Military Review

How Mussolini's East African Empire died

How Mussolini's East African Empire died
Scottish soldiers walk along the road in the Addis Ababa area

General situation

In 1935-1936, Italy invaded Ethiopia and created the Italian East Africa colony. It also included Eritrea and Italian Somalia. In June 1940, fascist Italy entered World War II. Initially, the Italians had an overwhelming superiority in forces: about 90 thousand soldiers, plus native troops - up to 200 thousand people, over 800 guns, more than 60 tanks, more than 120 armored vehicles, 150 aircraft.

England had only about 9 thousand people in Sudan, 8,5 thousand in Kenya, about 1,5 thousand in British Somalia, and 2,5 thousand soldiers in Aden. In Sudan, Kenya and Somalia, the British had 85 aircraft and no tanks or anti-tank artillery. To neutralize the enemy's superiority, England formed an alliance with the emigrant Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. A massive national liberation movement began in Ethiopia. Many soldiers from the colonial forces deserted and went over to the side of the partisans.

Ethiopian guerrillas attack Fort Debra Marcos. 1940 g.

Emperor of Ethiopia H. Selassie at a meeting with British General A. Cunningham in Addis Ababa. 1941 g.

If there were Germans instead of Italians, it is obvious that they used a great advantage in the Mediterranean, in North and East Africa, to defeat the British. Italy was well placed to capture Malta, the British air and naval base in the central Mediterranean, which was then garrisoned weakly. Win air supremacy with an advantage over the British Air Force during the air battle for England. To occupy Egypt with a swift blow, to advance to the Suez Canal, then the entire Mediterranean Sea would be in Italian hands, a connection with East Africa would be established.

That is, the Italians had a good chance of wresting the Mediterranean and all of Northeast Africa from the British rule. Especially with the support of the Germans. However, Rome had no strategy, no will, and no determination. The situation demanded quick and assertive action until the enemy came to his senses.

Mussolini and the Italian command feared decisive action by all means, deciding to confine themselves to private operations. Two sole motorized divisions and two armored divisions were left in Italy, although they were best used in Africa to push towards the Suez. The Italians justified themselves by the fact that their sea communications were stretched, and the British could block them, disrupting the supply of the Italian group in East Africa.

And the native (colonial) troops, more than 2/3 of all forces, were poorly armed and prepared. In addition, in occupied Ethiopia, the guerrillas again became active, who were now supported by the British. In most provinces, the Italians controlled only cities and large settlements where garrisons were stationed. Some distant units were blocked by the rebels, and their supply went only by air. All this limited the operational capabilities of the Italian army and fettered the decisiveness of the command.

In July 1940, the Italian army launched an offensive from Eritrea and Ethiopia deep into Sudan and Kenya. In Sudan, Italian troops managed to occupy the border towns of Kassala, Gallabat and Kurmuk, and their successes were limited to this. In Kenya, the border Moyale was occupied. The Italian command did not dare to develop an offensive and went on the defensive in the Sudanese and Kenyan directions. It was decided to strike at British Somalia, where the British had minimal strength. The Italians concentrated 35 thousand groups and in August 1940 captured the British colony. British African and Indian colonial units were taken to Aden.

The loss of the initiative by the Italians and the build-up of the British group

After small successes in Sudan and victory in Somalia, the Italian army, led by Viceroy and Commander-in-Chief Amadeus of Savoy (Duke of Aosta), decided to wait for the decisive success of the Italian forces in North Africa.

The capture of Egypt and Suez solved the supply problem. Then two groups of Italian troops from the north (Egypt) and from the south could achieve victory in Sudan and unite. However, the Italians in Libya made a number of mistakes, acted hesitantly and did not use the opportunity to defeat the weak enemy grouping in Egypt. The Italians occupied the territory, but did not defeat the enemy (Italian invasion of Somalia and Egypt).

The British made good use of the time given to them. Despite the problems associated with a possible German strike, the British reinforced their forces in Egypt with tanks and modern fighters. Reinforcements were transferred to Malta. New ships (aircraft carrier, battleship, air defense cruisers) arrived in Egyptian Alexandria, which strengthened the defense of the naval base. New units arrived in Egypt, Kenya and Sudan from England, India, Australia and New Zealand. Military districts (commands) were created on the territory of British Africa, which formed and trained new colonial units. In a short time, 6 infantry brigades (including 2 reinforced) were formed in East Africa and 5 in West.

From the natives, units and auxiliary units of the army of the South African Union were formed. A large number of native support and service units became part of the British formations. In the fall of 1940, the British already had 77 people in Kenya, of which more than half were Africans. In Sudan, the group consisted of 28 thousand people, and 2 more Indian infantry divisions were sent there. By the beginning of 1941, British troops and partisans had completely cleared the lost territories in northwestern Kenya from the enemy.

In late 1940 - early 1941, British troops inflicted a crushing defeat on the Italian army in Libya (Catastrophe of the Italian army in North Africa). The British took Tobruk, Benghazi, the western part of Cyrenaica. The Italian group in North Africa, in fact, was destroyed, only about 130 thousand people were taken prisoner, almost all heavy weapons were lost. Having eliminated the threat in the north, the British began to destroy the Italian forces in East Africa.

As a result, the Italian troops isolated from the metropolis, lacking ammunition, fuel and spare parts for a few aircraft, tanks and armored cars, were doomed to defeat. The Ethiopian liberation movement played a large role in the collapse of Italian East Africa. The Italians still had a numerical superiority, but their forces were scattered, fought against an internal enemy - the rebels. The British were able to concentrate several strike groups.

An Italian machine gunner sleeps in the shadows near the city of Berbera in the Italian-occupied part of British Somalia. Next to him is the Schwarzlose MG Schwarzlose 07/12 heavy machine gun

The defeat of the Italian army

In Sudan and Kenya, 150 thousand groups were concentrated (mainly colonial units).

On January 19, 1941, on the border of Italian Eritrea, the British-Indian and Sudanese troops launched an offensive - 2 divisions and 2 motorized groups. The offensive was supported by the Free French units. The main target of the offensive was Massawa, the colony's only port on the Red Sea. In early February, African troops launched an offensive from Kenya (1st South African, 11th and 12th African divisions). They attacked Ethiopia and Italian Somalia. The movement of the motorized brigade along the coast was to play a decisive role. Mixed Sudanese-Ethiopian troops and partisans entered Ethiopia from the west. Sudanese, East African troops and colonial units from the Belgian Congo operated from the southwest.

The regular Ethiopian units that entered Ethiopia became the nucleus of a large army. The Ethiopian army numbered about 30 thousand people, and the total number of rebels and partisans ranged from 100 thousand to 500 thousand. Having liberated this or that territory, almost all the rebels returned to peaceful life. By April 1941, the Ethiopian army liberated the province of Gojam.

70 thousand Italian group in Eritrea by the beginning of the enemy offensive was already exhausted by the fight against the rebels and could not offer serious resistance. On February 1, the British occupied Agordat. The Italians retreated to the Keren area, which had good natural fortifications. This city was of strategic importance, covering the capital of Asmara and the port of Massawa. While British forces were blockading Keren, Ethiopian guerrillas intercepted a road heading north from Addis Ababa. The Italian troops in Keren lost the main road along which they received reinforcements and supplies.

The Italians repulsed the first attacks of Indian infantry brigades on Keren. The commander of the British forces, William Plett, took a break. Meanwhile, units of the 4th Indian Division and Free French battalions began an offensive from the north. On March 15, a new offensive began on Keren. Only by March 27, the British were able to break the enemy's resistance. In early April, British forces occupied Asmara and Massawa. British troops from Eritrea moved to Northern Ethiopia, to Ambu Alagi and Gondar.

