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Abyssinian Army - 1915

During the Great War, Abyssinian troops were allied with the British in the East African campaign. The Abyssinian army probably had on the 1895 battlefield of Adua 60,000 rifles, of small or mediocre value. After that battle large acquisitions of weapons were made, almost all of them breech-loading, and not a few magazine rifles of the best models. In round numbers, by 1914 Ethiopia could place in the field 300,00 combatants, 275,000 armed with guns of various calibers and about 25,000 armed with lance or saber. The cavalry usually had the pistol, revolver or carbine. In addition, the army had about 60 pieces of light artillery and a dozen machine guns, which are rather an incumbrance than a help, due to ignorance and inexperience in their use. All the weapons were scantily supplied with ammunition and re-supply is difficult on account of the number of different calibers in use.

The good qualities of the Ethiopian soldier are well Known. The people are warlike by instinct. They make excellent cavalry and the swiftest infantry in the world, but the worst armed. When the Emperor wishes to assemble the army he sends a proclamation to every part of the country, where it is read to the sound of the drum. Each chief of a province gathers his men and joins the chief of the region, who proceeds to the designated point of assembly or waits and joins the army as it passes thru his section.

In the vicinity of the enemy the order of march is: first, infantry armed with the rifle; second, infantry armed with the lance and saber; and third, cavalry, at the head of which is the chief commanding the contingent. The artillery follows the cavalry. The Emperor is accompanied by an elaborate retinue of guards, musicians, staff, priests, and other dignitaries. At the rear of the column is a motley array of servants and families of the combatants.

The first thing done at a halt for the night was to pitch the Emperor's tent. The various subdivisions of the army group themselves to the right and left of this tent according to immutable rules of precedence. The impedimenta take post in rear of the army. A very effective service of security is performed by the foraging parties that scour every part of the country near the army. At night the advance guard provides security 1n tront and the various units guard the flanks. Considering the highly developed senses of sight and hearing among the Abyssinians, the service of security 1s poorly performed, espec1ally in camp. The army lives on the country. This practice leads to many conflicts between the foraging parties and the populace. The armed forces maintained in time of peace are supported by the rest of the inhabitants in accordance with ancient custom.

Combat deployment is made with astonishing rapidity, due not only to individual quickness of movement, but also to the fact that each unit always has a fixed place in the. line of battle according to its precedence. The center is formed of troops directly under the Emperor; the right and left wings are made up of other forces. The cavalry menaces the flanks and rear of the enemy and enters into action at the moment of victory. The attack is initiated by a line of skirmishers, advancing by rushes and firing from cover. They are followed rapidly by the main body, and at a short distance from the enemy the two lines merge into one which rushes upon the enemy for the hand-tohand conflict with the scimitar. Victory is followed by plunder and often by the killing and mutilation of wounded and prisoners.

Considering the Abyssinian as a possible enemy, the points to be kept in mind were the organization of native troops from tribes hostile to him, the opportunities for attack offered by his poor security service, his uncertain means of subsistence, and his numerical superiority. The proper method of opposing him appears to be a combination of the strategical offensive with the tactical defensive.

The maintenance of a large standing army was a cause of poverty and discontent. Out of a total population, according to trustworthy estimates, of from 10,000,000 to 12,000,000, about 500,000 were in the army. Detailed figures for 1916 gave a total of 571,000 as the strength of the Abyssinian forces.) In the Galla, Somali and Shankalla provinces these men lived largely by plunder.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:38:59 ZULU