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Battle of Adowa

Battle of Adowa

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The Battle of Adwa was fought on 1 March 1896 between Ethiopia
Ethiopian Empire
The Ethiopian Empire also known as Abyssinia, covered a geographical area that the present-day northern half of Ethiopia and Eritrea covers, and included in its peripheries Zeila, Djibouti, Yemen and Western Saudi Arabia...

 and Italy
Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946)
The Kingdom of Italy was a state forged in 1861 by the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which was its legal predecessor state...

 near the town of Adwa
Adwa
Adwa is a market town in northern Ethiopia, and best known as the community closest to the decisive Battle of Adowa fought in 1896 with Italian troops. Notably, Ethiopian soldiers won the battle, thus being the only African nation to thwart European colonialism...

, Ethiopia, in Tigray
Tigray Region
Tigray Region is the northernmost of the nine ethnic regions of Ethiopia containing the homeland of the Tigray people. It was formerly known as Region 1...

. It was the climactic battle of the First Italo-Ethiopian War, securing Ethiopian sovereignty and ending Italian attempts at its conquest for another three and a half decades.

Background


As the 20th century approached, most of 19th-century Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 had been carved up among the various Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an powers. The two independent exceptions were the tiny Republic of Liberia
Liberia
Liberia , officially the Republic of Liberia, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Sierra Leone on the west, Guinea on the north and Côte d'Ivoire on the east. Liberia's coastline is composed of mostly mangrove forests while the more sparsely populated inland consists of forests that open...

 on the west coast of the continent and the ancient Ethiopian Empire
Ethiopian Empire
The Ethiopian Empire also known as Abyssinia, covered a geographical area that the present-day northern half of Ethiopia and Eritrea covers, and included in its peripheries Zeila, Djibouti, Yemen and Western Saudi Arabia...

 in the strategic Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa
The Horn of Africa is a peninsula in East Africa that juts hundreds of kilometers into the Arabian Sea and lies along the southern side of the Gulf of Aden. It is the easternmost projection of the African continent...

. The Kingdom of Italy was a relative newcomer to the colonial
Colonialism
Colonialism is the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It is a process whereby the metropole claims sovereignty over the colony and the social structure, government, and economics of the colony are changed by...

 scramble for Africa
Scramble for Africa
The Scramble for Africa, also known as the Race for Africa or Partition of Africa was a process of invasion, occupation, colonization and annexation of African territory by European powers during the New Imperialism period, between 1881 and World War I in 1914...

. Italy had only two recently-obtained African territories, both located near Ethiopia on the Horn of Africa: Eritrea
Eritrea
Eritrea , officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea derives it's name from the Greek word Erethria, meaning 'red land'. The capital is Asmara. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast...

 and Somalia
Somaliland
Somaliland is an unrecognised self-declared sovereign state that is internationally recognised as an autonomous region of Somalia. The government of Somaliland regards itself as the successor state to the British Somaliland protectorate, which was independent for a few days in 1960 as the State of...

. Both were impoverished. Italy sought to improve its position in Africa by conquering Ethiopia, which would join its two territories.

In 1889, the Italians signed the Treaty of Wuchale
Treaty of Wuchale
Treaty of Wuchale was a treaty signed by King Menelik II of Shewa, later the Emperor of Ethiopia with Count Pietro Antonelli of Italy in the town of Wuchale, Ethiopia, on 2 May 1889...

 with Emperor
Emperor of Ethiopia
The Emperor of Ethiopia was the hereditary ruler of Ethiopia until the abolition of the monarchy in 1974. The Emperor was the head of state and head of government, with ultimate executive, judicial and legislative power in that country...

 Menelik II. A disputed article of the treaty made the Ethiopian Empire a protectorate
Protectorate
In history, the term protectorate has two different meanings. In its earliest inception, which has been adopted by modern international law, it is an autonomous territory that is protected diplomatically or militarily against third parties by a stronger state or entity...

 of the Kingdom of Italy. As a result, Italy and Ethiopia faced off in what was later to be known as the First Italo-Ethiopian War.

In late 1895, after advancing deep into Ethiopian territory, a small Italian-led unit was defeated by a much larger Ethiopian group at the Battle of Amba Alagi
Battle of Amba Alagi (1895)
The Battle of Amba Alagi was the first in a series of battles between General Baratieri and Emperor Menelik during the First Italo-Ethiopian War. Amba Alagi was one of Baratieri's forward positions, left in charge to Major Toselli as well as 2,000 Eritrean Askari...

