March of The Iron Will - Background


On 3 October 1935, elements of the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) under General Emilio De Bono invaded the Ethiopian Empire from staging areas in the Italian colony of Eritrea on what was known as the "northern front". De Bono was the Commander-in-Chief of all Italian armed forces in East Africa. In addition, he was the Commander-in-Chief of the forces invading from Eritrea, the "northern front." Forces based in Italian Somaliland under General Rodolfo Graziani invaded Ethiopia on what was known as the "southern front." Ground forces on both fronts were amply supported by the Italian Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica).

Badoglio replaced De Bono in late 1935 and was immediately faced with the Ethiopian "Christmas Offensive." On 26 December, Badoglio asked for and was given permission to use mustard gas and phosgene. The Italians delivered the poison gas by special artillery canisters and with bombers of the Royal Air Force. While the poorly equipped Ethiopians experienced some success against the more modern weaponry of the Italians, they did not understand the "terrible rain that burned and killed."

From early 1936, events on the field of battle did not go well for the Imperial Ethiopian Army. On the southern front, Graziani eliminated a large Ethiopian army commanded by Duke (Ras) Desta Damtew during the Battle of Genale Doria using poison gas. Badoglio used poison gas to eliminate the Ethiopian northern armies one after another. He destroyed Ras Mulugeta Yeggazu's army in the Battle of Amba Aradam. He destroyed Ras Kassa Haile Darge's army in the Second Battle of Tembien. Finally, he destroyed Ras Imru Haile Sellassie's army in the Battle of Shire.

By 31 March, the last Ethiopian army on the northern front was commanded in battle by the Emperor himself, Haile Selassie. His army included six battalions of Ethiopia's best troops, the Imperial Guard (Kebur Zabangna). The Emperor led an ill-fated counterattack during the Battle of Maychew which he could not realistically hope to win. The Emperor's army suffered heavy losses during costly frontal assaults on prepared Italian defensive positions. But the bulk of his army was destroyed during the days immediately following the battle when poison gas was used to decimate the withdrawing columns.

On 20 April, Marshal Badoglio flew to the town of Dessie in Wollo Province and made his headquarters there. He decided to advance from Dessie and take the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. Dessie is only two-hundred miles (320 km) from Addis Ababa. Except for a pitiful procession of refugees, the road to the capital was clear. The Italian Commander-in-Chief faced no meaningful Ethiopian resistance.

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