A hundred years ago today started negotiations that would eventually bring an end to the Italo-Turkish War of 1911-1912.
It was not, by any measure, a major war at the time. The Italian victory did have a certain strategic and geopolitical value – what with Italians gaining control of Libya (the repercussions of which we feel to this day) and the Ottoman Empire showing the signs of weakness that would eventually lead to its downfall in the Balkan Wars and World War I. But that’s not why the war is significant to us, or why I chose to write about it in this blog.
It is a war undeservedly forgotten. The Italo-Turkish War was the first real modern war. It was the first European war of the 20th century – and some might say it was the true end of the 19th century. Along with the Second Boer War, it marks a demarcation point between the old and the new ways of waging war, and between the old and new military aesthetics. In literary terms, I dare say it marks the definite boundary between the steampunk and dieselpunk.
It was a war of many firsts. The Italian military – a synonym of indolence later under Mussolini – were brilliantly ahead of their time. The Italo-Turkish War is the first combat use of an armoured car: the Fiat Arsenale.
The action in Libya is best known among warfare enthusiast for the first airstrike in history. The fantastically shaped Etrich Taube aircraft dropped bombs on the Ottoman troops on November 1st, 1911.
Finally, and perhaps the most awesome of all, it was the first – and one of the few – wars in which Zeppelins flew to combat. The below photo is likely a fake, but the image is, nonetheless, striking, and showing a real event: a silver cigar dropping explosives on steam-powered ironclads. This is something you’d normally see on the pages of deviantArt, not on a war photo, even if touched up for the audience of the time.
The war is always a nasty business, and in the 20th century it very quickly degenerated into the terrifying bloodshed of the two World Wars. The Italo-Turkish War foresaw a lot of that bloodshed: there were trenches and repeating guns, there were bombs, artillery and armour. But there is something fascinating, especially for a writer like me, who takes inspiration from the borderline points of history, in this tiny sliver of time, and in these images. The quirky, wobbly aeroplanes. The fighting dirigibles. The experimental automobiles. It was that one last moment between the rifle-and-horse wars of earlier centuries, where casualties counted in mere thousands, and the airplane-and-tank wars of the next, with their millions of dead.