Chapter 16 La Guerra Italo-Turca 1911-1912

It’s September 2011 and Libyan rebels are looking for Moammar Gaddafi, the gadfly who has been tormenting the U.S. since Ronald Reagan was president. September 2011 is also the centennial celebration of the famous Italo-Turkish War.

Italy’s last great war, which started on September 29, 1911, finished gloriously for Italy on October 18, 1912. As I watch the rebels shooting their AK47s in victory, my thoughts fade out to another war in Libya, one in which my grandfather, Cesare Sacco fought.

In September 1911 the Italians, celebrating 50 years as a nation, decided to challenge the Turks and the Ottoman Empire. How the Turks didn’t kick the crap out of the Italian Army I’ll never know. The Turks were bad asses and the Ottoman Empire showed itself quite formidable in World War I against the British, French, and later, the Americans.

In any case, for some unknown reason, the Turks left Libya relatively unprotected and left an opening for the young nation hoping to recapture the glory of the Roman Empire. Cesare Sacco, like a lot of peasants from the South, used the war to escape poverty and to sign up for an adventure. Twenty-one-year-old Cesare Sacco, a sort of Calabrese Crusader, joined the Italian Army hoping to make some money and see some action. War, for Cesare, had to have been a lot more fun than being a tenant farmer.

According to Google’s Wikipedia, the Italo-Turkish War saw two major technological advances of which Cesare would be proud had he known. On October 23, 1911, an Italian pilot, Captain Carlo Piazza, flew over Turkish lines on the world’s first aerial reconnaissance mission, and on November 1, the first ever aerial bomb was dropped by Sottotenente Giulio Gavotti, on Turkish troops in Libya. Other than these two innovations the War seemed boring in its description.

Italy’s war with the Turks was Italy’s last victory in a war unless you count the 1935 war in Abyssinia, modern-day Ethiopia. Abyssinia was Italy’s equivalent of the NCAA’s “little sisters of the poor.” My dad told me that the Ethiopians were so poorly equipped that they hurled spears at Mussolini’s tanks and fighter planes. Italy barely won and Mussolini’s dream of a new Roman Empire was realized. Hitler would soon be needed to prop up the new Roman Empire until Mussolini met his demise.

There are no remaining pictures of Cesare Sacco in his military uniform, but Wiki’s picture of Italian soldiers wearing colonial helmets, just like the British wore in the Gunga Din movies, gives you an idea.

Cesare was awarded the Commemorative Medal for the Italo-Turkish War 1911-1912 was a medal instituted by Vittorio Emanuele III of Savoy on November 21, 1912 for all Italian soldiers and sailors. It’s one of my prized family possessions, though I must admit I checked out its value on eBay.


About growingupcalabrese

Professor of French and Italian at San Diego State University
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