The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I
The battle of Maytchaw
While We were at the Ba’tawayo camp, on Sunday, 20th Magabit 1928 (= 29th March 1936), enemy aircraft, coming and going continuously, spent the day dropping bombs and poison gas. We gave orders for the battle to begin on the next day, Monday, and We set out from Ba’tawayo on Sunday at eleven o’clock (= 5 p.m.) to approach more closely to the place of the engagement; We spent the night at Mahan. On Monday, 21st Magabit (= 30th March), as the army which had been grouped into its various contingents was not yet fully assembled, the joining of battle could not take place on the Monday and We arranged spending the day at Mahan. At this place there was no cave adequate for protection against attacks from the air. When they told Us, having found a small cave, that We should go there and that the cave was insufficient for the whole army, I said to them: ‘I won’t go there leaving my people, for, just as I have shared joy with my people, so I shall inseparably share its tribulations.’ So I remained there.
We had determined that the battle be waged on Tuesday, 22nd Magabit (= 31st March); on the preceding day, on the basis of the prepared plan, We had given orders that the mustered ranks in their various contingents should march that night and get close to the battle area and that the fighting should start at dawn. When the army, in its respective divisions, marched off in accordance with its orders and reached its destination close to the front, it spent the night there. We Ourselves set out from Mahan at ten o’clock at night (= 4 a.m.) and marched towards the battle field.
Our advance troops were marching in the hours of darkness with the intention of approaching the enemy’s fortified positions; when the enemy’s night patrols sounded the noise of fire in order to wake up their side, Our army, while still on the march, began shooting in the direction in which the sound of firing had been heard. They thus started shooting at a place called Mahan in the Maytchaw area, where the Italian soldiers were firmly entrenched in fortified positions, and since the fighting had been opened by an accidental shot prior to the plan which We had devised, We gave orders for the regular battle to be begun, and so the fighting started to develop.
As Our army moved forward with enthusiasm and reached the enemy’s fortifications, the enemy troops abandoned the forward positions and were seen to defend a second more heavily fortified line towards the rear.
Within four or five hours enemy aircraft arrived, dropped bombs, and cut off Our army at the rear preventing it from coming to the aid of the advance troops at the front. At this time the enemy army was recovering once again and began fighting hard to re-enter the strongholds which it had abandoned.
Our forces spent the whole day fighting with an ardent spirit and with daring. The battle did not cease until five o’clock at night (= 11 p.m.). In this day’s fighting many nobles and army officers died sacrificing their life for their country.
While We Ourselves were in this kind of struggle and as it became evening, We returned to Mahan where We had spent the night yesterday. Since Our army had greatly suffered in the fighting, most of them marched that night to Ba’tawayo and rested there. Some troops spent the night near the enemy’s fortified lines and kept up a running fire throughout the night.
Wednesday, 23rd Magabit (= 1st April), We spent the day at Mahan and gave orders for the wounded to be carried in and the dead to be buried. Some of the troops, their ardour having been aroused, went to the enemy trenches and spent the day fighting there.
The day of Thursday, 24th Magabit (= 2nd April), We again spent at Mahan. When on this day We informed the army officers of Our intention of having the battle renewed, all those who had assessed the situation remarked to Us as follows: ‘Since our army marched from Tuesday evening till today to the Ba’tawayo camp, we are now very few who are present here; we do not have enough troops for a battle. The place where we are now is a dangerous one, because there is nothing at all here that represents protective cover against aeroplanes. For this reason we went to Ba’tawayo; it would be better if we fought, once we had reassembled and re-mobilized the army.’ We replied to them: ‘If we pull out our foothold from here, the renewal of the battle will not take place; hence it is preferable for us here to fight.’
At this time H.H. Ras Kassa and H.H. Ras Seyum were uneasy at Our decision and said: ‘To fight before there are sufficient troops for the battle means dying and perishing in vain.’ Since they persuaded Us by detailing all the reasons, We left for Ba’tawayo at six o’clock at night (= midnight) following the counsel which the army officers had proffered to Us.
