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Ethiopian and British Combination


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I promised Ulsterman i'd post this group i had in my collection but past along about a year ago.

The group is mounted as from left to right

Ethiopian Patriots medal

instituted by Emperor Haile Selassie I on 30th November 1944 as a reward for meritorious patriots who carried on open hostilities against the enemy during the Campaign 1936-1941. Awarded in a single class (bronze), palms (actually torches) being awarded for each year of service and worn on the medal ribbon. Palms, each with a small scroll in Amharic script denoting the year of "service" are affixed to the ribbon. Its reverse is identical to the Refugees medal, its obverse is different as is its crown suspension. Translated, the obverse legend reads "Gold is tested by Fire" and the reverse one stands for "Hope strengthened by Faith is a Weapon for Victory 1941".

Ethiopian refugees medal

instituted by Emperor Haile Selassie I on 30th November 1944 as a reward for those who went into exile and participated in the liberation struggle, especially in helping exiles and displaced persons during the Italian occupation 1935-1941. Awarded in a single class (bronze), palms (actually torches) being awarded for each year of service and worn on the medal ribbon.

39-45 star

The Star was awarded for six months service on active operations for Army and Navy, and two months for active air-crew between 02 September 1939 and 08 May 1945 (Europe) or 02 September 1945 (Pacific). The ribbon consists of three equal stripes: dark blue, red, and light blue (representing the navy, army and air force).

Africa Star

The star was awarded for a minimum one day service in an operational area of North Africa between 10 June 1940 and 12 May 1943. The pale buff (sand) ribbon has a central red stripe and two narrow stripes, dark blue at left and light blue at right. The colours represent the desert, army, navy, and air force.

Although this group is not attributable (as I imagine many groups of this type are not) it none the less proved interesting in trying to figure out why this combination of British and Ethiopian medals would exist. The following is what I have discovered.

The wresting of Ethiopia from the occupying Italian forces (since 1935) involved British personnel, composed largely of South African and African colonial troops penetrating from the south, west, and north, supported by Ethiopian guerrillas. It was the task of an Anglo-Ethiopian mission, eventually commanded by Major General Orde Wingate, to coordinate the activities of the Ethiopian forces in support of the campaign.

Wingate formulated a plan for action in Ethiopia which he presented to Wavell and senior staff in Cairo in early December 1940. The plan included the formation of a small regular force under Wingate to act as a spearhead for military operations in Gojjam. He argued that:

?To raise a revolt you must send in a Corps d'Elite to do exploits and not just as peddlers of war material and cash ... A thousand resolute and well-armed men can paralyse 10,000?

His plan was approved by Wavell (in the face of Platt's lack of enthusiasm) and Wingate created his formation from one battalion of Sudanese of the British-led Sudan Defence Force and one battalion of Ethiopian soldiers of the 2nd Ethiopian Battalion, mostly composed of soldiers that had served in the Ethiopian army. In total, they numbered only 2,000 men and 18,000 camels meant for transport. The camels were under the care of Laurens van der Post who would go on to become a famous author. Wingate named these soldiers as the Gideon Force, after the biblical figure of Gideon.

Troops of the Gideon Force departed on December 1940 in small columns towards Mount Belaya in Gojjam (the contemporary Metekel Zone of the Benishangul-Gumuz Region).

By mid-January 1941 the British had reinforced their troops in the Sudan under Platt to two expanded divisions. They had also built up their forces in Kenya to three divisions under Lieutenant-General Alan Cunningham. On January 18 and January 19, 1941, the British launched offensives against the Italians: Cunningham's force from Kenya into Italian Somaliland and southern Ethiopia and to the north Platt's divisions from the Sudan into Eritrea. On January 20, the Emperor, accompanied by Wingate, met Ethiopian soldiers on the border crossing from Sudan into Ethiopia at Um Idla.

Wingate's horse-mounted Sudanese troops reached Mount Belaya in five days, while the Ethiopians with their camel caravan took 2 weeks. Wingate and the emperor arrived at Belaya on February 6 and Haile Selassie established his headquarters there.

Platt's poor opinion of Hailie Selassie, Sandford and Wingate, meant that he paid little attention to Mission 101 and the resulting lack of clear areas of responsibility and chains of command (together with Wingate's naturally abrasive manner) meant that for the whole campaign there was friction and animosity between Wingate and the other commanders. On Wingate's arrival at Belaya there followed a period of considerable tension between Wingate and Sandford because the latter assumed he was in overall command. On 12 February they were both summoned to Khartoum where Platt attempted to resolve the issue by confirming Wingate's appointment to command Gideon Force and making him an acting Colonel. Sandford was very upset but was then summoned to Cairo, congratulated on his work and appointed Brigadier, leaving the overall issue unresolved.

