Tag: WW II

Emperor Haile Selassie I


EthiopiaAfter a failed assassination attempt against Graziani on February 19, 1937, the colonial authorities executed 30,000 persons, including about half of the younger, educated Ethiopian population.


 

THE INTERREGNUM

The two years of Menelik’s reign that followed the death of Ras Tessema in 1911 found real power in the hands of Ras (later Negus) Mikael of Welo, an Oromo and former Muslim, who had converted to Christianity under duress. Mikael could muster an army of 80,000 in his predominantly Muslim province and commanded the allegiance of Oromo outside it. In December 1913, Menelik died, but fear of civil war induced the court to keep his death secret for some time. Although recognized as emperor, Menelik’s nephew, Lij Iyasu, was not formally crowned. The old nobility quickly attempted to reassert its power, which Menelik had undercut, and united against Lij Iyasu. At the outbreak of World War I, encouraged by his father and by German and Turkish diplomats, Lij Iyasu adopted the Islamic faith. Seeking to revive Muslim-Oromo predominance, Lij Iyasu placed the eastern half of Ethiopia under Ras Mikael’s control, officially placed his country in religious dependence on the Ottoman sultan-caliph, and established cordial relations with Somali leader Muhammad Abdullah Hassan.

The Shewan nobility immediately secured excommunicating Lij Iyasu and deposing him as emperor from the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church a proclamation. Menelik’s daughter, Zawditu, was declared empress. Tafari Mekonnen, the son of Ras Mekonnen of Harer (who was a descendant of a Shewan negus and a supporter of the nobles), was declared regent and heir to the throne and given the title of ras. By virtue of the power and prestige he derived from his achievements as one of Menelik’s generals, Habte Giorgis, the minister of war and a traditionalist, continued to play a major role in government affairs until his death in 1926. Although Lij Iyasu was captured in a brief military campaign in 1921 and imprisoned until his death in 1936, his father, Negus Mikael, continued for some time to pose a serious challenge to the government in Addis Ababa. The death of Habte Giorgis in 1926 left Tafari in effective control of the government. In 1928 he was crowned negus. When the empress died in 1930, Tafari succeeded to the throne without contest. Seventeen years after the death of Menelik, the succession struggle thus ended in favor of Tafari.

Well before his crowning as negus, Tafari began to introduce a degree of modernization into Ethiopia. As early as 1920, he ordered administrative regulations and legal code books from various European countries to provide models for his newly created bureaucracy. Ministers were also appointed to advise the regent and were given official accommodations in the capital. To ensure the growth of a class of educated young men who might be useful in introducing reforms in the years ahead, Tafari promoted government schooling. He enlarged the school Menelik had established for the sons of nobles and founded Tafari Mekonnen Elementary School in 1925. In addition, he took steps to improve health and social services.

Tafari also acted to extend his power base and to secure allies abroad. In 1919, after efforts to gain membership in the League of Nations were blocked because of the existence of slavery in Ethiopia, he (and Empress Zawditu) complied with the norms of the international community by banning the slave trade in 1923. That same year, Ethiopia was unanimously voted membership in the League of Nations. Continuing to seek international approval of the country’s internal conditions, the government enacted laws in 1924 that provided for the gradual emancipation of slaves and their offspring and created a government bureau to oversee the process. The exact degree of servitude was difficult to determine, however, as the majority of slaves worked in households and were considered, at least among Amhara and Tigray, to be second-class family members.

Ethiopia signed a twenty-year treaty of friendship with Italy in 1928, providing for an Ethiopian free-trade zone at Aseb in Eritrea and the construction of a road from the port to Dese in Welo. A joint company controlled road traffic. Contact with the outside world expanded further when the emperor engaged a Belgian military mission in 1929 to train the royal bodyguards. In 1930 negotiations started between Ethiopia and various international banking institutions for the establishment of the Bank of Ethiopia. In the same year, Tafari signed the Arms Traffic Act with Britain, France, and Italy, by which unauthorized persons were denied the right to import arms. The act also recognized the government’s right to procure arms against external aggression and to maintain internal order.

THE PREWAR PERIOD, 1930-36

Although Empress Zawditu died in April 1930, it was not until November that Negus Tafari was crowned Haile Selassie I, “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God, and King of Kings of Ethiopia.” As emperor, Haile Selassie continued to push reforms aimed at modernizing the country and breaking the nobility’s authority. Henceforth, the great rases were forced either to obey the emperor or to engage in treasonable opposition to him.

In July 1931, the emperor granted a constitution that asserted his own status, reserved imperial succession to the line of Haile Selassie, and declared that “the person of the Emperor is sacred, his dignity inviolable, and his power indisputable.” All power over central and local government, the legislature, the judiciary, and the military remained with the emperor. The constitution was essentially an effort to provide a legal basis for replacing the traditional provincial rulers with appointees loyal to the emperor.

