Second Italo-Ethiopian War
|Events leading to World War II|
The Second Italo-Ethiopian War, also referred to as the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, was a colonial war from 3 October 1935 to 5 May 1936 between the armed forces of the Kingdom of Italy and those of the Ethiopian Empire (also known as Abyssinia). Ethiopia was defeated, annexed and subjected to military occupation until the defeat of Italy in East Africa in 1941, during the East African Campaign of the Second World War.
Italy and Ethiopia were members of the League of Nations yet the League was unable to control Italy or to protect Ethiopia when Italy violated Article X of the Covenant of the League of Nations. The Abyssinia Crisis of 1935 is often seen as a clear demonstration of the ineffectiveness of the league.
The Italian victory coincided with the zenith of the popularity of dictator Benito Mussolini and the Fascist regime at home and abroad. Ethiopia was consolidated with Eritrea and Italian Somaliland into Africa Orientale Italiana (Italian East Africa). Mussolini's international popularity decreased when he endorsed the Anschluss (annexation of Austria) by Nazi Germany in 1938, beginning a political tilt toward Germany that destroyed Mussolini and the Fascist regime in 1943.
- 1 Background
- 2 Prelude
- 3 Hostilities
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 Sources
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Wal Wal Incident
The Italo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1928 stated that the border between Italian Somaliland and Ethiopia was twenty-one leagues parallel to the Benadir coast (approximately 118.3 kilometres [73.5 miles]). In 1930, Italy built a fort at the Welwel oasis (also Walwal, Italian: Ual-Ual) in the Ogaden and garrisoned it with Somali dubats (irregular frontier troops commanded by Italian officers). The fort at Welwel was well beyond the twenty-one league limit and inside Ethiopian territory. On 23 November 1934, an Anglo–Ethiopian boundary commission studying grazing grounds to find a definitive border between British Somaliland and Ethiopia arrived at Wal Wal. The party contained Ethiopian and British technicians and an escort of around 600 Ethiopian soldiers. Both sides knew that the Italians has installed a military post at Wal Wal and were not surprised to see an Italian flag at the wells. The Ethiopian government had notified the Italian authorities in Italian Somaliland that the commission was active in the Ogaden and requested that the Italians co-operate. When the British Commissioner, Lieutenant-Colonel Esmond Clifford asked the Italians for permission to camp nearby, the Italian commander Captain Roberto Cimmaruta rebuffed the request.
Fitorari Shiferra, the commander of the Ethiopian escort took no notice of the 150 Italian and Somali troops and made camp. To avoid being caught in an Italian–Ethiopian incident, Clifford withdrew the British contingent to Ado about 20 mi (32 km) to the north-east and Italian aircraft began to fly over Wal Wal. The Ethiopian commissioners retired with the British but the escort remained and for ten days both sides exchanged menaces, sometimes no more than 2.2 yd (2 m) apart. Reinforcements increased the Ethiopian contingent to about 1,500 men and the Italians to about 500 and on 5 December shots were fired. The Italians were supported by an armoured car and bomber aircraft; the bombs missed but machine-gun fire from the car caused about 110 Ethiopian casualties. From 30 to 50 Italians and Somalis were also killed and the incident led to the "Abyssinia Crisis" at the League of Nations. On 4 September 1935, the League of Nations exonerated both parties for the Wal Wal Incident.
Britain and France, preferring Italy as an ally against Germany, did not take strong steps to discourage an Italian military buildup on the borders of Ethiopia in Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. On 7 January 1935, a Franco-Italian Agreement was made giving Italy essentially a free hand in Africa in return for Italian co-operation. In April, Italy was further emboldened by participation in the Stresa Front, an agreement to curb further German violations of the Treaty of Versailles. In June, non-interference was further assured by a political rift that had developed between the United Kingdom and France following the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. A last possible foreign ally of Ethiopia to fall away was Japan, which had served as a model to some Ethiopian intellectuals; the Japanese ambassador to Italy, Dr. Sugimura Yotaro, on 16 July assured Mussolini that his country held no political interests in Ethiopia and would stay neutral in the coming war. His comments stirred up a furore inside Japan, where there had been popular affinity for the African Empire. Despite popular opinion, when the Ethiopians approached Japan for help on 2 August, they were refused, even a modest request for the Japanese government to officially state its support for Ethiopia in the coming conflict was denied.
In early December 1935, the Hoare–Laval Pact was proposed by Britain and France. Under this pact, Italy would gain the best parts of Ogaden, Tigray and economic influence over all the southern part of Abyssinia. Abyssinia would have a guaranteed corridor to the sea at the port of Assab; the corridor was a poor one and known as a "corridor for camels". Mussolini was ready to agree but he waited some days to make his opinion public. On 13 December, details of the pact were leaked by a French newspaper and denounced as a sell-out of the Ethiopians. The British government disassociated itself from the pact and the British and the French representatives associated with it were forced to resign.
All men and boys able to carry a spear go to Addis Ababa. Every married man will bring his wife to cook and wash for him. Every unmarried man will bring any unmarried woman he can find to cook and wash for him. Women with babies, the blind, and those too aged and infirm to carry a spear are excused. Anyone found at home after receiving this order will be hanged.
