STRATEGY 19: ENVELOP THE ENEMY - The Annihilation Strategy
People will use any kind of gap in your defences to attack you or revenge themsleves on you. So offer no gaps.The secret is to envelop your opponents - create relentless pressure on them from all sides, dominate their attention, and close off their access to the outside world. Make your attacks unpredictable to create a vaporous feeling of vulnerability. Finally, as you sense their weakening resolve, crush their willpower by tightening the noose. The best encirclements are psychological - you have surrounded their minds.
(Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War)
The Northern Front
The Northern Front is now under the personal command of Marshal Badoglio. Just a month and a half earlier Badoglio had replaced the slow and careful Marshal de Bono as commander of the Ethiopian War. When Badoglio had taken over, the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie decided to test the new Italian commander with an offensive of his own. It became known as the "Christmas Offensive", its objective was the splitting of the Italian forces in the north with the Ethiopian center, crushing the Italian left with the Ethiopian right, and invading Eritrea with the Ethiopian left.
Initially the offensive was successful with the Ethiopians claiming to have destroyed several Italian tankettes and 3000 Eritreans. As the Ethiopian Christmas offensive ground to a halt, it was now time to launch the Italian counter-attack.
As part of the deal to take over command of the war and win it decisively Badoglio had requested a complete recommissioning of all officers serving on both fronts. In addition to this the Grand Council of Fascism insisted that he receive reinforcements in the form of the III Corps and the IV Corps, both partially formed with units still held up in Benghazi, Libya. Despite the fact that the reinforcements had not yet arrived in full, Badoglio was confident that he could start the counter offensive with the three full corps currently at his disposal, the I, II and Eritrean.
Badoglio's plan on the northern front
II Corps - the entire II Corps would advance southeast into the hilly part of the Mek'ele region and occupy it. This would secure the left flank of the Italian advance.
Eritrean Corps - the entire Eritrean Corps supported by the West Lowlands Celere Division would move south into the mountainous Teseney region and occupy it, securing the Italian right flank.
I Corps - the 26th Infantry Division and the 4th CCNN Division would hold the gains made under de Bono's leadership in 1935. The 30th Infantry Division and the 5th Alpine Division would spearhead another advance to the south into the mountainous Mek'ele region. In this area reconnaissance had reported where numerous Ethiopian irregular forces were in place - fighting was expected.
The attack of the I Corps will be supported by the 4th Bomber Squadron, comprising of Caproni Ca.101 light bombers. Interestingly Mussolini's own sons Air Sergeant Bruno and Air Second Lieutenant Vittorio Mussolini will be crewing some of the bombers.
Reconnaissance reports on enemy positions (along with Badoglio's)
Once the initial advance was complete and an even front formed, the I Corps would be able to support further advances by either the Eritrean Corps in the west or the II Corps in the east. The overall plan was for the Eritrean Corps with its 'fast tanks' to sweep down the western side of Ethiopia, turning the Ethiopian left flank in the north. The Eritrean Corps would then use a "hammer-and-anvil" tactic, it would form a "hammer" while the steadily advancing I & II Corps would form the "anvil" on which the Ethiopians would be smashed. If possible the Eritrean Corps would use a "hopping" maneuver - requiring the mobile force to "hit-and-run" with the aim to weaken and rout the entire Ethiopian left flank. The shattered forces would then be broken by the advance of the I and II Corps.
The Southern Front
Since the beginning of the war the Southern Front had been under the command of General Graziana, known as "the Butcher" for his pacification of Libya. Graziani had been ordered to take a defensive stance under his previous commander de Bono and the orders had not changed when Badoglio took over. However, the Ethiopians appeared to have taken this as a sign of weakness as recently a significant Ethiopian force had marched down from the highland and crossed the Shebelle River with the apparent intention of attacking.
The southern front
This has forced Graziani's hand. His plan is to soften this force up with a sustained bombing by the 25th Bomber Squadron and a combined assault of the Libyan Division from the west and his 5th Infantry Division in the east. Graziani expects this will "break the back" of the attack and offer him no alternative but to advance up to the full line of the Shabelle River.
At the same time, Graziani has ordered the 'mobile' Ogaden Corps based in the lands of the Sultan of Sciavella and under the command of Maj Gen Frusci to attack the forces to the north of Graziani's position, with the intention of pinning them down so that they cant offer their support in the main battle to the south.
Reconnaissance reports on enemy positions (along with Graziani's)
These plans were approved by Marshal Badoglio. The long term objective on the southern front, is to push into the north-east and pin down the forces in hills of the Ogaden. Here the former Ottoman General Wehib Pasha, a Balkans War and First World War veteran, had built fortifications for the Ethiopians high up in the hills, aptly named the "Hindenburg Wall" by the Italians.
The combined effect of both plans is expected to be a crushing spiral: