Overthrow of Colonialism: Northern Africa

by Mitch on June 7, 2012 1 Comment

French Harkis soldiers.

The overthrow of colonialism depended upon the development of nationalism, which marked a break with primary forms of resistance to colonialism in nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century northern Africa. Initial resistance was based on regional and Muslim solidarity, like the resistance of ‘Abd al-Qadir to the French in Algeria between 1830 and 1847. Meanwhile, in Tunisia and Egypt, there was a renewal of ideological leadership through the development of nationalist ideologies and the reform of Islamic thought. Nationalist and Islamist ideologies were formulated by those exposed to modern European thought and appealed to new social categories created by the modernizing programs of African state builders such as Tunisia’s Ahmed Bey and Egypt’s Muhammad ‘Ali. Educated in Western languages and political concepts, administrators, professionals, and entrepreneurs identified their interests within the nation-state. They provided the personnel of the colonial state system after the French occupation of Tunisia in 1881 ...

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The Tripolitanian War

by Mitch on May 10, 2012 0 Comments

Mustafa Kemal and Libyan bedevis

The Young Turks' transition to Turkish nationalism had only begun, however, when it was given a final thrust forward by a new wave of foreign attacks on the empire starting with that of the Italians in Tripoli and Bengazi late in 1911. The kingdom of Italy dreamed of an empire that would revive the glory of the old Roman Empire. Most of the African territories contiguous to the Mediterranean had been already taken by Britain and France, and only Tripoli seemed reasonably available. Ottoman rule there was nominal. The garrisons were weak, the government limited and inadequate, and the economic situation poor. The interior, inhabited by bedouins, had recently come under the control of a Muslim pietistic movement led by the Senusis, further undermining the sultan's suzerainty. On the other hand, Tripoli was close to Italy. Italian merchants had been active there for some ...

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by Mitch on May 4, 2012 0 Comments

The Ethiopian Emperor Yohannes IV, however, believed that the Italians violated this promise and attacked an Italian military column at Dogali in 1887, before advancing toward Massawa.

Eritrea was an Italian colony on the Red Sea coast of east Africa. In 1869, the Rubattino Steamship Company had purchased the port of Assab to use as a trading station on the Red Sea. When the port proved less than successful, Italian investors acquired Massawa in 1885 with the connivance of the British. This angered Ethiopia, which believed that Italy had infringed on its rights to the city. To avoid a conflict, the Italians agreed to halt further expansion. The Ethiopian Emperor Yohannes IV, however, believed that the Italians violated this promise and attacked an Italian military column at Dogali in 1887, before advancing toward Massawa. There were only a small number of Italian forces in East Africa, and Italy was unwilling ...

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by Mitch on April 26, 2012 0 Comments

Italian Officers and askari.

Concluded on 26 October 1896, the Treaty of Addis Ababa ended the First Italo-Abyssinian War of 1895–1896, confirmed the independence of Abyssinia, and ratified the decisive defeat its armies inflicted on an Italian expeditionary force at the Battle of Adwa six months earlier. The origins of the conflict can be traced to the previous decade. Italy, ambitious to assert its great-power status by establishing an empire in Africa, was sufficiently late on the scene that its greatest initial success was occupying the decrepit Red Sea port of Massawa in 1885. Italy continued to penetrate inland into Eritrea, whose mutually antagonistic tribes were increasingly coerced or compelled to accept Italian suzerainty.


An Abyssinian government regarding Eritrea as its territory encouraged local resistance and committed its own forces with fair amounts of success. Then in 1889, a coup brought Menelik II (r. 1889–1913) to Ethiopia’s ...

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Defeat at Dogali, 1887

by Mitch on April 8, 2012 0 Comments

The battle of Dogali by Michele Cammarano.

The Negus Negasti Menelik II and his high command, in an engraving made at about the time of the battle of Adowa. While these men wear lion’s-mane headdresses and elaborately embroidered silk robes, and carry decorated shields, note that they are armed with rifles. Before March 1896 the Italians often mistook Ethiopian adherence to tradition for an inability to embrace useful technologies.


The Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia resented being cut off from the sea by this new Italian incursion. Tensions arose, especially in 1887, when the Italians decided to strengthen their position by pushing inland and taking over the villages of Ua-à and Zula. The local lord, Ras Alula, demanded that the Italians leave, and when they failed to do so he gathered 25,000 warriors. On 25 January 1887 he attacked the fort at Saati, held by 167 Italians and ...

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Siege of Port Arthur, (1904–1905)

by Mitch on December 17, 2011 0 Comments

Port Arthur

Port Arthur is the former name of the port city of Lüshun at the tip of China’s Liaodong Peninsula in Liaoning Province, approximately 30 kilometers south of the city of Dalian. Port Arthur takes its name from Royal Navy Lieutenant William C. Arthur, who briefly occupied the harbor in 1858. Port Arthur’s natural harbor and strategic position, commanding the northern Yellow and Bohai Seas, resulted in its fortification in the 1880s by Qing China and its choice as headquarters for the developing Beiyang Fleet. The port played a major role in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 when it was captured by Japanese troops after a short siege. On the strength of its peace settlement with China in 1895, Japan briefly occupied the city along with the Liaodong Peninsula yet was forced to withdraw in response to the Triple Intervention of Russia, France, and Germany. In 1898 ...

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by Mitch on November 28, 2011 0 Comments

Italian forces move into British Somaliland.

During the widespread European colonization in the latter part of the nineteenth century, Somalia became the target of both British and Italian ambitions. The British arrived much earlier, negotiating treaties for harbor facilities in 1840. By the middle 1880s, the British had negotiated agreements with a number of northern tribes and established a protectorate of sorts. The British wanted to control the local supply of foodstuffs to supply their major port of Aden, just to the north across the Gulf of Aden. They ultimately established the colony of Somaliland and finalized a border with Ethiopia in 1897.


Meanwhile, the Italians were slowly acquiring control over the southern part of the region, also by signing protection agreements. They took control of the lands of two rival sultans in 1889, at which time the Italians informed them that as of the Berlin Conference five years earlier ...

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Rodolfo Graziani in Libya

by Mitch on October 11, 2011 0 Comments

By Mike Yakich

The death of Italo Balbo in a "friendly fire" incident less than three weeks into the war caused an unplanned shake-up in the Italian high command. Rodolfo Graziani, who had been Chief-of-Staff of the Army since November 1939- but who had extensive experience in Libya- was named to replace Balbo as commander of the North African theater. This transfer simultaneously made Graziani Governor of Libya. It could be seen, in a sense, as a demotion, but Graziani was considered uniquely qualified for this crucial post due to his past experience. And, indeed, he had been a rather strange choice for Army Chief-of-Staff in the first place, given that his previous experience had (except for a stint during the First World War) been almost entirely within the realm of colonial warfare. He was completely lacking in the normal staff background considered essential for filling the Chief of Staff ...

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by Mitch on September 4, 2011 1 Comment


General Baratieri's reputation was tarnished by the defeat at Adowa. He favoured a Fabian strategy against Menelik, but pressure from his officers and Prime Minister Crispi led to the debacle.

The Battle of Adowa: 1 March 1896 – The Approach

Baratieri's advance into Tigre province was initially successful, and he established several garrisons there. His confidence that Menelik could not possibly move north in any real force was shattered in December 1895, when the emperor's advance guard of 30,000 overran an askari contingent of 2000 at Amba Alagi, and besieged the survivors, who took shelter in a fort at Makalle. By January, Menelik offered terms to Baratieri, who took this act as a sign of weakness. Moreover, Francesco Crispi, the Italian prime minister, demanded Baratieri press on.


The Italian general used the delay produced by negotiations to concentrate his army near Adigrat ...

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Italian Colonial Wars (1882–1936)

by Mitch on August 29, 2011 0 Comments

Like the British, the Axis powers, though less wholeheartedly, sought to stretch their enemy’s resources, in particular in East Africa and the Middle East. In East Africa, Italian forces took advantage of Britain’s distraction to invade British Somaliland from Ethiopia on 5 August 1940, and conquer it easily. The previous month they had penetrated into Kenya and had occupied frontier towns in Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Italian forces were larger than the British Empire forces in the area, but they were isolated from reinforcements. In September, despite the threat posed to Egypt by Italians in Libya, the British C-in- C Middle East, General Wavell, sent the 5th Indian Division to the Sudan. The 1st South African Division was formed in Kenya. After Wavell’s successes in the Western Desert in December, the 4th Indian Division was sent up the Nile as well.


There was a number of reasons why the ...

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