On February 18 Gideon Force started crossing over the escarpment into the eastern part of Gojjam. Aided by Arbegnoch fighters, they attacked the Italian forts, garrisons and patrols. Also due to the advance of Cunningham's forces in Somalia, the Italians withdrew eastward from their positions.

On February 24, Wingate led Gideon Force to surround the Italian fort at Bure. Some of the Ethiopian force got lost and a grass fire hindered them, but they met with no Italian resistance. Wingate tried to give an impression of a larger force to intimidate the Italians; he spread the men wide and again, accompanied by the Arbegnoch, began to ambush the Italians. Wingate led some groups himself.

At the same time, Selassie approached the area. Formerly neutral or pro-Italian local rulers turned to support him. Ethiopian irregulars attached to Italian units, known as banda, began to desert to the Emperor's side.

The numerically superior Italians retreated to the southeast on March 4. The British command in Khartoum, which had cracked the Italian codes, informed Wingate of the move. He ordered a Sudanese unit to block and ambush the Italians, but the commander of the unit failed to do so.

Disappointed, Wingate ordered a pursuit and his men made small harassing attacks against the Italians. The Italians pushed through a small Ethiopian force near Dembecha on the Chakara River with 325 casualties (Ethiopian casualties were only 48). The Italian commander of Dembecha also retreated to the east against his orders and Gideon Force occupied Dembecha on March 8.

The next target of the combined British force was a fort near Debre Marqos. This time, the Italians counterattacked and fierce fighting ensued. Gideon Force retreated and began hit-and-run attacks and raids to drain Italian strength. Italian losses amounted to 200 over the next weeks. Their intention to evacuate was blocked by the Arbegnoch.

A couple of days after the Italians had left Debra Marqos, Haile Selassie entered the city April 6. At the same time, British regular forces entered Addis Ababa.

Other Italian forces retreating to the east and over the Blue Nile were continuously harassed by the Arbegnoch and Gideon Force. However, some Arbegnoch began looting in the retaken areas and Gideon Force had to restore order.

When most of Gideon Force were ordered to Addis Ababa (which had been occupied by Cunningham's troops on April 6), a smaller force (Safforce) under Mission 101 pursued retreating Italians to the north towards Debre Sina. While this was going on, on May 5, Emperor Selassie made his formal entry into Addis Ababa with a victory march in which most of Gideon Force were required to provide his escort. After the ceremonies Wingate returned to Safforce.

Shortly after his return, Wingate received an order from Cunningham to stop the pursuit of retreating Italians and help other British forces elsewhere. He pretended that he could not decipher the message and continued on his course. The other part of the Gideon Force, lead by the explorer Wilfred Thesiger, crossed to the north of the Debra Sinai plateau and attacked from the north. On May 18, the Italians found themselves blocked from the north and south. Thinking he faced superior numbers, the Italian commander agreed to surrender on May 24.

The Gideon Force was officially disbanded June 1, 1941. Wingate returned to Egypt. The last Italian troops surrendered in Begemder province in the north to British and Arbegnoch forces.

Its a very interesting group unlike any i've every come across before or since. I hope you enjoyed it.



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Outstanding!!!! :jumping: :jumping: :jumping:


Oh-how I wish it were mine.

That folks is as rare as they get. I'd wager $1000 that belonged to an Ethiopian imperial soldier, probably of Gideon force, but maybe, just maybe, one of the other Ethiopian army units that fought on after 1937. Note that there is NO Victory Star, which means that this may well be a "second row".

There are numerous portraits of Ethiopian officers and Royals with the British stars at the end of their medal bars taken up through the Derg Coup and the murder of the aged God Emperor.

If you look on Wikipedia you can find a very interesting and thorough article regarding continued Italian guerrilla operations in Ethiopia and Eritrea (which I posit is the cause of the Eritrean war/ separate nation state today) which lasted until early 1944.

Edited by Ulsterman
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Oh how i wish i had joind this forum earlier. I actually managed to buy that group for $70cdn about 3 years ago and only sold it on to finance an MM group to a local man other wise i'd have loved to keep it as you said it's a very nice group. I'll keep my eyes peeled i may come across another. I'm glad you enjoyed it.



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  • 3 years later...

Yes, it's a great medal group and bar. I agree that it may well have belonged to a member of Gideon Force. Were the two stars named on the back? If so, it should be researchable. The second medal, the Emperor in Exile medal, also known as the Refugee's Medal is the version made in Ethiopia, and not the British made version. You can tell because of the ribbon bars on his uniform. Thanks and blessings! Jah-Jim

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