The Ottoman Empire

Page 3 – Three wars in three years, 1911-13

The Libyan War (29 September 1911  18 October 1912)

At the beginning of the 20th century there was significant public support within the Kingdom of Italy for a programme of colonial expansion to match that of the more established European great powers such as France and Britain. Libya, nominally a territory of the Ottoman Empire, and the only part of North Africa not already controlled by a European power, was a favourite candidate for annexation amongst the Italian colonial lobby and press.

In 1911 the Italian government finally bowed to this internal pressure and demanded that the Ottoman Empire transfer Libya from Ottoman to Italian control. This demand was rejected and the Italians invaded Libya in October 1911. They also occupied the Dodecanese Islands in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey. Few Ottoman troops garrisoned Libya and the Italians quickly captured Tripoli and other key towns and ports. But Arab irregular forces, led by small numbers of Turkish officers, successfully resisted Italian attempts to extend their control over the interior.

A vicious guerilla war ensued. The conflict dragged on inconclusively until the outbreak of the First Balkan War, which forced the Ottoman Empire to sue for peace and accept Italian claims over both Libya and the Dodecanese.

First Balkan War (8 October 1912  30 May 1913)

In a regional military alliance known as the Balkan League, the countries of Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria joined forces and declared war on the Ottoman Empire in October 1912.

The League’s declared aim was to force the Ottoman Turks out of their remaining territory in Europe. To the surprise of the European great powers, the League’s combined armies defeated the Ottoman Army and even threatened the empire’s capital, Constantinople. This prompted the great powers to intervene and force the League to accept an armistice to end the fighting. Under the terms of the peace treaty that followed, Albania became an independent state and nearly all of the remaining Ottoman territory in Europe was divided up amongst the members of the Balkan League.

Second Balkan War (16 June – 18 July 1913)

The Balkan League broke up in acrimony when Bulgaria insisted on a bigger share of the newly conquered Ottoman territories. Unable to convince its neighbours to renegotiate the division of the spoils, Bulgaria attacked its former allies, Serbia and Greece, on 16 June 1913. Montenegro immediately joined the war against Bulgaria, and Romania – which had territorial claims of its own against Bulgaria – did so a month later. Sensing a good opportunity to reclaim some of its recently lost territory, the Ottoman Empire declared war on Bulgaria on 12 July. Six days later the Bulgarians, now surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered, sued for peace. 

For Bulgaria defeat meant a humiliating peace, and the loss of much of the territory it had acquired in the First Balkan War. The Ottoman Empire recovered the city of Adrianople and all of Eastern Thrace. But this outcome was only partial consolation for the Turks: the Libyan and Balkan wars had together cost their army 250,000 casualties, and the bulk of the Ottoman territories they had fought to keep had been lost forever.