Selassie's army consisted of around 500,000 men, some of whom were armed with spears and bows; other soldiers carried more modern weapons, including rifles but many of these were pre-1900 equipments and obsolete. According to Italian estimates, on the eve of hostilities, the Ethiopians had an army of 350,000–760,000 men. Only about 25 percent of the army had any military training and the men were armed with a motley of 400,000 rifles of every type and in every condition. The Ethiopian armies had about 234 antiquated pieces of artillery mounted on rigid gun carriages, as well as a dozen 3.7 cm PaK 35/36 anti-tank guns. The army had about 800 light Colt and Hotchkiss machine-guns and 250 heavy Vickers and Hotchkiss machine guns, about 100 .303-inch Vickers guns on AA mounts, 48 20 mm Oerlikon S anti-aircraft guns and some recently purchased Canon de 75 CA modèle 1940 Schneider 75 mm guns. The arms embargo imposed on the belligerents by France and Britain disproportionately affected Ethiopia, which lacked the manufacturing industry to produce its own weapons. The Ethiopian army had some 300 trucks, seven Ford A-based armoured cars and four World War I era Fiat 3000 tanks.
The best Ethiopian units were the Emperor's "Kebur Zabagna" (Imperial Guard), who were well-trained and better equipped than the other Ethiopian troops. The Imperial Guard wore a distinctive greenish-khaki uniform of the Belgian Army, which stood out from the white cotton cloak (shamma) worn by most Ethiopian fighters and which proved to be an excellent target. The skills of the Rases, the generals of the Ethiopian armies, were reported to rate from relatively good to incompetent. The serviceable portion of the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force under the command of the French Andre Maillet, included three obsolete Potez 25 biplanes. A few transport aircraft had been acquired between 1934 and 1935 for ambulance work but the air force consisted of 13 aircraft and four pilots at the outbreak of the war. After Italian objections to an Anschluss with Austria, Germany sent three aeroplanes, 10,000 Mauser rifles and 10 million rounds of ammunition to the Ethiopians.
Fifty foreign mercenaries joined the Ethiopian forces, including French pilots like Pierre Corriger, an official Swedish military mission under Captain Viking Tamm, the White Russian Feodor Konovalov and the Czechoslovak writer Adolf Parlesak. Several Austrian Nazis, a team of Belgian Fascists and Cuban mercenary Alejandro del Valle also fought for Haile Selassie. Many of these individuals were military advisers, pilots, doctors or supporters of the Ethiopian cause; fifty mercenaries fought in the Ethiopian army and another fifty people were active in the Ethiopian Red Cross or non-military activities. The Italians later attributed most of the relative success achieved by the Ethiopians to foreigners or ferenghi. (The Italian propaganda machine magnified the number to thousands, to explain away the Ethiopian the Christmas Offensive of late 1935.)
Ras Desta Damtew
Italian East African forces
There were 400,000 Italian soldiers in Eritrea and 285,000 in Italian Somaliland with 3,300 machine guns, 275 artillery pieces, 200 tankettes and 205 aircraft. In April 1935, the reinforcement of the Royal Italian Army (Regio Esercito) and the Regia Aeronautica (Royal Air Force) in East Africa (Africa Orientale) accelerated. Eight regular, mountain and blackshirt militia infantry divisions arrived in Eritrea and four regular infantry divisions arrived in Italian Somaliland, consisting of about 685,000 soldiers and a great number of logistical and support units; the Italian force included 200 journalists. The Italian force had 6,000 machine guns, 2,000 pieces of artillery, 599 tanks and 390 aircraft. The Regia Marina (Royal Navy) carried tons of ammunition, food and other supplies, with the motor vehicles to move them, while the Ethiopians had only horse-drawn carts.
The Italians placed considerable reliance on their Royal Corps of Colonial Troops (Regio Corpo Truppe Coloniali, RCTC) of indigenous regiments recruited from the Italian colonies of Eritrea, Somalia, and Libya. The most effective of these Italian commanded units were the Eritrean native infantry (Ascari) who were often used as advanced troops. The Eritreans also provided cavalry and artillery units; the "Falcon Feathers" (Penne di Falco) was one prestigious and colourful Eritrean cavalry unit. Other RCTC units employed in the invasion of Ethiopia were irregular Somali frontier troops (dubats), regular Arab-Somali infantry and artillery and infantry from Libya. The Italians had a variety of local semi-independent "allies", in the north, the Azebu Galla were among several groups induced to fight for the Italians. In the south, the Somali Sultan Olol Dinle commanded a personal army that advanced into the northern Ogaden with the forces of Colonel Luigi Frusci. The Sultan was motivated by his desire to take back lands that the Ethiopians had taken from him. The Italian colonial forces even included men from Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden.
The Italians were reinforced by volunteers from the so-called Italiani all'estero (Italian emigres from Argentina, Uruguay and Brasil) who formed the 221st Legion in the Divisione Tevere and a special Legione Parini, that fought under Frusci near Dire Dawa. On 28 March 1935, General Emilio De Bono was named as the Commander-in-Chief of all Italian armed forces in East Africa. De Bono was also the Commander-in-Chief of the forces invading from Eritrea on the northern front. De Bono commanded nine divisions in the Italian I Corps, the Italian II Corps and the Eritrean Corps. General Rodolfo Graziani was Commander-in-Chief of forces invading from Italian Somaliland on the southern front. Initially he had two divisions and a variety of smaller units under his command, a mixture of Italians, Somalis, Eritreans, Libyans and others. De Bono regarded Italian Somaliland as a secondary theatre that needed primarily to defend itself and possibly aid the main front with offensive thrusts if the enemy forces there were not too large. Most foreigners accompanied the Ethiopians but Herbert Matthews, a reporter, historian and author of Eyewitness in Abyssinia: With Marshal Bodoglio's forces to Addis Ababa (1937) accompanied the Italian forces.