British-African troops, which were advancing from Kenyan territory in Italian Somalia and South Ethiopia, were opposed by up to 5 Italian divisions (40 thousand soldiers) and a large number of native detachments. 22 thousand Italian grouping occupied a defensive line on the Juba River in Somalia and to the north of it. After two weeks of fighting (February 10-26, 1941), the Italian defenses fell.

The enemy crossed the river in several places and went to the rear of the Italians. African troops captured the port of Kismayu, several important airfields and bases, the cities of Jumbo, Dzhelib and moved to Mogadishu. Local natives rebelled against the Italians. Mogadishu fell on 26 February. Italian troops first rolled back to Hararu in eastern Ethiopia, then to Addis Ababa. African divisions from Somalia turned to Ethiopia, to Harar and Addis Ababa.

On March 10-16, 1941, the British landed troops at Berbera in former British Somalia. This was the first successful Allied landing operation during the Second World War. They occupied the British colony in a few days. The Italians did not offer serious resistance. The Allies now had a supply base at Port Berber.

A British Army unit lands near Berbera. March 1941

Fall of Addis Ababa and Amba Alagi

The defeat of groups in Somalia and Eritrea, their loss (as well as a significant part of weapons, technology), a large-scale uprising of the Ethiopians, deprived the Italian command of hopes of holding back the enemy offensive. There was no strength to hold out in the eastern and central parts of Ethiopia. Therefore, the Italians practically did not resist the British in the east and even asked them to occupy the capital as soon as possible. In the western direction, the Italians, as best they could, held back the Ethiopian troops. On March 17, 1941, the British occupied Jijiga.

Next, it was necessary to overcome the Marda mountain pass, which is very convenient for defense. To their surprise, the British met no resistance. On March 25, Harar, the second city of Ethiopia, was occupied without a fight. On April 6, 1941, British colonial forces entered Addis Ababa. Several Ethiopian guerrilla groups, fighting their way through the mountains, entered the capital almost simultaneously with the British.

Fulfilling the direction of the rate - to fetter the forces of the enemy as much as possible, the Italians continued their resistance in the remote mountainous regions of the country: in the north - near Gondar, in the northeast - in Dessie and Amba-Alagi, in the south-west - in Jimma. The group of forces of the commander-in-chief Amadeus of Savoy retreated from Addis Ababa in Amba Alag, where it joined up with part of the group that had retreated from Eritrea. The group of General Pietro Gazzera (Gadzera) withdrew to the south of Ethiopia (in the provinces of Sidamo and Galla), and the troops of General Guglielmo Nasi to Gondar.

The last enemy lines were stormed by the 11th and 12th African infantry divisions, Sudanese, Congolese units, regular and partisan forces of Ethiopia. In the north, Indian units took part in the battle. On April 17, an offensive began on the group of the Prince of Savoy. On April 25, Dessie fell, the British laid siege to Amba-Alage. The Italians, taking advantage of the inaccessible terrain, fought hard. Only at the cost of heavy losses was the enemy's defense broken. Lacking food and water, on May 18, 1941, the Italians, led by Duke Aosta, surrendered. Most of northern Ethiopia was liberated from the Italians.

Indian troops during the Battle of Amba Alag. May 1941

British artillery at the Battle of Amba Alag

General Gazzer became the acting viceroy and commander-in-chief. Stubborn battles were fought in the province of Galla Sidamo. The 11th Allied Division was advancing from the north, from the capital, the 12th Division - from the south. Jimma fell on June 21st. The general resisted for some time, switching to partisan tactics, and surrendered in July. In the southwest, 25 thousand people were captured.

The last stronghold of the Italians was Gondar. Under the command of General Nasi, there was a fairly large group of troops - 40 thousand soldiers (battalions of black shirts - fascist militia, colonial troops and several cavalry squadrons). From May 17 to November 1941, the Allies sequentially took several enemy strongholds. The Italians put up stubborn resistance, their best units were destroyed in battle. So, during the fierce battles for Kulkvalber, his garrison was killed - the first group of mobile carabinieri and the 240th battalion of blackshirts. The indigenous units, not receiving salaries and provisions, practically fled. On November 28, Nasi surrendered. Over 12 thousand Italians were killed and injured.

