In the 19th century, Italy looked to Africa to provide additional economic resources with a new Italian colonial empire.[1] However, new territories and colonies were not easy to find in a continent that was already dominated by other empires. But in the 1880s, Italy established its first notable colony in Eastern Africa.

Italian Somaliland Established

In 1886, the Italians were ceded ports within Eritrea. In addition, they also occupied territory on the south side of the horn of Africa. After an invasion of Italian Ethiopia, Italy made peace with their new emperor in 1889 who ceded further territory around Eritrea to the Italians. Italy consolidated its territorial gains into the Italian Somaliland in 1889. This was the first notable Italian colony along the east coast of Africa.

Italo – Turkish War

Another Italian colonial war with the Ottoman Empire began in 1911. During this war Italy emerged victorious. Their victory in this war ensured that additional Ottoman provinces in North Africa were ceded to the Italians. Italy merged the provinces to establish the Italian Libya colony, which was one of the largest territories of its empire.

World War One

When War One engulfed Europe in 1914, Italy sat on the sidelines despite its alliance with the Germans. Italy shredded the Triple Alliance in 1915 when they declared war with the German Empire. This was partly due to promises from Britain and France of extra territory for its empire if the Triple Entente defeated Germans.

Italy's most notable front in this war was with Austria-Hungary. That front remained somewhat static until the Italians won a notable victory at the Battle of Vittorio Venetto in 1918. Then hundreds of thousands of Austro-Hugarian troops surrendered to the Italian army. That victory ensured the collapse of the already crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire.

For their part in the Entente's victory, Italy was expecting some considerable territorial gains from postwar treaties. However, little territory was ceded to them. Jubaland was the African territory ceded to Italy, which was later absorbed into Italian Somaliland.

Rise of Fascist Italy

The economic impact of the war was fairly substantial, and it had delivered little for the Italian Empire. The first communist parties in Italy won considerable support in the postwar period, and emerged alongside the largest in Italy. New fascist parties, such as the PNF, were also established and won an increasing number of votes in Italian elections. In 1922, Mussolini marched on Rome and won over the support of Italy's king for a new fascist regime.

That regime would dominate Italian politics for two decades as it gradually eroded the other parties in Italy. Mussolini made some bold promises for an expanded empire in the Mediterranean and Africa. The foreign policy that outlined Italian hegemony in the Balkans, encompassing much of the former territory of the former Austro-Hungarian empire, as well additional parts of North Africa, would not come to fruition.

Invasion of Ethiopia and Albania

Among the new territory annexed into the empire during the 1930s was Ethiopia and Albania. In 1936, Italian troops occupied the capital of Ethiopia; and their king became the new Emperor of Ethiopia. In 1939, the Italian army invaded and occupied Albania. Italy merged that part of the Balkans into the expanded Italian empire.

Italy Declares War With Britain

With France defeated in 1940, Italy declared war with the British Empire. Italy joined its German ally to establish new colonies in the Mediterranean and North Africa. Among Italy's foremast targets in 1940 was Egypt, the Suez Canal and the defeat of Greece in the Balkans.

Italy's army was soon pushed back into Libya by the British, and there hundreds of thousands of Italian troops surrendered. That was a crushing defeat, and in Europe they were also pushed out of Greece by the Greek army. In the winter of 1940, at the naval base of Taranto, British carrier aircraft pounded the Italian navy. There RAF torpedo-bombers ravaged three of Italy's battleships, half of the overall total, within the shallow-water port.

Battle of El-AlameinCredit: Image licensed under public domain on Wiki Commons.

Then it became clear that Italy could not establish an expanded empire without greater German military support. In North Africa the Axis merged German reinforcements with the Italian divisions to establish the Afrika Korps. The German army also invaded Greece, and defeated the British and Greek armies there. Thus, with German support Italy gradually recovered on its various fronts in 1941.

Allies Invade Sicily

However, by 1943 the war was almost over for Italy. The British victories at El Alamein in 1942 ensured the retreat of the Afrika Korps, which surrendered at Tunisia in 1943. After winning the North Africa Campaign, the Allies drafted plans for an invasion of Italy.

Operation TorchCredit: Image licensed under public domain on Wiki Commons.

Later in 1943, Allied troops landed in Sicily.[2] During Operation Husky they defeated the last remnants of Italy's army, as well as the German reinforcements stationed there. A good number of the German troops made an effective withdrawal from Sicily, back to mainland Italy where they established new positions.

But the Allies still occupied Sicily. After the loss of this Italian island, Italy's king dismissed Mussolini from his post. Then the king began peace talks with the Allies, and established a secret armistice with them. Italy had effectively joined the Allies, although more loyal Italian fascists linked up with the German forces in northern Italy. There the Italian Campaign continued up until 1945, with some large battles in which the Allies had heavy losses.

The defeat of Italy and Germany all but ensured the demise of Italy's empire. Postwar treaties effectively dissolved the Italian Empire. It joined the growing number of collapsed European empires such as the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, etc. Overall, it had been one of the smaller European empires; and Italy could not expect to defeat Britain and France in the Mediterranean without firm German military support.