Ethiopia (Abyssinia) is an ancient African state that arose in the 12th century and at the height of its greatness included a number of the current states of East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. This is the only country in Africa that not only retained its independence during the period of colonial expansion of the European powers, but also managed to inflict a number of serious defeats on them. So, Ethiopia withstood the onslaught of Portugal, Egypt and Sudan, Great Britain, and at the end of the 19th century, Italy.
Cause of the First Italo-Ethiopian War of 1895-1896. was the desire of Italy to establish a protectorate over this country. The Negus of Ethiopia, Menelik II, realizing that the conflict could not be resolved through diplomacy, went to break off relations. The fighting of the 1st Italo-Ethiopian War began in March 1895, when the Italians occupied Addi Grat, by October they controlled the entire provinceTigre. However, in the winter of 1895-1896. a turning point occurred in the hostilities - on December 7, 1895, near the city of Amba-Alagi, the Ethiopian troops destroyed several enemy infantry battalions, on January 21, 1896, the Italians surrendered the Mekele fortress.
After the occupation of Mekele, Menelik initiated peace negotiations that should establish a border along the Marebu and Belez rivers, as well as conclude a more favorable union treaty. The negotiations were interrupted by the attack of the corps of General Baratieri on Adua - poorly organized, it suffered a crushing defeat. The Italians lost up to 11,000 people killed, over 3,500 wounded, all artillery and many other weapons and military equipment.
Success in the First Italo-Ethiopian War of 1895-1896, which we briefly discuss in the article, largely determined the successful diplomatic move of Negus Menelik - the establishment of friendly relations with the Russian Empire, which assisted in the modernization of the armed forces of Ethiopia, which was due to both political - to stop British expansion in the region, and religious imperatives - the state religion of Ethiopia is Orthodoxy. As a result, on October 26, 1896, an agreement was signed in the capital of the victorious country, according to the provisions of which Italy recognized the independence of Ethiopia and paid indemnity to the winners - "tributaries of Menelik" became the subject of ridicule throughout Europe.
The background of the second war
The reason for the Second Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935-1936. actually became imperialist ambitionsMussolini, who dreamed of the renaissance of the Roman Empire, as a result, the fascist party not only preserved, but also theoretically developed the colonial program. Now Rome planned to expand its possessions in Africa from Libya to Cameroon, and Ethiopia was planned to be the first to be included in the new empire. The war with the last independent state of the dark continent did not threaten to aggravate relations with the European powers, in addition, the backward army of Ethiopia was not perceived as a serious adversary.
The occupation of Ethiopia made it possible to unite the Italian colonies in East Africa, forming an impressive foothold from which it was possible to threaten British and French sea, rail and air communications in the region, in addition, this allowed, under favorable circumstances, to begin expansion to the British north of the continent. It is also worth noting the economic importance of this country, potentially capable of becoming a market for Italian products, in addition, part of the Italian poor could be resettled here, one cannot ignore the desire of the Italian political and military establishment to wash away the shame of the defeat of 1896.
Diplomatic training for the Second Italo-Ethiopian War
Foreign political conjuncture also developed in favor of the militaristic plans of the Italian dictator - although the UK could not welcome the rise of Italy in Africa, but its government was already preparing to start a new global war. In order to create another hotbed of it, Ethiopia could be “surrendered” in order to receivepolitical dividends in the future. As a result, the opposition of the British and French governments did not go beyond diplomatic declarations. This position was shared by the US government, which declared its neutrality and banned the supply of weapons to both sides - since Italy had its own military industry, the actions of the US Congress hit mainly Ethiopia. Mussolini's German allies were also satisfied with his plans - they allowed the world community to be distracted from the planned Anschluss of Austria and the militarization of Germany, and also for some time ensured Italy's non-participation in the pre-war division of the "European pie".
