The Abyssinia Crisis was an international crisis in 1935 originating in what was called the Walwal incident in the then-ongoing conflict between the Kingdom of Italy and the Empire of Ethiopia (then commonly known as "Abyssinia"). The League of Nations ruled against Italy and voted for economic sanctions, but they were never fully applied. Italy ignored the sanctions, quit the League, made special deals with Britain and France and ultimately established control of Abyssinia. The crisis discredited the League and moved Fascist Italy closer to an alliance with Nazi Germany.
Both Ethiopia and Italy pursued a policy of provocation against each other and Italy prepared to invade Ethiopia, described as follows by the League of Nations:
At places where there is not a single Italian national, a consul establishes himself in an area known as consular territory with a guard of about ninety men, for whom he claims jurisdictional immunity. This is an obvious abuse of consular privileges. The abuse is all the greater that the consul's duties, apart from the supplying of information of a military character, take the form of assembling stocks of arms, which constitute a threat to the peace of the country, whether from the internal or the international point of view.
The Italo–Ethiopian Treaty of 1928 stated that the border between Italian Somaliland and Ethiopia was twenty-one leagues from and parallel to the Banaadir coast (approximately 118.3 km [73.5 mi]). In 1930, Italy built a fort at the Walwal oasis (also Welwel, Italian: Ual-Ual) in the eastern Ogaden, well beyond the twenty-one league limit. The fort was in a boundary zone between the nations, which was not well defined; today it is about 130 km (81 mi) inside Ethiopia.
On 29 September 1934, Italy and Abyssinia released a joint statement renouncing any aggression against each other.
On 22 November 1934, a force of 1,000 Ethiopian militia with three fitaurari (Ethiopian military-political commanders) arrived near Walwal and formally asked the Dubats garrison stationed there (comprising about 60 soldiers) to withdraw from the area. The Somali NCO leading the garrison refused to withdraw and alerted Captain Cimmaruta, commander of the garrison of Uarder, 20 kilometres (12 mi) away, to what had happened.
The next day, in the course of surveying the border between British Somaliland and Ethiopia, an Anglo–Ethiopian boundary commission arrived at Walwal. The commission was confronted by a newly arrived Italian force. The British members of the boundary commission protested, but withdrew to avoid an international incident. The Ethiopian members of the boundary commission, however, stayed at Walwal.
Between 5 and 7 December, for reasons which have never been clearly determined, there was a skirmish between the garrison of Somalis, who were in Italian service, and a force of armed Ethiopians. According to the Italians, the Ethiopians attacked the Somalis with rifle and machine-gun fire. According to the Ethiopians, the Italians attacked them, supported by two tanks and three aircraft. In the end, approximately 107 Ethiopians[nb 1] and 50 Italians and Somalis were killed.[nb 2]
Neither side did anything to avoid confrontation; the Ethiopians repeatedly menaced the Italian garrison with the threat of an armed attack, while the Italians sent two planes over the Ethiopian camp. One of them fired a short machine gun burst, which no one on the ground noticed, after the pilot saw Captain Cimmaruta in the midst of the Ethiopians and thought he had been taken prisoner by them.
'Treaties or scraps of paper?'
To the Editor of The Daily Telegraph
Last Saturday's leading article on “Abyssinia: Our Duty” is welcome indeed after the advice liberally offered to the Emperor of Abyssinia by some sections of the English Press, urging him to submit to Italy, not because the Italian blackmail is just, but because it would be so inconvenient for ourselves if he resisted.
We might be called on to do more than lip-service to the League; and how extravagant would that be!
Twenty-one years ago, when the consequences of honouring our obligations were far more menacing, we were indignant enough at the suggestion that treaties were, after all, only “scraps of paper.” But geography plays strange tricks with justice. Italy is breaking at least three solemn pledges in her aggression on a fellow member of the League – the very type of aggression that the League was created to prevent: but many of us do not find it matters very much. The League has not yet called on us; but there are already plenty of voices busy finding pretexts for us to shuffle out of the whole thing.
It is not our duty to defend Abyssinia single-handed – no-one has suggested it; but it is our duty, if covenants mean anything whatsoever, to oppose this piece of brigandage at Geneva, and after. It is our duty to be concerting with whatever Powers retain some decency, particularly the United States, what measures may be needed.
