In July 1977, Somali troops invaded Ethiopia. Somalia's army numbered 250 tanks, hundreds of artillery pieces, 12 mechanized infantry brigades, more than 30 modern aircraft.
Thanks to the surprise and a large number of military equipment, the Somali troops were able to capture a significant part of the Ogaden area, the city of Jijiga, and important strategic points: road junctions, mountain passes. The city of Harar was surrounded from the north, south and east, and the Somalis approached the Hole-Dawa very close by the rail and dirt roads leading from Djibouti to Ethiopia.
In northern Ethiopia — Eritrea, overlooking the Red Sea, the situation was no better. The separatists, who have been fighting for the secession of the province from Ethiopia for 20 for years, launched an offensive and surrounded the capital of Eritrea, Asmara. Unrest was also in other parts of the country, Addis Ababa. The regime Mengistu Haile Mariama was in grave danger.
(Information for reflection) “Western propaganda is trying to distort the essence of the Ethiopian-Somali conflict. Widely spreading the inventions of Somali propaganda, in the West recently they have been actively using speculations about the "participation" of unknown Cuban and Soviet military units in the battles in Ogaden.
“I must state absolutely categorically,” said Colonel Mulatu, “that there are no Soviet or Cuban military formations in Ethiopia.” Neither Cuban nor Soviet citizens take part in the battles. We receive help from the socialist countries in solidarity with our revolution. There are technical specialists and medical personnel in the country helping the defense, the economy in health care of Ethiopia, but the Ethiopian people, their army and no one else are waging war against the invaders. ”
(Pravda Newspaper 15 February 1978 of the Year).
I have a newspaper just quoted in my hands. We sit in a pile of letters, with traces of endless repairs, in the editorial room and talk to a man who, judging by that long-time publication, was not and could not be in Ethiopia. But he was there, he fought and even received the Order of the Red Banner for that war, however, with the elegant wording “For exemplary performance of official duties”.
Nikolai Fedorovich Oleschenko, major general of the reserve. Frontovik. The father died in December 1941-th near Moscow, and in August of the following year, a son was called. He graduated from the artillery school, fought on the Kalininsky front, the Baltic. After the war, commanded the battery, battalion, regiment, artillery unit.
- Nikolai Fedorovich, how did you get to Ethiopia?
- Immediately after Nigeria. In Nigeria, I was with the official military delegation, led by General of the Army Pavlovsky. Before our arrival, there was a military coup, as they said, progressive, and it was necessary to build bridges. Our visit also had a more pragmatic goal: the Nigerians bought combat aircraft from us, and we, the gunners, wanted to convince them of the advantages of our guns, that is, to expand supplies weapons.
We flew home, as I remember, 20 November 1977, and I immediately sat down to report. Four days passed, I wrote a report and had already intended to take up my direct duties, when suddenly I was called to the commander of the missile forces and ground artillery by Marshal of Artillery Georgy Efimovich Peredelsky, and he announces to me that in the evening I have to take a scheduled flight to Addis. Abeba and go to the disposal of General of the Army Petrov, who headed in Ethiopia the task force of the USSR Ministry of Defense to assist the government of this country in repelling the aggression of Somalia.
To put it mildly, it was somewhat unexpected for me. Moreover, I was not very clear about what was happening there in Ethiopia.
- And you could refuse, referring to, say, ill health? After all, only four days were at home.
- What do you! How could I refuse? I am a professional military man, and the army is not the best place for discussions. There is an order, it must be carried out. That's all.
- Oh well. Why did you choose it?
- This is explained simply. First I had to fly my classmate in the Academy, Major General Viktor Petrov. But it took time for registration, and on the eve of our conversation with Peredelsky from Addis Ababa, Petrov called the chief of the General Staff and said that an artillery general was urgently needed for the situation. They began to think, and here I am: I passed all the vaccinations from the plague to yellow fever, I had a medical certificate, and only the visa of the Ethiopian embassy was needed, which, as you understand, is a matter of a few minutes. That's why they chose me.
I, coming out of the office of the chief, called my wife, said to pack a suitcase, all the same as in Nigeria, only without a military uniform.
I rode for a week or two, and stayed there for the first time more than six months.
- And what happened next?
- Next was a crazy day. It was necessary to prepare instructions for work, manuals, instruments, get instructions from Akhromeyev, then he was the first deputy chief of the General Staff. In short, I jumped home for a few minutes, grabbed a suitcase - and to the airport.
The first thing that caught my eye in Addis Ababa was the bullet-riddled portraits of Marx, Engels and Lenin. The city was constantly shooting, all important objects were guarded by the army. And, I remember, then I thought that the information published in our newspapers is worthless.
