Italian guerrilla war in Ethiopia

Italian guerrilla war in Ethiopia

The Italian guerrilla war in Ethiopia was as an armed struggle fought - from summer 1941 to autumn 1943 - by remnants of Italian troops in Italian East Africa, following the Italian defeat during the East African Campaign of WWII.


When General Guglielmo Nasi surrendered with military honors the last troops of the Italian colonial army in East Africa at Gondar in November 1941, many Italians decided to start a guerrilla war in the mountains and deserts of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. Nearly 7,000 Italian soldiers (according to the historian Alberto Rosselli [Rosselli, Alberto. "Storie Segrete. Operazioni sconosciute o dimenticate della seconda guerra mondiale". pag. 31] ) participated in this fight against the British army, in the hope that the German-Italian army of Rommel would win in Egypt (making the Mediterranean an Italian Mare Nostrum) and retake the recently-occupied territories.

There were originally two main Italian guerrilla organizations: the "Fronte di Resistenza" (Front of Resistance) and the "Figli d'Italia" (Sons of Italy) [Cernuschi, Enrico. "La resistenza sconosciuta in Africa Orientale". pag. 5] .

The "Fronte di Resistenza" was a military organization led by Colonel Lucchetti and centered in the main cities of the former Italian East Africa. Its main activities were military sabotage and collection of information about British troops to be sent to Italy in multiple ways.

The "Figli d'Italia" organization was formed in September 1941 by Blackshirts of the "Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale" (a fascist organization of volunteer soldiers). They engaged in a guerrilla war against the British troops and even harassed those Italian civilians and colonial soldiers that had been dubbed "traitors" (for being favorable to cooperation with the British and Ethiopian forces).

Other groups were the "Amhara" fighters of Lieutenant Amedeo Guillet in Eritrea and the guerrilla group of Major Gobbi based at Dessie [Segre, Vittorio. "La guerra privata del tenente Guillet". pag. 11] . From the beginning of 1942 there was a resistance group in Eritrea, under the orders of Captain Aloisi, dedicated to help soldiers to escape from the British POW camps. In the first months of 1942 (because of the August 1940 Italian conquest of British Somaliland), there were also Italian guerrillas in British Somaliland. [Cernuschi, Enrico. "La resistenza sconosciuta in Africa Orientale". pag. 18] .

There were many Eritreans and Somalians (and even a few Ethiopians) who helped the Italian guerrillas. But their numbers dwindled after the Axis defeat at the battle of El Alamein in 1942 [Bullotta, Antonia. "La Somalia sotto due bandiere". pag. 35] .

These guerrilla units (called "Bande" in Italian) were able to operate in a very extended area, from northern Eritrea to southern Somalia. Their armament was made up mainly of old rifles "91", pistols "Beretta", machine guns "Fiat" and "Schwarzlose", hand grenades, dynamite and even some small 65 mm cannons. But they always lacked large amounts of ammunition [Rosselli, Alberto. "Storie Segrete. Operazioni sconosciute o dimenticate della seconda guerra mondiale". pag. 66] .

From January 1942 many of these "Bande" started to operate under the coordinated orders of general Muratori (commander of the fascist "Milizia"). He was able to encourage a revolt against the British troops by the tribe "Azebo Oromo" in northern Ethiopia, who had a history of rebellion. The revolt was put down by the British and Ethiopian forces only at the beginning of 1943 [Rosselli, Alberto. "Storie Segrete. Operazioni sconosciute o dimenticate della seconda guerra mondiale". pag. 82] .

In spring 1942 even the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie started to open diplomatic "channels of communication" with the Italian insurgents, because he was impressed by the victory of Rommel in Tobruk (Libya) [Sbiacchi, Alberto. "Hailé Selassié and the Italians, 1941-43". pag. 48] . Major Lucchetti declared (after the war) that the Emperor, had the Axis had reached Ethiopia, was ready to accept an Italian Protectorate with these conditions: 1) a total amnesty for all the Ethiopians sentenced by Italy; 2) presence of Ethiopians in all levels of the administration; 3) participation of Emperor Haile Selassie to the future government of the Protectorate [ASMAI/III, "Archivio Segreto. Relazione Lucchetti".] .

In the summer of 1942 the most successful units were those led by Colonel Calderari in Somalia, Colonel Di Marco in the Ogaden, Colonel Ruglio amongst the Danakil and "Blackshirt centurion" De Varda in Ethiopia. Their successful ambushes forced the British to dispatch troops, with airplanes and tanks, from Kenya and Sudan to the guerrilla-ridden territories of the former Italian East Africa [Cernuschi, Enrico. "La resistenza sconosciuta in Africa Orientale". pag. 36] .

