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by Falecius


The Fascist invasion of Ethiopia is seen often just as minor development in the events who take place in Europe and in the East during the Thirties. The period saw a great growth of Nazi and fascist power and popularity in the world, and a general retreat of democracy in many countries, as Spain, Czechoslovakia, Latvia and of course Germany. Japan became more definitely "fascist" and imperialist, bringing a serious threat to Chinese independence. Even in Western democracies fascist movements became more popular. In the Soviet Union, the communist power turned into a violent autocracy.

The Ethiopian issue could be portrayed just as small part of this general trend. On the contrary, I believe it was a major turning point. Before that war, fascist Italy tended to see Nazi Germany as a rival if not an enemy. Both regimes were strongly nationalists, and the national aspirations of two neighbouring peoples often clash if brought to the extreme. Italy supported an independent Austria as buffer state with a too powerful Germany, while Hitler saw the very existence of a separate Austria as a bleeding wound. Moreover, in Italy itself there was a largely oppressed and malcontent German speaking minority, whose rights the Nazis asserted vigorously. Germany, was virtually the sole great European nation who gave modern weapons to the Ethiopians during the war, spite they were an inferior race.

Only after the Italian victory a Nazi- Fascist alliance was possible, if not still unavoidable.

Most important, the Ethiopian crisis showed evidently the weakness, and also the unwillingness, of democracies in contrasting fascism. It was somewhat the precedent for the German annexations and for the Japanese invasion of China. (no doubt, they would have happened in any case).

The League of the Nations came out substantially annihilated of that. We can compare its role with the UNís one during the Iraq crisis.

The last, and less remarked thing, is that the Ethiopian war didnít show the Fascist strength, but the Fascist weakness: notwithstanding the enormous advantage the Italians had, in positions, equipment (particularly air power) and number, the war was a near run: it took anyway seven months of harsh fighting to the Fascist to get the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, and they never got full control over the whole country, facing a indomitable guerrilla after the official end of the hostilities. (See Iraq again). Ethiopians fought bravely at their best, even if some chiefs passed on the Italian side under promises (mostly unaccomplished) of greater power. It is unlikely that Italy could have ever won without using chemical weapons on large scale as she did. If the victory were delayed just on month or so, the rain season would paralyze the Italian forcesÖ but not the Abyssinian, and the counter offensive would have been victorious for them. A this point, it is likely that democracies would play a more effective role in stopping the war without no significant gains for Italy. This would advice Japan and Germany that aggression were not to be tolerated. A successful Abyssinian resistance would also have emboldened the voices of who, in Africa and America, asked for black people rights, and compelled Britain and France to rethink their colonial empires. The LN would have acted effectively for a little more.

Mussolini wouldnít survive to a defeat in Africa. Iím not sure that fascism would fall down. But the leadership would deeply change, and a more West oriented and maybe less extremist would keep Italy hostile to Germany.

I will examine in detail what could have happened. I assume that the Italian leadership was deeply determined to make the war, and the French and British ones had little concern in avoiding it. So it was substantially unavoidable. I donít think that LN had a realistic hope to behave more effectively in the first stage. Even if Ethiopia was a full right member of the LN, it stayed an African black country of circumcised men ( and women, unfortunately) where slavery was still customary. Probably some European and even a small group of Abyssinians, thought that Italy would bring benefits to the country.

Sanctions are declared when the Italians invaded, and give Mussolini a good propaganda argument. They donít involve oil, anyway, and Britain doesnít close Suez to Italian fleet. These harsh measures arenít taken probably mostly because the Western leaders fear that Italy would declare war. Western democracies have a very pacifist attitude towards other European powers (not so towards their own colonial subjects, anyway). En plus, they hope to regain the Italian favour after the crisis, to face Hitler together. They have to save the appearance anyway, and condemn the aggression. So, ineffective sanctions, and Ethiopians left totally alone facing a much more stronger enemy. Ethiopian could raise no more than 250 thousand fighting men, Italy starts the campaign, in late October, 1935, with 400 thousand soldiers deployed in her colonies bordering Ethiopia. 100 thousand more will join Italian forces later. Most of them, of course, are Eritrean, Libyan and Somali colonials. The declared aim of invasion is the annexation of Ethiopia, or the largest part of it, and the massive agricultural colonization of its land with Italian poor farmers.

(The obsession that many Italian politicians had about diverting in the hottest African deserts the migration flood to Americas, and thus getting as much as possible of those deserts for this aim, seems to me rather a psychiatric than historical matter).

