Pilots of the RAF’s No 113 Sqn chat beside a Bristol Blenheim I before a sortie from Ma’aten Bagush, near Mersa Matruh in Egypt, where the unit was based from early June 1940 to January 1941. Research has yet to prove conclusively that the raid on T.2 on June 28 was undertaken by No 113 Sqn, but it is the most likely candidate.
Savoia-Marchetti S.79 l-AGSB was one of two unarmed examples of the trimotor transport used by Balbo, but it is unlikely he was flying either on June 28, 1940. According to Italian pilots, the Sparviero (Sparrowhawk) was reportedly nicknamed “Gobbo Maledetto” - “damned hunchback” - by the RAF.
The S.79 was arguably Italy’s most significant military aircraft of the late 1930s, being rugged, fast - and, with more than 1,200 produced between 1936 and mid-1943, built in substantial numbers. The type saw service with Italian units during the Spanish Civil War and set several international records before Italy’s entry into the war.
IT IS OFTEN stated that Balbo died in Savoia-Marchetti S.79 l-MANU, but in fact no such aircraft existed. The Air Marshal chose registrations patterned on the names of family members, including his children Giuliana (Fieseler Fi 156 Storch l-ULIA), Valeria (Cant Z.1012 l-IEIA) and Paolo (Cant Z.506 l-PAUL), and his wife Emanuella Florio (l-MANU). Between 1937 and 1940 the latter was carried in succession by a Caproni Ca 310, a Savoia-Marchetti S.83 and a Savoia-Marchetti S.75. The unarmed S.79s assigned to Balbo during this period were l-AGSA and ’GSB (the latter as seen), but there is little doubt that on June 28, 1940, he was flying neither of these.
LEFT Balbo’s copilot Maggiore Ottavio Frailich (nearest camera) - a veteran of the famous 1933 record-setting transatlantic long-distance formation flight - aboard an S.79 before his death on June 28, 1940. RIGHT Balbo’s brother-in-law Tenente Cino Florio, who was also aboard Balbo’s S.79 on its last fateful flight.
The wreck of Balbo’s S.79 at the crash site north of T.2 overlooking Marsa Tobruk. Balbo’s remains were buried in Tripoli on July 3, 1940. In a letter to his opposite number in Tripoli, Arthur Longmore, the RAF’s AOC-in-C in the Middle East, described Balbo as ‘‘a great leader and gallant aviator... whom fate placed on the other side”.
The remains of a 4° Stormo Fiat CR.42 at T.2 after the RAF raid on June 28. A number of CR.42s were scrambled to intercept what is believed to have been a force of Blenheims, but none managed to get airborne to defend the landing ground.