Ethiopia: Eritrean Colonial Troops

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Posted: Sun Jul 13, 2003 7:52 pm by JLEES

I've been reading a book called "Rape of Ethiopia 1936" by A.J. Barker, who made a comment that the Italians had some problems with their Eritrean colonial troops deserting and going over to the enemy side in large numbers. The author also said many Ethiopians deserted and went over the the Italian too. In fact (on page 36), Berker said 904 Askaris colonial troops deserted and De Bono had some difficulties dealing with this problem. Is this true? What was the quality of these soldiers in 1935-36? I've always understood that these were very good troops during the Italian-Ethiopian War, but performed poorly in 1940 against the British when fighting a modern war.
James

 

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Posted: Sat Jul 19, 2003 3:57 am by AsiaticusReply with quote
I just got this book "Heile Selassie's War" by Anthony Mockler and it looks very good. I may be able to answer your question in a bit. It has a lot of details about the whole campaign of conquest and the later occupation and war with the British and Ethiopian insurgents. From little things Ive read so far the Eritrean native forces seem to have been some of the better troops the Italians had in the War, one unit Eritrean was considered by General Nasi as his best troops. It seems the Eriteans were reasonably content as Italian subjects.
 

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Posted: Sat Jul 19, 2003 9:26 am by NapoliReply with quote
I had heard reports of these troops being suseptible to enemy artillary fire and becoming "skiterish" or confused to the loudness of a modern war, apart from that fine fighters apartently they were in line with any other troops in hand to hand combat/gun fighting type battles.

Bye
 

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Posted: Sun Jul 20, 2003 7:10 am by JLEESReply with quote
I finished the book and it appears this author seems to have both good and bad things to say about these troops. It looks like they may have been great fighters, but could also brake fast in combat if the situation went bad. Barker gave several example of these troops performing very well under fire in combat and then others were their performance was poor. In fact, after one battle their performance was so poor the Italian commander refused to allow his troops to intern the Eritrean dead, while in another section of the book and Italian commander said they were his best troops.
James

Posted: Sun Jul 20, 2003 9:19 pm by AsiaticusReply with quote
Not surprising they would be jumpy when attacked with artillery their colonial opponents, Ethiopian and such would have had little of it. The Brits on the other hand would have made life difficult for them with it.

Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2003 5:18 am by SM79Sparviero
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I read from more sources that Italian colonial troops didn't perform well when opposed to the British army and in general to a modern army.
It may be true and not.If we want to understand the reasons for an often uncoerent colonial troops behaviour and performances under enemy fire we should first understand the MEN , who were ( and are) very far from an european soldier.
When Ascari ( from Ethiopia, Lybia), Dubat ( Maghrebine soldiers from Somalia) were leaded by an intelligent, humble and respectful officer who wanted to understand their customs, their motivations , the selective motivations of their weakness and of their forces they showed to be terrible fighters.
Zaptiè (Ethiopian Carabinieri) perhaps were not so far from an european soldiers because they were chosen among those Ascari with better relationships with europeans,who showed to adapt themselves easily to the rules of a modern army , and they were trained as elite police-troops like an Italian Carabiniere.

From several sources and from my grandfather's tales ( he fought side-to-side with Ascari and Zaptiè as Carabiniere Appuntato in reconneissance squadrons during the conquest of British Somaliland, the only italian strategical victory in Oriental Africa) i realized that Ascari were respectful to THEIR leader-officer who was usually called RAS just like an Ethiopian leader, with personal relationship; an unknown italian officer could not easily lead and manage them because he had to conquest their loyalty.
The RAS-officer ( or sergeant, or caporal) had to CONQUEST his men's command respect by showing to be a true leader with a self-confident behaviour , he had to be the first to run towards the enemy fire "like a lion" ( "ambesà").He had to be a counsellor for ethical matters for his men and administer justice among them.After a battle for hours they usually showed one by one their wounds to the Ras even if he was italian, he had to judge and praise their courage .
Ethiopian troops usually behaved very well under fire when they had to attack the enemy with savage charges with bayonet , hand grenades and ethiopian swords.Their ideal emlpoyement was an assault action like italian WW1 Arditi.
They were not so good soldiers when they had to stay and defend a position.They were not patient and speculative men.
But the greatest error that an italian officer could do in Africa was a clear RETREAT order : Ascari in battle could not easily pull back, they immediately lost their courage and their loyalty to the officer and in a few the platoons were disordered .
The officers who could accurately hide a retreat order never met these problems.
From October 19 to November 23 , 1941, In Culqualber Carabinieri , Ascari and Zaptiè had their Camerone days versus South African Air Force, Uollo bands,British , Sudanese and Kenian Kikuyu regular troops because the officers transformed a defence battle into a cluster of offensive small battles .The first battle was a sauvage bayonet frontal assault to Lamba Mariam that surprised British troops that were severely defeated.Later the officers met one by one their ethiopian soldiers in the "fantasia" cerimonial to see their wounds and to share among them a rich booty of foods, water, tobacco, arms and ammunitions.
 

