Second Italo-Abyssinian War

Second Italo-Abyssinian War

:See also "First Italo-Ethiopian War".Infobox Military Conflict

caption=Italian troops fortify a position in Ethiopia on 8 November 1935
conflict=Second Italo–Abyssinian War, Interwar Period
date=October 1935–May 1936 (occupation until 1941)
territory=Annexation of Ethiopia by Italy, foundation of Italian East Africa
result=Italian victory


strength1= 800,000 combatants (only ~330,000 mobilized)
strength2=~500,000 combatants
casualties1=10,000 killed1 (est. May 1936)Alberto Sbacchi, "The Price of Empire: Towards an Enumeration of Italian Casualties in Ethiopia 1935-1940," in ed. Harold G. Marcus, "Ethiopianist Notes", vol. II, No. 2, p.37.]
44,000 wounded (est. May 1936) [Sbacchi, "The Price of Empire," p.36.]
9,555 killed2 (est. 1936-1940)Sbacchi, "The Price of Empire," p.43.]
144,000 sick and wounded (est. 1936-1940) [Sbacchi, "The Price of Empire," p.38.]
casualties2=~760,000 combatants and civilians killed, including 300,000 deaths from hunger [ [ Secondary Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century] Angelo Del Boca, The Ethiopian War 1935-1941 (1965), cites a 1945 memorandum from Ethiopia to the Conference of Prime Ministers which tallies 760,300 natives dead; of them, battle deaths: 275,000, hunger among refugees: 300,000, patriots killed during occupation: 75,000, concentration camps: 35,000, Feb. 1937 massacre: 30,000, executions: 24,000, civilians killed by air force: 17,800; Angelo Del Boca, The Ethiopian War 1935-1941 (1965)]
notes=1Official pro-Fascist Italian figures are around 3,000, which Alberto Sbacchi considers deflated.
2Based on 1,911 killed in the first six months of 1940; Ministry of Africa figures for 6 May 1936 to 10 June 1940 state 8,284 men were killed, which Sbacchi considers " [f] airly accurate data."5Angelo Del Boca, The Ethiopian War 1935-1941 (1965),He cites a 1945 memorandum from Ethiopia to the Conference of Prime Ministers which tallies 760,300 natives dead.

The Second Italo–Abyssinian War (also referred to as the Second Italo-Ethiopian War) was a brief colonial war that started in October 1935 and ended in May 1936. The war was fought between the armed forces of the Kingdom of Italy ("Regno d'Italia") and the armed forces of the Ethiopian Empire (also known as Abyssinia). The war resulted in the military occupation of Ethiopia and its annexation into the newly created colony of Italian East Africa ("Africa Orientale Italiana", or AOI). However, Ethiopia never capitulated or surrendered.

Politically, the war is best remembered for exposing the inherent weakness of the League of Nations. Like the Mukden Incident in 1931 (the Japanese annexation of three Chinese provinces), the Abyssinia Crisis in 1934 is often seen as a clear example of the ineffectiveness of the League. Both Italy and Ethiopia were member nations and yet the League was unable to control Italy or to protect Ethiopia when Italy clearly violated the League's own Article X. The war is also remembered for the illegal use of mustard gas and phosgene by the Italian armed forces.

The positive outcome of the war for the Italians coincided with the zenith of the popularity of dictator Benito Mussolini's Fascist regime, in a phase called "the age of consensus."


Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had long held a desire for a new Italian Empire. Reminiscent of the Roman Empire, Mussolini's new empire was to rule over the Mediterranean and North Africa. His new empire would also avenge past Italian defeats. Chief among these defeats was the Battle of Adowa which took place in Abyssinia on 1 March 1896. Mussolini promised the Italian people "a place in the sun", matching the extensive colonial empires of Britain and France.

Ethiopia was a prime candidate of this expansionist goal for several reasons. Following the Scramble for Africa by the European imperialists, it was one of the few remaining independent African nations. Acquiring Ethiopia would serve to unify Italian-held Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. In addition, Ethiopia was considered to be militarily weak and rich in resources.

Italian incursion

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 73.5 miles). In 1930, Italy built a fort at the Welwel oasis (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 the Italians were encroaching on Ethiopian territory.

In November 1934, Ethiopian territorial troops, escorting the Anglo-Ethiopian boundary commission, protested Italy's incursion. The British members of the commission soon withdrew to avoid an international incident but Italian and Ethiopian troops remained encamped in close proximity. In early December, the tensions erupted in a clash that left 150 Ethiopians and 50 Italians dead. This resulted in the Abyssinia Crisis at the League of Nations.

The League of Nations exonerated both parties for the Walwal incident in September 1935; Great Britain and France, keen to keep Italy as an ally against Germany, did not take strong steps to discourage an Italian military buildup. Italy soon began to build its forces on the borders of Ethiopia in Eritrea and Italian Somaliland.

