November 1st, 1911
On this day, nearly one hundred years ago, the world witnessed its first ever aerial bombing campaign when one Lieutenant Giullio Gavotti dropped four grenades upon a Ottoman loyalist camp just outside of Tripoli. Though unsuccessful in terms of material damage, the attack introduced the concept of aerial warfare to the world, which would go on to define military strategy from then until now.
Context: A footnote in the Kingdom of Italy’s short-lived colonial project. Unsatisfied with how the crumbling Ottoman Empire was being divided amongst European Powers, Italy claimed that Libya was part of their historic destiny, declared war on the Ottomans, and invaded.
Expansionism was largely promoted by the jingoistic Italian press as a response to the bourgeoisie-manufactured myth that Italy was overpopulated. In political reality, colonizing Libya was seen as a solution to Italy’s internal class conflicts. Sharecropping peasants in the south were rioting and rebelling for land ownership and voting rights. After expanding its borders, the kingdom would solve this problem by settling the unruly peasants in Libya.
Impact: Gavotti would later remark that “They [the bombs] had a wonderful effect on the morale of Arabs.” During WWI this sentiment was embraced by military planners, and aerial bombing became a common strategy used to demoralize the enemy. This practice continues until today (Shock and Awe, et cetera).
Trivia: While Mussolini the socialist newspaper editor deplored the use of aerial bombs, Mussolini the fascist dictator reveled in it, stating that “the airplane was the first fascist.”
Derek Gregory: Targets, civilians and late modern war
Mark Almond Oxford: 100 Years of bombing Libya
Mark Mazower: Libya remembers, we forget
Justin Elliot: A history of Libya and blowback
Alexander G. Clifford: The conquest of North Africa, 1940-43
Douglas Haddow wins.