At 5:00 am on 3 October 1935, De Bono crossed the Mareb River and advanced into Ethiopia from Eritrea without a declaration of war. Aircraft of the Regia Aeronautica scattered leaflets asking the population to rebel against Haile Selassie and support the "true Emperor Iyasu V". Forty-year-old Iyasu had been deposed many years earlier but was still in custody. In response to the Italian invasion, Ethiopia declared war on Italy. At this point in the campaign, the lack of roads represented a serious hindrance for the Italians as they crossed into Ethiopia. On the Italian side, roads had been constructed right up to the border. On the Ethiopian side, these roads often transitioned into vaguely defined paths. On 5 October the Italian I Corps took Adigrat, and by 6 October, Adwa (Adowa) was captured by the Italian II Corps. Haile Selassie had ordered Duke (Ras) Seyoum Mangasha, the Commander of the Ethiopian Army of Tigre, to withdraw a day's march away from the Mareb River. Later, the Emperor ordered his son-in-law and Commander of the Gate (Dejazmach) Haile Selassie Gugsa, also in the area, to move back 89 and 56 km (55 and 35 mi) from the border.
On 11 October, Gugsa surrendered with 1,200 followers at the Italian outpost at Adagamos; Italian propagandists lavishly publicised the surrender but fewer than a tenth of Gugsa's men defected with him. On 14 October, De Bono proclaimed the end of slavery in Ethiopia but this liberated the former slave owners from the obligation to feed their former slaves, in the unsettled conditions caused by the war.[b] Much of the livestock in the area had been moved to the south to feed the Ethiopian army and many of the emancipated people had no choice but to appeal to the Italian authorities for food By 15 October, De Bono's forces had advanced from Adwa and occupied the holy capital of Axum. De Bono entered the city riding triumphantly on a white horse and then looted the Obelisk of Axum. To Mussolini's dismay, the advance was methodical and on 8 November, the I Corps and the Eritrean Corps captured Makale. The Italian advance had added 56 mi (90 km) to the line of supply and De Bono wanted to build a road from Adigrat before continuing. On 16 November, De Bono was promoted to the rank of Marshal of Italy (Maresciallo d'Italia) and in December was replaced by Badoglio to speed up the invasion.
Ethiopian Christmas Offensive
The Christmas Offensive was intended to split the Italian forces in the north with the Ethiopian centre, crushing the Italian left with the Ethiopian right and to invade Eritrea with the Ethiopian left. Ras Seyum Mangasha held the area around Abiy Addi with about 30,000 men. Selassie with about 40,000 men advanced from Gojjam toward Mai Timket to the left of Ras Seyoum. Ras Kassa Haile Darge with around 40,000 men advanced from Dessie to support Ras Seyoum in the centre in a push towards Warieu Pass. Ras Mulugeta Yeggazu, the Minister of War, advanced from Dessie with approximately 80,000 men to take positions on and around Amba Aradam to the right of Ras Seyoum. Amba Aradam was a steep sided, flat topped mountain directly in the way of an Italian advance on Addis Ababa. The four commanders had approximately 190,000 men facing the Italians. Ras Imru and his Army of Shire were on the Ethiopian left. Ras Seyoum and his Army of Tigre and Ras Kassa and his Army of Beghemder were the Ethiopian centre. Ras Mulugeta and his "Army of the Center" (Mahel Sefari) were on the Ethiopian right.
A force of 1,000 Ethiopians crossed the Tekeze river and advanced toward the Dembeguina Pass (Inda Aba Guna or Indabaguna pass). The Italian commander, Major Criniti, commanded a force of 1,000 Eritrean infantry supported by L3 tanks. When the Ethiopians attacked, the Italian force fell back to the pass, only to discover that 2,000 Ethiopian soldiers were already there and Criniti's force was encircled. In the first Ethiopian attack, two Italian officers were killed and Criniti was wounded. The Italians tried to break out using their L3 tanks but the rough terrain immobilised the vehicles. The Ethiopians killed the infantry, then rushed the tanks and killed their two-man crews. Italian forces organised a relief column made up of tanks and infantry to relieve Critini but it was ambushed en route. Ethiopians on the high ground rolled boulders in front of and behind several of the tanks, to immobilise them, picked off the Eritrean infantry and swarmed the tanks. The other tanks were immobilised by the terrain, unable to advance further and two were set on fire. Critini managed to break-out in a bayonet charge and half escaped; Italian casualties were 31 Italians and 370 Askari killed and five Italians taken prisoner; Ethiopian casualties were estimated by the Italians to be 500, which was probably greatly exaggerated.
The ambitious Ethiopian plan called for Ras Kassa and Ras Seyoum to split the Italian army in two and isolate the Italian I Corps and III Corps in Mekele. Ras Mulugeta would then descend from Amba Aradam and crush both corps. According to this plan, after Ras Imru retook Adwa, he was to invade Eritrea. In November, the League of Nations condemned Italy's aggression and imposed economic sanctions. This excluded oil, however, an indispensable raw material for the conduct of any modern military campaign, and this favoured Italy. The Ethiopian offensive was defeated by the Italian superiority in modern weapons like machine guns and heavy artillery. The Ethiopians were very poorly armed, with few machine guns, their troops mainly armed with swords and spears. Having spent a decade accumulating poison gas in East Africa, Mussolini gave Badoglio authority to resort to Schrecklichkeit (frightfulness), which included destroying villages and using gas (OC 23/06, 28 December 1935), Mussolini was even prepared to resort to bacteriological warfare as long as these methods could be kept quiet. Some Italians objected when they found out but the practices were kept secret, the government issuing denials or spurious stories blaming the Ethiopians.[c]
Second Italian advance
As the progress of the Christmas Offensive slowed, Italian plans to renew the advance on the northern front began Mussolini had given permission to use poison gas (but not mustard gas) and Badoglio received the Italian III Corps and the Italian IV Corps in Eritrea during early 1936. On 20 January, the Italians resumed their northern offensive at the First Battle of Tembien (20 to 24 January) in the broken terrain between the Warieu Pass and Makale. The forces of Ras Kassa were defeated, the Italians using phosgene gas and suffering 1,082 casualties against 8,000 Ethiopian casualties according to an Ethiopian wireless message intercepted by the Italians.
