The galleass, which was also known affectionately by the playful nickname “The Bastard.” Combining characteristics from both sailing ships and galleys, these ships, a type yet to be seen in other countries, were the latest weapons dreamt up by the late-sixteenth-century Venetian navy.

At forty meters long, they seemed small compared to the flagships. Yet they were close to ten meters wide and could function as sailing ships since they rose ten meters high from the surface of the sea.

Sailing ships primarily used triangular sails, but the galleasses were also equipped with square sails. While most ships had three main masts, the galleasses had a fourth on the stern. As a hybrid sailing ship and galley, oars were naturally part of the design to ensure free movement regardless of whether or not winds were favorable. Unlike those on war galleys, however, oarsmen on these ships were stationed directly below, rather than atop, the deck. Galleasses fired on the enemy from a distance; they didn’t engage in close-quarter combat like the galera sottile warships, thus obviating the need for oarsmen to double as soldiers. Placing oarsmen below deck also protected them from enemy fire.

The bulkier galleasses generated more water and wind resistance than the low-lying galera sottile and thus maneuvered less easily. They were conceived, however, as floating batteries. Artillery positioned on the bridge used the entirety of the ship’s circular bow, which was divided into three levels to allow ten cannons to fire across a 270- degree range. The left and right flanks were both equipped with four cannons, and ten to twelve small cannons were attached to the stern bridge: calling the ship a “battery” is thus no exaggeration. Including muskets, these ships were theoretically capable of firing sixty rounds simultaneously.

The number of sailors on board had to increase accordingly: each galleass required four to five hundred men. Venice had a limited population and it was out of the question for it to fight by using the kinds of “human waves” that the Ottoman Empire was able to muster. Mobilizing cannons at sea was the most economical and effective use of its limited resources.

That said, Venice couldn’t fight naval battles with galleasses alone. The Turks often attacked using small galleys, which rendered the hulking vessels’ lack of mobility a major drawback. Venice’s strategy was thus to use both galleasses and galera sottile. They couldn’t rely too much on sails when fighting on the Mediterranean, where winds shifted rapidly.

By early 1570, Venice’s shipyard was launching one war galley per day. It continued at this pace over several months and produced a hundred and fifty war galleys, twelve galleasses, and over thirty large sailboats. Although the sailing ships played no direct role in battle, they ferried food and ammunition. In the late sixteenth century, only Venice could build ships in such numbers.

But victory in war is not determined by technical prowess alone. This was particularly true in the sixteenth century, which saw the rise of large nations possessing far more territory than a mere city-state like Venice. And Venice’s opponent in this case was the Ottoman Empire, which controlled more territory than any other state at the time.


While many of the Venetian ships were compelled to take on Spanish soldiers, those vessels that would play a decisive role in the battle fought fiercely to maintain a Venetian-only crew. There wasn’t a single foreign soldier on any of the six galleasses. Capitano Generale de Mare Veniero’s ship and that of Barbarigo, Provveditore Generale, along with those of Provveditore Quirini and Provveditore Canale, also faithfully upheld this policy.

The six galleasses followed the vanguard out of the harbor. There was no wind early that morning, so they were towed out by scout ships. These six “floating batteries” were to move to the frontmost line as soon as they encountered the enemy. By wreaking havoc on the enemy with their cannon fire, they would create the perfect opening for the war galleys, which were in fact the backbone of the force.

The six galleasses had been stationed in pairs on the front line directly ahead of the left flank, main force, and right flank. The two that had been in front of the right flank were no longer in proper position. Galleasses couldn’t maneuver as well as the galleys, so these two were now positioned in the gap between the right flank and the main force.

To occupy the middle part of a bow formation, the main force of sixty-two ships assumed positions recessed behind the left flank and right flanks.

Don Juan’s flagship was in the center, with Veniero and his Venetian flagship on his left, and Colonna and his papal flagship on his right. The flagships of Savoy, Florence, and various other contingents filled out the core of flagships that secured Don Juan’s flanks. The leader of the Maltese Knights of the Order of St. John commanded the flagship on the far right of the main force and the far left was held by the flagship of the Republic of Genoa.

Like the Muslim fleet, the Christian fleet had braced the extreme left and right positions with experienced sea captains, but they were not able to place similarly experienced naval officers everywhere along the tripartite battle formation.

The two ships containing the palace guard of the Spanish king had their prows virtually attached to the stern of Don Juan’s ship. Additionally, the reserve flotilla led by the Marquis de Santa Cruz held its position directly behind the main force, the reinforcement of which was its main priority. In truth, as retainer of the King of Spain, the Marquis de Santa Cruz had no concern other than protecting Don Juan’s ship.

Two galleasses had positioned themselves in front of the main force. Francesco Duodo, the overall commander of the six galleasses, was in one of them. The remaining galleass captains were from the Venetian aristocracy, but in actuality the power displayed by the galleasses owed to the Venetian middle class, its engineers and master shipbuilders.

It was a little past noon when the cannon sounded from Ali Pasha’s flagship. Don Juan’s ship immediately answered with its own cannon.

The cannons of the six galleasses on the front line belched fire almost simultaneously in a thunderous signal for battle. They made several direct hits on the Turkish warships, which were advancing with their oars. After this initial round, the “floating batteries” of the Christian forces continued the bombardment. They made direct hits again and again on a number of ships, some of which caught fire and listed in the water. The Turks’ crescent-shaped battle formation was broken in several places as they attempted to advance. Seeing the Turkish formation break up like this greatly lifted the spirits of the alliance fighters waiting behind the galleasses.

The Turkish ships seemed to be trying to get past the galleasses as quickly as possible. Christian slaves were chained to the decks, and the slave drivers whipped them like madmen to make the ships move at top speed. The Turkish ships started to surge past the galleasses. The gun ports on both the left and right gunwales of the “floating batteries,” however, were open, and they certainly weren’t silent.

The battle formation of the Turkish fleet was in complete disarray, but the relatively small size of their ships saved them from falling prey to the large cannons. The ships that did make it through the galleasses plunged ahead toward the allied fleet, which was also advancing.

It would take time for the galleasses that had been bypassed to change position. Now the galleys were the main players.

The galleasses, now in a supporting role, provided cannon fire to assist the galleys in their close-quarter combat. The barrage coming from the far left galleass commanded by Ambrosio Bragadino was particularly intense and amply demonstrated the awesome power of the “floating batteries.” Ambrosio was a relative of Marcantonio Bragadino, the commander on Cyprus who had been flayed alive. Ambrosio Bragadino had repositioned his massive ship faster than any of the other galleass captains and was showering the enemy’s right flank with artillery fire.

Doria moved his fleet far to the south at the beginning of the battle in an attempt to block Uluch Ali’s mobility by circling to his right. Because of this, Doria’s right flank didn’t benefit from the artillery support from the galleasses enjoyed by the left flank and the main force. The lumbering galleasses couldn’t keep up with Doria’s sudden change in tactics and thus simply remained in their predetermined locations, turning their attention to the enemy’s main force instead. In other words, Uluch Ali’s fleet didn’t sustain much damage at all from the galleass bombardment.

In fact, all of this had been Uluch Ali’s plan from the very beginning. He intended first to go around the left side of Doria’s fleet and then to strike Don Juan’s main fleet from behind. Doria had sensed this and moved his ships to prevent him from outflanking him. Uluch Ali wasn’t foolish enough to face Doria’s fleet head-on, quickly and skillfully turning the prow of his ship towards the northwest. Doria’s movement towards the south had opened up a gap between his fleet and Don Juan’s main force. Uluch Ali now focused on this gap, which presented an opening for him to attack Don Juan’s fleet from the rear-his intention all along.

Even at sea, a “battleground” of sorts was formed when war galleys locked oars. Hand-to-hand combat became the only possible way of engaging the enemy, which rendered the galleasses essentially ineffective. They could still knock down enemy masts with their cannons, but there was also a real possibility that the falling masts and yardarms would kill friendly forces fighting beneath them. The galleasses thus inevitably became mere observation posts after the middle stage of the battle. Francesco Duodo, the commander in charge of the six galleasses, gave the following official report when he returned to Venice after the battle:

“The Christians and the Muslims were like hunters in a forest. Though a lot was happening in other parts of the forest, the hunters remained focused on their own quarry, not paying any attention to what was happening elsewhere. This was the case at Lepanto, time and again.”

MTM: the Italian Navy’s Explosive Motorboat I



The true pioneers of manned EMBs, as distinct from remote-controlled craft, were the men of the Royal Italian Navy. Some accounts of Italian operations suggest that the country’s interest in EMBs also began with a World War I craft, the Grillo (“Cricket”). In fact, the Grillo was called a barchino saltatore (“jumping boat”) and, as a weapon, fell somewhere between a conventional motor torpedo boat and the Maiale (“Pig”) manned torpedo. Designed by the Italian Navy’s Instructor-General Pruneri, it was a four-man, 8 ton (8.13 tonne), 52.5ft (16m) long craft, powered by two 10hp electric motors giving a maximum 4kt (4.6mph, 7.4kmh), and armed with two 17.7in (450mm) torpedoes in dropping gear aft. Caterpillar tracks ran around both sides of the hull in a layout similar to that of the early tanks, and with this aid it was hoped that the four examples built might clamber over the net-and-boom defences of Pola harbour to torpedo Austrian warships. An attempt was made on the night of 13 May 1918, when a Grillo commanded by LtCdr Antonio Pellegrini was sighted and fired upon by the Austrian battleship Radetzky while negotiating the defences. After scuttling their craft, the Italian raiders were taken prisoner.

