740.00119 (Potsdam)/5–2446

No. 246
Briefing Book Paper
top secret

Italy : Territorial Problems


a. The Government of the United States does not propose a program for the disposition of Libya. Nevertheless this Government would concur and would support any one of the following solutions, listed in order of preference, if proposed by another Government:

Return of the whole of Libya to Italian sovereignty, subject to such general measures of demilitarization as are devised for Italy;
Partition of Libya into its historic parts, Tripolitania to be retained under Italian sovereignty, Cyrenaica to be established as an autonomous Senussi Amir ate under Egyptian or British trusteeship;
Partition of Libya, Tripolitania to be placed under International Trusteeship exercised by Italy, Cyrenaica to be established as an autonomous Senussi Amir ate under Egyptian or British Trusteeship.

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b. Basic data.

Libya has an area of 680,000 square miles, but only about 2.5 percent of the area is cultivable. It is a poor agricultural and pastoral country with practically no natural resources.

Libya was taken from Turkey in 1911–1912, but during the first World War the Italians were driven back into the coastal towns by the Turks and Arabs. The pacification of the country began in 1922 and was practically completed in 1932 after a series of bitter campaigns against the Senussi of Cyrenaica. In 1939 the four coastal provinces Tripoli, Misurata, Bengasi, and Derna were declared to be integral parts of Italy.

In 1939 the total population was 878,650 of whom 101,986 were Italians. These were distributed as follows:

Tripoli 56,214
Misurata 9,713
Bengasi 26,419
Derna 9,441
Sahara territory    199

The provinces Tripoli and Misurata correspond roughly to the historic Tripolitania and maintained about two-thirds (65,927) of the Italian population. Although most of the Italian population was concentrated in the coastal towns, about 30,000 persons had been established as agricultural colonists, chiefly through the colonization project begun in 1937. A great number of Italian colonists appear to have abandoned their holdings in Cyrenaica with the advance of the British armies, but in Tripolitania large numbers apparently have remained. Some of the Italian settlers have been repatriated to Italy, increasing the burdens of the Italian Government.

Libya is strategically important for control of the central Mediterranean because of its ports and air fields.

On January 8, 1942, Mr. Eden stated: “His Majesty’s Government are determined that at the end of the war the Senussis in Cyrenaica will in no circumstances again fall under Italian domination.”1

  1. See Parliamentary Debates: House of Commons Official Report, 5th Series, vol. 377, col. 78. Concerning later statements by Eden with respect to the Italian colonies, see vol. ii, p. 239.