For Italians, the loss of their colonial empire in East Africa, including Ethiopia, which was captured several years ago at the cost of heavy losses, was very painful. The remnants of the Italian army (several thousand people) fought in Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia until the fall of 1943. They hoped that the German-Italian troops under the command of Rommel would win in Egypt and this would allow the return of the Italian colonies in East Africa.

The Italians surrender after the surrender of the Amba Alagi stronghold in Ethiopia. May 1941

Soldiers of a part of the colonial troops of the British army escort Italian prisoners of war in the area of ​​Fort Umberto in Ethiopia

Italian prisoners of war guarded by British soldiers on their way from South Ethiopia to a camp in Kenya. July 1941
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  1. Olgovich
    Olgovich April 5 2021 05: 43
    "In 1935-1936, Italy conquered Ethiopia and created the Italian East Africa colony. In 1935-1936, Italy conquered Ethiopia and created the Italian East Africa colony. In 1935-1936, Italy conquered Ethiopia and created the Italian East Africa colony."

    Moreover, for the first time since WWI, the Italian army barbarously used chemical weapons against the heroically fighting poorly armed Ethiopian army, which even fought with bows and spears. The Italians were forced to use XO to turn the tide in their favor.

    In general, the success of the British in Ethiopia 41 g would have been impossible without massive resistance from the Ethiopian partisans and the army. Brave freedom-loving people
    1. Richard
      Richard April 5 2021 07: 01
      For Ethiopians, the chemical attack was a disaster. They had no means of protection. Died by the thousands. And the Italians not only sprayed gases over a vast territory. but they also dropped mustard gas bombs on the Ethiopians. They used flamethrowers and special artillery shells. Poisonous substances were widely used: NOV - chloropicrins, phosgene and SOV - mustard gas, lewisite. The consequences of such barbarism were monstrous.
      a photo Ethiopian poison gas victims

      At first, the poisoned Africans lost their sight, then they became covered with white spots, which itched strongly. Then the poisoned people died from these burns, from respiratory paralysis. It was a terrible death, very painful and inevitable. Along with people in the mountains and forests, animals died from toxic substances. There was nowhere to escape. Poisonous clouds crawled into gorges, into forest jungles, into poor huts. Ethiopians in that war showed miracles of courage. they practically with bare hands, sometimes just with spears and bows, went against the tankettes of the Italians, but could not cope with the enemy. Chemical attacks caused terrible devastation.
      But the Italians themselves were extremely proud of this.
      a photo Caricature of the Ethiopian victims in the newspaper "Il Popolo d'Italia" (People of Italy)

