Italo-Turkish War

Italo-Turkish War

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Italo-Turkish War

caption=Italian soldiers watching over the corpses of several dead Arab Libyan defenders.
date=September 29, 1911ndash October 18, 1912
territory=Libya and Aegean Sea
result=Italian victory, start of the First Balkan War
commander1=Libyan theater:
commander2=Libyan theater:
casualties1=3,380 killed
4,220 wounded
casualties2=14,000 killed
5,370 wounded
name=Italian invasion of Libya
battles=Battle of Tobruk (1911)
The Italo-Turkish or Turco-Italian War (also known in Italy as "guerra di Libia", "the Libyan war", and in Turkey as "Trablusgarp Savaşı") was fought between the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Italy from September 29, 1911 to October 18, 1912.

As a result of this conflict, Italy was awarded the Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica. These provinces together formed what became known as Libya. In addition, the Italians were awarded the Isle of Rhodes and the Dodecanese archipelago near Anatolia.

Although minor, the war was an important precursor of the First World War as it sparked nationalism in the Balkan states. Seeing how easily the Italians had defeated the disorganized Ottomans, the members of the Balkan League attacked the Empire before the war with Italy had ended.

The Italo-Turkish War saw numerous technological advances used in warfare; notably the aeroplane. On October 23, 1911, an Italian pilot flew over Turkish lines on a reconnaissance mission, and on November 1, the first ever aerial bomb was dropped on Turkish troops in Libya. [U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission: [ Aviation at the Start of the First World War] ]

It was also in this conflict that the future first president of Republic of Turkey and the hero of the Turkish War of Independence, Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) distinguished himself militarily as a young officer.


The claims of Italy over Libya dated back to discussions after the Congress of Berlin in 1878, in which France and Great Britain had agreed to the occupation of Tunisia and Cyprus respectively, both parts of the then declining Ottoman Empire. When Italian diplomats hinted about possible opposition by their government, the French replied that Tripoli would have been a counterpart for Italy. In 1902, Italy and France had signed a secret treaty which accorded freedom of intervention in Tripolitania and Morocco. [cite web |url= |title=Alliance System / System of alliances |accessdate=2007-04-03 |format=html | ] However, the Italian government did little to realize the opportunity and knowledge of Libyan territory and resources remained scarce in the following years.

The Italian press began a large-scale lobbying campaign in favour of an invasion of Libya at the end of March 1911. It was fancifully depicted as rich in minerals, well-watered, and defended by only 4,000 Ottoman troops. Also, the population was hostile to the Ottoman Empire and friendly to the Italians. The future invasion was described as little more than a "military walk".

The Italian government was hesitant initially, but in the summer the preparations for the invasion were carried out and Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti began to probe the other European major powers about their reactions to a possible invasion of Libya. The Socialist party had strong influence over public opinion. However, it was in opposition and also divided on the issue. It acted ineffectively against a military intervention. (Ironically, the future Fascist leader Mussolini - at this time still a left-wing Socialist - took a prominent anti-war position.)

An ultimatum was presented to the Ottoman government led by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) party on the night of 26-27 September. Through Austrian intermediation, the CUP replied with the proposal of transferring control of Libya without war, maintaining a formal Ottoman suzerainty. Giolitti refused, however, and war was declared on September 29, 1911.

Military actions

Despite the time it had had to prepare the invasion, the Italian Royal Army ("Regio Esercito") was largely unprepared when the war broke out. The Italian fleet appeared off Tripoli in the evening of September 28, but only began bombarding the port on October 3. The city was conquered by 1,500 sailors, much to the enthusiasm of the interventionist minority in Italy. Another proposal of a diplomatic settlement was rejected by the Italians, and the Turks determined therefore to defend the province.

Turks did not have a full army in Trablusgarp. Many of the Ottoman officers had to travel there by their own means through Europe. They organized local Arabs and Bedouins for defense against the Italian invasion [M. Taylan Sorgun, "Bitmeyen Savas", 1972. Memoirs of Halil Pasa] .

The first disembarkation of troops occurred on October 10. The Italian contingent of 20,000 troops was deemed sufficient to accomplish the conquest at the time. Tobruk, Derna and Al Khums were easily conquered, but the same was not true for Benghazi. The first true setback for the Italian troops happened on October 23, when poor placement of the troops near Tripoli led them to be almost completely encircled by more mobile Arab cavalry, backed by some Turkish regular units. The attack was portrayed as a simple revolt by the Italian press, but it nearly annihilated much of the Italian expeditionary corps. The corps was consequently enlarged to 100,000 men who had to face 20,000 Arabs and 8,000 Turks. The war turned into one of position. Even some of the earliest examples of utilization in modern warfare of armored cars [Crow, "Encyclopedia of Armored Cars", pg.104.] and air power by the Italian forces had little effect on the outcome. [Biddle, "Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare", pg.19.]

Italian troops landed at Tobruk after a brief bombardment on December 4th, 1911 and occupied the seashore and marched towards the hinterlands facing weak resistance. ["1911–1912 Turco-Italian War and Captain Mustafa Kemal". Ministry of Culture of Turkey, edited by Turkish Armed Forces-Division of History and Strategical Studies, pages 62–65, Ankara, 1985.] Small numbers of Turkish soldiers and Libyan volunteers were later organized by Captain Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk). The 22 December Battle of Tobruk resulted in Mustafa Kemal's victory. ["1911-1912 Turco-Italian War and Captain Mustafa Kemal". Ministry of Culture of Turkey, edited by Turkish Armed Forces-Division of History and Strategical Studies, pages 62-65, Ankara, 1985.] With this achievement, he was assigned to Dernah War quarters to coordinate the field on 6 March, 1912.

