Mail for Italo Balbo
A Bellanca monoplane over Bay Roberts
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?”