The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I - Volume 2
THE SITUATION ON THE THREE WAR FRONTS-THE EXCHANGE OF VIEWS WITH OUR NOBILITY
We have indicated that some soldiers who were working for the Italians had began to desert them to join Our side. Accordingly, when [Fit.] Zeleke Biru, the man in charge of Metekel area, came over to Our side along with his troops, the Frontier Battalion and the Second Ethiopian Battalion entered the area... and occupied Metekel. After a few days they reached Injibara. There was an Italian fortification in this place. The enemy had constructed roads that linked Injibara in the south with Bahir Dar, Dangla, and Bure, and another road leading from Dembecha to Debre Markos. [Yet,] after a few days, they evacuated [Injibara].
The Italian[s] also abandoned Dangla... and fled, after being pounded by the British Royal Air Force on one side and assaulted by the patriots on the other. With the entire people in rebellion against the Italian forces in Gojam, and with the news of the presence of a large force... the whole of northern Gojam became free, while General [Guglielmo] Nasi was crying for reinforcements.
General Nasi was recognized by his government as a person... interested in learning the behavior of Ethiopians and able to appeal to their feelings. Thus, when he was sent to defend Gonder, it was hoped that he would isolate Our patriots by blocking the road to Gojam as well as the Gonder-Metemma road. When during the last two years, the Duca d'Aosta resided in Ethiopia as the viceroy of the Caesar in order to mitigate the blood-letting that happened under Graziani, General Nasi and Dr. [Piero] Franca, who were believed to be knowledgeable about colonial affairs, were assigned as his assistants. Intent on replacing the past cruelties by amity, the Italians had forged close relationships with some [Ethiopian] officials. One of them, upon whom the Italians had conferred the title of dejazmatch, was Mamo Haile Mariam, a grandson of the Bure banda leader Ras Hailu. He [Mamo] distributed several thousand lire among his bande and engaged Us in a fierce battle at Bure. On the other hand Ras Hailu attempted to increase his support for the Italians by stepping up his propaganda and sought to discourage patriots like Belai Zelleke by tantalizing them with an offer of reconciliation.
After exterminating the main military leaders of Ethiopia, the Italians had experimented with the efficacy of appointing their own [Ethiopian] officials. When the war reached its peak, there was no stone that they left unturned to retain control through their loyal collaborators.
Colonel Wingate combined the Frontier Battalion, the artillery unit and the 100th section of the Second Ethiopian battalion, took charge of what was now code-named the Gideon Force, along with responsibility for the propaganda work, and headed for southern Gojam. Leading the Gideon Force, Wingate blocked the Italian access to Mankusa, while Colonel Boustead, in collaboration with Our patriots, namely Fitawrari Bekele Ambaye, Ato Makonnen Desta and others, blocked the enemy forces retreating from Metekel, and the heavy fighting of the battle of Bure occurred on Yekatit 20 [January 27 1941]. They defeated the enemy and gained control of Bure, and We subsequently made the town Our second headquarters.
The Italian force which had fortified Bure under the command of Colonel [Leopoldo] Natale comprised 8,000 men. In contrast, the number of regular soldiers on Our side was... [much less] both in terms of equipment and troops. However, as Our patriots encircled and harassed... [the enemy], and the news of the coming of an allegedly large force demoralized them, they saw no other option but to flee. Natale escaped to Debre Markos escorted by cavalry and under the cover of airplanes. At this time, had the Gideon force, which had advanced to close the escape route, not stood aside, it would have been overrun by Natale's retreating forces. Even Wingate himself narrowly escaped from this dangerous scene. Boustead pursued the Italians at the head of a 300-man unit of the Frontier Battalion. Had Our forces received air assistance at this juncture, there would not have been another battle in Gojam.
While the enemy retreated from Bure, Our patriots opened a surprise attack on him at a place called Yechereka. There, a large number of enemy soldiers were routed, and the rest escaped in total disarray.
