Libya from Rommel to Quadaffi

The nation of Libya has seen a great deal of conflict, starting with WWII, then the 1980s skirmishes against the United States, and finally the terrible 10-year civil conflict of the 21st century.

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(Field Marshall Erwin Rommel in Libya during WWII; and Libyan dictator Muammar Quadaffi presenting a WWII Italian Carcano Modello 91 rifle to the Italian prime minister in 2002.)

Almost forgotten now is that the nation had a two-decade interlude as a pro-western kingdom and was host to a major American military base. The Libyan army of this era was equipped with WWII-surplus weaponry.

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(Soldiers of King Idris’s small army march with Enfield No.4 Mk.I rifles during the 1950s. This WWII British rifle became Libya’s first standard longarm after it achieved independence. During 2011, the old 1950s flag seen here was again made Libya’s official flag.)

WWII weapons would again play a small role during the fighting between 2011 – 2020.

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(A WWII American M1919A6 machine gun in action near a burned-out T-62 during the overthrow of Quadaffi.)

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(A WWII Soviet DP-28 light machine gun in use during the Libyan Civil War of the 2010s.)

carcano2011NPR

(A young Libyan irregular poses with a Carcano Moschetto da Cavalleria M-91 during 2011. He told the photographer that he believed it was “an old American gun” but none the less knew how to properly use it. This WWII Italian carbine was surprisingly represented during the 2010s civil war in Libya.) (photo via NPR)

Libya during WWII

italian

(Libia Italiana was divided into four coastal provinces and TMdSL, the vast Sahara desert region directly run by the Italian army.)

Libya, “the 4th Shore” as Mussolini termed it, was acquired in pieces. The main chunk was ceded to Italy by the Ottoman Empire two years before World War One. Further areas came through agreements with France in 1919 and 1931, and finally an adjustment of the border with Egypt in 1934.

Pre-WWII Italy viewed Libya to be a permanent part of the nation and tens of thousands of Italians settled along the “green belt”, the Mediterranean coastline. Italy laid 250 miles of railroad track prior to WWII and built numerous military bases.

ww2

(Macchi C.200 Saetta fighters lay destroyed at Castel Benito Airbase at Qasr Bin Ghashir, Libya. This large facility was built by Italy during the 1930s and bombed repeatedly during WWII. After WWII it was used by the RAF until 1952, when it became Tripoli International Airport.)

Two ethnic-Libyan divisions of the Italian army were formed during WWII. The 1ª Divisione Libica was destroyed in combat during December 1940, and the 2ª at the same time. An ethnic-Libyan airborne regiment, Ascari del Cielo, was formed in 1938. During WWII this regiment fought as ground infantry until being decimated during 1941.

WWII in Libya is already probably familiar to most readers. It had four phases. The first, in 1940, saw an Italian offensive into Egypt which failed. The second started in December 1940 and saw British, Australian, and South African forces mounting a counteroffensive which routed the Italians and pushed nearly halfway across Libya. The third, and most famous phase, began in February 1941. Germany’s Afrika Korps pushed the Allies all the way back out of Libya and into Egypt before being stopped at El Alamein in October 1942.

arch101

(This 101′ marble arch was erected by Mussolini during 1937 on the Via Balbia coastal highway. Here Panzer III and Panzer II tanks of the Afrika Korps pass beneath. Amazingly it survived WWII unscathed. On 7 October 1970, Quadaffi’s “Day of Vengeance” the 12,000 remaining Italians in Libya were expelled, as were the few remaining Jews. Quadaffi ordered the arch dynamited, which was done.) (Bundesarchiv photo)

The final phase started during November 1942 with the Anglo-American “Torch” landing in north Africa, creating a pincer on Libya from west and east. The last Axis units were driven out in February 1943.

the forgotten period between WWII and independence

WWII ended in 1945. In Libya, there was an unusual interlude between then and the nation gaining independence.

During the final two years of WWII, Libya was occupied by the UK (Cyrenaica and Tripolitania) and Free French (The Fezzan, and the tiny enclave of Ghadames).

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At the Potsdam Conference, held while the Pacific portion of WWII was still underway, the Allies agreed in principle that Libya would not be returned to Italy. However the final settlement of WWII between the Allies and Italy did not happen until 1947, two years after the war ended.

Between 1945 and 1947, Libya thus continued to be governed by the British and French with WWII-style military occupations.

After 1947, the French proposed to disestablish Libya entirely; with The Fezzan being annexed into French Algeria and the British to do whatever they wanted with their two areas. The French were ruling their areas through a puppet sheikh, Sayf al-Nasr, and were happy with this arrangement.

Ghadames-Stamp

(A postage stamp of the brief post-WWII Ghadames Military Administration. France also made the African Franc legal tender in their areas between 1947 – 1951.)

The USA suggested that Libya become a 10-year trusteeship of the new United Nations, which was not done. A more farcical suggestion came from the Kremlin. Josef Stalin proposed that Libya be divided into Allied occupation zones, like Germany and Austria. Tripoli was to be the capital of a Soviet zone. This was rejected out of hand.

The UK’s situation was complex as Tripolitania and Cyrenaica held all of Libya’s major cities, most of the population, the WWII military bases, and the vast majority of economic activity in Libya – which, before the discovery of oil, was very impoverished.

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(Passport issued by BMAL between 1945 – 1951.)

The UK’s governing arm after WWII was called BMAL, or British Military Administration (Libya). It was originally a temporary organization of 1943 to control areas gained as the Afrika Korps retreated westwards.

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(A Cromwell tank of BMAL in Libya after WWII. This tank did not enter WWII until 1944, after fighting in Africa had already ended. The UK continued to use surviving WWII Cromwells until 1955.)

The postwar BMAL leader was Brigadier General J.W.N. Haugh. Other than being a career officer, he had no special qualifications and did not speak Arabic.

Libya presented specific problems. The disposition of properties still owned by Italian companies had to be handled. Two months after WWII ended in 1945, there was an anti-Jewish pogrom in western Tripolitania. At the outbreak of the 1948 Israeli war of independence, there was a second pogrom and ensuing riot which destroyed two hundred buildings in Tripoli. Investment in the postwar economy was reluctant due to the area’s unsettled future, and hampered by uncleared land mines.

During WWII the Allies found favor with Mohammed al-Mahdi Idris al-Sanussi, a Libyan chief living in exile in Egypt. In 1949 Cyrenaica was declared a self-governing trucial emirate of BMAL with Idris named as emir. In 1950 Tripolitania was moved to the control of the British civil service and BMAL’s “short-term” 1943 mission finally came to an end.

