North African operations during World War I
A series of conflicts took place in North Africa during World War I (1914–1918). The battles were mainly between Senussi insurgents, Moroccan rebels siding with the Ottoman Empire against the British and the Italians.
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 had been annexed by Italy in 1911 after the Italo-Turkish War and by France in 1912 and control had not been consolidated by the Italians when the war began in Europe. After the loss of the province of Trablusgarp to Italy in the war of 1911–1912, the local Sanusi people 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 their hold on these regions. The Ottoman government never ceased to provide assistance to the local tribesmen in the region.
The Sudan, 1 March – 31 December 1916
On 1 March 1916 hostilities began between the Sudanese government and the Sultan of Darfur. The Anglo-Egyptian Darfur Expedition of 1916 was a military operation conducted by forces from the British Empire and the Sultanate of Egypt, to forestall an imagined invasion of Sudan and Egypt by the Darfurian leader, Sultan Ali Dinar, which was believed to have been synchronised with a Senussi advance into Egypt from the west. The British commander of the Egyptian Army, Sirdar Reginald Wingate organised a force of c. 2,000 men at Rahad, a railhead 200 miles (320 km) east of the Darfur frontier, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Philip James Vandeleur Kelly. On 16 March, Kelly crossed the frontier mounted in lorries from a forward base at Nahud 90 miles (140 km) from the border, with the support of four aircraft. By May the force was close to the Darfur capital of El Fasher. At the Affair of Beringia on 22 May, the Fur Army was defeated and the Anglo-Egyptian force captured the capital the next day. Dinar and 2,000 followers had left before their arrival and as they moved south, were bombed from the air.
French troops in Chad who had returned from the Kamerun Campaign, prevented a Darfurian withdrawal westwards. Dinar withdrew into the Marra mountains 50 miles (80 km) south of El Fasher and sent envoys to discuss terms but the British believed he prevaricating and ended the talks on 1 August. Internal dissention reduced the force with Dinar to c. 1,000 men and Anglo-Egyptian outposts were pushed out from El Fasher to the west and south-west after the August rains. A skirmish took place at Dibbis on 13 October and Dinar opened negotiations but was again suspected of bad faith. Dinar fled south-west to Gyuba and a small force was sent in pursuit. At dawn on 6 November the Anglo-Egyptians attacked in the Affair of Gyuba and Dinar's remaining followers scattered. The body of the Sultan was found 1 mile (1.6 km) from the camp. After the expedition, Darfur was incorporated into Sudan.
Western frontier, 19 November 1915 – February 1917
In 1915, the Ottomans tried to seize the Suez Canal in Egypt and restore the recently deposed Khedive Abbas II, but were pushed 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.
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 U-boat U-35. On 17 October 1915, the battalion arrived at Derne, landed at west of Sallum and was transferred to the Senussi's headquarters.
In 1916, during 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). Italian forces, which were trapped in Zuwara, Khoms, and Tripoli, attempted to break through the encirclement twice in January and April 1917 and cleared the coast between Zuwara and Khoms, using gas and aircraft, causing "appallingly high" civilian casualties. Blockade and a poor 1917 harvest brought famine and the Italians resorted to atrocity and massacre. In September, a major offensive by the Africa Groups Command on Tripoli coincided with the Italian débâcle at Caporetto and the Italians were pushed back to Tripoli and Zuwara.
Nuri Pasha was replaced by Ishak Pasha at the end of 1917. 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 U-boat UC-78 and arrived at Misrata on 17 May 1918 to reorganise the supply of weapons and equipment and create a homogenous military force.
Berber revolts in Morocco and Libya against European encroachments continued until they were overwhelmed in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to North African operations during World War I.|
- Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa Kuzey Afrika'da (1914–1918)
- Images from Sand in the Whirlwind: The Anglo-Sennusi Campaign 1915–1916 (2000)
- The Campaign in the Western Desert