In this post we introduce the main protagonist against the Italians, the Ethiopian forces led by emperor Haile Selassie (seen above in topee), defenders of their homeland. Off course historically these were the two countries that fought the real Italo-Ethiopian War and thus the actual conflict can be gamed by using the Italian and Ethiopian lists alone, the British and French being an addition as part of The Abyssinian Crisis counterfactual.
The Ethiopian forces are diverse. They embody true feudal warfare culture all the way through to the Imperial Guard as a modern European style force trained and organised by Belgium and Swedish military missions – there is a lot of new and interesting concepts for Chain of Command players in these Ethiopian lists…I hope players embrace game play with these diverse armies.
We shall start with the Ethiopian Chitet list, move onto the Mehal Sefari ‘organised’ forces and finally the Kebur Zabanga, the Ethiopian Imperial Guard. These lists will bring a new dimension to game play and provide many options for those wanting to try something different in their Chain of Command games.
As an aside – for those that are downloading and looking at these lists, any discussion or points of confusion that you feel need clarification would be appreciated. When constructing these lists sometimes only a fresh pair of eyes can see an obvious error or mistake and the TAC authors would appreciate that feedback.
So, to the Ethiopians…
The Ethiopian Army on the eve of the Abyssinian Crisis was going through a transition, intended to turn it from an essentially medieval feudal army, albeit with a lot of rifles and machine guns, into a modern army, with regular forces backed by a territorial militia. This process had barely begun by the time the Italians invaded in 1935. Ethiopia’s military consisted of two main components. Firstly there were the full-time soldiers, typically found in the Zabanga (the ‘gendarmerie’ of Addis Adaba), or the Sefari (armies) of individual provincial rulers (Ras). Secondly there were the able-bodied men of military age, who like anywhere in the world, were liable to temporary conscription for the duration of a conflict; the ‘citizen army’, although many authors choose the term ‘levy’ for reasons of their own.
Traditional Force of the Chitet
Haile Selassie was attempting to produce a modern style army with his efforts with both his own Kebur Zebanga (Imperial Guard) and his Mehal Sefari (the army he inherited as a provincial ruler in his own right). He had no real influence over the other Sefari, as these were under the control of the other Rases, who were responsible for the training, maintenance and equipment of their armies; the cost of which they paid out of their own coffers. Healthy rivalry or fear of the other Rases did generally mean that each of them maintained their forces to the best of their ability and wealth however. These forces were formed by the the Ethiopian ‘chitet’, the feudal muster or call up of troops organised by the provincial Rases.
The typical Ethiopian possessed the traditional weapons of dagger, along with either a sword or spear, or sometimes both. Shields were routinely carried and varied from the simple to the ornate; none of course could stop a bullet. Individual Ethiopians could possess various firearms, which ranged from modern repeating weapons, or muzzle-loading muskets. As their main use was for hunting, with powder cheap and readily available, and that projectiles could be home-made or even that pebbles could be used if needed, the muzzle-loader was the most practical weapon. Cartridges on the other hand were comparatively expensive and used sparingly.
The victory over the Italians at Adwa in 1896 had resulted in the capture of artillery pieces dating from that time (believed to be mainly 65mm M.85), which when added to weapons bought or captured in previous wars, presented a very eclectic collection of weapons across the whole of the forces of the various Rases. Besides the ubiquitous Maxim-type machine guns, Gardners or Gatlings were also in the arsenals of some Rases and even some 37mm Hotchkiss ‘Revolving Cannon’ (1872) were photographed in Ethiopia. Russian mountain guns (63mm M.83) were apparently sold to the Ethiopians prior to Adwa and of course the Great War had produced a vast surplus of materiel for sale.
The Ethiopian Arsenal
The Ethiopians found an unlikely ally in Hitler, who smarting from Italy’s efforts in quashing the attempted putsch in Austria the previous year, had allowed arms sales to the Ethiopians to go ahead. Apparently 10,000 Mauser rifles and millions of cartridges were despatched, along with sixty field and anti-tank guns (37mm L41). While some of these, most notably the anti-tank guns, were detained by the French at Djibouti when the arms embargo was applied, some did get through prior to that.
Other weapon sales included 175 FN FM mle D (Browning Automatic Rifles), some 450 ZB vz. 30 light machine guns, along with unknown quantities of Hotchkiss mle 1914 medium machine guns, Madsen M.34/35 tripod-mounted light machine guns, Hotchkiss mle 1922 light machine guns and a number of 20mm cannon (SEMAG-Becker ‘L’, Oerlikon M.23 and Oerlikon M.28/31). Heavier types included Brandt mle 1928 medium mortars, 75mm mle 1897 field guns and some Skoda guns, which may or may not have beaten the embargo.
The bulk of these most recent purchases went to the Kebur Zebanga and the Mehal Sefari, but others, as well as weapons existing on the international ‘Black Market’ found their way to Addis Adaba, to be snapped up at highly inflated prices by any Ras wanting to impress his fellows and of course defeat the Italians.
Traditional Ethiopian Organisation
The traditional decimal structure of Ethiopian armies is fairly well-documented and the ranks that were used have in fact survived into the modern Ethiopian Army; although their literal meaning has been abstracted to suit modern organisation patterns. Units were ‘ten’, ‘fifty’, a ‘hundred’, ‘five hundred’ a ‘thousand’ and so forth; any combination that could be expressed by the use of the fingers on one or two hands. Leaders were ‘leaders of ten’ and so on in equal measure. The baluch or ‘half-company’ of fifty was the equivalent of the platoon in European-style armies.
Too much should not be placed on the use of specific numbers however. The hazb or ‘band’ of ten men could in fact be anything between six and fifteen men. Five men would be amalgamated with another small hazb to bring them into the region of ten men, while more than fifteen men would be split into two smaller hazb. This carried over into larger units, so potentially a baluch could be anything from thirty to seventy-five men and so-on up the chain of command. The only fixed rule seems to be that there were five hazb to a baluch and two baluch to a meto (hundred).
The Sefari of an individual Ras would therefore contain the professional forces he paid and equipped, who were typically rifle-armed men supported by small numbers of automatic and artillery, supplemented by numerous formations of tribesmen under those chieftains and tribal heads who were subservient to him. The Ras would supplement the spears, swords and firearms of these groups, with firearms of his own from his personal arsenal, as would his subordinates from theirs. The bulk of the men however, would still be relying on sword or spear, as the rifle ultimately was not the weapon of the warrior in close combat.