Battle of Maychew


Battle of Maychew

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict= Battle of Maychew
partof= the Second Italo-Abyssinian War


caption=
date= 31 March 1936
place= Near Maychew, Tigray, Ethiopia
result= Decisive Italian victory, destruction of Haile Selassie's last army in the north
combatant1=
combatant2=
commander1=
commander2=
strength1=40,000 (with another 40,000 in reserve) [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 97]
strength2=31,000 (including six battalions of the Imperial Guard [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 97]
casualties1=400 Italians killed and wounded, 873 Eritreans killed and wounded [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 97]
casualties2=Between 1,000 and 8,000 killed, [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 97] roughly 11,000 total casualties [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 105]

The Battle of Maychew (also known as the Battle of Mai Ceu) was the last major battle fought on the northern front during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. The battle consisted of a failed counterattack by the Ethiopian forces of Emporer Haile Selassie against prepared Italian defensive positions under the command of Marshal Pietro Badoglio. The battle was fought near Maychew (Mai Ceu), Ethiopia in the modern region of Tigray.

Background

On 3 October 1935, General Emilio De Bono advanced into Ethiopia from Eritrea without a declaration of War. De Bono had a force of approximately 100,000 Italian soldiers and 25,000 Eritrean soldiers to advance towards Addis Ababa. In November, after a brief period of inactivity and minor setbacks for the Italians, De Bono was replaced by Badoglio. Under Badoglio, the advance on the Ethiopian capital was renewed. Badoglio overwhelmed the armies of ill-armed and uncoordinated Ethiopian warriors with mustard gas, tanks, and heavy artillery. [John Laffin. "Brassey's Dictionary of Battles", pg. 28]

On 23 March 1936, looking across a lush green valley towards the Italian positions at Maychew, Emperor Haile Selassie I decided to strike first. His was the last intact Ethiopian army between Badoglio and Addis Ababa. He decided he would direct the attack personally as was expected by many of his followers and as was expected by tradition. Six battalions of the Imperial Guard ("Kebur Zabangna") would be part of his attacking army of approximately 31,000 fighters. Haile Selassie chose to attack against the advice of his foreign experts and against his own better judgement. [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 97]

Compared to other Ethiopian forces, Haile Selasie's army was undoubtedly the best force Ethiopia had managed to put on the field so far. He had an artillery regiment of twenty 75 mm field guns, some Oerlikon 37 mm guns, and even a few 81 mm Brandt morters. But, compared to the resources available to Badoglio, Haile Selasie's army was pathetically weak. [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 97]

Badoglio had the Italian I Army Corps and the Eritrean Corps at Maychew. Had Haile Selassie attacked on 24 March as he originally planned, things may have gone differently. Many of the Italians had only recently arrived at Mayvhew after the fall of Amba Aradam. But, during a week frittered away by the Ethiopians in war councils, banquets, and prayers, the Italians had time to strengthen their defenses and time to bring up reserves. [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 97]

Battle

At dawn on 31 March 1936, the attack was launched. It was St. George's Day. The attack began at 0545 hours and continued for thirteen hours with little or no let up. [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 97]

The Italians had been "standing to" all night. An Ethiopian deserter had tipped them off. The "Alpini" of the Pusteria Alpine Division were dug in on the slopes of Amba Bokora. Two Eritrean divisions held Mekan Pass. [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 97]

The Ethiopians advanced in three columns of 3,000 men each. The fury of the attack and surprisingly accurate mortar fire carried the Ethiopians well into the defensive lines of the Pusteria Division. But the "Alpini" struck back and soon the lines were stabilized. [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 97]

The Ethiopians switched the focus of their attack to the Mekan Pass on the Italian left flank. Haile Selassie hoped to get less resistance from the Eritreans. From 7:00 am to 8:00 am, the Ethiopians kept up a steady onslaught and, at the cost of heavy casualties, they were beginning to make gains. But at 8:00 am Badoglio unleashed the bombers of the Royal Air Force ("Regia Aeronautica") and the Ethiopians could hear the ominous engine roar as they closed in with poison gas. [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 97]

Haile Selassie now played his trump card. The Imperial Guard was sent in against the Eritreans. The training and discipline of his elite force was apparent in the methodical mode of their advance over the open ground. For three hours they struggled to roll up the Italian flank. The X Battalion of the 2nd Eritrean Division was virtually annihilated. In the end, the Italian commander of the unit called down concentrated artillery fire onto his own overrun positions and saved the day. [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 97]

By 4:00 pm it was apparent that the Imperial Guard was not going to be able to capture their objectives and Haile Selassie played his last card. He ordered an attack along the entire front. This last desperate action was again made by three columns, it was made under a heavily overcast sky, and it was made with little chance of success. The Ethiopians attacked everywhere and were driven back everywhere. [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 97]

Haile Selassie's order to retreat was late in coming. The Ethiopians had lost many front line commanders, the soldiers had not eaten since before dawn, and discipline had understandably broken down. To make matters even worse, as the Ethiopian fled from the battlefield, they were mercilessly bombed from above and harassed on the ground by the Azebu Galla. [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 98]

After the battle

On the evening of 31 March, Haile Selassie sent a message to his wife, Empress Menen Asfaw: :"From five in the morning until seven in the evening our troops attacked the enemy's strong positions, fighting without pause. We also took part in the action and by the grace of God remain unharmed. Our chief and trusted soldiers are dead or wounded. Although our losses are heavy, the enemy too has been injured. The Guard fought magnificently and deserve every praise. The Amhara troops also did there best. Our troops, even though they are not adaptapted for fighting of the European type, were able to bear comparison throughout the day with the Italian troops." [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 98]

By 3 April, roughly 20,000 battle weary and thirsty survivors of the Emporer's army were struggling towards Lake Ashangi. Due to brutal attacks from the Azebu Galla and due to near continuous attacks from the air, thousands more would be lost. Worse, the water of Lake Ashangi had been sprayed by the Italians and it was poison by the time the Emporer's army arrived. [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 105]

On 4 April, Haile Selassie looked with despair upon the horrific sight of the dead bodies of his army ringing the poisoned lake. [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 105]

On 26 April, when Badoglio launched his "March of the Iron Will" towards Addis Ababa, he faced no meaningful Ethiopian resistance. [A. J. Barker. "The Rape of Ethiopia", pg. 109]

ee also

* Ethiopian Order of Battle Second Italo-Abyssinian War
* Army of the Ethiopian Empire
* Italian Order of Battle Second Italo-Abyssinian War
* Royal Italian Army

Sources

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References


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