The Battle of Adwa as a Historic Event


Enemies have now come upon us to ruin our country ……Our enemies have begun the affair by advancing and digging into the country like moles. With the help of God I will not deliver my country to them. Today, you who are strong, give me your strength, and you who are weak, help me by prayer

Menelik II, Mobilization Proclamation

We have also made known to the Powers that the said Article, as it is written in our language, has another meaning. As you, we also ought to respect our dignity. You wish Ethiopia to be represented before the other Powers as your protectorate, but this shall never be.

Empress Taitu Butul, Responding to Antonelli – Italian Envoy

[The controversial Article XVII of the Treaty of Wuchale, which led to the battle of Adwa . The Italian version stated, “his Majesty, the king of kings of Ethiopia, consents to avail himself of the Italian government for any negotiation which he may enter into with other Powers and governments (per tutte le tratazzioni di affari che averse con altre potenze o governi)]

The “mysterious magnetism” that holds Ethiopia Together

By Donald N. Levine

There are three reasons why we commonly refer to some happening as a historic event: either it occurs for the first time; it has significant consequences; or it is symbolically important. As a first time event, Emperor Menelik’s cession of the Bogos highlands to Italy in 1889 has been described as historic, as the first time that an Ethiopian ruler ever voluntarily ceded territory to a foreign power. In the same vein, Abebe Bikila’s victory in the marathon race in the 1960 Olympics at Rome was historic, as the first time that an Ethiopian won a gold medal.

We also designate events as historic when their consequences significantly alter the shape of subsequent history. The conversion of King Ezanas to Christianity in the middle of the fourth century was historic in this sense because it redirected Ethiopia’s entire cultural development.

Similarly, the protection given to disciples of the Prophet Mohammed by the Ethiopian king in the seventh century was a historic event. It led Mohammed to advise his followers to spare Ethiopia from the jihad of Islamic expansion that took place soon after.

Likewise, the killing of Emperor Yohannes IV by Sudanese Mahdists in 1889 was historic because it opened the way to the ascendancy of an emperor from Shoa. Even when events have no significant direct consequences, we tend to call them historic when they symbolize important national or universal human ideals. The suicide of Emperor Tewodros II had little political consequence, his rule was over, whether or not he was captured alive by the British but it came to symbolize a sentiment of preferring death over demeaning captivity.

The speech of Emperor Haile Selassie to the League of Nations in 1937 is often called a historic address, even though it did nothing to change the course of history, because it came to symbolize the moral weakness of Western democracies in the face of fascist expansionism and the need for a stronger world organization empowered to provide collective security.

The Battle of Adwa in 1896 qualifies as an historic event in all three senses of the term. As a historic first, it represented the first time since the beginning of European imperial expansion that a non-white nation had defeated a European power.

The Battle of Adwa in 1896 also had two fateful consequences the preservation of Ethiopia’s independence from Italian colonization, and the confirmation of Italy’s control over the part of the country Italy had named Eritrea in 1890. Both consequences had repercussions throughout the twentieth century. Italy experienced her defeat at Adwa as intensely humiliating, and that humiliation became a national trauma which demagogic leaders strove to avenge. It also played no little part in motivating Italy’s revanchist adventure in 1935.

On the other hand, Italy’s continued occupation of Eritrea gave her a convenient springboard from which to launch that invasion. A generation later, tensions stemming from the protracted division of historic Ethiopia into two parts one under European governance, one under the Ethiopian Crown culminated in a long civil war, and the eventual secession of Eritrea as an independent state in 1993. In addition to these actual historic consequences, the Battle of Adwa was historic because it acquired symbolic significance of many kinds. In some instances this symbolism itself came to exert a certain influence on the course of events.

Adwa’s Symbolism in Other Countries In Europe, the short-term symbolic significance of the Ethiopian defeat of Italy in 1896 was that it served to initiate a process of rethinking the Europeans’ image of Africa and Africans.

During the nineteenth century Africa had come to be viewed in increasingly pejorative terms, as a continent of people so primitive they were fit only for European rule. Ethiopia did not escape such swipes. British officers called Ethiopia a nation of savages and Italian officials described it as a nation of primitive tribesmen led by a barbarian.

