When Italy's dictator, Mussolini, declared war on the Allies in June 1940, his forces in East Africa vastly outnumbered those of the British. The Italians had around 91,000 troops, with another 200,000 native forces; the British had just 9,000 troops in the Sudan and another 8,500 in Kenya.this piece came from the newsagents where i live in italy. every two weeks they reserved my piece and i paid my money over the counter. it was about 8 pounds fifty
In Libya the Royal Corps of Libyan Troops was raised consisting of infantry and cavalry units. The two infantry divisions were destroyed in the fighting of 1940-41 and were only partially reformed, existing only as administrative depots. The cavalry was organised in groups of squadrons consisting of a headquarters and four squadrons of 150 men each.
The motorised saharan troops (Compagnia Sahariana) consisted of six companies organised as follows:
a headquarters platoon;
two or three machine gun platoons;
an anti-tank platoon;
a reconnaissance section of two to three Ghibli aircraft.
The strength of the company comprised 147 men, 20 motor transport vehicles, eight heavy machine guns and two 47mm anti-tank guns.
Camel-mounted troops were employed by the Saharan Command for desert patrol purposes and consisted of two companies, each of 280 men, four machine guns and 12 automatic rifles (see picture above).Despite this, the Italians were slow to get going. In July 1940 they pushed tentatively into Sudan, but then stopped. Only in August did they begin a serious offensive and only then against the easiest possible target - British Somaliland, on the African shore of the Gulf of Aden. The operation was intended to prevent any possible use by the British of the port of Djibouti, in French Somaliland, to gain access to Ethiopia
Amedeo Guillet (February 7, 1909 - June 16, 2010) was a former officer
of the Italian Army. He was born in Piacenza. Descended from a noble
family from Piedmont, he graduated from the Academy of Infantry and
Cavalry of Modena in 1930 and began his career in the Italian Army. He
is one of the few men still living to have commanded cavalry in war.
Guillet, with the nickname of Devil Commander, was famous during
the Italian guerrilla war in Ethiopia in 1942 because of his courage.
Pre World War II
Guillet was wounded in a tribal rebellion when stationed in Libya.
In 1936, Guillet participated in wargames in northern Italy as the
commander of the "Red Army." He drove before him the "Blue Army" of
Crown Prince Umberto.
An excellent horseman, Guillet was selected for the Italian Olympic
equestrian team and was due to compete in the Berlin 1936 Summer
Olympics. Instead, in late 1935, he used the connections of his
powerful relatives to transfer to the Spahis of Libya and participate
in the Italian conquest of Ethiopia. He distinguished himself in
numerous cavalry actions and subsequently volunteered to serve in
Spain during the Spanish Civil War. He had been offered the post of
aide-de-camp by General Luigi Frusci, and was proud to have won the
coveted post without the help of family connections.
During the Spanish Civil War, Guillet served as commander of a Company
of Arditi of the Division "Fiamme Nere" before becoming commander of a
Tabor of Moroccans. He distinguished himself at the capture of
Santander and at Teruel, winning the Silver Medal for gallantry.
Returning to Italy, and the Italian colony of Libya - where he was a
particular favourite of the governor, Italo Balbo - Guillet
encountered the anti-semitic, pro-Nazi phase of Italian Fascism. He
did not like what he saw and asked for a posting in Italian East
Africa, whose new Viceroy was the respected Amedeo, Duke of Aosta, who
was a mentor of Guillet. In Italian East Africa he carried out various
policing operations against insurgents loyal to the toppled Emperor
World War II
In the build up to World War II, Aosta gave Guillet command of the
2,500 strong Gruppo Bande Amhara, made up of recruits from throughout
Italian East Africa, with six European officers and Eritrean NCOs. The
core was cavalry, but the force also included camel corps and mainly
Yemeni infantry. For Guillet to be given command of such a force while
still only a lieutenant was a singular honour.
In 1940, he was tasked to form a "Gruppo Bande a Cavallo". The "Bande
a Cavallo" were native units that were recruited from Italian officers
who commanded these units. Amedeo Guillet succeeded in recruiting
thousands of Eritreans. His "Band", already named in the history books
as "Gruppo Bande Guillet" or " Gruppo Bande a Cavallo", were
distinguished for their absolute "fair play" with the local
populations. Amedeo Guillet could boast at never being betrayed, and
5000 Eritreans knew perfectly well who he was and where he lived. It
was during this time in the horn of Africa that the legend of a group
of Eritreans with excellent fighting qualities, commanded by a
notorious "Devil Commander" was born.
Guillet's most important battle happened towards the end of January
1941 at Cherù when he decided to attack enemy armoured units.At the
end of 1940, the allied forces faced Guillet on the road to Amba
Alagi, and specifically, in the proximity of Cherù. He was entrusted
by the Duca Amedeo Of Aosta in the task of delaying the allied advance
from the North-West. The battles and skirmishes in which this young
lieutenant was a protagonist (Amedeo did not have the appropriates
rank, but he commanded an entire brigade) are boldly written in the
British bulletins of war. The devilrys that he created from day to
day, almost seen as a game, explains why the Anglo-Saxons called him
not only "Knight from other times" but also the Italian "Lawrence of
Arabia".Horse charges with unsheathed sword, guns, incendiary and hand
bombs against the armored troops had a daily cadence. A look at
official documents show that in January 1941 at Cherù "... with the
task of protecting the withdrawal of the battalions... with skillful
maneuver and intuition of a commander... In an entire day of furious
combats on foot and horseback, he charged many times while leading his
units, assaulting the preponderant adversary (in number and means)
soldiers of an enemy regiment, setting tanks on fire, reaching the
flank of the enemy's artilleries... although huge losses of men,..