Europe has at its disposal sanctions that Italy could not defy, provided we have the courage to use them. But instead of that the English Press, with a few honourable exceptions, has been taken up with nauseating discussion of our own interests. Later on, one gathers, we shall be very firm with Italy about the water of Lake Tana. Meanwhile, Ethiopian blood is a cheaper commodity.
If this is to be the way of our world, why make treaties at all? Let us at least have the courage of our cynicism. Let us have done with covenants, since they no longer serve to deceive anybody. Let us have done with the League, since “collective security” means simply the security of those strong enough to be secure. And then, if we perish in the chaos for which the world is heading, it will at least be without having canted to our last breath.
This jungle-law may have ruled between nations in the past; the time is rapidly approaching when either it ends or else the world. If the League cannot enforce one law for weak and strong, black and white, sooner or later we are finished. And if we flinch every time a test arises, we shall have deserved it.
|[From a letter by F. L. Lucas of King's College, Cambridge, British anti-appeasement campaigner, to The Daily Telegraph, 25 July 1935]|
On 6 December 1934, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia protested Italian aggression at Walwal. On 8 December, Italy demanded an apology for Ethiopian aggression and, on 11 December, followed up this demand with another for financial and strategic compensation.
On 3 January 1935, Ethiopia appealed to the League of Nations for arbitration of the dispute arising from the Walwal incident. But the league's response was inconclusive. A subsequent analysis by an arbitration committee of the League of Nations absolved both parties of any culpability for what had happened.
Shortly after Ethiopia's initial appeal, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pierre Laval of France and Foreign Secretary Samuel Hoare of the United Kingdom met with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in Rome.
On 7 January 1935, a meeting between Laval and Mussolini resulted in the "Franco–Italian Agreement". This treaty gave Italy parts of French Somaliland (now Djibouti), redefined the official status of Italians in French-held Tunisia, and essentially gave the Italians a free hand in dealing with Ethiopia. In exchange, France hoped for Italian support against Germany.
On 10 February 1935, Mussolini mobilized two divisions. On 23 February, Mussolini began to send large numbers of troops to Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, which were the Italian colonies that bordered Ethiopia to the northeast and southeast, respectively. There was little international protest in response to this build-up.
On 8 March, Ethiopia again requested arbitration and noted Italian military build-up. Three days later Italy and Ethiopia agreed on a neutral zone in the Ogaden. On 17 March, in response to continued Italian build-up, Ethiopia again appealed to the league for help. On 22 March, the Italians yielded to pressure from the League of Nations to submit to arbitration on the dispute arising from the Walwal incident, but continued to mobilize its troops in the region. On 11 May, Ethiopia again protested the ongoing Italian mobilization.
Between 20 and 21 May, the League of Nations held a special session to discuss the crisis in Ethiopia. On 25 May, a league council resolved that it would meet if no fifth arbitrator had been selected by 25 June, or if a settlement was not reached by 25 August. On 19 June, Ethiopia requested neutral observers.
From 23 to 24 June, the United Kingdom tried to quell the crisis, sending Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Anthony Eden to try to broker a peace agreement. The attempt was unsuccessful, and it became clear that Mussolini was intent on conquest. On 25 July, the United Kingdom imposed an embargo on arms sales to both Italy and Ethiopia. Many historians believe that the embargo was a response to Italy's decree that it would view arms sales to Ethiopia as an act of unfriendliness toward Italy while other observers believe that the United Kingdom was protecting her economic interests in East Africa. The United Kingdom also cleared its warships from the Mediterranean, allowing Italy further unhindered access to eastern Africa.
On 25 June, Italian and Ethiopian officials met in the Hague to discuss arbitration. By 9 July, these discussions had fallen apart.
On 26 July, the league confirmed that no fifth member of the arbitration panel had been selected. On 3 August, the League limited arbitration talks to matters other than the sovereignty of Walwal.
On 12 August, Ethiopia pleaded for the arms embargo to be lifted. On 16 August, France and the United Kingdom offered Italy large concessions in Ethiopia to try to avert war, but Italy rejected the offers. On 22 August, Britain reaffirmed its commitment to the arms embargo.
