Battle of Dogali
|Battle of Dogali|
The battle of Dogali by Michele Cammarano
|Commanders and leaders|
|Tommaso De Cristoforis||Ras Alula Engida|
|Casualties and losses|
The Italians, after their unification in 1861, wanted to establish a colonial empire to cement their great power status. Their occupation of coastal Eritrea brought Italian interests into direct conflict with those of Ethiopia (Abyssinia).
As soon as the Italians considered they were strong enough to advance into Abyssinia, they seized the town of Sahati, in modern-day Eritrea, and erected a small redoubt on the heights commanding the water supply for the caravans. Ras Alula Engida the governor under Emperor Yohannes IV had at the time left Asmara, his headquarters, for the Basen country, in order to punish the Dervishes for raiding the Dembala provinces. On hearing the news of the Italian advance, he returned to Asmara and informed the Italian officials that they were violating the treaty between Abyssinia, Egypt, and Britain, and that any further movement of troops toward Sahati – the fortification of which could only be directed against Abyssinia – would be considered a hostile action and be treated accordingly. The Italians responded by strengthening their redoubt and reinforcing their garrison. On his own initiative, Ras Alula attacked Sahati. Hundreds of his men were slaughtered by cannon and rifle fire, while only four Italians were injured, forcing Ras Alula to pull his men back. The besieged Italians, however, needed more ammunition and requested supplies.
On 26 January, a battalion of roughly 550 men (mostly Italians, including 22 officers, and a few Eritrean Askari) under Colonel Tommaso De Cristofori, sent to reinforce the Italian garrison at Sahati. The ras having learned of their departure from spies, and before they could arrive at the fortification they had erected, he attacked them at Dogali and entirely defeated them. Even though the Italians were well-armed with modern rifles, cannon, and machine guns, and fought back bravely against the Ethiopians, holding out for hours until they exhausted all ammunition, at which point nearly all were killed, except for eighty wounded men who were able to escape, unnoticed by the Ethiopians.
Although a small victory for the Ethiopians, Haggai Erlich notes that this incident only encouraged the Italians to intrigue with Yohanne's rival menelik the ruler only of Shewa, and encouraged his insubordination towards his Emperor.
Italians felt that the battle of Dogali was an insult to be avenged, and then started to attack Ethiopia in order to get revenge. this would later lead to the First Italo-Ethiopian War which ended in their defeat at the Battle of Adwa. In 1936, they finally obtained their revenge with a brief occupation only to be defeated by joint British and Ethiopian liberation force. During the occupation a chemical warfare mustard gas was used by the Italian fascist regime under the command of Benito Mussolini against the Ethiopians at the battle which was against the Geneva Protocol that was signed at Geneva on 17 June 1925.
Modern Ethiopian celebrations
This battle was celebrated under the Derg regime, and Mengistu Haile Mariam commemorated the centennial with much attention, including the erection of a monument topped with a red star on the battlefield. Following Eritrean independence, the monument was removed. Paul B. Henze diplomatically notes in a footnote, "When I crossed the battlefield in 1996, I could detect no trace of the monument."
Erlich provides more information: when Eritrean troops gained control of the area in 1989, "a prominent commander of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, and a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Petros Solomon himself was delighted to blast Mengistu's monument of Ras Alula."
This could be attributed to the fact that while Alula was an administrator appointed by Yohannes IV over small parts of the Eritrean highlands, he committed many atrocities against the local Biher-Tigrinya population, sowing seeds of discord. Observers, including Erlich and others, attribute this to Eritrean Tigrinya views of their own relationship with Ethiopia as a whole. Since Alula fought for the Empire and not for Medri Bahri, he is viewed as a traitor on the Eritrean side of the border, a hero on the Ethiopian side.
The huge square in Rome in front of Termini railway station is called Piazza dei Cinquecento, in honor of the 500 Italian soldiers killed in the Battle of Dogali. Near the square is also a monument to those soldiers.
The Italian cruiser Dogali was named for the engagement.
- Haggai Erlich Ras Alula and the Scramble for Africa (Lawrenceville: Red Sea press, 1996), pp loaf
- Henze, Layers of Layers of Time: A History of Ethiopia (New York: Palgrave, 2000), p. 157 n.20.
- Erlich, Ras Alula, p. xiii.
- Prunier, Gérard (1 November 1998). "The Ethio-Eritrean Conflict: An Essay in Interpretation". UNHCR Refworld. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Archived from the original on 25 June 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2007.