The race for overseas colonies and territories by European nations in the 19th and 20th centuries had been predominantly led by the British and French. The political far right aspirations of the Germans and Italians did not manifest itself until the early to mid 20th century.
In the case of Italy, Mussolini championed the invasion of north and east Africa including Cyrenaica, now an eastern coastal region of Libya in North Africa. Lying close to the Egyptian border, Cyrenaica embraces part of the barren Sahara desert. However, it’s strategic importance lay in the coastal strip adjacent to the Mediterranean. In order to seal the colonisation of this territory, Mussolini encouraged Italian farmers to move to Cyrenaica to work the more fertile part of the land. The local Arab nationals received little compensation for the loss of their farms and needless to say, they were aggrieved by this ‘land grab’.
At the start of World War II Italy joined the axis powers. The British had an established base in Egypt and conflict became inevitable following attacks on shipping passing through the Mediterranean having transited or about to transit the Suez Canal. Many of these attacks emanated from North Africa.
Understandably, any attack by allied forces on the Italians in north Africa was supported by the farmers of Cyrenaica. They were able to supply information to the British in Cairo that proved invaluable, such as the supply of war materials through the port of Benghazi and troop movements. With the Italians struggling to make an impression, Hitler decided that German troops should be sent to North Africa under the command of Field Marshal Rommel (known as the ‘Desert Fox’) to provide support.
History records that the allies eventually defeated the axis forces in North Africa, the Italians were ousted from the region and the farmers of Cyrenaica regained their territory. For services rendered, Britain recognised the leader of the Seusi tribe as Amir of Cyrenaica and gave the territory its ‘Protection’. It is for this reason that the one issue of Cyrenaica postage stamps during the ‘Protected’ status is listed in Stanley Gibbons catalogues of British Colonies and Protectorates. In 1951, Cyrenaica become a part of a unified Libya and so ended the British Protectorate.
To view postal issues of Cyrenaica, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.