Saka Light Cavalry

Saka Light Cavalry

Monday, 17 September 2012

Terribly Obscure Wars A-Z Italo-Ethiopian War of 1895-96

Mussolini's war against Ethiopia was an attempt to turn previous failure of one but conflict with the country. Here I deal with that first one.
Italy was supported in the idea of procuring control of part of Ethiopia in 1885 as they in turn were trying to control Sudanese Muslim fanatics called Mahdists. The hope was that if Italy was able to gain control of an area of the coast that both countries would be able to support the other in their endeavours. This they did at Massawa (Mitsiwa) in Eritrea and even purchased the port of Aseb from a local ruler. The Italians then signed an agreement with Menelik II who had very recently conquered the provinces of Tigray and Amhara.Through the agreement the Italians recognised Menelik as Emperor whilst he ceded control of Eritrea and the red Sea Coast. The problem was that the treaty was in two languages and the Italian text stated Italy was to have a protectorate over Ethiopia. The Amharic version version stated that Menelik could use Italy as a go between for other European Nations! Memelik refused to be held by the Italian version of the treaty and in conditions not that dissimilar to the Mussolini war where a weak economy has to try and prop up military action. With this in mind the sent a much smaller force against the larger but technologically inferior Ethiopians.
Italy had expected parts of Ethiopia to rebel against Menelik as not that many years before he had taken their lands on his way o declaring himself Emperor. Indeed the opposite occurred with the distrust of the Italians driving them to support Menelik. Further more Menelik had also been buying modern weapons from Britain, France and even Italy! So they lagged behind Italy less in weapons than the Italians liked to think.
Italy was to win a series of battles against Menelik's allies gaining documentation that indeed these were allies of Menelk. He tried to gain support from France by offering an alliance but France fell in behind Italy agreeing to Italy's version of the treaty and succour Italy's agreement that Tunisia  was under French control.. Ethiopia was virtually on it's own (Russia agreed to give military help) and Italy with it's recent victories in mind set out for a short and victorious campaign.
This was not to be as the first major clash showed. Amba Alagi was a natural fortress but was held by 2,350 tribal troops led by Italians. A force of about 20,000 troops attacked and killed around 1,300 of the defenders, the rest fleeing back to Italian controlled Eritrea. Next was a small garrison of 1,150 tribal troops and 200 Italians who resisted several assaults and 15 days of siege before Major Giuseppe Galliano was given permission to surrender the half finished fort of Meqele. He was allowed to march away with all his troops and weapons.
General Baratieri knew his army would have difficulty fighting such a large army and also knew Menelik would not be able to keep such a large army provisioned for long and was content to wait for the inevitable decay of the force facing him. However the Italian Government forced Baratieri to attack before this happened which lead to the Battle of Adwa on March 1st 1896.
Over half the Italian forces in East Africa were at he battle made up of four brigades of about 20,000 troops with 56 artillery pieces. Facing these were 100,000 of which 80,000 had rifles (the rest spears) and around 40 guns though some were extremely old. Shear numbers told  with wave after wave of troops crashing into the Italians until the formations broke. Menelk lost between 4 and 5,000 troops killed with another 8,000 wounded. Italy lost 7,000 killed and 1,500 wounded with 3,000 captured.
This was enough for Italy, the government fell with riots in some of the cities and Italy signed a peace agreement where the borders were recognised and kept till 1935.


  1. It's always a bad idea to underestimate your enemy is the lesson of the day. Well researched Ian!

  2. A great post, very interesting!!

  3. I'm loving this series - some great ideas for future wargaming here!

  4. Absolutely fascinating and right up my street era wise.

  5. @ Fran and Ray. Do you guys do everything together? LOL

    @ Anne, I get the ideas from a Dictionary of Wars and then look up the battle elsewhere as the Dictionary is very basic and sometimes wrong. About 30-40% of the ones I think look good end up not having enough info or end up not interesting.

    @ Phil, they are real fun to run, I was suprised it had been so long since the last one! I may struggle wth Z with only 8 entries including 4 with Zulu in it. But X has only one entry!

    @ Michael, glad it struck a chord, if you or Phil end up doing something on this I would love to hear about it. In fact it was the only time a Africam Nation stood up to and won a European during this period. The army also could be used in the batles with other African Nations or the rise to power.


  6. Really enjoy these too - keep em coming!