Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 27 >> Tropical Forests to Twelfth Century >> Turco Italian War 1911 12

Turco-Italian War 1911-12

italian, tripoli, turkish, italy, italians, turks, troops, turkey, france and coast

TURCO-ITALIAN WAR 1911-12. Ever since the occupation by France of Algeria and Tunis in 1882, Italian statesmen had been more or less preoccupied with the question of Tripoli and Cyrenaica, the last remnants of Turkish dominion in Africa. On the northern coast of the Black Continent, that strip which belongs to Egypt was to all intents and purposes already British, though nominally still under Turkish suzerainty; French Algeria and Tunis stretched westward almost to Gibraltar, to the borders of Morocco. Only Tripoli and Cyrenaica were Turkish, wedged in between British and French boundaries. All that Italy possessed outside the homeland was a matter of 185,000 square miles on the east coast of Africa — Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, and the tiny concession at Tientsin, China. Her efforts to found an over-seas empire had not met with success ; continually instigated by Bismarck to launch out in colonial enterprises wherever she might risk a collision with France or Great Britain, Italy had come to grief at Adowa in 1896. But she had coveted Tripoli long before the Abys sinian disaster. In 1890 Premier Crispi wrote privately to Lord Salisbury: °If we had Tripoli, Bizerta would no longer be a menace for Italy nor for Great Britain.' It was sus picion of France, fostered by Bismarck, that had led Italy into what became known as the Triple Alliance; but that suspicion had died out in tithe and given place to a rapprochement between the two Latin nations. Bismarck had persistently refused to extend the Alliance to the Mediterranean, where Italy's chief interests lay. At the time Crispi wrote about Tripoli to Lord Salisbury, France and England were avowed enemies, hence Italy's aspirations had to follow the British statesman's advice, namely, to wait. Crispi fell in 1891, and the occupation of Tripoli waited for 20 years. The accession of M. Delcasse to the French Foreign Office in 1898 changed the history of Europe. He settled the Fashoda crisis with England, arranged a treaty of commerce with Italy and inaugurated that Mediterranean policy which led to the Anglo-French Entente, secured British estab lishment in. Egypt, the French protectorate over Morocco and secret acquiescence (in 1901) to the Italian seizure of Tripoli. About 1902 Italy began to .adopt a policy of °peaceful penetra tion° in Tripoli and Cyrenaica by founding a number of undertakings, commercial and indus trial, throughout the territories. The Bank of Rome provided the capital to build grain ele vators, electrical works, factories, etc, gradu ally securing a kind of mortgage on tie prov ince that might, if necessary, provide an op portunity for armed intervention. It was only a question of time that such opportunity should arise, for the Turkish authorities placed every possible obstacle in the path of economic de velopment and made the most strenuous efforts to thwart the Italian ventures. All the under 'takings languished, the invested capital re mained unproductive and bankruptcy loomed on the horizon. Early in 1911 the manager of the Bank of Rome informed his government that he was preparing to enter into negotiations with an English and a German group of financiers, driven thereto in the interests of the shareholders (Revue des deux Mondes, 1 June 1912).

