The postage stamps of the French occupied Italian colony of Fezzan 1943

17/10/2013     Italy, Colonies, States & Areas

It is always great to show you something a little different and unusual and back in 2013 we were delighted to be offering a selection of the spectacular Italian Libia Colonial stamps overprinted or surcharged “FEZZAN Occupation Francaise” issued for only a short period during 1943 by the French controlled Military Territory of Fezzan-Ghadames. They include examples that display the splendid artistry of the Art Deco period with its innovative designs combining classic Roman architecture, statues and desert scenery.

There was one exceptional example from the Serie Pittorica – ‘Prow of a Roman Ship’ - 2 francs on 30 cent black and brown tied to piece, of which only 474 were issued (Sassone 4).

The Air-mail issues echo a by-gone age of airport buildings and low flying single prop aircraft. A series of square ‘Italia Posta Afrea’ stamps of different denominations and colour, depict Pegasus in flight. One 50 cent brown airmail stamp of which there were only 352 issued tied to original piece is of particular note.

These overprinted issues followed a successful Allied campaign led by the Free French Forces who operating from garrisons located to the south in Chad, finally broke what had been a military stalemate by capturing Murzuk, the principal town of Fezzan, in mid-January 1943 and gaining total control of the entire region shortly thereafter. This was an integral part of joint Allied Forces action intended to drive the occupying Italian army and other Axis forces from Libya and North Africa.

French personnel became responsible for the administration of Fezzan based at the nearby capital Sabha. This included the temporary use of Libia Colonie Italiane Poste stamps overprinted with the words:

“FEZZAN Occupation Française”

The resounding success of the military action was pivotal to the North Africa campaign and helped in giving a much needed boost to Allied morale. The strategic importance was immense in what was an otherwise unremarkable location. It provided a springboard for further action that ultimately resulted in the French troops being able to advance to Tripoli in late January 1943 and finally to link up with Field Marshall Montgomery’s Eighth Army.

The Libia Colonie stamps are a representative group of those issued by Italy during the 1930s and early 1940s. In the second half of 1943 the stamps were replaced by Algerian stamps for a period lasting until 1946 when completely new stamps were produced for use in Fezzan-Ghadmes by the French prior to Libyan independence in 1951.

The links in the philatelic chain can be traced back to 1909 when Italian stamps were first used in this part of North Africa. These were still strongly influenced by the Art Nouveau designs of the late 19th century. The stamps were overprinted with the names of individual post offices and regions including Tripoli di Barbaria and Benghazi di Barbaria. Libya finally became an Italian Colony in 1911 and Italian stamps of the period were used overprinted with the name ‘Libia’. Various political changes occurred and the Italian administrators struggled to maintain control against opposition from Berbers and Arab tribes. This changed during the mid 1920s as the Italian Fascist regime grew in strengh.

Italian stamps of this earlier period bore an overprint of each of the three regions that to-day make up modern Libya. These are Tripolitania in the north, Cyrenaica in the east and Fezzan (derived from the Latin Roman name ‘Phazaania’ – that translates to ‘the land of the pheasants’) in the south west. Fezzan remains remote and consists largely of desert, crossed by the Ash-Shati Valley in the north and to the west by the Wadi Irawan and further divided by mountain ranges and a series of dry river beds where oases provide sufficient natural resources to allow villages and settlements to survive.

It is worth mentioning an earlier example of the stamps issued by Italy. One of the most elusive Colonie Italiane Poste Libia stamps is one that was issued in the “Espresso Italia” series known as the “Black Express”. It is a rare stamp. The name comes from the colour of the ink used to overprint the new 1.25 lire value that replaced the original 60 cents. Whereas all other known examples show a dark blue overprint.

Covers and correspondence from French Occupied Fezzan are seen and again attract the interest of collectors. They include examples flown from Sebha to destinations in Cameroon franked with many different surcharges and also to military installations in Chad including Fort Lamy. They are cancelled “Fezzan RF Postes” and date mainly from April and May 1943.

This is an interesting and fairly complex period of philatelic history that reflects another of the myriad of sudden changes that occurred as hostilities continued and power shifted during the North Africa campaign and also the ability of philately to improvise and respond to prevailing conditions.


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