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Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2003 7:13 am by JLEESReply with quote
To understand the terms that we’re using on this forum, when we say, for example, the Ascari were from Ethiopia and Lybia, are we saying the Ascari people were from these areas? Does anyone know how many different types of Italian colonial troops exist?
For example, for far we have the …
The Ascari from Ethiopia and Libya
The Dubat were Maghrebine soldiers from Italian Somalia
The Zaptiè were Ethiopian Carabinieri

Are there other types we’re overlooking?
James

Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2003 9:07 am by FBReply with quote
As far as I know the term "Ascari" is of Turkish origin and means "arab soldier". The Turkish Empire used Arab soldiers in order to defend itself.

When Italy first arrived in Eritrea, the sparse remnants of some Turkish troops were found. They were firstly disbanded but, for a series of reason, including:

- they were "cheaper" than an Italian soldiers

- it was feared that they could become enemies

- they could stand the horrible climate undoubitably better than the Italians

it was decided to "try" to adopt them as colonial troops, under the command of Italian Officers.

They were alla volunteers between 16 and 35 years of age. They were enlisted, for at least one year, after a medical visit and a 100 Km. march (!) and they were from more or less every country in the area: Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, Somalia, Yemen and Ethiopia too.

The first four Btlns were ready by the end of 1888. Each Btl had 4 Companies. Each company was composed by two half Companies, each formed by 4 "buluk" (more or less the equivalent of a Platoon in Regio Esercito).

Each Btl. had 15 Officers, 40 NCO, Graduated and troops (Italians) and 750 Ascari.

The gerarchy for the Ascari was the following, with the more or less equivalent in Regio Esercito

Ascari = Soldato

Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2003 9:01 pm by JLEESReply with quote
FB,
That was most interesting information. Thanks for sending it. Were all there foreign troops then called Ascari?
James

Posted: Tue Jul 22, 2003 4:15 am by FBReply with quote
As far as I understood the matter is as follows.

The Ascari were soldiers of the Truppe Regolari Indigene (Indigenous Regular Troops), established in Eritrea in 1888. Before that there were some units, called "Orde" (Hordes) composed mainly of the former Egyptian (Turkish) troops present there. They were known as "Bashi-Buzùk" (Crazy Heads). At the beguinning of 1888 two of these "Orde" (there were three of them: Interna (Internal) Esterna (External) and Mobile (Mobile); the Interna saw service until 1901) were disbanded and in October of the same year the Ascari were established.

The Dubat (from Dub = Turban and Ad = white) were Irregular Somali Bands.

They saw the light in 1924 when the strongest and boldiest Somali men were "enlisted" in order to build with them the Bande Armate di Confine (Armed Border Bands). Due to their courage, mobility and force when attacking an enemy they were sometimes referred to as Bersaglieri Neri (Black Bersaglieri).

The Zaptiè (from the Turkish word that means police agent/soldier) were the indigenous colonial Carabinieri.

Anyway this a rather complicated matter, as one must not forget that the colonial possessions of Italy was an ongoing building process, begun at the end of the XIX century and dead in 1943.

For instance the Eritrean Ascari fought (brilliantly) in Lybia, where indigenous troops were also raised. For instance, and as far as I understood, the "Meharisti" (mehari is a fast dromedar) were born in Lybia with mixed Lybian and Eritrean elements, even if one would typically think at a Meharista as a typical saharian soldier. But, nonetheless, they were formed around an Eritrean nucleus, very probably because of their great affidability.

I hope this helps a little bit

Best regards
Posted: Wed Jul 23, 2003 3:35 am by AsiaticusReply with quote
It seems from what I have just read that the Eritrean Corps , 1st and 2nd
Eritrean Divisions were some of the best troops that the Italians had in the campaign, put in to retreive bad situtions as in the Tambien battles or holding the line in battles like Mau Cei where they stood on the defence in the Italians 1st line against the repeated massed attacks of the Ethiopan Army. They held there dispite heavy casualties.