Idris also represented the Libyan people at the United Nations. Throughout the late 1940s, diplomats at the new U.N. pressed for Libya as part of the overall anti-colonial mood. In November 1951, the U.N.’s general assembly passed a resolution demanding Libyan independence by year’s end.

France or Great Britain could have vetoed this in the security council, but both just wanted to be rid of the issue. On 24 December 1951, the nation became independent as the United Kingdom Of Libya, with Idris placed on the throne as King Idris I.

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(King Idris I, the first and last monarch of Libya.)

creation of a Libyan army

The Libyan army traces back to the “Senussi army” of WWII. The Senussi, a sufi islamic group, led a failed revolt against Italy before WWII and then fled into Egypt. During WWII British advisors formed this group into the Libyan Arab Force. This date, 9 August 1940, is now considered the “birthdate” of the modern Libyan army. This force was mostly used by the Allies to garrison rear areas behind the frontlines. They were typically equipped with captured Italian or German firearms.

With the final capture of all of Libya in early 1943, there was seemingly little role left for this force but they indicated that they had no interest in relinquishing their weapons. After WWII ended the units were reformed into the Cyrenaica Defence Force, a local client army for BMAL in eastern Libya.

cdfboat

(The Cyrenaica Defence Force name was also used by King Idris I’s tiny fleet of little patrol boats, which did not become the Libyan navy until November 1962. This small vessel at Benghazi was delivered as American aid, here a US Marine is lowering the American flag.)

Sirte2014

(The CDF’s flag was black & white, as shown. During 2014 it made a surprising reappearance outside of Sirte. The rebel group operating the technicals in the background stated they wanted Cyrenaica to secede from Libya if reforms were not made to the post-Quadaffi government.) (Reuters photo)

As the U.N. began its final 1951 press to demand Libyan independence, the British army laid the groundwork for a Libyan army. There was little to start with. Many British colonies which gained independence after WWII used wartime units as the nucleus of their new national armies – the King’s African Rifles for west African nations, the Raj Indian army for Pakistan and India, etc. Libya lacked such a foundation. The only indigenous force was the Cyrenaica Defence Force, which six years after WWII had obsolete guns and was doing little realistic training.

Several months before Libya became independent a temporary military academy was established at al-Zawiya. A group of Libyans was sent to the UK for training on NATO-standard tactics and military terminology.

Upon independence on 24 December 1951, King Idris I ordered the formation of a Libyan army. The royal warrant for the army was not issued until 9 August 1952, as Idris wanted symbolic continuity to the WWII force. It was very small, only 2,000 men.

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(The emblem of the army under King Idris I. After he overthrew the king, Muammar Quadaffi ordered that cap devices and shoulderboard pins be turned so that the crown was upside down, until new decorations could be manufactured.)

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(The first standard longarm of the new army in 1951 was the WWII British Enfield No.4 Mk.I.)

The first commander was Brigadier General Omran al-Jadhara, a Turkish army officer from a family of ethnic Libyans dating back to the Ottoman Empire era. He served under an Iraqi chief of staff, Col. Daoud Suliemin al-Janabi, who brought with him a team of Iraqi advisors familiar with the WWII British weaponry Libya’s new army was equipped with.

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(King Idris I ordered the awarding of the al-Sanusi Medal to Libyans who had fought on the Allied side during WWII.) (photo via royalark website)

The all-volunteer army was very small. This was not by accident. King Idris I was extremely paranoid of a coup. He wanted his army as weak as possible. Parallel to the small army, and separate from its chain of command, the Cyrenaica Defence Force was retained. In its new form it was roughly the same size as the regular army, and was equipped with a blend of its existing WWII weapons (including Italian guns) and WWII British kit acquired after independence.

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(A WWII British QF 25-Pounder howitzer of the Cyrenaica Defence Force during the 1950s.)

After 1951, recruitment for the Cyrenaica Defence Force centered on inland desert tribes from the eastern desert, whom King Idris I felt most loyal to him.

Parallel to these two chains of command a third branch, mostly light infantry, called the Libya National Security Force was established. It was modeled on the French gendarmerie.

King Idris I’s goal (not unique to him in the arab world) was to “coup-proof” the government in that at least one or more of the three armies would always stay loyal.

The regular army was hampered by a weird enlistment policy. Recruits had to sign on for a 5-year hitch (the worldwide average at the time was 2 – 3 years) but then, could only reenlist for another 2 years. If they wanted to continue their career after that, they would either need to seek a commission or warrant officer status. The likely goal by King Idris I was to stunt the formation of cliques within the ranks.

In September 1958 the Iraqi king was deposed and Idris I in turn threw out the Iraqi advisors. Thereafter his army was trained by British officers.

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(Libyan troops marching with WWII British Enfield rifles during the late 1950s or early 1960s.)

After the king agreed to the 20-year lease for Wheelus AFB (described below) Libya became eligible for American military aid during the 1950s.

halftrack1950s

(Libyan M3 half-track during the 1950s. This WWII American vehicle was nearly as fast as a wheeled truck on pavement but retained some off-road abilities of tracked tanks. This one is armed with a M2HB .50cal Browning machine gun. The soldiers are wearing Mk.III Turtles, a late-WWII successor of Great Britain’s Mk.II Tommy helmet. Libya only received a few half-tracks and they were not in service long.)

1973

(Libya received American WWII-surplus M1 pot helmets during the 1950s and 1960s and planned to make them standard in preference to British types. This photo was taken in 1973. Four years after the king was overthrown, Col. Quadaffi’s army had switched to Egyptian-style BDUs but still kept the WWII American helmet.)

During 2011, a NATO airstrike happened to hit the warehouse where many of Libya’s long-stored M1s were kept, destroying them. The M1 pot was occasionally still seen being worn by rebels that year.

final years before Quadaffi

Idris was correct in being paranoid of his small army. He was not a popular king within the ranks. Besides the usual intrigues, many Libyan officers and NCOs were simply frustrated at belonging to the region’s weakest army.

Buoyed by the availability of American WWII surplus, the king agreed to a small increase in the army’s size in 1955 – 1956. The first Cold War-era systems were also purchased in this timeframe. During 1957 a proper national military academy was opened at Benghazi to replace the temporary one built by the British in 1951.

Bren

(New Land Rovers purchased from the UK being paraded. The machine gun on the dashboard is a WWII Bren, which remained in use.)

The discovery of oil was a milestone event in the history of Libya. Late in 1957, the American oil company Esso found a crude oil field near the Libyan / Algerian border. It turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. During 1959 massive oil reserves were discovered all over the nation.

BP1959

(Employees hired by British Petroleum sweep leftover mines on a former WWII battlefield in 1959, to allow for oil wells.)