The new strength of the imperial government was demonstrated in 1932 when a revolt led by Ras Hailu Balaw of Gojam in support of Lij Iyasu was quickly suppressed and a new nontraditional governor put in Hailu’s place. By 1934 reliable provincial rulers had been established throughout the traditional Amhara territories of Shewa, Gojam, and Begemdir, as well as in Kefa and Sidamo–well outside the core Amhara area. The only traditional leader capable of overtly challenging central rule at this point was the ras of Tigray. Other peoples, although in no position to confront the emperor, remained almost entirely outside the control of the imperial government.

Although Haile Selassie placed administrators of his own choosing wherever he could and thus sought to limit the power of the rases and other nobles with regional power bases, he did not directly attack the systems of land tenure that were linked to the traditional political order. Abolition of the pattern of gult rights in the Amhara-Tigray highlands and the system of land allocation in the south would have amounted to a social and economic revolution that Haile Selassie was not prepared to undertake.

ITALIAN ADMINISTRATION IN ERITREA

A latecomer to the scramble for colonies in Africa, Italy established itself first in Eritrea (its name was derived from the Latin term for the Red Sea, Mare Erythreum) in the 1880s and secured Ethiopian recognition of its claim in 1889. Despite its failure to penetrate Tigray in 1896, Italy retained control over Eritrea. A succession of Italian chief administrators, or governors, maintained a degree of unity and public order in a region marked by cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity. Eritrea also experienced material progress in many areas before Ethiopia proper did so.

One of the most important developments during the post-1889 period was the growth of an Eritrean public administration. The Italians employed many Eritreans to work in public service–particularly the police and public works–and fostered loyalty by granting Eritreans emoluments and status symbols. The local population shared in the benefits conferred under Italian colonial administration, especially through newly created medical services, agricultural improvements, and the provision of urban amenities in Asmera and Mitsiwa.

After Benito Mussolini assumed power in Italy in 1922, the colonial government in Eritrea changed. The new administration stressed the racial and political superiority of Italians, authorized segregation, and relegated the local people to the lowest level of public employment. At the same time, Rome implemented agricultural improvements and established a basis for commercial agriculture on farms run by Italian colonists.

State control of the economic sphere was matched by tighter political control. Attempts at improving the management of the colony, however, did not transform it into a selfsufficient entity. The colony’s most important function was to serve as a strategic base for future aggrandizement.

MUSSOLINI’S INVASION AND THE ITALIAN OCCUPATION

As late as September 29, 1934, Rome affirmed its 1928 treaty of friendship with Ethiopia. Nonetheless, it became clear that Italy wished to expand and link its holdings in the Horn of Africa. Moreover, the international climate of the mid-1930s provided Italy with the expectation that aggression could be undertaken with impunity. Determined to provoke a casus belli, the Mussolini regime began deliberately exploiting the minor provocations that arose in its relations with Ethiopia.

In December 1934, an incident took place at Welwel in the Ogaden, a site of wells used by Somali nomads regularly traversing the borders between Ethiopia and British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland. The Italians had built fortified positions in Welwel in 1930 and, because there had been no protests, assumed that the international community had recognized their rights over this area. However, an Anglo-Ethiopian boundary commission challenged the Italian position when it visited Welwel in late November 1934 on its way to set territorial boundary markers. On encountering Italian belligerence, the commission’s members withdrew but left behind their Ethiopian military escort, which eventually fought a battle with Italian units.

In September 1935, the League of Nations exonerated both parties in the Welwel incident. The long delay and the intricate British and French maneuverings persuaded Mussolini that no obstacle would be placed in his path. An Anglo-French proposal in August 1935–just before the League of Nations ruling–that the signatories to the 1906 Tripartite Treaty collaborate for the purpose of assisting in the modernization and reorganization of Ethiopian internal affairs, subject to the consent of Ethiopia, was flatly rejected by the Italians. On October 3, 1935, Italy attacked Ethiopia from Eritrea and Italian Somaliland without a declaration of war. On October 7, the League of Nations unanimously declared Italy an aggressor but took no effective action.

In a war that lasted seven months, Ethiopia was outmatched by Italy in armaments–a situation exacerbated by the fact that a League of Nations arms embargo was not enforced against Italy. Despite a valiant defense, the next six months saw the Ethiopians pushed back on the northern front and in Harerge. Acting on long-standing grievances, a segment of the Tigray forces defected, as did Oromo forces in some areas. Moreover, the Italians made widespread use of chemical weapons and air power. On March 31, 1936, the Ethiopians counterattacked the main Italian force at Maychew but were defeated. By early April 1936, Italian forces had reached Dese in the north and Harer in the east. On May 2, Haile Selassie left for French Somaliland and exile–a move resented by some Ethiopians who were accustomed to a warrior emperor. The Italian forces entered Addis Ababa on May 5. Four days later, Italy announced the annexation of Ethiopia.

On June 30, Haile Selassie made a powerful speech before the League of Nations in Geneva in which he set forth two choices–support for collective security or international lawlessness. The emperor stirred the conscience of many and was thereafter regarded as a major international figure. Britain and France, however, soon recognized Italy’s control of Ethiopia. Among the major powers, the United States and the Soviet Union refused to do so.