On 4 September, the league met again and exonerated both Italy and Ethiopia of any culpability in the Walwal incident, on the ground that each nation had believed Walwal was within its own territorial borders. On 10 September, Pierre Laval, Anthony Eden, and even Sir Samuel Hoare agreed on limitations to sanctions against Italy.
On 25 September, Ethiopia again asked for neutral observers.
On 27 September, the British Parliament supported the initiative of Konni Zilliacus and unanimously authorized the imposition of sanctions against Italy should it continue its policy towards Ethiopia.
On 28 September, Ethiopia began to mobilize its large, but poorly equipped army.
On November 7, the Irish Free State passed the "League of Nations Bill", placing sanctions on Italy.
On 3 October 1935, shortly after the league exonerated both parties in the Walwal incident, Italian armed forces from Eritrea invaded Ethiopia without a declaration of war, prompting Ethiopia to declare war on Italy, thus beginning the Second Italo–Abyssinian War.
On 7 October in what would come to be known as the Riddell Incident, the League of Nations declared Italy to be the aggressor, and started the slow process of imposing sanctions on Italy. The sanctions were limited, however. They did not prohibit the provision of several vital materials, such as oil, and were not carried out by all members of the League. The Canadian delegate to the League, Walter Riddell, suggested that the League add steel and oil to the sanctions, which caused the world press to speak of the "Canadian initiative" and of the bold decision taken by the prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King in pressing for oil sanctions against Italy. Riddell had acted on his own, and was promptly disallowed by Mackenzie King, who characteristically announced that it was absolutely untrue that he made a decision as he in fact had made no decision about anything, saying he had never heard of this "Canadian initiative" in Geneva. Mackenzie King's opposition to Riddell's "Canadian initiative" was motivated by domestic politics as Mussolini was widely admired in Catholic Quebec, especially by the nationalistic Quebecois intelligentsia, and King's Liberal Party had just won the majority of the seats in Quebec in the 1935 election. King was terrified of the possibility of Canada taking the lead in imposing oil sanctions against Italy would cause the Liberals to lose their seats in Quebec in the next election, hence no more was heard of the "Canadian initiative"..
The United States, generally indifferent to the League of Nations' weak sanctions, increased its exports to Italy, and the United Kingdom and France did not take any serious action against Italy, such as blocking Italian access to the Suez Canal. Even Italy's use of chemical weapons and other actions that violated international norms did little to change the League's passive approach to the situation.
In late December 1935, Hoare of the United Kingdom and Laval of France proposed the secret Hoare-Laval Plan, which would have ended the war but allowed Italy to control large areas of Ethiopia. Mussolini agreed to consider the Hoare-Laval plan to buy time as he was afraid of oil sanctions against Italy, but he had no intention of accepting it. The plan caused an outcry in the United Kingdom and France when the plan was leaked to the media. Hoare and Laval were accused of betraying the Abyssinians, and both resigned. Their plan was dropped, but the perception spread that the United Kingdom and France were not serious about the principles of the league. The war continued, and Mussolini turned to German dictator Adolf Hitler for alliance.
In March 1936, Hitler marched troops into the Rhineland, which had been prohibited by the Treaty of Versailles. The French were now desperate to get Italian support against German aggression directly on their border, so would not take any further action with sanctions. France was prepared to give Abyssinia to Mussolini, so his troops were able to continue their war relatively unchallenged by the rest of Europe.
Haile Selassie was forced into exile on 2 May. All the sanctions that had been put in place by the League were dropped after the Italian capture of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on the 5th of May 1936. Ethiopia was then merged with the other Italian colonies to become Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana, or AOI).
Ethiopia never officially surrendered, and pleaded for help from foreign nations, such as Haile Selassie's 7 June 1936 address to League of Nations. As a result, there were six nations which did not recognize Italy's occupation in 1937: China, New Zealand, the Soviet Union, the Republic of Spain, Mexico and the United States. Italian control of Ethiopia was never total, due to continued guerrilla activity, which the British would later use to their advantage during World War II. However, by 1940 Italy was in complete control of three-quarters of the country.