. The Italians were forced to withdraw to more defensible positions in Tigray
Tigray Province
Tigray was a province of Ethiopia. The Tigray Region superseded the province with the adoption of the new constitution in 1995. The province of Tigre merged with its neighboring provinces, including Semien, Tembien, Agame and the prominent Enderta province and towards the end of 19th century it...

, where the two main armies faced each other.

By late February 1896, supplies on both sides were running low. General Oreste Baratieri
Oreste Baratieri
Oreste Baratieri was an Italian general and governor of Eritrea who led the Italian army and was defeated in the First Italo–Ethiopian War's Battle of Adowa.-Early career:...

, commander of the Italian forces, knew the Ethiopian forces had been living off the land, and once the supplies of the local peasants were exhausted, Emperor Menelik's army would begin to melt away. However, the Italian government insisted that General Baratieri act. On the evening of 29 February, Baratieri met with his brigadiers
Brigadier General
Brigadier general is a senior rank in the armed forces. It is the lowest ranking general officer in some countries, usually sitting between the ranks of colonel and major general. When appointed to a field command, a brigadier general is typically in command of a brigade consisting of around 4,000...

 Matteo Albertone, Giuseppe Arimondi, Vittorio Dabormida, and Giuseppe Ellena, concerning their next steps. He opened the meeting on a negative note, revealing to his brigadiers that provisions would be exhausted in less than five days, and suggested retreating, perhaps as far back as Asmara
Asmara
Asmara is the capital city and largest settlement in Eritrea, home to a population of around 579,000 people...

. His subordinates argued forcefully for an attack, insisting that to retreat at this point would only worsen the poor morale. Dabormida exclaiming, "Italy would prefer the loss of two or three thousand men to a dishonorable retreat." Baratieri delayed making a decision for a few more hours, claiming that he needed to wait for some last-minute intelligence, but in the end announced that the attack would start the next morning at 9:00. His troops began their march to their starting positions shortly after midnight.

The battle



The Italian army comprised four brigades totaling 17,878 troops, with fifty-six artillery pieces. However, it is likely that even fewer men fought in this battle on the Italian side: Harold Marcus notes that "several thousand" soldiers were needed for support and to guard the lines of communication to the rear, so he estimates the Italian army to have consisted of 14,923 effectives. One brigade under General Albertone was made up of Eritrea
Eritrea
Eritrea , officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea derives it's name from the Greek word Erethria, meaning 'red land'. The capital is Asmara. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast...

n askari
Askari
Askari is an Arabic, Bosnian, Urdu, Turkish, Somali, Persian, Amharic and Swahili word meaning "soldier" . It was normally used to describe local troops in East Africa, Northeast Africa, and Central Africa serving in the armies of European colonial powers...

 led by Italian officers. The remaining three brigades were Italian units under Brigadiers Dabormida, Ellena and Arimondi. While these included elite Bersaglieri
Bersaglieri
The Bersaglieri are a corps of the Italian Army originally created by General Alessandro La Marmora on 18 June 1836 to serve in the Piedmontese Army, later to become the Royal Italian Army...

, Alpini
Alpini
The Alpini, , are the elite mountain warfare soldiers of the Italian Army. They are currently organized in two operational brigades, which are subordinated to the Alpini Corps Command. The singular is Alpino ....

 and Cacciatori
Hunters of the Alps
The Hunters of the Alps were a special military corps created by Giuseppe Garibaldi in Cuneo on February 20, 1859 to help the regular Sardinian army to free the northern part of Italy in the Second Italian War of Independence....

 units, a large proportion of the troops were inexperienced conscripts recently drafted from metropolitan regiments in Italy into newly formed "di formazione" battalions for service in Africa.

As Chris Prouty describes:

Estimates for the Ethiopian forces under Menelik range from a low of 73,000 to a high of 100,000, outnumbering the Italians by an estimated five or six times. The forces were divided among Emperor Menelik, Empress Taytu Betul
Taytu Betul
thumb|Taytu BetulTaytu Betul was an Empress of the Ethiopian Empire and the wife of Emperor Menelek II.-Biography:...

, Ras
Ethiopian aristocratic and court titles
Until the end of the monarchy in 1974, there were two categories of nobility in Ethiopia: the Mesafint or princes, hereditary nobles, formed the upper echelon of the ruling class; while the Mekwanint were the appointed nobles, often of humble birth, who formed the bulk of the nobility...

Welle Betul, Ras Mengesha Atikem, Ras Mengesha Yohannes
Ras Mengesha Yohannes
Mengesha Yohannes was the "natural" son of Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia, Ras of Tigray, and, as a claimant of the Imperial throne, is often given the title of Leul. Ras Araya Selassie Yohannes was his older half brother.-Biography:Prior to the Battle of Metemma, Mengesha Yohannes was...

