War alone brings up to their highest tension all human energies and imposes the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to make it. -- Benito Mussolini
Mussolini had been contemplating a shake up of the order of battle and each general’s assignment, but war had already been declared and Mussolini was not quite ready to make those major changes. Gen. Grossi and his Armata dell’A.O.I. and his two corps commanders, Gen. Togni and Gen. Pirzio Biroli were tasked with conquering all of Abyssinia with 8 two brigade divisions, led by Gens. Calcagno, Nicolosi, Silvestri, Tellera, Appiotti, Barbasetti di prun, Castellano, and Gandin. Mussolini’s instructions were to maneuver and invest the enemy capital, Adis Abeba, but to not take the capital until authorized by Mussolini himself.
The eight divisions advanced in two columns through Mek’ele and through enemy territory in Afrera Terar. Contact with the enemy was first made in Serdo and Maych’ew. A sharp firefight on January 26, 1936 in Serdo led to the first Italian victory. The casualty ratio of greater than 5 to 1 was encouraging.
Now, in Mussolini’s mind, the sole purpose for the East African war was to “bloody” the troops, as the old Roman legions used to say, to harden the soldiers, to get them used to killing and seeing their friends die. He wanted the Regia Aeronautica bloodied too, if possible. In Maych’ew, it received its sole chance to have an impact on this small war. All other battles would necessarily take place beyond the range of its planes. That was unfortunate, because the bombing of the tribesmen appeared to be effective.
The eight divisions continued their march into the heart of Abyssinia, easily pushing the tribesmen back in front of their relentless advance. Gen. Pirzio Biroli’s corps advance through Bahir Dar and Debra Markos. Then he divided his forces. Two divisions each advanced into Gedo and Nek’emte. The two divisions at Gedo stopped their advance short of Adis Abeba to allow the divisions from Nek’emte to maneuver through Jima to Arba Minch southwest of Adis Abeba. Meanwhile Gen. Togni’s corps split up from Serdo with two division, including the mountaineers, slugging through the mountains of Dese and Fiche to the outskirts of Adis Abeba and two divisions of infantry advanced through Bati to Kara K’ore and stopped in Dire Dowa due east of Adis Abeba. The mountaineers shifted their line from Fiche to Kara K’ore to keep up the encirclement of the capital. Similarly, Gen. Gandin shifted his division from Gedo to Arba Minch, strengthening the flanking pincers. The line in front of Adis Abeba was getting dangerously thin, but all that was necessary to complete the encirclement was to capture Awasa. On May 12, 1936, Gen. Appiotti attacked from the northeast out of Dire Dowa and Gen. Barbasetti di Prun simultaneously attacked from the southwest over a river from Arba Minch. The attack was supported by the divisions of Gens. Gandin, Castellano and Nicholosi.
Once the Abyssinians realized that the loss of Asawa would mean the complete encirclement of Adis Abeba, the natives launch attack after attack to prevent their capital from being cut off. Eventually, the counter attacks were beaten off and the siege of Adis Abeba commenced.
Mussolini’s cabal of advisers concluded, counter-intuitively, that drawing out the East Africa war would better enable Italy to rearm for the inevitable coming of hostilities in Europe. When the nation was in a state of war, the population was more willing to make the sacrifices necessary for the country to succeed. So, the objective of the all of his government ministers was to keep the country on a war footing as long as possible, and Mussolini’s propagandist started spreading lies about the progress of the war against Abyssinia. In the time being, Mussolini would keep an eye open for opportunities to improve his strategic positioning for the inevitable European War. To that end, the propagandists were planting news stories and reports to make neighboring nations appear more threatening then they really were, and to prepare the popular mindset for the struggles to come.
It is the State which educates its citizens in civic virtue, gives them a consciousness of their mission and welds them into unity. -- Benito Mussolini