Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Most tragically Inept Wars

Italian Invasion of Abyssinia

You remember Mussolini. He wasnt just a poor man's Hitler, actually he was the inspiration for Hitler's initial putsches (German for getting drunk, shooting in the air then deciding you should totally go take over the government) and Adolph's foundations of his dictatorship. Before they fell out, largely over a dress code during their first meeting. No, really.

Mussolini got into power on a lot of big promises. Politicians of course still do that these days, they promise chicken in pots, to more successfully manage the welfare state and they will definitely, definitely not be caught out sleeping with a male prostitute dressed as Princess Leia. And when the inevitable "Star Wars orgy" photos reach the papers you feel a little dissapointed. But when you are attempting to establish an unchallenged dictatorship... you need the people on your side, you need to at least appear to be fulfilling your campaign promises.

He had promised to make Italy a world power. To make good on the potential all Italians knew existed (it didnt exist) for them to become a striding international powerhouse along the lines of Britain or France (yes, people once wanted to be more like France.)

Mussolini, not one of historys great thinkers, decided the key to being a big power was to own bits of Africa. Italy already owned bits of Africa, but if he was to use the army to own a bit MORE of Africa, he would be a hero and Italy would be a world power. A flawless theory. He actually promised Italy "a place in the sun". Yes, they were comparing a colony of human beings in Africa to a holiday house, it was truly a different time.

There was infact only one invade'able bit of Africa that didnt already belong to someone in Europe, Abyssinia. Now, you might think, why (given that it is surrounded by colonies of other countries) it was still a free and self-governed nation. The answer you would get is because "there is nothing valuable about Abyssinia, idiot". No gold, no oil, no diamonds and definitely no diamonds covered in gold that fell off the trees made of oil. Its just a bit of land. Not even that good for farming or plentiful land.

Mussolini addressed that notion, brought to him by his advisors with his trademark "fuck it, lets do it anyway". Only presumably in Italian. "Fucka ita, letsa doa ita anywaya".

Now Italy wasnt the nation Mussolini was attempting to get the world to recognise it as, it was not a major military power. But it had a contemporarily modern air force, bit of a navy and a reasonably well trained army with fancy 30s guns and so forth. They brought hundreds of tanks and planes. They had thousands of machine guns. The kind we laugh at now but were pretty bad ass at the time.

Abyssinia was largely armed with SPEARS AND BOWS and what rifles they had were old ones that couldnt be relied on to work or hit anyone. They didnt have aircrafts (actually, they had 3 biplanes, which is hilarious), tanks or machine guns. They didnt have many rifles built in the century they were fighting in. This should have been a walk over. Astronauts over cavemen if the astronauts had weapons. Abyssinias only chance SHOULD have been international intervention, which didnt come.

It wasnt quite like that.

Italy attacked Oct 3rd 1935. The war officially ended early 1937. You could be generous and go with the Italian account which declared the country essentially pacified at the end of 1936. Thats still more than a year. The most conservative estimate for the wars length before it started was around 6 weeks.

The Italians initially sent Blackshirts into the front. Blackshirts, in case you dont know are fascist party member "soldiers". As in people with no military experience, training or discipline but think the word soldier sounds cool. But pretty handy at punching other political party members in the face. This was a disaster. Oddly enough, Blackshirts... despite wearing a snazzy coloured shirt couldnt fight for shit. (What was with evil political parties and colour coded thugs? History has NO ANSWERS.) They even gave some of them flamethrowers, which wasnt wise. I am no soldier, but i'm pretty sure you dont give the hobbyist guy in a war a weapon that spews out fire.

Italians sent a ridiculously large force to make the war quick. Not realising its not enough to just have lots of soldiers, you need the resources and positioning to make use of larger numbers. Tactics, you know. Their much larger force was regularly humiliated by small, abyssinian units who knew the land and how to fight. Fighting with spears. Spears, people. Italian forces actually lost battles to people weilding sticks.

The massive Italian advantage in weapons, technology and fairly equally sized forces (that last bit sounds fair, but most African conquests were done with much smaller forces than you are facing, making use of superior tech and tactics...)

They had to employ mustard gas and the bombing of villages. Rely entirely on air support and came pretty close to looking like they were going to have to give up once or twice. The use of mustard gas was totally illegal under the Hague convention. This is the war equivalent of you fighting a seven year old over a bunch of dirt he owns and having to shoot him in the face to win. 300-500 tons of mustard gas was used, to pacify the people with sticks.

Italy did win, eventually. Taking at least 11 months longer than they should. The people of Italy did actually celebrate and it was a success in that sense. But they were largely misinformed to the strength of the country they were fighting, to the fact mustard gas was used and other atrocities took place and its value. It was pushed as a colony for Italian immigration but was never a success. It was a massive net loss in resources. It did show that the international community was not willing to go to war or even risk it for the sake of other countries. Something a different dictator in Europe would rely upon later.

But really, Italy had shown the world they had no grasp of tactics, would struggle to contend with a nation that owned three planes and had the sort of reasoned military mind of that spanish bee guy in the simpsons. I think Churchill made a speech to parliament with that exact comparison.

The irony of the whole conflict, beyond "haha losing battles to people with sticks" was sort of lost at the time due to the atrocities the Italians committed, not just the illegal tactics, but the mass murder of civilians and mutilation of the corpses of fallen enemy. But most of all Absyinnia was a member of the UN (or league of nations, as it was then) along with Italy. They called for help, condemnation of Italy and at least sanctions to be placed against them. No one helped them, sanctions were eventually placed during the war but ignoring the stuff like Oil which actually would have meant something.

Shortly before the country fell to Italy, Haile Selassie gave an actually quite beautiful speech to the assembled members, the crux of which was

""It is us today. It will be you tomorrow""

This was 3 years before the second world war came.

So, what a moron he was, that definitely wasnt us tomorrow. That was us like 3 years later, MORON.


Camerhil said...

You know, this premise would make for a good Cracked article. The level of fuckstupid exhibited by world leaders is quite terrifying.

Jennifer Liang said...

I agree with Cam. This is good stuff.

Evil said...

Remind me again why you aren't actively studying and publishing in military history?

Mr. Gale said...

The jews, Sloth.

Its all a racket for the jews.