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The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I - Volume 2



CHAPTER XX

ABOUT OUR ENTRY INTO DEBRE MARKOS AND ABOUT MATTERS ACCOMPLISHED THERE



As pointed out earlier, on Our front, apart from troops... in Mota and Bahir Dar, the rest of the enemy in Gojam was concentrated west of Debre Markos on a mountain called Gulit and had occupied the entire road leading to Bure. In order to attack the enemy in accordance with the military strategy which We had charted at Our military headquarters, We directed the leaders of the patriotic forces to occupy their assigned positions and wait for further instructions. Accordingly, We ordered Dejazmatch Negash Bezabih to occupy the position not far from Gulit, on the right side of the road across from [the town of] Amanuel; Dejazmatch Mengesha Jembere to the right of the road south of Gulit, beside Debre Markos; Fitawrari Haile Yesus Filate to the left of the road to Addis Abeba, facing Amanuel; Fitawrari Gebeyehu Wolde Mariam to mobilize his troops and stay where he was; and Belai Zelleke to wait in readiness to the east behind Gebeyehu. At the time We were in Dembecha.

Azaj Kebbedde Tessema and Ato Makonnen Desta, along with Dejazmatch Mengesha Jembere, were to attack the enemy from the west and from the south of Gulit, while also approaching and assaulting the enemy at Debre Markos. We designed this strategy and sent it to [the commanders].

After We passed this war plan to the military commanders, a very limited number of our soldiers, in conjunction with selected individuals from the Frontier Battalion, upset the enemy by opening a guerrilla assault in an admirable military tactic, while also disguising their troop strength. Morale shattered, the enemy handed over Debre Markos to Ras Hailu on Megabit 26 [April 4] along with the local... bande and fled to the Abay valley. Hence, the victorious Second Ethiopian Battalion and Our Patriots took control of Debre Markos. In this battle, the Sudanese military contingent known as the Frontier Battalion did most of the fighting and proved its military prowess.

On Sunday Megabit 28 [April 6], We entered Debre Markos. To prevent the looting of the town, the officials and the patriots We had despatched in advance kept law and order. Ras Hailu was also waiting to welcome Us along with many native collaborators. Among the patriotic leaders, Lij Yohannes Iyasu, Lij [later Ras] Hailu Belew and Belai Zelleke came to welcome Us at the head of their respective troops. We hoisted Our flag with all honors, and afterwards granted pardons to Ras Hailu and all his followers. The same day We heard that the army led by General Cunningham had occupied Addis Abeba.

On entering Debre Markos We were welcomed tumultuously by chanting men, ululating women and cheering patriots, who were expressing their feats in warrior poems. In their speeches, the people revealed to Us how much they had suffered for five years in the absence of freedom, citing all the difficulties they had undergone-their life in gorges and ravines, in exile in foreign lands with extreme deprivation, and their hunger and thirst. Since the war was not over yet, We strongly advised the population not to create anarchy and chaos by incriminating each other, using acrimonious labels such as shifta and banda.

The Italians, had left behind different types of drinks and food which We put to good use in feeding and entertaining Our army. On that joyous occasion, Colonel Wingate made the following brief speech:

... [My] officers... and I are discharging our responsibilities in conjunction with the patriots. We believe that Great Britain is fighting the present war for the good of the entire world. She is determined to eradicate with her blood the serious villainy that is troubling human­kind. All people are called upon carefully to watch and scrutinize everything for themselves. The underdogs are urged to work for a positive result. We are gloriously waging war to preserve the sanctity of their rights. The big devil, who has conjured up the present war... and unleashed it, has not yet been defeated.

Until Ethiopia is totally free, those of our forces involved in this war will not feel secure. I trust in the honor of His Majesty the Emperor Haile Sellassie and in the honor of his government that will be reinstated throughout the realm.

The next day, on Monday, Megabit 29 [April 7], the people of Gojam and the patriots assembled in front of Us and began to narrate and recount their brave deeds, [and] fearlessness in songs and speeches. The day turned out to be a day of jubilation and an occasion for a national parade. We, on Our part, acknowledged that the joy We felt was made possible by God, and, in awe, We expressed gratitude to Him. Thanks to the efforts of the military engineers who had surveyed the road with admirable speed and skill, American trucks could come as far as Belaya, thus linking Gojam with the Sudan. As a result transportation problems were solved. South African planes also arrived loaded with ammunition and money.

The Southern Sector Command led by General Cunningham reached Addis Abeba on Megabit 28 [April 6], with admirable speed. That was the same day We entered Debre Markos. On that day, General Cunningham announced to the assembled population, which was awaiting Us with eagerness, that We were still at war and assured them that We would enter Addis Abeba soon. Subsequently, at the Grand Palace, the Italian flag was lowered, and the Ethiopian and British flags were hoisted in its place. Meanwhile, the Shewan force led by Ras Abebe, which had an estimated strength of 10,000 to 15,000 men, had assembled around Addis Abeba. General Cunningham, who was in Addis Abeba, sent Us a congratulatory message in the hands of Brigadier [Maurice] Lush, informing Us of the retaking of Addis Abeba...

