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A NIGHTMARISH ENDING
|"Above all, Haile Selassie has created a general, warm and blind sympathy for uncivilized Ethiopia throughout civilized Christendom. in the wake of the world's grandiose Depression, with millions of white men uncertain as to the benefits of civilization, 1935 produced a peculiar Spirit of the Year in which it was felt to be a crying shame that the Machine Age seemed about to intrude upon Africa's last free, unscathed and simple people. They were ipso facto Noble Savages, and the noblest Ethiopian of them all naturally emerged as Man of the Year... Outside Italy, the Emperor was clapped and cheered during 1935 in almost every cinema house in the world. His name entered the U.S. vocabulary in such homely exclamations as, "Well! If that's so, then I'm Haile Selassie!" ... Without quibble or qualification the best and wisest rule ancient Ethiopia has ever had is the present Man of the Year." - January 6, 1936, Time Magazine Man Of The Year|
In mid-December, Haile Sellassie decided to attack in Tigray to test Gen.
Pietro Badoglio, the new Italian commander who had replaced the slow and
careful De Bono. He ordered Rases Kassa and Seyoum to push forward frontally
into Italian-occupied Tigray, while Ras Mulugeta would move eastward to
outflank the enemy at Mekele and to cut his supply lines. The plan worked well
enough to leave Ethiopians entrenched in Temben but failed to disrupt the
Italian rear. While the rases could claim victory, Badoglio had stopped the
attack on 21-22 December by using poison gas bombs, foreshadowing the
devastating Italian attacks to come. The first massive use of this potent
weapon fell, however, on the southern front against Ras Desta Demtew's army."
From mid-December, Graziani carried out an active defense so vigorously that it became an offense. The Italians bombarded Ethiopian forward positions with clouds of gas, causing immense casualties and massive desertions. By 6 January, Desta reported imminent disaster for his troops, now dug in on both banks of the Juba, sixty miles north of Dolo. Graziani's attack on 10 January turned into a rout: thousands of Ethiopians were killed, and the survivors fled into the countryside after abandoning their weapons and supplies. Unaware that he could march easily into Ethiopia's soft underbelly, Graziani halted his advance to consolidate his gains, allowing the emperor to send reinforcements. Haile Sellassie refused to join the criticism of his son-in-law, realizing that the defeat had been caused by modern weapons and tactics, not by lack of courage or soldierly ability.
On 28 November, the emperor had left Addis Abeba for Dese, where he established his headquarters. He worked from morning to night trying to construct a winning strategy. He was mostly a patient leader, who emanated sangfroid and detachment from the crisis surrounding him. He was personally courageous, often leaving shelter for his personal antiaircraft gun to rattle away, perhaps, at Mussolini's son. The enemy daily bombed the supply lines from Dese north, which traumatized the local Oromo, who rebelled when the military requisitioned most of their food and animals. Try as he might, the emperor was unable to secure his army's rear, as insurgent strength kept pace with peasant frustrations.
From 10 February, the increasing instability stimulated a persistent Italian offensive, which used air power and poison gas to separate, flank, and destroy the Ethiopian armies one by one. Within a four-week period Badoglio's forces conquered Ras Mulugeta at Amba Aradam, demolished Ras Kassa's army at a second battle in Temben, and defeated Ras Imru in Shire. The rapidity of the debacle confounded most observers, among them the emperor, whose small, elite army now stood between the Italians and Addis Abeba. Instead of following his own advice waging guerrilla warfare while withdrawing to Addis Abeba, Haile Sellassie chose to march north with his rear guard and to fight an unwinnable battle at Maychew, in extreme southern Tigray, directly in the path of the Italian advance.
The terrain there was all wrong for an attack, but a victory would vindicate the emperor, and a defeat might permit a soldier's death converting him from monarch to martyr. By now, Haile Sellassie had little to lose; he was angry and frustrated, deeply wounded by the national calamity and morally outraged by the devastating use of poison against Ethiopia's peoples. He decided on an act of defiance, throwing estimated forty thousand well-armed men, including five thousand modern troops, against a rapidly concentrating Italian mass. Through intercepted messages, Badoglio learned of his enemy's intentions and prepared his forces accordingly. There was no surprise, therefore, when Ethiopia's last organized force in the north began advancing at 4:00, on 31 March 1936.
From the start, the attack was a disaster, though so hard fought that the Italians did not immediately pursue the retreating enemy. By the evening of 3 April, however, mounting Italian pressure forced emperor and his escort to move southward or be captured. The retreat was a nightmare, since the vengeful Oromo shot stragglers with Italian supplied rifles and otherwise harassed the survivors, and on 4 April Italians opened a day-long air attack with bombs and gas that completely broke the remnants of the Ethiopian army. Haile Sellassie survived the day but was so affected that he suffered a breakdown, stopping at Lalibela to seek divine guidance and wisdom about Ethiopia's defeat. Back in the capital, a crown council was deciding that the emperor and his family should go abroad to symbolize Ethiopia's refusal to accept defeat.
When Haile Sellassie returned to Addis Abeba on 30 April, he met with the council and was forced to accept its logic that as long as the sovereign was free and unbowed, Italian rule in Ethiopia could have no legitimacy. For the monarch to remain in the country chanced a humiliating capture, death, or, even worse, submission to the conqueror. At 4:00 A.M. on 2 May 1936, a special train carrying the imperials left the capital for Djibouti, where it arrived on 3 May. The next day, the emperor, his family, and ranking officials boarded a British war vessel for five troubled years of exile and self-doubt in England. They left behind a nation that fought on against the Italians.
Mussolini Decides To Invade | Sellassie Remains Calm | The Nightmarish Ending
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