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Abyssinia Crisis

The Abyssinia Crisis was a crisis during the interwar period originating from the Walwal incident. This incident resulted from the ongoing conflict between the Kingdom of Italy (Regno d'Italia) and the Empire of Ethiopia (then commonly known as "Abyssinia" in Europe). Its effects were to undermine the credibility of the League of Nations and to encourage Fascist Italy to ally itself with Nazi Germany. The crisis brought an end to peace in Europe and it was clear by 1937 there were two defining sides on the continent.


  • Background 1
  • The Walwal incident 2
  • International response and subsequent actions 3
  • The war and occupation 4
  • Aftermath 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Both Italy and Abyssinia were members of the League of Nations (founded in June 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference). Italy was a founding member of the league. Abyssinia joined on September 28, 1923, seven years after Ras Tafarai Makonnen was appointed the head of state as HIM Haile Selassie I .[1] Article X of the league's rules explicitly forbade aggression among its members.

On August 6, 1928, in addition to abiding by Article X, Italy and Ethiopia signed the Italo–Ethiopian Treaty of Friendship. This treaty declared a 20-year friendship between the two nations. On August 27 of the same year, both Italy and Ethiopia signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, an international treaty "providing for the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy". Italy pursued a policy of provocation and preparation for invasion in Ethiopia, described as follows by the League of Nations:

At places where there is not a single Italian national, a consul establishes himself in an area known as consular territory with a guard of about ninety men, for whom he claims jurisdictional immunity. This is an obvious abuse of consular privileges. The abuse is all the greater that the consul's duties, apart from the supplying of information of a military character, take the form of assembling stocks of arms, which constitute a threat to the peace of the country, whether from the internal or the international point of view.[2]

In 1930, Italy built a fort at Walwal, an oasis in the Ogaden. The fort was in a boundary zone between the nations, which was not well defined; today it is about 130 km inside Ethiopia. On September 29, 1934, Italy and Abyssinia released a joint statement renouncing any aggression against each other.

The Walwal incident

The Italo–Ethiopian Treaty of 1928 stated that the border between Italian Somaliland and Ethiopia was twenty-one leagues parallel to the Benadir coast (approximately 118.3 km [73.5 mi]). In 1930, Italy built a fort at the Walwal oasis (also Welwel, Italian: Ual-Ual) in the Ogaden, well beyond the twenty-one league limit.

On November 22, 1934, a force of 1,000 Ethiopian militia with three fitaurari (Ethiopian military-political commanders) arrived near Walwal and formally asked the Dubats garrison stationed there (comprising about 60 soldiers) to withdraw from the area.[3] The Somali NCO leading the garrison refused to withdraw and alerted Captain Cimmaruta, commander of the garrison of Uarder, 20 km away, to what had happened.[4]

The next day, in the course of surveying the border between British Somaliland and Ethiopia, an Anglo–Ethiopian boundary commission arrived at Walwal. The commission was confronted by a newly arrived Italian force. The British members of the boundary commission protested, but withdrew to avoid an international incident. The Ethiopian members of the boundary commission, however, stayed at Walwal.[5]

Between 5 and 7 December, for reasons which have never been clearly determined, there was a skirmish between the garrison of Somalis, who were in Italian service, and a force of armed Ethiopians. According to the Italians, the Ethiopians attacked the Somalis with rifle and machine-gun fire.[6] According to the Ethiopians, the Italians attacked them, supported by two tanks and three aircraft.[7] In the end, approximately 107 Ethiopians[nb 1] and 50 Italians and Somalis were killed.[nb 2]

Neither side did anything to avoid confrontation; the Ethiopians repeatedly menaced the Italian garrison with the threat of an armed attack, and the Italians sent two planes over the Ethiopian camp and one of them even shot a short machine gun burst, that no one on the ground noticed, after the pilot, seeing Captain Cimmaruta in the midst of the Ethiopians, thought that he was taken prisoner by them.[10]

International response and subsequent actions

On December 6, 1934, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia protested Italian aggression at Walwal. On December 8, Italy demanded an apology and, on December 11, followed up this demand with another for financial and strategic compensation.