We spent the day of Friday, 25th Magabit (= 3rd April), at the Ba’tawayo cave. While We were there, it was learnt that the Italians had re-occupied the fortified positions which they had abandoned last Tuesday. In consequence of this We directed that an army contingent guarding the mountain passes be stationed at the places said to be suitable for defending the surroundings of Ba’tawayo, so as to enable us to resist the invading enemy; We then proceeded to devise military plans for the future in consultation with the army commanders.
The places referred to are the other mountain passes at the central camp of Ba’tawayo where We were, and the following are the army commanders who were ordered there for guard duty:
(1) Dejazmatch Haylu Kabbada, with the army of Saqota, to be stationed at the pass between the Bokra and Mahan mountains;
Before the army officers whom We had detailed to guard duties at the passes could reach the places and occupy the passes, the enemy army had come out from its trenches and was seen to enter Mahan where We had rested on the previous day. The place called Mahan is near to Ba’tawayo where We now were.
We had observed the initial stages of the enemy’s march and, since he had emerged from his fortified positions, it seemed possible to engage him on the plains, particularly as it was bound to be the beginning of a march towards us. We therefore transmitted orders to the various commanders: ‘take up positions for immediate running fire, in order to fight from those positions’. As the enemy aircraft were going to and fro, they hit our camp uninterruptedly, and We Ourselves not excepted were resisting by firing the Oerlikon.
The enemy army which had entered Mahan had abandoned an engagement on the plains or an advance towards us and was engaged in constructing fortifications there; then, firing its guns, it began to hit Our soldiers’ camp with long-range artillery. At this time Our troops were fed up, as they had suffered much injury from the bombs and poison gas which the aircraft above were raining upon them as well as from the firing of guns below; thus the army began to dissolve and turned round to march towards Koram.
Because in this manner Our entire plan which We had conceived to fight at Ba’tawayo had come to grief, the nobles and army commanders approached Us and proffered to Us the following opinion: ‘It would be better if we fought at Ashange after returning to Koram and assembling the army there. If we fail to succeed there, it would be preferable if we fought taking up position in Lasta, in Yajju, or in Wallo.’ After this We desired that all the army commanders should assemble and reflect about this; all of them, therefore, congregated in front of Us and expressed their counsel in detail. They assured Us on oath that the advice which they had offered sprang from a true conscience.
We cautioned them in these terms: ‘Since man is God’s tool and, lest I should say that what you have told me is fraudulent, you have assured me on oath that it is absolutely firm, I shall therefore go as far as Alamata; but pray to God and, while suppressing mutual rivalry, reflect on our sins, arouse your servants and your retinue and think what it is that you are dying for rather than being concerned over living.’
After this We directed that the provisions and arms which were at Ba’tawayo should be distributed to the army officers and We gave orders that the remaining weapons and supplies should be set on fire lest they be of service to the enemy; We then departed for Koram at 3.30 o’clock at night (= 9.30 p.m.).
When We reached Ashange in the morning of Saturday, 26th Magabit (= 4th April), enemy aeroplanes came in great numbers and hit with bombs Our army marching at Ashange. We Ourselves left Lake Ashange on the left and spent the day near Ashange Maryam which is in the direction towards the right; and that evening We marched on and spent the night at Enda Agafari. Sunday, the 27th Magabit (= 5th April) We stayed the day at Enda Agafari. On this day the Italians had sent the army which they had at Qorbata, down in the Tchartchar lowlands, in order to encircle the Ashange region where We had spent the night; We had heard that their army, reaching Koram and Alamata before Ours, had occupied the place. Our army which was marching along there suffered heavy losses as it was hit by Italian aeroplanes and by worthless country-folk launching attacks upon it. Those who survived scattered and proceeded by way of Lasta; it became thus impossible for Us to carry out Our plan to fight.
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May 27, 2017