The North-Atlantic cruise

Costantino Gironi

The Atlantic team, made up of 25 S 55 X seaplanes, divided into eight squadrons of three aircraft each, plus one considered as reserve, departed from Orbetello and returned to Rome, after having completed a journey of thirteen stages for a total of about 20,000 km ., crossing the Atlantic Ocean twice.
Here is the route and the stages:

Route map

Outward flight:

• 01/07 – Orbetello-Amsterdam 1,400 km
• 02/07 – Amsterdam-Londonderry 1,143 km
• 05/07 – Londonderry-Reykjavik 1,528 km
• 07/12 – Reykjavik-Cartwright 2,400 km
• 07/13 – Cartwright-Shediac 1.288 km
• 07/14 – Shediac-Montreal 750 km
• 15/07 – Montreal-Chicago 1,550 km

Return flight:

• 07/19 – Chicago-New York 1,515 km
• 07/25 – New York-Shediac 1,117 km
• 07/26 – Shediac-Shoal Harbor 1.150 km
• 08/08 – Shoal Harbor-Ponta Delgada 2,224 km
• 09/08 – Ponta Delgada-Lisbon 1,550 km
• 12/08 – Lisbon-Lido di Roma 2.320 km

Connecting two continents, separated by the ocean, has always been a strategically very important incentive. The idea was cradled by Italo Balbo for some time and began to materialize since 1928, when he returned from the United States where the International Aviation Congress in which he had participated was held. The experience of 1928 Western Mediterranean Cruise already carried out, consolidated the following year with the Eastern Mediterranean Cruise completed on a longer and more demanding route, was a comfort. Finally, the flight from Rome to Rio de Janeiro in 1930/31, despite the difficulties encountered, showed that the project was feasible, that the means used was reliable was the Savoia Marchetti S55X seaplane, designed and built in Italy with all-Italian material.

A rigorous selection was made to reduce the number of candidates to the numbers required by the system put in place for the training of crews. The seaplanes were divided between eight squadrons of three aircraft each: of which six black, six red, six white and six green, plus a twenty-fifth aircraft considered as reserve. Each aircraft was marked with the initials of its commander and the same initials were also reported, as we shall see, on the stamps, but for reasons of space five seaplanes did not have the honor of a stamp, in fact only twenty are the stamps bearing the initials.

Here are the acronyms in their arrangement on the sheet composed of twenty triptychs:


As the departure is scheduled for the second half of June, special stamps are available at post offices from May 20 with which it is possible to stamp the correspondence that will be transported by seaplanes on the Atlantic crossing. They consisted of three sections: the first for the registered air express, the second included the port for the registered mail and the express for abroad, the third for the air surcharge. The latter differed according to whether the correspondence was destined for Europe or for America.

The postage stamps for the Colonies saw the light later and precisely on 1 June; these are not triptych-shaped, but have a single section representing only the air surcharge, therefore the tariff had to be supplemented by adding air mail or ordinary stamps. For the Aegean Islands alone, the two stamps prepared for Italy were overprinted, but in different colors and without the initials of the commanders.

To stamp the correspondence of the State authorities sent to America, a special stamp is issued, also in a triptych but in a different color and with the overprint: “Servizio di Stato”.

After forced postponements and days of waiting, we finally leave. And, on the morning of Saturday, July 1st, 1933. All the correspondence destined for the arrival points of the various stages is already on board the seaplanes since the evening before. In addition to the post from Italy and the colonies, a small courier arrives from the Vatican for a total of 3,496 aerograms. There is also a courier consisting of a few letters from Germany, collected in Munich and with a cancellation dated 30 June, transported by plane to Rome.
When all the bags are ready and already put on board the seaplanes, mail still arrives. There are latecomers. Therefore, the preparation of an additional courier to be transported by plane to Londonderry, second stage of the Cruise, is authorized, to be entrusted there to the seaplanes of the Cruise. The crews take their seats on the ready-made seaplanes leaving the moorings and preparing to take off for the first leg that will take them from Orbetello to Amsterdam.

It seems that everything had gone well and when most of the crews are inspecting and overhauling the vehicles, news arrives of an accident occurred to Captain Baldini’s seaplane at the time of landing: the plane overturned and the engineer sergeant Ugo Quintavalle remained imprisoned in the wreckage, lost his life.
Although on July 2nd is Sunday, we still leave for Londonderry, because we have to take advantage of the favorable weather conditions. Although short, the stop in Holland was very intense for the postal service staff. In fact, in addition to unloading the bags of mail arriving from Rome, a special courier from the Dutch post office had to be taken on board, consisting of two dispatches to be transported respectively to Reykjavik for European destinations and to New York for overseas locations.
On Wednesday July 5th, the first seaplane of Baldo’s squadron takes off followed by all the others for Reykjavik, which appears on the horizon at 6pm, the first seaplanes land on the water and are moored in their places. A courier for the United States was taken aboard from Iceland and the correspondence was franked with appropriately crafted stamps.
On Wednesday, July 12th, take-off began in the morning, bringing one hundred men to Cartwright on the coast of Labrador in the evening. The stop in Reykjavik had served for an accurate review of the vehicles and to prepare the men for the most demanding stage of the Cruise: the leap over the Ocean! The route continues from Cartwright to Shediac.
On Thursday July 13th the seaplanes depart from Sandwich Bay, touch Newfoundland and in the early afternoon they gently settle down on the waters of Shediac Bay. The post office delivers 298 letters for transport to Chicago. We leave for Montreal. It is the shortest stage of the cruise. The departure takes place in the morning of July 14th and in less than four hours the huge estuary of S. Lorenzo. On the initiative of a club, letters were prepared and sent to Chicago.
On Saturday, July 15th, when the seaplanes arrived on the great Lake Michigan, a huge crowd was gathered on the shores, cheering in a great waving of tricolor flags. The Governor of Illinois proclaimed July 15 – 1933 “Italo Baldo day”. Here Chicago is taken on board a substantial number of letters addressed to the stopovers scheduled for the return flight.

The leg from Chicago to New York began on Wednesday July 19th and was practically the first leg of the return flight, because Chicago was the furthest point from Europe. For the return, some triptychs were overprinted by a local private printer with the caption: “Return flight New York-Rome”. But correspondence from the United States could only be franked with postage stamps in use in the state. Thus it was that these stamps were not put up for sale and remained unused.
On Thursday July 20th, in Washington, General Italo Baldo is received by Admiral Vieng, head of the air office, Ambassador Augusto Rosso, naval secretary Svanson and other important personalities.
After a forced stop due to bad weather, we finally leave on July 25th. With New York the seaplanes of the Cruise leave the United States to tackle the Atlantic crossing again. Here the packages destined for the various stages of the return flight are loaded: Shediac and Rome.

From Shediac, Shoal Harbor Bay is happily reached on Wednesday, July 26, after a few hours of flight. A courier for Rome also left from Terranova with correspondence franked with the stamps prepared by the Terranova post office. On Tuesday August 8th we leave for Europe, crossing Ponta Delgada and Lisbon. The seaplanes land part in Horta and the others in Ponta Delgada.

IThe next day they arrive in Lisbon and due to an accident the departure for Rome is postponed to day 12. The Bere 1’Etang stage (Marseille) is canceled because it is now off course. The envelopes prepared for the scheduled stopover during the return flight are sent with the normal air mail service and arrive in Rome on August 12th at the same time as the cruise courier. The air squad forms a parade and heads for the mouth of the Tiber. At 5.35 pm on Saturday August 12, 1933, one after the other, the twenty-three seaplanes alight lightly on the river whose banks are packed beyond belief with cheering crowds. This concludes one of the greatest aerial feats of all time and tomorrow August 3rd is the day of celebrations and triumph.