Conquest of Ethiopia:
Scenario Preview, Part Two
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Designers Lorenzo Striuli and Ottavio Ricchi submitted the game that became Panzer Grenadier: Conquest of Ethiopia as an expansion book rather than a standalone game. It needed bits and pieces from many different boxed games, and still didn’t really show the unique terrain of Ethiopia. Developer John Stafford converted it into the complete boxed game format the subject deserved, with eight new maps and 517 pieces. Here’s a look at the second set of 10 of the game’s 40 scenarios; you can see the others in Part One, Part Three and Part Four:
Blood on Ambà Tzellerè
22 December 1935
In the days following the clash at Debra Ambà the Ethiopian forces regrouped in the Abbi Addi area, increasing the pressure on the Italians deployed there. To relieve the threat, high command directed General Lorenzo Dalmazzo to take his 2nd Eritrean Brigade to reinforce them and assume command. Once situated, Dalmazzo decided to capture Ambà Tzellerè, the source of Ethiopians attacks on Abbi Addi.
The Eritreans fought bravely but bogged down in the woods and rough terrain. The Eritrean battalions suffered heavy casualties but displayed great heroism to save their artillery from destruction in episodes that saw the tubes fired over open sights at ranges of 50 meters! Just as the commander was considering calling off the attack, the II and IV Battalions of the MVSN began to arrive, bolstering the force. Ultimately, the Italians failed despite bombastic fascist propaganda claiming the Blackshirts successfully captured Ambà Tzellerè. On the contrary, both Badoglio and Diamanti admitted that the attack was a flop, and Badoglio blamed Dalmazzo for his decision to retreat just when the battle was nearly won. Of course Badoglio was not present so it’s hard to second guess the commander in the field (not that this often stopped Badoglio). In any case, the episode clinched the decision to abandon Addi Abbi after burning the village in spite, and the column retreated toward the Uarieu Pass to avoid the danger of encirclement posed by the converging Ras Sejum and Ras Cassa forces. Shortly thereafter the Italians began deploying chemical weapons against the Ethiopians.
This is a big scenario, with Blackshirts and Eritrean Colonials on the attack against a large mixed force of Ethiopians, who have the high ground and a significant morale advantage. As in most of the early scenarios in this game, the only artillery present is a handful of batteries the Italians bring onto the map.
25 December 1935
Attempting to regain the strategic initiative in the face of an increasingly aggressive Ethiopian attitude, the Italian High Command called on Maggiore Generale Giacomo Appiotti, a 62-year-old army officer commanding the 21st April Blackshirt Division. Drawn from a number of II Corps and Eritrean Corps formations, his large ad hoc battle group attacked Ras Immirù’s troops in the Seleclà region, at the Af Gagà Pass. High Command pinned a great deal of hope on this action.
This huge battle lasted many hours. Only after nightfall did the Italians succeed in driving the Ethiopians from the Ad Gagà Pass. For two more nights Appiotti’s men repulsed several hard but mismanaged counterattacks, absorbing only a few additional losses. After ten days in the district the column departed and its troops rejoined their original corps. Despite the significant size of the forces engaged (12,000 Italians and 8,000 Ethiopians), this episode draws little attention in the Italian accounts of the campaign due to its strategically inconclusive result (the Ethiopians retained operational capability). Nevertheless, the operation succeeded in convincing Ras Immirù to renounce fighting the Eritrean forces in the Tucul sector. From now on, he only launched small hit-and-run actions in the Mareb, Axum, and Adowa areas.
This is a gigantic scenario: 114 Italian units against 74 Ethiopian ones, taking place on six maps. I think that makes it the largest scenario currently in print for Panzer Grenadier (we had a really huge one in the old Blue Division scenario pack). What makes this very different is the lack of artillery: no off-board artillery, and only three Italian on-board batteries. If you want to fight the enemy hordes, you’re going to have to do it up close and personal-like.