Italy was able to launch its invasion without interference primarily due to the United Kingdom and France placing a high priority on retaining Italy as an ally in case hostilities broke out with Germany. To this end, on January 7, 1935, France signed an agreement with Italy giving them essentially a free hand in Africa to secure Italian co-operation. [Peter N. Stearns, William Leonard Langer. "The Encyclopedia of World History: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern", pg. 677] Next, in April, Italy was further emboldened by being a member of the Stresa Front, an agreement to curb German expansionism. [Andrew J. Crozier. "The Causes of the Second World War", pg. 108] 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. [Roderick Stackelberg. "Hitler's Germany: Origins, Interpretations, Legacies", p. 164]

Opposing forces


With an attack appearing inevitable, Emperor Haile Selassie ordered a general mobilization of the Army of the Ethiopian Empire. His new recruits consisted of around 500,000 men, many of whom were armed with nothing more than spears and bows. Other soldiers carried more modern weapons, including rifles, but many of these were from before 1900 and were badly outdated. [The condition of the Ethiopian Army on the eve of the war is discussed by Richard Pankhurst, "Economic History of Ethiopia" (Addis Ababa: Haile Selassie I University, 1968), pp. 605-608.]

According to Italian estimates, [] on the eve of hostilities the Ethiopians had an army of 350,000-760,000 men. But only about one-quarter of this army had any kind of military training and the men were armed with 400,000 rifles of every type and in every kind of condition.Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 29]

In general, the Ethiopian armies were poorly equipped. They had about 200 antiquated pieces of artillery mounted on rigid gun carriages. There were also about 50 light and heavy anti-aircraft guns (20 mm Oerlikons, 75 mm Schneiders, and Vickers). The Ethiopians even had some Ford truck-based armored cars and a small number of Fiat 3000 World War I-era tanks.

The serviceable portion of the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force included three outmoded biplanes.Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 57] A few transport aircraft were also acquired between 1934 and 1935 for ambulance work. The air force was commanded by a French pilot, Andre Maillet.

The best Ethiopian units were Haile Selassie's "Imperial Guard" ("Kebur Zabangna"). These troops were well-trained and better equipped than the other Ethiopian troops. But 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. Unfortunately for its wearers, the "shama" proved to be an excellent target. The Ras, the "heads" or the commanders of the Ethiopian armies, ranged from very good to far less than very good.


In April 1935, the build-up of the Italian Royal Army ("Regio Esercito") and the Royal Air Force ("Regia Aeronautica") in East Africa started in earnest. In a few months, eight regular, mountain, and blackshirt infantry divisions arrived in Eritrea and four regular infantry divisions arrived in Italian Somaliland. These units alone represented 680,000 soldiers. This number does not include the Italian units already in East Africa, colonial units, or units arriving during the war. For example, there were 400,000 Italian soldiers in Eritrea and 220,000 in Italian Somaliland before the new divisions arrived. The huge army forming up in East Africa also included a great number of logistical and support units.

The equipment for the build-up alone included 6,000 machine guns, 2,000 pieces of artillery, 595 tanks, and 390 aircraft. Before these arrived, the Italians had 3,300 machine guns, 275 artillery pieces, 200 tanks, and 205 aircraft. The Italians had tons of ammunition, food, and other necessary supplies. The Italians also had vehicles to move supplies and troops while the Ethiopians carried supplies in horse drawn carts. [ Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 20]

In addition to their own colonial troops from Eritra, Somalia, and Libya, the Italians had a variety of local semi-independent "allies" who fought for them. In the north, the Azebu Galla were one of several groups induced to fight for the Italians. For many reasons, the Galla were willing to sweep down on the fleeing Ethiopians. In the south, Sultan Olol Diinle commanded a personal army that advanced into the northern Ogaden alongside the forces of Italian 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 some Yemenis recruited from across the Gulf of Aden. [Nicolle, David, "The Italian Invasion of Abyssinia 1935-1936", p. 41]

Italian invasion

At precisely 5:00 am on 3 October 1935, General Emilio De Bono crossed the Mareb River and advanced into Ethiopia from Eritrea without a declaration of war.Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 33] In response to the Italian invasion, Ethiopia declared war on Italy. [Nicolle, David, "The Italian Invasion of Abyssinia 1935-1936", p. 11] At this point in the campaign, roadways represented a serious drawback 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.Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 33]

De Bono was the Commander-in-Chief of the Italian armed forces on the northern front. He had under his command a force of nine divisions in three Army Corps: The Italian I Corps, the Italian II Corps, and the Eritrean Corps.

General Rodolfo Graziani, the Commander-in-Chief on the southern front, was forming up his forces in Italian Somaliland. Graziani initially had two divisions and a variety of smaller units under his command. Soon after De Bono advanced from Eritrea, Graziani would advance into Ethiopia with a force of Italians, Somalis, Eritreans, and Libyans.