The Tenth Light Flotilla

Between the wars, the Italian Navy continued to display interest in small-boat warfare and, in 1936, formed the unit which was to become famous as the Decima Flottiglia MAS (10th Light Flotilla) specifically for operations of this type. At about the same time, General Duke Amadeo of Aosta of the Italian Air Force and his brother, Admiral Duke Aimone of Spoleto, conceived the project of mounting small explosive boats between the floats of obsolescent Savoia-Marchetti S.55 flying-boats. The boats were to be released at close range for mass attacks on enemy naval bases immediately after the beginning of hostilities. The prototype, a flimsy wood-and-canvas craft with a small, bow-mounted, impact-fuzed explosive charge, was designed by the engineer Guido Cattaneo and by Cdr Mario Giorgini. The project was thereafter allowed to languish until the appointment to the command of the Italian Navy’s light forces, in 1938, of Cdr Paolo Aloisi. While the training of personnel continued under Aloisi’s direction, Cattaneo and the Baglietto yard at Varazze worked to produce an ingenious and effective EMB that was available for use by the time of Italy’s entry into the war on 10 June 1940.

The basic EMB employed by the 10th Light Flotilla during World War II was the MTM (Motoscafi da Turismo modificati, “modified tourist motorboat”); these were commonly known as barchini esplosivi (“explosive boats”) or simply barchini. (An authoritative Italian source refers to the MTMs as “E-boats”: I have avoided this usage in order not to confuse the MTM with the German MTB to which this name is most often applied.)

The one-man, 17ft (5.2m) MTM displaced 1.5 tons (1.52 tonnes) and was powered by an Alfa Romeo 2500 internal combustion engine of 95bhp. It had a maximum speed of 34kt (39.1mph, 62.9kmh) and an action radius of some 60nm (69 miles, 111km) at high speed or a total endurance of some five hours. Its propeller and rudder were mounted as a single outboard unit which could be lifted by the pilot in order to cross defensive netting. It was armed with a 660lb (300kg) bow-mounted explosive charge.

Having reached an attacking position, the MTM’s pilot, who wore a frogman’s suit and was housed in a partly shielded cockpit at the stern, set his boat on a collision course, locked the rudder, increased to maximum speed and then, when less than 100yds (90m) from his target, tripped a lever that freed the wooden back-rest of his cockpit, before himself taking to the water. In the few seconds between his ditching and the MTM’s impact with the target, the pilot scrambled on to his wooden life-raft in order to escape the shock-wave caused by the explosion of the boat’s warhead.

When the unmanned boat struck the target, small impact-fuzed charges set centrally around its hull broke the MTM apart. When its fore-part had sunk to a depth pre-set according to the estimated draught of the target ship, hydrostatic pressure triggered the main charge. In theory, therefore, the MTM was not a suicide weapon. Nevertheless, such a complex detonation system was obviously liable to malfunction and for this reason, as well as to ensure that his boat actually struck its target, the MTM pilot was often tempted to set his fuze to explode on impact and to stay with his craft until it was too late to save himself. As the brief account of MTM operations given below shows, pilots were on occasion asked, or ordered, to sacrifice themselves in order to ensure success.

MTMs were generally carried to their operational areas aboard warships specially equipped for such duties with deck clamps for transport and electrically-powered hoists for launching. When thus equipped, the 970-ton (986 tonne) Sella-class destroyers Francesco Crispi and Quintino Sella proved capable in trials of launching six MTM apiece within 35 seconds.

A smaller version of the MTM, the MTR, was designed to be carried to its attack zone in a metal cylinder (the same cylinder designed to house the Pig manned torpedo) on the hull of a submarine. Also operated by the 10th Light Flotilla were the MTSM (Motoscafi da Turismo, Siluranti, Modificati, “tourist motorboat, torpedo, modified”) and its later development the SMA (Silurante, Modificato, Allargato, “torpedo, modified, enlarged boat”). These were not EMBs but small MTBs, somewhat resembling the British CMBs of World War I, and they do not fall within the scope of this book.

In view of the remarks made elsewhere in this book concerning Japanese criteria for selecting personnel for suicidal duties, it is worth noting a major aspect of Italian selection procedure. At the Training Centre for Sea Pioneers, San Leopoldo, Livorno, established in September 1940 to train crews for assault craft duties, the emotional stability and general moral character of the volunteers was considered to be even more important than their physical aptitude for such work.

Soon after Italy’s entry into the war, command of what by now had become the 10th Light Flotilla was assumed by Commander Vittorio Moccagatta. The Flotilla’s “surface division”, responsible for EMB operations, was headed by LtCdr Giorgio Giobbe. The Pigs were soon in action; the operational debut of the MTM explosive boats was, however, delayed to await a suitable target. A favourable opportunity came early in 1941, with the increasing buildup of Allied shipping off Greece and, particularly, in the anchorage of Crete.

Date: 26 March 1941

Place: Suda Bay, Crete

Attack by: MTM boats of the Italian 10th Light Flotilla

Target: Allied warships and transports at anchor

During early 1941, close aerial surveillance was maintained on Suda Bay, the Allied fleet anchorage in northwest Crete; while at Parteni Bay on the Dodecanese island of Leros the 10th Light Flotilla waited to sortie. Twice, in January and again in February, the Francesco Crispi and Quintino Sella sailed with MTMs aboard – and twice the mission was aborted because air reconnaissance reported a lack of suitable targets. Nevertheless, in spite of British air raids that inflicted casualties on the unit, the Flotilla’s morale remained high. On 25 March, the two destroyers lay at Astypalaia Island in the Dodecanese, with MTMs aboard. Weather conditions were good – sea calm and moon dark – and reconnaissance reported a large cruiser, two destroyers and at least 12 transports in Suda Bay. Immediately after an air raid that caused slight damage to Crispi, a sortie was ordered. Each destroyer carried three MTMs, the boat unit being commanded by Lt Luigi Faggioni.

The MTMs were launched some 9nm (10.3 miles, 17km) off the entrance to Suda Bay at 2330 on 25 March. Sailing in formation, the small craft reached the mouth of the 6 mile (10km) long Bay before 0100 on 26 March and moved into the narrow inlet leading to the anchorage. Barring their way were three buoy-and-net booms, covered by artillery batteries ashore and periodically swept by searchlights. By 0445 the shallow-draught boats had successfully negotiated all three barriers undetected. Gathering his force together, Lt Faggioni ordered them to stop engines and await the light of dawn before making their attacks. They lay so close to the Allied ships that the sounds of reveille aboard could be clearly heard at 0500, when, under minimum power, the MTMs of SubLt Angelo Cabrini and CPO Tullio Tedeschi moved to within about 300yds (275m) of the major objective, the 8,250-ton (8382-tonne) cruiser HMS York.

At 0530, as the light rapidly improved, Cabrini and Tedeschi opened their throttles and headed at maximum speed, side by side, towards York. The attack went according to the book: ditching some 90yds (82m) short of the target, both pilots were safe aboard their life-rafts when their boats struck the 575ft (175m) long cruiser. With a gaping wound in her side, York began to list almost immediately, while gunners aboard and ashore opened up at the invisible “low-flying aircraft” which were presumed to be attacking. (Lt Faggioni, taken from the water and made prisoner, was immediately asked what had happened to his aircraft.)

Meanwhile, CPO Lino Beccati had scored a crippling hit on the Norwegian tanker Pericles (8,324 tons, 8457 tonnes), while the MTMs of Master Gunner Alessio De Vito and Sergeant Gunner Emilio Barberi narrowly missed other transports. Lt Faggioni himself had held back, intending to make a run on York if necessary: seeing the cruiser hard hit, he picked a nearby warship (thought to be the cruiser HMS Coventry) as his target, but missed. All the Italian pilots survived to be taken prisoner. York was towed inshore and settled on the bottom, where German aerial bombing soon rendered her a constructive total loss. (Italian sources claim that no further damage was inflicted by German aircraft, and that British demolition charges completed the work the 10th Light Flotilla had begun.) Pericles broke in two and sank when an effort was made to tow her to Alexandria for repair.

MTM: the Italian Navy’s Explosive Motorboat II



Date: 26 July 1941

Place: Grand Harbour, Valletta, Malta

Attack by: Italian MTM boats and Maiali torpedoes

Target: Allied warships and transports at anchor

The MTM pilots who had made the hazardous and successful attack at Suda Bay had all survived, but the last major operation in which MTMs were deployed (their role subsequently being taken over by the small, torpedo-armed MTSM and SMA boats mentioned above) proved to be a true suicide mission – both in execution and, it may be suspected, in planning. At Suda Bay, the frail explosive boats had been pitted against an unprepared enemy and improvised defences at a location that had been thoroughly reconnoitred. This was not the case with the newly-chosen target: after MTMs had been launched to make seaborne reconnaissance of such Allied anchorages as Porto Edda (Sarandë) in southern Albania, and Corfu, the choice fell on the Allies’ Mediterranean bastion – Malta. In spite of its formidable defences and the lack of intelligence concerning them, Grand Harbour at Valletta was designated the target.

It must have been obvious at the planning stage that self-sacrifice would be unavoidable if the attackers were to penetrate the anchorage and that, even if the penetration were made, there would be little chance of survival for the crews of small boats under concentrated fire in the narrow, crowded harbour. This was certainly realized by Maggiore Genio Navale (Major, naval rank) Teseo Tesei, co-inventor of the Pig, who maintained that the attack should be made simply as a demonstration of Italian gallantry and determination, as an inspiration to “our sons and Italy’s future generations”. Tesei, who had already been told that his exploits in Pigs had overstrained his heart and that he faced death if he did not retire from operations, wrote a farewell letter shortly before the Malta mission in which he stated his intention of “winning the highest of all honours, that of giving my life for the King and the honour of the Flag.” Tesei’s determination was matched by that of Cdr Moccagatta and, faced with such enthusiasm, Admirals de Courten and Campioni of the Naval Chiefs of Staff gave somewhat grudging approval to the mission. It will be noted that, as in Japan, the employment of suicidal weapons and tactics was, at first, more enthusiastically advocated by junior officers than by their superiors; ie, by the men who would be intimately concerned with the operation of such weapons.

