The Italians made extensive use of their Eritrean subjects, none more so than the militarising of the natural horsemen of Africa. The most well known soldiers of this type were cavalrymen known as the Penne di Falco (Hawk Feathers) due to their distinctive headdress. Beyond normal service in the Eritrean Ascari foot formations, it was considered something of an honour to serve in this mounted elite.
In Italian Somaliland mounted contingents were also present, these being the Corpo Zaptié della Somalia Italiana. These Somali troops had a long and established para-military role serving as conventional military cavalry forces with distinction, despite their notional duties as ‘military police’ in quieter times. A number of these carabinieri were also formed and served in the northern theatre of operations.
During the Italo-Ethiopian war, 208 Zaptié lost their lives, another 800 were wounded. Its members were awarded 4 Gold Medals, 49 Silver and 108 Bronze for Military Valour, plus 435 Crosses of War. The Colours were awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Military Order of Savoy (now in Italy) with the following notation – “Throughout the campaign, they gave countless tests of loyalty, self-sacrifice, heroism, sacrifice that was generous of blood; reaffirming even in Africa its glorious traditions, they gave a valuable contribution to the victory.”
In this Chain of Commmand:Abyssinia army list we detail the mounted forces of the Penne di Falco and Zaptié Carabinieri, showing the specifics of these charismatic African mounted horsemen.