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Italo-Turkish War (1911-1912)

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Italy as a newly-formed power was looking for markets and tried to expand its colonial possessions. The Italians began to conduct diplomatic preparations for the invasion of Libya in the late XIX century, and the military – from the beginning of the XX century. Italian public opinion saw Libya as a country with a large number of minerals and good natural conditions, besides protected by only 4 thousand Turkish soldiers. The Italian press of that time tried to convince the Italians that the population of Libya was hostile towards the Turks and friendly towards the Italians, allegedly seeing them as liberators from the Turkish oppression. They also presented the invasion of Libya as a “military walk”.

In 1900, Italy secured the consent of France to the capture of Tripoli and Cyrenaica. The widespread bribery of the French press did much to secure the benevolent stance of France. In 1909, by agreement in Racconigi, Italy achieved the same from Russia. Italian politicians hoped that Germany and Austria-Hungary would also not oppose and betray the interests of Turkey, which they patronize.


Italy’s declaration on Libya was made after the Berlin Congress (1878), in which France and Great Britain agreed to the occupation of Tunisia and Cyprus, respectively. When Italian diplomats hinted at the possible objections of their government, the French responded that Tripoli would be attributed to the sphere of influence of Italy. In 1902, Italy and France signed a secret agreement that provided the freedom of intervention by Italy in Libya and Morocco.

The Italian government hesitated at first, but in the summer of 1911 the preparations for the invasion were completed. Italian Prime Minister Giovanni Gioltti became interested in the reaction of European governments to a possible invasion of Libya. Having achieved positive responses from the heads of European states, the Italian government provided the Ottoman Society for Unity and Progress an ultimatum , according to which Turkey was offered to withdraw its troops from Libya within 48 hours. The government of the Young Turks, through the Austrian mediation, announced that it was ready to surrender Libya without a fight, but with the condition that the formal Ottoman rule be preserved in the country. Italy refused and declared war on Turkey on September 29, 1911.

The United Kingdom announced that Ottoman Egypt was neutral because it was under “occupation by a neutral power.” Under this pretext, the British actually banned the transit of Turkish troops and aid through Egyptian territory, as well as the participation of Egyptians in battles on the side of the Ottoman Empire. In addition, during the war, Great Britain occupied the disputed Libyan harbor Sallum.

Germany’s attitude towards the actions of Italy was hostile. Although Italy was still its ally under the 1882 treaty (Triple Alliance ), this alliance became more formal. Turkey has long been associated with Germany by military-technical cooperation and acted in line with German policy.

Russian diplomacy was trying to achieve the opening of the Black Sea straits for the Russian military fleet. In October 1911, the Russian ambassador in Istanbul, Charykov, was instructed to begin negotiations with Porto. On October 12, Charykov presented the draft Russian-Turkish agreement to Grand Vizier Said Pasha. The Turkish government reacted negatively to the Russian proposal.


Despite the fact that the time for the development and preparation of an operation to invade Libya was quite a lot, the Italian army was largely unprepared. The Italian fleet appeared near Tripoli on September 28, but it only began bombing on October 3. The city was captured by 1,5 thousand sailors. The Turks sent another proposal to resolve the conflict, but the Italians also rejected it. Then Turkey decided to fight.

The landing of the Italian expeditionary corps began on October 10. The Italian contingent of 20 thousand soldiers was considered sufficient for the occupation of the country. During October, Homs, Tobruk, Derna, Benghazi and a number of coastal oases fell. The Italians met the first serious resistance on October 23, when the unsuccessfully deployed troops in the vicinity of Tripoli were completely surrounded by more mobile Arabian cavalry, supported by Turkish regular units. In the Italian press, these events were presented as a minor uprising of the local population, although in reality most of the original composition of the expeditionary corps was destroyed.

The Italian corps was brought to the strength of 100 thousand soldiers, which were opposed at that time by 20 thousand Arabs and 8 thousand Turks. By a decree of November 5, 1911, Italy officially announced that the country had come under its authority, although by this time the Italian government controlled only certain coastal regions that had been attacked by the enemy. The battle of Tobruk on December 22, 1911, where the 30-year-old captain Mustafa Kemal proved himself, ended in victory for the Turks.