      In October 1935, the actions of the Italian army were condemned by the Italian émigré Congress in Brussels. On October 7, 1935, the League of Nations condemned Mussolini's policies and recognized Italy as the aggressor. On November 11, the Council of the League of Nations even decided to immediately impose economic sanctions against Italy. The Apennines were banned from importing weapons and certain types of strategic raw materials (rubber, lead, tin, chromium). The countries of the world called on to restrict the import of Italian goods and not to give any credits or loans to the Duce. True, the Italians purchased the necessary materials through the intermediary of third countries that did not participate in the sanctions.
      Poisonous gases after the First World War were outlawed on June 17, 1925 after the signing of the Protocol banning the use of asphyxiant, poisonous or other similar gases and bacteriological agents in war. But the European countries in the colonies were not going to pay attention to such subtleties. The French did not hesitate to gasse the Berbers in 1925. The Protocol prohibited the use of chemical or biological weapons, nor did it oblige signatory states not to manufacture, store, or transport these weapons.
      The Soviet Union ratified the Geneva Protocol in April 1928 with two reservations. According to the first of them, the protocol obliged the government of the USSR to comply with its requirements only in relation to the states that also signed and ratified it. On the second, it was agreed that the protocol would cease to be binding on the government of the USSR if the armed forces of the enemy state, as well as its formal or actual allies, were the first to violate the terms of the agreement and use prohibited types of weapons.
      The experience of the Italian war in Ethiopia was studied in the USSR very carefully. there they decided to increase the combat effectiveness of the chemical troops, the preparation of the population for a future war. Measures were developed to counter aviation. It was noted that the imperialists were planning to use this very effective weapon in the upcoming battles: the use of warfare agents by aviation by means of spraying would be of tremendous importance; it is recommended in defensive battles to first blind the advancing smoke in order to deprive them of targeted fire, and then pour a rain of mustard gas through the smoke, inflicting heavy losses on him. It is necessary to use spraying during deep raids in order to achieve surprise from high altitudes so that the attacking aircraft can neither be identified nor even detected by sound. It is believed that, in essence, a "perfect remedy" has been found to slow down the work of the deep rear. Spraying mustard gas from aircraft over areas of strategic deployment, over access and evacuation routes will be of great importance.
      A source:
      1. Flooding
        Flooding April 5 2021 08: 08
        Dear Richard,
        try to compress copy-paste in your comments to readable formats.
        Moreover, you provide a link to the source material.
    2. Catfish
      Catfish April 5 2021 18: 34
      Hi Andrew. hi
      Some of the press at the time.

  2. Richard
    Richard April 5 2021 07: 04
    for the first time since WWI, the Italian army savagely used chemical weapons against the heroically fighting poorly armed Ethiopian army, which even fought with bows and spears. The Italians were forced to use XO in order to turn the tide in their favor.

    a photo

    a photo Ethiopian guerrillas with weapons captured from the Italians 1940.
    1. Catfish
      Catfish April 5 2021 18: 39
      Hello Dima. hi
      And the black guys knew how to fight, the "Brad" machine guns captured something with the help of the same bows and arrows.

      6.5-mm light machine gun Brad M30
      1. 89268170588
        89268170588 April 14 2021 16: 21
        By the way. The Italians used the fortified camps encircled with thorns against the partisans. A similar thing was created in Libya. Where are the Ethiopians with rifles and the British with tanks. The result is only 130000 prisoners.
  3. Flooding
    Flooding April 5 2021 07: 17
    In addition, in occupied Ethiopia, the guerrillas again intensified, which now began to be supported by the British.

    British colonialists supported the national liberation movement.
    There is something ironic about this.
    1. Blackmokona
      Blackmokona April 5 2021 08: 19
      The usual thing. They have terrorists, their enemies have patriots.
      The wars of the colonial empires do not change.
      1. Flooding
        Flooding April 5 2021 08: 45
        Quote: BlackMokona
        The usual thing. They have terrorists, their enemies have patriots.

        I can not agree
        from the point of view of a person of the 21st century - yes
        but we're talking about the first half of the 20th century
        the parade of sovereignties of the former colonies is yet to come
        1. Blackmokona
          Blackmokona April 5 2021 10: 25
          For example, American separatist terrorists from the "USA" organization banned in Britain and proud patriots from the point of view of the Russian Empire.
          Many colonies had already fallen off by this time.
          1. Flooding
            Flooding April 5 2021 10: 32
            again. I'm talking about the direct support of the national liberation movement by the colonial empire.
            I assumed that the example of the USA would be given
            since he is almost the only one
            but unlucky
            since the war of independence in the North. America was not national liberation an inch
            1. Blackmokona
              Blackmokona April 5 2021 10: 35
              South America and Central America had also fallen off by this time
              The French occupation of Spain by the troops of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1808 led to the fact that the colonies of Spain became cut off from the metropolis, and the subsequent movement for independence in 1810-1825 led to the creation of a number of new independent Spanish-American republics in South and Central America ...
              1. Flooding
                Flooding April 5 2021 10: 39
                Quote: BlackMokona
                South America and Central America had also fallen off by this time

