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Italo-Turkish War - Combat in 1912

The war in Libya dragged on. The Italians were making very slow headway. The cost of the campaign now amounting to nearly 1,500,000 lire (60,000) per day was growing burdensome. In Cyrenaica the enemy was still able to put up a strong resistance. Nowhere had the Italians penetrated far into the interior. Though peace rumours had been at various tunes circulated, it was evident that the Porte did not feel itself beaten, and was unwilling to consider the question of surrendering the last Turkish possessions in North _ Africa. Early in January the Italians gained a victory at sea, when near Kunfida, off the Arabian coast, an Italian cruiser, assisted by two torpeda-boats, sank seven Turkish torpedo-boats and captured an armed yacht. But the Ottoman Government seemed in nowise impressed by reverses, secure in the protection of the Powers and the ban placed on carrying the war into any other than the African zone.

On February 27 the Italians, wearied of the indecisive nature of the contest, braved the anger of the European Powers, and sank two Turkish ships in the harbour of Beyrout. Italy by this act had once again opened up the Near Eastern Question. Russia, France, and Great Britain expressed grave concern. None were eager to precipitate a crisis in the Near East. Within ten days, Russia, acting in behalf of the Powers, made confidential inquiries at Rome regarding the terms of peace which Italy would be ready to accept. On March 15, the Italian Government formulated its proposals, which included the recognition of Italian sovereignty over Libya. The Porte refused these terms, and the negotiations fell through.

Italy had now carried the war into the eastern Mediterranean, and she was soon to prove that she meant to push operations vigorously in this quarter. After due preparations, a month later, on April 18, an imposing Italian squadron appeared off the entrance of the Dardanelles. The land batteries of the forts of Kum Kaleh and Sedil-Bahr opened fire. The Italian guns soon reduced them to silence. The Ottoman Government became, for the first time, thoroughly alarmed. The closing of the Dardanelles was immediately ordered, and the chancelleries of Europe were busied with negotiations regarding this event, while Austria threateningly announced that it declined to admit the right of Italy to make an attack on Turkey in Europe, and that further action in this quarter would result in serious consequences. A month later the Dardanelles were reopened for traffic.

But the bold course pursued by the Italians was to have a profound repercussion throughout Europe and the Near East. Italy in the face of the protests of Europe had dared to hunt the Turk in his lair. The Near Eastern Question, which for the past thirty years had never been faced since the Congress of Berlin had patched up a makeshift peace in the Balkans, was once again the problem of the hour.

The Italian fleet now cruised unmolested about the AEgean, cutting cables, and shelling various points both on the mainland and the Turkish Islands. Realising that the umbrage of the Powers was not very terrible, the Italians made ready to gain a foothold in the ^Egean which could not fail to prove useful in the future. On May 4, an Italian expeditionary force landed at the Island of Rhodes, and, overcoming the tenacious resistance of the Turkish garrison, entered the city of Rhodes, while the Turks retreated to Psithos, in the interior of the island. Simultaneously other islands of the Sporades, known as the Dodecanese group, were occupied by the Italian forces. On May 17 the Turkish troops at Psithos were surrounded, and after a stiff encounter were forced to surrender. By the end of May, Italian rule was firmly established in the JEgean Islands, though the occupation was reported to be merely temporary.

In the meantime a period of renewed activity had been inaugurated in Tripolitana. The Italian forces pushed westward and encountered a stubborn resistance at Zanzur. The Turks had dug themselves in and strongly fortified then: positions about the oasis. Here one of the bloodiest battles of the campaign was fought, and though the Italians gained a notable success, it was not until three months later, on September 20, that the oasis was occupied. Notwithstanding the torrid summer heat, the Italians pushed their operations hi all directions. The Arabs, now well organised, put up a plucky fight, but were slowly succumbing to the methodical Italian advance. The war in many sectors had settled down to static, trench-warfare, with frequent sallies by the Italians and furious counter-attacks by the Turco-Arab troops.

The Porte at last realised that nothing was to be gained by prolonging the conflict. Furthermore, news was reaching Constantinople of efforts which were being made to form a league of the Balkan States, directed against Turkey. The thunder of the Italian guns in the ^Egean had drifted across the Balkans and aroused the longing of the Serbs, the Greeks, and the Bulgars to emancipate their kinsmen still under Turkish rule.

On July 12 secret peace negotiations were initiated at Ouchy, near Lausanne, Switzerland, between Prince Said Halim, the Turkish representative, and a commission of three Italian delegates, MM. Bertolini, Fusinato, and Volpi. It was evident at-once that there seemed little chance of securing a satisfactory settlement. The Italian Government realised that the only way by which it could hope to attain its demands was to push military activities ahead with all possible energy.

A week after pourparlers had been begun, five Italian torpedo-boats slipped up the Dardanelles on a raiding expedition which, though a daring enterprise, achieved no tangible advantage. Fighting continued actively in Tripolitana, while the peace negotiations, which had been interrupted, were resumed at Caux between the Italian delegates and two new Turkish envoys, Naby Bey and Fahreddin Bey. The Italian Government now made permanent arrangements for the governance of Libya. General Caneva, who had been in sole command since the outbreak of the war, after receiving high honours was relieved, and as the principal as well as minor points along the coast were now safely in Italian hands, Libya was divided into two distinct provinces of Cyrenaica and Tripolitana, each having its own governor and separate administration.

Through August and September the peace negotiations were tortuously pursued. The patience of the Italian delegates, their firm resolve to obtain their own terms, contrasted with the indirect "bluff" of the Turkish envoys, who made desperate attempts to secure a more favourable peace.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:28:16 ZULU