Second Italo-Abyssinian War - Italian Invasion - Renewed Italian Advance in The North

Renewed Italian Advance in The North

As the progress of the Christmas Offensive slowed, Italian plans to renew the advance on the northern front got under way. In addition to being granted Mussolini's permission to use poison gas (but not "iprite"), Badoglio received additional ground forces. The elements of the Italian III Corps and the Italian IV Corps arrived in Eritrea during early 1936.

In these months there were 3 bloody battles and happened that:

  • from 20 to 24 January, the First Battle of Tembien was fought. The outcome of this battle was a decisive Italian victory, but the threat Ras Kassa posed to the I Corps and III Corps wasn't neutralized.
  • from 10 to 19 February, the Battle of Amba Aradam was fought. The outcome of this battle was a decisive Italian victory and the destruction of the army of Ras Mulugeta.
  • from 27 to 29 February, the Second Battle of Tembien was fought. The outcome of this battle was a decisive Italian victory and the destruction of the armies of Ras Kassa and Ras Seyoum.

Indeed on 20 January, the Italians resumed their northern offensive at the First Battle of Tembien in the broken terrain between the Warieu Pass and Makale. The fighting proved inconclusive and, on 24 January, the battle ended in a draw, with the Italians having suffered 10 casualties and the Ethiopians 8,000 casualties. But, for all intents and purposes, the threat posed by the Christmas Offensive was over. The Ethiopians were never to split the Italian army and they were never to invade Eritrea.

While Graziani had already done so during the Battle of Genale Doria on the southern front, it was during the First Battle of Tembien that Badoglio unleashed on the northern front the use of phosgene as a weapon. The supposed Ethiopian "threat" to Italian-held Makale and the resultant use of poison gas, Haile Selassie said:

It was at the time when the operations for the encircling of Makale were taking place that the Italian command, fearing a rout, followed the procedure which it is now my duty to denounce to the world. Special sprayers were installed on board aircraft so that they could vaporize, over vast areas of territory, a fine, death-dealing rain. Groups of nine, fifteen, eighteen aircraft followed one another so that the fog issuing from them formed a continuous sheet. It was thus that, as from the end of January 1936, soldiers, women, children, cattle, rivers, lakes, and pastures were drenched continually with this deadly rain. To systematically kill all living creatures, to more surely poison waters and pastures, the Italian command made its aircraft pass over and over again. That was its chief method of warfare.

In early February, the Italians captured Amba Aradam and destroyed Ras Mulugeta's army in the Battle of Enderta. The battle on the ground was lopsided in the Italians' favor, the Ethiopians suffered massive losses. The use of poison gas destroyed a small part of Ras Mulugeta's army, according to the Ethiopians. During the slaughter following the attempted withdrawal of his army, both Ras Mulugeta and his son were killed. The Italians lost 800 killed and wounded while the Ethiopians lost 6,000 killed and 12,000 wounded.

In late February, the Italians destroyed the armies of Ras Kassa and Ras Seyoum at the Second Battle of Tembien. Ethiopians again argued that poison gas played a role in the destruction of the withdrawing armies.

In early March, the army of Ras Imru was attacked, bombed, and defeated in what was known as the Battle of Shire. Despite resistance, the Italians successfully crushed his army. The Italians had suffered 10 casualties and the Ethiopians 10,000 casualties.

On 31 March 1936 at the Battle of Maychew, the Italians defeated an Ethiopian counteroffensive by the main Ethiopian army commanded by Emperor Haile Selassie. The outnumbered Ethiopians could not overcome the well-prepared Italian defenses. For one day, the Ethiopians launched near non-stop attacks on the Italian and Eritrean defenders, until the exhausted Ethiopians withdrew while successfully counter-attacked. The Italian Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) finished off what was left of Haile Selassie's army by attacking the survivors at Lake Ashangi with some mustard gas. The Italians had 400 casualties, the Eritreans 873, and the Ethiopians 11,000. On 4 April, Haile Selassie looked with despair upon the horrific sight of the dead bodies of his army ringing the poisoned lake.

Read more about this topic:  Second Italo-Abyssinian War, Italian Invasion

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