Also there were Galla cavalry in that war. These were rebel non Amhara speaking African irregulars that raided the rear areas of the Ethiopians and at Mau Cei broke the back of the Ethiopian attack by charging them in the flank just as it appeared that they were about to break thru the Eritrean Divisions.

Was wondering if the Italians raised Galla cavalry or other units later in the AOI forces?
Uakil = Soldato Scelto

Muntaz = Caporale

Buluk-Basci = Sergente

Scium-Basci = Maresciallo

Best regards
 

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Posted: Wed Jul 23, 2003 7:45 am by vzitaReply with quote
For further information on the troops of cavalry, visit

www.cavalleriaitaliana.it

There are detailed information and images and with the details of the uniforms of the irregular troops in A.O.I. (left menu and low menu)

Best regards

Posted: Sat Jul 26, 2003 4:25 pm by cavalleriaitalianaReply with quote
I can give a little update for what concerns the Cavalry units, that are the only ones on which I've got reliable sources. The problem of deserting was not a big issue in the Italian colonial Cavalry units, due to the fact that the recruitment for the single units was done per omogeneous tribal groups. The only one documented fact affected the 8th Scioa's Squadrons Group, that when they saw the Italian situation at the beginning of 1941 they tought they had the right to brake the "contract" they signed with Italy to go back and re-join the Negus. So all of the personnel, but the Italian, left by night the camp without stealing any Italian owned equipment and witout harming any Italian soldier. Another similar fact, this time not officially reported, quite likely happened to the 1st Scioa's Squadrons Group, that had the most parts of its components coming from the Negus' Imperial Guard. Once the Negus was back in Addis Abeba there's a pic portraiting him on a car next to a British officier with a Cavalry escort wearing Italian uniforms...

Posted: Sat Jul 26, 2003 6:33 pm by asiaticusReply with quote
Was there a 26th Colonial Battalion sent from Lybia to serve in the Conquest of Ethiopia in 1935? I a have an account of a Lybian Battlaion being sent from there and put in an "East Lowlands Column" with 2 Eritrean battalions and 4 mountain pack guns carried by camels under a Gen. Oreste Marriotti. The source names a 26th Colonial Battalion, and a "Massawa Bande" in the ambush/battle that formation was involved in within the Enda River Gorge, 12 Nov. 1935. I assume the Massawa unit is Eritrean, and I know there was a 26th Eritrean Battalion at some point but was it this one the same or was it a Lybian Battalion?

Anyone know?
 

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Posted: Sun Jul 27, 2003 8:14 pm by JLEESReply with quote
Hello,
Since this discussion has gone farther than I thought it would I've attached an image of a postcard that I thought people might enjoy looking at.
James
 

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Posted: Sun Jul 27, 2003 8:24 pm by JLEESReply with quote
Here are two more cards from the 1936 war. There maybe a possibility to get the OOB off of the first postcard for the 1st Eritrea Division. The unit flags are all present. They must be battalion level organizations on the postcard.
James
 

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Posted: Sun Jul 27, 2003 8:56 pm by asiaticusReply with quote
These postcards are great!. Nice to know what they looked like. This will help. Got anything more like this?
Posted: Mon Jul 28, 2003 8:01 am by JLEESReply with quote
asiaticus,
I'm glad you like them. What's nice about these cards are they give a good depiction of the uniforms. Old black and white photographs lose the ability to depict uniforms in color. Although they are also important because they capture the troops with the uniforms on and how they were actually worn, the postcards depict them in color. These cards are also nice because they often show the unit's standards too in color. I've attached htree more cards:
Gruppo Bande Altoiano
1st Battaglione Arabo-Somali
27th Battaglione Indigeni

The back of the Indigeni Battalion is also nice because it has the battles that this unit fought in and could aid someone trying to research these units. I also have about thirty other cards like this if someone wants to see them.
James
 

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Posted: Mon Jul 28, 2003 8:03 am by JLEESReply with quote
asiaticus,
Here is the front and back of the thrid postcard.
 

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Posted: Mon Jul 28, 2003 4:36 pm by LeleReply with quote
James,
your cards are really wonderful ...
Cool

It's a pity to leave them in the forum, I have a suggestion:
Jim, would it be possible to have a dedicate section on the site where similar cards can be easily found and viewed (eg.Photo gallery, etc...)?
In this case and if James + forum mates agree we can send copy of the cards to be published.
What do you think?
Rolling Eyes

Lele

Posted: Mon Jul 28, 2003 4:51 pm by asiaticusReply with quote
This is really great and the battle details I will have to look up. Some look familiar. Thanks very much. This gives me some idea about what the Somali and Moslem Eritrean troops looked like.

