In the classic narrative, the second world war starts with the invasion of Poland in 1939, though for the Chinese it started with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931.
I notice wikipedia solves the start date by stating ‘relate conflicts started earlier’, and that is what we’ll be looking at today the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and those foreigners who volunteered to fight for Haile Selassie.
In October 1935 Fascist Italy invaded independent Ethiopia. The Italians had planes, high explosive, and mustard gas. The Ethiopians had swords and spears. Emperor Haile Selassie needed expert outside help. What he got was a crazy gang of mercenaries who could barely shoot straight and were further to the right than Mussolini. There were Americans posing as fake French counts, Fascist Belgian guns for hire, an African-American pilot duo known as the Black Eagle and the Brown Condor (they hated each other), a Cuban veteran of three failed far-right coups, an Austrian Nazi doctor, Swedish soldiers who preferred fighting communism, and an alcoholic English dropout.Haile Selassie’s international state support was equally disreputable. Hitler backed Selassie as part of a plot to grab back the Rhineland and Japanese secret societies pushed a penniless Tokyo princess into marriage with an Ethiopian prince. Together, this bizarre foreign legion tried to save Ethiopia from Fascism. This is the first time the story of Haile Selassie’s motley combatants has been told, researched from primary records, some in French, Swedish, Spanish and Czech. In his own fast-paced style, Christopher Othen demonstrates how the invasion of Ethiopia almost turned into a worldwide race war.
I’m joined by Christopher Othen
Christopher is the author of the Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion.