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Italo-Turkish War
Italian Alpini watching corpses of dead Arab Libyan defenders
Italians admiring the valour of several dead Arab Libyans.
Date September 29, 1911 - October 18, 1912
Location Libya
Result Italian victory, start of the First Balkan War
Italy gained territories in Libya and the Aegean Sea
Italy Italy  Ottoman Empire
Libyan theater:
Italy Augusto Aubry
Italy Carlo Caneva
Aegean theater:
Italy Marcello Amero D'Aste
Italy Giovanni Ameglio
Libyan theater:
Ottoman Empire Neşet Bey
Ottoman Empire Ismail Enver
Ottoman Empire Mustafa Kemal
100,000 24,000
Casualties and losses
3,380 killed
4,220 wounded
600 missing [2]
14,000 killed
5,370 wounded

The Italo-Turkish or Turco-Italian War (also known in Italy as guerra di Libia, "the Libyan war", and in Turkey as Trablusgarp Savaşı War of Tripoli) 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. During the conflict, Italian forces also occupied the Dodecanese Islands in the Aegean Sea. Italy had agreed to return the Dodecanese Islands to the Ottoman Empire according to the Treaty of Ouchy[1] in 1912 (also known as the First Treaty of Lausanne (1912), as it was signed at the Ouchy Castle in Lausanne, Switzerland); however the vagueness of the text allowed a provisional Italian administration of the islands, and Turkey eventually renounced all claims on these islands in the Article 15 of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.[2] Turkey had to withdraw all its military forces and administrative agents from Libya according to Article 2 of the Treaty of Ouchy in 1912 (per Article 22 of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923).[2]

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.[3]

It was also in this conflict that the future first president of the Republic of Turkey and the hero of the Turkish War of Independence, Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) 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.[4] 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. (The future fascist leader Benito 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 Ottomans 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

Italian dirigibles bomb Turkish positions on Libyan Territory. The Italian–Turkish war of 1911–1912 was the first in history that featured air attacks by airplanes and dirigible airships.[5]

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.

The Turks did not have a full army in Trablusgarp (Libya). Many of the Ottoman officers had to travel there by their own means through Europe. They organized local Arabs and Bedouins for the defense against the Italian invasion.[6]

Italian Troops firing on the Turks in Tripoli. 1911

The first disembarkation of Italian 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[7] and air power by the Italian forces had little effect on the outcome.[8]

Italian troops landed at Tobruk after a brief bombardment on December 4, 1911 and occupied the seashore and marched towards the hinterlands facing weak resistance.[9] 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.[10] 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 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 could not move beyond a stalemate, though it had vastly superior arms and outnumbered Turks and Arabs by 4 to 1.

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. They could not venture beyond the protection of their naval guns though and were limited to a thin coastal strip. 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 First Balkan War.

The 1912 Treaty of Lausanne (Ouchy)

Turkish and Italian delegations at Lausanne. From left to right (seating): Pietro Bertolini, Mèhemmed Naby Bey, Guido Fusinato, Roumbeyoglou Fahreddin, & Giuseppe Volpi.

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)[11][12].

Main provisions of the treaty, often referred to as Treaty of Ouchy also to distniguish it from the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne were as follows[13]:

  • Ottomans will withdraw all military personnel from Trablus and Benghazi vilayets (Libya) but in return, Italy would return Rhodes and twelve Aegean islands nearby back to Turks.
  • Trablus and Benghazi vilayets will have a special status and a "naib" (regent) and a "kadı" (judge) will represent the Caliph.
  • Before the appointment of these kadıs and naibs, Ottomans will consult the Italian government.
  • Ottoman government will be responsible for the expenses of these kadıs and naibs.


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.

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 World War I, 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.[14]

See also


  1. ^ Treaty of Ouchy (1912), also known as the First Treaty of Lausanne
  2. ^ a b Full text of the Treaty of Lausanne (1923)
  3. ^ U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission: Aviation at the Start of the First World War
  4. ^ "Alliance System / System of alliances". Retrieved 2007-04-03.  
  5. ^ Biddle, Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare, pg.19
  6. ^ M. Taylan Sorgun, "Bitmeyen Savas", 1972. Memoirs of Halil Pasa
  7. ^ Crow, Encyclopedia of Armored Cars, pg.104.
  8. ^ Biddle, Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare, pg.19.
  9. ^ "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.
  10. ^ "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.
  11. ^ Treaty of Peace Between Italy and Turkey The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 7, No. 1, Supplement: Official Documents (Jan., 1913), pp. 58-62 doi:10.2307/2212446
  12. ^ Treaty of Lausanne, 18 October, 1912.
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ Treaty of Lausanne, July 24, 1923.


  • 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

External links

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