In early June 1936, Rome promulgated a constitution bringing Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Italian Somaliland together into a single administrative unit divided into six provinces. On June 11, 1936, Marshal Rodolfo Graziani replaced Marshal Pietro Badoglio, who had commanded the Italian forces in the war. In December the Italians declared the whole country to be pacified and under their effective control. Ethiopian resistance nevertheless continued.

After a failed assassination attempt against Graziani on February 19, 1937, the colonial authorities executed 30,000 persons, including about half of the younger, educated Ethiopian population. This harsh policy, however, did not pacify the country. In November 1937, Rome therefore appointed a new governor and instructed him to adopt a more flexible line. Accordingly, large-scale public works projects were undertaken. One result was the construction of the country’s first system of improved roads. In the meantime, however, the Italians had decreed miscegenation to be illegal. Racial separation, including residential segregation, was enforced as thoroughly as possible. The Italians showed favoritism to non-Christian Oromo (some of whom had supported the invasion), Somali, and other Muslims in an attempt to isolate the Amhara, who supported Haile Selassie.

Ethiopian resistance continued, nonetheless. Early in 1938, a revolt broke out in Gojam led by the Committee of Unity and Collaboration, which was made up of some of the young, educated elite who had escaped the reprisal after the attempt on Graziani’s life. In exile in Britain, the emperor sought to gain the support of the Western democracies for his cause but had little success until Italy entered World War II on the side of Germany in June 1940. Thereafter, Britain and the emperor sought to cooperate with Ethiopian and other indigenous forces in a campaign to dislodge the Italians from Ethiopia and from British Somaliland, which the Italians seized in August 1940, and to resist the Italian invasion of Sudan. Haile Selassie proceeded immediately to Khartoum, where he established closer liaison with both the British headquarters and the resistance forces within Ethiopia.

ETHIOPIA IN WORLD WAR II

The wresting of Ethiopia from the occupying Italian forces involved British personnel, composed largely of South African and African colonial troops penetrating from the south, west, and north, supported by Ethiopian guerrillas. It was the task of an Anglo-Ethiopian mission, eventually commanded by Colonel Orde Wingate, to coordinate the activities of the Ethiopian forces in support of the campaign. The emperor arrived in Gojam on January 20, 1941, and immediately undertook the task of bringing the various local resistance groups under his control.

The campaigns of 1940 and 1941 were based on a British strategy of preventing Italian forces from attacking or occupying neighboring British possessions, while at the same time pressing northward from East Africa through Italian Somaliland and eastern Ethiopia to isolate Italian troops in the highlands. This thrust was directed at the Harer and Dire Dawa area, with the objective of cutting the rail link between Addis Ababa and Djibouti. At the same time, British troops from Sudan penetrated Eritrea to cut off Italian forces from the Red Sea. The campaign in the north ended in February and March of 1941 with the Battle of Keren and the defeat of Italian troops in Eritrea. By March 3, Italian Somaliland had fallen to British forces, and soon after the Italian governor initiated negotiations for the surrender of the remaining Italian forces. On May 5, 1941, Haile Selassie reentered Addis Ababa, but it was not until January 1942 that the last of the Italians, cut off near Gonder, surrendered to British and Ethiopian forces.

During the war years, British military officials left responsibility for internal affairs in the emperor’s hands. However, it was agreed that all acts relating to the war effort–domestic or international–required British approval. Without defining the limits of authority, both sides also agreed that the emperor would issue “proclamations” and the British military administration would issue “public notices.” Without consulting the British, Haile Selassie appointed a seven-member cabinet and a governor of Addis Ababa, but for tactical reasons he announced that they would serve as advisers to the British military administration.

This interim Anglo-Ethiopian arrangement was replaced in January 1942 by a new agreement that contained a military convention. The convention provided for British assistance in the organization of a new Ethiopian army that was to be trained by a British military mission. In addition to attaching officers to Ethiopian army battalions, the British assigned advisers to most ministries and to some provincial governors. British assistance strengthened the emperor’s efforts to substitute, as his representatives in the provinces, experienced administrators for the traditional nobility. But such help was rejected whenever proposed reforms threatened to weaken the emperor’s personal control.

The terms of the agreement confirmed Ethiopia’s status as a sovereign state. However, the Ogaden and certain strategic areas, such as the French Somaliland border, the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railroad, and the Haud (collectively termed the “Reserved Areas”), remained temporarily under British administration. Other provisions set forth recruitment procedures for additional British advisers should they be requested. About the same time, a United States economic mission arrived, thereby laying the groundwork for an alliance that in time would significantly affect the country’s direction.

A British-trained national police administration and police force gradually took the place of the police who had served earlier in the retinues of the provincial governors. Opposition to these changes was generally minor except for a revolt in 1943 in Tigray–long a stronghold of resistance to the Shewans–and another in the Ogaden, inhabited chiefly by the Somali. British aircraft brought from Aden helped quell the Tigray rebellion, and two battalions of Ethiopian troops suppressed the Ogaden uprising. The 1942 Anglo-Ethiopian agreement enabled the British military to disarm the Somali rebels and to patrol the region.

