World War II: Libya

World War II Libya
Figure 1.--This Libyan boy, presumably with grandfather, was photograph by a soldier in the Afrika Korps in 1941 or 42. Hitler's insertion of German troops prevented Italian collapse and set up the sea-saw campaign in the Western Desert. Unlike the Arabs to the west of Libya, the Libans saw the British as potential liberators. The Italians had conducted a brutal colonial war during the 1920s to turn Libya into a compliant colony.

Most of the Middle East was dominated by Britain and France thus the rise of European Fascist in Italy and Germany appealed to many Arab nationalists. Libya was an exception because the colonial power was Italy. As Europe moved toward war, Libyan nationalists began to see that Italian defeat in a war would create an opportunity for independence. After Germany invaded Poland and launched Wotld war II (Seprember 1939), Italian nationalists mets in Alexandria, Egypt (October 1939). Sayid Idris emerged as the most prominent leader, but the nationalist movement was badly divided. The early victories of Italian ally NAZI Germany were, however, not incouraging for the Libyan nationalists. Italy entered the War once the German victory over France was assured (June 1940). At first it seemed that the massive Italian army in Libya would easily overwealm the British in Egypt. Nationalist forces were divided on how they should react. Some (the Cyrenaicans and Idris) supported the British. Others (the Tripolitanians) were more hesitant, fearing that the Axis might win the War. Formal meetings in Cairo with Idris and some of the nationalists resulted in a formal afreement by the nationalists would support the British and the British would support a move toward independence after the WAr (August 1940). The Italians invaded Egypt (September 1940), but were defeated by a small British force which invaded Libya. This suprising British victory surprised the Libyan nationalists and first created the realistic prospect that the Italians would be defeated. The Libyan Arab Force commonly referred to as the Sanusi Army was small, but did assist the British during the campaigns in the Western Desert. German intervention in Libya resulted in a sea-saw battle that was not settled until the decisive Battle of El Alemaine (October 1942). The British 8th Army then proceeded to drive the Afrika Korps out of Egypt and Libya and liked up with the Allied Norces landed in Morocco and Algeria as part of Operation Totch. The German and Italian forces finally surremdered in Tunisia (May 1943). Possession of Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) provided airbases from which targets in NAZI-domicated Europe could be attacked from the south. The first attacks on the vital Ploesti oil fields in Romania came from Libyan bases. After the Allied invasion of Italy (September 1943), Libya became a backwater of the War.

Italian-Turkish War (1911-12)

Italy had largely missed out on the 19th cenury European effort to stake out overseas colonies. Libya until the early 20th century was nominally an Ottomon province, but the Ottomon's exerted only limited control. Italy saw Libya located as it was close to home as the ideal colony with a Mediterranean coast. Italy began the final assault on the Ottomon Empire by declaring war in this case to secure a new colony in North Africa--Libya. The Italo-Turkish War (1911-12) While fought outside the Balkans, weaked the Ottomon Army in the years just before World War I. The Italians became the first country to drop ordinance from an airplane in warfare. They tossed grenades from a German-built monoplane. The Ottomons largely ceeded to Italian demands because of the worsening situation in the Balkans, an area of much greater importance to them. The Ottomons were unwilling to make a major military commitment to defending Libya. The Ottomons were, however, then further humiliated in the First and Second Balkan Wars (1912-13). After some fighting, the Ottomans cede Libya to Italy (1912). The Sanusis have to resist Italian encroachments without Ottomon assistance.

World War I (1914-18)

Italy in years before World War I was a member of the Central Powers, but did not go to war with Austria and Germany. Italy joined the Allies in World War I (1915). The British who were then allies attempted to mediate between the Sanusis and Italians. Libyan nationalists were torn during World War I. Some were pro-British, but since the Italians which were turning Italy into a colony joined the Allies, some were now more favorably disposed toward the Ottomons, their former colonial masters, which had ebtered the War on the side oif the Central Powers. Senussi tribesmen supported by the Ottmons staged an uprising against the Italians (November 1915). The uprising was a relatively limited action. It did, however, cause the deployment of a substantial Allied force--some 110,000 British, French and Italian troops. Peace or more accurately truce terms were reached (April 1917).