De Bono's advance

On 5 October, the I Corps took Adigrat and, by 6 October 1935, Adwa (Adowa) was captured by the II Corps. In 1896, Adwa was the site of a humiliating Italian defeat during the First Italo–Ethiopian War and now that historic defeat was "avenged." But, in 1935, the Italian capture of Adwa was accomplished with almost no Ethiopian resistance. Haile Selassie had ordered Ras Seyoum, the Commander of the Ethiopian Tigray Armay, to withdraw a day's march away from the Magreb River. Later, he ordered Ras Seyoum and Ras Gugsa, also in the area, to move back fifty-five and thirty-five miles from the border.

On 7 October, the League of Nations declared Italy the aggressor and started the slow process of imposing sanctions. However, these sanctions did not extend to several vital materials, such as oil. The British and French argued that if they refused to sell oil to the Italians, the Italians would then simply get it from the United States, which was not a member of the League (the British and French wanted to keep Mussolini on side in the event of war with Germany, which by 1935 was looking like a distinct possibility). In an effort to find compromise, the Hoare-Laval Plan was drafted (which essentially handed 3/5ths of Ethiopia to the Italians without Ethiopia's consent on the condition the war ended immediately), but when news of the deal was leaked public outrage was such that the British and French governments were forced to wash their hands of the whole affair.

On 11 October, "Commander of the Door" ("Dejagmateh") Haile Selassie Gugsa and 1,200 of his followers surrendered to the commander of the Italian outpost at Adagamos. De Bono notified Rome and the Ministry of Information promptly exaggerated the importance of the surrender. Ras Gugsa was Emperor Haile Selassie's son-in-law. But less than a tenth of his army defected with him. Two weeks before the invasion, Haile Selassie had been warned that Ras Gugsa was not to be trusted and he was shown evidence that suggested that his son-in-law was already in the pay of the Italians. But the Emperor had shrugged it off.Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 35]

On 14 October, De Bono issued a proclamation ordering the suppression of slavery. However, he was to write: "I am obliged to say that the proclamation did not have much effect on the owners of slaves and perhaps still less on the liberated slaves themselves. Many of the latter, the instant they are set free presented themselves to the Italian authorities, asking 'And now who gives me food' ? "

By 15 October, De Bono's forces moved on from Adwa for a bloodless occupation of the holy capital of Axum. The old Fascist entered the city riding triumphantly on a white horse. However, the invading Italians he commanded looted the Obelisk of Axum.

De Bono's advance continued methodically, deliberately, and, to the consternation of Mussolini, somewhat slowly. On 8 November, the I Corps and the Eritrean Corps captured Makale. This proved to be the limit of how far the Italian invaders would get under the command of De Bono. Increasing pressure from the rest of the world on Mussolini caused him to need fast glittering victories. He was not prepared to hear of obstacles or delays from De Bono. [Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 36]

On 16 November, De Bono was promoted to the rank of Marshal of Italy ("Maresciallo d'Italia"). But, by the end of November, he was replaced on the northern front because of the slow, cautious nature of his advance. De Bono was replaced by Marshal Pietro Badoglio. [Nicolle, David, "The Italian Invasion of Abyssinia 1935-1936", p. 8]

Ethiopian Christmas offensive

Haile Selassie decided to test this new Italian commander with attacks of his own. What became known as the Ethiopian "Christmas Offensive" had as its objectives the splitting of the Italian forces with the Ethiopian center, crushing the Italian left with the Ethiopian right, and invading Eritrea with the Ethiopian left. Ras Seyoum held the area around Abbi Addi with about 30,000 men. Seyoum was the Ethiopian center. Ras Imru with approximately 40,000 men advanced from Gojjam toward Mai Timket to the left of Ras Seyoum. Imru was the Ethiopian left. Ras Kassa with approximately 40,000 men advanced from Dessie to support Ras Seyoum in the center in a push towards Warieu Pass. Ras Mulugeta advanced from Dessie with approximately 80,000 men to take positions on and around Amba Aradam to the right of Ras Seyoum. Mulugeta was the Ethiopian right atop the steep sided, flat topped mountain. [Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 45]

Major Criniti's escape

On 15 December, Ras Imru's advance guard crossed the Tekezé River by the fords at Mai Timkat and Addi Atcheb. As a column of 1,000 Ethiopians advanced towards Dembeguina Pass, it was blocked by a force of 1,000 Eritreans at Mai Timkat. The Eritreans were commanded by a Major Criniti. Criniti's command was a forward observation post and he determined to make a withdrawal upon the arrival of the Ethiopians. Under the cover of nine L3 tanks, Criniti and his Eritreans withdrew and made for Dembeguina Pass. The advancing Ethiopian column was now behind them. When Criniti got to Dembeguina Pass, he found that it was already held by another group of 2,000 Ethiopians.Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 56] [ Walker. "Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini's elite armoured divisions in North Africa", p. 36]