The only country that vigorously defended Ethiopia was the USSR, but the proposals of the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs Litvinov on a complete blockade of the aggressor country in the League of Nations did not pass, it authorized only partial economic sanctions. They were not joined by Italy's allies - Austria, Hungary, Germany, and also the United States - it can be stated that the leading members of the League of Nations were indifferent to the Italian aggression in Ethiopia or even supported it economically.
According to Mussolini himself, Italy has been preparing for this war since 1925, the fascist government waged an information campaign against the government of Ethiopia. Accusing the negus Haile Selassie I of the slave trade, he demanded that the country be excluded from the League of Nations and, within the framework of Western traditions, give Italy exclusive powers to "establish order in Abyssinia." At the same time, the Italian regime did not at all seek to involve intermediaries to resolve disputes.in Italian-Ethiopian relations.
Infrastructural and technical preparation for war
Since 1932, preparations for war have been actively carried out, military infrastructure was being built in the Italian dominions of Eritrea, Somalia and Libya, naval and air bases were being built and reconstructed, weapons depots, equipment and fuel and lubricants were being laid, and communications were being laid. 155 transport ships with a total displacement of about 1,250,000 tons were to provide for the actions of the Italian expeditionary army. Italy increased its purchases of weapons, aircraft, engines, spare parts and various raw materials from the United States, Renault tanks were purchased from France. Having carried out a number of local military conscriptions and the mobilization of civilian specialists, Italy began the transfer of this contingent to its African colonies. In the three years leading up to the invasion, some 1,300,000 military and civilian personnel were transported.
Mussolini's provocations and the inaction of the League of Nations
When everything was ready for the 2nd Italo-Ethiopian war, Mussolini set about provoking military clashes on the Ethiopian borders in order to have an excuse to fulfill the "civilizing mission". On December 5, 1934, as a result of one of the provocations, a serious clash of Italian and Ethiopian troops took place. Negus Selassie appealed to the League of Nations with a request for protection from fascist aggression, but all the activities of the member countries of the organization were reduced to the creation of a commission of leading European powers, which had as its goal the study of problems in relations between the two countries anddevelopment of an algorithm for the peaceful resolution of the conflict. Such a passive position of world leaders once again demonstrated to Mussolini that no one intends to actively interfere in the African affairs of Italy.
Dispositions of the parties and the start of hostilities
As a result, on October 3, 1935, without a declaration of war, the Italian armed forces attacked the troops of Ethiopia. The main blow was delivered in the northern direction along the so-called imperial road - a dirt road from Eritrea to Addis Ababa. Up to 2/3 of the entire Italian invasion army under the command of Marshal de Bono took part in the attack on the Ethiopian capital. The troops of General Graziani acted in the southern direction, this secondary offensive was intended only to delay the Ethiopian troops from the decisive hostilities in the north of the country. The central direction - through the Danakil desert to Dessie - was supposed to protect the flanks and support the northern front during the assault on Addis Ababa. In total, the invasion force numbered up to 400,000 people, they were armed with 6,000 machine guns, 700 guns, 150 tankettes and the same number of aircraft.
On the very first day of the enemy invasion, the Negus Haile Selassie issued a decree on general mobilization - the number of the Ethiopian army was about 350,000 people, but hardly half of them had full military training. The military rulers of the race, who commanded this medieval army, practically did not submit to the authority of the emperor and sought only to preserve their "patrimonial estates". Artillery was represented by two hundredoutdated guns, anti-aircraft guns of various calibers, there were up to fifty barrels. There was practically no military equipment. The supply of the army was organized in a very primitive way - for example, the transportation of equipment and ammunition was the responsibility of slaves or even the wives of military personnel. However, to the surprise of the whole world, the Italians could not easily take revenge for their defeat in the first war.
The most combat-ready Ethiopian troops under the command of Ras Seyum were stationed near the city of Adua. The troops of Ras Guksa were supposed to cover the northern direction, holding Makkale, the capital of the northern province of Tigre. They were to be assisted by the troops of the Burru race. The southern direction was covered by the troops of the Nesibu and Desta races.
