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Italians invade Ethiopia

Italians invade Ethiopia
Italian L3/35 tankettes and infantry advance into Abyssinia (northern half of present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea) ca 1935. File Photo courtesy Imperial War Museums

By WEBB MILLER, United Press Staff Correspondent

GENERAL HEADQUARTERS, ITALIAN ARMIES, IN THE FIELD (via Asmara), Oct. 3, 1935 (UP) -- The Italian advance into Ethiopia was started this morning.

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The initial objective was Aduwa, to the south of the main Italian concentration area, for Aduwa is where an Italian army was ripped to pieces 39 years ago.

It was reported from Addis Ababa by Exchange Telegraph that 1,700 were killed or wounded at Aduwa, which was bombed by Italian planes. Many others were reported killed by Italian bombers at Adigrat. Women and children were reported among the casualties.

Ethiopia telegraphed the League of Nations charging that four Italian planes had bombed the Red Cross Hospital at Aduwa. Charges were also made that 78 Italian projectiles were found in the vicinity of Aduwa.

Another report, unconfirmed, said that the Italians advanced seven kilometers (4.34 miles) on the southern front and that 800 Ethiopians who attempted to charge them were mowed down by machine gun fire.

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The Italians crossed the Mareb River frontier at widely separated points, all converging in heavy columns toward Aduwa.

The zero hour was 6:30 a.m. (10:30 p.m. Wednesday, E.S.T).

Squadrons of bombing airplanes, fighting airplanes scout airplanes roared southward from the Asmara area and over the Mareb River, topping great rugged mountain peaks, for the ancient empire of the Ethiopians, never conquered.

The planes and the men under them were headed for Aduwa as the chief objective, with Adigrat, to the east, and other similar points as minor objectives whose occupation was essential to the plan of strategy of Gen. Emilio De Bono, commander-in-chief of the colonial armies.

Aduwa was 20 miles to the south of the frontier, the Mareb River, and Adigrat was 18 miles south and 40 miles east of Aduwa.

Prominent among the roaring squadrons of airplanes was the "desperate" squadron of Count Galeazzo Ciano, Benito Mussolini's son-in-law. In another squadron were Mussolini's two sons, Bruno, 18, and Vittorio, 19.

There were 15 giant Caproni bombers in the fleet from one field alone, ready to rain death on any visible enemy.

Many other airplanes from other fields took off at the zero hour.

The first troops took their positions during the night on the north shores of the Mareb River.

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Soon before dawn, skirmishers posted at intervals along the river waded the shallow sluggish Mareb and with their bayonetted rifles at the ready, stepped across the Ethiopian soil. The first line of the army followed.

The men surveyed before them as this correspondent did, on the Mareb River two days ago, hill after hill on the Ethiopian side, thrusting up into the clouds, hills separated by great gullies of gorges, hills piled up into the clouds that presented an obstacle difficult to conquer even without an enemy.

The skirmishers moved out and the ranks of the last troops. Then came the machine gunners in support and finally the long thick columns of infantry.

The columns, unusual to such a campaign, were decided upon because the mountanous nature of the country made it inadvisable to follow valleys.

It was known last night at Asamar that the zero hour was not far away.

There was a ferment of excitement in the city the capital of Eritrea and the chief war base of the Italian East African colonies.

Thousands of men and women, civilians and soldiers - but nearly all soldiers - passed with natives in the streets cheering above the peal of the church bells, while above them the white beams of searchlights flashed across the skies.

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All through the night the men were moving up Italians and black strapping Askari native troops. The troops sang a song: "With the whiskers of the Negus (the emperor) we will make a little brush, to polish the boots of Benito Mussolini."

It was similar to a song I had heard in Spanish, with the Pershing expedition into Mexico 19 years ago when Mussolini was a soldier in the trenches. The men of Pancho Villa were singing that they were going to make a hat band of his sombrero from the whiskers of Venustiano Carranza.

As the men moved up, men and excited boys, blacks, Italian regulars, Fascist militiamen, all eager for the war, Gen. De Bono moved up his general staff headquarters near the front.

This correspondent moved up with the armies at 1 a. m.

The governor's palace and other public buildings were ablaze with lights, which were extinguished in the early morning hours.

It was almost freezing cold at the frontier, its peaks 8,000 feet or more up.

Past the troops moving up the roads went roaring motor trucks, their nerveless drivers whizzing round hairpin turns over the mountain precipices. Inscriptions were chalked onto the trucks such as "The route to Addis Ababa."

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Up moved the black Askaris, some mounted machine gun units with both light and heavy machine guns, capable of firing 450 to 500 rounds a minute. These men were mobile arsenals. Besides machine guns and their carbines, many carried revolvers and long curved swords with fluttering pennants.

These blacks eat their meat raw from still warm carcasses. They would rather fight than eat. But they kiss one another on the cheek when they meet. They are pitiless to their enemies and slaughter indiscriminately unless stopped.

They comprise both Coptic Christians and Moslems.

The Moslems among the blacks chant frequently in unison: "There is only one god, Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet."

Companions of the blacks were the young Fascist militiamen, the Blackshirts who are Mussolini's own. Some I saw were equipped with tiny tanks, not shoulder high, able to travel 25 miles an hour.

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