Battle of Amba Aradam

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Battle of Amba Aradam
Part of the Second Italo-Abyssinian War
Campagna di Etiopia - Battaglia dell'Amba Aradam - 03.jpg
A moment of the battle
Date10–19 February 1936
Location
Plain of Calamino, Plain of Antolo, and Amba Aradam, Ethiopia
Result

Decisive Italian victory

  • Destruction of the Ethiopian army of the Right in the north
Belligerents

Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg  Italy

Flag of Ethiopia (1897-1936; 1941-1974).svg  Ethiopian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg Pietro Badoglio Flag of Ethiopia (1897-1936; 1941-1974).svg Ras Mulugeta  
Strength
70,000
280 field guns
5,000 machine guns
170 airplanes
80,000
18 field guns
400 machine guns
Casualties and losses
800 casualties 6,000 killed
12,000 wounded

The Battle of Amba Aradam (also known as the Battle of Enderta [1] ) was a battle fought on the northern front of what was known as the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. This battle consisted of attacks and counterattacks by Italian forces under Marshal of Italy Pietro Badoglio and Ethiopian forces under Ras [nb 1] Mulugeta Yeggazu. This battle was primarily fought in the area around Amba Aradam which included most of Enderta Province.

Marshal of Italy was a rank in the Royal Italian Army. Originally created in 1924 by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini for the purpose of honoring Generals Luigi Cadorna and Armando Diaz, the rank was granted to several other general officers from 1926 to 1943. The rank was the highest in the Italian Army prior to the creation of the rank of First Marshal of the Empire in 1938. The rank of Marshal of Italy was abolished in 1946 with the creation of the Republic of Italy. The equivalent Royal Navy rank was Grand Admiral, while the equivalent Air Force rank was Marshal of the Air Force, all of them abolished for the Armed Forces of the Republic of Italy.

Pietro Badoglio Italian general during both World Wars and a Prime Minister of Italy

Marshal Pietro Badoglio, 1st Duke of Addis Abeba, 1st Marquess of Sabotino, was an Italian general during both World Wars and the first viceroy of Italian East Africa. With the fall of the Fascist regime in Italy, he became Prime Minister of Italy.

Ras, is a royal title in the Ethiopian Semitic languages. It is one of the powerful non-imperial titles.

Contents

Background

On 3 October 1935, General Emilio De Bono advanced into Ethiopia from Eritrea without a declaration of war. De Bono had a force of approximately 100,000 Italian soldiers and 25,000 Eritrean soldiers to advance towards Addis Ababa. In December, after a brief period of inactivity and minor setbacks for the Italians, De Bono was replaced by Badoglio. [2]

Emilio De Bono Italian General

Emilio De Bono was an Italian General, fascist activist, Marshal, and member of the Fascist Grand Council. De Bono fought in the Italo-Turkish War, World War I, and the Second Italo-Abyssinian War.

Ethiopia Country in East Africa

Ethiopia, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country in the northeastern part of Africa, known as the Horn of Africa. It shares borders with Eritrea to the north, Djibouti to the northeast, the de facto state of Somaliland and Somalia to the east, Kenya to the south, South Sudan to the west and Sudan to the northwest. With over 102 million inhabitants, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world and the second-most populous nation on the African continent with a total area of 1,100,000 square kilometres (420,000 sq mi). Its capital and largest city is Addis Ababa, which lies a few miles west of the East African Rift that splits the country into the Nubian and Somali tectonic plates.

Eritrea Country in the Horn of Africa

Eritrea, officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa, with its capital at Asmara. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast. The northeastern and eastern parts of Eritrea have an extensive coastline along the Red Sea. The nation has a total area of approximately 117,600 km2 (45,406 sq mi), and includes the Dahlak Archipelago and several of the Hanish Islands. Its toponym Eritrea is based on the Greek name for the Red Sea, which was first adopted for Italian Eritrea in 1890.

Haile Selassie launched the Christmas Offensive late in the year to test Badoglio. By mid-January 1936, Badoglio was ready to renew the Italian advance on the Ethiopian capital. Badoglio ultimately overwhelmed the armies of ill-armed and uncoordinated Ethiopian warriors with mustard gas, tanks, and heavy artillery. [3]

The Christmas Offensive took place during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. The Ethiopian offensive was more of a counteroffensive to an ever slowing Italian offensive which started the war.

Prelude

In early January 1936, the Ethiopian forces were in the hills everywhere overlooking the Italian positions and attacking them regularly. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was impatient for an Italian offensive to get under way and for the Ethiopians to be swept from the field. [4]

Benito Mussolini Fascist leader of Italy

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy from the fascists' takeover of state power in 1922 until 1943, and Duce from 1919 to his execution in 1945 during the Italian civil war. As dictator of Italy and founder of fascism, Mussolini inspired several totalitarian rulers such as Adolf Hitler.