The end of the AOI came quickly during World War II. In early 1941, as part of the East African Campaign, Allied forces launched offensive actions against the isolated Italian colony. On 5 May 1941, five years after the Italians had captured his capital, Emperor Haile Selassie entered Addis Ababa.
There were also major impacts on the League of Nations:
Alfred John Kennett Todd (13 April 1890 – 27 August 1970) was a Conservative Party politician in the United Kingdom.He was elected at the 1929 general election as Member of Parliament (MP) for Berwick-upon-Tweed.
In May 1935, Todd resigned the whip of the National Government, along with Frederick Wolfe Astbury, Joseph Nall, Linton Thorp and Katharine Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl, as they claimed that some aspects of government policy were too close to socialism, and were unhappy with government policy on India. However, Todd continued to identify with the Conservative Party, and took the whip again in September, to show support for the Government during the Abyssinia Crisis.Todd lost his seat in a narrow defeat at the 1935 general election by the Liberal candidate Sir Hugh Seely. He did not stand for Parliament again.His grandson Mark Todd is a Labour Party politician, elected in 1997 as MP for South Derbyshire.Esmond Clifford
Colonel Esmond Humphrey Miller Clifford (1895–1970) was a Royal Engineers officer of the British Army who served between 1914 and 1948 through both world wars. During the interwar period (1918–1939) he became the Senior British Commissioner of the Anglo-Ethiopian Boundary Commission which became involved in the Abyssinia Crisis. He was held as a prisoner of war for most of the Second World War. After his retirement he became the British Commissioner for the Kenya-Ethiopia Boundary Commission in 1950.Ethiopia–Italy relations
Ethiopia–Italy relations refers to the current and historical relationship between Ethiopia and Italy.HMS Crescent (1931)
HMS Crescent was a C-class destroyer which was built for the Royal Navy in the early 1930s. The ship was initially assigned to the Home Fleet, although she was temporarily deployed in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean during the Abyssinia Crisis of 1935–36. Crescent was sold to the Royal Canadian Navy in late 1936 and renamed HMCS Fraser. She was stationed on the west coast of Canada until the beginning of World War II when she was transferred to the Atlantic coast for convoy escort duties. The ship was transferred to the United Kingdom (UK) in May 1940 and helped to evacuate refugees from France upon her arrival in early June. Fraser was sunk on 25 June 1940 in a collision with the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Calcutta while returning from one such mission.HMS Cygnet (H83)
HMS Cygnet was a C-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy in the early 1930s. The ship was initially assigned to the Home Fleet, although she was temporarily deployed in the Red Sea during the Abyssinia Crisis of 1935–36. Cygnet was sold to the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in late 1937 and renamed HMCS St. Laurent. She was stationed on the west coast of Canada when World War II began in September 1939, and had to be transferred to the Atlantic coast for convoy escort duties. She served as a convoy escort in the Battle of the Atlantic and participated in the sinking of two German submarines. The ship was on anti-submarine patrols during the invasion of Normandy, and was employed as a troop transport after VE Day for returning Canadian servicemen. St. Laurent was decommissioned in late 1945 and scrapped in 1947.HMS Dainty (H53)
HMS Dainty was a D-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy in the early 1930s. The ship was initially assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet before she was transferred to the China Station in early 1935. She was temporarily deployed in the Red Sea during late 1935 during the Abyssinia Crisis, before returning to her assigned station where she remained until mid-1939. Dainty was transferred back to the Mediterranean Fleet just before World War II began in September 1939. She briefly was assigned to West Africa for convoy escort duties in 1940 before returning to the Mediterranean. The ship participated in the Battle of Calabria in July 1940 and was assigned to convoy escort and patrol duties until she was sunk by German bombers off Tobruk on 24 February 1941.HMS Defender (H07)
HMS Defender was a D-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy in the early 1930s. The ship was initially assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet before she was transferred to the China Station in early 1935. She was temporarily deployed in the Red Sea during late 1935 during the Abyssinia Crisis, before returning to her assigned station where she remained until mid-1939. Defender was transferred back to the Mediterranean Fleet just before World War II began in September 1939. She briefly was assigned to West Africa for convoy escort duties in 1940 before returning to the Mediterranean. The ship participated in the Battles of Calabria, Cape Spartivento, and Cape Matapan over the next year without damage. Defender assisted in the evacuations from Greece and Crete in April–May 1941, before she began running supply missions to Tobruk, Libya in June. The ship was badly damaged by a German bomber on one of those missions and had to be scuttled by her consort on 11 July 1941.HMS Delight (H38)
