Italo-Ethiopian War

Which African country was invaded and occupied by Mussolini's troops in 1935?
And the answer: Ethiopia.
Photo credit: public domain. 

The Italo-Ethiopian war lasted from 1935 to 1936. It is often seen as an early indicator of World War II as it demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the League of Nations.    

At 5 AM on October 3, 1935, Italian forces crossed into Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia)— signaling the start of the second Italian-Abyssinian war. Its outcome would not only forever alter the Ethiopian region, but the political rifts it caused would contribute to the beginning of one of the most devastating conflicts in world history: World War II.

The invasion signaled the end of years of Italian frustration following their defeat by Abyssinia in 1896. The 1896 Battle of Adwa saw the biggest lost ever experienced by European troops in Africa, with over 6,000 deaths. Thus, this stain on Italian military prowess inspired Fascist Italian leader Mussolini to intervene. Although Italy's East African colonies were run with a firm grip, national issues had prevented Italy's invasion into Abyssinia and has thus formed a wedge preventing Italy's domination of the East. In 1932, Mussolini's attention was fully fixed on his claim to East African lands. By 1934, he demanded that his military prepare for the full conquest of Abyssinia.

Abyssinia and Italy were both members of the League of Nations, an organization set up to settle disputes among nations following the first World War. However, when called upon to arbitrate the situation, the League of Nations denied the request and refused to place blame on either side. Instead, the League decided to exonerate both nations from wrongdoing— a choice which would set Italy and Abyssinia on a course for conflict. Due to the political alliances of the time, European powers sought to avoid conflict and gain the trust of Mussolini before the impending World War with Nazi Germany, thus informing the ultimate decision of the League of Nations.

All in all, about 650,000 soldiers were dispatched in Abyssinia leading up to the invasion. Equipped with modern military advantages such as tanks and artillery, the siege of Italian fighters invaded Abyssinia on October 3rd without so much as a declaration of war. Abyssinian fighters were armed with an assortment of weapons, many lacked formal training, and organization was scarce. Yet, the Italian army struggled to conquer the landscape even with their military advantage, and the attack was quickly slowed.

As the war raged on, Emperor Haile Selassie was forced to escape into exile on May 2nd 1936, while additional Italian forces arrived in the capital Addis Ababa. Italy announced the annexation of the territory of Ethiopia on May 7th and Italian King Victor Emmanuel III was proclaimed emperor. The provinces of Eritrea, Italian Somaliland and Abyssinia were united to form the Italian province of East Africa. Fighting between Italian and Ethiopian troops persisted until February 1937, while Italian forces continued to suppress rebel activity until 1939.

Learn more about this influential battle here.  


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