The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I


Our journey from Koram to the warfront at Maytchaw

While We were at Koram, enemy aircraft would come over daily, making repeated turns to and fro, from two to nine o’clock (= 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.), dropping many bombs and much poison gas and causing harm to Our army. The army officers who had taken the offensive on the Tambien front had fought there with valour and discharged their duty; in the end they were defeated by superiority of bombs and weapons and had dispersed; We then sent for them to join Us. They reached Koram on 10th Magabit (= 19th March, 1936) at eight o’clock at night (= 2 a.m.) and were reunited with Us. While the principals were H.H. Ras Kassa Haylu and H.H. Ras Seyum Mangasha, with them were Dejazmatch Mangasha Yelma, Dejazmatch Wand Bawassan Kassa, Dejazmatch Abara Kassa, Tsahafe Te’ezaz Afawarq, Bajerond Latyebalu Gabre, Qagnazmatch Dahne Walda Maryam, Fitawrari Zawdu Abba Koran, and other officers.

On Thursday, 11th Magabit (= 20th March 1936), We heard that the Italians had passed Amba Alage and were encamped at Maytchaw; We decided, therefore, to take the guard of honour which had been waiting with Us as rearguard, as well as the army which had returned from the front, and to go to fight, with Ourselves as leader. We thus set out from Koram at two o’clock in the evening (= 8 p.m.) and proceeded towards the war front at Hayo. As the night was dark, We directed the army to prepare torches and we marched by torch-light. And since the road was narrow, the march took many hours.

Having marched in this fashion, we spent the day of Magabit 12th (= 21st March) at a place, a little beyond Lake Ashange, which was suitable for protection against aeroplanes; and marching again that night we reached the district called Hayo (Aya). On this day enemy aircraft dropped many bombs and were spraying yperite poison that was flowing like water; thus the terrible death that came upon man and beast was most distressing.

The day of 13th Magabit (= 22nd March) We spent encamped at Hayo (Aya) upon an arid amba, a place that was suitable for observation of aircraft. At two o’clock in the evening (= 8 p.m.) We assembled all the army officers and chiefs and explained to them Our plan as regards the battle tactics and the order of muster. After this We directed them, on their part, to express their views in what manner the waging of the battle might be improved. The great officers present on this occasion were H.H. Ras Kassa, H.H. Ras Seyum, Ras Getatchaw, Dejazmatch Wandirad, Dejazmatch Walda Ammanu’el, Dejazmatch Adafersaw, Ligaba Tassaw, Fitawrari Ashanafi as well as other captains and army officers who served under them. The officers consulted and then presented to Us the following unanimous opinion:

‘Death is an inheritance that cannot fail to come to all of us. God has assigned to us the day, and if we are victorious, then we shall have saved our independence; and if we die, then it will be for our country, for our death will be reckoned as martyrdom. It is a great good fortune to die having struggled with the enemy. Making the approach to battle overnight, let us meet the enemy at dawn.’

After We had listened to their speech, We said to them: ‘Whether We die or live, it is for Our country; all We are concerned about is lest Our country should die.’ We then informed them that we would be marching towards the war front to Ba'tawayo.

We spent the day of Magabit 14th (= 23rd March) on that arid amba of Hayo (Aya). On this day the chiefs of Tchartchar came with rifles and ammunition which they had received from the Italians and expressed to Us the following sentiments of loyalty: ‘It is because the Italians had told us “your king is not there” that our hearts were divided; but now that we have seen you with our own eyes, we shall die fighting for our country's freedom with the arms we received from the enemy.’ And We warned them, saying: ‘Do realize that the lies which the enemy is telling you are apt to destroy you and your country!’

When it was twelve o'clock (= 6 p.m.) on this day We departed from the barren amba and, marching through the night, We camped at the Ba'tawayo cave. This place is vis-a-vis the Italian encampment.

When We were at Ba'tawayo on 15th Magabit (= 24th March), enemy aircraft spent the day going to and fro and dropping many bombs. At six o'clock (= 12 noon) a large aeroplane arrived and, flying low over the place where We were, dropped bombs. From Our side a machine-gun volley was fired and it was hit and set on fire; emitting smoke it fell beyond the Dubbar pass. The Italian radio confirmed that the plane was burnt together with its crew of four.

