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Territorial growth of Italian Libya
Territorial growth of Italian Libya      Territory given to Italy by the Ottoman Empire, 1912      Effectively Italy controlled only five ports      Territories given by France and Britain 1919 and 1926      Territories given by France and Britain 1934/35

Italian Libya was a colony of the Kingdom of Italy, created in 1911 and officially finished in 1947.


Libya was conquered by Italy in 1911 from the Ottoman Empire. The Libyan Muslims resisted against the Christians Italians for some years, mainly during World War I.

Fighting increased after the dictator Benito Mussolini took power in Italy. Idris (later King of Libya) fled to Egypt in 1922. From 1922 to 1928, Italian forces under General Badoglio waged a "punitive pacification" campaign. Badoglio's successor in the field, Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, accepted the commission from Mussolini on the condition that he was allowed to crush Libyan resistance without having to follow either Italian or international law. Mussolini reportedly agreed immediately and Graziani intensified the oppression. Some Libyans continued to defend themselves, with the strongest voices of dissent coming from Cyrenaica. Omar Mukhtar, a Senussi sheikh, became the leader of the uprising.

After a much-disputed truce on 3 January 1928, the Italian policy in Libya reached the level of full scale war, including deportation and concentration of the people of the Jebel Akhdar to deny the rebels the support of the local population. After Omar Mukhtar's capture September 15, 1931 and his execution in Benghazi, the resistance petered out. Limited resistance to the Italian occupation crystallized round the person of Sheik Idris, the Emir of Cyrenaica.

Fiat Train Passing in to Cyrenaica
Italian "Littorina" train in Cyrenaica

Creation of "Libya"

By 1934, Libya was fully pacified and the new Italian governor Italo Balbo started a policy of integration between the Arabs and the Italians. Indeed in 1939, laws were passed that allowed Muslims to be permitted to join the National Fascist Party and in particular the "Muslim Association of the Lictor" (Associazione Musulmana del Littorio), and the 1939 reforms allowed the creation of Libyan military units within the Italian army. During WWII this brought strong support for Italy among many Muslim Libyans, who enrolled in the Italian Army

Governor Balbo did the creation of "Libya" in 1934, with the unification of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan in a single country. He then developed the "Italian Libya" from 1934 to 1940, creating a huge infrastructure (from 4,000 km of roads to 400 km of narrow gauge railways to new industries and to dozen of new agricultural villages).

The Libyan economy nearly "boomed", mainly in the agricultural sector. Even some manufacturing activities were developed, mostly related to the food industry. Building construction increased in a huge way. Furthermore, the Italians made modern medical care available for the first time in Libya and improved sanitary conditions in the towns.

Howard Christie wrote that The Italians started numerous and diverse businesses in Tripolitania and Cirenaica. These included an explosives factory, railway workshops, Fiat Motor works, various food processing plants, electrical engineering workshops, ironworks, water plants, agricultural machinery factories, breweries, distilleries, biscuit factories, a tobacco factory, tanneries, bakeries, lime, brick and cement works, Esparto grass industry, mechanical saw mills, and the Petrolibya Society (Trye 1998). 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 (General Staff War Office 1939, 165/b).

Governor Balbo promoted the construction of many new villages for many thousands of Italian colonists in the coastal areas of "Italian Libya". He promoted even the creation of new villages for the Arabs.

Libya was an important theater of war in World War II. On 13 September 1940, the "Via Balbia" (Mussolini's highway in northern Libya) was used for the invasion of Egypt by Italian forces stationed in Libya. Counterattacks of British Allied forces from Egypt, commanded by Wavell and their successful two-month campaign in (Tobruk, Bengasi, El Agheila), and the counteroffensives under Rommel in 1940-43, all took place here. In November 1942, the Allied forces retook Cyrenaica; by February 1943, the last German and Italian soldiers were driven from Libya.

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