After this, except for the garrisons at Mota and Bahir Dar, the rest of the enemy concentrated at Debre Markos. The enemy force [there]... was estimated to be 12,000. After We made our headquarters at Bure, We established direct air and land communication lines with Khartoum, and We began receiving ample military equipment and other necessary provisions for the campaign. We also supported the northern and southern forces, providing them with updated news. We were able thereby to revive the exhausted morale of Our troops.
At [the] Bure military headquarters British officers and Ethiopian patriots spent weeks around Us planning war strategies. The war plans were distributed among [Our] military leaders, and each one was assigned quarters. After also providing each [officer] with mules and horses for transporting their provisions, We gave them directives to continue their march.
After We entered Bure, the reorganized units included one British officer assisted by three or four British sergeants, one section of Ethiopian vanguard elements, and Ethiopian patriots who had received military training in the Sudan.
As Our patriots received new heavy weapons, they were enabled to chase the enemy out of his fortifications. When We arrived in Injibara from Bure, Dejazmatch Negash Bezabeh welcomed Us with his patriots.
The Supreme [British] Commander of the war in the entire African continent was General Archibald Wavell. And there were three separate theaters of operation in Africa. These were commanded from Cairo, Khartoum and Nairobi. Khartoum was the headquarters of the units that had launched the campaign into northern Ethiopia. Nairobi directed the force that entered Addis Abeba after achieving victories in Juba and Somaliland, while Cairo was the base of the British troops who invaded Cyrenaica.
General Wavell was in charge of leading and controlling the three forces. Moreover, he was responsible for protecting the Greek patriots from an attack by either the Germans or the Italians. As long as the Red Sea remained unliberated from the Axis Powers, the British were not able to conduct any war. One can suggest therefore that the decision to achieve the liberation of Ethiopia with full strength was made to gain the strategic upper hand.
It was known to British authorities that Italy... maintained in East Africa nearly 300,000 troops, 400 artillery pieces, and some 200 fighter planes. In contrast, the number of British forces was very small. The airfields that Italy had in Eritrea were prepared to attack British colonies.
Since Hamle 1932 [July-August 1940], Italian and British airplanes had made test sorties around Gallabat, Kassala, Kenya and Somaliland. When all-out war was launched in Tir 1933 [January 1941], the Commander of the northern forces, General William Platt, directed his 5th Indian Division to attack enemy forces. Kassala and Gallabat were made the first targets because Kassala was seen as a portal into Eritrea, whereas Gallabat protected Gedaref and provided access... to Gonder.
General Platt did whatever was in his ability to motivate the patriots who were in the north. Although the Indian troops were selected and assigned ostensibly because of their ability to fight in mountainous terrain, and some patriots were added to them, no one believed that they would be able to cross the Eritrean ravines. But the general ordered them to do just that.
Even though the British troops were few in number, after dislodging the enemy from Kassala and Gallabat, they engaged in the battle of Akordat... fought day and night without ceasing from Tir 22 [January 30 1941] to Tir 28 [February 6]. After taking the town, the army of General Platt advanced on Keren to cross ravines. There was no doubt that there would be many casualties.
General Platt sent Us a message urging... the patriots not to permit [Italian] reinforcements from Gonder a passage to Eritrea. Accordingly, We sent Fitawrari Biru Wolde Gebriel to Debre Tabor to help the patriots and show them how to do the job. We also sent with him [Lij] Yemane Hassan, Membere Yayehirad, and Wolde Amanuel Tekle Haimanot for various services.
When the 4th Indian Division, which had destroyed the Italian North African forces in Cyrenaica, arrived in northern Ethiopia to reinforce General Platt's forces, the garrison of Keren began to crumble.
The Graziani forces, which the Italians had used to threaten the Sudan and hoped to use after breaking the Egyptian flank, were defeated in Libya itself. The commander of the enemy forces [in Eritrea] General Luigi Frusci was thus struck by an unexpected thunderbolt.