After a further series of seaborne reconnaissances, it was decided to mount the attack on Malta on the night of 27–28 June. Late on 27 June, a small task force of MTMs towed by MTBs sailed from Augusta, eastern Sicily, where training had been underway since April. Foul weather forced a return to base. Two nights later, Moccagatta’s force tried again: this time, engine failure on two MTMs resulted in a further postponement – until the corresponding dark of the moon in July. Profiting from experience, Moccagatta now changed the composition of his task force: instead of being towed to the operational area the MTMs would be carried aboard the fast sloop Diana (1,764 tons, 1792 tonnes; originally built as Mussolini’s official yacht) and would be led into the attack by an MTSM and, at the insistence of Major Tesei, by two Pigs. The human torpedoes would, in fact, spearhead the attack: one would blow a hole in the net defences of Grand Harbour; the other would make a diversionary raid on the Royal Navy’s submarine base at Marsa-Muscetto, in the western arm of Valletta harbour. An air raid was timed to coincide with the surface attack and was expected fully to occupy the harbour batteries.

Moccagatta’s force sailed from Augusta at sunset on 25 July. Aboard Diana (LtCdr Mario Di Muro) were nine MTMs; an MTSM, in which LtCdr Giobbe would direct the attack; and a small, electric- powered (and therefore silent-running) motorboat which would carry the two Pigs to their launching point. The Pigs were carried from Augusta on the 20-ton (20.3 tonne) motor torpedo boats MAS 451 (SubLt Giorgio Sciolette) and MAS 452 (Lt G. Batta Parodi). The Pig crews were Major Tesei with CPO Alcide Pedretti and Lt Franco Costa with Sgt Luigi Barla. Thus, the commander of 10th Light Flotilla (Moccagatta, aboard MAS 452) and all his principal officers intended to play an active part in the desperate enterprise; even the Flotilla’s chief medical officer, Captain Surgeon Bruno Falcomatà volunteered as a member of MAS 452’s crew. Although the mission had not been planned to take advantage of the fact, Valletta now offered an excellent selection of targets, for the transports of the hard-fought “Substance” convoy had entered Grand Harbour on 24 July.

Gallant Failure at Valletta

Nine MTMs were launched from Diana some 20nm (23 miles, 37km) off Malta at some time before midnight on 25 July. One sank immediately. The remaining eight, with the electric launch carrying the Pigs, headed inshore, escorted by the MTSM and the two MTBs. By 0300 on 26 July, the electric launch was within 1,100yds (1000m) of the entrance to Grand Harbour, at which point the Pigs were to launch. Engine failure on the Pig of Costa and Barla delayed the launching time by at least one hour (en route to their target, Marsa-Muscetto, the engine failed again and, unable to complete their mission, the two men were later taken prisoner). Tesei and Pedretti had the vital task of destroying the steel-plate-and-mesh anti-torpedo net, suspended from a two-span bridge, that guarded the narrow passage leading into Grand Harbour below Fort St Elmo. In spite of the delay in launching, Tesei made it clear that he intended to destroy the net at the appointed time (0430) – even if, as seemed likely, this entailed the self-destruction of himself and Pedretti. Meanwhile, Giobbe told the MTM pilots that if, following up Tesei, they found the barrier still intact, the leaders must sacrifice themselves in order to ensure that at least one boat penetrated the harbour and reached Allied shipping.

But by the time the Pigs were on the way, the harbour defence force was on the alert. Diana’s arrival and departure had been logged by surface radar and, because the diversionary raids by Italian aircraft were sporadic and ill-timed, the small boats’ engines had been heard. Even so, the Pig crewed by Tesei and Pedretti was able to reach the St Elmo bridge where, at 0425, true to his word, Tesei detonated the warhead of his torpedo immediately, sacrificing himself and Pedretti – but failing to breach the net. To seaward, hearing the explosion, Giobbe ordered the MTMs in to the attack.

In the first light of dawn, the MTMs hurled themselves at the still-intact barrier. In the leading boat, SubLt Roberto Frassetto flung himself clear just before the impact: his MTM struck the netting but failed to detonate. Following him, SubLt Aristide Carabelli remained at the helm until the last, perishing in a massive explosion that seriously wounded the swimming Frassetto, breached the netting – and brought down one of the bridge spans, rendering the boat channel impassable. As SubLt Carlo Bosio led in the remaining boats, their path was illuminated by searchlights, and 6-pounder batteries, Bofors AA guns and machine guns opened up from the shore. Caught in the blocked channel under a savage crossfire, the MTMs were soon sunk; Bosio was killed and the surviving pilots, all wounded, were captured.

As the light improved, some 30 Hawker Hurricanes joined the battle and, although opposed by 10 Macchi C.200 Saetta fighters (which succeeded in shooting down one Hurricane, but lost three of their number) located and attacked the two MTBs and the two smaller motorboats which had been standing by to take off any surviving MTM and Pig crewmen. MAS 451, raked by cannon fire from the Hurricanes, blew up and sank, killing four of her 13-strong crew. The electric launch was also sunk, and aboard MAS 452, Moccagatta, Giobbe, Falcomatà, Parodi and four other men were killed by gunfire. Abandoning MAS 452, 11 survivors succeeded in reaching Diana. Fifteen men had been killed, among them the senior officers of the 10th Light Flotilla, and 18 captured in the gallant but ineffective action.

Abortive Missions with MTR boats

Thereafter, the MTMs played little part in the 10th Light Flotilla’s activities. However, the explosive boat concept was adopted by the German Navy and Cdr J. Valerio Borghese (who succeeded Moccagatta in command), remaining faithful to the Axis cause even after Italy’s surrender, passed on his experience to German volunteers.

Before Italy’s collapse, however, two abortive missions were launched with the smaller MTR explosive boats. In mid-1943, following the Allied invasion of Sicily, it was planned to attack shipping in Syracuse harbour with MTRs. The submarine Ambra (LtCdr Renato Ferrini), carrying three MTRs in the deck cylinders originally designed for the transportation of Pigs, stood off Syracuse on the night of 25 July 1943. But the activities of German U-boats had put the harbour defences on full alert: picked up on the radars of patrolling aircraft, Ambra was bombed, depthcharged, and forced to retire with heavy damage, including the crushing of the MTRs’ cylinders.

A similar mission was planned for 2 October 1943, when the submarine Murena (Cdr Longanesi), equipped with four transportation cylinders, was to launch four MTRs on the Spanish side of Algeciras Bay. The boats were to make their way along the neutral shore and, at 1100 hours, carry out a suicidal daylight attack on merchant shipping at Gibraltar. In the resultant confusion, it was hoped, a Pig launched from the secret base aboard the Olterra would penetrate the military harbour and attack the largest warship in sight. The operation was forestalled by Italy’s surrender on 8 September 1943.

The Battle of Garigliano

Second Italian War

In the aftermath of the First Italian War, Cordoba overhauled the Spanish army. He reorganised his infantry by replacing the bulk of his swordand-buckler foot soldiers with pikemen and arquebusiers. His pike and shot troops were taught to manoeuvre over rough ground, resist cavalry attacks, and deliver shock attacks.

Charles VIII died in 1498 and was succeeded by Louis XII. Louis was keen on retaining some portion of the Kingdom of Naples and therefore proposed to Ferdinand that they divide the Kingdom of Naples between themselves. Pope Alexander, who condoned the agreement, conveniently deposed the Trastamara ruler of the kingdom. A treaty signed in 1500 gave Charles the northern part of the kingdom and Ferdinand the southern part.

Ferdinand, who became dissatisfied with the arrangement, went to war in 1502 to win control of the Kingdom of Naples for Spain. The French made the first strategic move when Louis d’Armagnac, Duke of Nemours, besieged Cordoba in the Apulian fortress of Barletta. After receiving a large body of reinforcements in early 1503, Cordoba seized the nearby French base at Cerignola.

Cordoba ordered his troops to widen a ditch at the base of the hilltop town. His men drove sharp stakes into the bottom of the ditch to prevent the enemy from crossing the ditch. The excavated dirt was then used to build a parapet behind the ditch.

As the French approached Cerignola, Cordoba deployed his 2,000 arquebusiers four ranks deep in the centre behind the parapet. To protect them, he placed 1,000 pikemen on each side of the arquebusiers. Any French troops near the ditch would be within the 40-metre range of the arquebusiers. Spanish guns on the hillside supported the troops behind the rampart.

Clash at Cerignola

Even with the field works the Spanish were in for a desperate battle. Nemours’s 9,000-strong army was nearly twice the size of Cordoba’s army; however the various arms were not well integrated. The French right division consisted of lance-wielding heavy cavalry, the centre division was composed of mercenary Swiss pikemen, and the left division was made up of French and German crossbowmen.

Nemours attacked before his artillery had a chance to deploy. Cordoba’s Spanish jinetes screened the ditch so superbly that the French had no knowledge of the existence of a ditch until their heavy cavalry reached it.

The French cavalry attack stalled at the ditch. As Nemours looked for a way through the ditch he was slain by the arquebus fire. When the surviving French gendarmes withdrew from the ditch, the Swiss pikemen attacked with all of their fury. Although they tried desperately to fight their way into the Spanish position they could not breach the field works.

As the French army began withdrawing Cordoba launched a counterattack with his pikemen. The Spanish swept the field, inflicting 5,000 casualties on the French at the loss of a few hundred Spanish troops.

Stalemate on the Garigliano

The remnant of Nemours’s army withdrew to the safety of the citadel at Gaeta to await the arrival of a new French army. King Charles XII sent 20,000 French troops overland to Naples and gave overall command of the army to Italian Condottiero Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua. Meanwhile Cordoba took possession of the city of Naples on 13 May 1503.

Cordoba deployed his 12,000 troops behind the Garigliano River in October to block the anticipated French advance against Spanish held Naples. As expected Mantua marched south only to find Cordoba’s army heavily entrenched on the south bank.

After his pioneers laid a pontoon bridge over the lower Garigliano, Mantua established a tete de pont on the far bank in early November, but Cordoba bottled up the forces in the bridgehead. When Mantua was stricken with a fever command devolved to Marquis Ludovico II of Saluzzo.

A six-week stalemate followed. Troops on both sides suffered acute hardship encamped on the marshy ground during the rainy season. While Cordoba remained at the battlefront with his troops throughout this time, the high-ranking French commanders billeted themselves in comfortable quarters in nearby towns. Believing the Spanish would remain on the defensive the French did not keep a close watch on the Spanish.

