Open main menu

Military history of Ethiopia

"A lancer of Tigre" - From T. Lefebvre and others, "Voyage en Abyssinie" (Paris 1845–49)

The military history of Ethiopia dates back to the foundation of early Ethiopian Kingdoms in 980 BC. Ethiopia has been involved many of the major conflicts in the horn of Africa, and was the only native African nation which remained independent after the Scramble for Africa, managing to create a modern army. 19th and 20th century Ethiopian Military history is characterized by conflicts between Ethiopia and Italy, which repeatedly attempted to annex the mineral rich nation, and unite its East African holdings.


First Italo–Abyssinian War (1895–1896)Edit

From 1895 to 1896, the First Italian-Abyssinian War was fought between the Kingdom of Italy and the Ethiopian Empire (Abyssinia). Unlike most of Africa, Ethiopia was able to avoid being conquered by the European powers. In 1895, Italian armed forces invaded Ethiopia from Eritrea. But, because Ethiopia had established a single and incorporated army and broke ethnic barriers to unite, the Italian regular forces were decisively defeated within a year at the Battle of Adwa. Special role for this purpose was played by the Russian military advisers and volunteers of Menylik's army (for example Leonid Artamonov).[1][1][2][3][4]

Boundary confrontation against British Colonists (1896–1899)Edit

After successful colonial capture of the Sudan, Kenya and Uganda, started the new pressure of Britannic forces against Ethiopia, which made off only after the beginning of The Second Boer War 1899–1902. The Ethiopian army became more effective by what Britannic colonial forces. The numerous expeditions of Ethiopian forces stopped colonial expansion. As could to write the Alexander Bulatovich (one of the Russian military advisers and participant of expedition of legendary army of Ras Wolde Giyorgis) - "Many consider the Abyssinian army to be undisciplined. They think that it is not in condition to withstand a serious fight with a well-organized European army, claiming that the recent war with Italy doesn't prove anything. I will not begin to guess the future, and will say only this. Over the course of four months, I watched this army closely. It is unique in the world. And I can bear witness to the fact that it is not quite so chaotic as it seems at first glance, and that on the contrary, it is profoundly disciplined, though in its own unique way. For every Abyssinian, war is the most usual business, and military skills and rules of army life in the field enter in the flesh and blood of each of them, just as do the main principles of tactics. On the march, each soldier knows how to arrange necessary comforts for himself and to spare his strength; but on the other hand, when necessary, he shows such endurance and is capable of action in conditions which are difficult even to imagine. You see remarkable expediency in all the actions and skills of this army; and each soldier has an amazingly intelligent attitude toward managing the mission of the battle. Despite such qualities, because of its impetuousness, it is much more difficult to control this army than a well-drilled European army, and I can only marvel at and admire the skill of its leaders and chiefs, of whom there is no shortage."[5]

The agreement between Russia and Menelik II allowed Ethiopians to attend Russian cadet school. From 1901-1913, approximately 40 Ethiopian officers attended military training in Russia. Tekle Hawariat Tekle Mariyam, the future author of Ethiopia's constitution, was among those that attended.

In accordance with the order of emperor of Ethiopia, Nikolay Leontiev organized the first battalion of the regular Ethiopian army. It was presented to Menelik II, in February, 1899. This battalion formed the cadre around which the army was organized. The company of volunteers was then organised from the former Senegal shooters (disappointed or unreliable for colonial authorities), which he chose and invited from Western Africa. They were trained by Russian and French officers. The first Ethiopian military orchestra was organized at the same time.[6][7]

Second Italo-Abyssinian WarEdit

On October 3, 1935, Fascist Italy invaded the Ethiopian Empire from Italian Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. Italian forces were able to defeat the Ethiopian forces in eight months with superior manpower and advanced weaponry. In violation of International agreements, the Italians used poisonous gas in a number of battles; although some historians (for example, Anthony Mockler) consider the effect of this weapon in battle negligible at best, it added infamy to the Italian invasion.

The Second Italo-Abyssinian War, the Spanish Civil War, and the Mukden Incident are often seen as precursors to World War II, and a demonstration of the ineffectiveness of the League of Nations. In 1941, after years of occupation, Emperor Haile Selassie I returned to what was now called Italian East Africa. With the help of the British, the Emperor led an uprising to drive the Italian Army from his country.