The British Foreign Office supported the provocative move of ceding Zula to Italy, expecting that Yohannes would protest by attacking them and then easily be punished for imagining that Ethiopians were equal to white men. Kaiser Wilhelm responded to Emperor Menelik’s announcement of his accession to the throne with insulting language.

The stunning victory at Adwa required Europeans to take Ethiopia and Africa more seriously. It not only initiated a decade of negotiations with European powers in which nine border treaties were signed, it made Europeans begin to reconsider their prejudices against Africans. It came to symbolize a rising awareness among Europeans of African political resources and yearnings and an increasing recognition of indigenous African cultural accomplishments.

In Japan, Ethiopia became appreciated as the first non-Caucasian power to defeat Europeans, an achievement the Japanese were to duplicate in warfare against Russia in 1904. This appreciation led to a sense of affinity that bore fruit for decades thereafter. Ethiopian intellectuals looked to Japan as a model for modernizing their ancient monarchy; the Meiji Constitution served as a model for the Ethiopian Constitution of 1931.

When Italy invaded Ethiopia again in the mid-thirties, many Japanese citizens (if not the regime formally) expressed solidarity with Ethiopians, sending shipments of many thousands of swords to help Ethiopians in their plight. In Africa, the Battle of Adwa inspired other kinds of symbolism.

For a number of colonized Africans, the Ethiopian victory at Adwa symbolized the possibility of future emancipation. Black South Africans of the Ethiopian Church came to identify with the Christian kingdom in the Horn, a connection that led South African leader James Dwane to write Menelik for help in caring for the Christian communities of Egypt and Sudan.

The victory at Adwa made Ethiopia visible as a beacon of African independence, a position that inspired figures like Nnamdi Azikiwe in Nigeria, Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, and Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya in the early years of the African independence movement, as well as leaders in the West Indies like George Padmore and Marcus Garvey from Jamaica. Adwa as a Symbol of Ethiopia’s Tradition of Independence Within Ethiopia itself, Adwa symbolized many things, some of which had positive consequences for her development while others did not. Internally, as abroad, it symbolized Ethiopia’s proud commitment to freedom from foreign domination.

Of the many emblems of Ethiopia’s historic independence, Adwa is perhaps the most visible and the most dramatic. The spirit of Ethiopians’ defiant protection of their land from outsiders manifests itself in many forms.

There is the apocryphal story of Emperor Tewodros, who is said to have ordered the boots of some visitors washed before they embarked on a ship back to Europe, saying: “Far more precious than jewels is a single drop of Ethiopian soil.” There was the refrain I used to hear young braves chant at festive times, jabbing dula (stick) up and down as they danced and sang: Min alle, Teqel min alle? Ageren le sew, ageren le sew, alsetim alle! (What did Teqel [Haile Selassie’s horse name] say? I won’t give my country to foreigners, he said.)

With respect to Menelik’s reputation, it partly overcame the resentments he had stirred up by ceding Bogos to Italy in exchange for help against his competitors in Tigray. As a historic assertion of Ethiopia’s independence, Adwa also reverberated with memories of Ethiopia’s experience as a long-lived independent polity. Its symbolism thereby encompassed a layer of meaning that alluded to the historic depth of the Ethiopian nation. It revived memories of earlier achievements and yearnings.

At the same time, Adwa may have served to give Ethiopians a false sense of confidence about their position in the modern world. In showing themselves and the world that they could defeat a European invader with their own resources, the 1896 campaign may have led them to think that their traditional resources could be adequate in an era in which war would be waged with tanks and airplanes.

It gave encouragement to isolationist and conservative strains that were deeply rooted in Ethiopian culture, strengthening the hand of those who would strive to keep Ethiopia from adopting techniques imported from the modern West”resistances with which both Menelik and Ras Teferi/Haile Selassie would have to contend.

Adwa as a Symbol of Multi-ethnic Cooperation The symbolism of multi-ethnic collaboration evoked by the Battle of Adwa has been less visible than its role in symbolizing Ethiopia’s tradition of independence. Yet in some ways the former was the most remarkable and meaningful aspect of the entire episode.