Italian Colonization (1918-42)

Italy next seized Libya after a brief war with the Ottomans (1912). The Libyans resisted. Fighting broke out, but the British brokered a truce after Italy joined the Allies in World War I (1915). After the War, fighting broke out again leading to a prolonged colonial war. Italy continued efforts to colonize Libya. Mussolini with his dreams of reconstituting the Roman Empire would wage a merciless campaign to end Libyan resistance to Italian rule. The Italians seized control of the coast cities, but have great difficulty maintaining control of the interior. The Italians unified Tripolitania and Cyrenaica as the colony of Libya (1929). Mussolini employing brutal tactics, including poison gas, finally suceeded in crushing Libyan resistance. Mussolini saw Libya as offering the possibility of colonization by Italy's burgoning population. The Sanusis finally surrender to the Italians (1931). One of the goals of Italian colonism was the concern with over population. Italy called Libya "The Fourt Shore" and promoted Italian settlement there. Several projects with Italian colonists were launched. Libya was the only Arab/Muslim that was a part of the Axis world at the start of the War.

NAZI Influence in the Arab World

Most of the Middle East was dominated by Britain and France thus the rise of European Fascist in Italy and Germany appealed to many Arab nationalists. Libya was an exception because the colonial power was Italy. NAZI propaganda had little impact on Libya which was an Italian colony. The Libyans had experienced Fascist brutality before the rest of the world. The Italian Fascists conducted a brutal colonial war in the 1920s, even employing poison gas. They then began to colonize the country with Italian settlers. The goal was to displace or Italianize the Arabs. This was similar to French policy in Algeria, but was very different from British policies. Thus the Libyans turned to the British for assistance. The rest of the Arab world, however, did not seem to recognize the potential dangers of a Fascist dominated world or the the possibility that the Fascist would be a much more brutal colonial master. Even in neighboring Egypt where the British were in the process of withdrawing bfore the War, the dangers of Fascism had little impact. In fact important nationalist groups embraced the NAZIs. The Grand Mufti in Palestine was an enthusiastic supporter of the NAZIs and helped with NAZI support to launch anti-British and anti-Jewish riots (1938-39). There was also strong support for the NAZIs in Egypt, Iran (a Middle Eastern but not an Arab state), and Iraq. The situation chasnged somewhat in the French colonies of Lebanon and Syria after the NAZI victory and Vicy initiated a policy of cooperationg with the NAZIs.

Libyan Nationalists

As Europe moved toward war, Libyan nationalists began to see that Italian defeat in a war would create an opportunity for independence. After Germany invaded Poland and launched Wotld war II (Seprember 1939), Italian nationalists mets in Alexandria, Egypt (October 1939). Sayid Idris emerged as the most prominent leader, but the nationalist movement was badly divided. The early victories of Italian ally NAZI Germany were, however, not incouraging for the Libyan nationalists.

Italian Declaration of War

Italy entered the War once the German victory over France was assured (June 1940).

Nationalist Response

Nationalist forces were divided on how they should react. Some (the Cyrenaicans and Idris) supported the British. Others (the Tripolitanians) were more hesitant, fearing that the Axis might win the War. Formal meetings in Cairo with Idris and some of the nationalists resulted in a formal afreement by the nationalists would support the British and the British would support a move toward independence after the War (August 1940).

Italian Invasion of Egypt

Once it was clear that the French Army was defeated, Mussolini decided to join Hitler and declared war on France and Britain. Even though German armies were pouring through France, Mussolini's attack in the south was unsuccessful. At first it seemed that the massive Italian army in Libya would easily overwealm the British in Egypt.Mussolini also invaded Egypt from Libya, hoping to seize the Suez Canal (September 13, 1940). Although badly outnumbered the British 8th Army stopped the Italians. The Italians invaded Egypt (September 1940), but were defeated by a small British force which invaded Libya.

