Italo Balbo shot down over Tobruk

Italo Balbo, the Commander in Chief of Italian Forces in North Africa, was killed when his plane was shot down, while attempting to land at Tobruk.

Italo Balbo was a charismatic Fascist, a re-knowned aviator in his own right. He had led two transatlantic expeditions of Italian flying boats that were magnificent advertisements for Italian air industry and the new ‘modern’ Italian state.

Italo Balbo’s plane was shot down by Italian guns as he came in to land at Tobruk in North Africa just moments after a British air raid on the Italian base. Balbo was known to have reservations about the alliance with Germany, to have opposed the anti-semitic policies that followed as a consequence and to have a realistic appreciation of the capabilities of the Italian armed forces that was at odds with the usual Fascist rhetoric.

Subsequent conspiracy theories have suggested that he had argued with Mussolini over the North African strategy and was assassinated as a consequence. There is no evidence to suggest that these arguments were leading to any exceptional rift between the ‘Il Duce’ and his commander in chief in the field. There is evidence to show that Balbo was planning to start the invasion of Egypt in July, plans that were now delayed. Furthermore it would have been extraordinarily difficult to engineer a ‘friendly fire’ assassination taking place co-incidental with a surprise British bombing raid.

Contemporary Italian newsreel of Italo Balbo personally leading a bombing mission:

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