According to M. Rene Pinon, this undesir able prospect greatly contributed to the de termination of the Italian government to inter vene by force of arms if other measures should fail. There was another consideration that made it incumbent for Italy to hasten matters to a crisis. Germany, one of her partners in the Triple Alliance, was preparing to forestall her in the move on Tripoli, with the intention of acquiring a coaling station on the North African Coast. Public opinion in Italy was ripe for a military adventure; for some decades a kind of °nationalist' movement, headed by enthusiastic young officers and literary men, had gained many adherents to the tenets of imperialism and colonial expansion. On the other hand, there were many of the older type of Garibaldians who regarded the raid on Tripoli as an act of brigandage. From the beginning of September 1911 the position in Tripoli was hotly debated in the press, the Turks being accused of injustice to Italians and of intriguing with Germany. The Turkish trans port Demo arrived at Tripoli on 26 September laden with guns and munitions. Italy delivered an ultimatum on the 27th giving Turkey 48 hours in which to accept the occupation of Tripoli by Italian troops and an Italian admin istration, with the proviso that the Sultan's sovereignty should be secured and an annual tribute paid by the new protectorate to the Porte. An Italian fleet was already stationed off Tripoli; an expedition under General Caneva set sail from Italian ports. On 29 Sept. 1911 Italy declared war, secure in the moral support of the French and British govern ments. Tripoli was blockaded on the 30th; two days' bombardment easily smashed the Turkish defenses, and the city was occupied on 5 October. Though the attacking vessels were only three or four miles from the land, not one of the few Turkish shells that were fired struck anything. The Turks themselves sank the Demo and another small steamer. In cluding reserves, the Turks had about 8,000 men in Tripoli. The defenses of the town were old-fashioned, of concrete, equipped with ob solete guns. The enormous disparity between the feeble Turkish navy (of four battleships and two cruisers) and the powerful, modern Italian fleet rendered it most unlikely that Turkish reinforcements should be sent to Tripoli by water, and no other way existed. On 29 September Italian warships sank some Turkish torpedo-destroyers off Prevesa in the Adriatic, which led Austria to forbid any fur ther operations in those waters, thus obliging Italy to restrict her naval campaign to the Tripolitan Coast and the Red Sea, the 1Egean Sea being also barred. By the time the Italians landed in Tripoli the Turks had withdrawn 10 miles inland. Italian transports poured fresh troops on different parts of the coast, including 10,000 at Benghazi, which was captured on 20 October, and Derna on the 18th. The Italians expected that the Turkish troops would sur render and that the native Arabs would yield to the invasion, but both Arabs and Turks joined forces and fought valiantly. Around the town of Tripoli, which stands on a little peninsula. the Italians erected an entrenchment of about 10 miles facing the desert. Nesciat Bey, the Turkish commander, attacked through the oasis on 23 October; the Arabs behind the Italians in the suburbs suddenly attacked in the rear. The Italians were only able to save themselves after a long and desperate fight. On 26 October another attack took place, but was repelled with considerable Italian losses. On 5 Nov. 1911 the