The Holocaust

Italy after seizing control of Libya changed the status of Christian and Jews. Jews in Italy had full civil rights and the small Jewish community in Libya prospered under Italian colonial rule. This changed as Mussolini aftter the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (1935) moved closer to Hitler and NAZI Germany. Mussoliniís anti-Jewish regulations imposed in 1938 theoretically applied to Libyan Jews. They were unevenly applied, but gradually severly affected Libyan Jews. Italy after the Germans had essentially defefeated France, declared war on Britain and France (June 1940). A massive Italian Army invaded Egypt from Italy (September 1940). The British smashed the Italians and drove into Libya (December 1940). The Germans arrived in Libya to bolster the Italias (March 1941). Rommel's Afrika Korps waged a sea-saw campaign with the British 8th Army until defeat at El Alemaine (October 1942). Eventually about 5,000 Jews in Libya were interned. Conditions in these camps was very harsh. [Arbitol] Some Libyan Jews were deported to the death camps. Defeat of the Axis forces in Egypt and Libya and the resulting British occupation saved the bulk of the Libyan Jewish community.

Sanusi Army

The British victory against a numerically superior Italian force surprised the Libyan nationalists. It was the first inkling that there was a realistic prospect that the Italians would be defeated. The Libyan Arab Force commonly referred to as the Sanusi Army was small, but did assist the British during the campaigns in the Western Desert.

British Invade Libya

The British counter attacked (December 9, 1940). The British move toward Benghazi with a series of victories. The Italians were near collapse.

Afrika Korps

German intervention in Libya resulted in a sea-saw battle in the Western Desert. Hitler in order to prevent the fall of Libya orders a small armoured force to Libya to support the Italians. The force under Erwin Rommel begins to arrive March 22, 1941. Rommel and his Africa Korps stop the British and even though he has only a small force launches a counter-attack (March 30, 1941). Rommel drives the British back into Egypt. Here Rommel's inovatic tactics and the superority of the German Panzers were critical. ANZAC resistance at Tobruck helps to stop Rommel. A British counter offensive drive Rommel and the Italians back into Libya (November 18, 1941). Rommel strikes and again drives into Egypt (January 21, 1942). This time Rommel takes Tobruk (June 21, 1942). He moves toward Suez, but is stopped after a ferocious battle at El Alemain (July 2, 1942). >br>

Allied Victory

The campaign in the Western Desert was not settled until the decisive Battle of El Alemaine (October 1942). A standoff occurs as the two armies prepare for a show down. Churchill gives Montgomery command of the 8th Army (August 13, 1942). This is thehighwater of the German war effort. Rommel is only a few miles from Suez and Von Paulitz's 6th Army is investing Stalingrad. Here America's entry into the War begins to swing the ballance. American industry provided Montgomery, with supplies and equipment in massive quantities. The Germans bogged down in the Soviet Union can not devote the men are material needed by Rommel. The British defeat of the Italian Navy in the Mediterrean means that much of the supplies sent to Rommel are sunk. The British are assisted in this effort by Ultra. The British 8th Army then proceeded to drive the Afrika Korps out of Egypt and Libya and liked up with the Allied Forces landed in Morocco and Algeria as part of Operation Torch. The German and Italian forces finally surremdered in Tunisia (May 1943).

Cyrenica Air Bases

Possession of Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) provided airbases from which targets in NAZI-domicated Europe could be attacked from the south. The first attacks on the vital Ploesti oil fields in Romania came from Libyan bases. After the Allied invasion of Italy (September 1943), Libya became a backwater of the War.






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Created: 5:17 AM 5/14/2008
Last updated: 7:44 AM 11/26/2010