2010-08-13 / Columnists

Historical Views of the Rockaways

General Italo Balbo, Italian Aviator, 1933
From The Rockaway Museum Commentary by Emil Lucev, Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

General Italo Balbo, an Italian aviator, commanded an Italian aerial fleet which flew across the Atlantic Ocean in 1933, to the Century of Progress, Chicago World’s Fair 1833-1933. His armada of 25 double hulled flying boats took off from the waters of Lake Orbetello in Italy, with their 50 engines (on twin engine craft) roaring away and the propellors throwing spray to the rear.

The 6,000-plus mile flight, led by the 37- year-old Balbo, was to be one of the great aerial feats of the decade. On the return trip, a stopover was to be made here in New York. The fleet of 25 Savoia-Marchetti S-55X seaplanes left Italy on July 1, 1933.

The air group made stops in Amsterdam, Londonderry, Ireland, Iceland, Labrador, New Brunswick/Montreal Canada, and then Chicago. They arrived safely on July 14, 1933. On July 19 the armada stopped in New York, landing in Jamaica Bay at Floyd Bennett Field. The next day they were given a ticker tape parade on the traditional Broadway route and visited the city’s Little Italy. Next the crews went to Washington D.C. and had lunch with F.D.R. While they were there, Balbo placed a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier.

The sea squadron of 25 planes left New York’s Jamaica Bay on July 25, 1933 and arrived home to a heroe’s welcome in Italy on August 12, 1933. On the way home they were beset with bad weather and mechanical problems.

Balbo died in North Africa in 1940, shot down over Tobruk by his own anti-aircraft artillery, after the wrong identification signal was given.

When the Italian air fleet landed in Jamaica Bay, the shore areas of the bay were swarming with sightseers to watch the landings. The water landing areas (Nova Scotia Bar) had to be kept clear of boaters for the seaplanes to come down.

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