The Ethiopians facing the Italians were in three groupings. In the center, near Abbi Addi and along the Beles River in the Tembien, were Ras Kassa Haile Darge with approximately 40,000 men and Ras Seyoum Mangasha with about 30,000 men. On the Ethiopian right was Ras Mulugeta and his army of approximately 80,000 men in positions atop Amba Aradam. Ras Imru Haile Selassie with approximately 40,000 men was on the Ethiopian left in the area around Seleh Leha in Shire Province. [5]

Abiy Addi Place in Tigray, Ethiopia

Abiy Addi is a town in central Tigray, Ethiopia. It has a latitude and longitude of 13°37′23″N39°00′06″E with an elevation ranging from 1917 to 2275 meters above sea level. Abiy Addi is surrounded by Kola Tembien woreda.

Kassa Haile Darge Shewan nobleman and President of the Crown Council of Ethiopia

Leul RasKassa Hailu KS, GCVO, GBE, was a Shewan nobleman, the son of Dejazmach Haile Wolde Kiros of Lasta, the ruling heir of Lasta's throne and younger brother of Emperor Tekle Giyorgis II on his mother's side, and Tisseme Darge, the daughter of Ras Darge Sahle Selassie, brother of Menelik II's father.

Amba Aradam mountain

Amba Aradam is a table mountain in northern Ethiopia. Located in the Debub Misraqawi (Southeastern) Zone of the Tigray Region, between Mek'ele and Addis Abeba, it has a latitude and longitude of 13°20′N39°31′E and an elevation of 2,756 metres (9,042 ft).

Badoglio had five army corps at his disposal. On his right, he had the Italian IV Corps and the Italian II Corps facing Ras Imru in the Shire. In the Italian center was the Eritrean Corps facing Ras Kassa and Ras Seyoum in the Tembien. Facing Ras Mulugeta atop Amba Aradam was the Italian I Corps and the Italian III Corps. [5]

3rd Army Corps (Italy)

The 3rd Army Corps was one of three corps the Italian Army fielded during the Cold War. Based in the regions of Lombardy and Piemont the corps was the army's operational reserve, while the 4th Alpine Army Corps and the 5th Army Corps, both based in the North East of Italy, were the army's front-line units. After the end of the Cold War the corps was reduced in size and on 1 December 2000 it ceded its last brigades to the 1st Defence Forces Command. The personnel of the 3rd Army Corps was used to raise the NATO Rapid Deployable Italian Corps in January 2001.

Initially, Badoglio saw the destruction of Ras Mulugeta's army as his first priority. Mulugeta's force would have to be dislodged from its strong positions on Amba Aradam in order for the Italians to continue the advance towards Addis Ababa. But Ras Kassa and Ras Seyoumm were exerting such pressure from the Tembien that Badoglio decided that he would have to deal with them first. If the Ethiopian center was successful, the I Corps and III Corps facing Mulugeta would be cut off from reinforcement and resupply. [4]

From 20 to 24 January, the First Battle of Tembien was fought. The outcome of this battle was inconclusive, but the threat Ras Kassa posed to the I Corps and III Corps was neutralized. [4]

On 9 February, Marshal Badoglio held a press conference at his headquarters and announced that the mighty obstacle that blocked the road to Addis Ababa was about to be liquidated. Badoglio was talking of course about Ras Mulugeta and his army dug in atop Amba Aradam. [6] The mountain was of two parts. There was a jagged ridge known to the Italians as "The Herringbone" and, on the extreme right, a flat-topped peak called "The Priest's Hat." The land around the base of the mountain was known as the Enderta. An article in a then current issue of Time Magazine indicated that the correspondents on the Italian side were provided with a high-powered telescope to watch the progress of the battle. [7]

While their forces were roughly equal, Badoglio held an overwhelming material advantage over Mulugeta. The Italians attacking Amba Aradam had more than 5,000 machine guns, 280 pieces of artillery, and 170 airplanes. By contrast, the Ethiopians had about 400 machine guns, 18 old field pieces of medium calibre, a small number of anti-aircraft guns, and no planes. Mulugeta's one advantage were the steep slopes of Amba Arada. [8]

Battle

At 8:00am on the 10 February, Badoglio launched the Battle of Amba Aradam. Royal Italian Army and Blackshirts led the Italian advance. Native Askaris, on which De Bono had leaned so heavily, formed the reserve. [9] The Italian I Corps and Italian III Corps advanced across the Calamino Plain. By night fall, both corps were established on the banks of the Gabat River. [10]

Badoglio was an artilleryman first and last. As a result, he fought a gunner's battle. His headquarters was also the Italian artillery observation post and about every five minutes scout planes of the Regia Aeronautica went out to circle the front. The planes identified the locations of Ethiopian forces for the Italian gunners. But the Ethiopians fighting for Ras Mulugeta were regular drilled and uniformed troops. They had artillery too and knew how to use it. [9]

