Angelo Del Boca’s 1965 title, The Ethiopian War, at 289 pages is a good book from a war gamer’s perspective. Boca avoids the detailed lead up to the war (which Mockler’s book ably handles) and gets into the detail of the campaign. Written as a military history it focuses squarely on that, so it really gives you the ‘meat’ of the military aspects of the war in a highly readable form.
The book benefits by the use of many first hand experiences producing a well-written narrative that never leaves the reader feeling like there is a wasted word. He visited Ethiopia, walked the battlefields and interviewed participants from both sides. Indeed one is left wishing for more in this rather brief title.
He does not fall into the lazy style of using large junks of first hand accounts to round out his story, but rather judiciously uses them throughout to enhance his own narrative, producing a very readable account. The maps are clear and functional and taken as a whole give the reader the required details to keep pace with the story as Ethiopia, generally speaking, is foreign to most readers.
Boca is even handed with his approach and doesn’t gloss over his countrymen’s tactics used during the war, most controversially the use of gas in contravention to the Geneva Convention laws. However, this is not a book that focuses on such things, but doesn’t hide from them either, giving it a fair treatment, though the six pages dedicated to it out of fourteen describing the Ethiopian Christmas Offensive seemed a touch excessive. To often modern reviewers see the Italian Abyssinian War through this ‘war crimes’ prism alone and judge a title’s ‘balance’ on the weight it gives to such matters. This is military history and its strength and emphasis reflects that purpose, but nothing of historical importance is left out, such as it can be included in the limited number of pages available.
The European complications of the conflict are important and when taken in combination with Mockler’s Haile Selassie title the reader gets an excellent feel for all the military-political factors at play. Even though the title gives coverage from 1935-41 really the book focusses on the military campaign up to Graziani’s Ogaden offensive. This comprises two thirds of the total page count, and most of it is the military history of the war, so you get quite good coverage. The remaining third of the book details the occupation and subsequent defeat of the Italian forces in 1941.
This book is recommended for anyone looking to focus on a narrative military history of the Italo-Abyssinian War, with a definite emphasis on views from the Ethiopian side, and complements the brief Osprey title which focuses on arms and equipment along with Mockler’s all encompassing, but arguably not as detailed military treatment, of the war. Together, these three books give a solid foundation for further study of the conflict.