After Haile Selassie returned to the throne in 1941, the British assumed control over currency and foreign exchange as well as imports and exports. Additionally, the British helped Ethiopia to rehabilitate its national bureaucracy. These changes, as well as innovations made by the Italians during the occupation, brought home to many Ethiopians the need to modernize–at least in some sectors of public life– if the country were to survive as an independent entity.

In addition, the emperor made territorial demands, but these met with little sympathy from the British. Requests for the annexation of Eritrea, which the Ethiopians claimed to be racially, culturally, and economically inseparable from Ethiopia, were received with an awareness on the part of the British of a growing Eritrean sense of separate political identity. Similarly, Italian Somaliland was intended by the British to be part of “Greater Somalia”; thus, the emperor’s claims to that territory were also rejected.

THE POSTWAR PERIOD, 1945-60: REFORM AND OPPOSITION

Despite criticism of the emperor’s 1936 decision to go into exile, the concept of the monarchy remained widely accepted after World War II. The country’s leaders and the church assumed that victory over the Italians essentially meant the restoration of their traditional privileges. Before long, however, new social classes stirred into life by Haile Selassie’s centralizing policies, as well as a younger generation full of frustrated expectations, clashed with forces bent on maintaining the traditional system.

CHANGE AND RESISTANCE

The expansion of central authority by appointed officials required a dependable tax base, and that in turn encroached on the established prerogatives of those who had been granted large holdings in the south and of gult-holders of the Amhara-Tigray highlands. Consequently, in March 1942, without reference to the restored parliament, the emperor decreed a taxation system that divided all land into one of three categories: fertile, semifertile, and poor. A fixed levy, depending on category, was imposed for each gasha (forty hectares) of land.

The nobles of Gojam, Tigray, and Begemdir refused to accept any limitation upon the prevailing land tenure system and successfully battled the government over the issue. The emperor acknowledged defeat by excluding those provinces from the tax. When landlords elsewhere also protested the tax, the emperor exempted them as well, contenting himself with a flat 10 percent tithe on all but church land. But this tax, traditionally collected by landlords, was simply passed on to the tenants. In short, the emperor pursued policies that did not infringe on the rights of the nobility and other large landholders. In 1951, in response to additional pressure from the landlords, Haile Selassie further reduced the land tax payable by landlords and not covered by previous exemptions; the peasant cultivator, as in centuries past, continued to carry the entire taxation burden.

Some reform was also effected within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. In July 1948, Haile Selassie initiated steps, completed in 1956, by which he, rather than the patriarch of Alexandria, would appoint the abun, or patriarch, of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Thus, for the first time in sixteen centuries of Ethiopian Christianity, an Ethiopian rather than an Egyptian served as head of the national church. The Ethiopian church, however, continued to recognize the primacy of the Alexandrian see. This appointment was followed by the creation of enough new bishoprics to allow the Ethiopians to elect their own patriarch. Abuna Basilios, the first Ethiopian archbishop, was elevated to the status of patriarch in 1959. The postwar years also saw a change in the church-state relationship; the vast church landholdings became subject to tax legislation, and the clergy lost the right to try fellow church officials for civil offenses in their own court.

Acutely aware of his international image, Haile Selassie also was active on the diplomatic front. Ethiopia was a founding member of the United Nations (UN) and the Organization of African Unity (OAU). After the postwar relationship with Britain wound down, the emperor in 1953 asked the United States for military assistance and economic support. Although his dependence on Washington grew, Haile Selassie diversified the sources of his international assistance, which included such disparate nations as Italy, China, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), Taiwan, Yugoslavia, Sweden, and the Soviet Union.

Administrative Change and the 1955 Constitution

In pursuit of reform, Haile Selassie faced the recalcitrance of the provincial nobility, other great landholders, and church officials–all of whom intended to maintain their power and privileges. Moreover, some provincial nobility opposed the emperor because of their own long-held claims to the throne. Whatever his intentions as a reformer, Haile Selassie was a political realist and recognized that, lacking a strong military, he had to compromise with the Amhara and Tigray nobility and with the church. And, where required, he made his peace with other ethnic groups in the empire. For example, he eventually granted autonomy over Afar areas that Addis Ababa could not dominate by armed force to the sultan of Aussa. In general, political changes were few and were compromised at the first sign of substantial opposition. In the 1950s, despite his many years as emperor and his international stature, there was almost no significant section of the Ethiopian population on which Haile Selassie could rely to support him in such efforts.

The emperor sought to gain some control over local government by placing it in the hands of the central administration in Addis Ababa. He revised the administrative divisions and established political and administrative offices corresponding to them. The largest of these administrative units were the provinces (teklay ghizats), of which there were fourteen in the mid-1960s, each under a governor general appointed directly by Haile Selassie. Each province was subdivided into subprovinces (awrajas), districts (weredas), and subdistricts (mikitil weredas). Although the structure outwardly resembled a modern state apparatus, its impact was largely dissipated by the fact that higher-ranking landed nobles held all the important offices. Younger and better educated officials were little more than aides to the governors general, and their advice more often than not was contemptuously set aside by their superiors.

