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THE HISTORY OF A WAR TIME HERO GENERAL
BIR.GENERAL ANDOM TESFAZION
During The Fascist Mussolini
War Of Aggression 1935-1940
The late Brigadier General Andom Tesfazion was born in 1892 G.C. at Debri in the district of Anseba, Eritrea. He married Woiz. Sendek Mengistu (after his death she took a vow and became a Nun (ኢታይ). He was well be loved and respected by his many Eritrean friends on account of his wisdom and ability. His gallantry in many battles will remain a cherished memory for generations. He was for about 24 years a ‘Shumbash’ the highest rank for native officers in the Italian Army; he was an excellent marksman, and fairly educated in his generation. (His birthday also marks the period when Italians had firmly established a new colony which they named Eritrea, an old Greek word). In the ordinary circumstances he need not have to join the Italian military; however, his passion for the military was far greater than any administrative posts in the Italian Civil Service. He was approximately 6’4″ tall, well-groomed, with a gift for putting people at their ease. While in the Italian Army he diligently studied the fascist arsenal and quickly mastered the use of all modern weaponry. Andom was apprehensive about the colonial oppression the Eritreans were suffering on their own land, at the hands of the fascist Mussolini. He knew the fascist plan and remained vigilant in their preparation to invade further inland to Ethiopia. Andom saw this as opportunity to create a united force to defeat a common enemy. Andom deserted from the Italians, taking with him 500 soldiers and their war equipment after ordered to leave Eritrean dead unburied. Soon other hundreds and thousands of soldiers followed. (it is also recalled – was a common trait among the fascist sector demeaning Eritreans and often reducing them to a ‘bunch-of-flies).
At the time of his dissertation, the Italians under Mussolini invaded Ethiopia burning churches and massacring women and children in violation of international law. He and his fellow men joined the Ethiopian forces in the Tembien district, in the province of Tigray. At the head of his troops he fought the fascist army very bravely. Later, four days before the terrible Battle of Mai-Chew, he met the Emperor, awarded him the Medal of St. Trinity and a Medal of Honor for war service in recognition of his gallantry. In addition to the medals the Emperor cordially offered him a gift black cape similar to one wore by the Emperor when he addressed the League of Nations in Geneva.
At Mai-Chew Andom at the head of his troops fought the good fight, against the enemy, with all his energy and capacity. There, as on every battlefield, his favorite slogan was “Today is my birthday, it is a good day!”. The Italians when confronted with a strong army they used “Yperite’ a poisonous Mustard and Nerve-Gas in contravention of the Rule-of-Law and in violation of the Geneva Convention of 1925.
When the terrible battle of Mai-Chew ended Emperor Haile Selassie decided to leave the country to appeal to the League of Nations and protest against the invading Italian forces for the use of chemical warfare by land and air in contravention of the Geneva Protocol signed by all member nations including the Italian government. After the battle of Mai Chew, the last bastion to the Emperor, Andom elected to continue the fight stating “I have to fulfil my patriotic duty by fighting the fascist army till the end of my life”. To avoid and minimize casualties arising from the chemicals he betook himself and the remnants of his troops to the woods and mountainous places. He quickly regrouped the soldiers; and due to failed leadership far in the North and South of Ethiopia a great number of Beghemeder Region and part of the Tigray forces fell under his command. While the Italians advanced towards the Capital City, Addis Ababa, Andom directed his forces in the opposite direction towards Eritrea and on his way attacking the convoys carrying troops and armaments. He switched tactics whenever a situation warrants into a ‘Guerrilla war’ ambushing the enemy convoys while they were heading towards Addis Ababa. In several successful attacks his troops took the enemy’s war equipment and were used against the enemy; after many battles he arrived in Eritrea. It was his desire to attack the Italians in the very heart of his native land, but he was suddenly attacked by the enemy at Ubel-Tukul-Denghia, in Eritrea before he could carry out his plan. Being surprised he swiftly aroused his troops and took up a defensive position and fought a good fight until the Italians found themselves in difficulties. B/General Andom clearly understood, the war against common enemy, the fascist Mussolini could not be won by few heroic men available under his command.