Graziani’s War: Olol Dinle Strikes Again
25 December 1935
During preparations for his impending offensive, General Graziani ordered his ally Sultan Olol Dinle to conduct a daring reconnaissance-in-force into the Uebi Scebeli area. The Italians reinforced Dinle with a machine gun platoon and a handful of Italian officers and NCOs (to coordinate radio and air support). Dinle’s 1,000 troops carried out political influence operations among clans and ethnic groups of the area, in addition to a number of scattered guerrilla operations. After several weeks of harassing actions, Dinle settled his troops into an old fort in Gabbà, about 350 km inside enemy territory. He had collected sufficient information about his opponent Degiac Beienè Merid and his imminent counterattack plans that he felt confident holding his position. Graziani had granted Dinle leeway to stand or retreat at his discretion. About 300 of Dinle’s men deserted rather than fight, but they were of low caste and he remained confident with his Sciaveli noblemen along with the promised Italian air support.
Olol Dinle’s tough Somali horsemen fought with exceptionally high morale, knowing that a slow, painful death faced any captured man, and repelled all the Ethiopian attacks during the night and the following day. On the morning of 26th, the daring Sultan and his men received aerial resupply from Italian aircraft dropping parachuted material with great precision into the fort. Meanwhile, other aircraft bombed and strafed the Ethiopians without mercy, disrupting their force. Eventually Degiac Beienè Merid, himself wounded, withdrew his forces with heavy losses. Olol Dinle’s depleted army marched toward the Italian lines having accomplished his mission of securing the Uebi Scebeli valley and weakening the left flank of Ras Destà deployment.
Fort Apache: The Ogaden. A band of Bande hold out against wave after wave of Ethiopian attackers, whose goal is to kill poor old Olol Dinde. Just because of decades of kidnapping, murder, cattle rustling and religion-inspired violence.
Graziani’s War: Raid at Areri
2 January 1936
Throughout November and December Ras Destà moved his well-equipped army in a slow advance toward the Somali border. Italian aerial reconnaissance noticed this mass and hammered it during their whole advance. This aeronautical grind disrupted and demoralized Ras Destà’s army by the first days of the new year despite the high morale shown at the beginning of the campaign. To support his imminent offensive, Graziani ordered another reconnaissance in force against areas under Destà’s control. This time the probe focused on the Areri region between Lake Huioi and the Ganale Doria Canal, 60 kilometers north of Dolo (Graziani’s main operating base). The Ethiopian garrison deployed there had not suffered as much as the rest of Ras Destà’s army, and repelled the first Dubat assault. The Dubats tried again the following day.
Initially the Ethiopian troops defended their position staunchly, even launching daring attacks on both flanks of the approaching enemy force. The Lancia armored car unit become separated from the Dubats and suffered some mechanical failures. However, their brave crews always managed to repel the Ethiopians who tried to capture the stalled vehicles. Ethiopian casualties inexorably mounted, and when the freshly-arrived VII Arabo-Somali Battalion applied their pressure the Ethiopian’s morale broke. Their retreat left approximately 150 casualties on the field.
The Ethiopians are Imperial Regulars, and their firepower and morale advantages over the Bande are sizable; over the Colonial regulars, not so much. The Italians are on the attack, and both sides have hefty forces (though nothing like those of Scenario Twelve).
Graziani’s War: the Ganale Doria
13 January 1936
Ras Destà’s forces marched up the valley of the Ganale Doria River toward the waiting Italians. To soften up the advancing enemy, Graziani unleashed the 7th Bomber Wing of the Royal Italian Air Force. After decimating the Ethiopians with conventional bombs and two tons of mustard gas, on January 12th Graziani sent three columns forward. Bergonzoli and Morelli led their columns against Ras Destà’s main corps, while Agostini's column marched toward Karavalis' mercenary force. After a day of numerous minor engagements, Gen. Annibale Bergonzoli’s column met the enemy in his first major clash.
The Italians failed to drive out the Ethiopians the first day, and so the fighting continued the following day, and the next. Not until the 16th did Ras Destà’s men decide they’d had enough and abandon the field. At this point Bergonzoli had not yet grown the splendiferous beard that gave him his immortal nickname “Electric Whiskers.”
The Electric-Whiskers-to-be is leading a large force on a narrow front against a defending force of roughly equal size and morale, but less firepower. It’s tough to attack in Panzer Grenadier when both the numbers and morale are equal.