Under a blazing sun, the battle at Dembeguina Pass began between Criniti's Eritreans on the plateau and the Ethiopians holding the high ground around the pass. The Ethiopians formed up in a horseshoe formation on the surrounding crests and Criniti ordered his tanks to smash a way through them. Criniti organized his forces with the light tanks in the lead and with his infantry following close behind. He led the attack on horseback. The tanks lumbered towards the Ethiopians but the rough terrain soon made further forward progress impossible. Criniti was wounded in his initial attack and two of his officers were killed. The Ethiopians now counterattacked and the Eritreans rallied around the stranded light tanks. The pursuing Ethiopians joined the battle at this time and Criniti's command came under fire from all directions. The Ethiopians surged forward, slaughtered the infantry, and engulfed the Italian tanks. Some Ethiopians were able to approach the tanks from the rear and were then able to disable the tracks and machine guns. Their tanks rendered useless, the two-man crews were killed. [ Walker. "Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini's elite armoured divisions in North Africa", p. 36]

A relief column including another ten tanks was ambushed before it could get to Criniti's command. The Ethiopians immobilized several of the Italian tanks by rolling boulders onto the road in front of them and behind them. Once again, the infantry was picked off followed by the stranded tanks. Other tanks attempted to bypass the roadblock only to slip down steep roadside embankments and overturn. The Ethiopians set two tanks afire. [ Walker. "Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini's elite armoured divisions in North Africa", p. 36]

Criniti ultimately ordered his surrounded Eritreans to fix bayonets and charge the Ethiopians in front of them. The Eritreans made a breach and were able to escape. But Criniti lost fully half of his force on the battlefield and, if nothing else, the Ethiopians had scored a "moral" victory.

Black period of the war

During the Christmas Offensive, a time that informed circles in Italy termed the "Black Period" of the war, the Italians were forced to fall back from the Tekezé to Axum and from Amba Tzellene to the Warieu Pass.Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 47] The ambitious Ethiopian plan called for Ras Kassa and Ras Seyoum to split the Italian army in two and isolate the Italian I Army Corps and the Italian III Army Corps in Makale. 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.

Badoglio's inability to get the Italians back on the offensive immediately caused Mussolini to fly into a rage. He threatened to replace Badoglio with Graziani.

But the Ethiopian offensive was ultimately stopped due to the superiority of the Italian forces in modern weapons like machine guns and heavy artillery. More importantly, on 26 December, Badoglio asked for and was given permission to use mustard gas. The Italians delivered the poison gas by special artillery canisters and with bombers of the Italian Air Force. While the poorly equipped Ethiopians experienced some success against modern weaponry, they did not understand the "terrible rain that burned and killed."

On 30 December, Haile Selassie formally filed a complaint with the League of Nations. He claimed that Italy's use of poison gas was yet another addition to the long list of international agreements contravened by Italy. In response, the Italians denied that poison gas was being used and, instead, decried the use of "dum dum" bullets and the mis-use of the Red Cross by the Ethiopians.

Renewed Italian advance in the north

On 20 January 1936, the Italians resumed their northern offensive at the First Battle of Tembien between the Warieu Pass and Makale. The fighting proved inconclusive and, on 24 January, the battle ended in a draw. But, for all intents and purposes, the threat posed by the "Christmas Offensive" was over. The Ethiopians were never to split the Italian army and they were never to invade Eritrea.

While Graziani had already done so during the Battle of Genale Doria on the southern front, it was during the First Battle of Tembien that Badoglio unleashed the indiscriminate use of mustard gas and phosgene as a primary weapon on the northern front. Speaking of the Ethiopian threat to Italian-held Makale and the resultant use of poison gas, Haile Selassie was to say:

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. In order to kill off systematically all living creatures, in order 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. [Safire, William. "Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History". 1997, p. 318.]

In early February, the Italians captured Amba Aradam and destroyed Ras Mulugeta's army in the Battle of Enderta. While the battle on the ground was lop-sided, the heavy use of poison gas was what destroyed the vast majority of Mulugeta's army. In late February, the Italians destroyed the armies of Ras Kassa and Ras Seyoum at the Second Battle of Tembien. Again poison gas played a major role in the destruction of their armies. In early March, the army of Ras Imru was attacked, bombed, and sprayed out of existence as it attempted to withdraw during the Battle of Shire.

