In Addis Ababa, they knew about the preparation of the Italian invasion. However, the "king of kings" postponed the mobilization until the last moment, in order not to give reason to accuse Ethiopia of aggression. Realizing that war was inevitable, the emperor in September 1935 announced a general mobilization. Mobilization and concentration, due to the characteristics of the Ethiopian army, the existence of the feudal system and poor communications, was extremely slow. Thus, concentration on the Northern front ended only at the end of December 1935, in the midst of the war. In total, up to 500 thousand people were mobilized.
By the beginning of the war, the Ethiopian army consisted of the following parts:
- The Imperial Guard (Kebur Zabanga), or First Division, was the selective core of the army. The guard was both the personal guard of the emperor and the elite infantry division, the operational reserve of the supreme commander. The guards numbered about 10 thousand warriors, including the 4 cavalry squadron. Guardsmen were trained by Swedish, Norwegian and Belgian officers. The battalions were commanded by officers who graduated from the French Military Academy of Saint-Cyr. The guard had good weapons - rifles, machine guns and mortars, there was one company of heavy machine guns. Only the guardsmen had khaki uniforms of the Belgian army. The remaining soldiers were dressed in a white cotton uniform and were good targets for the enemy.
- Provincial and tribal troops - up to 100 thousand people. They were recruited from volunteers and contained races (princes). Of them stand out command personnel during the formation of the state militia. There were also about 100 Thousands of settler soldiers (“flows”). Among them was the battle core of 30 thousand "tripolkov", who previously served for hire in the British and Italian troops in Somalia, Sudan and Libya. "Tripoli" combat core of the Ethiopian army and served as the personnel basis for the formation of new units. There was also a small number of Belgian advisory officers in the country.
- The general militia could total up to 500 thousand people. It was the least trained part of the armed forces of Abyssinia. Many warriors of the militia were armed only with bows and spears.
Not enough for arming the army weapons and equipment. In the whole country there were about 500 thousand rifles, only 10% were modern storefronts, the rest were outdated systems. In the army there were 200-300 machine guns of various systems. The artillery was scanty: up to 50 different guns, several anti-aircraft guns of the Oerlikon system. Ammunition was limited - 150 rounds per rifle, 10 thousand per machine gun. Aviation almost none - a few old passenger planes. From armored vehicles - several armored vehicles and obsolete tanks. The whole army had only 4 radios, wire communication was available in a limited amount. Therefore, communication was often carried out in an archaic way - with the help of messengers, “runners,” tom-toms (“talking drums”) and bonfires. For comparison, the Italian army had 6 thousand machine guns, 700 guns, 150 tankettes and 150 aircraft.
At the same time, the Abyssinian warriors traditionally were distinguished by high fighting spirit, had developed military traditions. The soldiers were unpretentious, hardy, brave, well wielded the weapons that they had in their hands. They fought well in direct combat, in hand-to-hand combat. Abyssinians knew the theater of warfare, could organize partisan and sabotage activities in the conditions of mountainous, wooded and desert terrain.
Thus, the Ethiopian army was still mostly of a feudal type, was not trained in modern battle tactics, was poorly equipped with equipment. The Ethiopian troops, despite their large numbers, were inferior to the enemy in almost all respects — unity of command, weapons and equipment, communications. There were almost no armored vehicles and aircraft. Artillery was weak; there was no food and ammunition for a long war. Part of the troops had only archaic weapons. However, the Abyssinians were high-quality combat material, differed courage and stamina, well owned personal weapons, which made them a dangerous enemy in melee.
The Abyssinian army at the beginning of the war was divided into three main operational areas. On the northern front there was an army group of 150-200 with thousands of people under the command of the Muluet, Seiyoum, Kama, Imr, and Aielu races. The troops were supposed to cover the main communications leading from the north to the Ethiopian capital. Thus, in the north, the Abyssinians were seriously inferior to 250 thousand enemy strike forces, both in number and in armament. The troops of Desta and Nasibu races were stationed on the Southern Front - 100-150 thousand soldiers. There were about 110 thousand Italians against them. In the central direction there were only about 10 thousand soldiers, against 17 thousand Italian soldiers. In reserve, the Negus had 10 thousand guards, as well as various militias, numbering up to 100 thousand people.
As a result, at the beginning of the war, Ethiopia threw 450-500 thousand people, and could increase the number of troops at the expense of the militia, but the problem was a serious shortage of modern weapons and ammunition. At the same time, there were many slaves, porters, guide pack animals, rear service personnel, that is, a large number of non-combatants in the army. As a result, the real combat strength of the army was much less than the total number of troops. Therefore, the Abyssinian army was much inferior to the enemy and could not fight on equal terms with the Italians, due to the lack of weapons, supply problems and the general backwardness of the country (economic, military-technical, science, education, etc.).