In the very first days of the invasion, under the pressure of technically superior fascist troops, the Ras Seyuma group was forced to leave the city. This was also due to the betrayal of Ras Guks, who was primitively bribed by the enemy and went over to the side of the Italians. As a result, the line of defense in the main direction of the offensive of the troops of Marshal de Bono was seriously weakened - the Ethiopian command tried to rectify the situation by transferring: near Makkale the troops of the Mulugety race, in the Aksum region - the troops of the Imru race, in the area south of Adua - parts of the Kassa race from Gondar. These troops acted inconsistently, communication was one of the weakest points of the Ethiopian army, but the mountainous terrain, combined with effective guerrilla tactics, determined some success in their actions.
According to military literature, the Second Italo-Ethiopian War began to drag on, for six months the Italians advanced an average of 100 kilometers from the border, while they constantly suffered losses from ambushes and sabotage raids of the enemy - this situation was observed on all sectors of the front. It is also worth noting that the war exposed all the shortcomings of the Italian army - in particular, the high level of corruption of officials and poor supply of troops. The news of the failures from the Abyssinian front infuriated the fascist dictator, who demanded decisive action from Marshal de Bono. However, this experienced military man, in an effort to adapt his troops to local conditions, simply ignored the directives of Rome, for which he paid with his place, when in December 1935 the troops of the Imru, Kasa and Syyum races launched a series of counterattacks, ending with the capture of the city of Abbi Addi.
It is worth noting that at the end of 1935, Great Britain and France offered the belligerents their mediation in concluding peace in accordance with the so-called Hoare-Laval plan. It was assumed that Ethiopia would cede to Italy the provinces of Ogaden, Tigre, the Danakil region, provide a number of economic benefits, and also take on the service of Italian advisers, in return Italy would have to cede the coast of Assab to Ethiopia. In fact, this was a veiled offer to the parties to withdraw from the war "saving face", it is worth noting that since it came during the period of some successes of the Ethiopian weapons, it can be assumed that the British and French in this wayoffered help to the "white brothers". The government of Haile Selassie rejected the Hoare-Laval plan as clearly unfavorable for the country, which forced Mussolini to take a number of decisive steps.
Marshal Badoglio's offensive and the use of gases
Marshal Badoglio was appointed to the post of commander of Italian troops in Ethiopia, to whom the fascist dictator personally ordered the use of chemical weapons, which was a direct violation of the Geneva Convention of 1925, signed by the Duce himself. Both the military and the civilian population of Ethiopia suffered from gas attacks, it is also worth noting the contribution to the humanitarian catastrophe of General Graziani, who directly demanded from his subordinates the destruction and destruction of everything that was possible. In pursuance of this order, the Italian artillery and air force purposefully bombarded civilian targets and hospitals.
In the last ten days of January 1936, the Italians launched a general offensive in the northern direction, they were able to separate the troops of the races of Kas, Syyum and Mulugetty for their successive defeat. The troops of the Mulugeta race were on the defensive in the Amba-Ambrad mountains. Using overwhelming technical superiority and a rebellion in the rear of the Mulughetta units of the Oromo-Azebo tribe, the Italians almost completely destroyed this group. Since the Kas and Syyum races, due to the disruption of communication between the groups of Ethiopian troops, did not learn about this in time, the Italians were able to bypass their positions from the west. The races, although shocked by the unexpected appearance of enemies on the flank, were able to withdraw theirtroops to Semien and for some time the front line stabilized.
In March 1936, in the battle of the Shire, the troops of Ras Imru were defeated, also forced to retreat to Semien. At the same time, gases were used by the Italians, since the Negus troops did not have chemical defense means, the consequences were dire. Thus, according to Haile Selasie himself, practically all the troops of the Seium race were destroyed by gases in the valley of the Takeze River. The 30,000-strong grouping of the Imru race lost up to half of its membership. If the Ethiopian warriors could somehow resist the enemy’s equipment, then they were completely powerless against weapons of mass destruction.