Well, the first Italian offensives got far less than expected, before a well conceived Ethiopian counter attack stopped them. The most competent Ethiopian officer, Ras Immiru, defeated the Italians heavily in the battle of Dembeguina, and pushed into Eritrea. But a third of his force was under an ambitious officer who had a deal with the Italians, and he didnít follow Immiru in the raid into Eritrea, the Italian colony bordering Ethiopia. What if heíd stayed loyal? Immirý pushes into Eritrea with full forces and the Italian commander in chief, Gen. Badoglio, is forces to send a division to counter him, diverting it from his main attacking force. So he would have lesser troops in the decisive battle of Tembien. During this battle, Italians just managed to hold their positions against the Ethiopian main army, which ended exhausted. We are in February, 1936. Immiru is overwhelmed and forced back to Ethiopia, but he has cut some Italian supply lines, which are overstretched yet, and diverted manpower desperately needed at Tembien. So the Ethiopian manoeuvre is successful and some 150.000 of the best Italian forces are sacked in the middle of Ethiopia without supply, completely surrounded while the reminders of Italian army flees to Eritrea in disorder. Instead of a bloody stalemate, Tembien is a decisive Ethiopian victory like Adua was.

Badoglio wonít survive to this. Heís fired. Italy can still pursue the war, but she has to worry about a huge number of POW in Ethiopian hands, and has lost most of her initial gains. Ethiopians have suffered severe losses but have a morale boost, and many pro-Italian nobles return on the Emperorís side, reinforcing his army. Also some Italian colonials join the Empireís forces. Haile Sellase, the Emperor of Ethiopia, offers peace at honourable terms, which are obviously refused by Mussolini, because they imply a minor cession of Italian land. A new Ethiopian offensive is stopped on the Mareb river, on the border of Eritrea, on with the massive use of hyprite and aerial superiority, but shows major deficiencies of the ground troops. The Negus allows a part of the Italians POWs to return home through French territory as act of goodwill, ( heís unable to feed them all) and denounces the prohibited weapons used by the Italians to LN. In May, rains season begins. Italian tanks and aircrafts are useless. Ethiopian forces break Italian lines on the Mareb as they lack air cover, and the Eritreans revolt as the Negus enters the colony. Conditions on the Italian side are growing worse, and there are mutinies like in 1917 Western Front, treated in similar manner by Mussolini. The other Italian army which is invading Ethiopia from Italian Somalia is reduced to defend Eritrea as it is unable to take the Ethiopian line of fortresses in Ogaden ( they succeeded in OTL on late April, but only after the collapse of the main Ethiopian army at Mai Ceu)

We are in June now, and the Italian army is collapsing in Eritrea and just holding on in Somalia, while Ras Desta Damteu, another competent Ethiopian general, has reorganised his forces in the extreme south and attacked the city of Negelli, taken by the Italians at the beginning of the war and now inadequately garrisoned. Proofs of the Italian use of gases are made public in the West, creating indignation through Europe. The courage of Ethiopians in beating back the invading fascists is seen with growing sympathy in Britain. Mussolini and other fascist leaders are blamed for the disastrous war and his popularity is slow. Maybe, a this point France and Britain ask for a negotiate peace upon the status quo ante, Haile Sellase remarks heís winning the war and wants at least an Eritrean port, maybe in exchange for parts of Ogaden. I think that at this point there is a strong anti-Mussolini faction among the fascists, and the seek for the Kingís support. The King was happy to be crowned emperor of Ethiopia, but wanted nothing to do with a defeat. Italy could still send reinforcements, restart offensive after the rains, and and win the war, but it seems too costly. I suppose that Immiru and Haile Sellase are putting siege on Asmara by now, the Eritrean capital, with little hope to take it, and are willing to end the war as soon as possible. Letís have Mussolini overthrown in August by a conspiracy involving high army officers, senators, members of the Royal house and some fascist leaders like Dino Grandi and Italo Balbo. What will happen now?

Much depends upon who will take real power in Italy after Mussolini. Italo Balbo is a good candidate, but he has no good relationships with the King. Galeazzo Ciano is out Ė too close to Mussolini - . My choice is Marshall Caviglia, which wasnít fascist and enjoyed the Kingís trust. He also was angry about the Ethiopian war because he wasnít given the command there as he wanted to.

But the fascist general Graziani, who had command in Somalia, wonít accept this.

I think that Caviglia starts peace talks in September, once his government stabilised, sponsored by all LN members, and agrees upon ceding Dankalia, the southernmost, desert part of Eritrea on the Red Sea, to Ethiopia, the rest of Eritrea is given back to Italy while an international commission will draw the exact borderline between Ethiopian and Italian Somalias. The problem is that Graziani down in Somalia, doesnít recognize Cavigliaís government, and declares the Italian Fascist Republic in Mogadisho, quite a Franco-like move I think, pursues the war against Ethiopia and tries to get the troops in Eritrea on his side. Heís personally tied with many high officers on the field in Eritrea, so maybe he succeeds. And eventually Mussolini backs him trying to raise forces in Italian mainland, which will bring italy to a civil war.