World War IIEdit

In 1941, after years of occupation, Emperor Haile Selassie I returned to what was now called Italian East Africa. With the help of the British and the Congolese Force Publique, the Emperor led an uprising to drive the Italian Army from his country.

Indeed, when Italy entered World War II, Ethiopia was still under Italian occupation as part of Italian East Africa. However, even after the Italian invasion, some areas of the country remained under the control of Ethiopian armed resistance groups called "Arbegnoch": according to some Ethiopian historians, approximately in 1/4 of the country there was never under effective Italian control.

Indeed, the liberation of Ethiopia started in early 1941 during the East African Campaign.

After some initial Italian offensive actions in 1940 (conquest of Kassala in Sudan and British Somalia), British and Commonwealth forces launched attacks from the Sudan and from Kenya. Emperor Haile Selassie joined the resistance groups and on 5 May 1941, the Emperor re-entered Addis Ababa, five years to the day from when he was forced to flee. By the end of November, organized Italian resistance in East Africa ended with the fall of Gondar.

However Italians maintained a guerrilla war, mainly in northern Ethiopia, until September 1943.

Korean WarEdit

Ethiopia sent 1,271–3,518 troops as part of the United Nation Forces to aid South Korea. The troops were known as the Kagnew Battalion under the command of General Mulugueta Bulli. It was attached to the American 7th Infantry Division, and fought in a number of engagements including the Battle of Pork Chop Hill.[8] 121 were killed and 536 wounded during the Korean War.

Derg RuleEdit

In 1974, a military coup overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie and declared Ethiopia a republic. Between 1974 and 1984, a communist military junta called Derg ruled.

Ogaden WarEdit

Somalia invaded the Ogaden region and starting the Ogaden War. Fighting erupted as Somalia attempted a temporary shift in the regional balance of power in their favour by occupying the Ogaden region. The Soviet Union switched from supplying Somalia to supporting Ethiopia, which had previously been backed by the United States. The war ended when Somali forces retreated back across the border and a truce was declared. Ethiopia was able to defeat the Somali forces with the aid of the USSR, Cuba, and South Yemen. This was the first conflict in which the Mi-24 was used.

Civil WarEdit

A T-55 main battle tank guards an intersection following seizure of government control by rebel factions.

The Ethiopian Civil War was a 17-year conflict between the Derg government backed by the USSR against anti-communist rebels backed by the United States. The conflict ended in 1991 with the Derg government defeated and out of power along with Eritrea gaining independence. The Eritrean insurgence that began in 1961 was helped by a nationwide Ethiopian guerrilla campaign of OLF, TPLF and ONLF against the Ethiopian Derg government. At the end of the Civil war, with the Eritrean and Ethiopian victory over the Derg government, Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1991 following a referendum.

Eritrean-Ethiopian WarEdit

The Eritrean-Ethiopian War was a border clash that took place from May 1998 to June 2000.

Fighting escalated to artillery and tank fire leading to four weeks of intense fighting. Ground troops fought on three fronts. Eritrea claims Ethiopia launched air strikes against Eritrea's capital Asmara while Ethiopia accused Eritrea of striking first. The fighting led to massive internal displacement in both countries as civilians fled the war zone.

The conflict ended in stalemate and deployment of UNMEE.


In 2006, Ethiopia deployed troops to aid the TFG in the ongoing Somali Civil War.[9] ENDF deployed troops in the northern region to aid the TFG and in the southern region with support from the United States Fifth Fleet. By January 2007 Ethiopian forces were about 200,000 troops. On November 2008 Ethiopia announced that they would be removing their troops, and all Ethiopian forces had left the country by January 15, 2009.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Cossacks of the emperor Menelik II
  2. ^ Russian Mission to Abyssinia.
  3. ^ Who Was Count Abai?.
  4. ^ Leonid Artamonov, a Russian general, geographer and traveler, military adviser of Menelik II, as one of Russian officers of volunteers attached to the forces of Ras Tessema (wrote: Through Ethiopia to the White Nile).
  5. ^ - With the Armies of Menelik II by Alexander K. Bulatovich
  6. ^ Count Leontiev is spy or adventurer...
  7. ^ Nikolay Stepanovich Leontiev
  8. ^ "Battle on Pork Chop Hill". Military History. Archived from the original (on-line journal) on 9 November 2006. Retrieved 29 December 2006.
  9. ^ "Ethiopian Troops Enter Somalia to Resist Islamic Militia". PBS. 2006-07-20. Retrieved 2007-01-05.

External linksEdit