The 3 March, 1912, near Dernah, 1,500 Libyan volunteers attacked Italian troops who were building trenches. The Italians - less in number, but superior in weapons - held the line. A lack of coordination between the Italian units sent from Dernah in reinforcement and the intervention of Turkish artillery threatened the Italian line and the Arabs attempted to surround the Italian troops. Further Italian reinforcements, however, were able to stabilize the situation, and the battle ended in the afternoon.

On September 14, the Italian command sent three columns of infantry to disband the Arab Turkish camp near Dernah. The Italian troops occupied a plateau, interrupting Turkish supply lines. Three days later, the Turkish commander, Enver Bey, attacked the Italian positions on the plateau. The larger Italian fire drove back the Turkish soldiers, who were surrounded by a battalion of Alpini and suffered heavy losses. A later Turkish attack had the same outcome.

After that, operations in Cyrenaica ceased until the end of the war.

Moves towards a peace

1912 Italian-American chromolithograph showing a fanciful depiction of the Italian-Turkish Peace treaty. Titled, 'LA PACE ITALO-TURCA'.
With a decree of November 5, 1911, Italy declared its suzerainty over Libya, although it controlled only some coastal stretches which were almost under siege by the local troops, with the exception of Tripoli. Italian authorities adopted many repressive measures against the rebels, such as public hanging.

Italy, however, maintained total naval supremacy and could extend its control to almost all of the 2,000 km of the Libyan coast between April and early August 1912. Italy began operations against the Turkish possessions in the Aegean Sea with the approval of the other powers that were eager to end a war that was lasting much longer than expected. Italy occupied twelve islands in the sea, the so-called Dodecanese, but this raised the discontent of the Austro-Hungarian Empire who feared that this could fuel the irredentism of nations such as Serbia and Greece, causing unbalance in the already fragile situation in the Balkan area.

The only other relevant military operation of the summer of 1912 was an attack of five Italian torpedo boats in the Dardanelles on July 18. In September, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece prepared their armies for the war against the Ottoman Empire, taking advantage of its difficulties in the war against Italy. On October 8, Montenegro declared war against the Turks, starting the Balkan Wars.

The 1912 Treaty of Lausanne

Italian diplomats decided to take advantage of the situation to obtain a favorable peace deal. On October 18, 1912, Italy and the Ottoman Empire signed a treaty in Ouchy near Lausanne (the First Treaty of Lausanne) [ [ Treaty of Peace Between Italy and Turkey ] The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 7, No. 1, Supplement: Official Documents (Jan., 1913), pp. 58-62doi:10.2307/2212446] [ [ Treaty of Lausanne, October, 1912.] ] . The terms were formally equal to those requested by Istanbul at the beginning of the war and maintained a formal Ottoman suzerainty over Libya, which received only a semi-autonomous status under the judiciary rule of Qadis elected by the Sultan.


The invasion of Libya was a costly enterprise for Italy. Instead of the 30 million lire a month judged sufficient at its beginning, it reached a cost of 80 million a month for a much longer period than was originally estimated. This caused economical imbalance at home. From a political standpoint, it showed that the lobbying power of an active and organized minority could have great power in the country, as the advent of Fascism would show after World War I.

As for Libya, the Italian control over much of its territory remained ineffective until the late 1920s, when forces under the Generals Pietro Badoglio and Rodolfo Graziani waged punitive pacification campaigns which turned into brutal and bloody acts of repression. Resistance petered out only after the execution of the rebel leader Omar Mukhtar on September 15, 1931.

Because of WWI, the Dodecanese islands remained under Italian military occupation. According to the 1920 Treaty of Sevres, Italy was supposed to cede most of the islands (except Rhodes) to Greece, in exchange for a vast Italian zone of influence in southwest Anatolia.

Yet the Greek defeat in the Greco-Turkish War and the foundation of modern Turkey created a new situation that made the enforcement of the terms of this treaty impossible. In article 15 of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which superseded the 1920 Treaty of Sevres, Turkey formally recognized the Italian annexation of the Dodecanese islands. [ [ Treaty of Lausanne, July 24, 1923.] ]

ee also

*History of Italy
*Italian rule in Libya
*Italian Empire
*History of Turkey
*History of the Ottoman Empire
*Balkan Wars
*Treaty of Lausanne



* Biddle, Tami Davis, "Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: The Evolution of British and American Ideas about Strategic Bombing, 1914–1945". Princeton University Press, Princeton 2002. ISBN 9780691120102.
* Childs, Timothy W. "Italo-Turkish Diplomacy and the War Over Libya, 1911–1912". Brill, Leiden, 1990. ISBN 9004090258.
* Crow, Duncan, and Icks, Robert J. "Encyclopedia of Armored Cars". Chatwell Books, Secaucus, NJ, 1976. ISBN 0-89009-058-0.
* Maltese, Paolo. "L'impresa di Libia", in "Storia Illustrata" #167, October 1971.
* Paris, Michael. "Winged Warfare". Manchester University Press, New York, 1992, pp. 106–115.
* "1911–1912 Turco-Italian War and Captain Mustafa Kemal". Ministry of Culture of Turkey, edited by Turkish Armed Forces-Division of History and Strategical Studies, pages 62–65, Ankara, 1985.
* [ The Italian Turkish War 1911-1912]

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