North African theatre (World War I)

North African theatre (World War I)
North Africa Campaign
Part of Middle Eastern theatre of World War I (also effective continuation of the Italo-Turkish War)
Date 1914-1918
Location Libya, Morocco, Egypt
Result Allied victory
 British Empire
Flag of Cyrenaica.svg Senussi
Berber tribesmen
 Ottoman Empire
 German Empire
Commanders and leaders
Victor Emmanuel III of Italy
Other Generals
Ahmed Sharif es Senussi
Nuri Pasha
Jafar Pasha

The North Africa Campaign(1914-1918) was a series of conflicts during World War I, part of Middle Eastern theatre of World War I in southwest Libya and southern Tripolitania. The battles were mainly between Senussi insurgents, Morrocan rebel siding with the Ottoman Empire against the United Kingdom and its Empire and the Kingdom of Italy.

The Ottoman Empire's intention was to open a new front, which would draw British troops from the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and thus reduce the strength of the opposition faced by the Germans in other fronts. The Italians wanted to preserve the gains they had made via the Treaty of Lausanne.



The region was annexed by Italy in 1911 after the Italo-Turkish War and France in 1912, respectively, and was only barely under Italian control when war broke out in Europe. After the loss of the province of Trablusgarp to Italy in the war of 1911-1912, the local Sanusi tribe continued with their resistance against the Italians. Fighting was conducted by Sanusi militia under the leadership of Ahmad al-Sharif, whose followers in Fezzan (southwest Libya) and southern Tripolitania prevented Italian consolidation in these regions. The Ottoman government never ceased to provide assistance to the local tribesmen in the region.


In 1915, the Ottomans tried to seize the Suez Canal in Egypt and restore the recently deposed Khedive Abbas II, but were pulled back by the British. On 24 May 1915, Italy declared war on the Central Powers, and the Italian-Sanussi War became a part of the World War. German and Ottoman agents encouraged rebellions against the Allies in Libya and Morocco, providing light weapons via U-Boats sailing from the shores of the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary or through neutral countries like Spain. The Senussi sect was particularly successful in the Sahara, expelling the Italians from Fezzan and tying British and French forces in the frontier regions of Egypt and Algeria.

Infantry Machine-Gun Captain Nuri Bey (Killigiil) (later Nuri Pasha) was sent to North Africa by an illegal Greek ship with Major Jafar al-Askari Bey and 10,000 gold. His mission was to archive operations of Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa forces with local forces against Italian and British forces. They landed at the shore between Tobruk and Sallum on 21 February 1915. And then they went to Ahmed Sharif es Senussi in Sallum[1].

Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa sent an infantry battalion (three infantry companies, one heavy machine-gun team and one engineer team) to Libya. The battalion arrived at Bodrum through Milas and Göcek on 16 October 1915, and left for Tripolitania by two sailing ship accompanied by German submarine U-35. On 17 October 1915, the battalion arrived at Derne, landed at west of Sallum and was transferred to the Senussi's headuarters[1].

In 1916, in the Senussi Uprising, Ottoman officers under Ahmed Sharif es Senussi led the Senussis to penetrate into Egypt, which was guarded by the British. British forces had to evacuate Sallum and Seyd-i Barani, retreating to the town of Matrukh. The Sanusis pursued the British and launched an offensive towards Matrukh. The British dispersed the opposing forces and Ahmad al-Sharif gave up the Sanusi political and military leadership. He had lost influence considerably, not only because of losses on the battlefield but also due to the differences of opinion surfacing among Senussi sheikhs.

In 1917, as an attempt to organize the efforts which was dispersed by the British, the Ottoman General Staff established the “Africa Groups Command” (Afrika Grupları Komutanlığı), of which the primary objective was the coastal regions of Libya. The first commander of this group was Lieutenant Colonel Nuri Killigil and the chief of Staff was Staff Major Abdurrahman Nafiz Bey (Gürman)[1]. Italian forces, which were trapped in Zuwara, Khoms, and Tripoli, attempted to break through the encirclement twice in January and April 1917, both without success. In September, a major offensive by the Africa Groups Command on Tripoli firmly established the defense.

Nuri Pasha was replaced by Prince Osman Fuad in April 1918. Abdurrahman Nafiz Bey was re-appointed the chief of staff. Osman Fuad left Istanbul on 2 April 1918 for Vienna and then on 5 May 1918 left Pula with 559,490 Franc and 60 officers by German submarine UC-78 for Libya. They arrived at Misrata on 17 May 1918.[1].


Berber revolts in Morocco and Libya would continue well after the end of the war, till their final suppression in the late 1920s and early 1930s.


  1. ^ a b c d Hamit Pehlivanlı, "Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa Kuzey Afrika'da (1914-1918)", Atatürk Araştırma Merkezi Dergisi, Sayı 47, Cilt: XVI, Temmuz 2000. (Turkish)

External links

  • Images from Sand in the Whirlwind: The Anglo-Sennusi Campaign 1915-1916 (2000).

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