The invading Italian army, which was routed in the epoch-making Battle of Adwa some 120 years ago, was again handed a humiliating defeat 45 years later thanks to the heroism of our patriots. The thousands of Ethiopian patriots who paid the ultimate price in repelling the attack launched on several fronts by the Italian army led by the fascist party of Benito Mussolini shall be remembered for posterity. This week marked 75 years since the young patriots of then emulated the feat of their forefathers at Adwa in achieving an anti-fascist victory that is still honored by succeeding generations.
Motivated by the desire to avenge the Adwa humiliation, Mussolini deployed a well-trained army that was equipped with thousands of machine guns and artillery as well as hundreds of tanks and aircraft to conquer Ethiopia. He also authorized the use of chemical warfare agents such as mustard, which went a long way in tipping the invasion in Italy’s balance. The very poorly equipped forces of Ethiopia were armed with nothing more than a deep love of country and a steely resolution. After the fascist army overrun the country through superior firepower and gas poisoning that led to the death of hundreds of thousands of compatriots, our brave patriots launched an anti-occupation resistance which culminated in victory five years later. Their valor has earned them eternal gratitude and honor in the annals of history.
Although the allies of fascist Italy, which believed that the expansionists’ design that was dealt a severe blow at the great Adwa battle had revived, considered the occupation of Ethiopia through massacre to be a singular achievement, Ethiopian patriots did not lose sight of their objective for a second. In a display of bravery that put to shame even those who jeered at Ethiopia or condoned Italy at the League of Nations, turned the 5-year occupation into a nightmare for the Italians proving to be a constant thorn in their side during the period. These heroic children of Ethiopia indeed deserve everlasting honor for paying a heavy sacrifice to restore their beloved nation’s sovereignty when it was forsaken by the rest of the world.
The victory against fascist Italy is mainly thought of in terms of our patriots. They played an instrumental role in regaining the independence of Ethiopia while the country was left leaderless on account of the fact that Emperor Haile-Selassie was forced into exile in order to drum up diplomatic support. Though the United Kingdom, which initially sided with Italy when it invaded Ethiopia with a view to retain it as an ally in case hostilities broke out with Germany, lent a helping hand following Italy’s decision to forge an alliance with Nazi Germany during the Second World War, the credit for ending the occupation must primarily go to our intrepid patriots. The inimitable legacy they have left behind is worthy of veneration and has set an example that subsequent generations are proud of.
The incredible exploit of our valiant patriots should be seen in the context of the overwhelming odd they faced. Historical records show that Ethiopian forces were equipped with obsolete weaponries on the eve of hostilities. These consisted of about 234 antiquated pieces of artillery mounted on rigid gun carriages, a dozen of anti-tank guns, hundreds of thousands of largely outdated rifles, 800 light and 250 heavy guns, a hundred of anti-aircraft guns as well as some 300 trucks, 7 armored cars and 4 tanks of the First World War age. The Ethiopian army numbered around 400,000 men though only about a quarter had any kind of military training. Some of the newly recruited soldiers were armed with nothing more than spears and bows. Meanwhile, in the build-up to the invasion the Italian army deployed some 12 infantry divisions comprising 685,000 soldiers. This number does not include the Italian units already in East Africa, colonial units, or units arriving during the war. For example, there were 400,000 Italian soldiers in Eritrea and 285,000 in Italian Somaliland before the new divisions arrived. The massive army forming up in East Africa also included a great number of logistical and support units. Some 200 journalists were embedded with the army. The equipment for the build-up alone included 6,000 machine guns, 2,000 pieces of artillery, 599 tanks, and 390 aircraft. Before these arrived, 3,300 machine guns, 275 artillery pieces, 200 tankettes and 205 aircraft were already in place. The Italians brought with them tons of ammunition, food, other necessary supplies and the internationally banned poison gas. They also had motor vehicles to move supplies and troops while the Ethiopian army carried supplies in horse-drawn carts. Our patriots should be eternally honored for standing up to and defeating the massive invader ranged against them.
As Ethiopians commemorate the Diamond Jubilee celebration of Victory Day we would do well to appreciate that no price is too big to pay in the defense of the motherland. Generations of Ethiopians have on several occasions demonstrated a deep-seated love for their country by vanquishing aggressors intent on subjugating them well before the anti-fascist resistance. There is nothing nobler than revering the selfless sacrifice paid by our patriotic forefathers. Aside from paying tribute to the legacy they have left behind, the generations that follow them have the moral obligation to care for and support surviving war veterans. Let’s honor for posterity our brave patriots!