Will Caviglia try to retake the rebel colonies, and quickly succeed in destroying fascist republicans in Italy? Ore there will be an Italian civil war? If so, this will turn into a three side conflict in East Africa, with Ethiopians still fighting Graziani and backing loyalist forces in Eritrea. I guess this will end with an exhausted Ethiopia controlling de facto both Italian colonies, and a Nazi intervention in Italy after the Anschluss, aimed to regain South Tirol and maybe Trieste. How much German commitment could be tolerated by the western powers is debatable, I guess that France and Britain would protest loudly as the Nazis reach the Mediterranean. In any case, Franco in Spain wonít be backed by neither Italy or Germany, and so the Republicans win there, say in 1938. Will the LN sanction Germany for invading Austria or Italy?, probably not, if Hitler doesnít go further than Trento, but I doubt he would. The occasion to impose a favourable government in Italy is too good to be lost. He will have to face a strong resistance anyway, he could not raise the Sudeten issue by now, and Italian loyalists have a stronghold in Libya, not to mention that his support has discredited fascist republicans to many Italians. France, Britain, Republican Spain and maybe Soviet Union would supply the loyalists heavily. Hitler is isolated except for Hungary, and he wonít survive if defeated in Italy.

I have and idea that makes funny, even if itís quite unlikely. Haile Sellase has defeated Graziani and occupies Eritrea and Somalia, but the powers wonít allow him to keep them. He has been helped by Italian loyalist forces, and so lets him offer a deal to Caviglia: Eritrea and Somalia to Ethiopia, Italians troops there rearmed and re-equipped to fight the Germans home ( something like 200.000 men more) and an Ethiopian expeditionary force to help them under ras Immiru backing them. Imagine three Ethiopian divisions, motivated, with good equipments and modern weapons, under a very good general like Immiru is, fighting in a European war, on European soil, and probably obtaining great successes. This would make Ethiopia a real power in the world.

The Italian civil war ends around 1940n with a loyalist victory. There is no WWII. Nazism falls and Germany, probably united with Austria, falls under military government, letís say admiral Canaris as leader. Free from Western commitment, Soviet Union is free to exploit Nomonhan and enters a full scale war against Japanto the delight of France and Britain.

India is given Dominion status without partition, probably in 1942. Churchill remains a marginal figure in British politics, and France keeps a socialist dominated government, and starts to give its colonials chunks of self government. Czechoslovakia stays democratic and the civil rights movements in the US grow sooner and stronger. FDR end his second mandate in 1940 and doesnít look for a third nomination. Something like the Civil Rights act is passed probably before that. I see Wallace as the most likely successor. Under his presidency, US economy will boom and a welfare state on European (Swedish?) models is created. Philippines are given independence since the Japanese are losing against the Soviets and are unable to do something, East Samoa eventually ceded to New Zealand, US Virgin islands and Puerto Rico instituted as States. There are strong oppositions to this, but results are probably so good that they could be shut down. Britain starts to reconsider imperial commitments. Somaliland I given to Ethiopia, Sudan to Egypt, Iraq and Jordan are given independence upon some conditions, Bechuanaland, Lesotho, Swaziland, are annexed to South Africa and Rhodesia-Nyasaland, Kenya, Ceylon and Burma are given Dominion status in 1948. Pacific isles are partitioned between Australia and new Zealand, New Hebrides and Gambia ceded to France. The other British colonies become independent peacefully in the fifties, it is thinkable that some Caribbean isles apply for US membership once the racial question is solved up there. Violence will rise up in Rhodesia, South Africa and Kenya after decolonisation. Manchuria and Korea will become SSRs, Japan will give up Kurili and Karafuto to the Soviets, China will be partitioned between Chiang and Mao and probably will suffer the same civil war as OTL.

The British example forces France to decolonise too. Italian failure in Africa has been so evident, that it becomes imperative.

The Chinese civil war could spread to a World War between the West and Soviet, in wich Germany would stay neutral, unless she has nukes. And since Fermi, Teller and Szilard have not fled to the US, nor, maybe, Meitner to Sweden, Germany is the unique place where the bomb could be developed. Will they use the bomb too? Which side will they join? Or shall Germany, once she has nukes, move alone to the conquest of Europe, before the war between West and Russia begins, and forcing them to unite against the nuclear enemy?

And what would the US do in this case?

Should I develop further these ideas?


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