[It]...was at the time when the operations for the encircling of Makale were taking place that the Italian command, fearing a rout, followed the procedure which it is now my duty to denounce to the world. Special sprayers were installed on board aircraft so that they could vaporize, over vast areas of territory, a fine, death-dealing rain. Groups of nine, fifteen, eighteen aircraft followed one another so that the fog issuing from them formed a continuous sheet. It was thus that, as from the end of January 1936, soldiers, women, children, cattle, rivers, lakes, and pastures were drenched continually with this deadly rain. To systematically kill all living creatures, to more surely poison waters and pastures, the Italian command made its aircraft pass over and over again. That was its chief method of warfare.— Selassie
From 10 to 19 February, the Italians captured Amba Aradam and destroyed Ras Mulugeta's army in the Battle of Amba Aradam (Battle of Enderta). The Ethiopians suffered massive losses and poison gas destroyed a small part of Ras Mulugeta's army, according to the Ethiopians. During the slaughter following the attempted withdrawal of his army, both Ras Mulugeta and his son were killed. The Italians lost 800 killed and wounded while the Ethiopians lost 6,000 killed and 12,000 wounded. From 27 to 29 February, the armies of Ras Kassa and Ras Seyoum were destroyed at the Second Battle of Tembien. Ethiopians again argued that poison gas played a role in the destruction of the withdrawing armies. In early March, the army of Ras Imru was attacked, bombed and defeated in what was known as the Battle of Shire. In the battles of Amba Aradam, Tembien and Shire, the Italians suffered about 2,600 casualties and the Ethiopians about 15,000; Italian casualties at the Battle of Shire being 969 men. The Italian victories stripped the Ethiopian defences on the northern front, Tigré province had fallen most of the Ethiopian survivors returned home or took refuge in the countryside and only the army guarding Addis Ababa stood between the Italians and the rest of the country.
On 31 March 1936 at the Battle of Maychew, the Italians defeated an Ethiopian counter-offensive by the main Ethiopian army commanded by Selassie. The Ethiopians launched near non-stop attacks on the Italian and Eritrean defenders but could not overcome the well-prepared Italian defences. When the exhausted Ethiopians withdrew, the Italians counter-attacked. The Regia Aeronautica attacked the survivors at Lake Ashangi with mustard gas. The Italian troops had 400 casualties, the Eritreans 874 and the Ethiopians suffered 8,900 casualties from 31,000 men present according to an Italian estimate. On 4 April, Selassie looked with despair upon the horrific sight of the dead bodies of his army ringing the poisoned lake. Following the battle, Ethiopian soldiers began to employ guerrilla tactics against the Italians, initiating a trend of resistance that would transform into the Patriot/Arbegnoch movement. They were joined by local residents who operated independently near their own homes. Early activities included stealing war materials, rolling boulders off cliffs at passing convoys, kidnapping messengers, cutting telephone lines, setting fire to administrative offices and fuel and ammunition dumps, and killing collaborators. As disruption increased, the Italians were forced to redeploy more troops to Tigray, away from the campaign further south.
On 3 October 1935, Graziani implemented the Milan Plan to remove Ethiopian forces from various frontier posts and to test the reaction to a series of probes all along the southern front. While incessant rains worked to hinder the plan, within three weeks the Somali villages of Kelafo, Dagnerai, Gerlogubi and Gorahai in Ogaden were in Italian hands. Late in the year, Ras Desta Damtu assembled up his army in the area around Negele Borana, to advance on Dolo and invade Italian Somaliland. Between 12 and 16 January 1936, the Italians defeated the Ethiopians at the Battle of Genale Doria. The Regia Aeronautica destroyed the army of Ras Desta, Ethiopians claiming that poison gas was used.
After a lull in February 1936, the Italians in the south prepared an advance towards the city of Harar. On 22 March, the Regia Aeronautica bombed Harar and Jijiga, reducing them to ruins even though Harar had been declared an "open city". On 14 April, Graziani launched his attack against Ras Nasibu Emmanual to defeat the last Ethiopian army in the field at the Battle of the Ogaden. The Ethiopians were drawn up behind a defensive line that was termed the "Hindenburg Wall", designed by the chief of staff of Ras Nasibu, and Wehib Pasha, a seasoned ex-Ottoman commander. After ten days, the last Ethiopian army had disintegrated; 2,000 Italian soldiers and 5,000 Ethiopian soldiers were killed or wounded.
Fall of Addis Ababa
On 26 April 1936, Badoglio began the "March of the Iron Will" from Dessie to Addis Ababa, an advance with a mechanised column against slight Ethiopian resistance. Meanwhile, Selassie conducted a disorganized retreat towards the capital. There, government officials operated without leadership, unable to contact the Emperor and unsure of his whereabouts. Realizing that Addis Ababa would soon fall to the Italians, Ethiopian administrators met to discuss a possible evacuation of the government to the west. After several days, they decided that they should relocate to Gore, though actual preparations for their departure were postponed. Addis Ababa became crowded with retreating soldiers from the front while its foreign residents sought refuge at various European legations.