The situation in those days was very complicated. Somali troops have gone deep into Ethiopia 400-500 kilometers - this is to the east. In the north and northwest, the separatists actively fought against the regime. It was not easy in Addis Ababa. And the government took measures that seemed frankly harsh to us. In the mornings, when we went to the mission of the chief military adviser, we saw heaps of corpses in squares, markets, and churches. Our escorts explained that they were counterrevolutionaries and that the Ethiopian leadership was using our experience, and the white terror responds with red. When we met with the leadership of the country, we tried to instill that this method was dangerous, they could suffer, and innocent people suffered. When the terror of any color begins, they no longer understand.
- Nikolai Fedorovich, how did you start your work in Ethiopia? What were the mood, combat training of the Ethiopian army? What role did the Cubans play?
- Traditionally, since imperial times, the Americans have provided military assistance to Ethiopia. The equipment was mainly from the USA, specialists, too, and most of the Ethiopian personnel officers received military education in America. This helped us, as the translators from the local Amharic language in the Union turned out to be few, mostly “English” arrived. This is the problem of communication, learning.
And we started with the fact that we urgently organized a school of artillery sergeants in one of the townships, began to put together units and units. It was not easy. Volunteers arrived from Cuba, and the units were mixed: officers and sergeants - Cubans, privates - Ethiopians.
- And as far as Cubans were volunteers, Nikolai Fedorovich?
- Honestly, I do not know. They called themselves "internationalist fighters", they were all professional military men, although they came separately, in a "citizen". It soon became clear that many had served in Cuba in one unit, the division.
- How can one assess in reality the military assistance of Ethiopia? How effective was it?
- Hmm, an interesting question. My deep conviction is that if Ethiopia had not had our advisers and Cuban volunteers, the war would definitely have been lost.
I do not know how and what the Americans taught them, but when we became familiar with the situation, it became clear that tactically the troops were poorly trained, the commanders of the highest ranks did not possess operational art. What kind of war is this really? The Ethiopian army takes up defenses in a line, dispersing forces and means. Somalis, concentrating troops on the directions of the main attack, easily break open defenses, take defenders into ticks, surround them, if necessary, creating “bags” and “boilers”.
In addition to purely military mistakes, the surprise factor in the actions of the Ethiopian army was completely excluded. The adversary's awareness of all our plans was simply amazing. It was worth, say, at a meeting in which officers of the front and ministry of defense of Ethiopia were present to announce plans for the next operation, as the enemy immediately took countermeasures. Therefore, we had to plan all operations independently and announce the decision only the day before.
“How did the Ethiopians fight?”
- It happened differently, and showed heroism, and cowardice, here it is hardly possible to draw conclusions for the whole army. They fought strangely, that's for sure. It was crazy to us that during the artillery preparation tanks and infantry did not go at the enemy as it should be, but started moving only after the end of the shooting. Naturally, she could not destroy all artillery, and the remaining enemy fire weapons inflicted great losses on the advancing troops. Cubans acted better, but there were cases when they were not active either. The offensive froze.
- And what did you do then?
- Pushed the troops in front of you! Army General Petrov traveled to the battlefield by car, and not by a tank or an armored troop-carrier, in the usual "jeep", we, of course, are with him, and carried the infantry, as they say, with a personal example. Stop Petrov was impossible. I remember that in one of my operations, my assistant, a Soviet military adviser with the commander of an artillery battalion, died. The division hesitated to enter the battle formation, I immediately reported to Petrov on the walkie-talkie, to which he replied to me in such a way that we all could die, and should carry out our tasks. In general, Vasily Ivanovich showed himself not only a talented military leader, but also a man of rare personal courage. Demanding was to the limit. I have a radiogram in the archive signed by Petrov. Here is the text: “Today, by the end of the day, for Danan to be taken and you report it. Follow yourself with 3 br. SN (special forces brigade). Petrov. And, as you understand, we took the city of Danan, though not by the end of the day, but for the next dinner, and then thanks to our perseverance - the commander of the Ethiopian brigade, referring to the fact that the infantry did not fit (the parachute brigade) no maps, products, guides, refused to attack at all.
- Nikolai Fedorovich, speaking about how Ethiopians fought, you don’t tell anything about Somalis.
- Somalia is special история. Literally before the onset of aggression and, accordingly, our assistance to Ethiopia, we had excellent relations with Somalia. For nearly fifteen years, we have been supplying weapons there, many officers, including senior ones, graduated from our colleges and academies; our advisers in the troops were also ours. And so the Somalis fought according to all the rules, according to the Soviet military regulations.
By the way, when we started organizing resistance to the Somali army, specialists were summoned from Moscow for consultation. Just a week before, they were expelled from Somalia. They told us about the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy, about which areas approximately which forces are operating. That helped us a lot.