The supreme commander was a Negus, with whom various military advisers were stationed. The headquarters of the “king of kings” at different periods of the war was located in Addis Ababa, Dessier and Quoram. At the head of the armies and army groups were races.
Italy. The global and domestic political situation demanded a blitzkrieg. The delay of the war could lead to external and internal problems, threatened with a financial crisis. Therefore, the war was planned to end before the beginning of the period of great tropical rains (from June), which hampered the use of aircraft, armored vehicles and transport.
The main goal was the capital of Abyssinia - Addis Ababa. The military-political leadership hoped that after the direct defeat of the Abyssinian army and the seizure of the capital, most of the racial princes and feudal lords would change the emperor, but this assumption turned out to be erroneous. Most races continued to resist and after the fall of the capital, they led the partisan movement.
Of the two operational directions from Eritrea to Addis Ababa, which led through Dessier and Gondar, the Italians chose Dessier, since it was easier to organize an offensive and a rear. Caravan and partly wheel tracks were located here, and the highlands did not have hard-to-reach frontiers. This direction on the offensive of the main forces of the Italian Expeditionary Army was located further than the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, outside the operational influence of the British. In addition, this most convenient route from the north to the center of Abyssinia led through the richest and most densely populated agricultural areas of the country. The invasion struck the country's economy and facilitated the supply of troops with food. The Abyssinians were forced to either quit the richest regions of the country or to enter into a decisive battle, as the Italians needed. This allowed one powerful blow to defeat the enemy and complete the main fighting. Also, the Italians remembered the defeat of 1 in March of 1896 in the area of the town of Adua and wanted revenge. Thus, the Italian command concentrated on the Northern (Eritrean) front the main strike force of the expeditionary army.
The southern (Somali) front was to play a supporting role. The southern front was to forge as much as possible of the Ethiopian troops and support the advance of the Northern front with a strike on Harar - the center of Abyssinia of second importance. Also, the southern group was supposed to act on the capital direction, seeking to connect with the main forces. Thus, the Southern Front distracted almost half of the Ethiopian army and developed an offensive against Harar and Addis Ababa.
The distance in 1200 km, which divided the two fronts, hampered the interaction of Italian troops, so an auxiliary central front was created. Italian troops from the Assab area were to develop an offensive on Dessier. Thus, a small group of Italian troops in the central direction provided the flanks of the main fronts. As a result, the design of the Ethiopian campaign consisted of a concentric offensive in the northern, southern and partly central operating areas. The main blow was delivered in the north, from Eritrea in the direction of the capital of Abyssinia.
Source: Korsun N. G. The Italo-Abyssinian War 1935-1936
Abyssinia. The Abyssinian command quite correctly determined the main operational directions and distributed troops to them. The main forces were located on the northern front, a strong army was in the south. On the Southern Front, where the Abyssinians planned to defend, they had some numerical advantage over the Italians. At the same time, the disunity of the Northern and Southern fronts, the lack of communications, the almost complete lack of transport, the weak organization of the rear did not allow the Abyssinian army to maneuver with forces, to carry out a quick transfer of reinforcements and reserves. As an operational reserve, the emperor located in the junctions of roads, in the districts of Dessier and Diredua, the most selective forces were the guards.
The Abyssinian high command also worked out the right strategy: dragging out the war by unleashing a wider partisan struggle and acting on enemy communications, as well as maintaining mobile defenses on mountain frontiers. Delaying the war was supposed to stretch the enemy's forces, his communications, and during the beginning of the rainy season, to reduce the enemy's mobility, to reduce his advantage in aviation and technology to a minimum. Then, after the Italian army got stuck, it was planned to launch a decisive counteroffensive with the aim of encircling and defeating the main enemy forces. This should have forced Italy to go to peace negotiations (scenario of the First War with Italy).
Thus, Abyssinia had a good plan of war, which corresponded to the capabilities of its army, which could not compete with the Italian army, well-armed and technically equipped, in a direct decisive battle. On the other hand, the fighting qualities of the Abyssinian warriors made it possible to unleash an active partisan and sabotage war in the rear of the enemy, on his communications, to wage a small war in the mountains and forests.