, Ras Alula Engida
Alula Engida
Ras Alula Engida was a general and Ethiopian politician...

, Ras Mikael of Wollo
Mikael of Wollo
Mikael of Wollo , born Mohammed Ali, was an army commander and a member of the nobility of the Ethiopian Empire. He was the father of the "uncrowned" Emperor Iyasu V. He changed his name to Mikael upon converting to Christianity.- Life :Mohammed Ali, an Oromo, was born in Wollo...

, Ras Makonnen Wolde Mikael
Ras Makonnen
Ras Mäkonnen Wäldä-Mika'él Guddisa, also Makonnen Wolde Mikael Gudessa or simply as Ras Makonnen, was a general and the governor of Harar province in Ethiopia, and the father of Tafari Mäkonnen, later known as the Emperor Haile Selassie I. His father was Fitawrari Woldemikael Guddessa of a noble...

, Fitawrari Gebeyyehu, and Negus Tekle Haymanot Tessemma
Tekle Haymanot of Gojjam
Tekle Haymanot Tessemma, also Adal Tessemma, Tekle Haymanot of Gojjam, and Tekle Haimanot of Gojjam, was an army commander and a member of the nobility of the Ethiopian Empire.- Biography :...

. In addition, the armies were followed by a similar number of traditional peasant followers who supplied the army, as had been done for centuries. Most of the army was composed of riflemen, a significant percentage of which were in Menelik's reserve; however, the army was also composed of a significant number of cavalry and infantry only armed with lance
Lance
A Lance is a pole weapon or spear designed to be used by a mounted warrior. The lance is longer, stout and heavier than an infantry spear, and unsuited for throwing, or for rapid thrusting. Lances did not have tips designed to intentionally break off or bend, unlike many throwing weapons of the...

s. Also, in Ethiopian Army there was the small team of the Russian advisers and volunteers of the officer the Kuban Cossack army N.S. Leontiev. On the night of 29 February and the early morning of 1 March three Italian brigades advanced separately towards Adwa over narrow mountain tracks, while a fourth remained camped. David Levering Lewis
David Levering Lewis
David Levering Lewis is the Julius Silver University Professor and Professor of History at New York University. He is twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, for part one and part two of his biography of W. E. B. Du Bois...

 states that the Italian battle plan
However, the three leading Italian brigades had become separated during their overnight march and at dawn were spread across several miles of very difficult terrain. Their sketchy maps caused Albertone to mistake one mountain for Kidane Meret, and when a scout pointed out his mistake, Albertone advanced directly into Ras Alula's position.

Unbeknownst to General Baratieri, Emperor Menelik knew his troops had exhausted the ability of the local peasants to support them and had planned to break camp the next day (2 March). The Emperor had risen early to begin prayers for divine guidance when spies from Ras Alula, his chief military advisor, brought him news that the Italians were advancing. The Emperor summoned the separate armies of his nobles and with the Empress Taytu beside him, ordered his forces forward. Negus Tekle Haymanot commanded the right wing, Ras Alula the left, and Rasses Makonnen and Mengesha the center, with Ras Mikael at the head of the Oromo
Oromo people
The Oromo are an ethnic group found in Ethiopia, northern Kenya, .and parts of Somalia. With 30 million members, they constitute the single largest ethnic group in Ethiopia and approximately 34.49% of the population according to the 2007 census...

 cavalry; the Emperor and his consort remained with the reserve. The Ethiopian forces positioned themselves on the hills overlooking the Adwa valley, in perfect position to receive the Italians, who were exposed and vulnerable to crossfire.

Albertone's askari brigade was the first to encounter the onrush of Ethiopians at 6:00, near Kidane Meret, where the Ethiopians had managed to set up their mountain artillery (so Menelik's adviser colonel Аrtamonov testifies, it is was 42 Russian mountain guns with team of fifteen advisers , but Britannic historians prefer other version about Hotchiss and Maxim pieces either captured from the Egyptians or purchased from French and other European suppliers). His heavily outnumbered askaris held their position for two hours until Albertone's capture, and under Ethiopian pressure the survivors sought refuge with Arimondi's brigade. Arimondi's brigade beat back the Ethiopians who repeatedly charged the Italian position for three hours with gradually fading strength until Menelik released his reserve of 25,000 Shewa
Shewa
Shewa is a historical region of Ethiopia, formerly an autonomous kingdom within the Ethiopian Empire...

ns and swamped the Italian defenders. Two companies of Bersaglieri who arrived at the same moment could not help and were cut down.

