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Italian Tripolitania

With war threatening in the Balkans, Turkey was compelled to sue for peace with Italy. In accordance with the treaty signed at Lausanne in October 1912, the sultan issued a decree granting independence to Tripolitania and Cyrenaica while Italy simultaneously announced its formal annexation of those territories. A campaign was initiated to consolidate and expand Italian-held territory in 1919, but the colonial policy pursued by the Italian government was moderate and accommodating. Steps were taken toward granting limited political rights to the people in occupied areas. The provinces of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania were treated as separate colonies, and Fezzan was organized as a military territory.

Because the Italians never faced a credible, united opposition in Tripolitania, they were not under comparable pressure there to yield the concessions they had made in Cyrenaica. Tripolitania lacked the leadership and organizational structure that Idris and the Sanusi order gave to Cyrenaica. The most prominent Tripolitanian nationalist was Ramadan as Suwaythi, who had by turns cooperated with the Italians, supported the Sanusis, and eventually fought against them both. His rival, Baruni, who had acted during the war as Ottoman "governor" in Tripolitania with German backing, was mistrusted by the Arab nationalists. Tribal rivalries were intense, and the aims of the beduin shaykhs and the nationalists were fundamentally different, the latter being concerned with forming a centralized republic while the former were interested primarily in creating tribal states.

Count Giuseppe Volpi, a vigorous and determined governor, gave decisive direction to Italian policy in Tripolitania with his advocacy of military pacification rather than negotiation. The nationalists lost their most effective leaders when Baruni defected to the Italians as a result of hostility between Arabs and Berbers, which Volpi successfully exploited, and Suwaythi was killed by his political rivals. Once pacification had been accomplished, fascist Italy endeavored to convert Libya into an Italian province to be referred to popularly as Italy's Fourth Shore. In 1934 Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were divided into four provinces--Tripoli, Misratah, Benghazi, and Darnah--which were formally linked as a single colony known as Libya, thus officially resurrecting the name that Diocletian had applied nearly 1,500 years earlier. Fezzan, designated as South Tripolitania, remained a military territory.

Italo Balbo (born in Ferrara, June 6, 1896 dying in Tobruk, June 28, 1940) was an Italian Blackshirt (Camicie Nere, or CCNN) leader who, after serving in the Great War, became the leading Fascist organizer in his home region of Ferrara. Balbo was one of the four principal architects of the March on Rome that brought Mussolini and the Fascists to power in 1922. In 1926, he undertook the task of building the Italian Royal Air Force and took a leading role in popularizing aviation in Italy, and promoting Italian aviation to the world. Having served as Italy's Marshal of the Air Force (Maresciallo dell'Aria), he was also the "heir apparent" to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. In 1933, perhaps to relieve tensions surrounding him in Italy, he was made, Governor-General of Libya, Commander-in-Chief of Italian North Africa (Africa Settentrionale Italiana, or ASI).

Balbo was given the mission to transform a barren, backward colonial territory into anextension of Italy -- "a fourth shore" - to add to Italy's Tyrrhenian, Adriatic, and Sicilian shores. Libya was to become an extension of Italy and a showplace of Fascism. On 09 January 1939, the colony of Libya was made part of the Italian Empire. Balbo could take credit for having created the forth shore. Balbo was the only leading Fascist to oppose both anti-Jewish racial laws and Mussolini's alliance with Nazi Germany [early in World War II, he was killed by "friendly fire" when his plane was shot down over Tobruk by Italian anti-aircraft guns].

The Italians started numerous and diverse businesses in Tripolitania and Cirenaicia. These included an explosives factory, railway workshops, Fiat Motor works, various food processing plants, electrical engineering workshops, ironworks, water plants, agricultural machineryfactories, breweries, distilleries, biscuit factories, a tobacco factory, tanneries, bakeries,lime, brick and cement works, Esparto grass industry, mechanical saw mills, and the Petrolibya Society.

Italian investment in her colony was to take advantage of new colonists and to make it more self-sufficient. Total native Italian population for Libya was 110,575 out of a total population of 915,440 in 1940. The goal was to have a self-sufficient colony not dependent on the motherland for survival.

The governmental seat and military headquarters for Libya was located at Tripoli. The colony was governed by a governor who was also commander of the ground, land,and sea forces of the colony. He was nominated by royal decree on the proposal of the Minster for Italian Africa and confirmed by the councils of ministers. A vice-Governor was located in Benghazi. The system of government was based on the ancient Roman system of perfects for each province in the colony.

The Italian government invested heavily in her colony during the interwar period. Large immigration of Italian civilians, and an investment in Italian Army forces, naval bases, and airfields provided the Italian army and government with an ideal and enviable position. From this strong military base the Italian government had a strategic position which could threaten both French North Africa and British-controlled Egypt. Not onlycould this colony be used for economic reasons but as a stepping stone for further Italian expansion in the Mediterranean Basin.Libya was situated between French North Africa to the west and British-controlled Egypt to her east.

From Libya an Italian Army could invade Egypt and secure the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal was the strategic objective of the Italian military. This could have threatened the British position in the Middle East, Sudan, the eastern Mediterranean and a pathway to India. Italian arms could have then proceeded to dominate the Red Sea, secure her lines of communication with Italian East Africa, and force the British Navy to aband on the Eastern Mediterranean. This would be the ultimate strategie goal of Fascist Italy, the strategic theater commander Marshal Graziani, and later, after the initial Italian defeat, General Irwin Rommel, commander of Panzer Army Africa.

During World War II separate British military governments were established in Cyrenaica and in Tripolitania and continued to function until Libya achieved independence. Each was divided into several districts governed by civil affairs officers who reported to brigadiers at senior headquarters in Binghazi and Tripoli.

The United States suggested a trusteeship for the whole country under control of the United Nations (UN), whose charter had become effective in October 1945, to prepare it for self-government. The Soviet Union proposed separate provincial trusteeships, claiming Tripolitania for itself and assigning Fezzan to France and Cyrenaica to Britain. France, seeing no end to the discussions, advocated the return of the territory to Italy. To break the impasse, Britain finally recommended immediate independence for Libya.

In Tripolitania, loyalty that in a social context was reserved largely to the family and kinship group could be transferred more easily to a political party and its leader. Tripolitanians, following the lead of Bashir as Sadawi's National Congress Party, pressed for a republican form of government in a unitary state. Inasmuch as their region had a significantly larger population and a relatively more advanced economy that the other two, they expected that under a unitary political system political power would gravitate automatically to Tripoli. Cyrenaicans, who had achieved a larger degree of cohesion under Sanusi leadership, feared the chaos they saw in Tripolitania and the threat of being swamped politically by the Tripolitanians in a unitary state.

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Page last modified: 10-01-2012 19:25:04 ZULU