However, Italy had an overwhelming superiority at sea, especially after the destruction of the Turkish squadron in the battle of Beirut on February 24, 1912, and was able to take control of almost all 2 thousand km of the Libyan coast between April and the beginning of August 1912. Fighting was also conducted on the Aegean and Red Seas. On July 18, 1912, five Italian ships attacked the Turkish fleet in the Dardanelles. Italy occupied the Dodecanese archipelago, which aroused the concern of Austria-Hungary, which feared increasing irredentism in the Balkans.

The Italian government sought to end the war, which lasted much longer than expected. This turned out to be possible, because at the end of the summer of 1912, the situation of Turkey was greatly complicated by the aggravation of the old conflicts in the Balkans. In August, an anti-Turkish uprising flared up in Albania and Macedonia. In September Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece prepared their armies for war against the Ottoman Empire, taking advantage of its difficulties in the war against Italy. On October 8, Montenegro declared war on Turkey. So began the Balkan wars, the consequences of which brought the beginning of a global conflict. Italian diplomats decided to take advantage of the situation in order to achieve peace on the most favorable terms possible.

October 23, 1911 Captain Carlo Maria Piazza on his Blerio XI made the first reconnaissance flight. This date is considered to be the first military use of aviation in world history. A few days later, the Italians used the plane as a bomber. On November 1, 1911, Junior Lieutenant Giulio Cavotti made the first aerial bombardment, dropping 4 Chipelli hand grenades weighing 4.4 pounds each (1.8 kg) to Turkish positions in the oases of Tagir and Ain Zara. By the end of the war, the Italians had already used the 10-kilogram bombs, equipped with striking elements – balls from the canister. On January 24, 1912, Captain Piazza took the first aerial photograph. On March 4, 1912, Kavotti conducted the first night reconnaissance flight and the first night bombardment.


October 15, 1912 in Switzerland was signed a preliminary secret, and at 16:45 on October 18, 1912 in Lausanne – a vowel peace treaty. The terms of the agreement were formally equal to those requested by Istanbul at the beginning of the war. Tripolitania (Trablus) and Cyrenaica (Benghazi) vilayets were to receive a special status of Naiba and Qadi, appointed by the Sultan in coordination with the Italian government. “Having granted autonomy to the population of Libya, the sultan also pledged to withdraw troops from its territory. Italy pledged to evacuate its troops from the Dodecanese islands.

The invasion of Libya was an extremely expensive venture for Italy. Instead of the originally planned budget of 30 million lire per month, this “military walk” cost 80 million lire per month for a much longer period of time than expected. The total cost of the war was 1.3 billion lire, almost a billion more than Giolitti’s pre-war estimate. This caused serious problems in the Italian economy.

Italian control of Libya remained ineffective until the late 1920s. Italian generals Pietro Badoglio and Rodolfo Graziani launched bloody punitive operations against the Libyan rebels. The Dodecanese islands because of the outbreak of the First World War remained under the control of Italy. According to the Sevres Peace Treaty, most of the islands were to go under the control of Greece in exchange for providing an extensive zone of influence in southwest Asia Minor. But the defeat of the Greeks in the Greco-Turkish War made this agreement invalid. According to the decisions taken at the Lausanne Conference, the Dodecanese Islands were formally annexed by Italy. Turkey’s denial of the rights to Libya and the Dodecanese was recorded by the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). The people’s liberation struggle against the Italian colonialists in Libya continued until the expulsion of the Italian troops in 1943.

The Italo-Turkish war contributed to the disintegration of the Triple Alliance, since, after satisfying interests in North Africa, Italy began to actively compete with Austria-Hungary in the Balkans.


Maslovsky S. Italo-Turkish War
Luneva Yu.V. Bosphorus and Dardanelles. Secret provocations on the eve of the First World War (1908-1914)
Askew, William C. Europe and Italy’s Acquisition of Libya, 1911–1912

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