Selassie reached the capital on 30 April. That day his Council of Ministers resolved that the city should be defended and a retreat to Gore conducted only as a last resort. The following day an ad hoc council of Ethiopian nobles convened to reexamine the decision, where Ras Aberra Kassa suggested that the Emperor should go to Geneva to appeal to the League of Nations for assistance before returning to lead resistance against the Italians. The view was subsequently adopted by Selassie and preparations were made for his departure. On 2 May, Selassie boarded a train from Addis Ababa to Djibouti, with the gold of the Ethiopian Central Bank. From there he fled to the United Kingdom, with the tacit acquiescence of the Italians who could have bombed his train, into exile (Mussolini had refused a request from Graziani to mount such an attack). Before he departed, Selassie ordered that the government of Ethiopia be moved to Gore and directed the mayor of Addis Ababa to maintain order in the city until the Italians' arrival. Imru Haile Selassie was appointed as Prince Regent during his absence. The city police, under Abebe Aregai and the remainder of the Imperial Guard did their utmost to restrain a growing crowd but rioters rampaged throughout the city, looting and setting fire to shops owned by Europeans. Most of the violence occurred between looters, fighting over the spoils and by 5 May, much of the city lay in ruins. At 04:00 Badoglio drove into the city at the head of 1,600 lorries and patrols of Italian tanks, troops and Carabinieri were sent to occupy tactically valuable areas in the city, as the remaining inhabitants watched sullenly.
After the occupation of Addis Ababa, most of Ethiopia was still unoccupied and the fighting continued for another three years, although censorship kept this from the Italian public. Ethiopian commanders withdrew to nearby areas to regroup; Abebe Aregai went to Ankober, Balcha Safo to Gurage, Zewdu Asfaw to Mulo, Blatta Takale Wolde Hawariat to Limmu and the Kassa brothers (Aberra, Wondosson and Asfawossen) to Selale. Haile Mariam conducted hit-and-run attacks around the capital. About 10,000 troops remaining under the command of Aberra Kassa had orders from Selassie to continue resistance. On 21 June Kassa held a meeting with Bishop Abune Petros and several other Patriot leaders at Debre Libanos, about 70 km (43 mi) north of Addis Ababa. Plans were made to storm parts of the capital but a lack of transport and radio equipment prevented a co-ordinated attack. The exiled government in Gore was never able to provide any meaningful leadership to the Patriots or remaining military formations but sporadic resistance by independent groups persisted around the capital. On the night 26 June, members of the Black Lions organization destroyed three Italian aircraft in Nekemte and killed twelve Italian officials, including Air Marshal Vincenzo Magliocco after the Italians had sent the party to parley with the local populace. Graziani ordered the town to be bombed in retaliation for the killings (Magliocco was his deputy). Local hostility forced out the Patriots and Desta Damtew, commander of the southern Patriots, withdrew his troops to Arbegona. Surrounded by Italian forces, they retreated to Butajira, where they were eventually defeated. An estimated 4,000 Patriots were reportedly killed in both engagements, 1,600 of whom—including Damtew—after being taken prisoner.
In 1968, Colonel A. J. Barker, apparently using statistics from the fascist regime, wrote that from 1 January 1935 to 31 May 1936, the Italian army and Blackshirt units lost 1,148 men killed, 125 men died of wounds and thirty-one missing; about 1,593 Eritrean troops and 453 civilian workmen were also killed, a total of 3,319 casualties. In a 1978 publication, Alberto Sbacchi wrote that these official Italian casualty figures of about 3,000 were an underestimate. Sbacchi calculated that by May 1936, 10,000 Italian soldiers had been killed and 44,000 had been wounded; from 1936 to 1940, there an additional 9,555 men killed and 144,000 sick and wounded. Total Italian casualties from 1935 to 1940 according to these calculations were about 208,000 killed or wounded. Based on 1,911 Italians killed in the first six months of 1940, Ministry of Africa figures for 6 May 1936 to 10 June 1940 are 8,284 men killed, which Sbacchi considered to be fairly accurate. In Legacy of Bitterness: Ethiopia and Fascist Italy, 1935–1941 (1997), Sbacchi wrote that the official total of Italian casualties was unreliable, because the regime desired to underestimate Italian losses.
There was a lack of reliable statistics because confusion during the invasion made it difficult to keep accurate records and the Statistical Bulletin had ceased to provide data on fatalities. Field hospital records had been destroyed, inventories dispersed, individual deaths were not reported and bodies were not repatriated to Italy. Unpublished reports listed 3,694 military and civilian fatalities among 44,000 casualties and from May 1936 to June 1940, there were another 12,248 military and civilian fatalities in 144,000 casualties. In a memorandum submitted to the Paris conference in 1946, the Ethiopian government enumerated 275,000 men killed in action, 78,500 Patriots killed in hostilities during the occupation from 1936–1941, 17,800 women and children killed by bombing, 30,000 people killed in the massacre of February 1937, 35,000 people died in concentration camps, 24,000 Patriots killed in obedience to orders from summary courts, 300,000 people died after their villages had been destroyed, a total of 760,300 deaths.
Public and international reaction
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King-Emperor Victor Emmanuel III waited for the crowds in the Quirinal Palace on Quirinal Hill. Months earlier, when the Ethiopian adventure first started, he told a friend: "If we win, I shall be King of Abyssinia. If we lose, I shall be King of Italy." "Imperatore! Imperatore! Salute Imperatore!" ("Emperor! Emperor! Salute the Emperor!") chanted the crowd when Victor Emmanuel, in full Army uniform, showed himself on a balcony. The first Emperor in Rome in hundreds of years raised his withered hand to the visor of his cap and said nothing. Elena, his Queen-Empress, did not appear. She was in bed with a broken toe from falling off a stepladder in her library while reaching for a book.
