Invasion of Abyssinia
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseLocated between the Italian territories of Eritrea and Italian Somaliland was the Kingdom of Abyssinia, one of the few independent African countries free of European colonial influence. The first Italian attempt to invade the mineral-rich Abyssinia was in 1896, which resulted in an Italian defeat. As early as 1932 the Italians were violating the Abyssinian borders, constructing a fort at the Walwal oasis and roads wide enough for military maneuvers into Abyssinian territory. Conflict soon broke out. In Nov 1934, a clash between Fitawrarri Shiferaw's troops and Italians at Walwal resulted in 150 Abyssinian and 50 Italian casualties, and the matter was brought to the League of Nations without effective resolution. Italy and Abyssinia each built up their militaries, each foreseeing a wider future conflict inevitable.
ww2dbaseOn 3 Oct 1935, 100,000 Italian troops and Askari mercenaries headed by Emilio De Bono attacked from Eritrea without declaration of War; General Rodolfo Graziani led a smaller invasion force from Italian Somaliland. Adowa was captured on 6 Oct, and Axum nine days later. The League of Nations, although blaming the conflict on the Italians, failed to impose significant sanctions on Italy as punishment; instead of depriving Italy war-essential goods such as oil, coal, and iron, the League of Nations denied Italy of rather useless items such as camels, mules, donkey, and aluminum. Perhaps the most laughable was aluminum, which Italy was so rich of that the metal was one of Italy's chief exports. The British attempted to threaten Italy with military action, but the Italians called the bluff; Benito Mussolini knew that the British had no force spare to threaten Italy. The greatest failure by the British was not denying the use of the Suez Canal to the Italians, an act that could greatly complicate the logistics of the invasion. A faction of the League of Nations also attempted to secretly draft a compromise to end the war, which benefited the European colonial powers more so than for the restoration of Abyssinian sovereignty; this compromise was uncovered soon after and met a quick end. In mid-Dec, Haile Selassie called for a counterattack against the new Italian commander General Pietro Badoglio, but Italian technological superiority ensured Italy's victory. The Italians employed artillery and chemical weapons that the Abyssinians were ill-prepared to fight against with their pre-WW1 era rifles, spears, and shields. On 31 Mar 1936, the Italians defeated the Abyssinians at the Battle of Maychew, the last major battle of the war. On 2 May, Abyssinian King Haile Selassie exiled from his country, and on 5 May the capital city of Addis Ababa fell. On 7 May, Italy officially announced the establishment of Italian East Africa, merging Italian-held territories of Italian Somaliland, Abyssinia, and Eritrea.
ww2dbaseOn 9 May, with the newly acquired territory in Africa, Mussolini declared King Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy the Emperor of Abyssinia. Marshal Badoglio was given the titles Duke of Addis Ababa and Viceroy of Italian East Africa. At the Vatican, Pope Pius XI congratulated the Italian aggressors for their recent conquest. The League of Nations continued to condemn Italy for its aggression, alienating Italy from the countries of the League. When the League of Nations realized the harm done, it tried to woo Italy back by lifting the trade sanctions on 2 Jul 1936, but it was too late; Italy would quit the League in the same month.
ww2dbaseOverall, this invasion by itself was of no greater consequence in terms of world affairs. However, after the invasion, not only that an Anglo-Italian alliance against future German aggression impossible, this actually drove Italy so far from Britain that she was now considering siding with Germany.
ww2dbaseSources: the Last Lion, Wikipedia.
Last Major Update: Jun 2006
Invasion of Abyssinia Timeline
|5 Dec 1934||Representatives of Italy and Abyssinia disputed over the prior month's border incident at Walwal.|
|3 Oct 1935||100,000 Italian troops and Askari mercenaries headed by Emilio De Bono attacked from Eritrea into Abyssinia without declaration of war.|
|6 Oct 1935||The Italian 2nd Army Corps entered Adowa, Abyssinia.|
|8 Oct 1935||The Italian Army entered Makalle, Abyssinia. General Emilio de Bono declared that slavery was abolished in Abyssinia, and dispatched emissaries all over the Tigre province to spread the news that Italian rule was going to be beneficent. Benito Mussolini was livid.|
|6 Nov 1935||The League of Nations decided to accept the principle of an oil embargo on Italy, but left it up to the delegates to discuss the proposal with their own governments.|
|15 Nov 1935||The League of Nations placed economic sanctions on Italy for aggressions against Abyssinia.|
|2 May 1936||Exhausted and heartbroken the Emperor Haile Selassie of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) travelled by train to Djibouti in French Somaliland where he boarded the British cruiser HMS Enterprise to sail into exile.|
|5 May 1936||Italian forces captured Addis Ababa, Abyssinia, bringing an end to Abyssinian resistance. During this campaign the Italian air force had used modern weapons, including poison gas, against natives armed with little more than primitive weapons.|
|7 May 1936||Italy officially announced the establishment of Italian East Africa, merging Italian-held territories of Italian Somaliland, Abyssinia, and Eritrea.|
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Winston Churchill, 1935