We stayed at Ba’tawayo preparing military plans from the 16th to the 19th Magabit (= 25th to 28th March). On these days enemy aircraft went to and fro in great numbers and dropped bombs and poison gas; every day, as a result of Our soldiers’ fire, these planes were seen to be burning and to emit smoke, going towards the Tchartchar lowland. On 19th Magabit in particular one of the aircraft that had come over was hit by an Oerlikon gun and came down near there; after that many aircraft arrived dropping bombs and poison, and as a result many people were killed and injured.

On Saturday, 19th Magabit (= 28th March), We summoned the army commanders and gave them the following guide-lines:

‘It is necessary to be resolute and to eschew vengeance even when going to hunt a wild beast—let alone for this present decisive great battle against our enemy. Young men facing war, you have seen that God has condemned any irresolute soldier in the past, for it is worthless doing things only on instructions and orders fearing that God will condemn one—rather than doing one’s duty whole-heartedly.

If one flees, not having acted resolutely, there is only death. Fight fiercely, lest the freedom of your country of Ethiopia and its flag should be obliterated and torn to shreds, for it is to him who acts decisively and intrepidly that God extends his help. If you break the oath, death is surely bound to occur; do not die having ruined the honour of your soul and your body.

To claim: “my officer has fled or has died; I have to carry an injured body” is not really motivated by compassion for the injured but to fabricate a refuge for his frightened heart. When an officer dies, is not a soldier who has been fighting bravely to become an officer?

If God favours us, do not hasten to quarrel over property, for Ethiopia’s existence is our property and wealth. If you find a foreigner, a wounded prisoner, do not finish him off with the dagger, pistol or explosives in his hand, except if he tries to harm you, for having him as a prisoner may help us to find out the enemy’s secrets.

If a servant gets separated from his master, troops from their commander, this means the beginning of flight, so recognize it as the enemy of myself and of Ethiopia.’

Anxious that no harm should befall the rest of Our army for lack of precautions, We transmitted to them the orders set out here below and divided into eight paragraphs:

‘(1) It is at 2 o'clock in the evening (= 8 p.m.) that you are to depart from your camp to the place to which you have been ordered.

(2) When you march at night to go to the battle front, you are to follow the way which your officer will show you, but you must not shout to your friend and sing war songs, shine a light or blow a trumpet. The reason for this is that, if the enemy were to hear your voice, he would harm you by waiting for you in a state of preparedness; but if you were to launch an unexpected attack upon him, before he hears or knows about it, our enemy would be greatly hurt.

(3) Take care lest our enemy, appearing to be fleeing, should induce you to enter in the midst of his fire where his machine-guns are positioned on all sides. While wary of the enemy's ruses and before you pull back, fall upon your enemy, leaving him when he tries to lead you on and going to his flank.

(4) We have to be dedicated to destroying completely the enemy who has now invaded us, as he has set out to extinguish altogether Ethiopia and her people. By killing just one man before the battle ends and going back exhibiting him as a war trophy before the enemy's defeat is known, is bound to hamper our war effort; for if you return and say “for me alone things have gone well", you are leaving your friend on his own and exposing him to enemy attack; thus the trophy will not be counted in your favour if you return in the morning claiming that you have been successful.

(5) Since for the Ethiopian people the chief possession is freedom, do not hasten to pillage things before you have defeated and put to flight the invading enemy who has come to destroy that freedom and before you have caused him to abandon his position. If you plunder him and he then takes it back, what benefit will you have derived? A man who takes away the enemy's property, in order to ensure for himself the permanence of the possessions he has taken, has first of all to destroy the enemy to prevent him returning and snatching things back.

(6) Having spent the day fighting and if, perhaps, on one occasion you did not manage to win because the enemy has been too strong for you, you have to fight fiercely until We send you support troops; but you are not to turn back until you are told to withdraw.

(7) A rocket signal will be given on Adimoshash to indicate “open fire!”