I found this out about the Gruppo Bande Altoiano. Under the command of a Major Criniti they were guarding the Dembeguina Pass when they were attacked by the Army of Ras Imru early in the Ethiopian war. They were roughly handled and driven back towards Adowa.

Posted: Mon Jul 28, 2003 5:28 pm by Jim HReply with quote
JLees and I have talked about this before and I believe an attempt was made but was lost in the mail. I can add a section to the forum for postcards viewing and submition for a quick solution..or for a more professional look we can make a section on the site. It is no problem on this end...however JLees wants to approach it if he is still interested.

Jim
 

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Posted: Mon Jul 28, 2003 8:26 pm by JLEESReply with quote
Hello,
It all sounds fine with me. You'll just have to let me know how it should be done. Maybe there could be several catagories these cards could fall under, or one section of the forum just for postcards. In my opinion the Italians produced the best propaganda postcards of WWII. Since I've got about thirty differant colonial cards dealing with the Italo-Ethiopia War maybe we should load them all first and go from there. Or, does someone have a better idea?
James
Very Happy


Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 3:19 am by FBReply with quote
JLEES, you really are a postcard mine.

These here are really wondeful, thank you.

For instance your picture forum1.jpg

You are correct, it depicts the Battallions of the Division.

Not only: it also depicts the colours of the Btlns. Each Btln had its own colour(s). This colour was present on the Flag (as you can see in the postcard, every Flag has a different colour), around the Ascari belly (sort of a scarf) and on the "pon-pon" on their hat, wich was known as Tarbush. You have a good example of this in picture "forum2.jpg". Of this hat the Ascaris were particularly proud. During the thirties, when a new uniform was introduced, the Tarbush was eliminated, much to the desperation of the Ascaris, and subsituted with, IIRC, a turban.

But the Tarbush is really "The" Ascari hat.

Some of the Btlns were also known by the name of its Commander during one of the most enduring battles that they fought. For example the IV° Btln was known as Toselli, from his Commander, Maj Toselli, who lead it at the Amba Alagi.

Best Regards

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 6:15 am by JLEES
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FB,
On the 1st Eritrea Division postcard. By the main officer there are four solid color flags numbers I, II, III and IV, are they the regimental flags? Then the others with the stripes, are they the battalion flags? If this is correct, since there are four regimental and eight battalion flags, there must have been two battalions in each of the Eritrea regiments.

What was the long pointed red hats called that had the pon-pon coming out of them?
James

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 6:18 am by JLEESReply with quote
On postcard xi it just depicts a solid colored flag with the number I. Could this be the 1st Regiment Sovoia?
James

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 6:41 am by FB Reply with quote
Hi JLEES,

the red pointed hat is the Tarbush of which I wrote above. It was the typical Ascari hat. The pon pon, and the "scarf" (it had a name, but it escapes me at the moment) were of the same color of the Btln. Flag. You can see this very well in the first (starting from the top) of the two "forum2.jpg" pics, the one with the black and blue Flag, pon-pon and "scarf" and the lion (ambeisà) on the left bottom corner.

I'm not 100% shure but my best supposition would be that the Flags are all Btln Flags. I say this because, on my computer, the Flag with number IV (but I read VI, maybe the picture is inverted?), and the pon-pon of the Ascari holding it, is black and the colour of the IVth Battallion "Toselli" was indeed black.

I do not have my sources at hand right now, so I'm sorry for not being able to be more precise.

On a second thought, I think that "sash" is a better word than "scarf" to describe what the Ascaris wore around their belly.

Sorry about this.

Best regards

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 7:59 am by vzitaReply with quote
Please visit

http://users.libero.it/aparducci/page8.html

there are information on the colors of the eritrean colonial battalions. In particular way:

  • "IV Battaglione Coloniale Toselli"
  • "I Gruppo Squadroni Cavalleria Coloniale (Penne di Falco)"
  • "Lo Squadrone Zaptiè di Manovra della Tripolitania"

and more

best regards


 

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Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 10:58 am by JLEESReply with quote
vzita,
They're all sharp looking images. The bottom three must be postcards. I wonder how many Italian Colonial Postcards were produced? I have about 30 in my collection, you've got three and there has to be about fifty I've seen over the years that I do not own. They must have made a commemorative postcard for every unit.