Flank attack

Spanish ally Condottiero Bartolomeo d’Alviano reinforced Cordoba’s army with 5,400 troops in mid-December. In preparation for a surprise attack on the French army Cordoba instructed his chief engineer, Pedro Navarro, to construct a pontoon bridge that could be deployed in a matter of hours when needed.

In a driving rain in the pre-dawn darkness of 29 December Navarro’s pioneers laid the bridge on a narrow portion of the swollen river opposite the extreme left flank of the French army.

For the surprise attack Cordoba had organised his army into three divisions. Alviano led the vanguard, Cordoba led the centre division, and Fernando Andrada commanded the rearguard. Alviano’s Italian troops streamed across the bridge at dawn while the French and Swiss foot soldiers were fast asleep in their huts. His light cavalry swept past the disorganised French infantry and turned east to secure the village of Castleforte to prevent the French from using it as a strongpoint. Believing the day was lost the troops on the French left streamed north towards Gaeta.

Cordoba then led his mounted Spanish men-at-arms and pikemen across the pontoon bridge to the north bank. He caught the French centre in the flank and dislodged it from the river line. At that point Saluzzo ordered a general retreat to Gaeta. A heroic French nobleman, Pierre Terrail, Seigneur de Bayard, began rallying the retreating French at a defile between the mountains and the sea near the village of Formia.

Meanwhile Andrade crossed the French bridge on the lower Garigliano and captured most of the French artillery since the French gendarmes had fled north to Formia.

Up to that point there had only been light fighting, but the two sides became locked in furious combat for an hour at the defile. When Andrada’s troops arrived to reinforce the Spanish forces already engaged at Formia, it proved too much for the French. Those French soldiers who had not been taken prisoner proceeded west to Gaeta.

Viceroy of Naples

On 1 January 1504 the French capitulated. Cordoba freed his French prisoners on the condition that they return home by sea. At the end of the month, Charles XII and Ferdinand of Aragon signed the Treaty of Lyon by which Charles ceded the Kingdom of Naples to Spain. In appreciation for the military achievement of defeating the French, King Ferdinand made Cordoba the Viceroy of Naples.

Isabella, who had always championed Cordoba, died in November 1504. Ferdinand who grew jealous of Cordoba’s reputation recalled him to Spain in 1507. He was called out of retirement in 1512 to command the Spanish forces in Italy after a major reverse at the hands of the French at Ravenna during the War of the League of Cambrai. Three years later, at the age of 62, he returned to Spain stricken with malaria. He died at Granada on 1 December 1515.

Cordoba’s genius lay in his ability to correct the shortcomings of his forces by adopting the best tactical concepts of his enemies. He readily embraced the greater use of firearms in the belief that they would transform infantry tactics. In this he was correct, for his initial integration of shot and pike troops laid the foundation for the Spanish tercios. From a geopolitical standpoint his decisive victories in the First and Second Italian Wars enabled Spain to control Sicily and southern Italy for two centuries.

Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard (1474-1524)

Nobleman, military leader Known in legend and tradition as “chevalier sans peur et sans reproche” (fearless and blameless knight), Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard, considered a model of chivalry, was born in Dauphiné, near GRENOBLE. As a young soldier, he came to the attention of CHARLES VIII, and was knighted for his bravery after the battle of Fornovo in Italy (1495). He was cited for contributing to LOUIS XII’s conquest of Milanais (1499-1500) and distinguished himself in the defense of the bridge at Garigliano (1503) against a Spanish force, and in the battle against the Venetians at Agnadel (1509). Such was Bayard’s reputation for valor that several incredible stories were told of him, including one in which he singlehandedly defended a bridge against 200 of the enemy. He was captured twice, but his chivalrous character and reputation secured his release without a ransom payment. During the war between FRANCIS I of France and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Bayard held the fortress town of Mezieres with only 1,000 men for six weeks, against a force of 35,000. He also played a part in the decisive victory of Marignan (1515). Bayard was mortally wounded while covering the retreat at the Sesia River in Italy.

The Expedition of the Thousand

In March 1860, exile Rosolino Pilo exhorted Giuseppe Garibaldi to take charge of an expedition to liberate Southern Italy from Bourbon rule. At first, Garibaldi was against it, but eventually agreed. By May 1860, Garibaldi had collected 1,089 volunteers for his expedition to Sicily.

Giuseppe Garibaldi, who had learnt revolutionary guerrilla tactics while fighting to liberate South America before returning to his fatherland. At the lowest ebb of his fortunes, was expelled from Piedmont-Sardinia and was forced to lead the life of an exile once more. He worked briefly as a candle-maker in Camden, New Jersey, before returning to Europe in 1854. He established himself in a house on the Sardinian Island of Caprera and gradually became more politically realistic. Under Camillo Benso di Cavour’s influence, Garibaldi accepted that the Piedmontese monarchy offered the best hope of unifying Italy. This renunciation of his Mazzinian and revolutionary principles restored him to favor in Turin, and in 1859 Garibaldi was made a general in the Piedmontese army.

Garibaldi was violently critical of the Treaty of Villafranca. In January 1860, he endorsed the latest venture launched by Giuseppe Mazzini, the “Action party,” which openly espoused a policy of liberating southern Italy, Rome, and Venice by military means. To this end, in the spring of 1860, Garibaldi led a corps of red-shirted patriots from Genoa to the assistance of a Mazzinian uprising in Palermo. The “Expedition of the Thousand” is the most famous of all Garibaldi’s military exploits. After landing near Palermo with the support of ships from the British fleet, Garibaldi swiftly took command of the island. On 14 May 1860, he became dictator of Sicily and head of a provisional government that was largely dominated by a native Sicilian who would play an important role in the political future of Italy, Francesco Crispi.

Garibaldi’s legendary Expedition of the Thousand that sailed from Piedmontese territory in May 1860 in support of the Sicilian insurgents presented Cavour with the most serious challenge of his political career. He opposed the expedition, but did not dare prevent it for fear of offending patriotic sentiment, losing control of parliament, antagonizing the popular Garibaldi, and crossing Victor Emmanuel, whom Cavour suspected of secretly backing Garibaldi. The government therefore adopted an ambiguous policy that allowed volunteers to sail for Sicily and avoid interception at sea. Garibaldi’s unexpected battlefield victories changed Cavour’s mind: he allowed reinforcements to go to Sicily, but also tried, unsuccessfully, to wrest control of the island from Garibaldi to prevent him from invading the mainland. When his attempt failed and Garibaldi marched triumphantly into Naples, Cavour sent the Piedmontese army to finish the fight against the Neapolitans, and to disarm and disband Garibaldi’s. The papal territory that the Piedmontese army occupied on its way to Naples was added to the rest of the booty and became part of the Kingdom of Italy that was formally proclaimed on 17 March 1861.

The Campaign

In one of the most dramatic moments of Italy’s unification, the revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi led an army of over 1,000 guerrillas to support a revolt in Sicily against their Neapolitan ruler, Francis II. While Garibaldi was a seasoned general of proven ability, the odds were stacked against him. His army – known as the Redshirts – was made of mostly untrained young idealists armed with rusty rifles. Meanwhile, Francis II boasted more than 20,000 highly skilled troops. However, the scarlet fighters quickly took the town of Marsala when they landed on Sicily’s west coast. As they made their way to Palermo, hundreds of Sicilian rebels joined them. The Redshirts won further Sicilian support after Garibaldi had the Neapolitan troops running scared at Calatfimi. By July, they had seized nearly all of Sicily and by September, crossed the water and captured Naples itself. Though Garibaldi’s efforts to march on Rome were checked, his ally King Victor Emmanuel II invaded the Papal States. Following a plebiscite, Garibaldi surrendered all of Sicily and Naples to Victor Emmanuel.

4 April 1860

Hearing that a revolt has broken out in Sicily, Garibaldi decides to attack the Bourbon regime.

5 May 1860

Garibaldi recruits more than 1,000 northern men for his expedition to Sicily. Their ships land at the port of Marsala a week later.

15 May – 20 July 1860

Over the next two months, the Redshirts win a series of victories over the Neapolitan forces at Calataimi and Palermo and capture the island.

7 September 1860

Garibaldi triumphantly enters Naples, where he is greeted as a hero by huge crowds. King Francis II led before the liberator arrived, heading by sea to Gaeta.

1 October 1860

King Francis II makes a final stand against Garibaldi at the Battle of Volturno, but Piedmontese troops arrive to support the Redshirts.

26 October 1860

Garibaldi meets Victor Emmanuel II at Teano and hands him control of the region. By March 1861, the Kingdom of Italy is finally established.

Giuseppe Garibaldi was marching north from Naples when he was attacked in a strong position at the Volturno, outside Capua, by the Neapolitan army of Francis II under General Giosue Ritucci. Aided by Piedmontese, fresh from victory at Castelfidardo, Garibaldi drove off the Bourbon forces with heavy losses on both sides. He then captured Capua and advanced on Gaeta (1-2 October 1860).

Battle of the Volturno, 1 October 1860

Giuseppe Garibaldi was marching north from Naples when he was attacked in a strong position at the Volturno, outside Capua, by the Neapolitan army of Francis II under General Giosue Ritucci. Aided by Piedmontese, fresh from victory at Castelfidardo, Garibaldi drove off the Bourbon forces with heavy losses on both sides. He then captured Capua and advanced on Gaeta (1-2 October 1860).

The Army of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was divided among the large garrisons of Gaeta, Capua, and Messina and the field army of 25,000 men. The Neapolitan Army held a strong position on the Volturno. Two infantry and one cavalry division camped outside Capua, with a third infantry division spread upstream holding the fords and bridges across the river. Garibaldi’s army had advanced to positions from Santa Maria to Caserta and Maddaloni a week earlier. His army now boasted 22,000 men divided among four divisions. Most of these men had served in Sicily, now supplemented by more volunteers.

Garibaldi despised positional warfare. The skirmishing between the armies had agitated the general. He determined to pin the Neapolitan Army under the walls of Capua, while crossing the Volturno and cutting off the king at Gaeta from his army. Simultaneously, the Neapolitan generals concurred that Garibaldi had placed his army in a precarious position between the divisions at Capua and the brigades of Mechel and Ruiz at Dugenta. They saw an opportunity to destroy Garibaldi’s forces by conducting a double-envelopment of the Southern Army.