The Italian scout planes also mapped out the area around Amba Aradam and discovered a weakness in Ras Mulugeta's defences. Air photographs showed that an attack from the Plain of Antalo to the south of Amba Aradam should be uncontested. As a result of this discovery, Badoglio planned to encircle Amba Aradam and attack Mulugeta from the rear after his forces linked up at Antalo. [11]

On the 11 February, the 4th "3rd January" Blackshirt Division and the Pusteria Alpine Division of the I Corps advanced from the Gabat moving towards and around the west side of Amba Aradam. At the same time, the III Corps moved towards and around the east side of Amba Aradam. Too late Ras Mulugeta realized the Italian plan to encircle his positions. [10]

On the afternoon of the 12 February, a large Ethiopian force streamed down the western slopes of Amba Aradam and attacked the 3rd "21st April" Blackshirt Division. The Blackshirts were held up, but the Pusteria Alpine Division continued its advance towards Antalo. The near continuous and persistent air and artillery bombardment of the Ethiopian positions had sapped the Ethiopians of much of their will to resist. [10]

On the evening of the 14 February, the Italian pincers were about to snap shut. As the encircling forces reached specified positions, they formed up, re-grouped, and positioned their artillery for the final assault. [12]

By the morning of 15 February, under cover of darkness and dense cloud, the Italians completed the encirclement of Amba Aradam. When daylight came and the clouds lifted, the Ethiopians were reinvigorated by the sight of their predicament. They swarmed down the western slopes of Amba Aradam towards Addi Kolo. The Ethiopians attacked the Italians at the western base of Amba Aradam again and again. But the Italian artillery and air power negated the fury of the Ethiopian assault. By darkness, the battle was practically over. [12]

Ras Mulugeta guessed that the Italians would take Amba Aradam by first attacking "The Priest's Hat". He guessed wrong. The Italians attacked and secured the lightly held Ethiopian positions on "The Herringbone" which made defense of the "Priest's Hat" untenable. [9] For political reasons, the 1st "23rd March" Blackshirt Division was given the honor of hoisting the Italian flag atop Amba Aradam. [12]

The Ethiopians had managed to create a break in the Italian line around Addi Kolo. Through this break the army of Ras Mulugeta made its escape as it fell back towards Amba Alagi and Sokota. [12] Mulugeta planned to reassemble his forces around Amba Alagi. [9]

Aftermath

Badoglio unleashed the full power of the Italian Air Force on the fleeing army of Ras Mulugeta. For four consecutive days, forty tons of mustard gas was dropped on the hapless fugitives. In addition to this, the local Azebu Galla were bribed by the Italians to attack the Ethiopian stragglers. [13]

Tadessa Mulugeta, Ras Mulugeta's son, was the Asmach [nb 2] on Amba Aradam. He was killed in an action against a party of Galla and his body was mutilated by them. When Ras Mulugeta received news of this outrage, he turned back and was killed himself by a strafing plane. Attacked from both above and from the ground, what was left of the army of Ras Mulugeta dissolved. [14]

Badoglio now turned his attention from the Ethiopian right back to the Ethiopian center and Ras Kassa and Ras Seyoum. It was time to finish what had been started at the First Battle of Tembien. The result was the Second Battle of Tembien. [5]

The corrupted form ambaradàn entered Italian language with the meaning of 'messy, complex situation' [15]

See also

Notes

  1. Roughly equivalent to Duke.
  2. Roughly equivalent to Commander of the Rear Guard.

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References

  1. David Nicholle. The Italian Invasion of Abyssinia 1935–36, pg. 9
  2. Nicolle, David (1997). The Italian Invasion of Abyssinia 1935–1936. Westminster, MD: Osprey. p. 8. ISBN   978-1-85532-692-7.
  3. John Laffin. Brassey's Dictionary of Battles, pg. 28
  4. 1 2 3 Barker, A. J., Rape of Ethiopia 1936, p. 59
  5. 1 2 3 Barker, A. J., Rape of Ethiopia 1936, p. 55
  6. Barker, A. J., Rape of Ethiopia 1936, p. 77
  7. Time Magazine, 24 February 1936
  8. Barker, A. J., Rape of Ethiopia 1936, p. 78
  9. 1 2 3 4 Time Magazine, 24 February 1936
  10. 1 2 3 Barker, A. J., Rape of Ethiopia 1936, p. 80
  11. Barker, A. J., Rape of Ethiopia 1936, p. 79
  12. 1 2 3 4 Barker, A. J., Rape of Ethiopia 1936, p. 81
  13. Barker, A. J., Rape of Ethiopia 1936, p. 82
  14. Barker, A. J., Rape of Ethiopia 1936, p. 83
  15. http://www.accademiadellacrusca.it/en/italian-language/language-consulting/questions-answers/origine-parola-ambaradan

Bibliography