After entering Addis Abeba, the Southern Command did not tarry; it rushed to Dese. This was so because when Addis Abeba was occupied, half of the Italians had escaped to the North, and half to the South. Soon after Addis Abeba was retaken, the Italians gave the impression of having no stomach to fight again, though they were encouraged by the victory of the Germans in Libya. It came to be told, and many... believed it, that, within three months, the Germans would overrun Egypt and [that] by the beginning of July, they would move into Ethiopia to give life to the disorganized and dispirited Italian army. With this hope... [the Italians] wanted to keep their army so as to give the impression that they were not defeated.

Of the enemy's army in Gojam, only the 69th Colonial Battalion stationed in Mota remained. In order to reconnoiter its situation, some three hundred men from the Frontier Battalion and the Ethiopian Battalion went to Mota. From Our side, people like Andargatchew Massai [later Ras Bitwoded] and Wossen Hailu and the patriots who served under Lij Hailu Belew around that area, also joined these forces. They besieged and stormed the garrison at Mota. After light resistance, the enemy surrendered, and as a result, Andargatchew and Wossen Hailu returned to Us along with captured prisoners and a booty of military material.

After this, with the exception of Bahir Dar, the whole of Gojam was liberated. When the enemy that had fortified itself at Bahir Dar was attacked by the troops that We had despatched under the command of Fitawrari Biru Wolde Gabriel, the [Italians] swiftly evacuated Bahir Dar and went to Gonder, where General Guglielmo Nasi commanded. Subsequently, Fitawrari Biru crossed the Fasil bridge, mobilized the patriots of Debre Tabor, and pursued the enemy, inflicting damage.

The officer [Col. Saverio Maraventano] who commanded the 8,000-man strong contingent in Debre Markos, had escaped [on April 3], along with his army, and crossed the Abay. On learning that Addis Abeba had been retaken, he tried to head for Dese. When he heard of [the latter's] occupation, he attempted to go to Debre Tabor. Nevertheless, a joint force consisting of the Frontier and Ethiopian Battalions followed him in hot pursuit and incapacitated him.

While We were still in Debre Markos, Prince Makonnen, the Duke of Harer, accompanied by Ato Lorenzo Taezaz and Chapman-Andrews, flew to Jijiga on Miazia 20 [April 28]. From there, they went to Harer and made public appearances.

In the days when We made Debre Markos our military headquarters, We received... demands and appeals from several chiefs, the common people, the patriots, and from collaborators... called bande. Accordingly, We made several provisional arrangements which would be in force until the end of the war. Furthermore, from this same military headquarters, We also transmitted various directives to whatever districts or sub-districts in which Our patriots operated urging them to pursue the enemy relentlessly.

With regard to the manner of Our entry into Our capital city of Addis Abeba, We sent [there] a team led by Dejazmatch Makonnen Endalkatchew to make the necessary arrangements. The team consisted of Major [later Lieut General] Abiye Abebe, Major [later Major General] Mulugeta Bulli Major [later Major General] Nega Haile Sellassie, Major [later Lieut. General] Kebbedde Gebre, and Lij Asfaw Kebbedde. In order to receive instructions from Us regarding the preparation of the manner with which they would welcome Us, Fitawrari Zewdu Aba Koran and others were selected and sent to Us from Addis Abeba as representatives of Ras Abebe Aregai and others. Balamberas Mahteme Sellassie and others also came to meet with Us.

* * *

In the aftermath... of the battle of Keren... the entire ground force of the enemy in Eritrea, including the best colonial troops as well as the banda army, which was taken there from Shewa and Addis Abeba, was decisively defeated. The division called The Savoy Grenadiers was completely annihilated. In the fighting that took place between Kassala and Keren alone, more than 70 enemy planes were destroyed by a squadron of the British Air force. This was disclosed during the engagements. The military stores belonging to the Italians were confiscated. Its Red Sea Navy was in disarray. The Northern Front Commander Frusci, escaped to Ambalage. Italy's hope now lay with Frusci, who talked of a showdown at Ambalage; and with General Nasi, who had garrisoned Gonder in the northwest with 20,000 soldiers.

Italian East Africa, that was said to have been established on Miazia 26, 1928 [May 4, 1936] with great fanfare, rapidly contracted, was cut into pieces, [and] confined to Gonder, Ambalage, Dese and Jima. Because Mitsiwa was liberated and the enemy's ships were not visible on the Red Sea, all the menace gradually disappeared. The American President Roosevelt was enabled to send large quantities of military and other supplies to the Middle East. The British army in Egypt was also allowed to receive all the assistance it needed... for the force that was being organized for the Middle East.

The morale of the Italian army was shattered not only because of the heavy fighting that took place at the Keren Front, but also because the balance was turning on both fronts. Without being perturbed by the fall of France, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill continued to provide unruffled and patient leadership. As the result, he was able to emerge victorious.


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December 24, 2017