Libya went from being one of the world’s poorest nations to one of the richest. Not even counting oilfield leases, just the per-barrel royalties from crude oil exports rose from being <$200,000 annually in 1957 to $1 million in 1959 and over $8 million in 1963; continuing to grow thereafter. This 1963 revenue exceeded the entire 1962 defense outlays four times over and amounted to about half of the entire national budget. By 1965, Libya was pumping 3.2% of the world’s crude oil.

During November 1962 the king finally agreed to splitting off the navy as a separate service branch, followed by the air force several months later. Upon prodding from his generals, he also instituted a national draft in 1967.

navy

(Libyan sailors march with WWII Enfield No.4 Mk.I rifles. Naturally the navy was slower to get modern rifles than the army.)

c47late1960s

(Like many air forces in Cold War-era Africa, the first Libyan transport type was WWII surplus C-47 Skytrains.) (artwork by Clavework Graphics)

There was still significant frustration within the officer corps at having such a weak military, and during 1967 the king authorized $1.135 billion of new modern weapons to replace WWII-era kit.

An event outside the country would be King Idris I’s undoing. During June 1967 Israel and its neighbors fought a high-intensity war which resulted in an overwhelming Israeli victory. Besides the direct participants (Egypt, Syria, and Jordan) the belligerents were joined by small (sometimes token) units of the Iraqi, Saudi, Kuwaiti, Lebanese, and Sudanese armies which generally arrived too late to help. Libya did not join them.

The Libyan public was frustrated and angered at the war’s outcome, and directed their ire at King Idris I, who was characterized as a puppet of the USA and Great Britain. Within the military, there was anger at helplessly watching the pan-arab defeat from the sidelines.

While King Idris I was abroad in Turkey, on 1 September 1969 an 11-man “revolutionary comnmand council” led by Colonel Muammar Quadaffi led an unopposed coup which deposed Idris and ended the monarchy.

t34

(Libyan-Egyptian relations were initially strong after the 1969 coup. They later turned much worse. In 1969 Col. Quadaffi replaced the king’s flag with a red-white-black design as seen here, nearly identical to Egypt’s flag. After Israel and Egypt began peace overtures Quadaffi changed Libya’s flag to a plain green banner.)

The WWII Soviet T-34 pictured above was one of sixty-five which the Egyptian army donated to Libya after the 1969 coup. These WWII tanks, armed with a 85mm main gun, were still common in the 1970s middle east. Quadaffi later dispatched some south in his failed bid to support Idi Amin’s Uganda during the Kagera War, where they were destroyed by Tanzania.

There was no need for further T-34s as Quadaffi used oil money to massively expand the Libyan military in both size and technology. Libya eventually had the region’s biggest tank force with 2,900 modern T-54/55, T-62, and T-72 tanks. The army grew from 6,500 in 1969 to 24,000 by 1978 and 50,000+ by 1986. The Cyrenaica Defence Force was disbanded. The air force and navy expanded exponentially.

WWII-legacy foreign bases

Both the USA and Great Britain retained WWII bases in Libya after it became independent.

The RAF used the former Italian airbase at Castel Benito near the capital Tripoli from through 1952. Thereafter, there was a RAF base at El Adem, a WWII Italian airstrip near the Egyptian border, and a joint forces base at Tobruk which the British military had occupied continuously since ejecting Rommel’s forces during WWII. During 1953, the UK negotiated a long-term lease for both facilities for a £2.75 million ($7.9 million or $84 million in 2022 dollars) payment.

Wheelus AFB is interesting for any number of reasons, one being how it has completely vanished from the general American consciousness by the 2020s. As recently as 1970 it was a major overseas military installation, one of the largest American bases abroad on Earth.

During 1923 the Italian air force opened this airbase as AMd Méllaha. It sits on a salt flat on the Mediterranean coastline, just east of downtown Tripoli.

During WWII it was used by both the Italian air force and the Luftwaffe. The latter based Hs-126, Fi-156, and Ju-52 aircraft at Méllaha. The base was overrun by the British army in January 1943 and turned over to the US Army, which used it as a B-24 Liberator bomber base for the remainder of WWII. It was renamed in 1945. Despite being in Africa, it was assigned to the USA’s European Command.

wheelus

Wheelus was reactivated by the now-independent US Air Force after a three-year layup following Germany’s 1945 surrender. It was greatly expanded in size and importance. At its peak it rivaled Clark AFB as the largest air installation abroad.

c47wheelus

(C-47 Skytrain at Wheelus AFB. The US Air Force used this WWII US Army transport type at the base throughout the 1950s and 1960s.)

Wheelus AFB was 20 miles² in size and had two modern runways. The lease also included the separate El Uotia Bombing Range which was about 75 miles southwest, along with three off-base radar sites, overflight rights, and the ability to close portions of Libya’s national airspace periodically.

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(F-100 Super Sabre at Wheelus AFB. Very few WWII Italian structures at the base remained by this time.)

An additional use was the Matador missile program. The MGM-1 Matador was an early strategic cruise missile with a 50kT nuclear warhead introduced in 1951. Matadors were normally based in West Germany and South Korea; neither of whom wanted to close the airspace needed for training launches of this big, fast weapon.

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(MGM-1 Matador at Wheelus AFB.) (photo by George Craig)

Matadors were fired from the southern edge of Wheelus AFB. They flew a “J” shaped flight path. The missiles, which could alter their course in flight, flew at Mach 0.85 due south for 67 NM, then a westward 29 NM leg, then a short 20 NM northwards leg to complete the “J” shape. The inert missiles then crashed into the Libyan desert. At the peak of the 10-year Matador program, Wheelus AFB fired three dozen missiles per year. Each launch required about 1,500 miles² of Libya’s airspace to be closed.

As a side note, the Matador was the “son” of the JB-2 Loon of WWII, the USA’s reverse-engineered V-1 buzz bomb. During the early post-WWII era, there was robust debate in the Pentagon whether missiles were “unmanned bombers” or “flying ordnance”. As such the Matador occupies MGM-1 in the missile nomenclature sequence and B-61 in the aircraft sequence.

The lease for Wheelus AFB was signed by a reluctant King Idris I in 1951. It was $40 million ($433 million in 2022 money) over 20 years, paid $2 million annually. This was not a trivial amount to impoverished pre-oil Libya. During 1952 the entire national budget was $18 million.

wheelus2

The foreign bases were tremendously unpopular with the Libyan people. King Idris I (who built one of his palaces directly across the street from Wheelus AFB) knew this but also knew the lease money was the only thing keeping Libya afloat in the short term.

