The most important location of the first battle of Tembien (January 1936)

January 20, 1936: 4 Ethiopian army corps and 3 Italian face each other along a 200 km front.

But the outcome of the battle (and probably of the war) was decided in only one place: at the Uarieu pass in Tembien.


The Italian offensive, which began on the 3rd of October 1935, quickly continues to the south with 3 army corps. At the end of November, when General Badoglio takes De Bono’s place, the Italian army is already on the Mekelle front, Abi Addi, Adwa.

The Ethiopian counteroffensive starts at the beginning of December: on the 14th and 15th Ras Immiru’s troops defeat the Italians at the Dembeguinà pass and take back control over Shire, reaching the gates of Axum. At the end of December Ras Seyoum’s troops make an assault in Tembien and take back control of Abi Addi. The Ethiopians, with minor raids along the whole front, force the Italians to withdraw and to take a break to regroup.

In mid-January 1936, General Badoglio is able to start the offensive again. The highest risk is in the central part of the front: Ras Seyoum and Ras Kassa’s troops are concentrated in the Tembien area.
Here, 30-40,000 Ethiopian soldiers, intent on fighting on very difficult terrain, break the line, take back the road to Hawzien, and outflank the Italian army there from the north side.

The first battle of Tembien starts on the 19th of January, with the Italian troops advancing along the whole front. However, from the 20th the focus on both sides is mostly on Tembien. The first day ends with the Italians’ advancement, although strong resistance is encountered. But on the 21st the situation completely changes: General Diamanti’s Blackshirts division, out of the Uarieu pass fort for maneuvers, is devastated in the Beles valley, heavily outnumbered by Ethiopian forces. Only late in the evening was the division able to retreat into the fort, leaving on the field almost one third of the force (19 officers and 245 blackshirts lost).

The 22nd and 23rd are terrible days. The Ethiopians besiege the Italian fortifications and are able to breach them at several points. Charges, counterattacks and fighting - non-stop day and night. General Badoglio sends more columns to come to the aid of the besieged Italians and he actively follows their march. Meanwhile, at the Uarieu pass, he uses all the aviation available in Eritrea.
On the other side, Ras Kassa and Ras Seyoum are present in the field and on 22nd they ask for reinforcements and munitions.

The Uarieu pass siege ends on the 24th, when the Italian reinforcements arrive. The Ethiopians line up on Work Amba, with a small advancement compared to the starting point, but they still miss the main target: the breach of the pass.

So the first battle of Tembien ends up in this way: no winners no losers.


Day trip starting from Gheralta lodge after breakfast and coming back for dinner; going directly to Mekele airport for the evening flight to Addis Ababa is also possible.

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