Although members of different ethnic, religious, and regional groups had been interacting regularly in Ethiopia for more than 2,000 years”through trading, intermarriage, common ritual observances, pilgrimages, and political competition”from the perspective of Ethiopian history, Adwa offers the most dramatic instance of multi-ethnic collaboration before the 20th century.

This is because it gave expression to a great outpouring of national patriotism, foreshadowing the great patriotic struggles of 1935-41. Even from the perspective of modern world history, Adwa represented a relatively rare struggle for national independence waged by a coalition of diverse ethnic groups.

Twenty-five years earlier, Adwa had been the scene of a protracted battle between Dejazmatch Kasa, who would become Emperor Yohannes IV, and the reigning emperor, Tekle Giorgis II, formerly Wag Shum Gobeze. What the 1871 Battle of Adwa symbolized was the age-old struggle among different regional and ethnic groups for dominance.

Yohannes, like Tewodros II before him, came to the throne determined to reunify the empire, which had been fragmented following the invasion of Ahmed Gragn and subsequent divisive developments. Although Yohannes did not live to see it, the 1896 Battle of Adwa was a tribute to his vision and to the thoughtfulness and determination with which he sought to unify Ethiopia while respecting the local jurisdiction of regional kings and lords so long as they remained faithful to the national crown.

Those who would deny Ethiopia’s long existence as a multi-ethnic society must be embarrassed by the facts of the Adwa experience.

If the empire consisted of nothing but a congeries of separate tribal and regional groups, how then account for the courageous collaboration of 100,000 troops from dozens of ethnic groups from all parts of the country?

How then explain the spirited national patriotism of such diverse leaders as Ras Alula, Ras Mengesha, and Ras Sibhat of Tigray, Dejazmatch Bahta of Akale Guzae, Wag Shum Guangul of Lasta, Ras Mikael of Wollo, Negus Tekle-Haymanot of Gojjam, Ras Gobena and Dejazmatch Balcha of the Mecha Oromo, Ras Wole of the Yejju Oromo, Fitawrari Tekle of Wollega, Ras Mekonnen of Harer, as well as Ras Gebeyehu (who died fighting at Adwa) and Ras Abate of Shoa?

Of course, deeply rooted antagonisms and persistent rivalries among different factions beset Ethiopia throughout the 19th century. And yet, as historian Sven Rubenson has written, “at the crucial moment, Menelik commanded the loyalty of every important chief in the country.” The Battle of Adwa became and remains the most outstanding symbols of what, a half-century later, a British colonel would describe as the “mysterious magnetism” that holds Ethiopia together.

Donald N. Levine, Ph.D.,
The Peter B. Ritzman Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago.

This article is also published in ONE HOUSE: THE BATTLE OF ADWA, Nyala Publishing.


UNISFA: United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei , Sudan



Demilitarizing and monitoring peace in the disputed Abyei Area

The Security Council, by its resolution 1990 PDF Document of 27 June 2011, responded to the urgent situation in Sudan’s Abyei region by establishing the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). The Security Council was deeply concerned by the violence, escalating tensions and population displacement.

The operation will monitor the flashpoint border between north and south, and is authorized to use force in protecting civilians and humanitarian workers in Abyei.

UNISFA’s establishment came after the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) reached an agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to demilitarize Abyei and let Ethiopian troops to monitor the area.


AMISOM: Ethiopian Troops formally join AMISOM Peacekeepers in Somalia.



BAIDOA: The AMISOM family received a new member after Ethiopian forces officially joined the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia in January 22 as earlier approved by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2124 which authorized an additional force of over 4000 troops to bring the number of AMISOM peacekeepers in Somalia to over 22,126 strong force.

To symbolize the Ethiopian forces entry into AMISOM, the Force Commander (FC) Lt. General Silas Ntigurirwa pinned AU berets and armbands onto Ethiopian officers who removed their own berets signifying they were now formally AMISOM peacekeepers.

The few Ethiopian forces who were officially inducted into AMISOM included the new Sector 3 commander Brig. General Gebremedhin Fikadu Hailu together with a number of other Ethiopian soldiers who mounted a guard of honor for the AMISOM FC.