On 31 March 1936 at the Battle of Maychew, the Italians defeated an Ethiopian counteroffensive by the main Ethiopian army commanded by Emporer Haile Selassie himself. The outnumbered Ethiopians could not overcome the well prepared Italian defenses. After a day of near non-stop attacks, the exhausted Ethiopians withdrew. The Italian Royal Air Force ("Regia Aeronautica") finished off what was left of Haile Selassie's army by attacking the survivors at Lake Ashangi with mustard gas. On 4 April, Haile Selassie looked with despair upon the horrific sight of the dead bodies of his army ringing the poisoned lake. [Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 105]

outhern front

On 3 October 1935, Graziani implemented his "Milan Plan." The object of this plan was 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 villages of Kelafo, Dagnerai, Gerlogubi, and Gorahai were in Italian hands. Gorahai was known as an old stronghold of Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan (called the "Mad Mullah" by the British). An Italian force sent to catch and destroy the Ethiopian force that fled Gorahai caught up with it only to have the Ethiopians turn back on them and attack. Battle was joined under a pitilessly hot sun. After several hours, both sides withdrew and both sides claimed victory. While better equipped in all ways, the Italians were never able to get the upper hand. The light tanks sent against the Ethiopians quickly bogged down in the rough terrain and were put out of action by Ethiopians who crept up on them and fired through the weapon slits in the armor. [Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 70]

Late in the year, the initiative on the southern front went over to the Ethiopians as it had gone over to them on the northern front. Ras Desta Damtu formed up his army in the area around Negele Boran with the goal of advancing on Dolo and invading Italian Somaliland. Between 12 January and 16 January 1936, the Italians defeated his advancing and then withdrawing army during what became known as the Battle of Genale Doria. In reality there was very little fighting on the ground as Graziani primarily used the Italian Air Force and poison gas to destroy Ras Desta's army. [Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 76]

After a lull in February 1936, the Italians in the south prepared a major thrust towards the city of Harar. On 22 March, the Italian Air Force bombed Harar and Jijiga as a prelude. Both cities were reduced to ruins even though Harar had been declared an "open city." [Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 112]

On 31 March, the Italians won the last major battle of the war on the northern front during the Battle of Maychew.

On 14 April, Graziani launched his attack against Ras Nasibu to defeat the last Ethiopian army in the Battle of the Ogaden. The Ethiopians were drawn up behind a defensive line that was termed the "Hindenburg Wall." Ten days after the battle began, the last Ethiopian army had totally disintegrated. [Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 123]

On 2 May, Graziani requested permission from Mussolini to bomb the train when he found out that Haile Selassie had left Addis Ababa on the Imperial Railway. Il Duce refused his request. [Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 126]

March of the Iron Will

On 26 April 1936, when Badoglio launched his "March of the Iron Will" from Dessie to Addis Ababa, he faced no meaningful Ethiopian resistance. Because of the lack of resistance, he risked an advance with a mechanized column. [Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 109]

Very early on 2 May, Haile Selassie boarded a train from Addis Ababa to Djibouti on the Imperial Railway. From there he fled to England and into exile. Prior to his departure, Haile Selassie ordered that the government of Ethiopia be moved to Gore, he ordered that the mayor of Addis Ababa maintain order in the city until the Italian arrival, and he appointed Ras Imru Haile Selassie as his regent during his absence. The city police, under Abebe Aregai, and the remainder of the Imperial Guard did their utmost to restrain a growing and ever more restless mob. But, on the first day, attempts to maintain order were abandoned. Soon rioters took control. They rampaged throughout the city; looting and setting fire to shops owned by Europeans. [Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 125]

Badoglio's force marched into Addis Ababa on 5 May and restored order. While there never was a formal surrender, the Second Italo-Abyssinian War was over. [Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 125]

The Kingdom of Italy annexed the Ethiopian Empire on 7 May and, on 9 May, King Victor Emmanuel III was proclaimed Emperor of Ethiopia. Italy merged Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somaliland into a single colony known as Italian East Africa.

"Will you be worthy of it?"

When victory was announced by Mussolini from the balcony of the "Palazzo Venezia" in Rome, the Italian population was jubilant. Of course, the crowds in the "Piazza Venezia" had not been informed of the use of mustard gas by Italian troops.

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 organizations sang the newly composed 'Hymn of the Empire' ("Inno dell'impero")."Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 129]

Four days later, the same scene was repeated when Il Duce in a speech about the "shining sword" and the "fatal hills of Rome" announced::"At last Italy has her empire."And asked::"Will you be worthy of it?"Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 129]

This was Mussolini's hour of glory. He knew that the Italian nation was united around him as it never was before. He knew that the exultation that he witnessed was genuine. And the Italian people appeared to have good cause for rejoicing. Italy gained a vast territory and untold mineral riches ... riches much magnified by Italian propaganda. Fascism was never so popular and the shouts of military victory drowned out the muttered grumbles about underlying economic ills.Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 131]


On 10 May, in Ethiopia Italian troops from the northern front and from the southern front linked up at Dire Dawa. [Nicolle, David, "The Italian Invasion of Abyssinia 1935-1936", p. 12]

Badoglio and Graziani

In early June, Rome promulgated a constitution bringing Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Italian Somaliland together into a single administrative unit divided into six provinces. This administrative unit was known as Italian East Africa ("Africa Orientale Italiana", or AOI). Marshal Pietro Badoglio was proclaimed as the first Viceroy and Governor General of the new Italian colony. But Badoglio held these positions only briefly and on 11 June, newly promoted Marshal Rudolfo Graziani replaced him in AOI.