As a side thought, I wonder if the Italian government is giving some of these former colonial troops veteran benifits for their service, like the West German Government gave their WWI colonial troops?
James

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 5:35 pm by vzitaReply with quote
I am sorry I don't find the file with the list of the eritrean colonial troops and the distinctive colors.
Besides the original site has been closed.
A serious loss

Vito

Posted: Wed Jul 30, 2003 12:52 am by asiaticusReply with quote
There is a listing of all the sash / chevron colors for each of the colonial battalions of Lybia, Eritrea, and Somalia in 1940. It is in "The Italian Army 1940-45 (2): Africa 1940-43 Phillip S Jowatt, Osprey Publishing, on page 39.

I have it, picked it up on Amazon.com.

Posted: Wed Jul 30, 2003 10:16 am by vzitaReply with quote
Others eritrean troops postcard

x webmaster: thanks for info
 

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Posted: Wed Jul 30, 2003 9:18 pm by vzitaReply with quote
Eureka!!!

I have found the file with the list of the colonial troops and other postcards of the eritrean battalions, Arabic-somali battalions and dubat.
I prepare the list and later I leave a message.

Best regards

Vito

Posted: Wed Jul 30, 2003 9:23 pm by JLEES
Reply with quote
Vito,
Please post it when it's put together.
James

Posted: Thu Jul 31, 2003 4:40 am by vzitaReply with quote
James a lot of time is necessary. There are too images!!!

Here are some examples

Vito
 

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Posted: Thu Jul 31, 2003 12:30 pm by vzitaReply with quote
James i have the distinctive colors of eritrean Btgs:

I-XXIII Btgs
XXV-XL Btgs
XLIII Btg
XLVI Btg
LI Btg
LIX Btg
LXI Btg
LXXVI Btg
total 45 images

distinctive colors of the Arabo-Somali Btgs:

I-XII Btgs
total 12 images

it is indeed a lot of difficulty to put all the images on line in the forum. The limitation of three images exists for every message. Do you prefer that I send for you a mail with a document word - rtf format or doc format?

Vito

Posted: Thu Jul 31, 2003 4:28 pm by JLEESReply with quote
Vito,
Are you talking about sending the images on an attached document, or the Italian Colonial Order of Battle? I thought you had a list of Italian Colonial Battalions.
James

Posted: Thu Jul 31, 2003 4:47 pm by vzitaReply with quote
James,

the battalions' list it is together with the images in an only file

Posted: Sun Jan 11, 2004 8:36 pm by leone
are these italian designation or an ethnic ones. I am not aware of much relation between libyans and ethiopians

 

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Posted: Mon Jan 12, 2004 1:40 am by asiaticusReply with quote
Quote:
To understand the terms that we’re using on this forum, when we say, for example, the Ascari were from Ethiopia and Lybia, are we saying the Ascari people were from these areas? Does anyone know how many different types of Italian colonial troops exist?
For example, for far we have the …
The Ascari from Ethiopia and Libya
The Dubat were Maghrebine soldiers from Italian Somalia
The Zaptiè were Ethiopian Carabinieri

Are there other types we’re overlooking?
James


The Ascari were not a people, but a word for soldier in Turkish I believe.
Thus most non Italian regular colonial soldiers were ascari. The Dubats were a special case as they were irregular bands serving under Italian officers.

Posted: Thu Feb 26, 2004 5:45 am by piero1971Reply with quote
a question.

for the war of 1935-1936, anyone has the exact names and initial location of Regia Aeronautica squadrons in the theater with exact numer of planes and types)?

Posted: Fri Feb 27, 2004 12:06 am by asiaticusReply with quote
This is the aircraft info in the oob that Vito Zita posted here: Tue Jul 08, 2003 11:37 am


Commando Supremo Africa Orientale

Aviazione da bombardamento, da ricognizione strategica e da caccia (Bombardment aviation, strategic reconnaissance and fighter commands)



ERITREA (Fronte nord)

1st Corps (Eritrea)
Squadriglia libica aeroplani R.T. (lybian airplanes Squadron R.T.)

2nd Corps (Eritrea)
118a squadriglia aeroplani R.T. (118a lybian airplanes Squadron R.T.)

3rd Corps (Eritrea)

4th Corps (Eritrea)

Eritrean Corps (Eritrea)
34a squadriglia aeroplani R.T. (34a lybian airplanes Squadron R.T.)


DALLA SOMALIA (Fronte sud)

Grazziani Column (Somaliland)

Col. Frusci (Ogaden border region)

-----------
Aslo

I did glean from Mocklers "Haile Selassies War" that one bomber squdron "La Disperata" flew Caproni Bombers.

Posted: Fri Feb 27, 2004 10:07 am by FrancoReply with quote
RT is ricognizione terrestre, maybe translate as ground (tactical)reconnaisance
 
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