This is not the first time for Ethiopia, which borders Somalia on the west, to send its troops into the country, having done so on their own mandate but it is the first time for the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) to official join AMISOM and become the sixth African country to contribute to AMISOM in restoring peace and stability in the Horn of African Country.

A colorful ceremony was held for this special occasion in the city of Baidoa which is the tactical headquarters of sector 3 bringing together Bay, Bakool and Gedo regions where the over 4000 Ethiopian peacekeepers will now be in charge.

The event was attended by a host of leader including Senior AMISOM commanders, Ethiopian ambassador to Somalia Wondimu Asamnenu, the European Union ambassador to Somalia Michele Cervone d’Urso, Somalia Deputy Chief of Staff General Abdirisaq Khalif Hussein who was the representative of the Somalia government, local leaders and civil society members led by Bay governor Abdi Adan Hosow.


The AMISOM FC congratulated the ENDF for joining AMISOM and told them they will be required to adhere to the AMISOM Rules of Engagement as well as all other standing procedures as stipulated in the African Union Mission in Somalia mandate. He also sought to remind the rest of AMISOM that the New Year comes with responsibilities to clear Somalia of the Al-Shabaab militant’s menace.

“The deployment of Ethiopia into AMISOM is a follow up of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2124 clearly clarified by the new Concept of Operation (CONOP) which we will implement as soon as possible. As per the new CONOPs, the newly deployed contingent takes over sector 3 and will work and operate under AMISOM Force Commander Instructions and orders,” Force Commander Lt. Gen. Silas said also thanking the outgoing commander Col John Luc Habarugira and all forces for a job well done .

According to the new AMISOM concept of operation, the Ethiopian forces are required to take over sector 3 and help in sector 4 where Djiboutian peacekeepers are in charge. The Burundian peacekeepers who were in Baidoa will move to Jowhar in lower Shabelle region where they will constitute the new sector 5. The Ugandans previously in Baidoa are expected to bolster their compatriots in sector 1 which is responsible for the greater Mogadishu or Banadir region.

The new AMISOM Sector 3 commander from Ethiopia promised the Force Commander and the Somalis of his forces full adherence to all AMISOM standard operating procedures and hopes their entry will bring much more successes to the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

“I assure you that Ethiopia’s Defense Force will make a difference in AMISOM operation by clearing Al-Shabaab from sector 3 and 4 under the command of the force headquarters and completely implement AMISOM’s concept of operation in each of its military activities,” Brig. General Gebremedhin Fikadu Hailu, new AMISOM Sector 3 commander reiterated.


Somalian Crisis 2006


Ethiopian troops helped drive the Islamic Courts Union out of Mogadishu in Somalia.

Ethiopia sent troops to southern Somalia to help the UN backed weak transitional government. The TFG, Ethiopia and Puntland fought together against al Shabab and other radical Islamists to take over the capital Mogadishu. After the Islamists split into two groups, moderate Islamists led by Sheikh Ahmed signed a UN backed peace deal with the TFG and established a larger government in Mogadishu. Ethiopian troops withdrew as part of the terms of the peace deal. Government forces have been engaged in battle against Ogaden insurgents led by the Ogaden National Liberation Front.

Dead Ethiopian Soldiers in Somalia

Gabre Heard commanded the forces in Somalia. As of 2014, the Ethiopian troops in Somalia are being integrated into the AMISOM peacekeeping force. According to Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ambassador Dina Mufti, the Ethiopian military’s decision to join AMISOM is intended to render the peacekeeping operation more secure. Analysts also suggested that the move was primarily motivated by financial considerations, with the Ethiopian forces’ operational costs now slated to be under AMISOM’s allowance budget. It is believed that the Ethiopian military’s long experience in Somali territory, its equipment such as helicopters, and the potential for closer coordination will help the allied forces advance their territorial gains.


The Congo Crisis


In 1960, Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba requested a UN intervention which adopted Resolution 143. This resolution stated that Belgium should remove its troops and that the UN would provide military assistance to the Congolese forces.

Tekil Brigade

Ethiopia was among the countries that contributed to the UN troops that were sent to the Congo. The troops came from the ‘Tekil Brigade’. The first brigade to come under that name was the pioneer Ethiopian force sent to make arrangements for the main force that would come under the same name.