That summer the British decided to put most of the Italian population of coastal Somalia into concentration camps, in order to avoid their possible contact with Japanese submarines [ Bullotta, Antonia. "La Somalia sotto due bandiere". pag. 72] .

In October 1942 the Italian guerrillas started to lose steam because of Rommel's defeat at the Battle of El Alamein and the capture of Major Lucchetti (the head of the "Fronte di Resistenza" organization).

The guerrilla war continued until summer 1943, when the remaining Italian soldiers started to destroy their armaments and, in some cases, escaped successfully to Italy, like Lieutenant Amedeo Guillet [Segre, Vittorio. "La guerra privata del tenente Guillet Guillet". pag. 26] (nicknamed "the Devil Commander" by the British) reached Taranto on September 3, 1943. He requested from the Italian War Ministry an "aircraft loaded with equipment to be used for guerrilla attacks in Eritrea" ( [] ), but the Italian armistice a few days later ended his plan.

One of the last Italian soldiers to surrender to the British forces was Corrado Turchetti, who wrote in his memoirs that some soldiers continued to ambush Allied troops until October 1943. The very last Italian officer who fought the guerrilla war was Colonel Nino Tramonti in Eritrea [Cernuschi, Enrico. "La resistenza sconosciuta in Africa Orientale". pag. 74] .

Two noteworthy guerrilla actions

Of the many Italians who performed guerrilla actions between December 1941 and September 1943, two are worthy of note:

* Francesco De Martini, captain of the "Servizio Informazioni Militari" (military intelligence) who in January 1942 blew up an ammunition depot in Massaua, Eritrea and later organized a group of Eritrean sailors (with small boats called "sambuco") in order to identify, and notify Rome with by his radio, of the British navy movements throughout the Red Sea. De Martini received the Italian gold medal of honor [Rosselli, Alberto. "Storie Segrete. Operazioni sconosciute o dimenticate della seconda guerra mondiale". pag. 98] .

* Rosa Dainelli, a doctor who in August 1942 succeeded in entering the main ammunition depot of the British army in Addis Abeba, and blowing it up, miraculously surviving the huge explosion. Her sabotage destroyed the ammunition for the new British sub machine gun "Sten", delaying the use of this "state of the art" armament for many months. Doctor Dainelli was proposed for the Italian iron medal of honor ("croce di ferro") [Rosselli, Alberto. "Storie Segrete. Operazioni sconosciute o dimenticate della seconda guerra mondiale". pag. 103] .

List of the main Italian guerrilla officers

* Lieutenant "Amedeo Guillet" in Eritrea
* Captain "Francesco De Martini" in Eritrea
* Captain "Paolo Aloisi" in Ethiopia
* Captain "Leopoldo Rizzo" in Ethiopia
* Colonel "Di Marco" in Ogaden
* Colonel "Ruglio" in Dancalia
* Blackshirt General "Muratori" in Ethiopia/Eritrea
* Blackshirt officer "De Varda" in Ethiopia
* Blackshirt officer "Luigi Cristiani" in Eritrea
* Major "Lucchetti" in Ethiopia
* Major "Gobbi" in Dessie
* Colonel "Nino Tramonti" in Eritrea
* Colonel "Calderari" in Somalia



* Bullotta, Antonia. "La Somalia sotto due bandiere" Edizioni Garzanti, 1949 it icon
* Cernuschi, Enrico. "La resistenza sconosciuta in Africa Orientale" Rivista Storica, dicembre 1994.(Rivista Italiana Difesa) it icon
* Del Boca, Angeli. "Gli Italiani in Africa Orientale La caduta dell'Impero" Editori Laterza, 1982. it icon
* Rosselli, Alberto. "Storie Segrete. Operazioni sconosciute o dimenticate della seconda guerra mondiale" Iuculano Editore. Pavia, 2007 it icon
* Sbiacchi, Alberto. "Hailé Selassié and the Italians, 1941-43". African Studies Review, vol.XXII, n.1, april 1979. en icon
* ASMAI/III, "Archivio Segreto. Relazione Lucchetti. 2 Guerra Mondiale" pacco IV. it icon
* Segre, Vittorio. "La guerra privata del tenente Guillet". Corbaccio Editore. Milano, 1993 it icon

ee also

*East African Campaign (World War II)
*Military history of Italy during World War II
*Italian Mare Nostrum
*Italian Empire
*Italian conquest of British Somaliland
*Libyan resistance movement
*Greater Italia

External links

* [ The "Devil Commander" Amedeo Guillet] en icon
* [ The Italian guerrillas in Italian East Africa] it icon

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