                took advantage of the Napoleon wars in Europe
                how does this argue your theses?
                1. Blackmokona
                  Blackmokona April 5 2021 11: 40
                  That by the time of WWII, everything had already worked out perfectly the colonial collapses and wars
    2. Sergej1972
      Sergej1972 April 11 2021 22: 46
      So Ethiopia until 1935 was a sovereign state recognized by the international community and had diplomatic relations with Great Britain. Before that, Ethiopia was no colony.
  4. Shiden
    Shiden April 5 2021 07: 33
    I want to make a comment about the article, if you describe a historical event then do not write fantasies. Mussolini, at a meeting with Hitler at 39, clearly and clearly stated to the latter that Italy was not ready for war. The military, financial, economic situation in Italy was not in the best condition to start a war ... And only the defeat of France pushed Mussolini to enter the war.
    1. Paragraph Epitafievich Y.
      Paragraph Epitafievich Y. April 5 2021 07: 49
      Quote: Shiden
      I want to make a comment about the article, if you are describing a historical event, then do not write fantasies.

      What kind of fantasy is the author talking about? Quote.
      1. Shiden
        Shiden April 5 2021 12: 26
        What do you think, why in the North African theater of operations, military operations resembled a pendulum, an offensive and retreat. It all rested on the supply of troops and not the wishes of politicians and generals. And no matter how ingenious the commander was, he won’t win the battle without supplies. At the expense of Malta in 40 Italians physically they cannot take the seizure of Albania, an example of this. The naval headquarters of the Italian fleet understood this. And the example of Norway, where Germany lost a quarter of the fleet, seemed to hint that England would not tolerate a second such adventure. In East Africa, the same problem is stretched communications with meager reserves. But the author does not seem to have these problems.
  5. Viktor Sergeev
    Viktor Sergeev April 5 2021 10: 47
    The Romans degenerated into Italians in a few hundred years, while the Germans in the 20th and 21st centuries took 70 years to do this.
  6. Doccor18
    Doccor18 April 5 2021 11: 16
    That is, the Italians had a good chance of wresting the Mediterranean and all of Northeast Africa from the British rule.

    Mussolini had everything ... except the German soldiers ...
  7. Basarev
    Basarev April 5 2021 11: 37
    Quite a natural ending. Outdated technology, weak industry, and dependent politics could only have ended in this way.
    1. Paragraph Epitafievich Y.
      Paragraph Epitafievich Y. April 5 2021 12: 06
      Quote: Basarev
      and dependent policy

      who is addicted to?
      1. Basarev
        Basarev April 5 2021 12: 13
        From the Germans, obviously. The artist quickly put himself in charge of this seemingly equal alliance.
        1. Paragraph Epitafievich Y.
          Paragraph Epitafievich Y. April 5 2021 12: 23
          Quote: Basarev
          From the Germans, obviously

          Why would you? During the period described, Duce himself made decisions and built his own policy. There was no patronage and interference in the affairs of the Duce from the Fuhrer. If Hitler had been the coordinator of Mussolini's policy, as you claim, then a number of military failures could have been avoided. Read the 1940 correspondence between Hitler and the Duce.
    2. deddem
      deddem April 11 2021 20: 19
      They just had good technology, there were problems with the staff.
      For all its ridiculousness, the tanks of the Italians were diesel, unlike the Germans.
      And Caproni's jet flew earlier than Messerschmitt and Heinkel.
      And standard trucks were still selling well in Switzerland after the war.
      That is, if you do not take the cruiser "Kirov", the leader of "Tashkent" and the KDP "Galileo" to a heap.
  8. Alexander Betonkin
    Alexander Betonkin April 5 2021 16: 51
    When I was still at school, when I looked through and disassembled (it was so interesting then - maps, photos) The history of World War II (my father received by subscription) was surprised - how in such a country it was possible to fight? Climate, nature, population - everything was alien to Europeans. Although in 2 a lot of nationalities fought there.