During 1956 Libya’s prime minister Mahmud al-Muntasir went behind the king’s back and tried to void the leases of the two British bases. King Idris I was greatly distressed and considered abdicating the throne. In any case the UK did not agree to void the leases.

The bases caused continuous headaches for the king. During the 1956 Suez Crisis, a shortwave station in Cairo claimed that Tobruk had been a jumping-off point for the Anglo-French invasion force. This was untrue but readily believed by the Libyan public, who then directed their anger at Idris.

A CIA intelligence estimate in 1959, only eight years into the lease, cautioned that Wheelus AFB may not be politically viable long-term, and that the US Air Force might begin planning for life without it.

The discovery of oil and other factors made the lease money less important. After Muammar Quadaffi took over in 1969, his very first speech demanded that the UK and USA leave Libya.

The two British bases were shut down in 1970 under pressure from Quadaffi. Great Britain in turn embargoed an order of Thunderbird SAMs negotiated by the previous government. Realistically neither British facility had much military value by then.

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(On 19 May 1970 British troops departed Tobruk, ending a continuous presence since the desert battles of WWII.) (photo via Keystone France)

Despite the huge investments put into Wheelus AFB, the United States knew it was a lost cause after Col. Quadaffi took power. The lease on Wheelus would have been up in 1971 anyways so during the summer of 1970, the US Air Force executed an orderly withdrawal and and turnover to Libya.

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(The Stars & Stripes was lowered for the final time at Wheelus AFB on 11 June 1970.)

The excellent facility was taken over by the Libyan air force and renamed Mitiga. It was made home to MiG-21 “Fishbed” and MiG-25 “Foxbat” jets supplied by the USSR.

mig25in1985

(Libyan MiG-25 fighter out of Mitaga, the former Wheelus AFB, over the Gulf Of Sidra during 1985.) (official US Navy photo)

During the 1986 “El Dorado Canyon” operation, it was bombed by a half-dozen F-111 Aardvarks which dropped 72 Mk82 500 lbs bombs on the former American base. Sixty of the bombs were rated as either direct hits or near-misses.

wheelus1986

(Camera footage from a F-111 attacking Mitaga, the former Wheelus AFB, in 1986. The Libyan planes being targeted are Il-76 “Candid” transports.)

Surprisingly little was mentioned about this WWII airbase’s past by the American media in 1986, even though it had been a large active-duty US Air Force facility only sixteen years previous.

During 1995 Libya made Mitaga a civilian airport which it remains today.

WWII weapons in the contemporary era

Muammar Quadaffi was overthrown by a popular revolt in 2011, aided by a NATO bombing campaign against Libya. Some WWII weapons fought again, 66 years after WWII ended.

Just as a general statement, a “romanticized” image perhaps in the public mind was anti-Quadaffi rebels finding WWII arms caches in the Sahara, hidden long ago by the Afrika Korps.

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(Libyan rebel with a WWII German MP-38 in 2011.)

This is untrue.

Weapons of the WWII Axis originally changed hands inside Libya during WWII itself and then afterwards through legal or quasi-legal means.

january1941

(A British soldier guards a pile of captured Italian weapons in January 1941. There are Carcano rifles of various models, and several Breda 30 machine guns.)

As mentioned earlier, during WWII Great Britain armed the “Senussi army” with captured Axis arms, which they retained when they became the Cyrenaica Defence Force. After WWII, as the CDF expanded, more warehoused Italian weapons were issued to it. As time went on and WWII veterans mustered out, it was common practice for them to take their firearm home with them. This is especially true of the Carcanos seen during the 2010s.

Another route was the so-called “gray market”. Great Britain captured large numbers of Italian weapons, and administered their storage in a haphazard way. The two African theatres (Libya and Ethiopia/Eritrea) initially had separate flows which were later comingled. By WWII’s end, ex-Italian weapons were in an archipelago of warehouses as far away as Mombasa (today in Kenya) and Karachi (today in Pakistan), with most being in Egypt or the British part of Libya. As the British army shrunk after 1945, these warehouses were consolidated and shut down. Remaining holdings of WWII Italian guns still gathering dust were eligible for “sale to local disposal, if obsolete”.

Still another route of Italian weapons was law enforcement. Prior to WWII, Italy retained a type of police magistrate from the Ottoman era called a Mamour. They dealt with petty-level street crime and were armed with Italian pistols and carbines. As the Allies ejected Italy from Libya in 1943, Mamours were generally found to be non-political. As long as they got paid, they would enforce British law the same as Italian. The UK saw little reason to to re-equip them with Allied weapons.

Allied weapons are even more clear-cut. The 1951 Libyan army was entirely equipped with WWII British weapons. WWII American weapons came as military aid during the Wheelus AFB era. WWII Soviet arms came after Quadaffi took power in 1969.

the Carcano

By far this is the most common WWII firearm seen in Libya during the 2010s and 2020s.

The Carcano is a family of a half-dozen WWII bolt-action rifles and carbines with an additional four or five subvariants. They are sometimes (incorrectly) called “Mannlicher-Carcano”, as the original late-19th century Italian design blended concepts of the Austro-Hungarian Mannlicher-Steyr 95, the German Gewehr 88, and fresh Italian thought. All used a six-round internal en bloc.

The original and most common caliber is 6.5x52mm Parravicini-Carcano. This rimless round served Italy during both world wars. It used a 162gr ogive-nosed FMJ bullet with 2,300fps muzzle velocity. No spitzer-nosed bullet was ever developed.

cartridges

(At center, a 6.5x52mm Parravicini-Carcano cartridge used by Carcanos. To the right is a 7.35x51mm cartridge; incorrectly called “8mm Mannlicher” sometimes. This was a failed Italian effort to switch calibers and used by some WWII Carcanos. To the left is a WWII German 7.92 Mauser round for size reference.)

The initial weapon was the Modello 91 long rifle. It was 4’3½” long and weighed 8½ lbs.

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(Carcano Modello 91 long rifle near Misrata, Libya during July 2011. The shorter Carcano is a M-91/38 which is a short rifle variant rarely seen during the 2010s.)

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(In October 2002, Muammar Quadaffi gifted Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi a Carcano Modello 91 long rifle. The Libyan leader stated that anti-Italian guerillas had captured it before WWII which may or may not be true.)

More commonly seen than the Modello 91 long rifle is the Moschetto da Cavalleria M-91. Translating as “musketoon of the cavalry”, this was originally a carbine intended for horseback use however it dovetailed nicely with the 1920s / 1930s trend of shorter-length infantry rifles, and during WWII was used by Italian troops in the desert for general combat. It was 3′ long and weighed 6¾ lbs. The shorter barrel resulted in 2% less muzzle velocity but otherwise this carbine performed identical to the original Modello 91 long rifle or WWII short rifle versions.