An attempted counteroffensive by the Ethiopian army
Obviously, the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe deprived the Ethiopian command of a sober look at the course of events, at the headquarters of the Negus they decided to abandon the maneuver war and move on to decisive action - on March 31, the offensive of the Ethiopian troops began in the area of Lake Ashenge. With the Italians only outnumbering the Ethiopians by a factor of four and having a complete technical advantage, this looks like an act of desperation.
In the early days of the offensive, the Negus troops were able to seriously push the enemy, but on April 2, using the technical factor, Badoglio's troops launched a counteroffensive, as a result of which the Ethiopian army ceased to exist as an organized force. The fighting continued only the garrisons of the cities and individual groups that switched to guerrilla tactics.
Negus Selassie's prophecy and the end of hostilities
Soon, Negus Selassie appealed to the League of Nations for help, his speech contained prophetic words that if the peoples of the world did not help Ethiopia, then they would face the same fate. However, his call to preserve the system of collective security in the world was not heeded - in this context, the subsequent excesses characteristic of the Second World War and the Holocaust look like a completely logical continuation of the humanitarian catastrophe in Ethiopia.
On April 1, 1936, the Italians captured Gondar, in the second decade of this month - Dessie, many close Negus recommended to fight at Addis Ababa, and then move on to partisan actions, but Selassie far-sightedly preferred political asylum in the UK. He appointed Ras Imru as the head of the country's government and evacuated to Djibouti, three days later Addis Ababa fell. The fall of the capital of Ethiopia on May 5, 1936, although it was the final chord of the active phase of hostilities, the guerrilla war continued - the Italians physically could not control the entire territory of the country.
Results of the Italo-Ethiopian war
Italy formally annexed Ethiopia on May 7, two days later King Victor Emmanuel III became emperor. The new colony was incorporated into Italian East Africa, prompting Mussolini to deliver yet another endless pompous speech about the greatness of the restored Italian Empire.
Italian aggression was condemned by a number of countries and international organizations. So, the Executive Committee of the Comintern did it immediately, asand Italian emigrants who left the country, which became a hotbed of fascism. The League of Nations condemned the Italian aggression on October 7, 1935, and soon economic sanctions were imposed against the Mussolini regime, which were already lifted on July 15, 1936. Ten days later, Germany recognized the annexation of Ethiopia, followed by Britain and France in 1938.
Guerrilla fighting continued in Ethiopia until May 1941, when the advance of British troops through Somalia during World War II forced the Italians to leave the country. On May 5, 1941, the Negus Haile Selassie returned to Addis Ababa. Assessing the statistics of the losses of this war, it is necessary to state the death of 757,000 Ethiopian citizens, of which 273,000 were the result of the use of chemical warfare agents. The rest died both as a result of hostilities and as a result of the repressive policy of the occupiers and the consequences of a humanitarian catastrophe. The total economic damage caused to the country, not counting the actual cost of waging the war, amounted to about 779 million US dollars.
According to official data from the statistical authorities of Italy, its losses amounted to 3906 soldiers, both Italian and colonial soldiers, in addition, 453 civilian specialists died from various causes, both combat and man-made. The total cost of combat operations, including the construction of infrastructure and communications, amounted to 40 billion lira.
Historical lessons from the Italo-Ethiopian conflict
The Italo-Ethiopian war of 1935-1936, briefly discussed in the article, actually becamedress rehearsal for the fascist aggressors, demonstrating that openly criminal methods of warfare are the norm for the imperialist invaders. Since both Italy and Ethiopia were members of the League of Nations, the war between them demonstrated the inability of this organization either to resolve disputes between the states that are members of this organization, or to effectively counteract fascist regimes.