On 30 June, Emperor Haile Selassie gave a stirring speech before the League of Nations denouncing Italy's actions and criticizing the world community for standing by. He warned that: :"It is us today. It will be you tomorrow." As a result of the League's condemnation of Italy, Mussolini declared the country's withdrawal from the organization. The international response was mixed. On 18 November, the Italian Empire was officially recognized by the Empire of Japan. [Cedric James Lowe, F. Marzari. "Italian Foreign Policy 1870-1940", p. 307] The United States never recognized Italian sovereignty over Ethiopia. [U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943), pp. 28-32] When an agreement was signed by Britain and Italy which recognized Italian control over Ethiopia, Conservative politician Winston Churchill called it "a complete triumph for Mussolini."

By December, Graziani declared the whole country to be pacified and under effective Italian control. Ethiopian resistance nevertheless continued. The occupation was marked by recurring guerrilla campaigns against the Italians and Italian reprisals. The reprisals included mustard gas attacks against rebels and the summary execution of prisoners.

On 18 February 1937, a failed assassination attempt against Graziani occurred. 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 a number of grenades. Both men were of Eritrean origin and not Ethiopian. The Italian security guard fired indiscriminately into the crowd of civilian onlookers. Over the following weeks the colonial authorities executed about 30,000 persons in retaliation -- including about half of the younger, educated Ethiopian population. [cite book | author=Angelo Del Bocca and Giorgio Rohat | title=I gas di Mussolini | publisher=Editori Riuniti | id = ISBN=8835940915 | year=1996]

Duke of Aosta

In the end, the harsh policies of Graziani did not pacify the country. Therefore, on 21 December, Rome appointed Amedeo, 3rd Duke of Aosta, as the new Viceroy and Governor General of Italian East Africa and instructed him to adopt a more flexible line. Accordingly, large-scale public works projects were undertaken. One result was the construction of the country's first system of improved roads. All in all, the Duke brought a program of progressive improvement that included 2,000 miles of new paved roadways, 25 hospitals, 14 hotels, dozens of post offices, telephone exchanges, aqueducts, schools, and shops.

However, with the good came the bad. The Italians decreed miscegenation to be illegal. Racial separation, including residential segregation, was enforced as thoroughly as possible. In addition, the Italians showed favouritism to non-Christian ethnicities such as the Oromo, the Somali, and other Muslims (some of whom had supported the Italian invasion).

And with the bad came the good. In an attempt to isolate the dominant Amhara rulers of Ethiopia, who supported Haile Selassie I, the Italians granted the Oromo, the Somali, and other Muslims autonomy and rights. The Italians abolished slavery and abrogated feudal laws previously upheld by the Amharas.

Early in 1938, a revolt broke out in Gojjam led by the Committee of Unity and Collaboration, which was made up of some of the young, educated elite who had escaped the reprisal after the attempt on Graziani's life.

The invasion of Ethiopia and the general condemnation of it by Western Democracies (weak as it was) tended to isolate Mussolini and the Kingdom of Italy more and more. From 1936 to 1939, after Ethiopia, Mussolini and German dictator Adolf Hitler joined forces in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. They then signed the Pact of Steel in 1939 and the Tripartite Pact in 1940.

End of Italian East Africa

On 10 June 1940, Mussolini entered World War II and joined Hitler as his ally. As a result, the colony of Italian East Africa proved to be short-lived. Initially, the Italians attacked British and Commonwealt forces in the Sudan, Kenya, and British Somaliland, even overrunning the last. But, by the end of 1941, during the East African Campaign, Ethiopia was liberated from Italian control by a combination of British, Commonwealth, Free French, Free Belgian, and Ethiopian forces.

In exile in England, Haile Selassie sought to gain the support of the Western Democracies for his cause but had little success until World War II. During that war, the United Kingdom and the Emperor sought to cooperate with Ethiopian and other local forces in a campaign to dislodge the Italians from Ethiopia and British Somaliland, which the Italians had seized in August 1940, and to resist the Italian invasion of Sudan. Haile Selassie proceeded immediately to Khartoum, where he established closer liaison with both the British headquarters and the resistance forces within Ethiopia.