The emperor also attempted to strengthen the national government. A new generation of educated Ethiopians was introduced to new enlarged ministries, the powers of which were made more specific. The emperor established a national judiciary and appointed its judges. Finally, in 1955 he proclaimed a revised constitution. Apparently, he sought to provide a formal basis for his efforts at centralization and to attract the loyalty of those who gained their livelihood from relatively modern economic activities or who were better educated than most Ethiopians.

The younger leaders were mostly the sons of the traditional elite. Having been educated abroad, they were favorably disposed toward reform and were frequently frustrated and in some cases alienated by their inability to initiate and implement it. The remnants of the small number of educated Ethiopians of an earlier generation had been appointed to high government positions. But whatever their previous concern with reform, they had little impact on traditional methods, and by the mid-1950s even this earlier reformist elite was considered conservative by the succeeding generation.

The new elite was drawn largely from the postwar generation and was generally the product of a half-dozen secondary schools operated by foreign staffs. A majority of the students continued to come from families of the landed nobility, but they were profoundly affected by the presence of students from less affluent backgrounds and by their more democratically oriented Western teachers.

The 1955 constitution was prompted, like its 1931 predecessor, by a concern with international opinion. Such opinion was particularly important at a time when some neighboring African states were rapidly advancing under European colonial tutelage and Ethiopia was pressing its claims internationally for the incorporation of Eritrea, where an elected parliament and more modern administration had existed since 1952.

The bicameral Ethiopian parliament played no part in drawing up the 1955 constitution, which, far from limiting the emperor’s control, emphasized the religious origins of imperial power and extended the centralization process. The Senate remained appointive, but the Chamber of Deputies was, at least nominally, elected. However, the absence of a census, the near total illiteracy of the population, and the domination of the countryside by the nobility meant that the majority of candidates who sought election in 1957 were in effect chosen by the elite. The Chamber of Deputies was not altogether a rubber stamp, at times discussing bills and questioning state ministers. However, provisions in the constitution that guaranteed personal freedoms and liberties, including freedom of assembly, movement, and speech, and the due process of law, were so far removed from the realities of Ethiopian life that no group or individual sought to act upon them publicly.

The Attempted Coup of 1960 and Its Aftermath

Haile Selassie’s efforts to achieve a measure of change without jeopardizing his own power stimulated rising expectations, some of which he was unwilling or unable to satisfy. Impatient with the rate or form of social and political change, several groups conspired to launch a coup d’état on December 13, 1960, while the emperor was abroad on one of his frequent trips. The leadership of the 1960 revolt came from three groups: the commander of the Imperial Bodyguard Mengistu Neway, and his followers; a few security officials, including the police chief; and a handful of radical intellectuals related to the officials, including Girmame Neway, Mengistu’s brother.

The coup was initially successful in the capital, as the rebels seized the crown prince and more than twenty cabinet ministers and other government leaders. The support of the Imperial Bodyguard, the backbone of the revolt, was obtained without informing the enlisted men–or even a majority of the officers–of the purpose of the rebels’ actions. The proclaimed intent of the coup leaders was the establishment of a government that would improve the economic, social, and political position of the general population, but they also appealed to traditional authority in the person of the crown prince. No mention was made of the emperor.

The coup’s leaders failed to achieve popular support for their actions. Although university students demonstrated in favor of the coup, army and air force units remained loyal to the emperor, who returned to the capital on December 17. The patriarch of the church, who condemned the rebels as antireligious traitors and called for fealty to the emperor, supported the loyalists. Despite the coup’s failure, it succeeded in stripping the monarchy of its claim to universal acceptance and led to a polarization of traditional and modern forces.

 


Source: Country Studies

Advertisements

Chemical Weapons in Ethiopia


By Lorenzo Striuli
March 2014

Panzer Grenadier players may wonder why very few references to the use of chemical weapons by the Italians are included in the scenarios of Conquest of Ethiopia. After all, this is a well-known subject in the historiography of the war. But are we so sure that is it actually so well-known? The aim of this article is to provide some insight into the matter. We will start with by explaining why the game scale of Panzer Grenadier is not suitable for reproducing the use of chemical agents as carried out by Italy during its war against Ethiopia.

Operational and political aspects
During this conflict chemical weapons were used (primarily) by Italian Air Force and (secondarily) by field artillery, mainly as a sort of area denial weapons. They were also used, but less so, for disrupting the primitive Ethiopian logistics. We begin by describing the latter.

Usually Ethiopian combatants moved with servants, wives, horses and other animals for food and transportation; as soon as they were spotted by Italian airplanes, they took to cover leaving their livestock in open ground. Strafing and bombing such livestock could not work, because animals would run away after the first blasts. So, it was possible to weaken the overall capability of the enemy’s armed masses by bombing their primitive logistics with chemical agents. For the same reasons, tent bivouacs were also targeted, so the hidden Abyssinians could not recover their belongings.

In most cases, however, such weapons were used as a preventive measure for denying enemy approaches toward fords, favorable firing positions, canyons, and so on (refer to the table in the annex 1 for details about such targets). Bearing in mind that Ethiopian combatants typically wore sandals or were barefoot, yprite was largely used because of its higher persistence with respect to other volatile chemical agents. The primarily usage of chemical agents as area-denial weapons is also demonstrated by the official denomination of such kind of bombings inside the mission orders and records: “Sbarramento C” (more or less: “Blockage C”, for Chemical), and doctrinal documents for operational employment in this sense are known.