HMS Delight was a D-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy in the early 1930s. Delight was initially assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet before she was transferred to the China Station in early 1935. She was temporarily deployed in the Red Sea during late 1935 during the Abyssinia Crisis, before returning to her duty station where she remained until mid-1939. Delight was transferred back to the Mediterranean Fleet just before the Second World War began in September 1939. She served with the Home Fleet during the Norwegian Campaign. The ship was sunk by German dive-bombers on 29 July 1940 while attempting to transit the English Channel in daylight.HMS Diana (H49)
HMS Diana was a D-class destroyer of the Royal Navy. Ordered in 1931, the ship was constructed by Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company, and entered naval service in 1932. Diana was initially assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet before she was transferred to the China Station in early 1935. She was temporarily deployed in the Red Sea during late 1935 during the Abyssinia Crisis, before returning to her duty station where she remained until mid-1939. Diana was transferred back to the Mediterranean Fleet just before the Second World War began in September 1939. She served with the Home Fleet during the Norwegian Campaign. The ship was transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy in 1940 and renamed HMCS Margaree. She served for just over a month with the Canadians before being sunk in a collision with a large freighter she was escorting on 22 October 1940.HMS Duchess (H64)
HMS Duchess was a D-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy in the early 1930s. The ship was initially assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet before she was transferred to the China Station in early 1935. She was temporarily deployed in the Red Sea during late 1935 during the Abyssinia Crisis, before returning to her duty station where she remained until mid-1939. Duchess was transferred back to the Mediterranean Fleet just before the Second World War began in September 1939. Whilst escorting the battleship HMS Barham back to the British Isles, she was accidentally rammed by the battleship in thick fog and sank with heavy loss of life on 12 December 1939.HMS Escort (H66)
HMS Escort was an E-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy in the early 1930s. Although assigned to the Home Fleet upon completion, the ship was attached to the Mediterranean Fleet in 1935–36, during the Abyssinia Crisis. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939, she spent considerable time in Spanish waters, enforcing the arms blockade imposed by Britain and France on both sides of the conflict. Escort was assigned to convoy escort and anti-submarine patrol duties in the Western Approaches, when World War II began in September 1939. During the Norwegian Campaign, the ship escorted ships of the Home Fleet, although she did tow her sister HMS Eclipse after the latter ship had been badly damaged by German air attack. Escort was assigned to Force H in late June, and participated in the Attack on Mers-el-Kébir in early July. She was torpedoed a few days later, by an Italian submarine, but was towed for three days towards Gibraltar before she foundered.HMS Esk (H15)
HMS Esk was an E-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy in the early 1930s. She was designed to be easily converted into a fast minelayer by removing some guns and her torpedo tubes. Although assigned to the Home Fleet upon completion, the ship was attached to the Mediterranean Fleet in 1935–36, during the Abyssinia Crisis. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939, she spent considerable time in Spanish waters, enforcing the arms blockade imposed by Britain and France on both sides of the conflict. Esk was converted to a minelayer when World War II began in September 1939, and spent most of her time laying mines. During the Norwegian Campaign of April–June 1940, the ship laid mines in Norwegian territorial waters before the Germans invaded, but was recalled to home waters to resume her minelaying duties in early May. During one such sortie, Esk was sunk during the Texel Disaster on the night of 31 August 1940, when she ran into a newly laid German minefield.HMS Exmouth (H02)
HMS Exmouth was an E-class destroyer flotilla leader built for the Royal Navy in the early 1930s. Although assigned to the Home Fleet upon completion, the ship was attached to the Mediterranean Fleet in 1935–36 during the Abyssinia Crisis. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939 she spent considerable time in Spanish waters, enforcing the arms blockade imposed by Britain and France on both sides of the conflict. Exmouth was assigned to convoy escort and anti-submarine patrol duties in the Western Approaches when World War II began in September 1939. She was sunk by a German submarine in January 1940 while escorting a merchant ship north of Scotland.HMS Fame (H78)
HMS Fame was an F-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy during the 1930s. Although assigned to the Home Fleet upon completion, the ship was attached to the Mediterranean Fleet in 1935–36 during the Abyssinia Crisis. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939, she spent time in Spanish waters, enforcing the arms blockade imposed by Britain and France on both sides of the conflict. Fame served in the Norwegian Campaign in 1940 before she was severely damaged when she ran aground in October. The ship was refloated several months later and spent a year and a half under repair. Fame was converted into an escort destroyer while under repair and was assigned to escort duties in the North Atlantic when the repairs were completed in mid-1942.
