Italo Balbo (1896-1940) was an Italian aviator, blackshirt leader and possible successor of Mussolini.
Italo Balo was born in Quartesana, Italy in June 6, 1896. During the World War One he served in Alpine troops and earned one bronze and two silver medals and reached the rank of captain. After the war he studied in Florence and obtained a degree in Social Sciences and then returned to his hometown to work as a bank clerk.
Eventually he joined the Fascists and soon became a secretary of a local fascist section. He begun to organize fascist gangs and formed his own group nicknamed Celibano, after their favorite drink. They broke strikes for local landowners and attacked communists and socialists in Portomaggiore, Ravenna, Modena and Bologna. The group once raided the Entense Castle in Ferrara.
By the time of 1922 March on Rome, he was a prominent fascist leader. In 1923 he was charged with murder of anti-fascist parish priest Giuseppe Minzoni in Argenta. He fled to Rome and in 1924 became General Commander of Fascist militia and undersecretary to National Economy in 1925.
In November 6, 1926, despite of the fact that at the time he knew nothing about aviation, he was appointed Secretary of State for Air. He went through a crash course of flying and set up to build the Regia Aeronautica, the Italian air force. In August 19 1928 he became Marshal of the Air Force and September 12 1929 Minister of the Air Force.
Balbo led two cross-Atlantic flights. The first was 1930 flight of 12 Savoia-Marchetti SM.55X flying boats from Orbetello, Italy to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil between December 17 1930 and January 15 1931. In July 1 - August 12 1933 he led a flight of 24 flying boats on a round-trip flight from Rome to Chicago, Illinois; the flight ended on Lake Michigan. New York City named Balbo Avenue after him and staged a parade in his honor. President Roosevelt invited him to a lunch. Back home in Italy, he was promoted Air Marshal. After this, the term Balbo entered common usage to describe any large formation of aircraft.
Later the same year Balbo was appointed governor general of Italian-held Libya where he moved in January, 1934. At that stage he had apparently caused bad blood in the party, possible because of jealousy and individualist behavior. He began road construction projects, tried to attract Italian immigrants and to draw Muslims in the fascist cause.
After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Balbo visited Rome to express his displeasure of the fact that Mussolini supported Hitler. He suggested that Italy would side with Britain but attracted little following. In Libya he continued to lead air patrols over North Africa.
June 28 1940 he was killed when he was returning from a patrol flight in Tobruk, Libya, when his plane was shot down by an Italian anti-aircraft gun of an Italian cruiser. The government in Rome maintained that the incident was an accident of friendly fire but Balbo's widow, Emanuela Florio, believed that it was in intentional assassination on Mussolini's orders.