Alpini admire their handiwork.

Italian and colonial troops were instructed to recognize the typical smell of yprite and the dark color that vegetation assumed when hit by this kind of mustard gas (and soon the Ethiopians too learned to figure out such signs). They were scarcely provided with CBRN equipment (as they would be called nowadays: anti-gas masks were distributed only for 10 percent of the soldiers deployed in the theatre of operations, and, possibly, they remained in field depots, with the exception of Chemical Branch personnel) because bombings were not carried close to battlefields. Chemical devices were usually dropped very far from the line of fire, and several days’ march from friendly troops.

With these premises, it would have been quite meaningless trying to reproduce such kind of chemical warfare in a platoon-level game.

Other operational and political aspects have to be considered for a general overview of the Italian approach to chemical warfare during the Abyssinian campaign.

On the operational side, it must be remembered that the several semi-private armies of the various Ras (which constituted the majority of the Ethiopian combat force) were more similar, for their modes of warfare and maneuvering, to guerrilla organizations and/or armed bands than to regular armed forces. So, only on a very few occasions did the Italians have the possibility to hit entrenched troops, military cantonments, large fortified redoubts, or concentration points for armed masses. Such targets are the only ones that can really grant operational success to chemical warfare, as had already been demonstrated by the experience of the Great War and would be repeated during the Iran-Iraq war of the Eighties (concerning the latter, we are referring to what happened at the Iranian front, not in the Kurdish areas, which experienced a genocidal-terroristic resort to chemical warfare).

So, by taking into account the quasi-irregular character of the Abyssinian armies and their “scattered” nature, the Italians could only exploit their chemical capabilities in the way they had already done during counter-insurgency operations in Libya in the Twenties and Thirties, where, however, the above-described modes of employment had been carried out in a semi-experimental manner and on a largely minor scale.

On the political side, chemically bombing large (and therefore easier to hit) urban settlements (an hypothesis taken into consideration by General Valle, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force of the time) would have certainly given rise to unforeseeable consequences at the international level, and, perhaps, also at the internal level, due to the deep impressions still imprinted in the popular conscience by the experience of Italian troops gassed during the Great War.

Such attacks had been theorized by the first generation of aerial warfare strategists of the Interwar Period (like the Italian General Giulio Douhet) and partially carried out by Spain during the Rif War of the Twenties against villages and populated oases. However the latter episode was almost unknown at the time, and had not collected, at the time, any international condemnation. For Italy, instead, things might most likely have evolved in more dramatic terms than in the Spanish case. Indeed, the Abyssinian War gathered soon undesired international attention due to the turmoil caused to both the League of Nations’ system and the equilibrium among the great powers of the time. Most of the Ethiopian cities were also full of war correspondents (maybe around one hundred), aid volunteers, military and civil foreign advisors (before the war Negus had contracted some civilian experts for improving several branches of State’s administration), etc. Undoubtedly, chemically bombing urban settlements would have placed Italy in a very embarrassing (and risky) position.

Legal aspects and political-military decisions
The resort to chemical weapons by Italians during the conflict was clearly wrongful, according to international law. In April 1928 Italy had ratified the “Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.” usually called the 1925 Geneva Protocol, a legally-binding document that Ethiopia ratified only on October 7th (four days after the beginning of the invasion).

When the international community began to criticize the Italian resort to chemical warfare, Rome justified it as retribution for the Ethiopians’ use of dum-dum bullets (which breached the Hague Convention of 1899, Declaration III), atrocities  quite often carried out against Italian prisoners and civilians (some of the latter worked in logistics supporting the troops, and sometimes were massacred by Ethiopian fighters), and abuse of Red Cross markers (an allegation possibly used by the Italians to justify the well-known bombing of some International Red Cross assets). The records regarding the initial Italian resort to chemical weapons match with the “retribution” arguments. On this matter see the attached table, which shows that chemical bombings began more than two months after the start of war; by that time, Ethiopian “misconduct” had already manifested (and they are well documented, sometimes also by Red Cross or League of Nations agencies). Moreover, Ethiopia had also declined Red Cross invitations to sign the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of 1929.

Above all, there are official documents showing that retribution had been planned for implementation in this manner before the war. For example, a document from the Operational Planning Office of the Ministry of War (dated March 14th 1934) states, “such weapons might rise to a special importance in a conflict against Ethiopia, which, if for the moment has not any chemical warfare capability, could justify our use of them as a retribution against inhuman treatment of prisoners and injured soldiers.” On December 26th 1934 the military attaché in Addis Ababa wrote to the Ministry of War, “Since Ethiopians certainly would resort to barbaric actions, we will have the right of using prohibited means, like the gas. So, it is necessary to prepare for such an event.”


Father Giuliani’s murder would be used to justify chemical massacres in his name.