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(Moschetto da Cavalleria M-91 in Libya.) (photo via Forgotten Weapons website)

These carbines have an underbarrel bayonet operated by a thumbswitch on its hinge housing. During the 2010s bayonets were sometimes broken, missing, or held on by rubber bands.

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(Libyan rebel with Moschetto da Cavalleria M-91.)

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(This photo shows a Moschetto da Cavalleria M-91 with the bayonet and its hinge housing removed, and an aftermarket front sight blade installed.)

caracano

(Numerous Libyan rebels stated that their Carcanos had been family heirloom guns.)

The most obvious question for a WWII firearm like this in the 21st century is where the ammunition is coming from. The caliber itself has not been “dead” for as long as one might think; the Italian Carabinieri used it as late as the 1970s. That said, 6.5x52mm Parravicini-Carcano was not a common worldwide military caliber after WWII. In 21st century Libya, the most likely answer for where ammo is coming from is, it isn’t. Many Carcanos were described by their wielders as “family heirloom guns” and the ammunition supply is perhaps limited to what private citizens have been sitting on for years.

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(A rebel with a 6-round en bloc in western Libya during 2011. He told a news reporter that the ammunition belonged to his grandfather.)

The oldest Carcano headstamp photographed was 1936 but supposedly casings headstamped in the 1920s have been seen. Properly-stored ammunition can last a century or more. Given the circumstances not all of the WWII Italian ammunition in Libya probably was. The rebels learned to recognize the “red stain” (old ammunition discolored in the box after the primer’s glycerines and antimony components eat through the cup and touch air, “gassing out” the chemicals). A civilian pyrotechnic powder was used to make replacement primers, with unknown reliability results.

Despite the ammunition issue the Carcano, especially the Moschetto da Cavalleria M-91, was surprisingly common on the battlefield during 2011. A rebel commander along the Tunisian border in northwest Libya estimated that 10% of his men had Carcano carbines.

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(A Carcano Moschetto da Cavalleria M-91 offered for sale over the internet in Libya.) (photo via Small Arms Survey Group)

the Enfield

The Enfield No.4 Mk.I was a standard British rifle of WWII and was Libya’s first standard rifle after independence in 1951. As such it is not surprising that they appeared during the 2010s fighting.

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(WWII Enfield No.4 Mk.I in 2019, during the “second” civil war.)

This bolt-action rifle fires the .303 British cartridge (2,441fps muzzle velocity) from a stripper-loaded 10-round internal magazine. It weighs 9 lbs and is 3’9″ long.

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(Enfield No.4 Mk.I with a more modern FN FAL.)

There is little mystery as to where these came from or their ammunition supply; Quadaffi had them warehoused during the 1970s as sufficient quantities of more modern rifles became available. These storage depots, especially the ones in eastern Libya, were overrun in 2011.

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(A WWII British ammunition box in 2011.) (photo by Patrick Baz)

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(Anti-Quadaffi rebel with a beat-up Enfield during 2011. The furniture is being reinforced with black electrical tape and the front sight is missing, replaced by a simple blade type. His hand grenade is a RGD-5, a Soviet design of the Cold War era.)

the curious case of the Libyan Garands

garand

(Libyan army M1 Garand artwork)

The semi-automatic M1 Garand was the USA’s standard battle rifle of WWII and the Korean War. It fires the .30-06 Springfield cartridge (2,800fps muzzle velocity) from a 8-round en bloc. It is 3’8″ long and weighs 9½ lbs.

Libya received M1 Garands through two methods.

During 1963, Libya received 663 M1 Garands through the American SAP (Security Assistance Program). These were drawn from US Army European Command holdings. The delivery was handled similarly to the way M1 Garands were sent to the South Vietnamese army. The entire 663-gun shipment was considered a single thing, “1 each” with a listed weight of “9,999 lbs each”. The 663 Garands themselves were not segregated by age, condition, or original manufacturer. They were not marked in any way and unless the Libyans did it themselves, would today be indistinguishable from any other M1 Garand worldwide.

The second batch came via a commercial buy from Beretta in Italy. During the 1950s the United States government bought Winchester’s leftover WWII tooling for the M1 Garand and resold it to Beretta, so that NATO M1 needs could be met on the European continent. The deal was not entirely satisfactory from the company’s standpoint, as the tooling needed significant remedial work after reassembly.

In any case, Beretta made 30,000 M1 Garands for the Italian army and 10,000 for the Danish army. As it owned the tooling free & clear, it also offered the M1 for general export. Lots were made for the Indonesian, North Yemeni, and Cuban armies. The last order came from Libya, for only 180 rifles.

cubancon

(Knuckle markings on a Cuban contract Beretta M1 Garand. Presumably the Libyan rifles would be similar. The serial numbers started over for each customer. “E” is thought to signify “export”, possibly built on speculation as the Yemeni and Indonesian examples have national insignia which the Cuban (and presumably Libyan) ones do not.)

The 180 Beretta-made Libyan Garands are extremely rare. As far as is known, not a single example has ever been authenticated and appraised on the private market.

Garands in Libyan service overall are poorly documented. They were delivered only six years before Quadaffi overthrew the monarchy, and were likely not in service long as the M1 Garand did not share ammunition with the WWII British Enfields, nor the FN FALs the king planned on making the next-generation standard issue rifle. They may have never been issued to any active-duty Libyan unit at all.

No Garand has been seen during the fighting in the 2010s, which is somewhat surprising given that even older or more obscure WWII firearms have popped up.

The Garands may have already been out of Libya by then. Muammar Quadaffi’s cousin Sayed Quaddafadam was nominally the defense attache to Libya’s embassy in London. In reality he was involved with MEPROCO, a front company Libya used to buy weapons from private arms dealers. During the late 1970s and early 1980s the Admiral Codrington, a restaurant and lounge in Chelsea, served as a meeting place for such deals in the pre-cell phone, pre-internet era. MEPROCO was obviously oriented towards buying but there was nothing stopping it from transacting in the other direction if a buyer was interested in WWII American rifles.

It is unlikely that Quadaffi had them scrapped, as he was still holding ammunition for them past the turn of the millennium.

ammo

(.30-06 Springfield ammunition looted by rebels during the overthrow of Quadaffi.)

These crates were intended for issue to M1 Garand riflemen. The 768rds were preloaded into 98 eight-round en blocs; the en blocs were then put into 16 cloth bandoliers holding 6 en blocs each. Ammunition intended for machine guns shipped either pre-belted or bulk. None of the three boxes is of WWII vintage. The two made in Lake City, MO have lot numbers around the end of the Korean War while the upside-down box was made in Arden Hills, MN during the early Vietnam War era. The “handshake shield” was a common motif on American military aid of the 1960s.

