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The Opposing Armies during the 1935-36 Italian Invasion
The Ethiopian army that defended their country against the Italian invasion was more akin to medieval bands of warriors than a modern army under a unified command. The armies were nominally commanded by the Emperor, or King of Kings (Negus Negusti) Haile Selassie, but in reality each warlord, or Ras, did as they pleased. These Ras commanded their forces as they saw fit and only occasionally followed the orders of the Emperor, who had a very limited ability to coordinate the operations of the different tribal levies. In fact, two of them, Ras Kassa and Ras Mulugheta, were rivals that operated entirely on their own avoiding any coordination with the other.
Ethiopian infantry marching in the streets of Addis Ababa, October 1935
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Two Empires: Italy and Ethiopia
Italy came relatively late to the colonial race. After completing her unification process in 1870, the new country soon demonstrated an imperialistic drive that led her to stake a claim to Tunis. France moved first, however, and annexed the former Ottoman province much to the chagrin of the Italians, who joined the Triple Alliance along with Germany and Austria-Hungary. In 1869, the inauguration of the Suez Canal allowed the Italians to set up posts in Eritrea, on the Red Sea coast, followed soon by the establishment of a protectorate on the coast of Somaliland. With Italian outposts in Eritrea and Somalia, the next natural step seemed to be to unify both territories and create a colonial Empire, a mandatory requirement for late 19th century Great Power status. This led the Italians to clash with the legendary kingdom of Ethiopia (known as Abyssinia in Europe), another Empire that had been expanding during the last quarter of the 19th century.
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The fall of Addis Ababa on May 5, 1936 did not mark the end of military operations in Ethiopia. In fact, the Ethiopian guerrillas would fight on until 1941, forcing the Italian occupiers to use resources that would be sorely missed during the coming world war.
The new Italian empire in Africa was called Africa Orientale Italian (Italian East Africa) and was ruled by Viceroy Rodolfo Graziani. It was divided into five major protectorates. The Somali-speaking regions of the Ogaden and Italian Somaliland formed a single protectorate (Somalia), as did the regions of Eritrea and Tigray (Eritrea), whose populations speak closely-related languages. The other regions were Harrar, Galla-Sidamo and Amara. Initially the capital district of Addis Ababa was directly administered by the Viceroy, but in 1939 the capital district became a sixth protectorate (Scioa).
Territorial organization of Italian East Africa from 1938 to 1941 (Source: Wikipedia).
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Soldiers of the Negus
The Ethiopian army that defended their country against the Italian invasion was more akin to medieval bands of warriors than a modern army under a unified command. The armies were nominally commanded by the Emperor, or King of Kings (Negus Negusti) Haile Selassie, but in reality each warlord, or Ras, did as they pleased. These Ras commanded their forces as they saw fit and only nominally followed the orders of the Emperor, who had a very limited ability to coordinate the operations of the different tribal levies. In fact two of them, Ras Kassa and Ras Mulugheta, were rivals that operated entirely on their own.
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Italian Guerrillas: the Guillet Detachment (1942-1943 What-if Scenario)
From the Allied liberation of Ethiopia in 1941 until late 1943, the Italians mobilized guerrillas to fight in the former Africa Orientale Italiana. They were organized into mobile guerrilla ‘bandes’ or detachments and were armed with Italian and captured British weapons. Often they received the support of local tribesmen who were traditionally hostile to the Ethiopian Empire, such as Eritreans, Somalis, and Galla tribes from southern Ethiopia.
This article is the first of a series of short articles that take you inside various military units in Javier Romero’s Lion of Judah, just recently added to our P500 list. Enjoy! – Gene
Gideon Force (1940-1941 Scenario)
Gideon Force was a small native African force led by Major Orde Wingate (1903-1944), who would later gain recognition as commander of the Chindits in the Burma campaign. Wingate arrived in Khartoum, Sudan, in November 1940 to raise a guerrilla force that would harass the Italians. Wingate proposed to create a guerrilla in the Italian rearguard, stating that a“… thousand resolute and well-armed men can paralyse 10,000”.