Sunday, June 6, 2021


Italy had just unified in 1861 when the first expansionist aims of the "Kingdom of Italy" began (for detailed info read also: Some were in the Balkans: in fact initially they looked to Tunisia as an emigration outlet and to East Africa for possible colonies, but over the years, in a limited space of time in the late nineteenth century, the Italian expansionist aims were also addressed to the Balkans.

This is demonstrated by the study that Major Osio and the commander of Italian Marina V. Aminjon prepared in relation to the eventuality of military operations in Albania, against Epirus. the study - according to the "ARCHIVIO DELL'UFFICIO STORICO DELLO STATO MAGGIORE ESERCITO" (AUSSME) - was made in 1876. It envisaged the occupation of the island of Corfu as an operational base to control the region and also to eradicate smuggling in the Adriatic.

The historian Federico Imperato wrote that:

"....The apex of these ambitions of expansion in the southern Adriatic came with the maritime military mission on the Epirot and Albanian coasts, which took place in the summer of 1876 and involved contingents of the Navy and the Army, under the leadership of the vessel captain Vittorio Arminjon and Major Osio.

The report of the mission identified in Preveza, Valona, Durres and Corfu 'the positions that would best correspond to the needs of Italian politics and to those of our future military and commercial greatness'.

In particular, Corfu was considered undoubtedly the key to the Adriatic.

'And to obtain its possession it was necessary to organize an expeditionary force, the preparation of which would have involved the militarization of several bases in the southern Adriatic, the Ionian and even in the Tyrrhenian'......".

Full text of the Report of the Mission of Arminjon and Osio, dated Brindisi/September 8, 1876:

'....... The port that from its very position would be indicated as the starting point of the expedition is undoubtedly Brindisi; but, both to correct the railway concentration of troops, and to facilitate boarding operations, and finally to make secrecy possible, it will perhaps be convenient to establish several starting points, choosing them in the arsenals and in the main ports of commerce, both in the Adriatic that in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and to combine things so that the different transport ships and the battle fleet could be at a fixed day and time at a given meeting point ....... '

The strategic plan underlying the Arminjon and Osio relationship envisaged Italian dominion over the Adriatic thanks to the control that the Navy would have held on the Albanian coast, from Preveza to Durres, to the conquest of the other hinge of the Adriatic port, Valona, which would have allowed the he extension of a full influence on the Otranto channel and the possession of the island of Corfu, is seen as the great naval base to be integrated in Taranto. On the part of the Government of Rome, however, the idea underlying the geographic-political-military concept contained in the report by Arminjon and Osio aroused negligible interest".

This study - it should be noted - was very important when in 1914 the Italian troops occupied southern Albania during the First World War (see map above).

Also in 1884, the cap. Alfonso Carini compiled "Monographic notes on Salonicco" for AUSSME: the documents contain hypotheses on the possibility of landing and military operations.

And from 1879 to 1885 a series of data relating to the political and military situation in Romania were collected by the aforementioned Office of the General Staff, which suggest hypotheses of military interventions.

A whole series of reports and studies followed, compiled by Italian military officers and attachés residing in these countries.

Obviously this was in function of occupying the Balkan territories of the Ottoman Empire, in deep crisis in the second half of the nineteenth century. In fact, in 1878 the Russo-Turkish war ended with a crushing defeat of the Ottoman Empire. As a result, Ottoman possessions in Europe shrunk drastically: Bulgaria became an independent principality within the empire; Romania achieved full independence; Serbia and Montenegro also gained independence, but with smaller territories. In the same year, the Austro-Hungarian Empire unilaterally occupied the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Novi Pazar. Consequentements The young Kingdom of Italy saw the possibility of annexing Balkan territories, especially in Albania.

However these three studies (in Albania, in the Greek part of the so-called European Turkey and in Romania) were complemented by a whole series of studies on possible Italian interventions in colonial areas.

In fact, post-unification Italy was undoubtedly, for decades, committed to solving the many and serious internal problems linked to the process of unification. However, there was no lack of consistent pushes for the definition of a concrete colonial policy. This observation arises from the consultation of a series of documents (we repeat) kept in the Archives of the Historical Office of the Army General Staff.