Dabormida's Italian brigade had moved to support Albertone but was unable to reach him in time. Cut off from the remainder of the Italian army, Dabormida began a fighting retreat towards friendly positions. However, he inadvertently marched his command into a narrow valley where the Oromo cavalry under Ras Mikael slaughtered his brigade, while shouting Ebalgume! Ebalgume! ("Reap! Reap!"). Dabormida's remains were never found, although his brother learned from an old woman living in the area that she had given water to a mortally wounded Italian officer, "a chief, a great man with spectacles and a watch, and golden stars".

The remaining two brigades under Baratieri himself were outflanked and destroyed piecemeal on the slopes of Mount Belah. Menelik watched as Gojjam
Gojjam
Gojjam was a kingdom in the north-western part of Ethiopia, with its capital city at Debre Marqos. This region is distinctive for lying entirely within the bend of the Abbay River from its outflow from Lake Tana to the Sudan...

 forces under the command of Tekle Haymonot
Tekle Haymanot of Gojjam
Tekle Haymanot Tessemma, also Adal Tessemma, Tekle Haymanot of Gojjam, and Tekle Haimanot of Gojjam, was an army commander and a member of the nobility of the Ethiopian Empire.- Biography :...

 made quick work of the last intact Italian brigade. By noon, the survivors of the Italian army were in full retreat and the battle was over.

Aftermath


The Russian support for Ethiopia led to the advent of a Russian Red Cross mission. The Russian mission was military mission conceived as a medical support for the Ethiopian troops it arrived in Addis Ababa some three months after Menilek's Adwa victory.
The Italians suffered about 7,000 killed and 1,500 wounded in the battle and subsequent retreat back into Eritrea, with 3,000 taken prisoner; Ethiopian losses have been estimated around 4,000–5,000, but with 8,000 wounded. In their flight to Eritrea
Eritrea
Eritrea , officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea derives it's name from the Greek word Erethria, meaning 'red land'. The capital is Asmara. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast...

, the Italians left behind all of their artillery and 11,000 rifles, as well as most of their transport. As Paul B. Henze notes, "Baratieri's army had been completely annihilated while Menelik's was intact as a fighting force and gained thousands of rifles and a great deal of equipment from the fleeing Italians." The 3,000 Italian prisoners, who included General Albertone, appear to have been treated as well as could be expected under difficult circumstances, though about 200 died of their wounds in captivity. However, 800 captured askaris, regarded as traitors by the Ethiopians, had their right hands and left feet amputated. Augustus Wylde records when he visited the battlefield months after the battle, the pile of severed hands and feet was still visible, "a rotting heap of ghastly remnants." Further, many had not survived their punishment, Wylde writing how the neighborhood of Adwa "was full of their freshly dead bodies; they had generally crawled to the banks of the streams to quench their thirst, where many of them lingered unattended and exposed to the elements until death put an end to their sufferings." There does not appear to be any foundation for reports that some Italians were castrated and these may reflect confusion with the atrocious treatment of the askari prisoners.

Baratieri was relieved of his command and later charged with preparing an "inexcusable" plan of attack and for abandoning his troops in the field. He was acquitted on these charges but was described by the court martial judges as being "entirely unfitted" for his command. Chris Prouty offers a panoramic overview of the response in Italy to the news:
One question much asked – both then and long afterward – is why did Emperor Menelik fail to follow up his victory and drive the routed Italians out of their colony? The victorious Emperor limited his demands to little more than the abrogation of the deceptive Treaty of Wuchale
Treaty of Wuchale
Treaty of Wuchale was a treaty signed by King Menelik II of Shewa, later the Emperor of Ethiopia with Count Pietro Antonelli of Italy in the town of Wuchale, Ethiopia, on 2 May 1889...

. In the context of the prevailing balance of power, the emperor's crucial goal was to preserve Ethiopian independence. In addition, Ethiopia had just begun to emerge from a long and brutal famine
Famines in Ethiopia
Traditionally the Economy of Ethiopia was based on subsistence agriculture, with an aristocracy that consumed the surplus. Due to a number of causes, the peasants lacked incentives to either improve production or to store their excess harvest; as a result, they lived from harvest to harvest.Despite...