Capt. Guillet,... in a particularly difficult moment of this hard
fight, guided with disregard of danger, an attack against enemy tanks
with hand bombs and benzine bottles setting two on fire while a third
managed to escape while in flames."In those months many proud Italians
died, including many brave Eritreans who fought without fear for a
king and a people who they never saw or knew. Even today, the "Devil
Commander" uses words of deep respect and admiration for that proud
population to whom he feels himself in debt as a soldier, Italian and
man. He never stops to repeat that "the Eritreans are the Prussians of
Africa without the defects of the Prussians". His actions had the
hoped success and saved the lives of thousands of Italians and
Eritreans who withdrew in the territory better known as the Amba
Alagi. At dawn Gulliet charged against steel weapons with only swords,
guns and hand bombs at a column of tanks. He passed unhurt through the
British forces who were caught unaware. Amedeo then returned to the
steps in order to recharge. In the meantime, the British succeeded to
organize themselves and fire at raised zero with their howitzers. The
shells ripped open the chests of Guillet's horses before exploding. It
was the last cavalry charge the British faced one of the last in the
history. Guillet then turned to charge again. In the meantime however,
the British had organized themselves and fired horizontally with their
howitzers. Another cavlary charge took place little more than a year
later when a friend of Guillet, Colonel Bettoni, launched the men of
the "Savoia Cavalry" against Soviet troops in Russia at Isbuchenskij.
Guillet's Eritrean troops paid a high price in terms of human losses,
approximately 800 died in little more than two years and, in March
1941, his forces found themselves stranded outside the Italian lines.
Guillet, faithful until death to the oath to the House of Savoy, began
a private war against the British. Hiding his uniform near an Italian
farm, he set the region on fire at night for almost eight months. He
was one of the most famous Italian "guerrilla officers" in Eritrea and
northern Ethiopia during the Italian guerrilla war against the Allies
occupation of the Italian East Africa.
After numerous adventures, including working as a water seller,
Guillet was finally able to reach Yemen, where for about one year he
trained soldiers and cavalrymen for the Imam's army, whose son Ahmed
became a close friend. Despite the opposition of the Yemenite royal
house, he succeeded in embarking incognito on a Red Cross ship
repatriating sick and injured Italians and finally returned to Italy a
few days before the armistice.
As soon as Guillet reached Italy he asked for Gold sovereigns, men and
weapons to aid Eritrean forces. The aid would be delivered by
aeroplane and enable a guerilla campaign to be staged. But with
Italy's surrender, then later joining the Allies, times had changed.
Guilet was promoted to Major for his war accomplishments and was
assigned to the Military Intelligence Agency (SIM). In this role,
perhaps ironically, he was chosen by the British for some very
dangerous missions on Italian territory that was still under Nazi
Occupation. He worked closely with an official of the services, a
cadet of Colonel Harari, Victor Dan Segre, who later became his close
friend and biographer. Colonel Harari was the commander of the British
special unit services that tried to capture Guillet in Italian East
At the end of the war, and with the abolition of the monarchy, Guillet
expressed a deep desire to leave Italy. He informed Umberto II of his
intentions, but the King obliged him to keep serving his country in
whatever form of government it would become. As always, he couldn't
disobey an order from his King, so he expressed his desire to teach
anthropology at university.
Following the war Guillet entered the Italian diplomatic service where
he represented Italy in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Morocco, and finally as
ambassador to India until 1975. In 1971, he was in Morocco during an
assassination attempt on the King.
On 4 November 2000, the day of the Festivity of the Armed Forces,
Guillet was presented with the Knight Grand Cross of the Military
Order of Italy by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. This is the highest
military decoration in Italy. Today, Guillet is one of the most highly
decorated (both civil and military) people in Italian history. In
2001, Gulliet visited Eritrea and was met by thousands of supporters.
The group included men who previously served with him as horsemen in
the Italian Cavalry known as Gruppo Bande e Cavallo . The Eritrean
people remembered Gulliet's efforts to help Eritrea remain independent
Since 1974 Guillet has been living in retirement in Kentstown, County
Meath, Ireland although latterly he has spent his winters in Italy.
For some years he was a member of and hunted with the Tara Harriers
and the Meath Hounds. In 2009, his 100th birthday was celebrated with
a special concert at the Palazzo Barberini in Rome.
The Italians had 26 battalions,backed by artillery and tanks, against a British garrison of only four Indian and African battalions, with the 2nd Battalion, The Black Watch, on its way.
Even so, the Italians found the offensive difficult. After being delayed by the small Somaliland Camel Corps, they eventually reached the Tug Argan Pass, on the approaches to the seaport capital of Berbera. There they met fierce resistance and were held at bay for four days.
In the absence of any further reinforcements or a properly defended position, the British force was forced to evacuate. They had inflicted over 2,000 casualties at a cost of around 250 men. Furthermore, the impression that their defence had left on the Italians would greatly influence future actions.