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Invasion of Ethiopia file photo [13320]

Invasion of Ethiopia

3 Oct 1935 - 5 May 1936


ww2dbaseLocated between the Italian territories of Eritrea and Italian Somaliland was the Ethiopian Empire (also known by its exonym "Abyssinia"), one of the few independent African countries free of European colonial influence. The first Italian attempt to invade the mineral-rich Ethiopia was in 1896, which resulted in an Italian defeat. As early as 1932 the Italians were violating the Ethiopian borders, constructing a fort at the Walwal oasis and roads wide enough for military maneuvers into Ethiopian territory. Conflict soon broke out. In Nov 1934, a clash between Fitawrarri Shiferaw's troops and Italians at Walwal resulted in 150 Ethiopian and 50 Italian casualties, and the matter was brought to the League of Nations without effective resolution. Italy and Ethiopia 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 Ethiopian 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 Ethiopians were ill-prepared to fight against with their pre-WW1 era rifles, spears, and shields. On 31 Mar 1936, the Italians defeated the Ethiopians at the Battle of Maychew, the last major battle of the war. On 2 May, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I 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, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.

ww2dbaseOn 9 May, with the newly acquired territory in Africa, Mussolini declared King Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy the Emperor of Ethiopia. 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.

William Manchester, The Last Lion

Last Major Update: Jun 2006

Invasion of Ethiopia Interactive Map


Italian troops fighting in Ethiopia, late 1935Italian troops raising their flag over Macalle, Ethiopia, 8 Nov 1935
See all 6 photographs of Invasion of Ethiopia

Invasion of Ethiopia Timeline

5 Dec 1934 Representatives of Italy and Ethiopia 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 Ethiopia without declaration of war.
6 Oct 1935 The Italian 2nd Army Corps entered Adowa, Ethiopia.
8 Oct 1935 The Italian Army entered Makalle, Ethiopia. General Emilio de Bono declared that slavery was abolished in Ethiopia, 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 Ethiopia.
2 May 1936 Exhausted and heartbroken the Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia I 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, Ethiopia, bringing an end to Ethiopian 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, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. anna says:
13 Aug 2006 12:45:25 PM

Very informative site. Do you know of or may have the name of the site with a list of all the italian soldiers that died in Lybia during WW2. I was told that there is a memorial near cairo_egypt. But i dont have the name of it. Thanks
2. Ernest F. Nygard III says:
19 Mar 2007 10:49:39 AM

Thanks - Any information on the 2nd Italo-Abyssinian War is hard to come by like the proverbial Hens Teeth. Any info on 1935-1936 Abyssinian War is very much appreciated!!!
3. NJM says:
9 Apr 2018 06:27:22 AM

In reading "Their Finest Hour" by Winston Churchill, published 1949, your site is yielding some great background information.

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More on Invasion of Ethiopia
» Haile Selassie I
» Badoglio, Pietro
» Borghese, Junio Valerio
» Campioni, Inigo
» Messe, Giovanni

» Ethiopia

Invasion of Ethiopia Photo Gallery
Italian troops fighting in Ethiopia, late 1935Italian troops raising their flag over Macalle, Ethiopia, 8 Nov 1935
See all 6 photographs of Invasion of Ethiopia

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