1. Is the East African Campaign less important compared with other battlefields?
Among those who are unfamiliar with the history of World War II, many don’t even know about the existence of this campaign. Even if among those who know about it, most reckon this is only a battle of very little importance. But it is not true. When Nazi just appeared on the stage, Italy still belonged to the Allies, assisting Britain and France in containing Germany together. With ideology close to each other, however, Germany and Italy might have the potential of attracting each other. In 1935, Mussolini launched the war in East Africa for conquering Ethiopia, which obviously violated the International Law. The League of Nations led by Britain and France passed a resolution to censure Italy’s military operations, but did not take any real actions to stop Italy’s invasion. Consequently, Italy conquered Ethiopia. Britain and France not only failed to maintain the international order, but also offended Mussolini’s government of Italy. From then on, Italy gradually got close to Germany. This is a major strategic failure of the Allies. Churchill, who assumed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom later, deemed that it’s a pretty stupid action taken by Britain and France. The two countries intended to abide by the International Law and censure Italy diplomatically on one hand and on the other hand not to offend Mussolini’s government by not stopping Italy’s operations. The consequence, however, was that Mussolini was offended and the two countries’ weakness was revealed to the whole world. Churchill reckoned it as a disastrous result from contradiction between words and deeds. In his opinion, if the two countries insisted on guarding the international order by declaring a war against Italy, they might deter other countries from taking similar actions. And it was possible to defeat Italy in a short time with the strength and force of the countries at that time. Or if they adopted the other policy of completely supporting Italy, although they would breach the International Law, at least Italy would not go over to Germany. From current perspective, if Britain and France took decisive actions then, countries intending to expend their territories would be substantially deterred and the Second World War would have not had happened. Even if it happened, the Allies had significant strategic advantages. After World War II broke out, Suez Canal was extremely important to Britain’s sea transportation. If Italy won in the East African Campaign and successively controlled the area, it would be able to effectively close the canal, which would significantly increase risk and cost of Britain’s sea transport. In addition, Italian troops in East Africa could also cooperate with Rommel’s troops in that area to win the war in Africa in a short time. In conclusion, no matter before or after the war broke out, the battlefield of East Africa was extraordinarily important.
2. Why Italy failed to win the war with the advantage of huge amount of military forces?
When the war broke out, Italy stationed troops of 250,000 people in the area of East Africa. In the same period, the Allies had only 20,000 people in the area. And there was no big difference in equipment. According to the statistics, Italy should have rapidly won the war. Italian army, however, had a lot of disadvantages. Firstly, after the war broke out, Britain closed Suez Canal. Therefore, Italian army could not obtain any staff and material supplies from its own local territory, resulting in shortage in weapon, ammunition, medicine and even food of the army, while Britain could quickly acquire a lot of material and staff for reinforcement. Secondly, Italy reigned this area for a period of time not long enough to be able to strengthen its influence in East Africa. But the situation in Britain was just the opposite. It could effectively make use of the local resource for the war. After the war broke out, Britain rapidly mobilized troops of more than 200,000 people with the original troops as its core force. Thirdly, East Africa was an undeveloped area with inconvenient transportation conditions and Italy was unable to win by making use of the advantage of amount of troops in the early stage of the war. Fourthly, Italian army was underprepared and could not cope with the war that suddenly broke out. To conclude, although Italy had the advantage of troop size at the beginning of the war, it also had obvious disadvantages. Once the reinforcement of the Allies arrived, Italian army could not persist on long-term fighting afterwards.
3. During the East African Campaign, a lot of Africans respectively joined the Allies and the Axes to fight. 70% of the Italian army consisted of local people while Britain transferred reinforcements from all of the African areas controlled by the UK. In addition, Britain transferred a plenty of military forces from India to join the war.
4. Since transportation routes were blocked, Italian army was seriously short in medicine. Many soldiers suffered from malaria. Even the Viceroy of Italy in East Africa suffered from this disease and there was no medicine to cure him. Only several months after he led the Italian army to surrender, he died from tuberculosis at the age of 42.
5. During the East African Campaign, the both sides mobilized more than 500,000 to fight but had relatively smaller casualties, which were only more than 10,000 in total. Compared with other campaigns in the same period, the casualties were much smaller.
6. Italian army attacked and conquered British Somaliland at the early stage of the East African Campaign, which was one of a few victories gained by Italian army alone in World War II.
7. After the East African Campaign, Ethiopia obtained independence again. Since 1936 when Ethiopia was conquered, Italy had reigned this area for only five years.