The fourth, top crate has a water-stained label illegible except for “L.A.R.”. Libyan Arab Republic was Quadaffi’s new name for the country after the monarchy was overthrown, so this crate was delivered from an English-speaking source after 1969. Inside is perhaps Mk.IIz ammunition, the Commonwealth designation for .30-06 Springfield Lend-Leased during WWII, which later saw limited production in the UK and India.

Whatever happened to Libya’s M1 Garands remains a mystery.

the M1919

The belt-fed M1919 was the USA’s standard light machine gun of WWII. It fired .30-06 Springfield ammunition at 500rpm. It weighed 31 lbs.

m1919b

(M1919A6 in combat in Libya. This one looks to be in near-mint condition. The ammo is belted in WWII US Army style, with every tenth round a tracer.)

The United States delivered 110 of these WWII machine guns to Libya via SAP. The first 52 were delivered along with the M1 Garands in 1963. The remaining 58 came in small batches between 1964 and Quadaffi’s coup in 1969.

m1919c

(M1919A4 in combat, this one having a homemade carry handle added. It has been jury-rigged onto the mount of a modern Belgian-made FN MAG machine gun.)

the DP-28

The Degtyaryov 27, or DP-28 as it was known to NATO, was a WWII Soviet light machine gun filling the same tactical niches as the USA’s M1919 or Great Britain’s Bren (both also used by Libya after independence). The DP-28 fired the 7.62x54mm(R) cartridge (2,755fps muzzle velocity) at 550rpm. It weighed 25 lbs.

dp

The most distinctive feature is the 47-round overhead pan magazine. The shape of the rimmed cartridge required this. During WWII this generally worked well but took a long time to refill. A flaw discovered after WWII was that after years of use, the heat of firing took out the temper of the steel spring underneath the barrel.

The Soviets supplied DP-28s as military aid after Quadaffi took over in 1969. Probably not many were supplied, as by the mid-1970s Libya already had in service its Cold War replacement, the Kalishnikov RPD. Hungarian-made ammunition of this caliber headstamped 1979 has been found on Libyan battlefields; so it would stand to reason that the DP-28s were in active use at least into the 1980s.

dpcivilwar

the M2 Browning

The M2 Browning .50cal is one of the most successful machine guns of all time, appearing in various forms, most commonly the M2HB variant. A heavy machine gun also suitable for very low-altitude AA missions, it fires the 50BMG cartridge (12.7x99mm, muzzle velocity 2,910fps) at 525rpm.

m2browning

(M2HB Browning .50cal in service with Libyan irregulars in 2011. Commercial copies of the US Army’s old six-tone arid (aka “chocolate chip”) camouflage remain popular in the middle east, despite the American military obsoleting it after Desert Storm in 1991.)

Other than M2s mounted on military vehicles, the United States delivered 22 M2HBs to Libya. Five came with the M1 Garand shipment in 1963, the rest piecemeal between 1964 – 1969. Recovered 50BMG casings have shown Belgian-made ammunition headstamped 1982, indicating that Quadaffi’s army kept these M2HBs in service alongside Soviet DShK heavy machine guns.

During the “second” civil war, there were post-WWII Belgian production M2s introduced into the conflict by a foreign benefactor, possibly Qatar, the U.A.E., or Turkey.

On 14 June 2011 the Qatari news channel al-Jazeera aired a remarkable scene showing a WWII AN/M2 in action. The AN/M2 was the flying cousin of the M2HB.

nra

(photo via National Rifle Association)

These were installed in American warplanes of WWII, either inside wings on fighters or flexible mounts on bombers. Differences from the M2HB were the AN/M2’s lighter, shorter barrel with perforated jacket, and a different bolt. The gun overall was 23 lbs lighter. The rate of fire was higher, 850rpm to the M2HB’s 525rpm. It did not require any special type of ammunition.

m2aljazeera2011plane

(photo via al-Jazeera)

The AN/M2 was fitted onto gun mount from a destroyed Soviet-made APC, then put on a pintle in the cargo bed of a civilian pickup truck. As the WWII solenoid triggering mechanism was no longer available, an electrical circuit wired through a bicycle’s handbrake was used as the trigger. A steel gunshield was crafted by local welders.

The cup on the barrel was not decorative. The AN/M2 used a recoil boosting device on the muzzle; presumably missing on this one. It is possible that the Libyan gunsmiths intended the cup to momentarily concentrate gasses following the outgoing round as it departed the barrel, like a “reverse muzzle brake”.

The English-speaking reporter said the gun “…was recovered from a damaged fighter plane”. Libya never flew WWII-era fighters and none of its French Mirages or Soviet-made Sukhois and MiGs used this gun. Perhaps it was indeed recovered from a WWII wreck site.

The Libyan rebels test-fired the WWII gun for the al-Jazeera cameras, and it did function perfectly.

the M1938

This WWII Soviet 107mm mortar was developed as a lighter alternative to the more common 120mm towed 120-PM-38. The M1938 was originally intended for alpine troops, and at 370 lbs was nearly half as light as the 120-PM-38. It could be broken down into sections small enough for mules. Because of its flexibility, it was later issued to regular infantry units.

m1938in2011a

(M1938 being fired in Libya on 17 July 2011.)

This mortar fired the OF-841 mortar bomb, a 20 lbs HE-Frag round. The maximum range was 3¾ miles.

The USSR sold Col. Quadaffi’s army some M1938s during the early 1970s, along with its later WWII replacement, the PM-43 Samovar.

M1938july2011

Only 3,357 examples of this mortar were made during WWII so it is somewhat surprising to see one still in use.

WWII German guns

Only a small number of WWII German weapons have been seen during the 2010s conflict.

mp38

The MP-38 submachine gun was the predecessor of the better-known MP-40. It fired the 9mm Parabellum cartridge at 500rpm from a detachable 32-round magazine. The MP-40 was just a simplified MP-38, with certain details tweaked to speed up production during WWII. Both weapons performed equally well. One way to tell them apart is the MP-38 has circular lightening cut-outs in the magazine well, as seen above. These did not save much weight and are omitted on the MP-40.

98k

The 98k was Germany’s standard-issue rifle for all of WWII. A bolt-action rifle, it fired the 7.92 Mauser cartridge from a 5-round internal magazine. The example above has an obviously aftermarket replacement stock.

the winding, opaque tale of “Libya’s Sturmgewehrs”

burkinafaso

(StG-44 in Burkina Faso)

Germany’s StG-44 of WWII is often regarded as the world’s first successful assault rifle. A select-fire weapon, it fired the 7.92x33mm Kurz cartridge from a 30-round detachable magazine at 550rpm in full-auto. Like many WWII German innovations, it came too little, too late to alter the conflict’s outcome.