On October 1 the armies moved in chorus. The Neapolitans struck first. Before 6am, General Anfan de Rivera’s division attacked Giacomo Medici’s 17th Division at Sant’Angelo. To the south, General Tabacchi’s and General Ruggeri’s divisions advanced on the 16th Division under General Milbiz at Santa Maria. Mechel’s brigade pushed in the lead battalions of Bixio’s 18th Division northeast of Maddaloni.

From Caserta Garibaldi was able to dispense the reserve to either flank. Garibaldi properly assessed the threat to his left, and moved reinforcements to support Milbiz and Medici. He went to Santa Maria in person, leaving Türr with the 15th Division at Caserta. On the right, some of Mechel’s battalions lost their way during their march on Maddaloni. This allowed Bixio to concentrate his forces and repel the initial attacks. Fighting raged throughout the day, but by 2pm Medici and Milbiz had determined that the Neapolitans were spent, and issued a counterattack. The renewed vigor of the Garibaldini forced the Neapolitans back to Capua. The success came just in time, as Ruiz’s brigade moved directly upon Caserta. Türr held the town until Medici sent aid. On the far right, Mechel’s uncoordinated attacks stalled, and he withdrew by the late afternoon.

Garibaldi narrowly won the battle of Volturno. He lost 2,000 killed, wounded, and prisoner, while the Neapolitans suffered 3,000 casualties and prisoners. The day after the battle, the Savoia Brigade of the Piedmontese army landed by sea north of Capua. Over the next several weeks Della Rocca’s V Corps crossed the Neapolitan frontier, followed by the rest of the Piedmontese Army. The Southern Army placed Capua under siege, and Piedmontese forces marched on Gaeta where the erstwhile Neapolitan king had taken refuge.


War of the Mantuan Succession

The French were active in Italy. In combination with Savoy, they tried to seize Spain’s ally Genoa in 1625, only to be driven back by the Spaniards. Two years later, the end of the direct male line of the Gonzaga family produced a contested succession for the Duchies of Mantua and Monferrato. Spanish intervention in the dispute led to a joint Savoyard and Spanish invasion of Monferrato in March 1628 in pursuit of a partition. A Spanish army besieged Casale, the capital as well as a major fortress in Monferrato and a crucial point on the western approaches on the Milanese. The French initially tried to stop this consolidation of Spanish power in northern Italy by backing the leading claimant, Charles, Duke of Nevers. He was permitted to raise troops from his French duchies and his governorships of Champagne and Brie on his own sovereign authority as Prince Souverain of Arches. The French army itself was engaged in the struggle against the Huguenots.

Nevers was able to raise 6,600 troops, in part thanks to the effort of his nephew, the Duke of Longueville. This was a pointed reminder of the extent to which what are generally understood as the `states’ of the period did not monopolise military power. At the same time, Richelieu was unimpressed by Nevers’s plan, thinking it lacking in support and preparation. As French power was at stake, the crown provided some support, although, as an opponent of Nevers, the Governor of Dauphiné in fact hindered the expedition. Advancing into Savoy, Nevers’s force was beaten in a skirmish in August 1628 and then dissolved.

Concerned about the situation in northern Italy, and in particular that Nevers might turn to Spain, Louis XIII and Richelieu decided to act after La Rochelle surrendered in October 1628. The Alpine pass at Susa was forced on 6 March 1629, a reminder that campaigning did not cease in the winter. This led Savoy to terms and the Spaniards to abandon the siege of Casale. However, the Spanish government was determined to fight on. It was unintentionally assisted by the maladroit Nevers who had mounted an attack on Lombardy from Mantua. Although he was able to raise only 2,500 men, this led to his being placed under the Imperial ban. Helped by his success against the Danes, Ferdinand II was able to send about 30,000 Imperial troops into northern Italy and in late 1629 they besieged Mantua. After a winter break, the siege was renewed in May 1630 and Mantua surrendered on 18 July. Meanwhile, the French decision to garrison Casale, rather than entrust it to Nevers, had encouraged the Spaniards to send fresh forces into the Monferrato in the autumn of 1629. Even after the war with the Huguenots had ended, the French lacked the forces necessary to defeat their opponents in northern Italy. Richelieu argued in November 1629 that 39,000 troops would be required, but the French were handicapped by the need to prepare a strong army to prevent the danger of an Austrian or Spanish attack on France from Germany.

Under Richelieu, France lacked the resources or organisation to field more than one large and effective campaign army. This is a reminder of the danger of reading from the notional total army sizes sometimes quoted and from the wide-ranging nature of hostilities and confrontation in order to assume that several effective armies could be deployed at the same time. In the case of France, as David Parrott has pointed out, ‘a military system that was geared to the fighting of short campaigns in a single theatre was finally confronted in 1630 with the reality of a very different type of war’, and found wanting. The same was true for other states. This indeed helps to account for the character of much of the campaigning in the Thirty Years’War, in particular what might appear a disjointed series of marches in which rival forces sometimes confronted each other. There was insufficient manpower for a war of fronts in Germany or Italy, and maps in historical atlases that suggest otherwise are misleading. Indeed, the absence of fronts helped confer additional importance on fortresses.

In addition, the political-military nature of the war itself was in part set by the problem dissected by Parrott. The availability of only one really effective field army ensured that it was necessary for powers to fight one opponent at a time, or to accept that successful offensive operations could only be mounted against one opponent. This encouraged a military diplomacy in which peace, truce, or stasis with one rival was sought so that another could be attacked. The 1629 agreement between Sweden and Poland was a good instance of this. Similarly, Spanish involvement in the War of the Mantuan Succession left the Army of Flanders short of funds and therefore with its operational effectiveness compromised, and the army downright mutinous.

The need to focus on one opponent established an important constraint on military capability and effectiveness. In so far as the categories are helpful, it had both a political and a military dimension, as the range of factors summarised under the term resources can be seen in both these lights. For example, there was the issue not only of the availability of money but also of experienced troops.

As a reminder of the interlocking nature of military struggles, and thus of the role of politics, the Habsburgs were militarily successful in northern Italy in 1630, taking Mantua and, under Spinola, pressing Casale hard, while the French relief operation languished. However, Ferdinand II withdrew from the conflict in response to the Swedish invasion of northern Germany and the problems for Imperial preparedness in the Empire created by the dismissal of Wallenstein in response to pressure from the Imperial Diet. This weakened Spanish resolve, as did the death of Spinola, leading to talks with France. As a consequence, the French were able to relieve Casale in October 1630, forcing a negotiation which finally hardened into the two treaties of Cherasco in the spring of 1631 that brought the war in northern Italy to a close.


The Spaniards conducted a successful military campaign in the early 1620s. In 1620 they helped the imperial troops to defeat the Bohemian rebels at the battle of White Mountain. Similarly, spectacular victories were achieved in 1625, enabled financially by a particularly remarkable delivery of bullion from the Americas in the previous year, like the rendition of Breda in the Low Countries, the recapture of Bahia in Brazil from the hands of the Dutch, the repulsion of the British fleet in Cadiz, and the repulsion of a French invasion in the Valtelline. However, things took a turn for the worse during the years 1627-29 with the Spanish intervention in the duchy of Mantua – a decision that bore destructive results. With the death of the childless duke of Mantua, the best prospect of succeeding him went to the French claimant, the duke of Nevers. Fearing the strategic compromise of Spanish interests in northern Italy, Olivares sent the governor of Milan to occupy the Monferrat, a Mantuan region bordering Milan to the west. In reaction, a French army was sent to the occupied region, resulting in a long and inconclusive war that lasted until April 1631. Olivares’ expectations of a short campaign were thus shattered, leaving Spain in greater financial ruin as the crown’s share of the Indies bullion went to finance the Italian front.

The Spaniards received a brief boost in confidence as the French were forced to pull forces from various fronts following internal rebellions. Similarly, the death of France’s allies in northern Italy, the Mantuan and Savoiard rulers in 1637, in tandem with the Spanish seizure of the Valtelline, marked the breakdown of French aspirations in Italy. Consequently, Richelieu proposed a truce with Spain, which was rejected by Olivares, who felt that the French proposal came from a deep weakness that could be exploited to achieve a convincing victory.


At the same time as fighting within the country itself, France became caught up in a conflict against Spain in Italy. War had not yet been declared, there were no actual battles; instead historians have spoken of a `covert war’. Richelieu believed that Italy was the `very heart of the world’ and that it was also the weak point in the Spanish empire.

The Mantuan succession proved him right. The duke of Mantua, from the House of Gonzague, died with no direct descendants but he had a cousin, another Gonzague, the duc de Nevers who lived in France and was considered a subject of the king of France. The emperor, as sovereign of Mantua, refused Nevers the right to inherit the duchy but Nevers took it anyway. As the king of France was, at that time, busy with the siege of La Rochelle, Spain thought it would be possible to chase out the French intruder although two main towns remained loyal to him, Casale Monferrato defended by a French garrison, and Mantua itself. This was a major challenge for Spain. Casale controlled the road from Genoa to Milan and Mantua was on the only road between the Milan area and the Republic of Venice, as well as standing on the road to the Brenner Pass and Austria. The duke of Savoy (who also owned the Piedmont) took up arms with the Spanish after they promised him the Monferrat area. Olivares gave the order to besiege Casale. France and Spain were on the brink of war, drawn in by minor powers.