While the Italian King-Emperor was silent, Mussolini was not; when he announced victory from the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia in Rome, the Italian population was jubilant.
From his balcony, Mussolini proclaimed
During the thirty centuries of our history, Italy has known many solemn and memorable moments – this is unquestionably one of the most solemn, the most memorable. People of Italy, people of the world, peace has been restored.
The crowds would not let him go—ten times they recalled Mussolini to the balcony and cheered and waved while the boys of various Fascist youth organisations sang the newly composed 'Hymn of the Empire' (Inno dell'impero)."
Four days later, the same scene was repeated when Mussolini announced
"At last Italy has her empire." And he then added: "The Italian people have created an empire with their blood. They will fertilize it with their work. They will defend it against anyone with their weapons. Will you be worthy of it?"— Barker
The consequences of the victory in Ethiopia not obvious until later; Mussolini had challenged the nations of the League, had become briefly the centre of world attention and had defied British hegemony. Many sceptics in Italy were relieved and Fascism reached the apogee of its popularity; the shouts of military victory drowned out grumbles about the economy.
While the Italian people were rejoicing in Rome, Haile Selassie sailed from Djibouti on 4 May, he had sailed from Djibouti in the British cruiser HMS Enterprise. From Mandatory Palestine Selassie sailed to Gibraltar en route for Britain. While in Jerusalem, Haile Selassie sent a telegram to the League of Nations,
We have decided to bring to an end the most unequal, most unjust, most barbarous war of our age, and have chosen the road to exile in order that our people will not be exterminated and in order to consecrate ourselves wholly and in peace to the preservation of our empire's independence... we now demand that the League of Nations should continue its efforts to secure respect for the covenant, and that it should decide not to recognize territorial extensions, or the exercise of an assumed sovereignty, resulting from the illegal recourse to armed force and to numerous other violations of international agreements.
The Ethiopian Emperor's telegram caused several nations temporarily to defer recognition of the Italian conquest.
On 30 June, Selassie spoke at the League of Nations and was introduced by the President of the Assembly as "His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of Ethiopia" ("Sa Majesté Imperiale, l'Empereur d'Ethiopie"). A group of jeering Italian journalists began yelling insults and had to be ejected before he could speak. The Romanian chairman, Nicolae Titulescu, jumped to his feet and shouted "Show the savages the door!" ("A la porte les sauvages!"). Selassie denounced Italian aggression and criticised the world community for standing by. At the conclusion of his speech, which appeared on newsreels throughout the world, he said "It is us today. It will be you tomorrow". France appeased Italy because it could not afford to risk an alliance between Italy and Germany; Britain decided its military weakness meant it had to follow France's lead. Selassie's resolution to the League to deny recognition of the Italian conquest was defeated and he was denied a loan to finance a resistance movement. On 4 July 1936, the League voted to end the sanctions imposed against Italy in November 1935 and by 15 July, the sanctions were at an end.[d]
On 18 November 1936, the Italian Empire was recognised by the Empire of Japan and Italy recognised the Japanese occupation of Manchuria; The Stresa Front was over. Hitler had supplied the Ethiopians with 16,000 rifles and 600 machine guns in the hope that Italy would be weakened when he moved against Austria. By contrast, France and Britain recognised Italian control over Ethiopia in 1938. Mexico was the only country to strongly condemn Italy's sovereignty over Ethiopia, respecting Ethiopian independence throughout. Mexico was amongst only six nations in 1937 which did not recognise the Italian occupation, along with China, New Zealand, the Soviet Union, the Republic of Spain and the United States. Three years later, only the USSR officially recognised Selassie and the United States government considered recognising the Italian Empire with Ethiopia included. The invasion of Ethiopia and its general condemnation by Western democracies isolated Mussolini and Fascist Italy. From 1936 to 1939, Mussolini and Hitler joined forces in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. In April 1939, Mussolini launched the Italian invasion of Albania. In May, Italy and Nazi Germany joined together in the Pact of Steel. In September 1940, both nations signed the Tripartite Pact along with the Empire of Japan.
Ethiopian troops used Dum-Dum bullets, which had been banned by declaration IV, 3 of the Hague Convention, 1899 and began mutilating captured Eritrean Askari (often with castration) in the first weeks of war. After December, the Ethiopians began to torture Italians, who retaliated with the use of poison gas. Italian military forces disposed of hundreds of tons of gas which had been transported to East Africa in the decade before the war. The Italian army used 300–500 t (300–490 long tons) of mustard gas, despite being a signatory to the 1925 Geneva Protocol, justified by the deaths of Minniti and his observer in the Ogaden. The use of gas was authorised by Mussolini,
Rome, October 27, 1935. To His Excellency Graziani. The use of gas as an ultima ratio to overwhelm enemy resistance and in case of counter-attack is authorized. Mussolini.
Rome, December 28, 1935. To His Excellency Badoglio. Given the enemy system I have authorized Your Excellency the use even on a vast scale of any gas and flamethrowers. Mussolini.
Military and civilian targets were gas bombed and on 30 December Red Cross unit was bombed at Dolo and an Egyptian ambulance was attacked at Bulale; a few days later an Egyptian medical unit was bombed at Daggah Bur. There were more attacks in January and February, then on 4 March 1936, a British Red Cross camp near Quoram appeared to be subject to the most deliberate attack of all, when low-flying Italian aircraft crews could not have missed the big Red Cross signs. Mustard gas was also sprayed from above on Ethiopian combatants and villages. The Italians tried to keep their resort to chemical warfare secret but were exposed by the International Red Cross and many foreign observers. The Italians claimed that at least 19 bombardments of Red Cross tents "posted in the areas of military encampment of the Ethiopian resistance", had been "erroneous".