In later years many of the surviving patriots said, “Andom asked for more troops from the nearby North and South in order to carry out his mission to enter Asmara. It was soon revealed the warlords and the chiefs in some area succumbed to the (fascist) enemy’s propaganda and many gave up the fight. Indeed, bribery, favoritism, corruption and rivalry among the notables in a great variety of forms were rampant at all levels of society.”
According to the book by James Dugan and Laurence Lafore, ‘Days of Emperor and Clown’ 1973 pp.247, “The Italians although they probably miscalculated the fragility of the empire, they were skilful in their use of terror, bribes, and threats. Terror weapons were accompanied by the subversion of local leaders.”
Consequently, in the absence of central command in the South though a great majority wanted to continue the fight many faltered. The preparation and distribution of airborne propaganda by the Italians became a major operation;
it had its own effect on the morale of soldiers in some parts of the region who initially came out to fight the enemy.
The following were common remarks by former patriots who survived the war, “had the additional troops were made available per the request, it was possible we could have taken the fight in the heart of Asmara; undoubtedly fighting the enemy at close range the chance of a favorable outcome would have been greater than fighting the enemy in an open battlefield against air attack and chemical warfare”.
Be it as it may, in the height of the ensuing battles he received a serious wound in the neck and was obliged to temporarily conceal himself in the bushes; for a while he suffered from his wound unable to obtain treatment. The Red Cross left their camps for their own safety as the tent hospitals were hit and the Fascist Army continued to use the prohibited poisonous ‘chemical’ mustard and nerve-gas. Nevertheless Andom instructed his troops to continue the fight. The troops pleaded and asked him to leave the battlefield to obtain treatment elsewhere. When it was decided he was going for medical care he delegated leadership among his forces one of whom was his son-in-law Graz. Later Colonel Ghebrekal Debessai, a man of great valor, and other great patriots like Graz. Tesfay Gebremariam, and Graz. Tekle Berhan. These are Patriots who later in life during the Haile Selassie regime held high positions in the police and the Army with the ranks of Colonel and the ranks of B/General.
(On the above photo of Andom- it is apparent the wound reveals covered with bandage wrapped around his neck. At the time he was being forced to feed himself on homemade liquid nutrients; he was asked to wear his military attire to pose for a photo at the request of foreign reporters who sneaked to the battlefield following news that Andom’s troops were advancing towards Eritrea). The news angered Mussolini the fascist leader and Dictator who at the time became an ally of Hitler; according to reliable sources he fired many of his top Senior Officers.
On the journey for medical treatment he was accompanied by his younger brother Fit. Later Major Ghebrekidan Tesfazion, a valiant warrior (who was also wounded in prior fights at the battle of Mai-Chew). By the way, it is also important to note that the younger Gabrekidan was among the first who caught sight when the bullet hit Andom in the neck; he then swiftly arrived to help stop the bleeding; he played the role of a medic in the absence of trained medical personnel.
Three months later Both left for Sudan (the neighboring country) following the route of River Tekeze and the River Nile. The news spread quickly reached the enemy through hired informants that Andom was wounded; yet, the Italians feared that Andom’s troops would move further into Eritrea, where their example might cause a general rising (New Times And the Ethiopia News, 1948). They sent a strong force to capture him. Unable to discover the exact location his native village was placed under guard by day and night in case he should come there. He arrived in Sudan and after completing medical treatment in less than three months he marched back across the valleys of Sudan and Eritrea and continued his fight in Wolkait and Armacheho district of Beghemeder province. According to those present, he returned fully energized; there, he met his good and trusted friend Fit. Mesfin Reda, a prominent personality in the Welkait and Armacheho Region who vigorously helped to promote the campaign; Andom was fully confident as he announced to the troops the good news and the imminence of the upcoming victory. It was around the period the Emperor was preparing to leave his place of exile ‘Bath’ London, U.K. and ready marching towards home through the outskirts of Sudan.