Although, to be honest, one thought doesn’t give me any peace: what did the Ministry of Foreign Affairs think when we were “friends" with Somalia first, and then, suddenly, we became "friends" with Ethiopia? You know, it was very disappointing to jump, like a bunny, under the gaps of Somali artillery shells and know this: they shoot at us from Soviet cannons, shells made at Soviet factories by Soviet workers, the people we taught to shoot. Thank God that we did not have time to install long-range jet systems in Somalia. They had only one battery and four Grad rocket launchers, and the cat wept for ammunition. These systems were sold to them for training, and the main party was. wrapped on the way and unloaded from the ships in Ethiopia. Just a few days, and we would have had a hard time.
It was also lucky that in the first battles the Somalis suffered significant losses in the flight crew, and airfields were inflicted aviation blows. Therefore, their aircraft almost did not bother us. Our advisers knew the layout of the Somali air defense, and Ethiopian and Cuban pilots successfully bombed airfields, clusters of manpower and equipment.
In late January, the counterattack in the direction of the main attack of the enemy, the troops advanced tens of kilometers, and the threat of taking Harare was removed.
In early February, the offensive was continued, and by the end of March the fighting in Ogaden was almost complete. We received the task to prepare proposals for the deployment of troops, to reconsider the border guard areas. We already knew that our next task would be to fight the separatists in Eritrea. The Cubans, by the way, refused to participate in this struggle. They stood up as garrisons in the east, in case of a repetition of the aggressions and not far from Addis Ababa, in order to support the government if an attempt was made by a military coup. In those parts, this is a common thing. And we, as always, climbed into all holes with a gag.
- Nikolai Fedorovich, the fighting is over. The territory of Ethiopia you helped to free. And home?
- Only Petrov flew home right away - he was seriously ill. We. everybody got sick with amoebic dysentery, and Petrov fell ill with it at the end of the war, although he was very careful. And how was it not to get sick? In the mountains, the water boils at 80 degrees, the microbes are not killed, but you feel like drinking. And so they lived from hand to mouth. For two weeks, there was nothing but Yugoslav sardines and galetes. We slept on the front in the cab or in the back of the car, the face burned to the ulcers, all were covered with red dust - there was red soil. And very tormented by the heat. In Addis Ababa, the climate is still divine, even though it is cool in the evening, and you can hide in the daytime. And on the front - where to hide? And there is no salvation day or night. January, it seems, and around the yellow sand and ruthless sun.
So, Petrov flew away, and we stayed. And, as a reward for all the torment suffered, they settled you in the former imperial palace. The incredible luxury, around porcelain, crystal, gold. The palace has a zoo with leopards, monkeys, ostriches.
The servants are the same as under the emperor. And the director of the palace is a general.
But this is a palace, but in general the country is beggarly, the mass of homeless people, children hardly study, and from seven to eight years they earn their living: they clean their boots, wear them, trays. There are no villages as such, there are huts or sheds of branches, and, of course, no amenities. The best buildings are schools, but also schools like a large barn, where, except for desks, nothing.
We relaxed in the imperial palace, and on April 25, 1978, flew by a regular flight to Moscow. On the eve of the departure, the Minister of Defense of Ethiopia gave a farewell party at a restaurant, where, besides him, there were other top military officials. The minister said that there are no orders in his republic yet, and we were handed national souvenirs.
The meeting in Moscow was joyful. Soon we learned that Motherland appreciated our work, in particular, they awarded me with the Order of the Red Banner, although they represented the Order of Lenin on Petrograd, and they gave the Order of Lenin to Petrov, and the presentation was on Hero.
After this trip, I was in Ethiopia five times, most recently in 1984, as part of the official military delegation. The delegation was led by Marshal Petrov.
- Tell me, Nikolai Fyodorovich, did you give a subscription to not disclose what you saw in Ethiopia?
- No, there was no subscription, and I myself understood that there was no need for additional conversations, although, of course, the whole world knew that Soviet specialists and Cuban units were fighting in Ethiopia.
- And the last question: how do you feel about that trip to Ethiopia today?
- Just like in the 1977 year. I did my duty, I received the task and how a military man is obliged to fulfill it. No reasoning: it is necessary - it means it is necessary.
Of course, after years I cannot think about the short-sightedness of those who pursued the policy of the Soviet Union. We paid for the mistakes of the government with our lives. But I am not a politician, I am a military man, even if retired. We made decisions, we carried out the orders of our government. And if today the assessment of our then military aid to Ethiopia, Angola, Syria, Egypt cannot be changed, everything will change, I am still sure that soldiers and officers who acted on different fronts of internecine wars in Asia and Africa should be treated with respect. They were brave people, and they fought skillfully.