Other documents formulated by the Chemical Military Branch for the Ministry of War dealt with the matter in similar tones, and it even seems that the “retribution” concept of resort to chemical weapons was known among the few soldiers deployed in the theatre of operations who were aware about their presence in the Italian arsenals activated for the war. For example, in a very uncommon reference to the matter included in the diary of a soldier of the time, and in an entry dated eighteen days before the first use of chemical weapons over the front where he was deployed, the soldeir wrote, “Abyssinians have been provided with dum-dum cartridges, they use them and we will use some amount of gas in order to convince them.”

At any rate, the above arguments do not lessen the wrongful character, according to the Geneva Protocol, of the Italian resort to chemical warfare against the Ethiopian Empire. Any Ethiopian misconduct in matters not related to chemical weapons did not legally justify the Italian flouting of said international agreement. However, despite any legal concerns, Mussolini agreed with the proposals to use chemical weapons, and also regarded them as a special measure in the event of difficult situations. But during the months of Emilio De Bono’s tenure, the old Marshal who initially commanded the Italian invasion refused to employ them. Marshal Pietro Badoglio and General Rodolfo Graziani, who replaced him, would enthusiastically use them. Graziani would also resort to dropping leaflets together with chemical bombs in order to let the enemy know they faced retribution, in a primitive sort of psychological warfare.

The impact chemical weapons use on international public opinion and the Italian debate after the Second World War
The use of chemical weapons during the Abyssinian war was internationally known at the time. The Emperor Hailè Salassiè in person spoke about it at a League of Nations session, and the issue was raised several times also by foreign military observers, advisers and the medical staffs attached to ambulance units and the Ethiopian Red Cross. However, the matter failed to spark extensive protests or condemnations for two reasons.


War as child’s play. One of a series published in Italy during the Ethiopian War.

First of all, the international community was much more concerned with the political issues related to the serious League of Nations’ crisis opened by the Italian invasion of Abyssinia than it was with purely military aspects of the matter. And at the time the use of chemical weapons was perceived almost exclusively in its military context.

Furthermore, other powers had recently used chemical weapons in extra-European contexts: the British during the 1920 Iraqi revolt (actually there were only allegations, and such use was possibly limited to tear gas) and the Spanish (with the full knowledge of France) during the 1921-1927 Rif War.

Apart from such aspects, mostly related to the “high politics” dimension of international affairs, the issue was rapidly forgotten in Italy. Even after the Fascist regime’s downfall, for two decades there was virtually no debate on it. Quite uncommonly in memoires, veterans’ books, etc. there were mentions of chemical weapons, mostly in reference to the very few occasions on which Italian soldiers physically encountered chemically-contaminated areas.

However, during the Sixties some left-wing Italian scholars began to publish historical accounts about the matter, greatly over-exaggerating the chemical weapons’ impact both on the war’s outcome and on the Abyssinian armies/population. Some of them based their conclusions almost exclusively on interviews conducted during the Sixties and Seventies with the Negus, Rasses and Ethiopian former combatants. Others involuntarily inflated the real amount of chemical agents delivered because they were not able to distinguish the concept of delivery total weight from the payload weight.

Nowadays, finally, other scholars have focused their historical assessments on a supposed widespread attitude of self-censorship and removal of the matter from national memory. The latter perspective is quite puzzling, since, for example, Marshal Rodolfo Graziani’s book Fronte Sud, published immediately after the Abyssinian campaign with a preface by Mussolini, proudly defended the role of chemical bombings in the operations, although mainly as a mean of psychological warfare. Also books of popular history published in the Seventies (like those of Franco Bandini, who always maintained a sympathetic approach to the Italian colonial adventure) had no hesitation in dealing with the matter, and also in some documented details.

Right-wings historians and journalists (some of them veterans of the Ethiopian war), on their side, answered the left-wing scholars in a number of ways. Few continued to write books about the conflict, simply avoiding any reference to chemical aspects of the operations. Others chose to disregard all the presented evidence and pretend they were unaware (and they were aware!), for example, of the above-mentioned Graziani book or Badoglio admissions (we’ll talk about them below).

Debate also raged regarding Mussolini’s involvement in the decision to use gas, as the Duce found many defenders among the right-wing scholars. A few, quite ridiculously, claimed that the decision to resort to chemical weapons was to be ascribed only to the military establishment and/or colonial officials; according to them, Mussolini was so fine in understanding international politics and public opinion that certainly he would have avoided such a political “own goal”. Others were prone to admit Mussolini’s responsibilities in the decision-making process, but were convinced that, due to his ignorance in military matters, he was dragged into authorizing chemical warfare by the fears of his commanders (Badoglio and Graziani) that they could not handle the fierce Ethiopian counterattacks. Actually, several documents clearly show how Mussolini supervised all the main aspects of the resort to chemical bombings, and that he was eager to proceed with them owing to the urgency of winning the war and ending the international political crisis opened by it.


Italy’s civilizing mission: not an attitude likely to foment opposition to chemical warfare.