After WWII the USSR retained and later transferred captured StG-44s, with Czechoslovakia, East Germany, North Vietnam, and Hungary receiving some; as did Yugoslavia which also inherited examples surrendered on its territory in 1945. From there they migrated in batches (usually small), to Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Somalia.

Within the community of arms dealers and small arms experts, the tale of how Col. Quadaffi may or may not have obtained some StG-44s is perhaps akin to the Paul Bunyan tall tale of the USA: every man who retells the story tells it slightly differently, and it’s optional for the listener to believe any of it.

What is certain is that the JNA (Yugoslav Federal Army) eagerly used any StG-44 available from the mid-1940s through the early 1960s. Thereafter they found a continuing niche role with the JNA’s airborne units.

yugo

(Yugoslav paratrooper with StG-44.)

Yugoslav airborne units used StG-44s through the late 1970s under the nomenclature “M-43 (Para)”. The StG-44 was totally obsoleted by the JNA on 10 February 1983.

Muammar Quadaffi had a close defense partnership with Yugoslavia from the early 1970s through mid-1990s. Quadaffi’s first state visit outside the arab world was to Yugoslavia in November 1973, and he came again in 1977. Arms deals were an item of discussion both times.

yugoslavia

(Colonel Quadaffi and Marshall Tito.)

After the JNA obsoleted the StG-44 little more was said about them for years. During 2013, a small batch of StG-44s (described as few as three by one source, including an example in its WWII Wehrmacht crate) were seized by police in the west African nation of Burkina Faso. From there it was determined (or at least theorized) that the WWII guns had originated in Libya and been looted during the 2011 overthrow of Quadaffi, and migrated south via desert nomads who sometimes use obsolete guns as a makeshift barter currency.

It was further stated that Libya had bought StG-44s from Yugoslavia during the mid-1980s, along with that nation’s remaining stockpile of 7.92 Kurz. This is not necessarily beyond belief. Quadaffi had a track record of buying weapons his generals neither requested nor really wanted. Quadaffi’s theory was “wharf to warehouse” procurement; he would spend oil money on big arms deals when sellers were selling; if he had to buy odds & ends with them, so be it. The unwanted weapons went straight from the pier at the port to a storage depot without ever being issued.

Later in 2013 it was postulated that Libya may have indeed been the source, but desert nomads not the path. Muammar Quadaffi had a good relationship with Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara and later Blaise Compaoré. The unwanted StG-44s may have been part of secret military aid to one or the other from Libya, then stolen from a Burkinabe armory.

After no StG-44s were observed during the two civil wars in Libya, yet a counter-claim during 2021 was that the whole story was bunk; not only had Libya not supplied the StG-44s to Burkina Faso (either intentionally or inadvertently) but had never even bought the type at all from Yugoslavia; with the handful of Sturmgewehrs in Burkina Faso having originated with anti-French rebels in Algeria via an arms drop from Czechoslovakia in 1960 – 1961 and already circulating in the Sahara for years.

An objective answer remains elusive as of 2022.

handguns

bodeoModel1889in2019Silah

(photo via Silah Report website)

Above is a Bodeo Modello 1889 used during the Libyan civil wars. This Italian revolver entered service in 1890 and fought in both world wars. It fired the 10.35x20mm O.I. cartridge. The enlisted model, as above, has no triggerguard with the trigger folding up when holstered. There was an officer model with triggerguard, rounded barrel, and polished finish. Production finally ended in 1931. This pistol was withdrawn from Italian army use shortly after WWII ended in 1945.

During WWII these were used in some numbers by both the Italians and the Afrika Korps under designation Revolver 680(i). Before the war they were also issued to local police units in colonial Libya.

Less small batches for niche hobby shooters, ammunition of this caliber was last made in Spain during the 1950s. It was quite a surprising thing to see on a 2010s battlefield.

webleyMark4

(photo via Forgotten Weapons website)

The WWII British revolver above is a Webley Mk.IV. This version of the long-serving Webley line originally fought in the Boer War chambered in .455 Eley. As the diplomatic situation in Europe soured during the 1930s, a shortage of handguns in the British army was alleviated by rechambering some Mk.IVs to .38/200 and reissuing them alongside Enfield No.2 pistols of the same caliber. Many of these went to British forces in Egypt.

The Libyan example above appears to be in excellent condition.

MleRrSmallArmsSurvey

(photo via Small Arms Survey Group)

Above is an old pistol which goes by several names. The original pre-WWII French designation was Unique Mle. 17, a seven-shot .32ACP semi-auto made by MAPF in southern France, entering military service in 1928. During the German occupation, production was allowed to continue. It never received a formal Wehrmacht designation but was called Kriegsmodell 17, seeing some use as a shootdown-survival gun by Luftwaffe airmen. After the factory was liberated in 1944 production briefly restarted using Kriegsmodell 17 chassis with new grips, before halting in 1945. During 1951, production again started as the Mle. Rr which was intended mostly for law enforcement. This had the revised grips, plus a new hammer and a secondary grip safety. Kriegsmodell 17s could also be rebuilt with some of these features.

The Libyan weapon above appears to be a 1950s Mle. Rr or a rebuilt Kriegsmodell 17. It was offered for sale on the internet during the civil war, a popular way for Libyans to transact guns during the chaos. How it originally came to the country is anybody’s guess.

enfieldNo2MkIstarSmallArmsSu

(photo via Small Arms Survey Group)

This Libyan civil war pistol was a common British sidearm of WWII, the Enfield No.2 Mk.I*. This six-shooter was chambered for .38/200. The asterisk in the designation denotes a wartime modification to make the gun DAO and also accepted the use of bakelite handgrips.

There is little mystery as to how this handgun ended up in Libya. Enfield No.2 Mk.I*s were used extensively by Commonwealth forces in the desert, and upon independence in 1951 this was the Libyan army’s first standard-issue sidearm.

This pistol was being advertised for sale on an arabic-language page of an American social media website during 2015. Ammunition of this caliber, long since obsolete worldwide (it is not the same as .38 Special) is apparently still readily available within Libya. A headstamp marked “W-W” has been observed; this being Winchester’s Lend-Lease production during WWII.

beretta3534Dec2015SocialMedia'

Above is either a Beretta Modello 34 or Modello 35. These sister-guns were the standard-issue Italian sidearm during WWII, intended to replace unpopular Gilsenti semi-autos and the aforementioned Bodeo revolvers. The Modello 34 fired .380ACP from a 7-round magazine, while the Modello 35 fired .32ACP from a 8-round magazine. Otherwise they were essentially the same thing. Combined of the two types, 1,605,000 were made.