The second Tekil Brigade was commanded by Colonel Teshome Irgetu and went into the Congo on June 14th, 1961 to replace the previous expeditionary force. The constitution of the battalion was actually 4 different infantry divisions that came one after the other from different parts of the country:

  •    The 8th Tekil Batallion from Maychew, Tigray: commanded by Lt. Colonel Tezera Gorfe
  •   The 25th Tekil Batallion from Jimma/Gojjam: commanded by Lt. Colonel Alemu Weledeyes
  •      The 26th Tekil Batallion from Addis Ababa: commanded by Lt. Colonel Gebremeskel Tesfamichael
  •      The 35th Tekil Batallion from Asmara: commanded by Lt. Colonel Gessesse Retta

Upon its arrival the brigade was quartered at Stanleyville.  Its first job of the day was to establish order, security and confidence amongst the people of the Orientale Province – which it accomplished in a relatively short time. Even when violence broke out, in and around the city on Januray 13th, 1961, the brigade managed to control and calm things down.

The achievements of the Ethiopian troops in the most chaotic of times have been written on the annals of posterity. But to mention a few of their many heroic achievements:

– The 8th Ethiopian Battalion had its headquarters at Stanleyville. The battalion was order to move out to Leopoldville on October 10th, 1961. When things worsened in Katanga, the battalion was ordered to move out to Elizabethville, which it did by December 14th, 1961.

On that very day the battalion was ordered to launch an attack on the enemy. Excerpts from army historians have written:

“ (vi) Immediately upon arrival in Elisabethville the Bn was  ordered to launch an attack on the enemy. In spite of the hasty order and lack of sufficient time to carry out a recce of any sort, the Bn moved from the airport towards the town in tactical battle order returning automatic fire delivered from tree tops, bunkers and civilian residences. Besides the task of clearing various enemy-held localities along the main road from the airport to the town, the Bn was given the major mission of attacking and capturing the strongly-defended enemy locality of the Lido Hotel.

On 15 December 1961 at 0430 hrs (local time) an attack was launched on the Lido by one rifle and one heavy weapons coy of the 8th Bn.2 supported by a few Indian armoured oars. Mission was accomplished by 0600 hrs (local time) and objective was captured.

(vii) The 8th Ethiopian Bn lost seven of its men while fighting in the Elisabethville operation and 9 men were wounded.

(viii) According to received order, the 8th Bn handed over its areas of responsibility in Elisabethville to the 35th Ethiopian Bn and began its move to its former position in Stanley-tills on 20 Jan 61. When the Bn was fully concentrated in Stanleyville, it resumed its previous duties and took over its previous areas of responsibility.”

–  Of the 25th Ethiopian Battalion it was written:

“(i) On replacing the 1st Ethiopian Bn of the 1st Tekil Bde, the 25th Tekil Bn established its HQ at Kabalo. In spite of the confused and all time unsteady aspect of the situation, the 25th Bn carried out its tasks so well that firm co-operation and good understanding between the force and the native Balubas was created. As a result the Balubas never liked the idea of this Bn being transferred to another place in the Congo.

(ii) On 9 December 61, the 25th Bn sent one of its coys to Manono to strengthen the coy from the Indian Independent Me, already there.

The situation at Manono gradually grew worse and finally the force of one bn of Tshombe’s Gendarmerie (which had strengthened its position in the town of Manono and around all the key points) launched an attack on the two coys, which only had four armoured cars for a fire support. The fighting carried on continuously for three days, from 6 to 9 Dec, and the 25th Bn lost one man and three were wounded. Outnumbered by the enemy and after three days of hard fighting, the two coys managed to drive back the enemy from their well-defended areas in Manono to Mitwaba and other nearby areas.

(iii) Due to the uncertainty of the situation at Manono the rest of the 25th Ethiopian Bn was ordered to move to Manono. After handing over the protection of Kabala to the local ANC force, the whole Bn concentrated at Manono on 10 December 61. This Bn is still at Manono making all efforts to establish the peace and order previously achieved in the neighbouring area of Kabalo.”

