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In 1935 the Italian armed forces launched an invasion of Ethiopia. Whilst the Italians were a modern army with all the aspects we'd recognise today the Ethiopians had manpower and a few antiquated guns. While it appears some weapons were centrally sourced, most were acquired from arms dealers, and the price for even basic small arms in the opening days of the war in Addis Ababa reached astronomical levels. The Italians also had modern artillery, air forces and tanks. Ironically the Ethiopians had Italian tanks as well, but from a generation earlier. The Imperial bodyguard had four FIAT 3000's. One, a 3000A had been gifted to the Emperor in 1925. In 1930 three FIAT 3000B's were purchased.
|Eritrean Elephants towing artillery during the invasion|
But during one battle the Ethiopians did win, and push the Italians back, this battle happened at the start of the Christmas offensive, and despite the presence of Italian tanks the poorly armed Ethiopians were able to win. This is known as the battle of Dembeguina Pass.
15th of December 1935 was the middle of the dry season. The river Beghemder in the valley of Takazze was very low due to the lack of rain, a pair of fords crossed it separated by nine miles. At one ford, on the main mule track in the area stood a small stone fort manned by Italian troops.
In the early hours of the morning a large force of Ethiopians led by Fitaurari Shifferaw, and accompanied by his 80 year old father Fitaurari Negash, arrived at the ford after a long night march. The Ethiopians quickly overran the surprised defenders and wiped the fort out, then pushed on towards Dembeguina Pass.
As the Ethiopians approached the unaware Italian forces, the Italians had the luck to send out a routine patrol. As soon as the Ethiopians spotted this patrol they fired on them from extreme range, the Italian patrol immediately turned and fled back to its larger force. The undisciplined Ethiopians started a headlong charge after their fleeing enemies.
You might ask why the Italians opened up their hatches. The answer is these simple machines lacked radio's and so had to communicate by word of mouth. At another battle later in the war a large number of tankette crews were killed and wounded simply because they had to open their hatches to communicate.
With the guarding CV-35 tankette knocked out the Ethiopian army swept forward. Maj Crinti then lead his forces forward to meet the attacking Ethiopians. The Italian's sharp and aggressive attack came very close to routing the Ethiopians, it was only the presence of Fitaurari Shifferaw, their chief that held the force together. As more pressure was brought on the Italians they realised they couldn't continue the attack and fell back to a hill. The Italians then tried to entrap the Ethiopians by sending forth their baggage train, hoping the ill disciplined Ethiopians would attack it and loot it. However the Ethiopians saw the danger and failed to take the bait, and a very intense firefight erupted.
|Italian Colonial unit (Eritrean's)|
This gesture had no meaning to the Ethiopians, and not understanding what the Italians were trying to do, just saw it as an opportunity to kill more enemy.
After the attempted failure to surrender the Italians launched another assault, during which they killed Fitaurari Shifferaw. As the vicious battle waged around Fitaurari Negash, he was mourning the loss of his son and the Ethiopian troops again started to waver. Fitaurari Negash was approached by the forces Confessor, who told him
"I will take care of your son, but you will be damned if you don't avenge him!"
The Italian’s assault had been a breakthrough aiming to get from their position to a place where their trucks and the remaining tankettes were in order to retreat from the enemy. The rallied Ethiopians didn't give them the breathing space needed to mount the trucks and were on them instantly.
The last two CV-35's were captured intact around 1600 when a second force of Ethiopians who had been sent to the other ford over the river arrived at the battle.
The Italian forces began to run back down the road on foot, towards Enda Selassie with the Ethiopians in pursuit. The Italians were unable to break free when they reached the town so they halted and a vicious close combat fight developed. The Italians had no hope and were defeated. However the days fighting and the long distances it covered meant that the Ethiopians were exhausted, so they halted for the night.
The following day the Italians deployed a Blackshirt unit in trucks supported by even more CV-35's. From the descriptions of what happened next it seems the column was driving along a road on the side of a ridge or rocky hill when the Ethiopians ambushed them. They started by rolling large boulders down the hill, which blocked the road and smashed into the leading CV-35's. The driver of the lead tankette was also killed.
Two CV-35's slipped (or were hit by the boulders) and fell off the road and became bogged down on the hillside. Two more had torches thrown under them which caused them to catch fire. With the road blocked and the column being destroyed the Italians retreated.
|(Actually a picture from Greece in WWII I think)|
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