This was the standard sidearm for Italian forces in Libya during WWII and the Afrika Korps also used some under the designation Pistole 671(i). They were further issued to paramilitary and police in colonial-era Libya. After independence, they remained a law enforcement sidearm in Libya for many years and were substitute-standard / reserve in the Libyan army. Sellier & Bellot in Czechoslovakia manufactured .32ACP after WWII as “7,65×17SR” and this headstamp has been observed during the 2010s conflict, so the type was active in Libya after WWII.

The example above has been modified with a homecrafted baffles-in-barrel type suppressor. During 2015 it was offered for sale in Libya on the same American social media site as the Enfield pistol.

webleyandscottVery

Above is a Webley & Scott Very Mk.III*. In King’s English, “very pistol” is the same as “flare gun” in American dialect. The British name (ironically) comes from E.W. Very, the American inventory of “very lights” which were a primitive form of military flares.

The asterisk in the designation denotes the addition of the bellmouthed barrel extension. These flare guns were made during the 1910s and served Great Britain during both world wars. They fired a 1″ illuminant round.

The owner also has a Soviet WWII DP-28 machine gun. He was offering a eulogy for fallen anti-Quadaffi rebels.

the T-34

Quite remarkably, at least one and perhaps two WWII T-34 tanks were seen in combat in Libya during the 2010s. (Both were in Tripoli and may have been the same tank repainted.)

t34in2017

(T-34 in Tripoli during 2017.)

The Quadaffi-era army had thousands and thousands of more modern tanks, so the likelihood of these WWII tanks seeing combat would seem low but in any case, they did.

postscript

Whatever its intentions, the 2011 NATO air attacks which hastened Quadaffi’s downfall and eventual execution have ended in misery for the Libyan people. Since 2021 the country is in a cease-fire, a tenuous three-way coalition between factions armed with the looted weaponry of the old regime. The economy is wrecked and for much of the 2010s, the nation was a lawless free-for-all.

summer2012b

(A typical Libyan arms souq during the summer of 2012. Along with artillery rounds and unguided rockets is a Vympel AA-8 “Aphid”, a high-technology Russian air-to-air missile.)

The highest priority outside of Libya has been trying to track down and secure Quadaffi’s looted stockpile of MANPADS (shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles) and bulk plastique explosives. WWII-era weapons are probably the least concern.

LibyaObserverjuly2022

(During July 2022, a special antiquities department of the Libya Tourism Police arrested a man trying to sell artifacts of the nation’s Roman and Carthigian eras. He turned out to be a university professor and was armed with the WWII Moschetto da Cavalleria M-91 shown.)

luftwaffe

(Shoulder patch worn by WWII Luftwaffe groundcrew at AMd Méllaha, later Wheelus AFB and today Mitaga.)

 

 

16 thoughts on “Libya from Rommel to Quadaffi

    • I would guess it was actually a M35 which was the soon-after-WWII version which was usually shipped as military aid, but it is possible.

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  1. The Arden Hills MN ammo plant has since been razed. As some of the last undeveloped in Ramsey County (where the capital of the state is) it has attracted many developers, including one who wanted to build a new Vikings stadium. None have been successful as of yet.

    I was there many times training with the Ramsey County Sheriffs, sometimes using the US Army Reserve facilities.

    Thanks for the great articles.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for the great research. I recently found one of the Cuban contract M1 Garands with the ,”E” prefix. You article on the Beretta M1’s was very informative. As you went through the documents, can you estimate when the the Italian M1s were sent to Libya? Thank you.

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      • That I am not 100% sure of. Based on the small quantity supplied to Libya from Beretta I believe (just a theory, nothing hard to back it up) that the Libyan guns were overruns on the Cuban job which would put them in the 1958 or 1959 timeframe for delivery. The US-surplus Garands all came in 1963, this is known for certain.

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    • G’day, love the blog, always a great read! In the photo of Castel Benito Airbase the wreck in the foreground is a Macchi MC.200 but the ones to the left and right are Fiat G.50’s and the biplane is a Fiat CR.42. Can’t quite make out the ones in the wrecked hangar, possibly a mix of G.50’s and MC.200’s.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve read of Wheelus before – at least 2 different cheap action novels from my childhood involved modern American forces at Wheelus.
    One was set in the 80’s with soldiers rescuing passengers from a hijacked airliner; I don’t remember the details of the other.
    At one point, the Army (supposedly) pulled out old plans of Wheelus buildings to check things like wall, window, and door construction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There was a war plan called “DROP SHOT” which the Pentagon wrote in the late 1940s planning for possible war against the USSR during the 1950s; Wheelus figured large into it. Long since declassified, it is somewhat amusing in how “culturally clueless” it is; for example they also planned on Egypt, Israel, and Iraq joining into alliance; along with India and Pakistan which both had just become independent.

      Like

  3. Yet another great entry. This time the topic overlaps with family history. My grandfather (WW2 and Korea combat pilot) occasionally flew out of Wheelus AFB on training missions. They were rehearsing precision low level supersonic tactical nuke strikes against targets in East Germany (which they obviously couldn’t do in the middle of Europe). This would have been in the late 50s and early 60s, at one point using F-105s. In 1956 my mom spent the day in Tripoli being flown in from her dad’s base (at that time in Ankara, Turkey) just to get a pair of eyeglasses. I still have some of the old Libyan currency, with King Idris’ picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is strange how Wheelus has just completely vanished from the consciousness. At my veterans lodge, a lot of the old timers still talk about Subic Bay, Tan Son Nhut, and Clark AFB like they just closed but I dont believe I have ever honestly heard anything about Wheelus until Libya started coming up in the news again.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. If you go to ”military.com” there is an article titled , Why Air Force legend ‘chappie’ James almost shot moammar gadhafi, the incident took place at Wheelus Air Base in 1969, it makes you realise how history sometimes hangs from a thread.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That story (which is true) is legendary in the American military. He had a M1911 on the hip and was not intimidated and not goofing around.

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  5. An interesting bit of Wheelus AFB trivia – many are familiar with the story of the discovery of the B-24 ‘Lady Be Good’, and the remains of her crew in the Libyan desert in 1958, long after they disappeared on a bombing mission in 1943. Less well known is that a stained glass window memorial was created to remember the crew, and this stained glass window hung in the Wheelus chapel. The window was packed up when the US withdrew in 1970. Today, it is on display at the National Museum of the US Air Force.

    Liked by 1 person

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