01 September 2019

AN ITALIAN SOLDIER CARRIES a captured Ottoman flag during the Italo-Turkish war, which began on 29 September 1911. In the early years of the twentieth century, Italy wanted to assert its place among the great powers of Europe. It had long harboured dreams of colonial expansion, and claimed the Ottoman province of Tripolitania—modern-day Libya—as its share of the spoils of the 1878 Congress of Berlin that followed the Russo-Turkish war. However, its alliance with Germany, which had close ties to the Ottomans, prevented formal annexation, even though Italy encouraged investment in, and migration to, the region.

In 1911, responding to growing nationalist fervour and taking advantage of a rebellion against Ottoman rule in Morocco, the Italian government—with the support of Britain, France and Russia—issued an ultimatum to Turkey to hand over the province. Then, before Germany or Austria-Hungary could mediate, it launched an invasion. The better trained and equipped Italian forces expected minimal resistance, but after initial gains along the Libyan coast, including Tripoli, their advance was stalled by an Ottoman counterattack.

The war witnessed the earliest use of aircraft for reconnaissance and bombing. Nevertheless, it remained a stalemate until the second half of 1912, when the First Balkan War broke out. Forced to confront a joint offensive for independence by the kingdoms of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro, the Ottomans decided to sue for peace in Libya. On 18 October 1912, a treaty signed in Ouchy, near Lausanne, formally ended the war. The Ottomans agreed to withdraw their forces from Libya and have their representatives approved by Italy, in exchange for Italian withdrawal from the Dodecanese islands. The Balkan war continued, and the destabilisation of the international balance of power contributed to the breaking out of the First World War. Italy would complete its conquest and pacification of Libya during the 1930s, under Benito Mussolini.