After the capitulation of La Rochelle, Richelieu advised intervention in northern Italy in December 1628. The French supporters of an alliance with Spain were, of course, hostile to the idea, behind Marie de Medici and the Keeper of the Seals, Marillac. In their opinion, the Casale business was a minor affair and not worth the sacrifice of the efforts at reform within the kingdom and the Catholic reconquest of Europe. According to them, Richelieu was recommending war to make himself irreplaceable in the king’s eyes. Meanwhile, the policy burdened the people with higher taxes and led to general discontent. French troops crossed the Alps. Spain obtained assistance from the emperor who, as a result, had to draw troops away from the other fronts, seriously weakening them. This was the first time since 1527 that a German army had entered the Italian Peninsula. Cardinal de Richelieu, in a note to the king dated 13 January 1629, set out the salient points of a political programme: `France should think only of fortifications within its borders. It should build and open doorways allowing it access to all the neighbouring States so that it can guarantee them against oppression by Spain when the occasions arise.’ The French forces captured the redoubtable fortress of Pignerol in the Piedmont on 22 March 1630. As to the imperial army, it took Mantua in July 1630 and sacked the town.

The situation in northern Italy was linked to the situation of the Holy Roman Empire and the Hapsburgs’ ambitions were of concern to the whole of Europe. France and England favoured agreement between the two princes of the House of Vasa – the Roman Catholic King Sigismond III of Poland, and his Lutheran cousin, King Gustav Adolph of Sweden. The latter now had a free hand. He could intervene in northern Germany and provide backup for the Protestant princes who had been dispossessed by the emperor. A meeting of Electors was held in Regensburg in the summer of 1630. Father Joseph, Richelieu’s right-hand man, encouraged the German princes to refuse the election of Ferdinand II’s son as King of the Romans: that would have ensured he succeeded his father automatically, without an election, and would possibly have been one step towards the hereditary transmission of the imperial crown in the House of Hapsburg. Everything might go a different way, however. Gustav Adolph of Sweden landed in northern Germany in 1630, on the grounds that he was defending Protestantism.

When the imperial army captured Mantua, French negotiators took fright and agreed, on 13 October 1630, to sign a treaty that required the French and imperial troops to pull out of northern Italy. The situation in France was then very tense because, at the end of summer, Louis XIII had fallen seriously ill in Lyon and seemed likely to die soon. He had hardly recovered when he received news of the Treaty of Regensburg. Its ratification would mean the failure of Richelieu’s policy since France would then abandon its allies and leave the way free for the emperor. The cardinal advised Louis XIII not to ratify the treaty, claiming that the French envoys had overstepped their brief.

The rejection of the Treaty of Regensburg led to lively controversy in France; Richelieu was immediately subjected to attacks by supporters of peace and by his political adversaries who feared a war against the Hapsburgs. The Queen Mother, Marie, launched an offensive against Richelieu who believed himself to be disgraced. This was the `great storm’ or the `Day of Dupes’ of 11 November 1630 when, in fact, Louis XIII asked his minister to continue `steering the ship’ and exiled his enemies. In France, Richelieu’s political victory was greeted as a victory for `good Frenchmen’ and a defeat for the pro-Spanish faction. Soon, Queen Marie found herself on the road to exile.

In Italy, while the French and Spanish forces were about to do battle at Casale, a papal envoy called Mazarin miraculously obtained a ceasefire on 26 October 1630. The negotiations at Cherasco then led to treaties that appeared to be favourable to France with Savoy giving it Pignerol in 1632. Thanks to this, Louis XIII obtained a `gateway’ halfway between Briançon and Turin, a gateway which, in those days, was seen as the entrance to Italy and a means of rapid intervention. In the end, the Spanish government felt it had been duped by this treaty, with the complicity of the negotiator, Mazarin.

Total Colonial Warfare: Ethiopia I

Like no other Italian city, Rome symbolized the Fascist experience. The past was evoked by a huge monument with the inscription “Mussolini Dux” near the sports center Foro Italico, and by a series of architectural reminders in the form of bombastic buildings, large avenues, and spacious squares, which formed an ideal background for military parades and mass meetings. Even the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935-6 left its footprint in the old capital of the Impero dell’Africa Italiana. One of the famous Axumite monoliths, which dates from the fourth century, still stands next to the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, although the Italian government has now promised to return it to Ethiopia as soon as possible. The obelisk was transported to Rome as a war trophy in 1937. Rome’s northeastern districts also display reminders of colonial times. “Viale Eritrea,” “viale Etiopia,” “viale Somalia,” “via Adua,” “via Dessie,” “via Tembien,” “via Endert ` a,” and “Piazza Addis Abeba” all ` refer to geographical locations in eastern Africa, which were sites of major battles in the Italo-Ethiopian War.

Even though the signs of the colonial past are still manifest, historians and the general public have until recently suppressed memories of the Italo-Ethiopian War. In contrast to the interwar commentary, Italian historiography has since 1945 been reticent about the Italian colonial experience and the colonial wars on the African continent, even though these conflicts had exercised a formative influence on the young nation-state for seventy-five years. The subject was long regarded as unworthy of mention. Defeat in World War II and the resulting loss of the Italian colonies as a status symbol led to this state of affairs. As a result, Italian historiography remained relatively unaffected by the turmoil of decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s. Even the Roman Catholic Church, particularly Pope Pius XI and his advisers Monsignor Pizzardo and Monsignor Tardini, never officially criticized the war in Abyssinia, despite ancient diplomatic relations between the Coptic Church and the Vatican. Fascism never hesitated to cooperate with as many supporters as possible. Moreover, the church and its missionaries were well versed in the game of imperialism. The exponents of the consolata order were literally mobilized to promote the war, and the fascist party exploited the idea of Italy’s “civilizing mission” in Africa to justify the cause. Thus, both clerical and secular authorities supported the seizure of Ethiopia. In most European historiographies, imperialism has registered as a narrative of colonial warfare. Italian expansionism provides no exception to this rule. But while the colonial histories of other imperialist powers featured wars of nation-states against stateless societies, Italian expansion in East Africa in the 1930s featured a war between two states. Both were members of the League of Nations, although they differed profoundly in their political, economic, and military development.

One telling example illustrates the disparity in military strength. In March 1929 young Ras Tafari challenged his last rival, Ras Gugsa Wolie. He achieved final victory thanks to a mysterious weapon, a single airplane that bombarded his enemy’s army. Soon after the victory, Ras Tafari was proclaimed emperor of Ethiopia and adopted the name Haile Selassie, “Power of Trinity.” Even as he did so, several hundred Italian officers, engineers, and scientists deliberated about the character of future war, its proper objectives and methods. In this connection, they seized on the idea of a “nothing-but-air war.” The enemy’s civilian population, not its armed forces, was to be targeted. In earlier wars civilians had been involved in military action and suffered attack, but never as directly, massively, or on such a sustained basis as the Italian advocates of air power now recommended. The employment of fleets of bombers represented one of several doctrines that emerged during the interwar period, but it was a central feature of the next European war.

The central question in this essay pertains to the character and significance of the Italo-Ethiopian War in the military history of the twentieth century. Was it an unlimited war of conquest, fought with all available financial, economic, and military means? Or was it a traditional colonial war, with limited expenditures and restricted war aims? Do lines of continuity extend from the first Italian expansion into East Africa, which culminated in the disaster of Adowa in 1896, to the Italo-Ethiopian War of the 1930s; or are there significant disjunctures between these two imperial episodes?

Statistics are lacking about the total number of those killed, injured, or imprisoned during this second East African war. Nor is it clear how many people starved to death, were dislodged or raped, or were crippled for life. The Italian historian Angelo Del Boca has estimated that on the Ethiopian side, 55,000 to 70,000 combatants were killed on the two fronts of the war – the southern, Somali front and the northern, Eritrean front. According to the files of the Central Archive in Rome, the Italians lost some 9,000 men. These numbers cover the period between October 10, 1935, and May 5, 1936, which marked out the official duration of the war. In addition, 500 Italian workers, who had been recruited for road construction in Africa, were killed. The soldiers and officers killed in action were generously decorated with medals. On average, every fourth fatality earned a medal.

In this “war of seven months,” mass armies fought one another. While the Italian armed forces comprised five hundred thousand combatants, the Negus managed to mobilize only half that number. In addition, the Ethiopians lacked modern equipment, weapons, and ammunition, as well as the financial resources to provision a larger army. There was thus a great material imbalance between the opponents. In spite of the discrepancies, Haile Selassie decided to confront his enemy with regular armies. He rejected the idea of a guerilla warfare, which would presumably have brought him a tactical advantage, for such a people’s war might have jeopardized his own claim to the imperial throne. In most of the five principal battles of the war, the Ethiopians were thus the weaker party, not only numerically but also technologically and logistically. In the fall of 1935, shortly before the conflict began, there were 170,000 soldiers, 65,000 ascaris, and 38,000 workers ready for war in Africa on the Italian side. In May 1936 there were twice as many – about 330,000 soldiers, 87,000 ascaris, and 100,000 workers. Ninety-thousand pack animals and 14,000 motor vehicles of various categories, from automobiles to trucks, supported the Italian forces. The effective Italian armaments included 10,000 machine-guns, 1,100 artillery pieces, 250 tanks, and 350 warplanes, most of which were reconnaissance planes and bombers. The daily petrol consumption of these machines exceeded Italy’s total petrol consumption during World War I. The Italian navy transported soldiers, building materials, and arms to the African colonies. Altogether 900,000 soldiers and civilians, as well as several hundred thousand tons of goods, were shipped to the colonies and back.

The most evident consequence of the Italo-Ethiopian War, and later the Spanish Civil War, was the loss of military effectiveness. Manpower and arms were exhausted. Fifteen hundred airplanes were lost during the two wars – about 20 percent of the air force’s entire capacity. In the aftermath, Italy had to increase exports of its own warplanes in order to finance imports of critical raw materials. The backwardness of Italy’s military technology on the eve of World War II was the product of the conflicts of 1935-6 and 1936-9. Diminished productive capacity and the expense of technological innovation impeded the modernization of the Italian military until the outbreak of World War II.

According to the initial plans, the Italo-Ethiopian War was supposed to cost 1.5 to 2 billion lire. But the financial burden amounted to 1 billion lire per month. Including the preparation of the campaign and the period of reconstruction shortly after the war, Italy spent about 57,303,000,00 lire from 1935 to 1940. The short-term effect of the Italo-Ethiopian War was to encourage Italian heavy industry, particularly the armament industries, and to reduce unemployment. But the country’s financial reserves diminished rapidly. From 1935 to 1940 some 77 billion lire were consumed by the costs of the wars in Ethiopia, Spain, Albania, and the pacification campaigns in East Africa. This sum corresponded to two-thirds of the military budget of that period.