Graziani’s War: Martini's Echelon
13 January 1936
A portion of Bergonzoli’s column, headed by Colonnello Martini, split off from the main force toward Ddei Ddei Wadi, aiming to deny the important wells at Bogol Magno to the enemy. Martini’s men collided with a sizable Ethiopian force and a spirited engagement commenced.
Martini managed to defeat the brave enemy attack, but he failed to exploit his success. He halted his force a kilometer from the Ddei Ddei Wadi because a huge noise led him to think that enemy reinforcements were arriving. Actually, the Empress had sent a small fleet of trucks to rescue Ras Destà and his entourage, including the Belgian advisor Lieutenant Frère. The next day Martini received reinforcements and Bergonzoli assumed command. For the next two days, the general patiently and relentlessly cleared the wadi with the constant help of the Regia Aeronautica, who employed chemical weapons. These aerial attacks annihilated Ras Desta’s flocks of livestock (a source of both sustenance and prestige), demoralizing his huge force and forcing them to fight for every scrap of food and water. The ensuing engagements were pathetically one-sided, pitting Bergonzoli’s motorized columns against the starving, hiding Ethiopian troops. The bombastic fascist propaganda and Graziani’s postwar memoirs tried to paint this extermination as a series of “battles.” While Graziani’s use of chemical weapons is rightly condemned by most, his use of airpower to deliver “shock and awe” and his efficient use of logistics to keep his force supplied with fuel, food, and ammunition despite the austere environment are to be admired. On January 20th, Graziani’s victorious forces entered the town of Neghelli, from which Mussolini created a title of Marquis for the general. This propagandized success paled in reality to the difficulties experienced by Marshal Badoglio on the northern front.
This is a big scenario, with a large Italian force of Bande and colonial infantry try to smash their way through a huge Ethiopian force, one better-armed (more machine-gun platoons, and everyone starts at full strength) than usual. The Italians have tanks and armored cars and artillery; the Ethiopians have lots and lots of Ethiopians.
First Tembien: Opening Clash
20 January 1936
During the first weeks of January, Ras Cassa, Ras Sejoum, Ras Mulughietà and Ras Immirù (fielding a force of over 150,000 regulars and irregulars between them) conceived a daring plan to destroy Marshal Badoglio’s forces near Adowa, followed up by an assault on Eritrean territory. However, across a front of least 200 kilometers, it was too ambitious a plan for four corps-sized masses with little radio communications, no air cover, and a significant level of rivalry among the Rases. Alerted by aerial reconnaissance and some minor engagements, Badoglio moved quickly and attacked the Ethiopians first. Thus began the First Battle of Tembien.
The Eritreans and Ethiopians fought a tenacious battle all day, and possession of the Mehenò village passed back and forth several times amid intense hand-to-hand fighting. By the mid-afternoon, however, the Italian-led troops had managed to clear the Zeban Kerkatà Hills of enemy forces, from which the obstinate but uncoordinated attacks had launched. This strong Ethiopian detachment failed its objective of infiltrating between two of the Italian corps, while another detachment in the same region was also identified and severely beaten by another Italian column. In fact, the other detachment was so damaged by preparatory artillery and machine-gun fire that rifle fire was not needed to break the force. To add insult to injury, Ras Cassa possessed one of the few radio sets in the field, and after this battle called the Emperor to admit his defeat, only to have the Italians intercept and listen in on the radio transmission. For the Italians, the First Tembien battle seemed an auspicious beginning.
This is a big scenario, and it’s going to be tough on the Italians: they’re on the attack and have superior firepower, but the Ethiopians seriously outnumber them and have slightly better morale. That’s going to make for some tough going.
First Tembien: the Last Sweet Hours
21 January 1936
While the victorious Italians exploited their success at First Tembien by occupying Mount Lata, another Italian force marched from the opposite direction in an operational pincer maneuver. At dawn, as Tenente Colonnello Buttà’s Column resumed its advance, they met some tenacious but still uncoordinated resistance.