Italian Official Gazette published a decree de claring the annexation of Tripoli, which Gen eral Caneva read in the presence of the troops and the natives. The annexation was by no means complete, however, for the obstinate re sistance of the Turks and the Arabs hindered the Italians from advancing very far from the coast. The Arab rising had been accompanied by hideous cruelties toward captured Italian soldiers; its suppression was marked by equally savage reprisals and a wholesale slaughter on the Italian side. Deplorable details were pub lished by foreign newspaper correspondents to gether with photographs taken on the spot. Turkish officers by some means got into the country, reorganized the troops and soon took the offensive by continually harassing the Italian lines. One of the officers was Enver Bey, who afterward stated in a news paper article, a I found 900 desert warriors when I came here, and now I have under me 16,000 trained soldiers.° He said that on one occasion his little army had captured two ma chine guns, 250 rifles, two cannons, 30,000 cartridges and 10 mules from the enemy. In November 1911 the Italians made preparations to attack the Dardanelles, but the plan was vetoed by Russia. Early in November the Italians recaptured two positions which they had evacuated in October; and on 4 December forced the Turks to abandon their base at Ain Zara, which they fortified. On 19 December an Italian column narrowly escaped annihila tion. By the end of the year the Italian press grew restive and inclined to blame Germany, Austria and France for the obstacles to Italian success. France and England were accused of upholding traffic in contraband of war, and energetic steps were demanded from the navy. In January 1912 the Italians had 100,000 men at the front; Enver Bey commanded about 15,000 Turks around Benghazi, and some 10,000 or 12,000 were located at Tripoli. Up to April the Italians remained on the defensive, repel ling violent Turkish attacks. In January two French vessels were seized on suspicion of carrying contraband. France protested, ano the vessels were released. During February and March the Italians captured several strong positions; near Benghazi the Turks were com pletely defeated and two small Turkish war ships were sunk in the harbor of Beirut. Since January 1911. Turkey had been endeavoring to quell a rising in Yemen, and had for that pur pose moved troops from Tripoli — before the Italian ultimatum — and sent them to Arabia. In January 1912 Italian warships entered the Red Sea, sank several Turkish gunboats and bombarded Jebel Tahr, Hodeidah and Loheia, besides dropping shells on various Turkish camps and hampering the Yemen operations by declaring a blockade of the coast. On 25 March 1912 the German emperor intervened in person by meeting the king of Italy at Venice. But his mediation proved fruitless, owing to Ger many's double role as Turkey's protector and Italy's ally. In April an Italian force landed near the Tunisian frontier at Zuara and cut the main artery of the contraband smuggling busi ness. An Italian squadron now approached the Dardanelles and bombarded the outer forts (18 April 1912). The Turks promptly closed the straits to all shipping, with remarkable conse quences. The loss to Russian grain export quickly amounted to many millions. England, Bulgaria, Greece and Rumania lost some $100. 000 per day each; British steamers, headed for the Black Sea, had to be diverted through the Suez Canal toward Indian markets; on 2 May 1912 there were 185 idle vessels anchored east and west of Constantinople. Yielding under powerful representations from European gov ernments, the Turks reopened the Dardanelles on the 10th of May. On 5 May a strong Italian force landed at Rhodes, on the island of that name, occupied the capital and 10 days later compelled the Turkish garrison to surrender. They also occupied the islands of Neros, Karki, Stampalia, Piscopos, Scarpanto, Patmos, Casos, Kalminos, Karpathos, Kos, Lipsos and Simi. On 8 June the troops in Tripoli defeated a Turco-Arab force at the oasis of Zanzur and on the 15th General Camerana attacked near the oasis of Misrata, which was taken in July. Heavy fighting took place on the western frontier during June, July and August. By slow degrees the Turks and Arabs were driven back 'until the whole western coast-line was in Italian hands. On 5 Sept. 1912 General Caneva was re called and two separate commands were formed for Tripoli and Cyrenaica. During the night of the 12th July five Italian en tered the Dardanelles to attack the Turkish fleet lying above the Narrows. But the entrance to the Narrows was barred by thick steel cables at Kilid Bahr and they had to retire under heavy fire from the shore batteries. This was the last naval operation of the war. In Sep tember it leaked out that peace negotiations between Italy and Turkey were in progress under a veil of mystery in Switzerland. Each side was anxious to end the war: Turkey, to prepare for another war that hung over her head, and Italy, to recover her freedom of action in Europe. Meanwhile, fighting con tinued in Tripoli. On 22 September a strong Turco-Arab position south of Zanzur was attacked and captured. During the middle of the month Enver Bey attacked the Italian positions at Casa Aronne and Kasr-el-Lebn in Cyrenaica. In a fierce battle the Turks were repulsed with heavy loss. A few miles east ward the Italians stormed Sidi Abdullab and occupied Bombah on 7 Oct. 1912. On the next day Montenegro declared war on Turkey —the overture to the Balkan Wars (q.v.). On the 12th a hitch occurred in the peace negotiations. Italy was preparing for further naval operations, and for the moment it seemed that she would become an ally of the Balkan League (q.v.). Turkey needed peace with Italy at all costs to prevent this; besides, Italian command of the AEgean hindered Turkey from sending troops to Macedonia. The Italian terms were accepted in full and the Peace of Lausanne was at last signed at Ouchy on 15 Oct. 1912. Turkey bound herself to withdraw her troops from Tripoli, but did not recognize the sovereignty of Italy; she was to have a representative to watch over the interests of Mohammedans in Tripoli. On her side, Italy was to restore all the captured X.gean Islands, on condition that •a full amnesty should be granted to their in habitants, and their autonomy respected: she was to pay that part of the Ottoman Public Debt which is guaranteed by revenue from Tripoli and Cyrenaica. Consult Irace, Chevalier Tullio, With the Italians in Tripoli: The Authentic History of the Turco-Italian (London 1912) ' • Fullerton, W. M., (Problems of Power' (London 1913) ; McCullagh, F.. War for a (Chicago 1913)