The first serious plans for the campaign were initiated by Emilio De Bono, the minister of colonial affairs. He ordered two complementary studies. Within three months, the military experts in Asmara had prepared a memorandum dated September 8, 1932, which described a scenario for offensive war against Ethiopia. In December 1932 the second plan, an analysis of a defensive war, had been completed, too. The plan for the offensive war assumed that Europe was at peace and that Italy had arranged a diplomatic agreement with France and Great Britain, the two other powers that were interested in stability in the African Horn. The second memorandum, on the defensive war, posited an Ethiopian attack during a period of instability in Europe, during which the metropolitan army’s movement to Africa would be impeded. The first of these plans assumed that on the Italian side a colonial army of 35,000 regular soldiers and 50,000 mercenaries would suffice. Within one month, the Ethiopian army was supposed to mobilize 50,000 to 60,000 soldiers. Within three months, however, Ethiopian mobilization was to comprise between 200,000 and 300,000 men. The maximum force available on the Ethiopian side was supposed to reach 500,000 men. In the second plan, nearly all the manpower on the Italian side had to be provided by the colonies of Eritrea and Somalia. About 60,000 to 80,000 Eritreans would be called to arms. The equipment had to be imported from Italy, but the quantity and quality of the requested material was to depend on the military situation in Europe. In order to be prepared for any of the alternatives, offensive or defensive, on November 29, 1932, De Bono called for the deployment of at least a hundred airplanes, which the aircraft industry was to supply. He thus based his plans on the speed of Italian mobilization and on the destructive potential of warplanes, for he knew that the Ethiopian side possessed only a handful of airplanes and antiaircraft guns. De Bono planned to invade the Ethiopian plateau from the north. A second attack, from Italian Somaliland, was not considered at this time, because environmental conditions were regarded as too harsh for Europeans and Eritrean ascaris alike.

In 1932 Pietro Badoglio, the chief of the Supreme General Staff and governor of the North African colonies, became De Bono’s rival for leadership of the campaign. The rivalry grew in the ill-defined competencies of the Fascist bureaucracy. As governor of Libya, Badoglio was the colonial minister’s subordinate, but in military affairs De Bono was Badoglio’s. As chief of the Supreme General Staff, Badoglio coordinated the three branches of the armed forces and held the higher rank. The bureaucratic jungle encouraged the accumulation of important positions, however, and in this case, the issue was complicated by the involvement of Mussolini himself in his drive to institutionalize his own military power. In July 1933 he took over the War Ministry. Four months later he took over the Air Ministry and the Navy Ministry. The undersecretaries in the three ministries acted respectively as chiefs of the general staff of the army, the air force, and the navy. In the autumn of 1933, however, Mussolini designated De Bono, informally and secretly, as the military leader of a future African campaign, which both men anticipated would begin in 1935. Ignorant of the agreement, Badoglio worked out his own operational schedules for a campaign that carried special emotional significance for him: He had seen service at Adowa in 1896. However, he reckoned with a longer mobilization, which would conclude only in 1936; and he warned that the campaign would drastically weaken Italy’s military force in Europe. He expressed these concerns in a letter to Mussolini on January 20, 1934. A war against Ethiopia, he wrote, would not be one of the “usual colonial ventures.” It would be real war. It would catch the eye of the whole world and take place under completely different circumstances than the war of 1896. As Haile Selassie’s incipient modernization of the Ethiopian army made clear, that country was well aware of Italy’s desire for revenge for Adowa. In addition to the regular armies of his vassals, he had built up an Imperial Army, a kind of personal guard of several thousand men, all of whom were well equipped and well trained by Belgian instructors. Badoglio stressed that many Ethiopian officers had been trained in European military academies. Finally, Badoglio emphasized that the war would be fought by Italians, for he did not regard the Eritrean ascaris as reliable.

With countless problems waiting for solution, preparations continued secretly and at high speed after August 1934. The Italian ports in the Red Sea, Assab and Massawa, were enlarged, war materials were built up, pack animals bought, camps constructed, and the whole infrastructure improved. In addition, several landing fields were constructed. The colonial administration in Eritrea recruited most of the people who had earlier served in the Colonial Army. The training of the ascaris took place in special camps in Libya. Suddenly, at the end of 1934, Mussolini’s role became known, when he issued an appeal for war and explained to Badoglio the special features of the campaign he intended to “dictate” from Rome. He had become a convinced supporter of the campaign, for he recognized Ethiopia’s military inferiority. He wanted a decisive, powerful takeover, and he wanted it to happen quickly. The timing was crucial. A war 4,000 kilometers from home was feasible only while peace survived in Europe. The dictator trusted that a Franco-Italian diplomatic arrangement, which was imminent, would at least temporarily stabilize the European continent. In his memorandum of December 30, 1934, he scheduled the beginning of operations for October 1935. The goal of the war was to “destroy the Ethiopian Army and achieve the total conquest of the land” in a minimum amount of time. The sooner the war was over, he reasoned, the less resistance would arise in Europe, mainly from Great Britain and France.

In the view of the historian Giorgio Rochat, this memorandum held the key to Italy’s military policy in the interwar period. Rochat argued that Mussolini regarded the Ethiopian war as an opportunity to win broader support from the Italian middle classes. Ethiopia was hence, in Rochat’s opinion, no prelude to the conquest of other regions in Africa or Asia. Rochat’s interpretation of the war did not differ substantially from the analysis that he himself offered of the first Italian expansion into East Africa in the nineteenth century. In 1935 the proportions of the conflict were merely more vast. Nonetheless, Mussolini called his Ethiopian war a “national war.” The transition from colonial to national war was also analyzed by Esmonde Robertson. Like Rochat, he interpreted the war as an Italian response to an opportunity. He attributed the campaign in East Africa to an “improvised decision,” not to a systematic line of policy. Robertson’s interpretation portrayed the Italo-Ethiopian War as the last venture of European imperialism.

Historians are nowadays extending the investigation of modern military history. The “master narrative of total war” has itself been challenged and enlarged. Analysis is turning to neglected aspects of total warfare, such as the specific methods of war, mobilization, and the attempt to keep warfare under control – to make total war “practical.” If total war is conceived as the totalization of all these elements, the concept can be useful in comparing the world wars in Europe with the colonial war that was fought in East Africa in the 1930s.

However, two objections can be raised to this comparison straightaway. The first is the utter incomparability of the civilian casualties. The second is the fact that purists among the military thinkers in interwar Italy did not use the term guerra integrale to describe war overseas.

Total Colonial Warfare: Ethiopia II

Map showing the military actions from 1935 to February 1936.

Map showing the military actions from February to May 1936.

Giulio Douhet was one of the first to define the distinction between guerra totale and guerra integrale. The term guerra totale implied a war fought with all means against combatants. Guerra integrale, by contrast, implied a war fought against noncombatants as well. Other contemporary thinkers took up Douhet’s arguments and elaborated on the difference between the two concepts. Thereafter, strategists in Italy and elsewhere were not content to restrict their plans to land warfare or decisive battles among regular armies. Airplanes and noncombatants had become central in their thinking. Future wars would take place everywhere and encompass everyone. The morale of civil populations, friendly and enemy alike, would be essential. As formulated by Douhet and his disciples, the concept of a guerra integrale in Europe emphasized a war against civilians. In his pioneering writings on air power, Douhet noted in 1921 that the enemy’s urban centers should be destroyed. He considered aerial bombardment an effective and efficient solution to the stalemate of land warfare. He worked out the doctrine of the “command of the air,” which represented the prize of aerial warfare among technologically advanced nations. The tools of strategic bombing were explosives, incendiary bombs, and poison gas. Paradoxically, Douhet wrote, the annihilation of the enemy’s cities and industrial production would shorten the war and spare the lives of soldiers.

Living conditions in the colonial world, where there were few cities or areas of industrial concentration, hardly conformed to this vision. Nonetheless, colonial warfare resembled European war in the twentieth century in at least one respect, which might not be immediately apparent. Beginning with the Italo-Turkish War in 1911-12 and through the Great War, the “pacification” of Libya in the 1920s, the Italo-Ethiopian War, the Spanish Civil War, the invasion of Albania and finally World War II, Italy experienced war, both in Europe and overseas, almost without interruption for more than three decades. While theorists such as Douhet, Amedeo Guillet, Ugo Fischetti, and Ernesto Coop pondered the question of war in Europe, colonial officers, such as Rodolfo Graziani, Riccardo Barreca, and Ambrogio Bollati, focused on colonial warfare. Italian military doctrine evolved in the exchange of ideas and experiences between these two camps, primarily through the medium of the military journals.

De Bono moved to Eritrea in early 1935 in order to supervise the preparations for the campaign. As war broke out in October, De Bono, who was supposed to invade the Ethiopian plateau, hesitated. As soon as Mussolini became aware of the old general’s behavior, he dismissed him and named Badoglio his successor. Meanwhile, Badoglio had developed a series of new operational plans, which testified to his aggressiveness and enthusiasm for the campaign. The fact that he had also dropped his demand to delay the war until 1936 convinced Mussolini to choose him. In his operational plans Badoglio relied on air power, which was to bomb enemy combatants and to destroy the Ethiopian military infrastructure, including lines of strategic communication and supply centers. Badoglio assumed that the enemy troops would operate in masses, so bombers could locate objectives and inflict great damage. “200 kilometers south of our borders, our aircraft could cause such devastation that an army of 300,000 soldiers would be forced to withdraw,” he wrote. His strategy featured a colossal march over more than 800 kilometers, from Eritrea to the capital of the Ethiopian Empire, Addis Ababa. Passing through Adowa, the invading column was to advance steadily southward by foot or on motor vehicles. Warplanes were to precede the convoy and “prepare the territory,” bombing every city and intimidating the country’s population. Everything of importance was to be bombed with explosives and incendiaries. Terror was to reign. Badoglio’s war plans exceeded the traditional dimensions of limited colonial warfare. Indeed, Badoglio’s plans appear to have absorbed much of Douhet’s vision of future warfare. The totalization of warfare had become a necessity. Italy could not stand a long war, for Mussolini’s military advisers feared a deterioration of the political situation in Europe after 1936.