– Of the 35th Ethiopian Battalion it was said:

“(vii) Acting on an urgent order from HQ ONUC, the 35th Tekil Bn again moved to Elisabethville where fighting had broken out between the UN and Tshombe’s force. On arrival in Elisabethville of only half its force (the rest being airlifted a week later) on 7 Nov. 61, the Bn succeeded in clearing bunker after bunker, which the enemy had taken so much effort to prepare. The old airfied, the police station, Sabena Guest House and the White’s Building, were all objectives which the Bn captured. The final objective captured by the En was the Union Miniére – the well-known Katanga mine centre prized by the enemy more than any other place in Elisabethville. During the Elisabethville operation, the 35th Tekil Bn lost one soldier and two were wounded. The Bn is still in Elisabethville on the active task of ensuring safety of individuals and security in the confusion-struck capital of Katanga.” 



A Friend in Need




A Friend in Need

During the Korean War, many units served alongside the 31st Infantry, but none as respected as the Ethiopian “Kagnew” Battalion. In his book, Pork Chop Hill, S.L.A. Marshall refers to the Ethiopians as the most successful unit of any, despite language barriers and the vast difference of Ethiopia’s arid terrain from Korea’s cold hills. A member of that battalion, Gebre M. Kassa, later became the most revered officer in the Ethiopian Army. I met him in 1976 at the Command and General Staff College and was deeply impressed by his tactical competence and devotion to his profession. He wore a Silver Star, pinned on him near Pork Chop Hill by the 7th Division commander. When Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown, his successor, Mengistu continued to call Kassa, his former commander, “sir”. Having fought Communism in Korea, Kassa opposed Mengistu’s alliance with the Soviets and declined taking a position in his government. Because Kassa was so widely respected in the Army, Mengistu feared him and had him killed. Kassa’s oldest son was imprisoned and tortured and lives today as a cripple with his mother who supports her family as well as she can on a widow’s pension of $4 a month. I encourage those who served alongside Ethiopia’s “Kagnew Battalion” in Korea to join me in helping the family of a true hero who was as much one of our own. A small donation will go a long way. If you could write a check to Mrs Aselefech Kassa, I’ll get your donation to her.

ETHIOPIAN FORCESEthiopianMedal.JPG (4629 bytes)
Distinguished Military Medal of Haili Salessie the First

Ethiopia furnished three 1,200-man battalions to the UN Command, beginning in June 1951 but only one battalion at a time. The first of these battalions — known as Kagnew (Conquerors) Battalions — arrived in May 1951 and was assigned to the U.S. 7th Infantry Division.

1st Kagnew Battalion Jun 51 — Apr 522nd Kagnew Battalion Apr 52 — Apr 53

3rd Kagnew Battalion Apr 53 — Apr 54

(09/20/99 — A monograph on these units’ activities and casualties, plus unit crests/patches, will be posted when received from the Ethiopian Korean War Veterans Association.)

Casualties                         122 KIA                 566 WIA


Ethiopian Soldiers in Korean War 1953


Ethiopia-UN Peace Keeping mission

Kagnew Battalion

1st, 2nd and 3rd Kagnew Battalions
Ethiopian Soldiers Korean War.jpg

Ethiopian Soldiers, part of the Kagnew Battalion, 7th Inf. Div., Korea, 1953
Active 1951-1965
Country  Ethiopian Empire
Allegiance  United Nations
Branch Army
Type Infantry
Size 6,037 soldiers in total
Part of US 7th Infantry Division
Patron Emperor Haile Selassie I
Engagements Battle of Pork Chop Hill
Decorations US Presidential Unit Citation
Col. Kebbede GuebreMajor General Ingida Asrat

The Ethiopian Kagnew Battalions 

The Ethiopian Kagnew Battalions ቃኘው were three successive battalions drawn from the 1st Division Imperial Bodyguard sent by Emperor Haile Selassie I between June 1951 and April 1954 as part of the United Nations forces in theKorean War. Even after the armistice, a token Ethiopian force remained in the country until 1965.

Altogether, 3,158 Ethiopians served in Kagnew Battalions during the war.