The real impact of chemical weapons on the war
All the above perspectives, driven by political reasons, meta-historiographic narrations and, sometimes, also by incompetence regarding the technical aspects, have grossly tainted a correct assessment of the whole issue, which still forms a “hot topic” in the Italian national debate. Ideologies are the worst enemies of historiography. Even nowadays (when documents and records are totally accessible, or, at least, one can engage with various readily-available sources thanks to the internet) the above-mentioned right-wing and left-wing fallacies still have their followers. Especially the latter appears as having “won the hearts and minds” of a certain layer of Italian (and also foreign) public opinion believing that chemical warfare played a central (and “foul”, if not sadistic) role in the Ethiopian defeat. Such perspective has imprinted a lot of prejudices posturing in a clearly “national self-deprecating style.” In recent years, however, more accurate studies based on archival documents have been carried out. Unfortunately, their diffusion is almost restricted to the “sub-cultural ring” of military historians (the real ones, not those academics who pose as such, and, unfortunately, are also recognized in this manner).

At any rate, the table below proves that chemical bombings, from an operational point of view, were mainly employed according to area-denial concepts; that’s clearly conveyed by looking at the “target” column. The table shows that the periods of major resorts to chemical bombings were mostly related to dates when Ethiopian counterattacks were threatening the Italian advance, or when the disrupted but still large armies of Ras Mulughietà and Ras Cassa were in retreat. The resort to yprite bombings dramatically declined just before the Battle of Mai Ceu against the regular Kebur Zabagnà army under the command of the Negus: simply, the Italian and Ethiopian armies’ main echelons had come too close to each other for the employment of chemical weapons without posing some risks to friendly forces. After the Ethiopian defeat in that last great battle of the war, there was little need to go on with chemical bombings, and only in the Southern Front they lasted an additional month.

By starting from technical considerations, the chemical agents mainly used were: phosgene for choking effects; yprite as a blister agent (actually it is not a gas but a liquid, and different subtypes of this sulfur mustard agent were used); and arsine (usually called this in most of the documents, but actually it was diphenylchloroarsine) for irritant effects. The first two types were employed through aerial bombings, while the latter was delivered only by artillery. At any rate, readers with some chemical warfare knowledge will immediately recognize the need for all such kinds of agents to be delivered in a very concentrated manner over massed troops in order to achieve lethal effects. Arsine, in particular, was expected to pose as the most problematic to achieve such effects, and in the operational planning documents arsine devices were reported as actually lethal only in very high concentrations, which were almost impossible to achieve under the typical battlefield conditions of the Abyssinian campaign. Their main effects on the victims were limited to sneezing and vomiting.

The difficulties of conducting effective chemical warfare in the imminent Abyssinian campaign had already clearly stated in the aforementioned February 11th 1935 letter by the Chemical Military Branch to the Ministry of War. The experts foresaw that in the very hot Ethiopian theater, dispersed agents would require additional density than under normal conditions, due to the high presence of thermal columns. Low expectations in terms of efficacy had also been noted for plateaus, since their low temperatures and exposure to high winds would affect the correct dispersion of some of the employed chemical agents, especially yprite and phosgene.


Such a cute little war criminal.

A large share of the historiographical literature (that available in English, for its most) mentions also dusters or aerial tanks for spraying chemical agents, probably giving credence to the Negus’ statements included in his appeal to the League of Nations. Actually such devices were not in service (after experiments during the Libyan insurgency, aerial dusters for chemical agents were considered almost more dangerous for crews than targets on the ground, and ruled out as a possible means of delivery during the planning stages prior to the Ethiopian campaign) and, possibly, this erroneous belief was generated by the use of bombs which burst a few hundred meters above the ground. The most commonly employed aerial bombs were indeed the so-called 280 kg C.500.T. Their 212 kg yprite payload opened at 250 meters above the ground for dispersal over an elliptical area about 500 to 800 meters long and about 100 to 200 meters wide, oriented toward the wind direction. The bomb showed a certain degree of unreliability, and several of them were reported directly hitting the ground, with negligible payload dispersion.

Other air-launched devices were 21 kg (13 kg of payload, released only after direct impact on the ground) yprite bombs and 31 kg and 41 kg phosgene bombs (unknown payload). All three were used only on the Somali front (see the table below), and reported as obsolete, unreliable, and also old enough to pose some risks in their handling. No land-based systems, like cylinder tanks filled with gas which would be pulled by the wind toward the enemy, were used, due to the high risks posed by such devices without careful and prolonged training (during the Great War similar methods usually also caused casualties among friendly troops, due to the erratic behavior of the wind). Actually, the training for any kind of chemical weapons and their means of delivery was generally poor, and the commanders and their personnel were quite fearful when handling them. At the time the agents were not binary, and most of them had to be properly prepared and/or placed in the means of delivery just before their use. This may explain why in the table below a lot of bombings actually employed very few devices, certainly achieving scarce effects due to the difficulties in gathering the necessary density for an effective release of the payload. Possibly, commanders preferred to minimize handling risks by arming few bombers (and bombs) for most of the air raids. Since a lot of combat missions were actually fruitless thanks to the elusive nature of the enemy, the handling risks were in this way minimized by taking into account the results that were reasonably thought as possible to achieve.

Don’t wait to put Conquest of Ethiopia on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it before anyone else!

=============================================================================

Source: http://www.avalanchepress.com/Chemical1.php