After keeping the garrison under siege for some time, on Megabit 17 [March 26], the 4th Indian Division gained control of Keren. The siege had lasted six weeks, and, by any measure, it comprised the heaviest fighting of [the war]. During the siege, from the Italian side, General Raimondo Lorenzini, after fighting heroically, was killed in action. In the battle of Keren, between 4,000 to 5,000 Allied soldiers were killed, while more than 10,000 enemy soldiers died. With this, the British forces in Africa, after fierce fighting, succeeded in securing the access to the Mediterranean and Red seas.
We understood that the morale of the fascist forces was dissipating, when we heard that a 14,000-man strong division, without putting up any resistance, surrendered to British troops, whose number was not more than 200. It was also reported that Marshal Pietro Badoglio, the former Supreme Commander of fascist forces, who in 1928 [1935-36] succeeded in occupying Addis Abeba, and Admiral [Domenico] Cavagnari had neglected their duties because of their lack of faith in Mussolini.
One section of the British forces, those led by General Cunningham came from the south and destroyed the Italian forces in Somalia and southern Ethiopia. This force reached Addis Abeba after travelling two thousand miles in pursuit of the enemy.
The Southern Division, led by General Cunningham, entered the former Italian colony of Mogadishu [Somalia] on Yekatit 15 [February 22]. We heard that, while this was taking place, the enemy forces which had infiltrated into Kenya and which had been in Jijiga, were [retreating]. On Megabit 1 [March 10], the Allied forces captured Dega Bur and on Megabit 7 [March 16], they advanced and took control of Berbera. Again on Megabit 12 and 13 [March 21 and 22], the enemy forces reportedly disintegrated after heavy fighting in the district of Jijiga and entered Harer in disorderly retreat.
Nevertheless, the heroic forces of Great Britain denied... [the enemy] a breathing space, pursuing him on land and air, and, after a battle fought in the vicinity of Harer on Megabit 15 and 16 [March 24 and 25], the town fell into the hands of the Allied forces. In the meantime Our patriots were at war with the enemy in Shewa, Begemdir, Gojam and the other provinces. The southern force continued its march, and on Megabit 20 [March 29], captured Dire Dawa. The occupation of Dire Dawa opened a window of opportunity for the Allied troops. It was the centrality of this location which had enabled Italy to transport provisions by air and train so that she could stand against us.
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On Yekatit 27, 1933 [March 6, 1941], in the midst of the war, We gathered Our noblemen to consult about the following ideas.
After this, each of them replied:
Dejazmatch Amde said it is better to extend amnesty to the bande and outline a set of regulations they must follow.
Dejazmatch Makonnen suggested that those who had been under the weight of Italy's oppression had scores to settle. Thus, he believed that it would be better, on arrival in Gojam, to gather the noblemen once again for consultation and issue a proclamation about what should be done. But, since the second question was urgent and worrisome, it would be better for Your Majesty to make some kind of arrangement.
Dejazmatch Adafrisaw said that most of the bande had sought the protection of the Italians, whom they had helped. Were they not able to inflict great harm if they chose to remain on the side of the white man until the last moment? Let a respectable person be sent to the patriots and explain the matter and [the need to] offer reconciliation.
Regarding the second question, Ras Kassa said that it was advisable not to talk about it until a government was securely established. Then, it would be better perhaps to form an advisory group composed of [the British]. It is not a good idea willingly to surrender power, but if [the foreigners] were intent on seizing it... forcibly, there was not much that Ethiopia could do about it. Anyway, there was no option besides the British.
After this, a suggestion was made to differentiate categories of bande as soon as we reached Debre Markos: returned by amnesty, returned when deserted by the Italians, returned under special permission, a banda with blood on his hands. When the categories were known... dispositions would be made depending on the circumstances. The meeting was adjourned.
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December 17, 2017