The brief battle caused very few losses to the Italians but many to the Ethiopians. While the Ethiopians launched numerous brave attacks, they never managed to overwhelm the Italians with their superior numbers. The one-sided fight quickly broke the will of Ras Cassa’s officers and their units fled the battleground. The MVSN units fought very well in the clash but scarcely mentioned the battle in their news reels. After sorting out the wounded, Tenente Colonnello Buttà continued their march toward the other arm of the pincer.
Large forces clash on a very small battlefield, with 53 Italian units attacking 60 Ethiopian ones. Italian morale is a little better and they have a (very) little artillery. Terrain favors the defending Ethiopians, so it’s going to be another hard fight for the Blackshirts and colonials.
First Tembien: Legend of Uarieu Pass
22 January 1936
On the right of Marshal Badoglio’s army, a Blackshirt command operated from an old fort, employing “demonstrative actions” to keep Ras Sejum’s forces pinned to this area and unable to reinforce elsewhere. On the morning of the 22nd, Console Generale Diamanti led his column to briefly occupy Debra Ambà. En route Ras Sejum’s brave and well-equipped forces engaged the MVSN force in battle. Diamanti attempted to fight through the enemy but met growing resistance. He informed his superior, General Umberto Somma of the 2nd CCNN Division, about the danger of the massing enemy troops. Somma, residing inside Uarieu Pass fort, confirmed his orders to press on to Debra Ambà, and declared that, from his spotting position, the Ethiopians did not seem so many. As Diamanti arrived near Debra Ambà he realized that an enemy offensive was definitely in progress. Diamanti ordered a retreat to the fort but soon discovered that the Blackshirts were almost surrounded. Some artillery and machine guns exited the fort to help the retreating troops.
Pressed from two sides, Diamanti’s situation suddenly grew more complicated. Some locals passively watching the battle from the Uork Ambà perceived a likely victory for Ras Sejoum, and so grabbed their weapons and charged down the hill at the Italians, cutting the telephone line to the artillery at the fort in the process. The Diamanti column retreated through terrible hand-to-hand fighting, sacrificing the machine gun company and all the 65/17 batteries. The Ethiopians pursued the survivors to the fort, but another machine gun company and a 77mm battery exited the fort and stopped the Ethiopian horde’s advance long enough to get the survivors inside. Those guns were lost as well. The Ethiopians suffered significant casualties to their 3,000-man force, but bought a great victory with their dead. For their part, MVSN units lost 258 dead and 210 wounded, while the Eritreans lost 92 dead and 48 wounded. Both MVSN and Eritrean units suffered very high casualties among their officers. While a costly beginning of their offensive, Ethiopian hopes rose with the victory, and a short, hard siege soon began.
It’s the Black Day of the Blackshirts, as they face masses of Ethiopians determined to wipe them out. It’s going to be a tough fight among the hills and rocky ground, with the Blackshirts having to fight their way across a large map area with only a handful of reinforcements arriving to help out.
Endertà: Blackshirts and Black Feathers
12 February 1936
On February 11th, under very bad weather, Marshal Badoglio ordered his troops to resume the advance. He had prepared for the offensive by stockpiling a mountain of supplies, bringing up hundreds of trucks to haul them, and paving new roads for the new trucks. However, the weather turned many of the new roads to mires, forcing the troops to walk. Despite that, the first day of the advance went well. But on the second day, an MVSN division ran into troubles. In the early morning, just as the forces mustered for the day’s march, the 101st Blackshirt Legion came under fire by well-equipped and determined troops. Shortly thereafter, additional attacks from different sectors erupted as well.
When the commander realized that the enemy was roughly handling his “green” Blackshirts (which included university conscripts), he ordered an elite Alpini battalion to their support. The Alpini overtook the Blackshirts and repulsed the Ethiopian attack. With the pressure reduced, the Blackshirts rallied, eventually making a joint attack and dislodging the enemy from their high ground defensive position. This first day of the Endertà battle claimed the most Italian lives of the multi-day action.
Finally, we get to use the ultra-cool new Alpini pieces (complete with the traditional black feather)! The Italian player is going to need them, and their climbing skills, as he or she faces not only large numbers of Ethiopian infantry, but the first appearance of Ethiopian heavy weapons.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.