Roman Eagles over Ethiopia

Roman Eagles Over Ethiopia really starts to get into the nitty-gritty of how the Italo-Abyssinian War played out. Written by Colonel Pedro del Valle, a serving US Marine embedded with the Italian forces, he gives a very detailed account of the military operations and aspects of the war  in his role as military observer.

Printed by Battery Press the publisher gives the details of the title as follows.

“Originally published in 1940, Roman Eagles over Ethiopia sets forth the events leading up to the expedition, the various handicaps of terrain and climate, the traits and defense of the natives, and the complete movements of combat operations by the Italian Army under Generals De Bono ,Badoglio and Graziani. In addition to the narrative of the battles and marches, the author provides the motivating factors of the campaign. Dispositions, successive positions, communications, supply and all of the tactics and strategy of the operations are depicted in an additional 25 clear explanatory maps. This is the 10th release in the Battery Press European War Series. 2003 hard bound, no dj as issued, 6×9, xii, 201 pages and 53 photos & 25 maps.”

As you can see there is a lot to offer the Abyssinian War reader when it comes to the military aspects of the conflict. Valle’s detailed account gives troops numbers, orders of battle and dispositions for the Italian army, as expected given his access to information as a military observer. His information on the Ethiopians is less precise, usually limited to round numbers and types of troops, no doubt being limited by his access to accurate records or assessments of any kind. Nevertheless, you still get enough information to picture what forces the Italians were fighting against in their operations. The pictures are excellent as they show many aspects of the conflict ranging from personalities, equipment and terrain. As he was embedded with Italian forces you naturally get an Italo centric view of the war.

The maps are equally valuable as they clearly allow the reader to keep pace with the narrative and understand the flow of the text. One minor complaint is that some are hard to read as so much information is condensed onto the page. One wonders whether they were originally much larger and have been reduced for the format of the Battery Press edition. This is only a minor quibble however as all are readable and supplement the text to convey a good understanding of the subject matter.

The operational study within the book is divided into three parts. The first covers the early northern operation of General De Bono running from pages 49 to 86. Then the heart of the narrative covers the subsequent campaign by General Badoglio running from pages 87 to 163. Lastly the southern operations under General Graziani from page 164 to 210 finishes the narrative, rather abruptly it must be said. No detailed index is provided which would have been useful in a modern edition.

Within each section Valle gives a detailed operational narrative and subsequent analysis of the operations undertaken by both sides. Invariably there is a small amount of bias toward the Italians in his summations but overall the essence of what he is saying is fair and balanced, even if sometimes it doesn’t come across that way. This doesn’t diminish the worth of the analysis or effect the operational details therein, all of which can be said to be even-handed. He gives credit where it is due and criticises both sides when required.

For the more serious student of the Italo-Ethiopian War this book cannot be recommended highly enough. The book itself is derived from the more detailed observation reports published by the Office of Naval Intelligence as – Diary and Reports of the U.S. naval observer of Italian operations in East Africa, March 1937 by Del Valle, Pedro A. These reports provide more details and represent a better source than Roman Eagles over Ethiopia, however this reviewer has not seen them and cannot find them available online – the search continues. in the mean time,  Roman Eagles ably fits the bill for a readily available and affordable study of the Italo-Ethiopian War and provides an excellent resource book for The Abyssinian Crisis.

 

Map 2 Roman Eagles

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Map 17 Roman Eagles

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The Italian Invasion of Abyssinia 1935-36

I should have got to this title in the very beginning but better later than never. There are a number of reviews of this Osprey title online and Amazon has a preview that shows the contents pretty thoroughly. From a war gamer’s perspective this is a must have to get you going.

It nicely covers the flow of events of the Abyssinian War and provides a brief but detailed synopsis of the events, armies, uniforms and equipment for the Italians and Ethiopians. Given the format there is a lot packed into this title.

There has been some minor criticism of a small number of points in the text but such was the nature of the conflict and lack of accurate records that many points are debatable. This does not in any way diminish the usefulness of this title. As a single point of entry this primer gives you all you need to set the scene for the war with some excellent painting guides as well – recommended.

The Ethiopian War, 1935-41

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.

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First Battle of Tembien – p101