The Italians attempted to justify their use of chemical weapons by citing the exception to the Geneva Protocol restrictions that referenced acceptable use for reprisal against illegal acts of war. They stated that the Ethiopians had tortured or killed their prisoners and wounded soldiers.— Smart
The Italians delivered poison gas by artillery canisters and in bombs dropped by the Regia Aeronautica. Though poorly equipped, the Ethiopians had achieved some success against modern weaponry but had no defence against the "terrible rain that burned and killed". Anthony Mockler wrote that the effect mustard gas in battle was negligible and in 1959, D. K. Clark wrote that the US Major Norman Fiske
....thought the Italians were clearly superior and that victory for them was assured no matter what. The use of chemical agents in the war was nothing more than an experiment. He concluded "From my own observations and from talking with [Italian] junior officers and soldiers I have concluded that gas was not used extensively in the African campaign and that its use had little if any effect on the outcome".— D. K. Clark
On 10 May 1936, in Ethiopia Italian troops from the northern front and from the southern front met at Dire Dawa. The Italians found the recently released Ethiopian Ras, Hailu Tekle Haymanot, who boarded a train back to Addis Ababa and approached the Italian invaders in submission. Selassie fell back to Gore in southern Ethiopia to reorganise and continue to resist the Italians. In early June, Rome promulgated a constitution for Africa Orientale Italiana (AOI, Italian East Africa) bringing Ethiopia, Eritrea and Italian Somaliland together into an administrative unit of six provinces. Badoglio became the first Viceroy and Governor General but on 11 June, he was replaced by Marshal Graziani. In July, Ethiopian forces attacked Addis Ababa and were routed. Numerous members of Ethiopian royalty were taken prisoner and others were executed soon after they surrendered, including three sons of Ras Kassa. On 19 December, Wondosson Kassa was executed near Debre Zebit and on 21 December, Aberra Kassa and Asfawossen Kassa were executed in Fikke. In late 1936, after the Italians tracked him down in Gurage, Dejazmach Balcha Safo was killed resisting to the end. On 19 December, Selassie surrendered at the Gojeb river.
After the end of the rainy season, an Italian column left Addis Ababa in September and occupied Gore a month later. The forces of Ras Imru were trapped between the Italians and the Sudan border and Imru surrendered on 17 December. Imru was flown to Italy and imprisoned on the Island of Ponza, while the rest of the Ethiopian prisoners taken in the war were dispersed in camps in East Africa and Italy. A second column went south-west to attack Ras Desta and the Dejasmatch Gabre Mariam who had assembled military forces in the Great Lakes district. The Ethiopians were defeated on 16 December and by January, the Italians had established a measure of control over the provinces of Jimma, Kafa and Arusi. After another two months, the remaining Ethiopians were surrounded and fought on, rather than surrender. Mariam was killed and Desta taken prisoner and killed, his head being displayed in Jimma.
Mussolini gave orders that,
Rome, July 8, 1936. To His Excellency Graziani. I have authorized once again Your Excellency to begin and systematically conduct a politics of terror and extermination of the rebels and the complicit population. Without the lex talionis one cannot cure the infection in time. Await confirmation. Mussolini.page needed
Most of the repression of the population was carried out by colonial troops (mostly from Eritrea) of the Italians who, according to the Ethiopians, instituted forced labour camps, installed public gallows, killed hostages and mutilated the corpses of their enemies. Many Italian troops had themselves photographed next to cadavers hanging from the gallows or standing with chests full of detached heads.pages needed
In his Pastoral Letter of the 19th October , the Bishop of Udine [Italy] wrote, 'It is neither timely nor fitting for us to pronounce on the rights and wrongs of the case. Our duty as Italians, and still more as Christians is to contribute to the success of our arms.' The Bishop of Padua wrote on the 21st October, 'In the difficult hours through which we are passing, we ask you to have faith in our statesmen and armed forces.' On the 24th October, the Bishop of Cremona consecrated a number of regimental flags and said 'The blessing of God be upon these soldiers who, on African soil, will conquer new and fertile lands for the Italian genius, thereby bringing to them Roman and Christian culture. May Italy stand once again as the Christian mentor to the whole world.'
Pope Pius XI had condemned totalitarianism in the encyclical Non abbiamo bisogno and made gestures to the Fascist regime, presenting the queen of Italy with the Golden Rose when she was made Empress of Ethiopia but despite great pressure from Mussolini refused to bless Italian armies. Pius may have refused to give absolute support to the regime but also failed to prevent Italian bishops doing it in his stead. This coincided with Mussolini's increasing anti-clericalism and he stated that "the Papacy was a malignant tumour in the body of Italy and must 'be rooted out once and for all', because there was no room in Rome for both the Pope and [himself]".