On 18 January 1941, Emperor Selassie crossed the border into Ethiopia near the village of Um Iddla. Two days later the Emporer joined Gideon Force, a small British-led African regular force. The standard of the Lion of Judah was raised again. By 5 May, the Emporer and an army of Ethiopian irregulars entered Addis Ababa. [Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 156]

Among other things, the Treaty of Peace with Italy signed between the Italian Republic ("Repubblica Italiana") and the victorious powers of World War II on 10 February 1947 in Paris, included Italy's formal recognition of Ethiopian independence and an agreement to pay $25,000,000 in reparations. At the time of this treaty, Ethiopia presented Italy with a bill of its own for damages inflicted during the course of Mussolini's colonial adventure. Claimed were the loss of 2,000 churches, the loss of 525,000 houses, and the slaughter and/or consfication of 6,000,000 beef cattle, 7,000,000 sheep and goats, 1,000,000 horses and mules, and 700,000 camels. The bill for all of this presented to the Economic Commission for Italy came to £184,746,023.Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 159]

In addition, the following losses were recorded by the Ethiopians::275,000 - killed in action:78,500 - patriots killed during the occupation (1936-1941):17,800 - women, children, and others killed by bombings:30,000 - massacre of February 1937:35,000 - persons who died in concentration camps:24,000 - patriots executed by Summary Courts:300,000 - persons who died of privations due to the destruction of their villages:760,300 - TOTAL


In addition to conventional weaponry, Badoglio's troops also made substantial use of mustard gas, in both artillery and aerial bombardments. In total, the Italians deployed between 300 and 500 tonnes of mustard gas during the war, despite having signed the 1925 Geneva Protocol. The deployment of gas was not restricted to the battlefield, however, as civilians were also targeted by the Italians, as part of their attempt to terrorise the local population. Furthermore, the Italians carried out gas attacks on Red Cross camps and ambulances. [Bernard Bridel, [ Les ambulances à Croix-Rouge du CICR sous les gaz en Ethiopie] , Le Temps, 13/08/2003, in French, hosted at the International Committee of the Red Cross [ website] ]

The armed forces disposed of a vast arsenal of grenades and bombs loaded with mustard gas which were dropped from airplanes. This substance was also sprayed directly from above like an "insecticide" onto enemy combatants and villages. It was Mussolini himself who authorized the use of the weapons:

"Rome, 27 October 1935. To His Excellency Graziani. The use of gas as an "ultima ratio" to overwhelm enemy resistance and in case of counterattack is authorized. Mussolini."

"Rome, 28 December 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."

Mussolini and his generals sought to cloak the operations of chemical warfare in the utmost secrecy, but the use of gas was revealed to the world through the denunciations by the International Red Cross and of many foreign observers. The Italian reaction to these revelations consisted in the "erroneous" bombardment (at least 19 times) of Red Cross tents posted in the areas of military encampment of the Ethiopian resistance.

The orders imparted by Mussolini after the war, with respect to the Ethiopian population, were very clear: [cite book | author=Giorgio Candeloro | title=Storia dell'Italia Moderna | publisher=Feltrinelli | year=1981]

"Rome, 5 June 1936. To His Excellency Graziani. All rebels taken prisoner must be killed. Mussolini."
"Rome, 8 July 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."

The predominant part of the work of repression was carried out by Italians who, besides the bombs laced with mustard gas, instituted forced labor camps, installed public gallows, killed hostages, and mutilated the corpses of their enemies. Graziani ordered the elimination of captured guerrillas by way of throwing them out of airplanes in mid-flight. Many Italian troops had themselves photographed next to cadavers hanging from the gallows or hanging around chests full of detached heads. [cite book | author=Angelo del Bocca | title=Italiani, brava gente? Un mito duro a morire | publisher=Colibri; cite book | author=A. Mignemi (ed.) | title=Si e no padroni del mondo. Etiopia 1935-36. Immagine e consenso per un impero | publisher=Istituto Storico della Resistenza in Provincia Novara Piero Fornara ]

Church statements

While Pope Pius XI issued ambiguous statements, his bishops were quite vocal in blessing the armed forces of their Italian “fatherland.” In the book "The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators", Anthony Rhodes reports:": In his Pastoral Letter of the 19th October [1935] , 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.


Invariably, any success achieved by the Ethiopians was attributed to foreigners ("ferenghi"). Most of these elusive individuals were military advisors, pilots, doctors, or just well wishers of Haile Selassie's "cause." While never numbering more than a hundred, the Italian propaganda machine magnified the number to thousands so that Rome could account for the virtual standstill of the Italian Royal Army after De Bono's first rapid advances. Something had to explain the Ethiopian's ability to launch the "Christmas Offensive" of late 1935.

The following are a few of the foreigners who came to Ethiopia or who supported the Ethiopian people in whatever way they could:
* Bill Deedes - Journalist and possibly the inspiration for William Boot in Waugh's "Scoop".
* Andrew Fountaine - Ambulance driver
* Marcus Garvey - Supporter
* Hubert Julian - Pilot
* Marcel Junod - Red Cross doctor
* Oliver Law - Demonstrator
* Webb Miller - Journalist
* Wehib Pasha - Military advisor
* Count Carl Gustaf von Rosen - Swedish Red Cross pilot - Red Cross facilities were bombed regularly by the Italians. [Time Magazine, [,9171,755613,00.html Ethiopia's Lusitania?] ]