The documents were of a different nature, and were part of different correspondence. But, extrapolated and read together, they give the clear sensation of how a colonial will - slow, gradual and constant over time - has established itself in Italy even before Assab and Massawa in Eritrea.

In continuation we will focus mainly on some documents up to the early 1880s and on the operational plans compiled by the military authority for the planned Tunis expedition (1864). For two reasons: for the interesting considerations contained therein and because, being operational plans, they are the final result of a political idea that was about to be translated into action.

First studies. Sixties, seventies and eighties of the nineteenth century. Studies, memons, political missions

The documents derll'AUSSME relating to Italian expansionism and colonialism of these years denote a marked and lively policy in this sense. Here are the main ones:

1) - 1864. Planned expedition of Tunis (read in detail below);

2) - 1867. Proposed occupation of Djerba (read in detail below);

3) - 1869. Attempts in New Guinea / Polynesia (read in detail below);

4) - 1875. Mission in Morocco (read in detail below);

5) - starting from 1880 the ten. Ettore Vespignani, the cap. Francesco Roberti, the ten. Carlo Borsarelli di Rifreddo resumed and collected in studies many reports of journeys made in Africa by explorers, civilians, military, published and not. Particularly interesting are the studies collected by Vespignani and relating to itineraries followed by the captains of the general staff Ferret and Galimier in Abyssinia in the distant 1840-1841-1842;

6) - in 1882 the cap. Camillo Crema was sent on a mission, still in Morocco, and brought back a diary full of information, descriptions and drawings. On the basis of the hot notes, he prepared a report on the political-military situation of the North African country;

7) - in the first months of 1884 a report on the political-military situation of Sudan was prepared, coinciding with the events that occurred in that country. It was useful when Italian troops occupied Kassala some years later (read

1864. Planned expedition of Tunis

It is known that the increase in taxes caused a revolt in Tunis in June 1864. The presence in the city of a large Italian colony and the initial acquiescence of France, which saw in the Tunis question the strengthening of a military alliance with Italy, offered the government the pretext to prepare an expeditionary force.

The Minister of War, Alessandro Della Rovere, instructed the Corps of Staff to study the expedition in detail. At the same time he sent Maj. Agostino Ricci, the cap. Timoteo Bettola, the cap. Antonio Milani and the 2nd class commissioner of war Luigi Bosio, with the task of preparing the future landing of the troops on the spot.

Gen. Ambrogio Longoni, as chief of staff the cap. Stanislao Mocenni. Organic units were chosen to compose the corps: the 49th and 67th infantry, the 9th bersaglieri battalion, a battery of the 5th artillery and a company of the 1st genius. The services of the train, ambulance, hospitals, and subsistence, post office and administration, the military court and the Carabinieri were established.

The col. Corrado Politi, who had previously stayed in Tunis, was commissioned to write an operational memo for the landing. For his past experiences in Algeria, Count Sanvitale was asked for information on customs and traditions.

The troops were alerted and kept ready to leave for an unknown destination; means of transport for the troops, provisions and materials were prepared. The names of Italian citizens residing in Tunis were provided, who could act as guides and interpreters, and topographic maps were procured and prepared to recognize the terrain.

It was also foreseen that, after the landing, two squadrons of cavalry, suitably equipped and armed in relation to the climate of the country, would reach the Expeditionary Corps.

The health council compiled a special "instruction for the hygiene of the troops." A curiosity about hygiene and uniforms: to avoid the inconveniences caused by excessive heat, it was agreed to give the troops an ordinary gray hat, soft and with a wide brim, and they ordered its manufacture. In practice, a type of hat that anticipates that of the Alpine.

On June 13, Maj. Ricci, having arrived in Tunis, began to send reports and memoirs for the occupation, while orders and requests were received from the Ministry of War on particular questions. Particularly interesting is a memoir by Ricci sent on 20 June from Tunis. The officer set two conditions for the success of the expedition:

- first condition, a political agreement with the other European powers, or at least a precise agreement with France, to avoid international complications;

- second condition, a direct agreement with the Bey of Tunis, who would have had to accept or request the intervention himself, otherwise the expeditionary force, as it was composed, would not have been sufficient to guarantee the success of the expedition , because inevitably the troops would have found themselves facing an Arab revolt.

