sky that the pi­lot ac­knowl­edged the salute from the ground.

An em­ployee at the of­fice of The Guardian, the Bay Roberts news­pa­per at the time, was also star­ing in­tently at the plane. He thought it had ac­tu­ally landed at Co­ley’s Point be­cause of its low al­ti­tude.

He was about to jump in his car and drive to the site, hop­ing to meet the pi­lot. Then the craft reap­peared.

The plane con­tin­ued west, then east, fly­ing over Con­cep­tion Bay. It ap­peared to be head­ing in the di­rec­tion of St. John’s.

Sud­denly it turned again and flew high over North River be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing in a north­west­erly di­rec­tion.

It turned out that the craft was a Bel­lanca mono­plane. It was pi­loted by Lieu­tenant Com­man­der Ge­orge R. Pond, who worked with the United States Navy. He had left New York at 7: 45 on Wed­nes­day morn­ing. He was car­ry­ing with him im­por­tant mail for Italo Balbo.

Shortly af­ter two o’clock on Thurs­day af­ter­noon, Pond’s craft landed at Lester’s Field, on LeMarchant Road, St. John’s.

A cor­re­spon­dent for the Bay Roberts Guardian writes: “ The day was fine and clear, and there was no rea­son what­ever why the air­man, if he was sup­plied with the nec­es­sary in­for­ma­tion or charts be­fore­hand, should have missed the air­port at Har­bour Grace.”

The jour­nal­ist then used the in­ci­dent to lobby for what he called “spe­cial sig­nals”: “ Would it not be a good idea,” he asked rhetor­i­cally, “ if var­i­ous im­por­tant places were sup­plied with spe­cial sig­nals, th­ese to be used in the event of a plane fly­ing over that sec­tion, in or­der that the air­man may as­cer­tain his po­si­tion?”

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