* John Spencer - Advisor

While the majority of non-Italian foreigners in Ethiopia were with the Ethiopians, there were others who saw the war from the Italian lines. An example:
* Pedro del Valle - Observer
* Evelyn Waugh - Sent by Daily Mail as a reporter; later wrote the novel "Scoop" based on experiences

ee also

* First Italo-Ethiopian War
* Timeline of the Second Italo–Abyssinian War
* Italian Colonial Empire
* East African Campaign
* Treaty of peace with Italy (1947)
* Paris Peace Treaties, 1947
* League of Nations, the Abyssinia Crisis, and Article X of the Covenant of the League of Nations
* International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
* Faccetta Nera - A "marching song" of the Italian soldiers
* Fascist Legacy - A BBC documentary film



* De Bono E., "La preparazione e le prime operazioni", Roma: Istituto Nazionale Fascista di Cultura, 1937.
* Graziani, R., "Fronte del Sud", Milano: A. Mondadori, 1938.
* Mockler, Anthony, "Haile Selassie's War", New York: Olive Branch Press.
* Starace, A., "La marcia su Gondar" Milano: A. Mondadori, 1937.
*cite book|first=Ian W. | last=Walker| title=Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts : Mussolini's elite armoured divisions in North Africa| publisher=Crowood| date=2003| location=Marlborough| | isbn=1-86126-646-4


* "Fascist Legacy", Ken Kirby, Royaume-Uni, 1989, documentary 2x50min [] Youtube|QBZT-9f-bIk|Fascist Legacy|it

External links

* [ Regio Esercito: La Campagna d'Etiopia]
* [ A report by the International Committee of the Red Cross on the use of mustard gas by Italian forces.]
* [ Mussolini's Invasion and the Italian Occupation]
* [ Mussolini's Ethiopia Campaign]
* [ OnWar: Second Italo–Abyssinian War 1935–1936]
* [ Haile Selassie I, Part 2]
* [ OneWorld Magazine: Hailé Selassié VS. Mussolini]
* [ The Day the Angel Cried]
* [ The Emperor Leaves Ethiopia]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Italian Order of Battle Second Italo-Abyssinian War — The following is the Italian Order of Battle at the beginning of the Second Italo Abyssinian War as of October 8 1935. Commando Supremo Africa OrientaleCommander: General Emilio De Bono to 11/1935, Field Marshal Pietro Badoglio 11/1935 6/1936 *… …   Wikipedia

  • Timeline of the Second Italo–Abyssinian War — The following is a timeline relating to the Second Italo–Abyssinian War to the end of 1936. A number of related political and military events followed until 1942, but these have been omitted.1928* August 2: The Italo–Ethiopian Treaty of 1928 is… …   Wikipedia

  • Ethiopian Order of Battle Second Italo-Abyssinian War — Ethiopian forces in the Second Italo Abyssinian War besides the Central Army were mobilized from various provinces under their local leader. According to Italian estimates, [ Italo Abyssinian War#1935… …   Wikipedia

  • Italo-Abyssinian War — Two conflicts between Italy and Ethiopia (called Abyssinia by Europeans at the time) are known as the Italo Abyssinian War:* The First Italo Abyssinian War of 1889 ndash;1896 resulted in a victory for the Ethiopians. * The Second Italo Abyssinian …   Wikipedia

  • Italo-Ethiopian War — Two wars opposed Italy to Ethiopia : *The First Italo Ethiopian War (1895 1896) won by Ethiopia, *The Second Italo Abyssinian War (1935 1936) won by Italy …   Wikipedia

  • First Italo–Ethiopian War — Infobox Military Conflict caption= campaign= conflict=First Italo Ethiopian War date=1895–1896 place=Ethiopia result=Ethiopian victory combatant1= combatant2= commander1= commander2= strength1=20,000+Vandervort, Bruce. Wars of Imperial Conquest… …   Wikipedia

  • Italo Gariboldi — (born 20 April 1879, Lodi; died 3 February 1970, Rome) was a senior officer in the Italian Royal Army ( Regio Esercito ) before and during World War II.Military careerFrom the end of World War I and through the interwar Period, Gariboldi rose in… …   Wikipedia

  • Abyssinian Campaign — can mean: * 1868 Expedition to Abyssinia, a British punitive campaign against the Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros II. * East African Campaign, battles fought between British Empire and Commonwealth forces and Italy in Italian East Africa during World… …   Wikipedia

  • Second War — may refer to:* World War II (1939 1945)Other wars* Second Sacred War (449 448 BC) * Second Samnite War (326 304 BC), part of the Samnite Wars * Second Punic War (218 202 BC) * Second Macedonian War (200 196 BC) * Second Servile War (104 103 BC) * …   Wikipedia

  • Second Battle of Tembien — Infobox Military Conflict conflict= Second Battle of Tembien partof= the Second Italo Abyssinian War caption= date= 27 February to 29 February 1936 place= Tembien Province, Ethiopia result= Decisive Italian victory, destruction of the Ethiopian… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”