“Kagnew” was the name of the warhorse of Ras MakonnenMenelik II’s General and the father of Haile Selassie during theFirst Italo-Ethiopian War.  Military units from Imperial times would often adopt a name of a favored military commander and Ethiopian Warriors were often referred to interchangeably by the names of their war horses.

1st Division Imperial Bodyguard

The regular Armed Forces of the Ethiopian Empire consisted of four Divisions roughly of 10,000 men with support armor and artillery elements and complementary Air and Naval forces. This numbered roughly 50,000 men and women. The 1st Division Imperial Bodyguard had primary responsibility for security in the North of the country including Eritrea. Each Kagnew Battalion was drawn completely from the officers and men of the 1st Division Imperial Body Guard or the Kebur Zabagna, sometimes also referred to as Ethiopia’s “Royal” Guards. The troops selected for Korea were given intensive training in the mountains of Ethiopia for aclimatisation.

Performance in the Korean War

Ethiopian soldiers in Korea

The Kagnews served with great distinction, principally alongside the 7th Infantry Division, and by all accounts (including the enemy’s) acquitted themselves well in battle, suffering 121 killed and 536 wounded during the course of the conflict.  At the conclusion of the war the Ethiopians were the only contingent that had no prisoners to collect from the North Koreans since no Kagnew Soldier ever surrendered. They had the additional distinctions of having won each of the 238 times they engaged the enemy be it as aggressors or defenders. They were never bested in battle. The other distinction, and one that made them seemingly super human to their enemies, was there never seemed to be dead bodies of Kagnew soldiers, for the simple reason they never left their dead behind. This earned them the respect of their American colleagues, while fostering the belief among their enemies, who had often never seen black men before, let alone black prisoners or casualties, that they were indeed super-human.

One of the feats S.L.A. Marshall thought worth noting was an Ethiopian patrol at the Battle of Pork Chop Hill in 1953 when “…under full observation from enemy country, eight Ethiopians walked 800 yards across no-man’s land and up the slope of T-Bone Hill right into the enemy trenches. When next we looked, the eight had become ten. The patrol was dragging back two Chinese prisoners, having snatched them from the embrace of the Communist battalion…

The British military historian John Keegan notes that the Ethiopian units drawn from the Imperial Guard (“an over-privileged and somewhat pampered force”) fought with some distinction in Korea between 1951 and 1954, although performing less competently in the Congo (1960–64).

A Silver Star and eighteen Bronze Stars were also awarded to the Ethiopians. Two members, Colonel Irgetu and 2nd Lt. Haptewold Mamo, were awarded the highest Ethiopian gallantry award, and became “Knights of the Order of Emperor Menelik“.

Kagnew Station and Post War

When the US established a military base in Northern Ethiopia they named it Kagnew Station in honor of the officers and men of the elite Imperial Bodyguards that had earned their admiration. Kagnew’s exploits have been covered in detail in Pork Chop Hill by S.L.A. Marshall. Commenting on the fighting dogma of the Ethiopians Marshall states, “Like Horatius at the bridge or the screaming eagles at Bastogne, it was a classic fight, ending in clean triumph over seemingly impossible odds”. Pointing out that War correspondents who were drawn to the headline values of such operations as Little Switch the 163 war correspondents overlooked the equally interesting and unrivaled Ethiopian feats.

The former members of the Imperial Bodyguard Mahber (society) has existed quietly since the unit was dissolved by the Derg Military Junta and continues to celebrate the accomplishments of the men and officers not only of the Kagnew Battalion but of the Guard at large. It is currently under the leadership of Brigadier General (ret.) Desta Gemeda.

When the Communist Junta of Mengistu Hailemariam came to power it did everything to erase the “embarrassing” record of the Kagnew’s service against the communists.


Ethiopian soldiers in the Korean War

In 2008 the son of a Guardsman that served in Korea wrote the book Kagnew beKoeraKagnew in Korea which paid tribute to the men and officers of the three battalions, the Emperor who had the foresight to send them and authors S.L.A. Marshall and Komon Skordiles for their efforts in ensuring that the feat of those that had served was not forgotten. This new publication included many pictures and stories from the battalion.

One member of the battalion, Gebre (or Guebre) M. Kassa, was later the commanding officer of future Communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.