(8) Especially when men of rank are found, they are to be taken prisoners—to the extent that it is possible for you, since it is through the evidence of prisoners that the enemy’s secrets and strength are found out—except, of course, if the enemy threatens you with pistol, hand-grenade or dagger.

19th Magabit 1928 (= 28th March 1936).’

Afterwards We divided the strategic order, by which we were going into battle, into four groups and, adding the troops collected from various offices, We arranged that one group be directly commanded and led by Ourselves and that the remaining three groups be led by three commanders, i.e. by H.H. Ras Kassa, by H.H. Ras Seyum, and by Ras Getatchaw. The part commanded and led by Ourselves direct was divided as follows:

At the front, the corps of the guard of honour under Qagnazmatch Makuriya Bant Yergu and his deputy Grazmatch Kefle Ergatu.
On the left, the corps of the guard of honour under Grazmatch Abara Gezaw.
On the right, the corps of palace servants and footmen under Qagnazmatch Balhu Daggafu.
At the rear, the corps of palace guards under Dejazmatch Adafersaw.

We directed them to be placed in battle position.

The three groups led by their respective commanders were divided as follows:


We divided in the following manner the men mustered on the central front under the command of H.H. Ras Kassa Haylu:

Ras Kabbada Mangasha with his men.
The Mahal Safari corps commanded by Ligaba Tassaw Walalu.
The army of the Ministry of the Palace commanded by Fitawrari Ashanafi.
The army of Baso and Gola commanded by Dejazmatch Gezaw Jimma.
The army of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Dejazmatch Abara Tadla (attached as direction guide, since he was a native of the district and governor of Maytchaw).


We divided in the following manner the men mustered on the right-wing front under the command of H.H. Ras Seyum Mangasha:

The corps of Schneider rifle carriers.
The army of Wallaga Arjo and of Wallaga Gudru.
The cavalry.
The contingent of Liqa Makwas Hayla Maryam Walda Gabriel.
The artillery corps commanded by Qagnazmatch Walda Yohannes Walda Ab.
Fitawrari Tafari Tadla (attached as direction guide, since he was a native of the district).


We divided in the following manner the men mustered on the left-wing front under the command of Ras Getatchaw Abata:

The army of Kambata.
The army of the treasury and stores.
The army of the Ministry of Finance.
The army of the Post and Telephone Ministry commanded by Qagnazmatch Takla Marqos Walda Gabr’el.
The excellent rifle bearers commanded by Qagnazmatch Ababa Rade.
The army of the Master of the Horse commanded by Qagnazmatch Bayyana Balaynah.
Dejazmatch Haylu Kabbada (attached as direction guide).

Other than these, the spiritual fathers who had followed Us to help with prayer and supplication: Abuna Petros, bishop of Wallo, Etchage Gabra Giyorgis, Liqe Gabra Krestos and Liqa Liqawent Gabra Ab; We arranged that they be mustered, together with their retinue of priests, with the group where We were. Among princes and nobles the following were assigned to be close to Us for consultation and the transaction of essential major affairs: H.H. Ras Kassa Haylu, H.H. Ras Seyum, Fitawrari Berru Walda Gabr’el, Dejazmatch Wandirad, Dejazmatch Wand Bawassan Kassa, Dejazmatch Abara Kassa, and Ato Walda Giyorgis Walda Yohannes.

After We had arranged that the organization of the battle order and the strategy of approach be conducted in this manner, a sign was given to Our army that would serve to distinguish our side from the enemy forces during the battle and in the course of communications.

The password was that, when someone said ‘to whom do you belong’, the person questioned was to reply to him: ‘To Abba Taqel’. If he asked him ‘What does Taqel mean?’, he could not be trusted to be in my army. He was to say ‘The power is God’s’. If the person questioned replied to him with this password, he could believe him to be of our side. But if it was impossible for him to reply thus, then he would know that he belonged to the enemy army and he was to regard him with hostility.

Besides We issued a precautionary password to the guard officers who had been ordered to look after the arms and ammunition, equipment and property which remained in the Ba’tawayo cave: ‘If perchance Our army should be defeated, have the arms and equipment set on fire, lest they should fall into enemy hands, as soon as We send you the sign.’ This message is ‘Our God has not departed from us.’

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May 20, 2017