In December, Graziani declared the country to be pacified and under Italian control. Ethiopian resistance continued and the Italian occupation was marked by guerilla campaigns against the Italians and Italian reprisals, including mustard gas attacks against rebels and the summary execution of prisoners. On 19 February 1937, during a public ceremony at the Viceregal Palace in Addis Ababa (the former Imperial residence), Abraha Deboch and Moges Asgedom attempted to kill Graziani with hand grenades. Italian security guard fired indiscriminately into the crowd and killed about 300 civilian onlookers; during the night, Blackshirts went through the Ethiopian quarter and murdered people with swords, knives, rifles and bombs. When the massacre ended on 22 February, thousands of Ethiopians had been killed. Over the next few weeks, the Italian colonial authorities executed about 30,000 civilians in reprisal. About half of the younger, educated Ethiopian population were killed in what became known as Yekatit 12 (the Ethiopian calendar equivalent of 19 February).page needed In December, Ras Desta Damtew had been forced out of his base of operations in Irgalem and was executed on 24 February; Dejazmach Beyene Merid who had just joined forces with him was also killed.citation needed
On 21 December 1937, Rome appointed Amedeo, 3rd Duke of Aosta, as the new Viceroy and Governor General of AOI with instructions to take a more conciliatory line. Aosta instituted public works projects including 3,200 km (2,000 mi) of new paved roadways, 25 hospitals, 14 hotels, dozens of post offices, telephone exchanges, aqueducts, schools and shops. The Italians decreed miscegenation to be illegal. Racial separation, including residential segregation, was enforced as thoroughly as possible and the Italians showed favouritism to non-Christian groups. To isolate the dominant Amhara rulers of Ethiopia, who supported Selassie, the Italians granted the Oromos, the Somalis and other Muslims, many of whom had supported the invasion, autonomy and rights. The Italians also definitively abolished slavery and abrogated feudal laws that had been upheld by the Amharas. Early in 1938, a revolt broke out in Gojjam, led by the Committee of Unity and Collaboration, made up of some of the young, educated elite who had escaped reprisals after the assassination attempt on Graziani. The general oversaw another wave of reprisals and had all Ethiopians in administrative jobs murdered, some by being thrown from aircraft, after being taken on board under the pretext of visiting the King in Rome, leading to the saying "He went to Rome".
Britain and France recognised Italian sovereignty over Ethiopia by the Anglo-Italian Agreements of 1938. The army of occupation had 150,000 men but was spread thinly; by 1941 the garrison had been increased to 250,000 soldiers, including 75,000 Italian civilians. The former police chief of Addis Ababa, Abebe Aregai, was the most successful leader of the Ethiopian guerrilla movement after 1937, using units of fifty men. On 11 December, the League of Nations voted to condemn Italy and Mussolini withdrew from the League. Along with world condemnation, the occupation was expensive, the budget for AOI from 1936 to 1937 required 19,136 billion lire for infrastructure, when the annual revenue of Italy was only 18,581 billion lire. In 1939 Ras Sejum Mangascià, Ras Ghetacciù Abaté and Ras Kebbedé Guebret submitted to the Italian Empire and guerilla warfare petered out. In early 1940, the last area of guerilla activity was around lake Tana and the southern Gojjam, under the leadership of the degiac Mangascià Giamberè and Belay Zelleke.
East African campaign, 1940–1941
While in exile in England, Haile Selassie had sought the support of the Western democracies for his cause but had little success until the Second World War began. On 10 June 1940, Mussolini declared war on France and Britain and attacked British and Commonwealth forces in Egypt, Sudan, Kenya and British Somaliland. In August 1940, the Italian conquest of British Somaliland was completed. The British and Selassie incited Ethiopian and other local forces to join a campaign to dislodge the Italians from Ethiopia. Selassie went to Khartoum to establish closer liaison with the British and resistance forces within Ethiopia. On 18 January 1941, Selassie crossed the border into Ethiopia near the village of Um Iddla and two days later rendezvoused with Gideon Force. on 5 May, Selassie and an army of Ethiopian Free Forces entered Addis Ababa. After the Italian defeat, the Italian guerrilla war in Ethiopia was carried out by remnants of Italian troops and their allies, which lasted until the Armistice between Italy and Allied armed forces in September 1943.
Peace treaty, 1947
The treaty signed in Paris by the Italian Republic (Repubblica Italiana) and the victorious powers of World War II on 10 February 1947, included formal Italian recognition of Ethiopian independence and an agreement to pay $25,000,000 in reparations. Ethiopia became independent again and Selassie was restored as its leader. Ethiopia presented a bill to the Economic Commission for Italy of £184,746,023 for damages inflicted during the course of the Italian occupation. The list included the destruction of 2,000 churches, 535,000 houses, the slaughter or theft of 5,000,000 cattle, 7,000,000 sheep and goats, 1,000,000 horses and mules and 700,000 camels.
- First Italo-Ethiopian War
- Timeline of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War
- Paris Peace Treaties, 1947
- Censorship in Italy
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- Seven percent of Ethiopia's population was killed in war crimes against civilians or several hundreds of thousands.
- Ethiopian emperors since Tewodros II had issued "superficial" proclamations to end slavery but these had made little difference.
- Years later, Badoglio admitted to using gas once and a former government minister said that three gas bombs had been dropped but these admissions came after copious amounts of records had been published showing that gas had been used to a much grater extent.
- In 1976, Baer wrote that Selassie's resolution requesting loans was defeated by a vote of 23 against, 25 abstentions and 1 vote for (from Ethiopia). In the sanctions vote, 44 delegates approved the ending of sanctions, 4 abstained and 1 (Ethiopian) delegate voted for retention.
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- Speech to the League of Nations, June 1936 (full text)
- British newsreel footage of Haile Selassie's address to the League of Nations
- Regio Esercito: La Campagna d'Etiopia
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- Mussolini's Invasion and the Italian Occupation
- Mussolini's Ethiopia Campaign
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- The Day the Angel Cried
- The Emperor Leaves Ethiopia
- Ascari: I Leoni di Eritrea/Ascari: The Lions of Eritrea. Second Italo-Abyssinian war. Eritrea colonial history, Eritrean ascari pictures/photos galleries and videos, historical atlas...
- Ross, F. 1937. The Strategical Conduct of the Campaign and supply and Evacuation Programmes
- (in Italian) on YouTube
- Songs of 2nd Italo-Abyssinian War