On January 3, 1935, Ethiopia appealed to the League of Nations for arbitration of the dispute arising from the Walwal incident. But the league's response was inconclusive. A subsequent analysis by an arbitration committee of the League of Nations absolved both parties of any culpability for what had happened.[11]

Shortly after Ethiopia's initial appeal, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pierre Laval of France and Foreign Secretary Samuel Hoare of the United Kingdom met with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in Rome.

On January 7, 1935, a meeting between Laval and Mussolini resulted in the "Franco–Italian Agreement". This treaty gave Italy parts of French Somaliland (now Djibouti), redefined the official status of Italians in French-held Tunisia, and essentially gave the Italians a free hand in dealing with Ethiopia. In exchange, France hoped for Italian support against German aggression.

On January 25, five Italian askaris were killed by Ethiopian forces near Walwal.[12]

On February 10, 1935, Mussolini mobilized two divisions.[13] On the 23rd, Mussolini began to send large numbers of troops to Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, which were the Italian colonies that bordered Ethiopia to the northeast and southeast, respectively. There was little international protest in response to this build-up.

On March 8, Ethiopia again requested arbitration and noted Italian military build-up. On March 13, Italy and Ethiopia agreed on a neutral zone in the Ogaden. On March 17, in response to continued Italian build-up, Ethiopia again appealed to the league for help. On March 22, the Italians yielded to pressure from the League of Nations to submit to arbitration the dispute arising from the Walwal incident, but continued to mobilize its troops in the region. On May 11, Ethiopia again protested the ongoing Italian mobilization.

Between May 20 and 21, the League of Nations held a special session to discuss the crisis in Ethiopia. On May 25, a league council resolved that it would meet if no fifth arbitrator had been selected by June 25, or if a settlement was not reached by August 25. On June 19, Ethiopia requested neutral observers.

From June 23 to 24, the United Kingdom tried to quell the crisis, sending Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Anthony Eden to try to broker a peace agreement. The attempt was unsuccessful, and it became clear that Mussolini was intent on conquest. On July 25, Britain imposed an embargo on arms sales to both Italy and Ethiopia. Many historians believe that the embargo was a response to Italy's decree that it would view arms sales to Ethiopia as an act of unfriendliness toward Italy. Britain also cleared its warships from the Mediterranean, allowing Italy further unhindered access to eastern Africa.

On June 25, Italian and Ethiopian officials met in the Hague to discuss arbitration. By July 9, these discussions had fallen apart.

On July 26, the league confirmed that no fifth member of the arbitration panel had been selected. On August 3, the league limited arbitration talks to matters other than the sovereignty of Walwal.

On August 12, Ethiopia pleaded for the arms embargo to be lifted. On August 16, France and Britain offered Italy large concessions in Ethiopia to try to avert war, but Italy rejected the offers. On August 22, Britain reaffirmed its commitment to the arms embargo.

On September 4, the league met again and exonerated both Italy and Ethiopia of any culpability in the Walwal incident,[14] on the ground that each nation had believed Walwal was within its own territorial borders. On September 10, Pierre Laval, Anthony Eden, and even Sir Samuel Hoare agreed on limitations to sanctions against Italy.

On September 25, Ethiopia again asked for neutral observers.

On September 27, the British Parliament has supported the initiative of Konni Zilliacus and unanimously authorized the imposition of sanctions against Italy should it continue its pursuit against Ethiopia.

On September 28, Ethiopia began to mobilize its large but poorly equipped army.

The war and occupation

On October 3, 1935, shortly after the league exonerated both parties in the Walwal incident, Italian armed forces from Eritrea invaded Ethiopia without a declaration of war, prompting Ethiopia to declare war on Italy, thus beginning the Second Italo–Abyssinian War.

On October 7, the League of Nations declared Italy to be the aggressor, and started the slow process of imposing sanctions on Italy. The sanctions were limited, however. They did not prohibit the provision of several vital materials, such as oil, and were not carried out by all members of the League. International support for the sanctions was by this time at a low level. The USA, exasperated by the League of Nations' failure to act, actually increased its exports to Italy, and the United Kingdom and France did not take any serious action against Italy (such as blocking Italian access to the Suez Canal).

Even Italy's use of chemical weapons and other actions that violated international norms did little to change the league's passive approach to the situation.