She sank two German submarines before she was transferred back to British coastal waters in May 1944 to protect the build-up for Operation Overlord. Together with two other destroyers, she sank another German submarine that month and was reassigned to escort duties off the west coast of Scotland in July, where she remained until the war ended in May 1945. Fame remained on active duty until mid-1947 when she was paid off. The ship was recommissioned a year later and was then sold to the Dominican Republic in 1949. She was scrapped in 1968.HMS Firedrake (H79)
HMS Firedrake was an F-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy during the early 1930s. Although assigned to the Home Fleet upon completion, the ship was attached to the Mediterranean Fleet in 1935–36 during the Abyssinia Crisis. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936–39, she spent much time in Spanish waters, enforcing the arms blockade imposed by Britain and France on both sides of the conflict.
Several weeks after the start of the Second World War in September 1939, Firedrake helped to sink a German submarine and took part in the Norwegian Campaign in early 1940. She was sent to Gibraltar in mid-1940 and formed part of Force H where she escorted many Malta convoys in the Mediterranean and helped to sink an Italian submarine. Firedrake participated in the Battle of Cape Spartivento and screened the capital ships of Force H as they bombarded Genoa before she was damaged by an Italian bomb in mid-1941. After her repairs were completed the ship became a convoy escort in the Atlantic at the beginning of 1942. Firedrake was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in late 1942 with the loss of most of her crew.HMS Foresight (H68)
HMS Foresight was one of nine F-class destroyers built for the Royal Navy during the 1930s. She was assigned to the Home Fleet upon completion. Unlike her sister ships, she does not appear to have been attached to the Mediterranean Fleet in 1935–36 during the Abyssinia Crisis, nor did she enforce the arms blockade imposed by Britain and France on both sides of the conflict the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939. The ship escorted the larger ships of the fleet during the early stages of World War II and played a minor role in the Norwegian Campaign of 1940. Foresight was sent to Gibraltar in mid-1940 and formed part of Force H where she participated in the attack on Mers-el-Kébir and the Battle of Dakar. The ship escorted numerous convoys to Malta in 1941 and Arctic convoys during 1942. Later that year, Foresight participated in Operation Pedestal, another convoy to Malta. She was torpedoed by an Italian aircraft on 12 August and had to be scuttled the next day.Italo Balbo
Italo Balbo (Ferrara, 6 June 1896 – Tobruk, 28 June 1940) was an Italian Blackshirt (Camicie Nere, or CCNN) leader who served as Italy's Marshal of the Air Force (Maresciallo dell'Aria), Governor-General of Libya, Commander-in-Chief of Italian North Africa (Africa Settentrionale Italiana, or ASI), and the "heir apparent" to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
After serving in World War I, Balbo became the leading Fascist organizer in his home region of Ferrara. He was one of the four principal architects (Quadrumviri del Fascismo) of the March on Rome that brought Mussolini and the Fascists to power in 1922, along with Michele Bianchi, Emilio De Bono and Cesare Maria De Vecchi. In 1926, he began the task of building the Italian Royal Air Force and took a leading role in popularizing aviation in Italy, and promoting Italian aviation to the world. In 1933, perhaps to relieve tensions surrounding him in Italy, he was given the government of Italian Libya, where he resided for the remainder of his life. Balbo, hostile to anti-semitism, was the only leading Fascist to oppose Mussolini's alliance with Nazi Germany. Early in World War II, he was accidentally killed by friendly fire when his plane was shot down over Tobruk by Italian anti-aircraft guns who misidentified his plane.