It is above all this constant concern for the attitude of the Arabs - too often underestimated by the political side - that makes the annotation far-sighted, for the confirmation it will find in all future interventions.

There is no trace in the correspondence of subsequent provisions to Ricci's observations; on the contrary, on 17 August he was invited to introduce himself to the Bey in a strictly private way, as an Italian officer traveling on his own account: nothing of his mission was to leak out.

In the latest documents, as of August 24, the story ends: a letter to Ricci was stopped with a request for information, and the officer was ordered to return to Turin with the other members of the mission; which they all did on August 30th.

1867. Proposed occupation of the island of Djerba (southern Tunisia)

The consul general of Italy in Tunis, Luigi Penna, on 15 January 1867 suggested to the foreign minister Emilio Visconti Venosta to occupy the island of Djerba (in Arabic: Djerba). He gave news in correspondence of the scarce forces garrisoning the island, of the activities taking place and estimated that 1,500 men with three 2nd order "woods" would be sufficient to guarantee the success of the operation.

This operation was no longer carried out, nor is there any trace in the AUSSME documentation of the reasons that led to the project being neglected. Possibly the proposal was related to the attempt to occupy Tunis a few years earlier.

1869. Mission to Polynesia / Indonesia (New Guinea)

The expansionist interests gradually moved to the most distant continents. Mr. Emilio Cerruti, in 1869, entered into a secret agreement with the government in view of his trip to Polynesia and Indonesia. He was entrusted with the task of finding an island for the establishment of an Italian colony. Cerruti identified New Guinea as the ideal place.

In italian wikipeda we have about Cerruti travels: Nel 1869 e nel 1870 l'esploratore Giovanni Battista Cerruti si recò nella Nuova Guinea e nelle isole limitrofe (Kai, Aru e Balscicu). Ottenne degli ottimi risultati nei dialoghi con gli autoctoni, i sultani di quelle terre infatti avevano firmato dei trattati con cui cedevano i loro territori al Regno d'Italia. "La sovranità" su queste zone durò fino al 1883 quando venne chiesto al Regno Unito se accettasse la possibilità italiana di insediarsi in Nuova Guinea, alla risposta negativa il governo italiano rinunciò a ogni ulteriore colonizzazione dell'Asia Meridionale[1]. Nel 1883 il governo italiano chiese a quello britannico per via diplomatica se avesse accettato che la Nuova Guinea potesse diventare una colonia italiana: al rifiuto britannico l'Italia abbandonò ogni tentativo di colonizzazione nel Pacifico asiatico.

An engineer was also designated who was to assist him in the task, the cap. Giuseppe Di Lenna. Apparent misunderstandings between the Departments of War, Foreign Affairs and the Navy sent the enterprise upside down: the weapons and ammunition (10 rifles and 2,000 cartridges) promised to Cerruti were no longer given to him.

Cerruti promoted for a long time and with tenacity - but without results - the creation of a penal colony in New Guinea: still before the Commission of Inquiry for the Merchant Navy (1881-1883), Cerruti advocated the cause of the colonies to be founded by Italy in New Guinea and Polynesia. But all was in vain: he failed to convince his many opponents, who reproached him above all for the recklessness of judgments and for not taking any account of the inevitable international difficulties (for more information read my essay on this attempt

1875. Mission in Morocco of the cap. Giulio Di Boccard

The chap. Giulio Di Boccard, on 6 March, embarked on the steamer "Doria" for a mission to Morocco. The purpose of the mission was to "gather information and collect data reflecting geography, topographical structure, statistics and the political and military situation", as he himself noted in the report. All useful elements to prepare an invasion plan.

After a wait of 48 days - the sultan, to whom he had to present himself, was busy receiving a similar English mission - he made excursions to Angera (Aniera), to the island of Pereghil (Perejil), at the head of Spartel (Sbartel) and a trip to Fez, where he also made the first panoramic photograph of the city (hitherto unpublished and unknown).