However, the problem was that, under pressure from Britain and some princes who dreamed of repeating the defeat of the Italian army of the 1896 model of the year, they adopted another plan of war, more decisive. The Negus succumbed to the pressure and changed the original plan. As a result, the Abyssinian command was prepared for decisive battles with large masses of troops, after the concentration of the army was completed, which was advantageous to the Italian army, which in direct clash had complete superiority. It was a strategic mistake that had fatal consequences for the army and the country.
"King of Kings" Haile Selassie
The outbreak of war
October 3 1935, without declaring war, the Italian army invaded from Eritrea and Somalia into Ethiopia. At the same time, Italian aviation began bombing the city of Adua. Three Italian corps (1, Colonial and 2) under the command of de Beaune, which in Eritrea turned on a narrow section of 10 km, forced the border river Mareb and began to move cautiously deeper into Ethiopia on Axum and Adua, from one mountain line to to another. In this case, the Italians widely used artillery, aircraft and armored vehicles. The Italian command was cautious, and in order to secure itself from the detour and the encirclement, the troops were deeply echeloned. Thus, at the beginning of the campaign, the Italians acted cautiously, trying to crush the enemy with technical power, organize the rear and prepare communications.
The Abyssinian army, which was led by the races of Seyoum, due to the fact that it had not yet completed mobilization and concentration, evaded the defense of strong mountain positions in the areas of Atssum, Adua and Adigrat.
As a result, the Italian army, meeting only the weak resistance of scattered enemy units, by October 8 reached the line Axum, Adua, Adigrat. Then the Italians stopped to organize the rear, prepare the roads for the passage of vehicles, strengthen the occupied positions and prepare a springboard for further movement. At this time, some feudal lords betrayed the country, and went over to the side of the Italians. However, most of the soldiers did not follow their example, remaining loyal to their homeland.
The Italian High Command, dissatisfied with de Bono's cautious actions, demanded an accelerated pace of attack. Commander de Bono complied with the request of Rome and decided to make the next move, occupying the area of the city of Makalle (Makale). The 1 and Eritrean (formerly colonial) corps, advancing in the zone of the Eritrean Range and interacting with the flank squad of General Mariotti, occupied the 8-11 in November 1935, the Makelle region. The 2 Corps, cautiously advancing from the right, collided with opposition from local partisans. After this success, the Italian army, having significantly advanced its left wing to the south, stopped again. The Italian front was pulled forward in the direction of a single road that connected McAlle and Adigrat, and the interaction of certain groups was difficult due to the mountainous terrain. Again there was a long break in the fighting. The Italians pulled back, redeployed forces and reinforced the Northern Front with infantry divisions that had arrived. On the Southern Front at this time, the battle was limited to fights in the border zone.
The Abyssinian military-political leadership, ending with the concentration of troops, was waiting for the supply of arms and ammunition purchased abroad (through Sudan and British and French Somalia). The Abyssinians also hoped to hold on until the rainy season, when the roads would become impassable, and the mountain rivers in many sections would become difficult to overcome. In addition, Addis Ababa hoped that the delay in hostilities would lead to a deterioration in Italy’s international position and a rejection of aggression. October 7 1935. The League of Nations recognized Italy as the aggressor. 11 November 1935. The Council of the League of Nations decided to impose economic sanctions on Italy: the supply of weapons and certain types of strategic raw materials were banned. The League of Nations called for limiting imports of Italian goods and refraining from providing loans and loans to Rome. However, a number of leading countries of the world and Europe refused to establish restrictions on trade and economic relations with Italy - among them the USA, Germany, Austria and Hungary. The embargo on the supply of oil and oil products to Italy has not been introduced. Thus, Ethiopia’s hopes for the world community turned out to be ephemeral.
The Italian High Command, enraged by the lack of high-profile victories and blitzkrieg, decided to change the command of the expeditionary forces. Instead of de Bono, they appointed the head of the Italian General Staff, Marshal Pietro Badoglio. In the First Italian-Ethiopian War, he fought as a lieutenant and was seriously wounded in the battle of Adou. Badoglio ordered the troops to prepare for a further offensive. He also limited the bombardment of enemy troop clusters with the goal of letting the Abyssinians complete concentration in certain areas (this was reported by agents) so that the enemy could be beaten with several decisive blows. Marshal feared that the Ethiopian command, worried by air strikes, would divide the troops into small detachments and move on to a small partisan war. The Italian army did not have the strength and capabilities to ensure complete control over such a large country as Ethiopia. Badoglio also regrouped the forces of the Northern Front and formed the 3 Corps at the expense of the reinforcements arrived, which took up positions between the 1 and the Eritrean Corps. Then the 4 Army Corps was formed, which strengthened the right wing of the Northern Front.
To be continued ...