In November 1935 Badoglio assumed command of all the armed forces on the Eritrean and Somali fronts. Some three-quarters of the mobilized soldiers and officers thus came under his direct command. In Mogadishu, the other quarter of the Italian forces was commanded by general Rodolfo Graziani, who oversaw his part of the campaign with great autonomy and was more answerable to Mussolini than Badoglio, his immediate superior in the chain of command.

The war was fought against an enemy who was from the beginning at an enormous disadvantage. In fact, the war presented the Italians with a unique opportunity to practice aspects of modern warfare with little risk. Logistics were put to a severe test, because nearly everything had to be imported from Italy. Thousands of soldiers, officers, blackshirt volunteers, and workers were mobilized; and even the ascaris were allowed to demonstrate their reliability.

Immense effort went into the propaganda of war in Italy, the colonies, and the Ethiopian regions close to the borders. A Ministry of Propaganda was established in 1935 to confront its first challenge in the Italo-Ethiopian War. Critics were to be silenced by means of coordinated official communiques. Censorship of written correspondence, telephone calls, telegraphic ‘ communications, and the radio was to do the rest. Journals, literary and scientific reports, and books were full of war propaganda, which extended to the theatre, cinema, songs and poetry, museums, research centers, exhibitions, postcards, and stamps, even into comics and children’s books. Imperial expansion and war were portrayed as necessary. In the illustrated reviews, photography and printing depicted the color and exoticism of colonial life. The subjects of the propaganda were the heroic Italian soldiers, militiamen, and workers, who were fighting for the glory of the new empire in the distant colonies.

In Africa, De Bono set up rudimentary offices of censorship, in Asmara and in Mogadishu, in January 1935. Thereafter the flow of military and personal information from the front to families in Italy or abroad, and from families to the front, was put under increasing control. The censors read the reports of hundreds of Italian and foreign correspondents. Journalists were gathered together in an elaborate media center, which was established in an old camp near Asmara, far from the front. The center included a dining room, a settlement of huts for lodging, and a special office that supplied journalists with photographs and documentation, as well as a post office and a telegraph and telephone station. Within eight months, 80,000 meters of film were recorded, and some eight thousand official photos were shot, to be reproduced more than three hundred fifty thousand times. In addition, special newspapers and radio transmissions went out to the soldiers and road-builders. The purpose of all this effort was to keep up the morale of listeners and readers and to promote a ruthless policy.

The correspondence carried by airplane or ship to and from Eritrea and Italian Somaliland amounted to two million letters and postcards monthly. The censors selectively read two hundred thousand pieces of civilian correspondence and a similar amount of military correspondence. Reports from the front were read with special attention, and letters that contained sensitive information were censored. This procedure allowed the political and military leaders to keep abreast of the general situation in other countries, as well as the Italian people’s feelings about the invasion of Ethiopia and reactions to the sanctions that the League of Nations imposed. Of greatest importance was the correspondence to and from Italy. Surveys of censored correspondence were transmitted to the ministries, secret services, and the secret police, who could use it to reconstruct regional patterns of resistance to the war.

The army’s secret service (Servizio Informazioni Militari, SIM), the navy’s secret service (Servizio Informazioni Segreti, SIS), and the information service of the air force (Servizio Informazioni Aeronautiche, SIA) decoded telegraphic correspondence within Ethiopia, including messages sent to and from the emperor and telegrams among the Ethiopian military commanders. In this way the Italians were normally well informed about the enemy’s armament, mobilization, and, later in the war, about crucial troop movements. A staff of translators and spies kept information and rumors flowing. As the process took on a certain momentum, the mass of news to be controlled and censored (or the rumors to be spread) increased. Errors and misinterpretations were impossible to avoid. Sometimes secret information on Italian military operations leaked out. But on the whole, the “information front” underwent totalization in this war.

Neither Badoglio nor Graziani shied away from using chemical weapons. Although Italy had in 1928 ratified the international convention forbidding the use of chemical and bacteriological weapons, this document proved to be no obstacle. The “pacification” of Libya in the 1920s concluded as Italians employed chemical agents, although military operations in Libya did not find much echo in public opinion. In the case of Ethiopia, the use of chemical agents was long planned. The documents that related to chemical weapons were treated with great discretion, and use of gas was often only implied. In his memorandum of December 1934, Mussolini ordered “absolute superiority in artillery and gas weapons.” The commander of the chemical services in Eritrea had already completed studies of gas warfare by the spring of 1934. He concluded that the terrain, meteorological conditions, and an enemy who would be unprepared all favored the use of gas. His report recommended its employment as soon as the Ethiopian Army came within range of the air force. The results would be effective if the Ethiopians’ routes and rallying points were properly contaminated. Nor were Ethiopian soldiers to be the only people targeted. E. Venditti, the chief of the chemical services in Asmara, wrote in February 1935 that the air force should also use fire-bombs, in order to destroy Ethiopian huts, which were built of highly flammable materials such as tree branches, twigs, and straw.

In his correspondence with Badoglio in February 1935, Giuseppe Valle, the undersecretary in the Air Force Ministry and chief of staff of the air force, also proposed the use of chemical agents in bombing Ethiopian cities, such as Addis Ababa, Gondar, and Harrar.

Chemical weapons, above all mustard gas, were in fact used during the Italo-Ethiopian War. Gas was not, however, released over the capital. It was instead employed in remote areas, over provincial towns, against the armed forces, and later against the guerillas. Rochat, who pioneered research on the gas war in Ethiopia, calculated that before January 1936 about 300 tons of mustard gas were used on the northern front. On the southern front, 30,500 kilograms of mustard gas and 13,300 kilograms of phosgene were put to use. 35 On the variety and quantity of bombs used in the following months, there is little information.

Bacteriological weapons were not used in the campaign, although De Bono had suggested the idea in February 1935 and Mussolini had welcomed it early in 1936. The Italian failure to employ these weapons was not due to Badoglio’s humanitarian feelings. It was rather a question of political rationality. The overwhelming superiority of the Italian Army after the battle of Enderta had altered the situation. Badoglio did not want to attract ` the animosity of the local population by needlessly harming Italy’s future subjects. Particularly in the Tigray region, the official policy became one of reparation in 1936, as the Italians tried to make amends for the damage they had caused. This policy, too, was part of the propaganda effort to win the confidence of the local elites, above all the clergy. Between February and April 1936 at least 476,000 leaflets, printed in Amharic, Tigrine, and Arabic, were dropped by airplane over villages and towns. In some cases buildings and Coptic churches were reconstructed, indemnities were paid, and village chiefs were allowed to lodge complaints about marauding troops at the newly established bureaus of the unita politiche `.

Many aspects of the war against the civilian population are waiting to be examined. While there is a good paper on the attitude of the International Committee of the Red Cross, we know little about the treatment of Ethiopian civilians in the north and south. Given the rivalry between Badoglio on the northern front and Graziani on the southern, we can speculate about different military priorities and their effects on combatants as well as noncombatants. The impact of the Italo-Ethiopian War on civilians deserves an important place in the totalization of war in the twentieth century. The employment of forbidden weapons is but one dimension of this story. Another is the perception of the enemy, combatants and noncombatants alike. The Italians’ representation of the Ethiopian enemy was deeply influenced by fascist ideology. Racism became a prominent feature in it, as the mass media celebrated the beauty of war, and millions of Italians professed adoration for the Duce. The Italo-Ethiopian War was thus of fundamental significance in the regime’s pursuit of two goals: the militarization of society and the fascistization of the army.

While the ruling Ethiopian elites fought for survival, for Ethiopia’s independence, and the preservation of their own social and economic positions, Italy’s war aims were more limited. Unlike Libya, Ethiopia was not to become a settlement colony for Italian peasants. The goals of the Italian leadership were to destroy the Ethiopian army and to conquer the land in a short period of time. Officially the war lasted seven months. But the conquest of Ethiopia was by no means complete. Italian propaganda misrepresented the situation, as it spread the news that Italy had accomplished its “total” aims.

Nor did the conflict approach “total war” in other respects. Although a huge army was supplied for the first time with motor vehicles and from the air, the tactical and strategic lessons of the war were modest. Italian leaders were aware that they could not have waged war in the same fashion against an enemy that was armed with a comparable air force, artillery, and antiaircraft guns, or one that could exploit the same kind of mobilization and propaganda machinery as the Italians enjoyed.

Nonetheless, the enormous financial, propagandistic, and military exertions caused by the Italo-Ethiopian War vastly exceeded the parameters of nineteenth-century imperialism. The doctrines and techniques of warfare, the mobilization of society, and the attempt to establish total control over the war effort all reached dimensions unknown in the previous century.

Military violence, new weapons systems, and the full powers of propaganda were used against noncombatants as well as combatants. Involving civilians in war in this fashion admittedly resembled practices in earlier wars of colonial conquest, but it also conformed no less to the futuristic vision laid out in Europe’s military academies, military journals, and general staffs.

The Italian mobilization for war was impressive. Several hundred thousand tons of war material and some nine hundred thousand men were transported to Africa. In addition, the war had had a tremendous impact on the minds of the Italian people, as it forged a kind of community feeling. As Italian historians emphasized in the 1970s, the war served in this way the purpose for which it was launched, to legitimize the Fascist regime. Growing popular self-esteem went hand-in-hand with the expansion of the Fascist Empire. During the war the populace was increasingly subjected to government control. The incessant repetition of the message that Mussolini and the military commanders in the colony had the situation well in hand created a climate of stability and faith in the regime. Propaganda pervaded nearly ‘ every sphere of life – schools, youth organizations, trade unions, leisure time, women’s organizations, and, to a certain extent, even the church, as well as the armed forces. Above all in its methods, in its wholesale mobilization of the population, the attempt to establish total control, and the systematic waging of war on civilians, the Italo-Ethiopian War represented an important way station on the road to total war.