; Harold Marcus reminds us that the army was restive over its long service in the field, short of rations, and the short rains which would bring all travel to a crawl would soon start to fall. At the time, Menelik claimed a shortage of cavalry horses with which to harry the fleeing soldiers. Chris Prouty observes that "a failure of nerve on the part of Menelik has been alleged by both Italian and Ethiopian sources." Lewis believes that it "was his farsighted certainty that total annihilation of Baratieri and a sweep into Eritrea would force the Italian people to turn a bungled colonial war into a national crusade" that stayed his hand.
As a direct result of the battle, Italy signed the Treaty of Addis Ababa
Treaty of Addis Ababa
The Treaty of Addis Ababa, signed 23 October 1896, formally ended the First Italo–Ethiopian War on terms mostly favorable to Ethiopia. This treaty superseded a secret agreement between Ethiopia and Italy negotiated days after the decisive Battle of Adowa in March of the same year, in which...

, recognizing Ethiopia as an independent state. Almost forty years later, on 3 October 1935, after the League of Nations
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...

's weak response to the Abyssinia Crisis
Abyssinia Crisis
The Abyssinia Crisis was a diplomatic crisis during the interwar period originating in the "Walwal incident." This incident resulted from the ongoing conflict between the Kingdom of Italy and the Empire of Ethiopia...

, the Italians launched a new military campaign endorsed by Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism....

, the Second Italo-Abyssinian War
Second Italo-Abyssinian War
The Second Italo–Abyssinian War was a colonial war that started in October 1935 and ended in May 1936. The war was fought between the armed forces of the Kingdom of Italy and the armed forces of the Ethiopian Empire...

. This time the Italians employed vastly superior military technology such as tanks and aircraft, as well as Chemical warfare
Chemical warfare
Chemical warfare involves using the toxic properties of chemical substances as weapons. This type of warfare is distinct from Nuclear warfare and Biological warfare, which together make up NBC, the military acronym for Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical...

, the Ethiopian forces were soundly defeated by May 1936. Following the war, Italy occupied Ethiopia for five years (1936–41), before eventually being driven out during World War II by British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 and Ethiopian patriot forces.

Significance


"The confrontation between Italy and Ethiopia at Adwa was a fundamental turning point in Ethiopian history," writes Henze. "Though apparent to very few historians at the time, these defeats were the beginning of the decline of Europe as the center of world politics." On a similar note, the Ethiopian historian-anglophile Bahru Zewde observed that "few events in the modern period have brought Ethiopia to the attention of the world as has the victory at Adwa;" however, Bahru Zewde puts his emphasis on other elements of this triumph: "The racial dimension was what lent Adwa particular significance. It was a victory of blacks over whites.".

The Russian Empire enthusiastically paid victory compliments to the Ethiopian army. One of the documents of that time states, "The Victory immediately gained the general sympathy of Russian society and it continued to grow." The unique outlook which polyethnic Russia exhibited to its ally Ethiopia disturbed many supporters of European nationalism during the twentieth century. The Russian Cossack captain Nicholas Leontjev with team of volunteers of participated in the battle as an advisor to Menelik.

This defeat of a colonial power and the ensuing recognition of African sovereignty became rallying points for later African nationalists during their struggle for decolonization, as well as activists and leaders of the Pan-African movement. As the Afrocentric scholar Molefe Asante explains,
On the other hand, many writers have pointed out how this battle was a humiliation for the Italian military. One student of Ethiopia, Donald N. Levine, points out that for the Italians Adwa "became a national trauma which demagogic leaders strove to avenge. It also played no little part in motivating Italy's revanchist adventure in 1935". Levine also noted that the victory "gave encouragement to isolationist and conservative strains that were deeply rooted in Ethiopian culture, strengthening the hand of those who would strive to keep Ethiopia from adopting techniques imported from the modern West - resistances with which both Menelik and Ras Teferi/Haile Selassie would have to contend"
.

See also

  • Battle of Isandlwana
    Battle of Isandlwana
    The Battle of Isandlwana on 22 January 1879 was the first major encounter in the Anglo-Zulu War between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom...

  • Battle of the Little Bighorn
    Battle of the Little Bighorn
    The Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer's Last Stand and, by the Indians involved, as the Battle of the Greasy Grass, was an armed engagement between combined forces of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho people against the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army...

  • Massacre of Elphinstone's Army
    Massacre of Elphinstone's Army
    The Massacre of Elphinstone's Army was the destruction by Afghan forces, led by Akbar Khan, the son of Dost Mohammad Khan, of a combined British and Indian force of the British East India Company, led by Major General William Elphinstone, in January 1842....

  • St. Clair's Defeat
    St. Clair's Defeat
    St. Clair's Defeat also known as the Battle of the Wabash, the Battle of Wabash River or the Battle of a Thousand Slain, was fought on November 4, 1791 in the Northwest Territory between the United States and the Western Confederacy of American Indians, as part of the Northwest Indian War...


External links