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COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM De slag bij Adua TMnr 5956-2. By the escort women service украина of the 19th century, European powers had carved up almost all of Africa after the Berlin Conference.

In 1889, the Italians signed the Treaty of Wuchale with then Negus Menelik of Shewa. The Italian government decided on a military solution to force Ethiopia to abide by the Italian version of the treaty. As a result, Italy and Ethiopia came into confrontation, in what was later to be known as the First Italo-Ethiopian War. The Italian army then occupied the Tigrayan capital, Adwa.

By late 1895, Italian forces had advanced deep into Ethiopian territory. The Italian army consisted of four brigades, totaling 17,978 troops with fifty-six artillery pieces. However, it is likely that fewer fought in the actual battle on the Italian side: Harold Marcus notes that «several thousand» soldiers were needed in support roles and to guard the lines of communication to the rear. They had inadequate maps, old-model guns, poor communication equipment and inferior footgear for the rocky ground.

The newer Carcano Model 91 rifles were not issued because Baratieri, under constraints to be economical, wanted to use up the old cartridges. Morale was low as the veterans were homesick and the newcomers were too inexperienced to have any esprit de corps. An 1890s Italian map of Adwa. A small arrow indicates that north is to the right. 20,000 spearmen and swordsmen as well as an unknown number of armed peasants. Estimates for the Ethiopian forces under Menelik range from a low of 73,000 to a high of over 120,000, outnumbering the Italians by an estimated five or six times. The Italian operational corps in Eritrea was under the command of General Oreste Baratieri.

The chief of staff was Lieutenant Colonel Giacchino Valenzano. Budget restrictions and supply shortages meant that many of the rifles and artillery pieces issued to the Italian reinforcements sent to Africa were obsolete models, while clothing and other equipment was often substandard. In terms of logistics and training, the recently arrived conscript contingents from Italy were inferior to the experienced colonial troops based in Eritrea. On the night of 29 February and the early morning of 1 March, three Italian brigades advanced separately towards Adwa over narrow mountain tracks, while a fourth remained camped. The supporting crossfire each column could give the others made the ‘soldiers as deadly as razored shears’.

Albertone’s brigade was to set the pace for the others. However, the three leading Italian brigades had become separated during their overnight march and by dawn were spread across several miles of very difficult terrain. Their sketchy maps caused Albertone to mistake one mountain for Kidane Meret, and when a scout pointed out his mistake, Albertone advanced directly into Ras Alula’s position. Albertone’s Ascari Brigade was the first to encounter the onrush of Ethiopians at 06:00, near Kidane Meret, where the Ethiopians had managed to set up their mountain artillery. Dabormida’s Italian Brigade had moved to support Albertone but was unable to reach him in time.