Chapter 6. The Second Italo-Ottoman War.
The Mediterranean was surprisingly untouched by the Second Atlantic War, in the direct sense. No naval battles were fought on it, and no nations were invaded by sea. But the status of Europe after the war greatly changed due to the results of the war. The major powers were distracted, weak and (in many cases) in the throes of civil war. Even Britain, historically the strongest nation in the Med, and the one least involved in the SAW, was distracted by Northern Europe along with the sea change in Eastern Europe. This lack of oversight led to grand plans being erected and attempted in Southern Europe and Middle East.
The Megali IdeaEdit
Perhaps the greatest of these 'new images' is the war plan developed by the Italian Navy in conjunction with the fringe Greek political activists. For years Italian investment in south Anatolia had increased, and Rome felt a vague claim on the area. The location also had a fair climate similar to Italy and open to exploitation. For many Italians southern Anatolia looked ripe for a late stage colonial grab. The only thing that stood in their way was the 'decaying' Ottoman Empire. Despite its strong performance in the Balkan war, Italian naval (and army) officers waved it away showing tables and graphs of the Ottoman disasters in Libya. While focusing on its weaknesses the Italians had formulated a grandiose plan to 'Smash the decadent Turk and replace with a series of European ruled zones', as the original Rome plans had it. Crucial to the plan (which we will discuss shortly) was Greek involvement.
The Greek dream of regaining close by provinces like Thrace (let alone Crete and other islands) seemed more distant then ever. Defeated in 1897 then again in the Balkan war, the Greek spirit was ebbing low. Lacking allies and fearing even its Balkan neighbors the Ottoman menace seemed stronger then ever and was only only growing. Still, despite the many disasters, and even the fact that the King formally accepted the status quo, the fringe was loud. Many of these 'liberal' Greeks pushed for more money given tot he army and navy, and a push to 'restore Hellenic civilization'. Behind the rhetoric was the desire to add Greek populations tot he greater mainland, increasing its power. Many Liberals had been discredited in the Balkan War as all their hopes had been dashed and the navy had been fatally wounded. A few however had only become more determined and had seized on the various issues related tot he Greek populations in the Dodecanese and Asia Minor, and most notably Crete. The cry for rejoining all this was loud, even in conservative circles. For years, it seemed hopeless however, as the Ottomans seemed quite capable of defending any Greek stroke.
A Gift from GodEdit
All this changed when the Italians offered an alliance. This seemed to be a gift from heaven for the Greeks. The Italians were a major power, with a large army and navy and at least some political clout. Untouched by the SAW and the resultant physical damage they seemed the perfect ally. They even were experienced against the Ottomans and would surely be able to do the 'trick' again. This optimistic analysis of course ignored the massive drawbacks in the Italian armed forces and government in general. Still, the Greeks were desperate for anyone to come to their aid.
A Plan is HatchedEdit
The plan these two groups formed, the Italian colonialists and Greek nationalists, was grandiose and completely based on ideals and dreams more then hard facts and logistics. The plan itself however, was deceptively simple. The Italian fleet would mass together then steam towards Anatolia. Going past Crete the Italian fleet would presumably meet the Ottoman fleet. After defeating them, the Italian armada would sail on and reach the “Italian” portion (Figure 3.5) of Anatolia and disembark there troops. These troops would overwhelm the Ottoman troops and take up strong defensive positions.
The other half of the plan was the Greek war plan. At the same time the Italian fleet was steaming towards the Anatolian shore the Greek army would strike north to Thrace, while also using ships to support the expected massive Greek uprising in the Dodecanese and perhaps even Smiyra. With the Ottoman fleet wiped out by the Italian fleet, the Greek army would be able to force the Ottomans out of Thrace and even snatch most of the islands.
These movements were expected to be accompanied by a widespread Arab revolt throughout the Empire. Also, it was calculated that after the Ottomans were shown to be nothing more then a “Sick Man” Armenia and even the Kurds would rise up against Constantinople. Many Italian leaders also secretly thought that religious differences would rip the Ottoman Empire apart and would allow Greece and Italy to call the tune.
The plan was fraught with mis-calculations, bad intelligence and outright ignorance. The Italian fleet planned ignored how successful the Ottoman fleet had been in the Balkan War and how the reforms had kept it in fine shape. It also vastly underestimated the quality of the defence troops in south Anatolia and greatly ignored the extensive rail-net that would provide support for the defenders, let along the geographic advantages the Ottomans would have.
For the Greek part, most was sheer ludicrous. The Greek navy had been crushed in the Balkan War and was still suffering from lack of funds and manpower. In contrast, the Ottomans had strengthened the Aegean fleet and slow (but steady) modernization had taken hold. Also, the army in Thrace was strong and well supplied. The fortifications were weak (due to expenses) but what they had were designed by talented European firms, with SAW experience. Any Greek breakthrough would be hard to exploit. In contrast the Greek army was small, under-funded, a chronic lack of talent and led by political commanders more interested in personal glory and advancement then military soundness.
In regards to the assumption of massive Ottoman internal problems, it was nothing more then wishful thinking. The Arabs had no plans to rise up for anything short of catastrophic loss (as if they were a monolithic force) and indeed, many nationalities used their peaceful actions during the war for bargaining chips later. As for the “Greek Uprising” while something similar would play out, it would be relatively minor and unsupported by any outside forces.
Reasons Behind the WarEdit
The only reason such a war plan would be accepted is two fold. One, nationalist and rhetoric-fuelled propaganda led the way in claiming lands and territories in a world supposedly 'changed' by the SAW. Both Italy and Greece thought they were fulfilling a long suppressed destiny in Anatolia and the Balkans. Second, the lack of other powers 'policing' the region. Germany and Russia were gone, Austria-Hungry was weak and concerned with Serbia and internal reform. France was battered and distracted by Germany and Eastern Europe. Britain was the only one with the power and interest to control such issues. With the location of British Cyprus near by, it was imperative that the British keep an eye on such upsetting wars. Before the Balkan War Britain had generally approved of the Balkan Independence and Greek advancement, but after the Balkan defeat Britain had generally sided with a strong Ottoman empire. More concerned with India and Ireland, official British power ignored the Ottomans until it was too late to start the war. Oddly, the most influential British observer was the (already) legendary reporter Winston Churchill who immediately painted the war as a 'blow for independence and democracy' Churchill's words were strong enough to add just a shade of doubt over Whitehall as well as encouraging Italian and Greek moves.