Last weekend I have started with research for the Ethiopian-Eritrean-Somalia conflict s. Couple of weeks ago I had ordered a book from Helion Africa@war series. Number 29: Ethiopian-Eritrean wars, volume 1, Eritrean war of independence 1961-1988. (Click on image for link to Helion site)
Before I read this book, I had only done a quick read trough on general history of Ethiopia. For the rest I didn’t know anything of the different conflicts, except that some refugees have reached the Netherlands because of some war.
This books start with a global description of the history of Ethiopia and the present day Eritrea in just a couple of pages. After that it continues with the modernization of the military in the 1930s. And the occupation of Ethiopia by the Italians, followed with the liberation by the British.
The next chapter describes the reestablishment of Ethiopia government and the first struggles to rebuild the land. The received aid from the British, Americans and to my surprise the Swedish. It also handles briefly the forming of the first insurgency groups and concludes with a revolution and a summary of the different problems.
We continue with a look at the opponents. All the insurgency group have their own name and abbreviations, and their own targets. Therefore battling both the government and each other, this is quite a confusing history when read for the first time. It does have some tables with the actual units of the different groups. But it was quite difficult to collect all the numbers, as this is a less well documented conflict. In the end you have a rough idea on the amount of troops.
Until here it was mostly a political description. Although the pictures showed a lot of details on the equipment used. This chapter deals more with the structure of the army and how it operates. Also it contains some tables of army list on different dates. As this is the middle of the book there is a good collection of profiles of the different aircraft and tanks, in Ethiopian colors. In this chapter also the switch from US supported to Soviet supported is described.
Previous chapters described the history and the forces used, the rest of the book focuses more on the actions. Especially the counter offensive into Eritrea area. Also details more on the Ethiopian doctrine, which is developed by themself and uses input from both Soviet as Western based tactics and a lot of experience in insurgency groups and guerilla warfare.
In the turning point of the war, it became more difficult to keep the conquered terrain in Eritrea in Ethiopian hands and they started to slowly lose ground. Mostly due to two or three insurgency groups, which act as almost conventional armies sometimes.
In the end it came all down to the battle of Afabet, which the Ethiopian lost. This is the last stand of the Ethiopians before the Eritrean independence. Although this is not described in the book. This last chapter has a somewhat open end, and hope other books will continue on this.
This books shows a nice general overview of an unknown war. It starts with carefully outlining the history and build up of the different events and in the mean time detailing the role of the air force. If interested in this conflict or the modern history of Ethiopia it is a good starting read.
One of the downsides of this books, it shows a largely one sided conflict. Beforehand I had expected more details on the Eritrean forces. Al tough they are insurgents, and did not have any aircraft available, they did conquer a lot of vehicles. And therefore I would have expected some profiles of Eritrean equipment. Also no description on the role of civilians is mentioned. Did they support the Ethiopians or Eritreans?
I will reread the book in the coming weeks, to piece together some more details and hope to create some wargame scenarios and armies based on these events.
Some interesting points I have learned from this book. Ethiopia developed a western style air force with soviet equipment. Did develop a lot of own fighting methods. And major parts of the war are mostly fought with infantry.
What’s up next?
After the first book, my interest has grown. Resulting in a order for two other books from the series; Volume 2 on the Ethiopian-Eritrean wars and the one about the Ogaden war. Hope they will arrive soon. as I will then have a complete overview of the recent history of the different conflicts centered around Ethiopia. (Click on the images to directly link to Helion.)
One Reply to “Book review: Ethiopian-Eritrean wars Volume 1”
I lived in Asmara, Eritrea from December, 2002 to March, 2006. I worked at the US Embassy in the Defense Attache Office. Very interesting place to be and quite the country to explore. I saw a lot of military hardware scattered around the country from the wars and there was much battle damage to buildings from the war of independence around the country.