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Umberto's War
Written by Pacifico Cofrancesco   
Thursday, 18 September 2008
Article Index
Umberto's War
And the story starts
The war of Ethiopia
The "Libbretta"
Umberto in Libya
The "starving life"
"Prisoner of War" in India
The correspondence with family
Back home
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The war of Ethiopia

He served in the war with Ethiopia between October 1935 and May 1936, a war that created an Italian empire and gave Italy the illusion of being a great military power.

About 330,000 Italians participated in this war and among them was Umberto Cofrancesco. He was drafted, like many others, as a result of Decree Number 124 of 12 February 1935, and he reached the Military District of Benevento on 11 April 1935. That same day Umberto was assigned to Battalion Number 227. The war with Ethiopia was already in the air. On 5 December 1934 an incident at Ual Ual occurred between Somalia and Ethiopia that gave Italy the excuse to declare war on Ethiopia. On 11 October 1935 Umberto left with his battalion for Eritrea in East Africa. That territory had been an Italian possession for fifty years, and together with Libya and Somalia, formed the little colonial Italian territory, not yet an “empire”. Eritrea was the beachhead from which the Italian Army launched the conquest of Ethiopia.

Umberto CofrancescoUmberto was a Corporal and a telegrapher. He had received his rank and qualifications during his conscription between 20 October 1931 and 25 October 1933. His military State of Service mentions as DISTINCTION AND SPECIAL SERVICES: "lamp signaler and telegrapher”. He embarked from port of Messina, Sicily, in the direction of Massawa, Eritrea, 13 October 1935. The war was already started in Ethiopia with the attack of 3 October 1935 and Italy was sending reinforcements.
The journey by ship lasted 10 days. Umberto landed at Massawa on 23 October 1935. At that time Italian ships could still cross the Suez Canal under the supervision of the British. In fact both the British and the French had decided to tolerate the Italian operations in Africa, considering them as possible allies in view of a probable conflict with Hitler’s Germany.

The war in Africa progressed rapidly. Haile Selassie, "King of Kings of Ethiopia", as he called himself, had a very poorly equipped army, with obsolete artillery and few tanks. The Ethiopian Air Force had only three old biplanes. No foreign army came to his aid. The outcome of the war was guaranteed. It ended on 5 May 1936, after only six months, with the entry of Italian troops commanded by General Badoglio, into Addis Ababa. Haile Selassie had abandoned the capital and had fled abroad with the treasure of the crown.

On 9 May 1936 Mussolini announced the end of the war from the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia in Rome, and proclaimed the Birth of the Empire. Vittorio Emanuele III assumed the title "King of Italy and Emperor of Ethiopia". The "Horn of Africa", Eritrea, Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Somalia, was now all Italian.
Umberto in Etiopia

Umberto Cofrancesco remained for several months in East Africa, until 1 November 1936 when he left Massawa to return home. He arrived in Messina on 14 November and on the same day received a "Discharge Allowance" of 350 lire. Finally Umberto could go back to his family in S. Lorenzello, where Mamma Filomena and Papà Lorenzo, together with his brothers, waited anxiously. For Umberto this war had ended well, and with a little money that could be of help to his family. His participation in the War of the Ethiopia also earned him a decoration, the "Commemorative Medal of East Africa Operations ".

His brother Luigi volunteered in 1936 as a soldier in the Spanish Civil War. Unfortunately Luigi Cofrancesco never returned home. He died in Spain, where he is still buried. In the years following the Second World War Umberto made every possible attempt to return his brother’s remains to his homeland, but without success.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 18 September 2008 )
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