In August, an Italian column was attacked and defeated by Sanussi rebels at Bir al-Fatia. Subsequently, there was a massive uprising in Fezzan, home of the Sanussi holy city of Kufra. The “supreme leader” of the Sanussi was, at this time, Ahmed Sharif as-Senussi and he would lead or direct his forces in attacks on the French, Italians and British throughout this period. The rebellion became so severe that the Italian forces had to withdraw to Tripolitania by early 1915. To make matters worse, the “Dervishes” of Italian Somaliland in East Africa were becoming increasingly aggressive and clashing with Italian or Italian-allied Somali forces in 1915. These so-called “Dervishes” were the followers of the “Mad Mullah” (who was actually not a mullah at all) Muhammad Abd Allah Hassan. Already, in 1914, he had caused considerable problems for the British in British Somaliland, defeating or at least bloodying British colonial forces in a number of clashes before moving across the border into Italian territory. Meanwhile, back in north Africa, a see-saw campaign, similar to what would later be seen in World War II was unfolding.
Obviously, a major change had taken place and that was that the Ottoman Empire had begun to arm the rebels in the hope of eventually retaking their former provinces and reestablishing control of northern Africa. In spite of the fact that, at the time, Italy was only at war with Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire was effectively waging a proxy war against the Italians and Germany was also helping them do it, using German U-boats to smuggle weapons to the Libyan insurgents. In retaliation, on August 21 the Kingdom of Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire (Italy would not declare war on Germany until the following year). By the end of 1915, things looked bleak for the Italian position in north Africa. There had never been much of a real presence in Fezzan and Italian forces in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica had been forced to abandon their interior positions and concentrate their modest forces on the coast in the major towns and port cities. 1916, however, would open with another change in fortunes for the Italians in Libya. In the early months, alarmed by the radicalism of the rebels, the coastal population rallied to the side of the Italians in Tripolitania and Jabal Nafusah. Sanussi control was restricted to the area east of Wadi Zamzam. On February 1, 1916 the Italians were able to strike back for a change and wipe out a Sanussi rebel column.
|Emperor Lij Jasu|
In May of 1916 Italian troops launched a counter-offensive in Libya with an amphibious landing at Ras al-Muraysah in Cyrenaica that results in the recapture of al-Bardi after which another Italian column, in a joint operation with the British, destroy a major Sanussi camp near Darnah. The British became involved since, with the outbreak of World War I, the Sanussi leader Ahmed Sharid as-Senussi had invaded Egypt, capturing Sallum and provoking the British to strike back and take the Sanussi threat more seriously. Now, however, the Allies were advancing and later that month Italian forces retook Zuwarah in Tripolitania. They were so successful that, by July, the Sanussi agreed to meet for talks with the British and Italians about making peace. Some decide to lay down their arms but others do not and in early 1917 the Italian forces resumed their offensive, clearing the rebels west of Tripoli and completely retaking southern Tripolitania. At the same time, in East Africa, the “Mad Mullah” attacks the Sultan Uthman of Obbia who is allied with Italy but the forces of the Sultan soundly defeat him.
Italian rule was restored and secured across the Italian African colonies. However, peace would not be permanent and it would take another major campaign before Libya was pacified in 1932. Ahmed Sharif as-Senussi left Libya in 1918 for the Ottoman Empire via Austria-Hungary, leaving the peace negotiations with his cousin Mohammad Idris who would, for a short time, become King of Libya after World War II. In Ethiopia, Lij Jasu (or Iyasu V) was deposed in favor of his aunt Empress Zewditu who kept him safe and tried to have him reconciled with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which had excommunicated him. However, Empress Zewditu was suppressed by Haile Selassie who made himself Emperor and finally had Lij Jasu killed during another war with Italy. The “Mad Mullah” took his fight back to British territory, was soundly defeated and died of influenza in 1920.