In December 1935, Hoare of Britain and Laval of France proposed the secret Hoare-Laval Plan, which would have ended the war but allowed Italy to control large areas of Ethiopia. Mussolini agreed to the plan, but it caused an outcry in Britain and France when the plan was leaked to the media. Hoare and Laval were accused of betraying the Abyssinians, and both resigned. Their plan was dropped, but the perception spread that Britain and France were not serious about the principles of the league. The war continued, and Mussolini turned to German dictator Adolf Hitler for alliance.

In March 1936, Hitler marched troops into the Rhineland, which had been prohibited by the Treaty of Versailles. The French were now desperate to get Italian support against German aggression directly on their border, so would not take any further action with sanctions. France was prepared to give Abyssinia to Mussolini, so his troops were able to continue their war relatively unchallenged by the rest of Europe.[15]

Haile Selassie was force into exile on 2 May. All the sanctions that had been put in place by the league were dropped after the Italian capture of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on May 5, 1936. Ethiopia was then merged with the other Italian colonies to become Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana, or AOI).

Ethiopia never officially surrendered, and pled foreign nations for help, including HIM's June 07, 1936 address to League of Nations. As a result, only six nations in 1937 which did not recognize Italy's occupation, were China, New Zealand, the Soviet Union, the Republic of Spain, Mexico and the United States. Italian control of Ethiopia was never total, due to continued guerrilla activity (which the British later used to their advantage during WWII). However, by 1940 Italy was in complete control of three-quarters of the country.


The end of the AOI came quickly during World War II. In early 1941, as part of the East African Campaign, Allied forces launched offensive actions against the isolated Italian colony. On May 5, 1941, five years after the Italians had captured his capital, Emperor Haile Selassie entered Addis Ababa in triumph. Italy would be defeated soon after.

There were also major impacts on the League of Nations:

  • Hoare-Laval showed distrust of Britain and France themselves in the league
  • Hitler began reversing the Treaty of Versailles (with the Rhineland remilitarisation)
  • Britain and France looked weaker still, seen by Germany, Italy and the USA

See also


  1. ^ According to Mockler, 107 Ethiopians were killed and 40 wounded.[8]
  2. ^ According to Time Magazine, 110 Ethiopians were killed and 30 Italians were killed.[9]
  1. ^ Haile Sellassie I was appointed Ras Tafarai Makonnen on 17 Maskaram 1909, and 28 September 1923 is 17 Maskaram 1916.
  2. ^ League of Nations Official Journal, 1935, 1601. Quoted G.T.Garratt, Mussolini's Roman Empire, Penguin Books, April 1938, pp.46-47
  3. ^ Domenico Quirico. Lo Squadrons Bianco. p. 267.  
  4. ^ Quirico. p. 271
  5. ^ Shinn, p. 392
  6. ^ Quirico. p. 272
  7. ^ Barker. The Rape of Ethiopia 1936. Pg. 17.
  8. ^ Mockler, p.46.
  9. ^ Time Magazine, Provocations.
  10. ^ Quirico. pp. 268-271
  11. ^ "Yearbook of the International Law Commission" (PDF). Retrieved July 22, 2010.  p. 184:"... these first incidents, following on that at Walwal, were accidental in character, while the others were for the most part not serious and not at all uncommon in the region in which they took place. In the circumstances, the Commision [sic] is of the opinion that there are no grounds for finding any international responsibility for these minor incidents."
  12. ^ Shinn, p. 392
  13. ^ Shinn, p. 392
  14. ^ Shinn, p. 392
  15. ^ Ben Walsh GCSE Modern World History 2001, p 252


  • Barker, A.J. (1971). Rape of Ethiopia, 1936. New York: Ballantine Books. pp. 160 pages.  
  • Marcus, Harold G. (1994). A History of Ethiopia. London: University of California Press. p. 316.  
  • Mockler, Anthony (2002). Haile Sellassie's war. New York: Olive Branch Press.  
  • Nicolle, David (1997). The Italian Invasion of Abyssinia 1935-1936. Westminster, MD: Osprey. pp. 48 pages.  
  • Quirico, Domenico (2002). Lo squadrone bianco.  
  • Shinn, David Hamilton, Ofcansky, Thomas P., and Prouty, Chris (2004). Historical dictionary of Ethiopia. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 633.  

External links

  • "Provocations.". Time Magazine. December 31, 1934. Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  • Ethiopia 1935 to 1936
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