In a desperate attempt an Italian column was thereupon sent to his military base, attacked in the night, he again received a severe wound which caused his death on * May 17, 1939. Many of his troops who survived the war believed the sudden attack in the night would not have occurred without the help of hired informants. Several weeks before his death he received the rank of Dejazmatch delivered to him by a special (courier) envoy from the Emperor (Del Boca 1969:122). When the brave Andom passed away, his troops did not despair; they continued their fight on the border of Eritrea, until the final victory and the return of the Emperor. Emperor Haile Selassie left Bath on June 12, 1940 on his way to Malta for a stopover before he proceeded to Egypt and later to Sudan. The brave B/General Andom was not only a courageous wartime General; he was a born leader, well fitted to serve his country also in time of peace. The memory of B/General Andom will flow on unceasing as a river. It was bitter for him, for his troops and his family to pass without seeing the final victory – the end of the ‘Battle of the Ages’ as he used to call it – always confident, encouraged his troops and long before the final victory predicted that ‘Justice will finally win over Injustice, Equity over Inequity’.
In time of peace while posted in Segeneyti, Eritrea, as a battalion commander, in response to the demands of the soldiers and the residents from lack of a local Orthodox Tewahedo Church he had initiated the construction with his own finance and made to be built ‘St. Mary’ Orthodox Tewahedo Church’ for the first time in a town with an overwhelming Roman Catholic majority. He faced an uproar by the prominent leaders of the town including by some Italian officials; in the face of all opposition he had it completed; since then and until recently the church to many was known and commonly called as ‘Mariam Andom’ the “St. Mary of Andom”. At this juncture, it would be proper and befitting to quote a former patriot, who served under his command, later became a ranking high military official in the regime of Haile Selassie (B/General Tesfay G/Mariam), the following were his remarks, ” In the course of my career as a military man (after the war), like many fellow officers, I have read and reviewed all World-Wars, yet, I could only conclude and sum it up,’Andom was one of the finest wartime Generals the world has ever seen; I might add he could also pass for a Pope!”
On June 25, 1953 G.C. his remains was transported from his burial ground in Akebe-Work district ofArmacheho/Gondar by a government sponsored special plane to Asmara International AirPort. From the Airport escorted by the Vice Roy, the Chief Executive of Eritrea, government officials and thousands of people from all walks of life to the St. Mary’ Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Asmara. After the traditional overnight church service the next day it was transported to his birthplace at Debri, Anseba, Hamassien approximately 20 miles from Asmara. A permanent grave had been set up within the perimeter of the local church. A bronze made replica of him in uniform was erected upon the grave.
In 1960 the rank of Dejazmatch he received from the emperor by a special envoy prior to his death was officially replaced by a rank of B/General. In memory of his selfless sacrifice and gallantry in the battlefield a’Street’ in Asmara leading to the main gate of the former US Army Base commonly known as “Kagnew Station” was dedicated and named for him as “B/General Andom Tesfazion St.
There is much untold – In the view of many former patriots who lived an active life after the victory, the following was also a common remark ‘the account of the war so far written – which took five years of consistent battle-after-battle against a formidable (fascist) enemy had been grossly understated; what had so far been described and written is only a ‘tip of the iceberg!’. In the early1960s an Ethiopian scholar in London while on a research program was contacted by potential directors of film and/or documentary producing enterprises to help produce a film/documentary of the war. However, for political reasons and perhaps to save embarrassment to those ‘traitors in the Ethiopian hierarchy it was not encouraged by the central government and the discussion went under.
B/General Andom was survived by his four children: w/o Welete haimanot Andom; Kegnazmach Wolde haimanot Andom; Kegnazmach Gebrezgi Andom and w/o Tehaitu Andom. Two deceased, now remaining the other two.